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Amador County

Ledger Dispatch

LOCAL FAMILY FLIPS HOUSES IN AMADOR

By Caitlyn Schaap

Flip or Flop, Fixer Upper, The Property Brothers. These days there is no shortage of television programming about house flipping, real estate and renovation. But, while most of the papular shows follow couples flipping houses in major cities throughout the US and Canada, what most people might not know is that houses are being flipped right here in the Mother Lode.

The Van Der Veen family has flipped almost 100 homes throughout the Gold County, and it is truly a family venture. Michele is an interior designer, and her husband Ken does much of the hands-on construction with their youngest son, Landon. The couple's daughter, Victoria, serves as their real estate agent and helps Michele with design. Their son, Austin, manages the books. Every member of the family is involved. "Our whole family is involved because our kids grew up in a construction site," Michele laughed. And it's true, despite only really getting into the flipping business in the last few years, the Van Der Veen's have been building and

renovating homes on and off for the better part of almost 30 years."I always knew this is what we needed to do," Michele said.

In fact, their first flip was in 1988! "The crazy thing is that in 1988, my dad actually took my husband and myself to an old house in Orange County and he said "I want to buy this house for you guys. You guys live in it. You guys fix it all up," said Michele. "He wanted us to flip it in 1988! He could see that we had this in us."

After Michele graduated college with her degree in interior design and Ken graduated with a degree in real estate development, the pair lived in Orange County and started their family, but a downturn in the real estate market led Ken into a different career path. 

At the time, natural food stores like Whole Foods were beginning to take off, and there was an increase demand for organic fruits and vegetables. He was offer a job in packing organic produce like pumpkin, peaches, apricots and cranberry sauce.

He continued in the business when the family moved to Placerville in 1997, where they built a beautiful custom home. "Way back then our children were very hands-on where they could be, in working on building that first house," said Michele.

"I swore that I would never leave that house, because it was a beautiful house, unless we moved to Amador," said Michele. But, first, there was a detour to be taken. Involved in equestrian sports, Michele had become interest in dressed, so the family moved to North Carolina, building a horse farm there, where Michele trained for the 2012 Olympics. 

Meanwhile, her husband's business was taking off. Companies like Chiquita banana and Trader Joe's came to him and wanter him to pack fruit cups, so the family invested millions in equipment. "But the equipment never worked," Michele explained. "It put us out of business."

The family lost millions of dollars and headed back to California to start over. "The joke is we had to move to North Carolina to get to Amador." said Michele. Austin and Victoria began attending Amador High School, while Landon attended Sutter Creek Elementary, and the family began flipping.

They first started in Sacramento, flipping close to 60 homes in the Tahoe Park area. The First house they flipped in Amador County was in Drytown. Neighborhood and location are key factors when flipping a house, so the family was nervous working in a different area with less people. But the risk paid off. "I didn't even get to stage that house before it sold," said Michele. 

Since that first house in Amador, the family has started flipping homes throughout the Mother Loan, in towns like Pine Grove, Ione, Sutter Creek and Diamond Springs. They usually flip about 10 houses a year, but they have done up to 18 in one year! When selecting a house, the family looks for a challenge. "We have to buy the ugliest, worst houses on the block," laughed Michele. There is a good reason for that. 

Of course making a beautiful home for someone is rewarding, but even more so is revitalizing neighborhoods. "It's really hard on people," said Michele, describing how one ugly home in disrepair can ruin a nice street. "You work on your yard and make your house beautiful. You work hard every day to make your mortgage payment, and then you have to look at an eyesore," said Michele, "It really emotionally affects people."

In almost every house they flip, the family hears from neighbors thanking them for cleaning up their street. "That's the biggest reward to us," said Michele, "and now being able to do it in our community is even better." When it comes to designing the flips, each home is different. "Our style is that we don't have a style," said Michele. Unlike many of the designers you see flipping houses on TV, where most homes have a similar look and style, Michele lets each home inspire a new design. Before the home has even been purchased, when Michele and Victoria first walk up to a house, they take in the look of the home and brainstorm what they can do with it. "We let he house, the architecture, tell us what it needs to be," said Michele.

They make sure to take that style and run similar features and styles throughout so that they house all flows together, from the outside to the inside and even into the backyard. "Our style is whatever the house tell us it wants to be," said Michele. Another secret to a successful flip is a great open house. 

Michele and Victoria stage each home with furnishings in every room. They put out coffee and make it feel like a real home. According to Michele, it helps people imagine themselves living there. The open houses have been very popular, not only with curious neighbors wanting to check out the flip, but also with many people from out of the area wanting to move in. And for those moving to the area, it helps to be looking at a home renovated and sold by a family who live in the area. "We can give families moving into the area an insight into how great it is," said Michele. 

During and after each flip, Michele shares before and after photos on their company Instagram, iHeartHomesCorp. It doesn't take long for television production companies to take notice. The family has now spoken with numerous production companies. It's a long process, but the family imagines creating what ken describes as "Duck Dynasty meets Fixer Upper," a show about flipping houses, but also about a unique family rebuilding their lives and the community they live in.

Creating a show takes time, but the family has recently connected with a production company they think might be a good fit, who really "gets" their story. For now, Michele and Kens live on a 60-acre ranch in Drytown, and they are working on a flip in Sutter Creek. For now you'll see them around town, but who knows? One of these days you might turn on your television and see them, and our wonderfull community, right there on your screen.