Mary Beth and Mike Betancourt have called Hoboken home for almost 20 years, are parents to triplet daughters, and lovers of historic homes that need rehabilitation. In 2012, the duo decided to upgrade from our 450 square foot apartment on Washington Street and initially set out looking on the 2-3 bedroom market. Early in the shopping process, they toured a duplex with a backyard that felt like a single-family home. It got them thinking about the possibilities of cutting condo fees and buying a townhouse. Most inventories were outside of their price range but they found a dilapidated townhouse in complete disrepair that had stood unoccupied for years.
The house was in such poor condition there was no electricity or heat (and water damage on the top floor because the roof needed replacement). But Mary Beth had a strong vision of the potential for home and Mike and her took the leap of faith. After the years-long journey from the gut renovation, restoring the original brick facade to finally finishing the basement our house is everything we hoped for and now, Mary Beth and Mike have purchased another historic home on their block to restore it to its former glory with a modern esthetic. Read on to learn more about Mary Beth and Mike’s journey to house flipping and the breakdown of their rehabilitation of a beautiful Hoboken property.
Acquiring the Historic Property
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After eight years the building next door to Mary Beth and Mike’s house became available. “It also needed a lot of work and it seemed overly ambitious (and a little crazy) to purchase it, but it also felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to own both – so we did it! We planned to rent for a period and eventually combine the two properties, but COVID hit and we pivoted based on the uncertain economic times. We felt it prudent to take the knowledge gained from our own renovation and make this our first ‘flip’,” Mary Beth told Hoboken Girl.
The Journey to House Flipping
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‘While this is our first official flip, it really started with the apartment on Washington. It was very dated but in a building with great bones,” Mary Beth explains. “We got a good deal because most buyers at the time could not see past the outdated kitchen and bathroom. That project was minor compared to our house, but it gave us an understanding of the incredible potential older and/or neglected properties hold.”
When it comes to choosing which properties to invest in, the duo has a few key criteria they look for – a blend of their personal and professional preferences.
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“Our ‘sweet spot’ is an older home with outdated design that turns off most buyers in a town we have an emotional connection to. We love old homes. There is something so special and rewarding about revitalizing a property that has been standing for generations. In a world of ‘green’ living, it is the ultimate upcycle. Quality renovations and care can allow a home to stay on long after we are gone,” says Mary Beth.
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They look for properties with good quality original construction and antiquated décor, as a result, they get optimal equity plus the ability to put their personal signature on it.
She continues, “We purchased a shore home as an investment property in Avon-by-the Sea. It stayed on the market for almost a year despite its prime location because the kitchen and baths needed updating and the interior décor was outdated. It has proven a great investment because with minor changes and upgrades it has become a desirable summer rental (and somewhere we can enjoy in between).”
As far as their biggest source of inspiration, Mary Beth is Mike’s (major husband points!). But overall, the couple draws inspiration from travel. “I used to travel often to London and Paris for work and always admired the architecture and how homes there are bursting with window boxes of flowers in the springtime. We brought that type of detail to our homes. We used salvaged iron from Paris for our front stoop, back deck, and flowerboxes here and love how it beautifies our home and the entire block.”
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Planning ahead, Mary Beth and Mike are “looking forward to having the property sold and saying we have our first professional flip under our belt as a success. We also want to build a social media presence to share our work and empower others.”
About the Property
Mary Beth and Mike’s current property flip is located at 824 Park Avenue. It is approx. 1800 sq ft with 4 beds and 2.5 baths.
They purchased the property in November 2019 – it took 18 months to renovate due to pandemic delays.
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“When we purchased this house, it was a two-family with the first floor a 1 bedroom/1 bath, the 2 nd, and 3rd floors a 2 bedroom/2 bath duplex. In order to do convert back to a single-family, we needed to fully gut the structure to reconfigure the floor plan,” Mary Beth explains.
“The interesting part was the bones underneath was an identical copy of our house – we are part of four in a row that were built at the same time. Over the course of the renovation, the two homes became eerily similar. Both have the original staircase from the second to the third story and now we do a double-take inside 824 going up and down the stairs. This was a great first flip because we knew the potential of the project as we live in its carbon copy.”
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Their immediate proximity was ideal and allowed them to quickly go next door to manage their team without disrupting everyday workflow throughout the project. “We love what the dual renovations have done to our block. Both properties were in disrepair when we purchased them. Instead of tearing down, we feel we brought a historic piece of old Hoboken back to life. It has proven contagious over our time here as many other townhouses have been purchased,” she says.
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Hoboken Girl: Were there any additional expenses you didn’t think you’d encounter?
Mary Beth: The zoning rules have changed since we renovated our home and the town now requires all-electric at a garden level to be several feet above the floor zone. This required new electric service and move the main panel to the first floor. We also did not plan to add HVAC when we expected to rent. The cost of installing both and lost project time to pull new permits were major setbacks.
Mary Beth’s primary occupation is heading product and business development for a home décor company based in NYC. Right now, ‘easy casual’ living and ‘California Cool’ are extremely popular, she explained. Bright whites, matte black, and mixed wood tones are central to that style, and they wanted to infuse that throughout.
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“We also tried to consider what is appropriate for the age of the home and play modern classics like hexagon tiles, subway tiles, and light fixtures that give a modern industrial feel. This balance of old and new allowed us to honor the original character while accommodating modern living.”
HG: What designer did you draw inspiration from?
MB: Studio McGee @studiomcgee has really mainstreamed the California Cool aesthetic and we really leaned on her product line from Target to help stage the home. We also love and admire Jean Stoffer @jeanstofferdesign and The Fox Group @the_fox_group. Both designers excel at making the traditional design feel fresh by blending modern and classic elements seamlessly.
HG: What local contractors did you work with?
MB: We used lifelong Hoboken resident, Bruce “Butch” Rosso of BMJ Contracting as our general contractor. His knowledge of the town, local building code, and officials made the process of permits and inspections much easier. Butch and his staff went above and beyond at every turn to deliver our design vision and a beautiful home.
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HG: What are 3 key pieces in the house or a specific room that are essential to the design?
MB: The main floor of the house was essential to setting both form and function. Functionally we wanted a great space for a family to live and entertain. The living room, dining room, kitchen to powder room flow seamlessly and offer direct access to the backyard. Regarding form, the moment you walk in a mix of old and new define the home. The front door was purchased from Les Puces, the flea market in Paris. We purchased it intending to use it for our house. When that didn’t work out, we loved the idea of infusing more old-world charm (and a piece of our own story) into this property. It is our permanent stamp on the home and Hoboken. We exposed the original brick on the main floor.
By painting all-white (Simply White by Benjamin Moore) we preserved the original character and let it feel bright and fresh. The other key old-world detail is the marble mantle. This building was reconfigured into a two-family conversion sometime in the 60s or 70s and during that process, it lost most of its original details. We found a marble mantle from a brownstone in Jersey City through Facebook Marketplace and reinstalled it here. We knew it was a perfect match because we have the same one in our house from when it was originally built! These details set the character of the home, but new ones like abundant double stacked white shaker cabinets, Café and Bosch appliances, top-of-the-line bathrooms, and beautiful new lite fixtures throughout providing a modern and functional living.
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HG: What other designers did you look towards when putting this project together?
MB: I study home décor and design every day at work so and there is no single source of inspiration, my ideas build over time. Most room shots pulled for inspiration come from Instagram from a long list of talented designers and firms who specialize in mixing old and new in their designs:
Room by Room Breakdown
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Follow the Betancourt property flipping journies on Instagram at @marybethbetancourt.