Enchanted Homes

Light, bright and happy: Turning a commercial asset into a home



What do you do when you have an asset that no one else wants? Do you invest more money in the hope you’re not throwing good money after bad, or do you take your losses and move on? This conundrum was presented to us consistently over a period of 5 years as it related to a commercial building at 603 Placitas we bought in 2006. At the height of the market. With someone bidding against us.  And raising the stakes by $50K a pop. So we ended up paying more for it then we wanted, but in a very different real estate market, where one expected the asset to appreciate each year. And for the most part that was true. But I digress.

For those that don’t know her, my beautiful wife Sharyn is most creative, an artist in the true sense of the word. She has done wonderful canvases, but her best work is done with moveable objects by making interior spaces look great. I offer as Exhibit A the fact that we sold two of our houses to the very first people to come and look, and one of them at asking price. This woman does interiors and has an esthetic that most find inviting, warm and wonderful. And she obsesses over the details.

My skill sets run more to the analytical and business sides. I am the researcher and the negotiator, the money finder and payor in this relationship. While I am always offered a voice in any decision, I defer to my honey when it comes to the creative stuff. I’d be a fool not to.

By way of brief history, 603, as we then called it, was used by my real estate company. Then the Great Recession hit, my business model changed, and the building was under utilized.  We put it on the market, first in 2014, and had it on for most of the next 5 years.  Residentially, it totally lacked a kitchen and had a commode for a master bathroom. Few could see themselves tackling the work that needed to be done, nor did most see what my honey could envision. And no one was buying little office buildings or houses to convert to commercial. Millenials can’t afford houses due to their college debt - no less a home for their business.

During this 5-year period we flirted with making 603 into our home. Sharyn created a vision, but had great people to call upon.  She and our daughter in law, Jessie Kaufman, kept tweaking and refining, figuring out how best to use the spaces.  We had input from a dear friend, a retired architect, who knows us and our taste. Also a local retired designer stepped up and helped out in the planning. We called in at least 6 contractors, from guys with matching trucks to one-man gangs. We heard different ideas, time frames, costs and reservations.  All of it was more than we wanted to spend and no one spoke to us in the way we hoped to hear.

Now, allow me to flash back. When we bought the building it needed a face-lift and we worked with a local guy we had known for years. Jose did a great job and he and my honey were like a knife and fork. Or maybe a hand and glove. They worked great together and had similar taste and standards. But this fellow is not a licensed contractor. And we needed a building permit this time and that seemed to mandate someone other than Jose.

This project represented for us the cross- roads of  “you have to commit to the path before you find the way” with a major highway called “you don’t know what you don’t know.” An 80-year-old house can do that to you, and a remodel that we were discouraged from undertaking - but did anyway. 

It is at this point, with her desire to make 603 our home at its height, with her vision sharp and focused, that my honey told me she was willing to do this as an owner/contractor - with Jose as our main guy. I would have to be her partner in the project, she said. It was more than one person could handle and I wanted this by now as she did. We knew that we could accomplish a lot more, get a lot more, if we cut out the contractors’ profits and built some sweat equity.

We had looked at other options in town. But 603 had wood floors, a great modified floor plan, a basement, a garage, storage shed and back yard..  We had big trees and it was in walking distance to the plaza. We saw nothing that we wanted other than what we had.

Over the years we had built relationships with local contractors and craftspeople and we went after this with all the energy and drive we have. We found the administrative process to be not as daunting as feared, but know that right now it is run out of Santa Fe and we had State inspectors.   

Walls came down, others were moved. Thirteen windows came out and 5 went in. A kitchen was created where there was none, as was a master bath and closet. A room that had no apparent use became both an office and a laundry room. And old heaters were replaced with state of the art stuff.

We worked our butts off 7 days a week for more than 3 months. All of our guys knew each other so the communication was great and the ideas flowed. Jose had a truly good & money saving idea about the dining room windows that we adopted. Stan, the electrician, offered a modification of the kitchen that really made a difference.  Terry guided us on gas inserts and got us what we needed. And Ted made sure he left us with good piping and a new boiler. We had stars who did our cabinets & countertops, guys unknown to most but came thru with flying colors.

For those that like to know these things, the first item selected was the counter top. Sharyn found Caeserstone, a quartz product that,provided the feeling she wanted and we built around that. The cabinets are all wood, all adjustable, painted and designed by Sharyn but built by Jorge.  He also did the bathroom vanity. The splash back and bathroom tiles came from the Vargas sisters, always a pleasure to deal with. Carpet was from Dan’s and doors & other hardware came from Randall’s.

We wanted to be in by June 1st and missed by one week. But when we moved in it was so smooth. My honey knew exactly what would go where and it looked like we had been living there a month after 2 days.

The artwork was hung the following week. Again, Sharyn knew exactly what she wanted where. My job was hitting the nails to hang the work and I have done that for years.

We are surrounded by the objects de art that stuck to us over the years. Our bedroom has Haitian work we bought more than 40 years ago in that country and much of the rest of our collection is contemporary northern New Mexico.

This adventure has a happy ending.  Sharyn looked at what she had created and said she had exceeded her own expectations. And that’s saying a lot. I can say that we surely accomplished the mission of turning an asset that no one wanted, into one that will sell easily when the time comes for us to move on. For now, we are just going to kick back and enjoy!


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