a buildher building tale
talking this week with buildher yolanda aarons!
Episode 6 sees the Building with BuildHer team Rebeka and Kribashini talking with protégé and Master BuildHer Yolanda Aarons. By day, she demolishes cancer as a radiation therapist, and by night (you guessed it) she demo’s houses. With many of her waking hours tied up in cancer care, Yolanda satisfies her renovation lust in between jobs by indulging in nearly all renovation-related TV shows available to the public and occasionally living vicariously through the construction and structural analyses prevalent in her sibling engineer’s life. Renovating was always a big part of her family's pastime growing up and the apple has fallen straight down the quarter-turn floating staircase to land right at the freshly painted doorstep.
Her latest project - a demolition, restoration and renovation at 123 Clarke St Northcote Victoria - affectionally labelled @123_clarke and beautifully documented on Instagram, is proving to be a challenging yet satisfying and emotional job that Yolanda confesses she will find it difficult to move on from. Join Rebeka, Kribashini and Yolanda as they discuss 123 Clarke St and being a female builder (and BuildHer) in general.
If you have a topic or question you’d like us to cover, contact us here.
SOME TOPICS THAT WE COVER:
Establishing trust and a good rapport with your builder.
Sticking to timelines and acknowledging the importance of a give-and-take.
Using the emotional aspect to your advantage when establishing build schedules.
Honesty with tradespeople to establish the reasoning behind site practices and timelines.
The importance of a tidy job site.
LINKS MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE:
Yolanda’s Instagram for her 123 Clarke St project
Yolanda’s story on the BuildHer collective website
BuildHer Collective on Instagram
We have several Facebook Groups at BuildHer Collective.
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BHC DevelopHers Circle and BuildHer Collective Members Only - these are closed groups for women who are doing our Build Like a BuildHer course or who have joined our DevelopHers Inner Circle.
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Anyone is more than welcome to join our Women who Design, Decorate, Renovate & Build group. You will note that it's a closed group but ask to join and if you're into building and renovating, this is such an amazing and supportive FREE community, so come on and join in the building goodness!
Read the Full Podcast Transcript Below:
Rebeka: Hello, BuildHers, today we have the wonderful Yolanda Aarons. She is one of our Master BuildHers and she is incredible. You can follow her on @123_clarke, she takes a photo like you would not believe, but actually, her enthusiasm is what really draws me to her and I hope you really enjoy our chat today about her story, where she started with the building process, and where she's up to now. She's definitely one to watch in the future and I'm sure you'll know that by the end of this podcast that we'll get stuck right into it after this.
Rebeka: Hi, I'm Rebeka.
Kribashini: I'm Kribashini.
Rebeka: Welcome to Building with BuildHer.
Kribashini: Our Podcast, we believe that building is fun, super fun, so much fun.
Rebeka: BuildHer Collective was created to help women with building and renovating. We believe that with the right tools, everyone can build. For us, it's all about encouraging women to take back control of the building process and really achieve their dreams.
Kribashini: We are women in the building industry, and as developers, builders and project managers, it's our passion to share everything we know with other women doing the same. That's why we've created this podcast for you.
Rebeka: If you love all things building.
Kribashini: You're into design.
Rebeka: Keen on the numbers.
Kribashini: About to renovate.
Rebeka: Thinking and dreaming of that forever home of what it would look like.
Kribashini: Or even developing for profit.
Rebeka: Then you've found your family.
Kribashini: Subscribe to our podcast and follow our journey over at buildhercollective.com.au.
Rebeka: I'm super excited to be speaking to you and you normally bring all the enthusiasm to everything, apparently. I thought it would be really interesting to have a chat to you. You're one of our Master BuildHers and we love watching and playing along with you, but just what you did to get started, because I know you've done a property before we met; now you're doing a much bigger project I would say or more hands-on project?
Yolanda: Probably too big in actual fact. [laughs]
Rebeka: How did you get started and what's your renovation journey been to this point?
Yolanda: Well, my background is actually health care, so I work in a hospital.
Rebeka: Same, same. [laughs]
Yolanda: How incredible. You work in a hospital five days a week and then all of a sudden, you watch too many Grand Designs and renovation shows-- I do watch The Block, that's my guilty pleasure. I'm sorry. I apologise.
Let's just admit that, hands up. Ownership. Let's all own it.
Rebeka: Everyone in here loves The Block. [laughs]
Yolanda: Everyone has this sort of, how did you get into property? I guess it came from the fact that my brother is an engineer and I've always seen structural plans in front of me, I've always kept abreast of the market and I've always really liked the property. I see value in property because you buy a car and what does the car do? The car depreciates. What else do you buy? I've never bought Louis Vuitton or any of those expensive designer brands but what do they do? They [crosstalk].
Rebeka: She's actually sitting here in a Provans Timber Hardware t-shirt.
Yolanda: Go Provans.
Rebecca: Rockin' it with the hardware. [crosstalk]
Yolanda: There's a lot of things in life that as you go along you see how to add to your life, make it more valuable, and how to not get rich quick but almost work smarter rather than working harder and I think property is one of those things that myself, my whole family, we talk about. We buy and sell and buy and sell and renovate a few things.
One of the first things that I wanted to do before I turned 21, was get onto the property ladder. Since I started working, the first thing I did with that paycheck was bought my mum a car after three or four months to say thank you for investing in me and my education, and after that, I was like, "That's it, I'm going to add to what could be a deposit for a house."
I ended up buying a property in Malvern and renovating that over time, and then that turned into a bigger property and a bigger property and then bought and knocked down and rebuilt a house, which is the one you were talking about before. I've only knocked down and done one large project, which was the one before Clark Street, and now Clark Street is probably too far the other way. [laughs] If when I do it again, I'll probably-
Rebeka: Do exactly the same thing [crosstalk].
Yolanda: -do exactly the same thing and worse.
Rebeka: Absolutely amazing. You've gone from what I would call, although pushing it, like a more standard type build where you're using a builder, so was that off the plan?
Rebeka: No, no, no, so it was a custom-build.
Yolanda: It was custom.
Rebeka: You organised a draftsperson or architect?
Yolanda: It was odd. You get a set of plans and then you get to revise them the way you want to.
Rebeka: So a builder that provided plans.
Yolanda: Yes, a builder who provided plans and then you get to revise them.
Rebeka: Like a turn-key builder.
Rebecca: You used a turn-key builder for that one which was obviously more hands-off.
Rebeka: Although you still did all the styling and picked the finishes and all?
Yolanda: And micromanaged the whole way. [chuckles] I tried not to, but you have--
Rebeka: Dream client.
Yolanda: You have less of a say so I wasn't even in the back seat, I was in the boot for that one.
Rebeka: Did they let you on-site?
Yolanda: Yes. I try and build good relationships and try not to leave a bad reputation wherever I go, but I built a really good relationship very early on with the builder and I have a white card so I tried not to be intrusive or micromanage or anything like that, but he knew I liked to be heavily involved and his communication for a builder was fantastic. He kept me in the loop on things. He asked a lot of questions, the things that were left out on plans and that's when I started to realise, probably the next build I'll do custom-built. I could be owner-builder and be more hands-on and heavily involved and maybe not do turn-key.
Rebeka: I think one of the things that I love about your style of management is that you're so positive.
Yolanda: I'm getting less positive as the days go.
Rebeka: All right, so we're a little bit into this build and we're probably like, "How do we talk about a build being an emotional journey?" [chuckles] Just probably feeling a little bit tired of the build at this point, [laughs] but I guess drawing the best out of people. I think that's a really important lesson for people to learn is instead of jumping onto the site and going, "Oh, is that wrong?" There's a better way to ask that.
Yolanda: I know. There's a way and there's a way, right?
Yolanda: I think this build is a little bit different because I have--
Rebeka: He's working as a carpenter and lead hand for you?
Yolanda: No. I originally was on the BuildHer, and then I flipped it over to a builder with the full license but that was to do with loan and borrowing power and all the rest.
Rebeka: It's a different-- like relationships are relationships, so you can manage things in all sorts of ways. With this builder, you're doing all the letting of the trades and managing the people and hands-on from that respective, but he's still liable as a builder and responsible for the build?
Yolanda: Absolutely, yes. He is very communicative as well. I'd say he's doing managing about 80% of the work where there are loose ends I'm tying up. If I can expedite a process for plumbing or there's a light that is in not awarding and I know the sparky, so I'll call sparky and say dah dah dah dah, can you-- so I am doing a little bit of that in the background. For instance, I think when people need encouragement or they need the push, they need to see me on site and perhaps driving it as well.
I think when there's a lack of presence of the owner on-site, your point of contact is the builder and if the builder is just moving along at a steady pace, then you have no incentive to get in and get out unless that's the way your subcontractors work; but if they see the owner on-site and the owner wants it and the owner wants it before Christmas, I find that they move a whole lot quicker.
For instance, I've got cladding guys on site at the moment and they were a little bit slow to start off with. I made a few phone calls and I said, "It's not the timeline we discussed, it's not why the job was contracted to you." I was honest about it, and that can go one way or the other, but I think he was open to the conversation.
He admitted that there was a pace that they originally set at the start that wasn't acceptable. Then he got a second crew from a different job, put her onto my job and I'll have it by Saturday. Today, as a thank you, I went there, I did a barbecue for them, everyone's happy. Yes, it's a little bit of give-and-take, and I think that is what you're talking about the enthusiasm. There's a carrot and the stick, so most of the time I'm dangling the carrot, sometimes I bring out the stick. [laughs]
Rebeka: Well, and I think it has to go both ways because we met this gorgeous builder and her builder had been going for two years and never held them to account for what they'd said. There's kind of these like we're mates, and we get along, and people like working on your job because it's an interesting job, they're going to get great photos. There's kind of a presence about it that's really, it draws them in but then at some point, you get really busy and the squeaky wheel gets the grease -- [crosstalk]
Yolanda: Always, right? And it just depends. Like you can squeak in a really annoying way, but the way I do is I'd try and-- I think being a woman as well, it helps because no contractor that I've worked with who has been a male is unreceptive to a woman who says, "Look, my family is now not living together, we're living in different parts of Melbourne, I really want to get us all back for Christmas." It's stressful. It's a reasoning that they really understand and they really appreciate.
It's not just a man having a conversation with a man and all, "Yes, okay. Let's talk dates." [crosstalk] Those dates can blow out over time.
Rebeka: Yes, you're building in the emotional reason and as we know, if you want someone to do something for you just give them a reason. It doesn't even matter what the reason is.
Yolanda: That's the rationalising. I'm not pushing you because I like busting chops or want to break your balls, it's because I would really like to have my family back together for Christmas. I would really love that. I would really love my house to be locked up and host everyone and say thank you, so here is a barbecue on a really hot day for all the boys because I appreciate you picking up the pace. It's different.
Rebeka: Yes, that's really nice.
Yolanda: That's something from a BuildHer, you can really take that to the next level. Something that a normal builder wouldn't really do in there. [laughs]
Rebeka: Yes, right. It's looking after them and making sure that they feel appreciated, but also understanding what your core drivers are.
Yolanda: I've had discussions with them like giving them honest feedback on the quality of work. I've even said things to them like, "Look, we are trying to protect the slab and the site and how clean it is." I've said, "Look, my dog runs around a fair bit. I've purposely bought additional beams and scraps and stuff because when they're cutting the cladding, it does have sharp edges. We do have animals on-site and things like that, so it's a clean workspace.
To me, it feels better. It feels I'm doing the right thing by the trades so they don't get hurt but also, it says something about the job itself. It says that I'm taking the care and little honest conversations with them. I talk to them about holding costs and that's another reason why I just want to get things moving. When they hear those things, I think they're more receptive and open and they want to work with you because they want your next job but also because they want to take pride in their own work.
Rebeka: How much do you tell them about the fact that this is something that you do ongoingly or is it implied?
Yolanda: I definitely have that conversation at the start, whether that's to incentivize them to give me a good price so that they get repeat work or whether it's so they know that there is an ongoing relationship. That I'm not a business and I don't do this in volumes, so it's not ever a guarantee for a second job.
Rebeka: Well, there is never a guarantee either. I guess it's you're building relationships and that's the thing about relationships. The first time you work with someone, it's the first time you work with someone so you're trying to feel them out. You're trying to work out how you work together if it's a good fit.
We work with people ongoingly and almost without violence, so we replace one or two trades per job and it may be that they get too busy, it may be that their workmanship wasn't up to standard, it may be that they charge now too much for me to be able to use them because there's a level of expectations. As we go through, we need to constantly revise. It's not a negative if it's in the aid of getting things better.
Yolanda: It's almost an ongoing, it's a flexible process where you would want to explore other trades even though you might have the best plaster in the world and you might have the best painter in the world, but maybe next time the cladding might be a different cladding and you might have to look elsewhere.
Rebeka: That means that it's a fair point, you're always exploring. I am always exploring different materials. I don't think there is a job that I've done that doesn't have a different process. [laughs]
Yolanda: Oh, that's far too boring.
Not very BuildHer like at all,- [laughs]
Rebeka: No, probably not.
Yolanda: -to repeat the same thing twice.
Rebeka: So it's you.
Rebeka: I would actually really encourage that you have a look at Yolanda's Instagram because you've got triangle pools and you've got void spaces and double hot glaze. It's a really interesting project and in a way absolutely amazing picking up both city and park views.
Yolanda: Before I had met you or I had anything to do with BuildHer coming off the back of the last house, I thought, "Yes, I'm going to do the same thing again. We've got a big block size this time so we can stay single-story, keep costs down, keep build time down, do single-story, and it'll be really easy. We might have a slight split level, something interesting, but then it grew to something that I love. I loved this house.
Rebeka: I think you can see it.
You can see the love in the house.
Yolanda: I like to say I do really love the house. I've loved picking the hard finishes. I've loved being part of the design process and insist on ongoing things where I'm going to love to live there, I'll be honest, but when it comes time to possibly move on to the next project, it will be very hard.
There is an emotional investment that I probably didn't have in the last house because that was a knockdown and I knew it was a project from start to finish, but in speaking to you and the keeping of the original house and it being a little bit of an emotional attachment there- like we talk about emotional droll.
Rebeka: Energy, and the emotional-- Yes.
Yolanda: It's something that existed that you brought back to life. I have this emotional investment now, this constant tie between me and these houses. It's going to be very sad too--
Rebeka: These babies are the hardest babies to sell.
Don't sell your babies.
Yolanda: It's illegal. I'm pretty sure that's illegal.
Rebeka: I mean not actual babies.
Yolanda: I get it.
Rebeka: Tell us about maybe, if you don't mind, I remember after our first conversation-
Yolanda: I do too.
Rebeka: -about becoming a Master BuildHer and you rang out of the blue.
Yolanda: Do you know I called you from McDonald's?
Rebeka: Did you really, from McDonald's?
Yolanda: [crosstalk] Did I tell you I was a food guru?
Yolanda: We were driving somewhere really long and we had stopped at a Macca's along the way and I thought-- and you called and I was like, "I have to take this call." I was just sitting there for half an hour at McDonald's and that's
Yolanda: You don't know this but--
Rebeka: Macca’s was going, "Come on, hurry up."
Yolanda: I was enjoying McMuffin and talking to you about building units. It seems like a really long time ago. Now, I'm a completely different person. I wouldn't have recognized the person who spoke to you that day.
Rebeka: I think you'd bought the house but you hadn't settled?
Rebeka: So, what was it? You bought it and then you rang me on that Tuesday? [laughs]
Yolanda: I bought the house and then I shit myself, and then I saw the trolling online at Northcote houses over $2.5 million, because that's obviously where we want to sell at, and this name kept popping out all the time. I was like, "Who is this person? Who and what is BuildHer Collective?" [chuckle] You broke records for a reason.
I was like, "I've got a lot to learn." I've got a lot to learn and really make an investment thinking about how you want the house to look and feel and I fell in love with Cunningham and a few of the other projects that you had in town. I thought this is it. This is what I want the end product to look like and feel like and be like. Yes, that was it.
Rebeka: We spoke on that first day about what you were going to do and what your full path was going to be and whether this was going to be one project or an ongoing project. I guess what we were looking for in you because becoming a Master BuildHer like-- For people who don't know, we have people who are Master BuildHers so they're Build-Hers [crosstalk] [chuckles]
When looking for someone who wants to improve, who wants to get better with property, who wants to renovate for profit, and really our model is looking at between one and three projects per year and looking at 200 to 500 plus profit that's what we model it around, and then how do we do this to the best of our ability.
How do we build a brand around it? How do we take it seriously? How do we do it on an ongoing capacity and how are we looking for that continuous profit, so we know that we are guaranteed profit when we come into it and it's not these like, "I just bought a house and shit, can I make money on it?" That was what we were looking for in you. Flying colours, cannot even tell you, but I guess I'd like to hear from your perspective what was it about us that drew you to us?
Yolanda: I don't want to keep throwing this card but I'm going to throw it again because I do throw it often. It's the female thing. I guess in the last couple of projects that I have been running flips I guess. The first couple which were painting a new kitchen, a new bathroom it's that, and then the last project which was a knockdown rebuild and I came to this and I thought, "Wow, I really feel outnumbered. Not that there's anything wrong with men being in the building industry but it is saturated.
I think men being on the tools and really being great at what they do when it comes to hands-on and construction and building, that's great but what I brought to the table was a bit more communication, "Okay, let's talk about the solution to this." I didn't find that with any of the savvies that I worked with.
I'll give you one incident that happened. I had bought these, gone out, and I don't know how I found them, but they were concealed door hinges that basically gave this really nice fluid look to the kitchen and the butler's pantry. I had the kitchen and the butler's pantry on one side and the laundry on the other and I wanted the doors to be flush. I went and bought these hinges and they were flush and then I spoke to the chippy and coordinated all these and the chippy hung the doors, and it was great.
Then the painters came in to paint the doors. They took them off the hinges and they painted them and then they couldn't find the hinges that they took them off. They went and found the original hinges that were hidden in the drawer somewhere and then they puddied up the old routed marks on the door.
Yolanda: Yes, not even kidding. He didn't call the builder, didn't call me, threw out the custom hinges that had been done for these doors to hang them flush. I was really impressed once the chippy had hung them. I came back two days later after the painting had been done and I saw that they are now not flush. The jams are all different. I called the builder and I was ropable, I was so angry. I was like, "What happened?" Who does this? Who finds old hinges-- and I saw that they were the corinthian hinges and stuff.
Rebeka: They're just trying to get their job done. [crosstalk]
Yolanda: Surely if you saw that when you were trying to fill them in--
Rebeka: Yes, I mean, that's logic. They were just trying to get out of it.
Yolanda: Yes, that's logic, right? That's, "I'm going to make a phone call because this doesn't look right." They don't tend to do that. Although some of the ones that I've worked with don't tend to do that. I just thought there's something in this industry that's lacking that I think females really understand a lot more. It's the multitasking, it's the communication, it's the, possibly, overthinking a lot of the time.
Rebeka: The way you view the house is really important. How you view the endless data-- [crosstalk]
Yolanda: The methodology, the level of detail, I think the women second guess and third guess and fourth guess and fifth guess in the design phase, but it's so important how you live there and how your family exists in that space. That's why you overthink it at the start.
Rebeka: We could call it second-guessing but I wonder whether it's actually just revising the deadline to get it better each time because the design is not a linear process. You can't just go, "I'm going to design this," and get it like you're actually paying for iterations on; and each time you revise it, you're making it better. That's not a really straight-line process. That overthinking it is actually making the product so much better.
Yolanda: In doing that, I remember speaking to a lot of the guys I was like, "I really feel like the building industry will benefit from having more women involved."
Rebeka: I completely agree.
Yolanda: Which is why I wanted to be a part of it as well, I don't know that I've even had this conversation with you. It's interesting that we do a first on Rebecca. I saw BuildHer and I thought, "There's going to be a movement here. There's a movement and I see it happening and I want to invest in that, I want to be part of it." When we think about you expanding and growth and all the rest of it, I just think--
Rebeka: Our vision is to change the building industry and make it a better place and really to have women be the larger part of it. The VBIA just released a step. I don't know, it might be-- it was sent in a private email to me. It said 3% of owner-builders are women, 3%. One of them I love is you and one of them was me when I started building too.
Thank you so much for talking to us. If you are interested in becoming a Master BuildHer, I encourage you to book a phone call and we can have a chat about what you're doing. It's not particularly scary, but I really love it as an industry and as a passion and as a way to make money and I think people like you Yolanda, are making the industry better.
Rebeka: Absolutely. I think there are massive opportunities to turn all of our skills as women into a business and really have that, I guess, rock and roll. If you want to chat with us, jump on buildhercollective.com.au and you'll be able to find a button to book a consult. If you can't find it, email us. If you can't work out how to do that, maybe you are not meant to be a BuildHer.
Yolanda: DM us on Instagram.
Rebeka: I know, right? Something like that. If it's all too hard, don't worry about it, you'll be fine. [laughs] Thank you so much for talking to us. Good day.
Yolanda: Thank you for having me.
Rebeka: Thank you BuildHers for listening and we will speak to you next time.
Rebeka: Thanks for listening to Building with BuildHer. We'd love for you to spread the word. For show notes, links and downloads and other awesome resources and freebies, head to buildhercollective.com.au. Don't forget, that's BuildHer with an H-E-R.
If you enjoyed this episode, it would mean so much to both of us if you could take a minute or two to leave a review and don't forget to subscribe so you can listen next time as we talk all things building and women making their mark in the building industry.