We recently connected with Christina Leung and have shared our conversation below.
Alright, Christina thanks for taking the time to share your stories and insights with us today. How did you come up with the idea for your business?
I graduated with an undergraduate degree with a B.S in Accounting (Truman State Univeristy in Kirksville Missouri) and I worked for CPA and accounting firms basically tracking expenditures and explaining company finanical successes or failures. In a way I was interverviwing each company every day and what and how they met their goals and what and how they missed them. I would have meetings with the department heads or business owners regarding their company numbers and I got to hear their thoughts throughout the year how decisions were made and how that factored into their bottom line. I always thought how I could have approached a problem differently and predict a different outcome. Based on my own experence with purchasing and maintianing my own home, and hearing about my friends’ experiences with renting apartments, I did some calculations and decided I should try renting a place. I started with renting out a room out of my personal residence with the idea to suppliment my basic bills. One day my bathroom had a major leak which would require drywall and re-tiling work. I hired a contractor to do the repair work, but I had him agree to alow me to assit so I could learn something new. That was my first hands on construction experience. Each time my home needed work, painting, installing plumbing for new bathroom, vanity/kitchen faucet replacement, I would stick around and watch the work being done. I would ask questions throughout the work. Sometimes I request that I assist under their supervision. It was fun for me. I had freinds with handyman skills that I would refer to from time to time. In 2011, a family friend was selling his home. I thought I was time for me to get out of the roommate rental game and try something a little bigger. Since the home was from someone I was familer with, I also knew the history of the house, so there was not much surprises that would pop up. I purchased the home, and worked on painting and basic repairs to get it to ready-move-in condition. I and a friend would work on the property after I get off from my full-time accounting job at the museum. I put together spreadsheets and itemized details and timeline goals. The idea was, If I followed the spreadsheet, the plan should work out as planned. I emptyied my savings account took cash advance on a credit card to get the project started. I gave myself 4 weeks to get the property ready. I was conservative with the finances as I was feeling my way around the rental real estate world. I had also met a friend who later became my business mentor, who had experience in the real estate realm. Each time I aquired a property I made sure the property was finanically independent or paid off before I aquired the next project. After establishing three rental properties, I had enough cash flow and assets to justify a mortage loan with the banks to purchase a small apartment building. With that buildling I learned alot about commercial rentals and became more involved with the city in regards to commercial requirments between the city and commercial property owners. As I aquired more properties, maintencing became a regular occurnace, and it became harder to find the right people to keep up with the work. I started to learn to do them myself. And if it was something I had to hire out, I made sure I was around to observe and learn what they did.
In 2011, I had also completed my Masters in Art History with the University of Missouri, Kanasa City (UMKC). As I got work done, I always thought the job could be better if they just impliment them with design in mine, and not break or even affect the overall budget. I would request contractors do something different and most of the time they would tell me it could not be done, but I always thought otherwise. I finally got tired of waiting on contractors who either come to work late or not show up without notice, I decided I could do the work myself. I learned from videos on the internet and asked questions. In 2017, I became a licensed general contractor for both residential and commerial properties. This allowed me to get into more distressed properties and gave me more control over remodel and renovation expenditures. I was also naturally a hands-on worker and enjoyed demo work and making it pretty again. From there I went from renting homes, to flipping and fiancing, which brought me back to my financial background. I also fascinated by the tiny house movement that became a popular concept after the housing market crash of 2008. I decided to put my love or art and homes and constructed my first property whiched a called “KC Tiny House Project” (facebook page) . This was aimed to help people define a lifestyle that can bring in (our motto) “Quality of life over Quantity”. It was a merge of a tiny home without sacrificing the beauty and comforts of a standard home, but without the high mortgage payment and expensive mainence. A new business later emerged from this property, “KC Tiny Greenhouse” (facebook page) which featured exploration of sustainable landscaping, and home grown food production. KC Tiny Greenhouse compliemented my other personal passion in plants.
Becoming a general contractor gave more control over projects other than simply remodeling projects. It allowed me to build a foundation for other passion projects for myself and others. I also saw remodeling as 3 dimensional art installation projects. Art is powerful. Art can influence an observers’ mood and mindsent through choices of colors used and their experience of the space, ei flow of the room, design transition from one space into another, the breath-taking reveal from the front door into the grand room, furntiture placement, etc. Now for each project I take on, I always make it a goal, not only to fix the problem, but also add extra to boost positive experiences within the space.
Christina, love having you share your insights with us. Before we ask you more questions, maybe you can take a moment to introduce yourself to our readers who might have missed our earlier conversations?
I currently hold a Commercial General Contractors Class A License for Jackson and Johnson county in Kansas City, Missouri. My company is called Building Renotvations and Development, Web page www. bradllc.net . I love projects that tests the limits of “traditional designs”. I ask questions like, how do you want your space to feel when you walk in? What do you like most about the space. Show me pictures/rooms/ design elements from Pinterest (or magazines) you like to have in your space. We can be creative to bring the feel and spirit of the design and make it into a reality in your home. I enjoy consulting in construction and design of the tinyhouse lifestyle. I enjoy art installation, Interior faux stainglass work to enhance privacy, still allow light to pass through, and add extra art in the space.
Art with function or as I refer it “Functional art”.
KC Tiny House Project is open to the public for tours to learn more about design and creative use of space to maximize the quality of life. The house is only 16’x24′ but it still features standard size appliances, shower space larger than a standard tub and walk-in closet. It is also avalable on Airbnb for those who want to experience the tiny space to help you decide if the Tiny house lifestyle is for you.
How did you put together the initial capital you needed to start your business?
Started out slow and small. I had alot of bankers recommending that I leverage my assets to accumulate more capital to expand faster. I understand how I personally operate. I understood my strengths and weaknesses. There are times I’m driven and impatient and I knew I needed to go through learning curves before I stepped onto the gas petal. I made sure that every step of the way I was in control of the project and didn’t let the project take over me. I focused on my primary focus on doing the work right and allow myself to enjoy the process. I try not to allow money or profits exceed the primary focus. It maybe a factor but never the primary. I always thought once money becomes the focus, you will start loosing sight of yourself or the reason why you are doing this in the first place.
I had confident in myself that I will follow through on the plan. I don’t know if I would recommend my initial funding method, but it was how I started. My first and second investment property was purchased on my credit card. Cash Advance at a promotional rate that only lasted 18 months. The rest of the value of the home came from sweat equity. Therefore all my goals were to pay off the creidt card within 18 months. Debt had to be paid before I allowed myself to start another project. Once I got a good feeling of how money flowed through projects, I started look into home equity line of credit to fund my projects. Each property had to start generating income to cover it’s own debt before I looked to the next project. Money was tight at the time I needed to make sure I knew where the money was coming from and where it went, So I ran all the projects personally and didn’t rely or deligate any part of the project to a manager.
Becuase the business is a reflection of me, I made sure that I am personally involved in all stages of the project. Not only do I feel I have control, but I am always learning something new.
The most importantly, I want to make sure I enjoy what I am doing.
Can you tell us about a time you’ve had to pivot?
I have was raised in a conservative household. My parents diswayed me from persuing an art degree and guided me towards Accounting and Business. I always had an imaginative mind and I loved drawing dream houses when I was a kid. I had always thought that if i excced in the business world, and climbed up the excutive ladder, I could someday “afford” to play and build out these dreams. As I started into my accounting profession, I started to realize that the path to the “top” was not what I have expected. The process became soemthing that I didn’t enjoy and worse yet, had no control over. The longer I worked in an office the further and further my dreams started to move away. At one time, I thought perhaps my dreams was too unrealistic, and my imagination really were in the clouds. Reality started to hit me. If I stayed on this path, the traditional road to top, I may have to spend most of my life till my retirement years, wishing I could do what made me happy. Again coming from a financially conservative mineset, I started working in real estate while I kept a W-2 job as a security blanket. The pivot moment for me, was when I was being writting up by my supieror for a finanial issue, which I had no control over and to which I had already warned them months in advance before the issue occurred. I was in disbelief on several levels. I felt betrayed by my co-workers, I felt disrespected and dismissed, and I felt helpless to protect myself. My manager came to my office and shouted at me. I felt like a child and belittled. At that momemt, something inside of me popped up the question, “what right did she have to speak to me this way?” Did I do my best? “Yes”. and then “Do I want to be here anymore?” NO. I built up the strength and determination that I will from now on put more confidence in myself, and told my boss, “I had done my best, and it seemed that my best is not good enough here. So I quit.”
So the lesson, I have learned and would share to others, the biggest asset in a small business is yourself. Invest and believe in yourself first. Without you, there will be no business. Mistakes are not bad, they are learning opporutnities. So never fear the illusions of failure. The only way to fail, is to stop trying.