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Catherine is a CPA-turned-creative entrepreneur. She is the founder of Beginning in the Middle. an interior designer, photographer, writer, and business schemer.  She loves being cozy at home, miniature everything, and has a not-so-secret dream of living on an island one day.
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Real Estate + Design Q&A with Nestrs

Q&A

Happy Friday, friends! We’re back with our second Q&A interview in our series about real estate & design (if you missed last week’s Q&A with Cathy from Grit & Polish, you can catch it here.)  This week, we’re chatting with Sarah & Nick from Nestrs – they’re real estate investors, Airbnb hosts, designers & renovators, and are super fun to follow on Instagram.  You may or may not know this, but we both used to live in Astoria, Queens, and now both live in Columbus, OH (scroll down to read more about how that happened in the interview!)  Similar to us, these two left NYC in search of a better quality of life.  They sold their NYC home and used those profits to jump start their real estate adventures in Columbus.  We’re on a very similar path to financial independence, and we know you’ll love what they have to say! Without further ado…

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BITM: tell us about yourselves (as people!) Hobbies, interests? How did you meet?

Nestrs: Nick and I met in college in 2005 (so long ago!) I was a Senior Resident Assistant (I loved making bulletin boards!) and he was just getting back from serving in the Air Force. He was an Architecture Major looking for a way to get free room and board. So, he signed up to be an RA and ended up in my training class. He was NOT taking class seriously. I’m definitely type-A and I took my responsibilities very seriously. Which Nick thought was hysterical. From that day forward he made it his mission to bump into me at the gym or in the cafeteria. He was persistent. And cute. 🙂

As for hobbies and interests -Nick LOVES all things Star Trek. He’s also a huge IPA fan and loves playing racquetball. I like playing in my co-ed adult kickball league, Crossfit, and singing. I used to be a musical theatre actor -I need to get back into that.

BITM: How did you get started in real estate & renovation?

Nestrs: This answer is kinda a two-parter. Nick was a drywaller back in college. It was on a job site for his now mentor that he witnessed an architect pull up in a Jaguar. It was at that moment that Nick decided he would change his major to Architecture. (<—little did he know not all architects drive Jags. :)) He ended up getting his Masters degree and did a couple of internships. He landed a job in corporate interiors in NYC (he moved there to be with me) and then a job for Google as a Space Planner. But, as time went on, Nick got the entrepreneur bug. He attributes that to watching all the Google employees have “side-hustles” or start-ups, if you will. So, when the time was right, he went to school to get his real estate license and started his own handyman company. It was called FixIt Astoria. He was a rental agent and took on small home improvement jobs around the city. It’s NY -even if you’re handy you don’t have room for tools. So, an educated handyman could command a high hourly rate. Nick was never happier.

For me, I moved to NYC with a very clear goal: to make it on Broadway. I spent 10 years as a professional actor. That’s right. I actually made money at it! But, not consistently. Between jobs, I was a bartender. An excellent bartender. Eventually I found myself as the head bartender of a fancy hotel that paid me more money per year than I ever thought I could make. Think 6 figures. So, when a crappy little house came on the market in our up and coming area of Astoria, Queens I figured we could afford it. With an FHA loan, I was right, we could. All I was thinking was, “Aren’t you supposed to own your own when you’re an adult?” I wasn’t thinking of “jumping in the market” or anything educated like that. 🙂 We closed on that house in June of 2012. Shortly thereafter, the allure of a high-paying job faded. I didn’t love bartending. So, I decided I’d start my own business too. So I could work flexible hours between acting gigs and auditions. I’ve been obsessed with residential organizing and little household DIYs since I was little. I rearranged my mother’s kitchen and basement more times than I could count. So many times, in fact, she often got frustrated because she could never find anything. I also would hang wallpaper, tile my basement floor, and help my dad with various projects growing up. So, I thought it was only natural to start my own professional organizing and handywoman business.

So there Nick and I were… both with our own businesses that were very related. I’d often “hire” him to help me with my clients and he’d “hire” me to help him with his clients. After I got laid off from my hotel job, we decided to just join forces and created Nestrs, LLC. Meanwhile, while we were growing our two separate businesses we were also fixing up our tiny little NYC shack of a house. First thing on the to-do list was to make use of the private basement entrance. We decided to add a shower to the bathroom in the basement and then turn that space into an Airbnb. We made so much money from that suite it paid our entire mortgage!

We decided to list that house for sale at the height of the NYC market in 2016. We doubled its value in just 4.5 years. We fell in love with what mixing design, construction, and real estate could do.

BITM: What’s your favorite and not so favorite part about being a small business owner?

Nestrs: Oof, that’s a loaded question. We love the flexibility. No submitting requests for time off or anything like that. We’re not very good at saying no, BUT, if we could get better at that we would also love having the power to only work with people and on jobs that we’re truly passionate about. Our not-so-favorite parts include no affordable health care and the crazy twists and turns you experience as your business grows. Sometimes we’re like…what are we even doing?! But then other days we’re like….how did we get so lucky?! It’s definitely a roller coaster.

BITM: How has social media helped your business? Any tricks you can share with us that have helped you grow your following?

Nestrs: We’ve finally started to focus on growing our following last year. Here’s what I know….ITS SO MUCH WORK. We do a myriad of things to grow including advertising, being highly engaged with other like-minded accounts, and posting daily with engaging captions. But, the number one way we’ve found to grow is to share and be shared by others in our niche.

Social media is how we’ve gotten all the cool opportunities in our time as Nestrs. From being on a reality show to now working with Lowes, it’s been because of our activity on Instagram. So, the ROI is definitely worth the time investment. But man, it’s hard to keep at it.

BITM: What goals are you working toward? Any big dreams or aspirations that you’d love to achieve in the future?

Nestrs: Overall our goal is to achieve Financial Independence so Nick can slow down when he’s working on projects -he really loves to be a perfectionist and “tinker” on houses. Most clients don’t have that kind of money or time. I want to be able to travel and volunteer more. Financial Independence would allow us all of that. So, we continue to slowly build up our rental portfolio with Airbnbs and long-term rentals. We’ve got some time before we get there, but that’s our number one focus.

Other than that, we’re still trying to build systems within Nestrs so our day to day doesn’t seem so scattered. We need to work on getting clear with what projects we enjoy taking on and what business structure works best for us: subcontractors? Employees? Just small projects? Full-on renovations? We’re getting closer to perfecting everything.

Also, since you asked about BIG dreams, I’m also trying to find out a profitable way to marry my media skills with my love for homes. Not sure if that’s a monthly contribution to a magazine or a home and lifestyle host on a news network but something where I can communicate to a mass audience, connect and brag about others in my industry, and talk about homes all day long.

BITM: What do you like most about living where you live? (let’s see how your answers compare to ours ;))

Nestrs: Haha -so, we just moved to Columbus, OH from NYC! And since this is for the Beginning in the Middle blog I HAVE to share our story.

Catherine and I connected on Instagram back in 2015. We connected over our love of design and the fact that Catherine and Bryan used to live in Astoria, Queens -where Nick and I were currently living at the time. We decided to meet up when BITM was making a trip to the city for a wedding. I’m not sure how they felt but Nick and I were pumped to have loved them just as much in person as we did on Instagram. We talked NYC, real estate, and design and never ran out of things to say.

Fast forward to 2017. Nick and I decided to leave NYC since we had just sold our property for a premium. We wanted to move someplace where we could stretch our real estate dollars. We had spreadsheet after spreadsheet and list after list of place to go: Fort Collins, CO, Birmingham, AL, Vancouver, WA, Portland, OR, etc. Columbus, OH was NEVER on the list. Nick and I both went to college in Ohio and kinda just felt like we wanted to try someplace different. To be honest, Ohio was never even considered. Well, all of the cities we were thinking about moving to ended up being not such a great idea for one reason or another. Nick’s best friend lives in Columbus so we decided to go visit him while we were doing all this exploring. At the time we were living in an RV we purchased b/c we didn’t have a home anymore and found a great place to park the RV while we visited Danny. We knew BITM lived in Cbus too -so we asked them if they wanted to grab a beer while we were in town. We met up and it was just like before. Great things to share and connect over.

Well, we couldn’t resist. We decided to just “check out the Cbus market”. Two days later we found a fourplex in a great neighborhood. What the heck, let’s put an offer on it. One week later our real estate agent called us to tell us our offer had been accepted. We had already left Columbus to hang out in Chicago with other friends. We couldn’t believe it. We thought…well, ok. We’ll take 6 months and fix it up and then head someplace else.

8 months went by and we purchased another Columbus property. Nick loves being near his best friend. And me, I love the residential architecture here. I’m close to my parents who live in the Erie, PA area. And we’re close to Nick’s parents who live in the Seville, OH area. Direct flights to NYC and Chicago are quick and cheap. Columbus turned out to be the perfect place for us.

We’re pretty obsessed with a few restaurants in the area. If you ever find yourself here you gotta check out Katalina’s and Tommy’s Diner. Super yummy.

As for where to stay? Well, if you’re just a party of 1 or 2, you gotta check out our 1 bedroom Airbnbs. 🙂 If you’re a larger party, I know some other Airbnb hosts who have gorgeous properties here too! 🙂

BITM: Favorite place you’ve traveled to?

Nestrs: I can’t limit it to just one place! When I was an actor I went on a few national tours and got to see a lot of our country (all 50 states!) and many places overseas! Some of my favorites:

Tokyo, Japan: The culture here is amazing! The city is vibrant and the food is SO good.

NYC: Actually, this just might be my favorite place on earth. Ever since I was little I wanted to live there and when I finally moved there when I was 22 I stayed for 14 years. I love it there. The people, the food, the pace. It’s electric.

My other favorite place is the entire state of Colorado. It was a bit too expensive for us to move there, but I wouldn’t mind having a vacation property there some day. Either in Denver or Boulder. The mountains are gorgeous and most of that state gets 300 days of sunshine!

BITM: What are some of your favorite design & real estate books?

Nestrs: Nick had me read Rich Dad, Poor Dad after we purchased our NYC property. I wanted to understand what an asset was. What a liability was. I wanted to know why everyone cared about equity. This book explains it perfectly and 100% changed my mindset forever. We have also read The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan like, a million times. I mentioned before how scattered we tend to feel. We open this book whenever we get off track.

BITM: The One Thing is on our list of inspirational books too.  it’s so good!
BITM: Biggest lesson learned / advice to people just starting out?

Nestrs: Remember your why. Write it down. Put it on the fridge. Make it your cell phone wallpaper. Email yourself and have it pop up into your inbox every few months. Because it gets hard. Like….sooooooo hard. And if you don’t remember why you started you’re likely to do what’s easy. What’s comfortable. So, if you really want financial freedom, your own business, or a life in a creative industry like design you need to work on your discipline everyday, remember why you started, and surround yourself with like-minded individuals. If you go for big scary things but your friends have no idea why you insist on working 80 hours just to avoid working 40 it’ll be too easy to throw in the towel.

BITM: Last one: favorite white paint color?

Nestrs: It depends where it’s going! I’m usually a Sherwin Williams girl, but my go-to white is White Dove by Benjamin Moore (OC-17).

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You can follow Nick & Sarah on Instagram here, check out their company website here, and check out their Airbnb listings here!

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  1. Holley says:

    BITM thank you for doing this! So quick question – in your opinions is it better to do short term rentals like Airbnb or long term rentals? Which would you start with? Thanks! This is such an awesome series 🙂

    • Catherine says:

      So glad you’re enjoying it! This is a tough one and depends on a few factors. Long-term rentals are lower maintenance (typically) and require less time managing, but they also tend to bring in less than short-term rentals. Short-term require more time managing, expenses are higher (you pay for all utilities, cable, and any other amenities you’d offer), and they’re not allowed in every city, neighborhood or building. On the flip side, short-term rentals are a ton of fun if you love hospitality & want to put in the extra effort to keep them running smoothly. They also tend to be more lucrative than long-term rentals. I feel like there’s so much more to share on this topic… stay tuned for a blog post this fall!

  2. This was so interesting and inspiring! You guys have so much in common too! Thanks for sharing!

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About BEGINNING IN THE MIDDLE

Catherine & Bryan Williamson moved from NYC to Columbus, OH.  Beginning in the Middle is where they share project progress, interior design tips, their real estate investment journey, and other life happenings.

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Our journey started unexpectedly in 2012, when we decided to make a big move from New York to Columbus. The glamour of climbing the corporate ladder was wearing off, and we knew that renting an expensive small apartment and dealing with crowded subways everyday was not going to work forever. We wanted to start creating something for ourselves, and although we didn’t know exactly what that something was, we knew NYC wasn’t the place for it.

We decided on Columbus because Bryan grew up here, and we were intrigued by all of the development going on in the downtown area at the time. We drove through many of the neighborhoods and admired the boarded up old houses, most of which were built in the early 1900s, and started dreaming about the things we could do here.

I'm Catherine, and I'm the founder of Beginning in the Middle.

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