Flipping for Their Future

Kieley and Blake Taylor make a life building homes

Photography by Jeff Amberg

When Kieley and Blake Taylor married in 2008, they may have seemed like typical newlyweds. They wanted what many young couples desire — a comfortable home, children and most importantly, to be financially stable. And Blake had a plan on how to get them there.

Before they married, Blake owned a starter home near the Veterans Administration Hospital on the southeast side of Columbia. Once he decided to sell, things began to move rapidly. With a “For Sale by Owner” sign planted in the front yard, the house sold in just two weeks. “So I had to start thinking about the best way to invest that money,” he says. Talking it over with Kieley, they decided to invest the money in another house. 

Working in banking and, more specifically, commercial lending for Southern First Bank, Blake has the advantage of understanding how the process works. Internal Revenue Service rules allow that, when selling a primary residence, a homeowner can earn up to $250,000 in profit as a single owner, twice that if married, and not owe any capital gains taxes. And there is no limit placed on the number of times a person can use the home-sale exemption. The key is that the property has to be the principal residence, which means living there. It is important to note that this tax break does not apply to a house or other property owned for investment purposes. In those cases, the usual capital gains rules apply. Of course, it is always advisable to consult a tax advisor about any particular circumstances.

Another key component for investing in houses is selecting the right location. Look for a desirable area that also has a great school system because houses with these criteria will usually perform better when it comes time to sell. “So this became our business plan — go into an established neighborhood with an established per foot sale price, live in it for a couple of years and sell it. Then reinvest that money into the next house,” says Blake. They also made sure to select an area where they knew they could be happy if for some reason they could not sell the house.

They chose LongCreek Plantation subdivision on the northeast side of Columbia for their first build. While Blake knew how the financing side of the business worked, they were both novices when it came to home construction, so they chose to work with a builder for their first project. 

Those next few months were a whirlwind of activity for the young couple. “We broke ground in November 2007, and Blake proposed to me three weeks later,” Kieley recalls. They were building a new house, planning a wedding, and Kieley was even preparing to start a new job. “It’s funny how people say if you can build a house together, you can survive anything,” she laughs. “I knew if we could do all this at one time, we could absolutely make it!”

Construction on the house took about four and a half months. Working with plans they had already seen, Kieley and Blake worked together to make adjustments that they knew would make the house more attractive to future buyers. How could first-time builders accomplish such a feat in such a seemingly short period of time? Because Kieley enjoys doing research, they had a head start on knowing in advance answers to questions the builder would ask. “When the builder wanted us to begin picking things out, like the color of the brick, interior and exterior paint colors and flooring, we were ready because we had already done that,” says Kieley.

For each house, Kieley and Blake put a great deal of effort into the customization of the build. Blake had always enjoyed drawing; in fact, when he was younger, he even considered becoming an architect. So they took the house plans and tweaked them with the thought of what a buyer might be looking for such as an open floor plan with a family layout, custom cabinetry and finishes and hardwood flooring, making sure they paid attention to the ease of living in the house and its functionality. “We spent time paying attention to the details, how the house would flow, even down to where we placed the wall plugs and putting light switches on each side of the bed,” Kieley adds.

Then it was time to sell. The house stayed on the market for a little over two months and sold in May 2010. Kieley and Blake rented an apartment and broke ground on house number two in the Woodcreek subdivision in August 2010. At that time, there were only a handful of lots remaining in the area, but it worked well since Blake was working downtown, and Kieley’s job was located in the Lugoff area. 

This time, they ventured into the construction on their own without the assistance of a builder. They had been extremely involved in the process when building their first home and truly believed it was something they could tackle on their own. “It all goes back to how well you plan,” says Blake. “If you pay attention to the process and you can establish the right budget for what you want, then you can absolutely do this.” 

Kieley and Blake completed the house in five and half months and moved in January 2011. By December of that same year, the first of their three children came along, but neither Kieley nor Blake was quite ready to settled into one spot just yet. They lived in Woodcreek for just more than two years and had two children while they were there. “We actually lived in the house six months longer after we sold it because the couple who bought it needed to sell their own home before they moved in,” Kieley says.

And so they began to put plans together for their current home, house number three, located on Sterling Lake in Lexington. “We rented a house for six months because we knew we could finish this one in that same amount of time,” recalls Kieley. But this presented a bit more of a challenge from a time standpoint since there were also two very young children, one 15 months and the other just 3 months old. In November 2013, the house was finished, and now the Taylor family has put down a few more roots with their third child. “I’m certainly not in a rush to do this every two years now that we have three kids,” laughs Kieley. 

Because a house can become part of the family fabric, full of memories and milestone events, one has to wonder how the Taylors could just up and move so easily. “I don’t put a great deal of time into decorating, especially with a lot of personal things. That keeps you from getting quite so attached.” she says. She and Blake had determined that building with the intent of selling would be her way of contributing to the family, especially if it meant that she could stay home with the kids. 

Kieley does admit that it wasn’t quite so simple leaving the house in LongCreek Plantation, and she shed a few tears. “It was where we got married, the first house we built together, where we started our life together, so it was a little difficult,” she says. But the tears didn’t come for the house in Woodcreek, because they both knew going into it that this house was a means to an end.

With each new construction project and another learning experience completed, the Taylors’ ability to “see” their next house became easier. Their goal was to build a house to suit their needs and grow with them should they decide to stay a bit longer. Their first house had a master bedroom downstairs with the remaining ones upstairs; they learned that some buyers, especially those just starting a family prefer having at least one bedroom downstairs so the children are close by. “We also learned that inches can make a difference,” says Blake, “and it doesn’t cost that much more.” With each house, they fine-tuned the plans to add an additional six inches here, a foot there to create the best use of space.

Their current home has the master suite along with the kids’ rooms downstairs, with plenty of space upstairs for guests to have privacy. The house also has a good amount of unfinished storage space that could be a draw for a future buyer. “It’s space that can meet their needs, but with the structural work already done,” says Blake. This allows a future owner to still be able to customize the house.

In order for the house to meet the goal of making a profit, it’s also important to stay on track with the budget. The more planning and attention to detail, the more likely the project will be a profitable one. “In building three houses, each one larger than the prior, we never missed a budget,” says Blake. “I think that’s one of the reasons we’ve been so successful. We built each house like we were going to live in it forever.”

It’s been two years and the Taylors haven’t yet begun drawing up plans for another home. How long before they feel the need to scratch the itch again? They’re not really sure. “It’s a great hobby that we both really enjoy. We have a great house, three beautiful kids and a great school district. Maybe it’s time for a four-year track instead of two. But there are still a few lots for sale in this neighborhood,” Kieley grins.