Jan/Feb
2013

On a Mission

Written by Trish Amundson
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on-a-mission

Nicole Curtis, host of the DIY Network’s series “Rehab Addict,” was in the right place at the right time. Reality TV was just an idea when she met a producer at the DIY Network and shared her mission to save every last old house through home restoration and preservation. Now in its third season, “Rehab Addict” features Curtis up to her neck in drywall dust and old floorboards as she curses and sometimes cries to bring new life to old homes.

Curtis, the featured speaker at the 34th Annual Rochester Area Builders Home Show February 8–10, is not an actor. She’s a single mom, licensed realtor and interior designer out of Minneapolis who has been remodeling—actually hammering, sawing and drilling—houses for 15 years. On and off camera of “Rehab Addict,” Curtis gives each home she tackles a personality as unique as her own and inspires millions of home renovation enthusiasts every week.

Was it hard, as a woman, to break through in this field?
It’s still hard. No one wanted to take me seriously. I worked very hard to “prove” that I knew what I was talking about, which means I spent much time researching, learning and, of course, working for free to build up my “proof” in a portfolio.

Are there very many women who flip homes, especially when bearing restoration in mind?
Very few women restore homes. I get so excited to chat with other women who are working in a “man’s job.” My social media outlets have become a sounding board for women in these fields, and I love it. Many think that the glass ceiling has been broken since the business world is full of women at the top, but the construction world is a whole other story—it’s still 1950 here.

How did you come to start doing this work?
I grew up in a very handy family with very strong-willed women who never waited to get things done. My parents instilled in me that home ownership was the starting block of my adulthood, and at 18, I bought my first home on a land contract with hardly enough money for a down payment, let alone a remodel budget. I quickly learned to paint, repair windows and ask many questions of the local hardware store employees.

How did you learn your skills?
I learned skills by watching experts in certain fields and asking questions. What I didn’t know how to tackle, I found someone who did and asked to shadow them. My family got me started at a young age, but, honestly, every day I learn something new.

How do you handle difficult contractors, especially if you feel it is because you are a woman?
I am a very strong, outspoken woman. On my jobsites, the minute I let my guard down, I will get trampled.

What advice do you have for women acting as their own general contractor in hiring and working with other contractors?
Educate yourself, and do not believe everything you hear. I suggest you get at least five bids (and that’s a minimum) for every project (electrical, plumbing, etc.). By doing so, you will talk to at least five different people who have five different ways of working for you!

What are your favorite and least favorite aspects of this work?
My favorite part of this work is finding the story behind the houses, meeting the families that grew up there and, most of all, knowing that the smiles from those people and the communities are all due to a silly dream I had to save old homes. My least favorite aspect is dealing with the red tape. Each of these homes comes with a mile-long list of building code issues.

How has your show on DIY Network hurt or helped your business?
You can’t get a better arena to get your word out than a national No.1 TV show. My business is to save old homes, and on the days I want to quit, I remember that with each episode I have the chance to inspire 16 million people to believe in saving old homes. It has never been about the money for me. The fact that people want to listen to me is payment enough most days.

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