Robert Van Winkle, better known as the rapper Vanilla Ice, shot to fame in the early 1990s with his hit single, "Ice, Ice Baby" -- the first hip-hop single ever to top the Billboard charts. Fast forward two decades later, and Van Winkle is making headlines again thanks to his completely, er, renovated career.
The former bad boy has traded his microphone for a power drill, tattoos for a tool belt (though he still boasts some from his rapper days) and instead of destroying property, he is building, renovating and flipping them. And he couldn't be happier.
And neither can his new set of fans, apparently. His hit reality television show, "The Vanilla Ice Project," was renewed for a second season that's set to premiere this Saturday, Jan. 21 on the DIY Network. The weekly series, which first aired in October 2010, documents his skills as a handyman and follows him and a team of workers as they renovate a foreclosed and abandoned home in Palm Beach, Fla.
Though many were originally cynical of the ex-rapper's expertise in the field of home renovation, Van Winkle proved to be anything but a neophyte. In fact, during an in-depth interview with AOL Real Estate, the rapper-turned-renovator shared his long-time passion for real estate and his extensive knowledge about home-flipping.
"I've been doing this for a long time, I just never put a camera to it! I began buying houses when I was 19 years old," Van Winkle said of his early forays into the real estate market.
"From Star Island, to Laurel Canyon in California. Even on Bleecker Street in New York. I remember first bringing a decorator into my own 15,000-square-foot mansion at the time and that was the coolest thing that could ever happen to a young person. I'd walk in and I had these purple rooms, green rooms and yellow carpet. Totally discotheque. Soon I got sick of it all and thought I'd re-do the whole thing myself. And so I did."
That was over 15 years ago. Since then, Van Winkle has been practicing renovation on his own homes ("because nobody lets you practice on theirs," he jokes) and has become a savvy house flipper, thanks to a great eye, some formal training and a very hands-on approach to home renovations.
And his efforts have been paying off remarkably. Despite launching "The Vanilla Ice Project" in the midst of a depressed housing market, the renovated home from the show's first season -- a tax-lien property bought for $400,000 outright -- was sold almost immediately after the final episode aired for more than double the original price, at $875,000 ("with no haggles!" Van Winkle said).
The same, if not better, is expected from the second season's property. Van Winkle nabbed the foreclosed property, also in Florida, for $500,000. (Despite being in shambles, it was appraised at $850,000 at the time.) Though he says that he spent over $1 million in renovations to the home, Van Winkle is already receiving offers from $2 million to $2.3 million ("incredible for the market we're in right now," he admits) -- though the show hasn't even officially aired. Unlike the first season, however, he is refusing to sell. Instead, he wants to showcase the home and "let it marinate" for a while.
Ice's Advice to Regular Joes
Though the renovated mansions featured in "The Vanilla Ice Project" are a far cry from your average American home, Van Winkle still believes that the lessons learned from his show can be applied by anyone to any property -- no matter how much, or little, money is involved.
"It's all about inspiring people," Van Winkle told AOL Real Estate. "Even during an uncertain economy, it's about inspiring people to get out there and get to work and make their houses a real home. Even though they may not get the money back out of the house or flip the house, [the show] motivates them to live that dream of having your own home and fixing it up, and it's a great feeling."
And with more and more homeowners turning to remodeling their homes and investing money in their property despite plunging home values, the advice dispensed by DIY reality shows is welcomed and highly valuable. When we asked Van Winkle what his No. 1 piece of advice was for homeowners wanting to spruce up their own homes, Van Winkle barely stopped to think.
"Re-do your kitchens," he said. "It's the most cost-efficient improvement you can make and you're always going to feel better if you spend money in your kitchen first. The kitchen is the main focus of the house; 80 percent of everybody always migrates to the kitchen at all times. So Formica's gotta go. I'm sorry, it's gotta go -- the '70s aren't coming back like that."
Van Winkle adds that if you don't have enough money to do an entire renovation of your kitchen, there are subtle changes that you can do, such as painting kitchen cabinets, replacing Formica with granite or materials such as limestone, or replacing your counter tops.
For the serious renovators and flippers out there, however, Van Winkle warns not to "go crazy" as over-customizing your home can hurt the home's resale value.
"You gotta keep it open for the buyer to think 'I can add this, I can add that.' " But you don't want to under-do it either so that they don't think there's too much work to be done. And stay within your appraised value. Know what your budget is!"
Season 2 of "The Vanilla Ice Project" kicks off on Saturday, Jan. 21 at 10 p.m. EST on the DIY Network.
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