Neglected Beachfront Home a Chance for Remodeler to Shine

VB Homes purchased this Virginia Beach home with an eye toward displaying its remodeling skills. The transition from simple ranch to beautiful waterfront retreat provided a powerful marketing tool by showing other homeowners what they could accomplish.

May 31, 2007

Products List
The Financials
Company Snapshot

One of the major goals of the remodel was to drastically improve the curb appeal of the home, which was accomplished with a large front porch, a new color scheme and extensive landscaping.  Photo by Lee Brauer

When the owners of VB Homes saw this Virginia Beach home, they knew they had a project that would allow them to showcase their work.

"It needed an updated look, but it was in a great neighborhood of expensive homes close to the beach," says company President Chris Ettel.

The simple brick ranch home had been owned for many years by an elderly person who had not invested much in the house. The building appeared to be structurally sound, and home values in the neighborhood could support a major renovation, Ettel says.

VB undertakes one or two spec remodels a year. When choosing a home for a spec remodel, VB's management team considers two major factors: if it will fit into their schedule of other work and if it offers a good marketing opportunity. In this case, the home fit both requirements.

"We knew we could make a pretty dramatic transformation, which is great for marketing," Ettel says. "It was an opportunity to show what we could do in this neighborhood."


Growing Scope

Originally, VB was planning the remodel to be smaller in scale, with some exterior work to upgrade the curb appeal and cosmetic improvements in the bathrooms and kitchen. Although that probably would have resulted in a more profitable project, once the design team got into the home it saw an opportunity to really showcase its work, Ettel says.

"We took it a lot further than we needed to," he says. "We wanted to inspire other homeowners and show them what they could do. It was more about that than trying to make more money on it."

That also expanded the timeline of the project, as what had originally been planned for a few months stretched into more than a year. Ettel suspects the project probably could have been completed in 10 months if field crews had not been pulled to work on other jobs at times.

The new family room featured a handcrafted masonry fireplace and vaulted ceilings. It was built on the site of the enclosed porch, which had to be torn down when structural problems were discovered.
Photo by D. Kevin Elliott, Elliott Photography

The final project ended up adding only a few hundred square feet to the home but looks like a much bigger transformation. That effect was accomplished mainly through raising the roof and converting the attic space into two bedrooms, a bathroom and a sitting room that overlooks the ocean across the street. The plan originally called for just the bedrooms and the bath, but once construction started, the field crew told the design team it thought there was room to take advantage of the ocean view.

"That's when we decided to add the 'eyebrow' to give us a little more room and allow for the arched segment-head window," Ettel says.

The new addition was sided with James Hardie fiber cement, and VB painted the existing brick on the first floor to match. While that alone would have been enough to drastically improve the look of the home, the VB team made several other changes to improve its curb appeal.

The team added a circular drive that leads back to the basement-level garage behind the house. The home sits on a hill, so the front yard sloped down to the street. VB changed that with a terraced lawn and stone retaining wall to provide a more attractive approach to the home.

"We hadn't planned on doing it, but it allowed us to do a lot more with the landscaping," Ettel says. "Otherwise, we would have just had a rolling hill down to the road."

Finally, they added on a large front porch to once again take advantage of the ocean view.

"It makes the house a little more inviting and really gives you that sense of neighborhood," Ettel says.

The kitchen was gutted and rebuilt to replace the dated finishes with more contemporary styles and was opened up to improve the flow between it and adjoining rooms.
Photo by D. Kevin Elliott, Elliott Photography

Inside, the company also made significant upgrades. The existing home had three bedrooms on the first floor. The team kept the bedroom in the front of the home with its own bath intact, but converted the two back bedrooms into a large master suite, eliminating one bedroom and adding a bathroom. VB made the change with the idea of appealing to older homeowners who would want their living space on the first floor, although it turned out that a younger family with children ended up buying the home.

The kitchen was also upgraded with new appliances and finishes and redesigned to improve the flow by opening it up to the dining room and new family room. The family room was added where the enclosed porch had previously been and now features vaulted ceilings and a new masonry fireplace. Tearing down the porch was not part of the original plan but became necessary when VB discovered it was not structurally sound.

One of the more significant changes was the moving of the stair-case. The original home featured a hidden staircase right inside the front door that went up to the attic space. VB moved the staircase to the back of the home, facing the kitchen, which created extra space in the front hall that the company used to build a new half bath on the first floor. Throughout the home, VB improved the energy efficiency by adding insulation and replacing the windows.

The company also added a laundry room in the basement with the garage, as well as added a pump and new drainage to the basement to address previous flooding problems. In retrospect, that's the one part of the project Ettel would have done differently.

"In hindsight, we should have just enclosed the basement and not used that space, and instead added an attached garage at a higher grade," he says. "It's been a constant challenge to keep that garage dry, even with everything we did. There's a reason you don't see a lot of basements out here."

Focus on Design

The project was a success for the company from both a marketing and a profit standpoint, Ettel says. The home sold in about two months and has also helped land other work in the area. It also gave VB a chance to stretch and see just what it could do from a design and construction standpoint.

"This is an example of the perfect design/build collaboration," Ettel says.

The company is putting an increased focus on design lately, with the addition of architects to the staff and a change in name from VB Contractors to emphasize it is not "just contractors."

"Design/build gets thrown around so much now that we're focusing on marketing ourselves as 'architecture/build' just to show how important the architecture is to us," Ettel says.

Project Timeline
Date Stage of Project
Dec. 15, 2004 Project start
April 15, 2005 Framing
May 15, 2005 HVAC/electric/plumbing rough-ins
June 15, 2005 Insulation and wallboard
July 15, 2005 Interior trim
August 15, 2005 Cabinetry
Sept. 15, 2005 Painting
Oct. 15, 2005 Flooring
Nov. 15, 2005 HVAC/electric/plumbing finals
Dec. 15, 2005 Final painting, finishing of hardwood floors
Jan. 5, 2006 Project completion



Products List

Appliances: GE, Jenn-Air Doors: Masonite, Therma-Tru Faucets: Delta, Kohler Siding: James Hardie Windows: Simonton


For Financial and Budget information, see the June 2007 issue of Professional Remodeler.

Company Snapshot

VB Homes

Owners: Chancey Walker, Chris Ettel, Rick Stageberg and Todd Savage
Location: Virginia Beach, Va.
2006 volume: $4.5 million
Projected 2007 volume: $4 million
Web site:

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