Thursday, Sep 27, 2012

House, house baby

Rob VanWinkle - aka Vanilla Ice - and crew on the set of his home improvement show, the Vanilla Ice Project.

Justin Bieber, take note.

When you’re a teenage millionaire pop star, there are plenty of ways to spend your money. Some blow it up their noses. Others buy – and crash – fancy cars.

Rob VanWinkle invested in real estate.

“I bought a home in LA…a home in NYC…up in a ski resort… Didn’t use any of ’em ’cause I was on tour,” the man known as Vanilla Ice tells me. “Sold them and made tons of money.”

You could say it was something that grabbed a hold of him tightly.

“The market was great, so I bought a whole bunch more homes,” he says. “Buy and sell, buy and sell … and I’m like, ‘This is just awesome.’”

Now, Ice is back with his brand new invention: the Vanilla Ice Project, premiering February 13 on DIY Network Canada.

VanWinkle and his team remodel a 7,000-square-foot lakefront mansion in Palm Beach, Florida. It’s a beautiful stone-façade home, but the exterior has been neglected and the interior has been gutted. He reckons he can sell it for more than a million dollars – as long as he can make it look like a million dollars.

Each episode is dedicated to a different part of the six-bedroom, five-bath house, like “The Ugly Upstairs” and “The Master Sweet.”

Don’t let the boyish face and Texan drawl fool you; VanWinkle knows his stuff. For instance, years ago, he discovered a clever property tax exemption: zoning a piece of land for agricultural use and maintaining the land as a tree farm.

“Then I found that money DOES grow on trees,” he says. “Hell, yeah, you can sell a Royal Palm for $2,500. And I’m going: ‘2,500, 2,500, 2,500…’ And I just water it and it grows, and in three years it’ll be ‘5 grand, 5 grand…’ And whenever I want to sell it, I flip it back.”

In the first episode, “Nice, Nice Landscaping,” he puts his horticultural knowledge to use as he spruces up the home’s curb appeal, tearing out dead shrubbery, adding colourful flowers and laying stone pathways.

The stagecraft that has served him so well in music also comes in handy on the home front. He’s all about making a dramatic first impression to draw buyers in, so he hires a concert lighting specialist to light the revived exterior, to gorgeous effect.

VanWinkle is not afraid to get his tattooed hands dirty, donning work gloves and picking up the pruning shears, or climbing on the roof and working the pressure washer. He’s been doing so ever since his first remodel – the 15,000-square-foot rock-star mansion he bought when he was 19.

“Purple rooms, red rooms … these colours drive you crazy, annoying as s**t,” he recalls. “I said, ‘I can’t live this way anymore. It’s like I’m living in a nightclub. I want to feel like I’m at HOME.’ So I turned everything into earth-tone colours, warm colours, and did it myself.”

He built high-end custom homes for a while in the South Florida area, then evolved with the changing market. Florida was one of the hardest-hit states in the most recent economic downturn. But for investors, VanWinkle says, it’s better than ever. “You can buy foreclosures, short sales or tax liens (which are really good if you know how to do them). You can get in there and buy these houses below the appraised value and sell them below the appraised value and still make a profit.”

VanWinkle says renovating homes is creative, rewarding work, but music will always remain his primary passion. On being 20+ years removed from his biggest, most memorable hit, the 43-year-old says, “I own a space in time that I’m very proud of. I still perform the song. It never gets old.”

In fact, you’ll hear “Ice, Ice Baby” every time you watch the Vanilla Ice Project; it’s in the show’s intro. As savvy as he is when it comes to real estate, VanWinkle is also clear on what people are really tuning in for: “Entertainment,” he says. “Whether you like the home-building aspect or you’re not building a home at all, it’s Vanilla Ice!”

Justin, are you listening? Maybe 20 years from now we can expect to see Biebs the Builder.

DIY Network Canada is previewing free across the country throughout February.

Renovation archive

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