Transforming real estate

Minnesota’s only integrated real estate and remodeling firm is thriving in difficult economic times.

Now is not considered a good time to be either a real estate agent or a general contractor. Samantha Strong is both. But despite the continued weakness in 

the housing sector, she’s not worried about that fate of her company, Metamorphosis. 

As a matter of fact the company, located in the CARAG neighborhood of Uptown, is doing better than ever. Over the past year, it has grown from a one-woman shop to a four-person company and landed Strong occasional guest spots on Minnesota Public Radio, thanks to a unique business model that combines all aspects of the housing business, including real estate services, eco-friendly remodeling and leasing.

After buying her first house at 24, Strong found herself in need of a second job in order to make ends meet. She found work at Home Depot, where she learned “a heck of a lot about how to fix up my own house, and a heck of a lot about how to destroy it.” It was there she learned how much she enjoyed learning about how housing worked, and she found full-time work in the industry working for a remodeling company that specialized in high-end floors. 

A series of other related jobs followed, including work for a condo developer and occasional jobs as a freelance designer. By the summer of 2007, Strong had her real estate license and was working freelance for a number of general contractors when she decided to strike off on her own. Metamorphosis Group was born as a construction company, and a year later the brokerage arm followed suit. 

The two sides of her business kept her busy, but it wasn’t until the end of 2008 that the real estate and remodeling business converged around a single project — a client wanted a “purchase rehab” loan to buy a house and include funds for a kitchen remodel and general improvement. As a real estate agent and a general contractor, Strong and Metamorphosis were in the unique position of being able to handle the project from purchase to completion of the upgrades.

In 2009, Metamorphosis handled approximately 10 mid-sized construction projects, ranging in price from around $20,000 to $40,000. 2010 has brought in even more work, although the type of project has changed. The company has added a leasing department, and the construction work has shifted from complete remodels to smaller-scale upgrades.  

“It’s twice the volume, half the cost,” says Strong. “People are looking for the most bang for their buck.”

While most of the company’s current projects are divided between the construction and real estate divisions rather than integrated projects, Strong maintains that the fact that her firm offers both services is still a major selling point for her clients. “You’ll find a real estate agent who is a general contractor, but they’re not really running a construction business,” she says. 

When functioning as a real estate agent, her knowledge of construction helps clients determine how much future remodels might cost. When acting as a general contractor, her real estate agent experience helps her pinpoint what sort of return a client might see on a remodeling project should the house go on the market. “Most clients are first-time or move-up buyers,” Strong says. “We’re busy with smaller projects that maximize their dollar, like kitchens and bathrooms.”

Most of the firm’s clients come by way of referral, and a big part of what drives those referrals is the company’s focus on eco-friendly construction. While few clients these days are opting for high-cost green technologies like tankless water heaters, materials like high-efficiency insulation are an easier sell. “Most everyone is open to saving money,” she laughs.

According to Strong, a growing percentage of her clients — and homebuyers in general — are single women. The fact that Metamorphosis is owned by a woman and comprised of an all-female staff certainly helps female clients feel more comfortable. “It’s a very similar experience of going to the auto shop,” Strong says of working with male general contractors. “Some contractors treat women like they don’t know anything about remodeling, when really they just want to be respected as a client.”

Strong and the rest of Metamorphosis want people to feel comfortable and informed about their home project choices, a philosophy that extends beyond the bounds of how they deal with their clients. Strong has lobbied local government and real estate organizations to make it easier to search for sustainable homes in real estate listing and teaches courses on green building to her fellow realtors. She and the rest of the Metamorphosis staff give talks about eco-friendly topics at co-ops, green product stores and other locations. It’s all part of a simple belief that Strong tries to keep in mind for every project. “An educated consumer makes good choices,” she says.

Jeremy Zoss is a freelancer writer who lives in Northeast.