How to Make Money Using Irene’s Rule of Real Estate

IreneSince it’s Memorial Day, a time when we remember people we’ve loved and lost, I thought it would be nice to write about Irene and her Rule of Real Estate. Have you heard of her? My clients have. And she’s earned them more money than Carleton Sheets ever has.

Irene was my grandmother. Irene Balle. She would want you to know that.

My grandparents were part of America’s Greatest Generation. They grew up on western Minnesota farms, survived the Great Depression, relocated to San Francisco during World War II to build ships for the Navy, then returned to Minnesota where they bought their first (and only) home.

Thankfully, there’s some longevity in my family. As a result, I had the great privilege of getting to know them as an adult. I marvelled at them, really. They stayed in their home well into their 90’s; even surviving the tornado that swept through St Peter, Minn., in 1998.

I came home and visited them the summer after the tornado. Most of their windows had been blown out in the storm, scattering shards of glass everywhere; even embedding it in the carpet. When I stopped in, the old carpet had been removed. And for the first time, I got to see the absolutely pristine oak hardwood floors that lied beneath.

Grandma was agonizing over carpet choices. I was incredulous, and said, “Grandma, these floors are beautiful! Don’t cover them with carpet!”

Irene gasped and put her hand to her mouth. “But we wouldn’t want people to think we were poor!”, she exclaimed.


Well I had to ask. And as I probed, she explained that following World War II, hardwood floors were inexpensive and put in all of the newly constructed homes. Carpet, on the other hand, was 100 percent wool. It was something you scrimped and saved for, and when it went in to your house, it was a status symbol.

Grandma knew hardwood was back in style, but she also knew she was 87. She wanted the traction only carpet provides.

When I’m looking at property with clients, I can spot a Greatest Generation seller in seconds. The property is almost always beautifully maintained, but dated. And there’s usually that avocado green carpeting with the embedded swirl pattern. I’m sure there’s some formal name for it, but I don’t know what it is.

Whenever I see this, I always ask my clients whether they’re familiar with Irene’s Rule of Real Estate. I tell them the story I just told you, usually as I make my way to a corner of the room, or, better yet, a heat grate in the floor. I pull back the carpet, lift up the grate, and reveal — guess what? Pristine hardwood floors.

Duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes are no different than single family homes. For some reason, “younger folks” (as grandma called us) LOVE woodwork, whether it’s in a rental or a property we’re considering buying. It has an almost hypnotic effect on all of us!

Hardwood floors are in almost every home built before 1969 or 1970. And if they’re covered with avocado swirl, in all likelihood, it will be an easy and inexpensive rehab. Just rip out the carpet!

I miss my grandma. And the next time you stumble into one of those properties, I hope you pull up the carpet, think of her and smile.

Irene would have been happy to see you make a little money.