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‘Fixer Uppers’ are his niche

By Staff | Oct 11, 2020

Noel Johnson stands outside one of the homes he is currently restoring. Johnson does much of the work himself but brings in a contractor when needed.

Noel Johnson may have just moved back to the area in July, but he has not wasted any time becoming involved in trying to create more opportunities for people looking for affordable housing in the Blue Earth community.

Johnson buys houses which need some work and fixes them up with the plan to rent them out or sell them depending on the circumstance.

Johnson and his wife, Renee, along with their four children, became Blue Earth residents in July of this year.

“I actually met Renee in Hawaii and then followed her back to her home state of New Jersey and somehow convinced her to marry me,” Johnson says.

The Johnsons were living in southern California prior to their move to the “Land of 10,000 Lakes.”

Noel Johnson stands in the kitchen of a duplex he has been busy bringing back to life. He has installed new flooring in addition to new appliances.

“I have done many different things and had many occupations,” Johnson comments. “I have been a missionary, managed a German beer hall and sausage establishment, been part of a tech start-up company, been on staff at a church and worked for an art designer building and tearing down sets for commercial shoots. I have also been a realtor.”

He says what you hear on the news about California being an expensive place to live is true.

“We were paying $3,000 per month to rent a place,” Johnson remarks.

He says Renee, a “Jersey girl,” loves living in the Midwest and specifically, Blue Earth.

“She loves the slower pace and the friendlier people in the Blue Earth community,” Johnson shares. “She may have been more ready to move here than I was at first.”

Johnson grew up in the Frost area and graduated from United South Central High School in 2002. He has fond memories of his years growing up in Faribault County and playing sports at USC.

“My senior year at USC we made it to the Section finals in football,” he recalls. “Brent Schimek, who grew up in the Delavan area, was our coach and did a pretty good job with the team.”

Now that he is back in the area, Johnson has a number of goals.

“People need affordable housing,” he states. “I do not want people to just have a roof over their head, I want them to have a nice place to live and be able to call it home.”

Johnson has first-hand knowledge of the housing situation from his time in California when he lived in Los Angeles.

“I was a renter in Los Angeles,” he comments. “There were landlords who cared about their renters and then there were landlords who did not care about the people renting their property.”

His experience as a realtor has helped him when looking at properties to purchase.

“If the price is right, a property can be rehabilitated and someone can have the opportunity to have an affordable place to live,” Johnson explains. “In many of these smaller towns if a house is demolished it will not be replaced.”

Fixing up a house is something the Faribault County native really enjoys.

“Bringing something back to life is a wonderful feeling,” he says smiling. “And if I can contribute to alleviating a housing problem, it would be great.”

One of the current houses he is working on was built in 1890.

“It has quite an interesting abstract,” Johnson notes. “It is a duplex and had been previously owned by someone in a wheel chair so it currently has a ramp leading up to the house.”

Before Johnson makes the decision to purchase a house he goes through a series of questions.

“Can I rent it out, could I flip it, could I sell it and could I live in it?” he says. “I also have to figure out what work would need to be done on the structure.”

He says he will look at the foundation and also check the house for active leaks.

“You cannot fix the inside if it is still leaking from the outside,” Johnson remarks. “I also have to look at windows and doors and determine their condition. I have to know if the house can be sealed up.”

He notes one of the tougher parts of restoring houses has been his ability to get some of the supplies he needs.

“I have been waiting a long time for windows,” he notes. “Other items have not been a problem.”

Depending on the size of the job he may do most of the work himself.

“If the job gets to be too big then I will hire a contractor to do the work,” Johnson states. “I tend not to do any of the plumbing myself.”

Once the leaks are taken care of, then the work can begin on the inside of the house.

“Many of the old houses had small bathrooms so it is not unusual for walls to be removed to enlarge the bathroom space,” he shares. “Some of the houses get new shower stalls. I also remove any mold and fix and seal any cracks and quite often replace old flooring. And I do a lot of painting.”

Johnson is happy when he can fill the need of someone looking for an affordable place to live.

“You have to know your market, you have to know who needs housing,” he states. “One of the advantages of being in a small town like Blue Earth is I do not have to spend the time or money working through all the layers of red tape larger cities seem to have. It allows me to use more of my resources on the house and to make it a nice place for someone to live.”