PHILIPSBURG — Josh and Lizzie Parra are making a big (back) splash in Philipsburg.
“There’s a lot of opportunity here,” Josh said. “We lived in Boston for 12 years, and we saw when certain places grew and expanded to other neighborhoods, and we see that happening (in Philipsburg).”
The Parras met when both were working at Champs in State College. Lizzie is a State College native, and after a dozen years in Boston, where they operated a real estate brokerage, the Parras moved back to State College in 2016 to be closer to family and established Parra Design & Build.
After two successful redesigns in State College, the Parras have set their sights on Philipsburg.
They’re currently putting the finishing touches on their project at 328 South 2nd Street, an 1800s, Victorian-style house they’ve completely upgraded with an all-new exterior, hardwood flooring, plumbing, electricity and insulation. There are plenty of dazzling cosmetic details, too, including crystal doorknobs and several chandeliers.
Josh said he and Lizzie have “always had our eyes on Philipsburg,” and the South 2nd Street project is a way for them to gauge if the Philipsburg market is one that can choose to be selective about house finishes.
“If someone goes the extra mile and does a cute backsplash or does accent lighting, are people actually going to support that?” Lizzie said. “Are you going to get your return on investment?”
The Parras go all-in on their projects, to the point that past buyers looking at the homes online have questioned whether the houses were listed in the wrong area and were actually from the Philadelphia or Pittsburgh area.
For one of their State College projects, for instance, the Parras said they “took a lot of risk,” importing light fixtures from France, taking out three walls, vaulting a ceiling and adding an eye-catching backsplash, the latter of which ended up being one of the biggest selling points of the home.
“It’s like making an art project that takes six months, and you sink all of your money into it and you think, ‘Hopefully somebody likes this,’” Lizzie said.
The Parras said they are attracted to Philipsburg because of the town’s affordability.
“If we can make something like Philipsburg work, we still get to do our marble backsplash and our fancy lighting and our quartz counter tops, but the buy-in for the properties is lower,” Lizzie said. “You can’t price the houses crazy, either, but at least we can do one or two projects at a time and not feel like we’re down to Ramen Noodles toward the end of the projects.”
The South 2nd Street project will essentially be a brand-new home by the time the Parras are done with it.
“That’s where we’re a little bit different from your normal flippers,” Josh said. “We can’t turn something over by just throwing a coat of paint on it.”
The Parras do a lot of the redesign work themselves, but they say finding dependable contractors in the area has been a challenge.
“We’re constantly looking for a good crew,” Lizzie said. “Because of the finishes we like to do, we have to have people who are skilled. It can’t really be somebody who just got into contracting or is a handyman. It has to be somebody who knows their stuff. And we aren’t just flippers who make it pretty. We do all new HVAC, all new electric, all new plumbing, roofing, siding – sometimes we have to put new supports in the basement. We’re touching everything. So we can’t have somebody who isn’t extremely skilled in those things.”
The Parras create a website for each one of their properties. They also share the journey of their projects on social media, where they sometimes ask for input from their followers on certain design choices. Doing so has begot an “unexpected” aspect of their business, which has become their “bread and butter.”
“We always thought we’d just flip houses, but then when people saw that first project, they wanted to keep their own house, but they wanted to update their kitchen, so they asked us, ‘Could you give us a kitchen similar to that, but in my own house, that I love?’” Lizzie said. “I think that’s how we got our design clients, from our social media. Not so many people had actually gone through the first project, but a lot of people had seen the posts about it. That’s where we got our clients who want us to find them a house to flip for themselves. They are all social media fans.”
The style the Parras use varies, depending on the house. They choose projects based on which houses inspire and excite them both and that work in their budget.
The duo has found success designing a minimalistic, Scandinavian style home, a traditional, cape-style house, and now, a Victorian full of “cool historic stuff.” They found an old Mennen’s talcum powder cap dating from the 1800s and a black-and-white photo of a man they believe to be the original owner of the South 2nd Street house standing in one of the rooms. They plan to donate the artifacts to the Philipsburg Historical Society.
The Parras say one of the most rewarding aspects of their work is seeing their projects come to life, literally.
“The people who bought our first project host a lot, and when we designed the house, we designed it for hosting,” Josh said. “They invite us over when they have certain gatherings.”
“To be able to go and see people partying and living in the space that we’ve poured our hearts and souls into — it’s pretty cool,” Lizzie said.
The Parras are parents to Ignacio, 5, who joins his parents at construction sites and when they meet with clients. Centre County is a “great place to raise a child,” the Parras say, and they hope their work putting new life into old houses will stimulate other young families and young professionals to move to the area.
“If we can start getting people like that here, entrepreneurs, maybe they’ll open a business in downtown Philipsburg,” Josh said.
More photos of the South 2nd project can be viewed at www.328south2nd.com.