Spotlight On: Irene Guanill-Seeing Beyond the Mess
Mary Prenon | October 2017
Irene Guanill describes herself as “a girl from the South Bronx,” who grew up learning how to turn lemons into lemonade. “My mom was always very strong and she taught us to be strong,” she said. “Failure was not an option—you could either sink or swim, and I chose to swim.”
Today, the mother of three is a Broker/Owner of her own business, Meet the Sellers, in the Pelham Bay area of the Bronx, is an HGAR Director, and a very successful house “flipper.”
In fact, it was her first home purchase in 1998 that gave her an insight into the real estate business. At the time, she was working full time at Price Waterhouse Coopers in Manhattan as a senior technical specialist, repairing computers. After buying a home in New Jersey, Guanill decided to take on home repairs as well. “I took some classes at Home Depot and the next thing you know I was taking my basement apart,” she quipped. “It was exciting for me. I would rush home from work at 6 p.m. and then work on the house until two or three in the morning!”
Once she updated her own home, Guanill started to buy investment properties in the Bronx. “I’d go to the courthouse during my lunch hour and look for foreclosures,” she said. Her first “flip” was a condo in the Parkchester section that she bought for just $30,000 and sold for $105,000.
Another purchase in the Baychester area for $178,000 later sold for $400,000. Guanill did much of the work herself and brought in her team of plumbers and electricians. In total, she’s completed about 10 successful “flips.” “If a house has character, I can see beyond the mess,” she explained. “I like to update the homes without destroying their charm.”
Guanill earned her real estate license in 2004 and soon afterward, she dove full time in to the real estate business. She got her first contract in just six weeks. Guanill believes her ability to see beyond how a house presents itself has been an asset to her business.
“Sometimes someone will come in to buy a co-op, but then they can’t afford the mortgage and the monthly common charges,” she explained. “I can usually find them a house for the same amount or less if they are willing to do some work on it.” One of her clients was able to buy a two-family home and rent out the other space. “The end result—her mortgage costs were only $500.” She has also been able to help people to stay in their own homes by just making some modifications.
After working with several real estate agencies, Guanill started her own business in 2007. “It can be challenging as a ‘mom and pop’ shop, but once I committed to it, I just did it,” she said. She services the Bronx and lower Westchester and now has seven people on her staff.
“I still love working with homebuyers and educating people about their options,” she added. “I like to expose them to the full range of possibilities before they spend one dollar. Sharing information is where I offer value.”
In addition to running her business, and “house flipping,” Guanill is vice chair of Community Board 10 in her Bronx neighborhood and is also president of the Pelham Bay Merchants Association.
Last May, she became a first-time member of the HGAR Board of Directors. “It’s been an incredible experience—they share my vision of sharing information,” she said. “Everyone has been so inclusive and helpful. I wish I would have done this sooner.”
Her three children are grown now. Amanda 29, is in the Air Force Reserve, Jessica, 27, is the executive director of a non-profit organization that she created, and Jason, 20, is currently attending college.
In her spare time, Guanill loves to travel and just recently made her first parachute jump! “I wanted to do it before I had kids, but I was just too afraid,” she said. When her son told her he was interested too, she finally decided to do it. “Once we were in the plane, he looked more afraid than I did,” she joked.
The jump was successful and Guanill says she’ll remember that forever. “It’s funny, I can’t get up on a ladder and look down, but I had no fear being several thousand feet in the air,” she said. “I was so happy to be enjoying that moment and I feel like it changed my life.”