Neil May got his degree from the University of Mississippi in homeland security and for four years, he owned a clothing boutique, but home design has always been his passion.
“I’ve always had an eye for design,” said May, 32. “Whether I could afford a look I saw or something close to it, I knew that’s what I wanted.”
In the fall of 2016, May put his natural talent to work and began buying old houses and transforming them into showplaces, a term called flipping.
“The first house we acquired was on Madison,” he said. “We wanted to make it nice for the neighborhood’s sake. I went to the house one time, made an offer and didn’t go back until after I’d bought it.”
When May got into the home, he realized walls needed to be moved, sagging joists had to be replaced and the roof was shot.
“It was a full overhaul,” he said. “We jumped in feet-first – we didn’t start with a small one.”
May and his team, which includes a demolition guy, a tile guy and a construction guy and his crew, spent three months renovating the home. He sold it a month later.
“I’ve done eight houses since that one,” he said. “Every house I’ve flipped has been within a two-mile radius or less, although I’m not opposed to working in any neighborhood.”
In addition to the house on Madison, he’s redone one on Foxmoor, one on Magnolia, four in the Joyner neighborhood and two in the West Jackson Street revitalization area.
“I become attached to these houses,” said May, who shares four children with his wife, Stephanie. “You put your heart in them. You feel like you can see yourself living there.”
May does all the design work for his business, Mays Proper, deciding when walls should be moved or doors added or when rooms need to be totally repurposed. He chooses the paint colors, countertops and backsplash, hardware, finishes, appliances and lighting.
“People think it’s so easy to flip houses and then they get into it and realize it’s a lot of work,” he said.
May generally goes with a neutral palette on the inside and outside of the home, and he’s never had a buyer ask him to change any colors.
“I don’t stage the home’s interior with furniture and accessories,” he said. “I might come in and throw in a few books or a mirror or some artwork. In the kitchen, we might put out a marble cutting board with a bottle of olive oil on it. But I try to keep them as empty as possible.”
May has also found success redoing individual rooms in clients’ homes, whether it’s a kitchen, bathroom, family room or bedroom.
“The client contacts me and we talk about their preferences, their budget, their style,” he said. “Then I go home and get to work on my iPad and design a mood board.”
The mood board is a sampling of what is going into a specific space. It shows the paint colors, flooring, window treatments, lighting, trim and furnishings.
“Everything I do is tailored to the person,” he said. “And I try to do something special at each house.”
When May was flipping the home on Fletcher in the Joyner neighborhood, the sidewalk leading to the front of the house was busted at one end. May happened to be taking the brick pavers out of his driveway in Highland Circle at the time, so he moved them to Fletcher and made a new walkway there.
“Now, those bricks from historic Highland Circle are in the historic Joyner neighborhood,” he said. “I’m just trying to make properties more beautiful in the city. If you think what you have is a one-bedroom shack, I guarantee you that one-bedroom shack can be amazing.”
When deciding whether to buy an old home to flip, May first looks at the neighborhood, to make sure it’s stable. Then he looks at what comparable homes have sold for recently to make sure he can do the renovations needed and still make a profit.
“But it’s not really a money thing,” he said. “I keep my price range affordable for first-time homebuyers. I want people to love the house as much as I did when I finished it.”
To see some of Mays’ work, go to maysproper.com or find him on Instagram.