06.11.2015

The House That Dil Built

Playing a grownup game of Monopoly Dillon Buirski flips it to win it

Words: Dylan Muhlenberg | Photography: Nick Gordon

“I don’t have a job,” says Dillon Buirski, chilling in the sun and drinking an iced tea. He’s only joking though, and while he’s not employed in the traditional sense of the word, Dil keeps busy by flipping houses. After selling his shares in Flash, the digital photo hire business he started with Bruce Anderson, Dil formed a syndicate with his uncle and aunt that buys cheap, at least by Cape Town standards, renovates, and then sells as quickly and with as big a margin as possible. 

“Work is play, and this has been my playground for the last four months. It gets a bit lonely sometimes, hanging out here by myself while everyone else is at work, but that’s what I do now.”

We’re visiting Dil before his short-term tenants move in (R35k for a two-bedroom semi-detached in Vredehoek – very nice!) and before both units (Dil bought the one next door, too) go on the market for just under 5 bar each.

“This was originally a church. All that over there was round arches, gables, that we had to square up,” says Dil pointing towards the open plan lounge and kitchen that sits below the mezzanine level. “In the 80s they renovated the hall into four units and we bought the two at the back. The woman who owns the house in front liked what we were doing so much that she got us to renovate her place while we did ours.”

Dil bought his first property three years ago, an old sectional title in Vredehoek that served as his education.

“The first guys I used took me to the cleaners. Basically I overcapitalized on labour and learned very fast not to do that again. I was uneducated. I’ve since learned how to manage a project and make my budget work better.” 

What also works better is Dil’s right-hand man, Gumbo, a 25-year old Zimbabwean who came to Dil cap in hand and now owns five cars, a home, has started a family and runs a team of fifteen builders.

“Gumbo quoted me for a five-day job and finished in a day and a half. I saw the potential in him and we’ve worked together ever since.”

Just then Dil’s girlfriend Tamryn Thomson walks down the stairs and butts into our conversation, saying: “Dil couldn’t even put this table together. It took him the whole day to do one bench. And pissed off with everyone.”

“I’m terrible,” he says laughing. “I actually need to book a day with Gumbo so that he can hang all my pictures.”

There’s an obvious tone of self-deprecation here because one does not successfully flip nine properties by being terrible. Dil plays this down though, saying that he’s simply following a formula. 

“All of the spaces are the same. Neutral floors, walls, furniture and then the cupboards, fixtures and fittings all stay the same, too. Once the formula was in place it was like baking a cake where we’re just using the same ingredients over and over again and then buyers can add their own touches through accessories or whatever.”

Prospective buyers also have the option to buy the place as is, which means furnished with stuff from Tammy’s family-run décor store, Nap Living, and filled with the terrariums she makes.

“It’s so therapeutic,” she says. “But now we’ve finally got a garden so I can play outside. Sadly, not for long… The secret to keeping plants? Choose the right ones. For inside go for shade loving, low light plants or else they’re going to die. I’m not good at maintenance and so buying flowers that die two days later kills me. I prefer succulents and cacti and things like that. You just need to take a leaf from a plant and something new will grow from that.”

Dil met Tammy while high off the sale of his first property and brought her in to decorate the second. “Suddenly the place had that X-factor. I thought, ‘Rad, I’ve got a chick who can do all the décor now!’ And then she invoiced me. Full price. Took my card and swiped it at her shop.”

“En-trep-ren-eur!” laughs Tammy. “It’s great because we’re not too attached to our stuff. So if someone likes one of Dil’s prints or, say, the coffee table, they’re free to include that in their offer to purchase. We have been living out of two bags while renovating the spaces and worked it out the other night that we’ve moved fifteen times in the past two years.”

This suits Tammy fine, who is like a shark, and gets claustrophobic when she’s not moving. In fact, Dil is Tammy’s longest relationship and she credits that to them moving so often. 

“That way I don’t get bored,” she laughs. “Nothing excites me more than change. I’ll often change the whole shop around and then on a weekend change the house. I love it.” 

Dil says that they can’t afford to get attached to anything, that they’re free from any sort of clutter in their lives because of the constant juggle between flipping properties and dropping in and out of the studios they rent on Airbnb.

“If all goes according to plan, transfer usually takes three or four months, and so by then we’ve bought a new space and will move in and start on that by the time occupancy happens.”

All this uncertainty and instability, doesn’t it all get a bit much? Don’t you ever want to put your roots down and make a home?

“I’m going to retire soon,” says Dil. “I’ve just turned 30 and passive income from property is the key to that.”

Live a few years of your life like most people won’t, so that one day you can live like most people don’t, and it keeps your girl happy, what more could a guy want?