Vanilla Ice talks to The Real Deal about his real estate career

Van Winkle’s new show, “The Vanilla Ice Project,” highlights a budding real estate empire 

Vanilla Ice

In the early 1990s, Robert Van Winkle, a.k.a. Vanilla Ice, took the music world by storm with his album, “To the Extreme,” and “Ice Ice Baby,” the first hip-hop single to be number one on the Billboard charts. But Vanilla Ice also has an extensive history in real estate, beginning with a series of smart purchases around the country in his late teens, and now a broad house flipping and remodeling empire. Now, Vanilla Ice has a new show premiering on the DIY Network this fall, “The Vanilla Ice Project,” on which he and his team of remodelers completely gut and renovate a foreclosed Wellington mansion. He also has created Car Lofts in Delray Beach, a new garage-condo hybrid concept, with garages on the first floor and loft apartments on the second, something he envisions as a national franchise. Wellington resident Van Winkle, whose record with British band Jedward rose to number one in the United Kingdom, talked to The Real Deal about his investment history, how he got into house flipping and his real estate future.

How long have you been involved in real estate?
I’ve been doing it for about 13 years, as a hobby on the side. I bought a bunch of houses when I was 16. I bought several houses, not as investments, just to have a few houses around the country — one in New York, I lived in Laurel Canyon [in Los Angeles] for a while, and I had a house in the ski slopes of Utah and another in Miami. Then I realized that that was ridiculous, that I could only live in one house. So I sold the houses when I was about 19 or 20. They were just basically collecting cobwebs. So I realized at a young age — I sold them and I made a lot of money, and I profited on all of them.

How did you get into house flipping?
I built homes, I bought lots. I own a bunch of land in Florida that I bought way back in the day, and I also have commercial real estate I bought way back in the 1990s that has done real well for me, I also have a bunch of condo units that have done really well. And I just kind of “lego”ed the whole thing, one step after another step, basically started flipping homes. I bought homes on vacant lots, profiting when the market was really good. Just rolling.

How did the downturn change your strategy?
I had a pretty good stream of success, up until about 2005, when the whole bottom fell out of the real estate market. At that point I went to a bunch of seminars, and learned how to basically adjust to the market. By that I mean instead of buying land and selling homes, it’s cheaper to buy foreclosures and fix them up and sell them. I went from building homes and buying the land to basically buying the homes and flipping them. That’s what I’ve done, and I’ve got several foreclosures I’m making good deals on [in Florida]. The good thing is the market is coming back. Especially around here, all the homes that have been dormant and sitting for about three years, are all filling in right now, quickly. You can see the market picking up big time, with low interest rates, and the great location helps. That’s what’s goin’ on man.

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You were something of a music pioneer. Are you looking to be the same kind of innovator in real estate?
Oh, absolutely. In the house on the show we’re putting a lot of stuff that people have never seen before. It’s a 7,000-square-foot mansion here in Palm Beach. It’s got an infinity pool. There’s a theater in here that has all sorts of fiber optics in the ceiling which change color with your mood. If you walk in and you’re in a bad mood, it turns red, if you’re in a good mood it’ll go blue. If you want it will do shooting stars. There’s an electronic curtain all throughout the house that goes at the flip of a switch. It also has a projector, the kind you use in a movie theater. We have all sorts of really neat, high-tech super-modern stuff that people probably have never even seen. They’ll see it for the first time on this show.

You have another large-scale development, Car Lofts in Delray Beach, where owners can keep their cars on the first level and live upstairs.
Car Lofts is different. It’s not really tied into the show. It’s ultra-modern. We have beds that are like Murphy beds but come out of the ceiling, They have kitchens that come out of the walls at the flip of a switch, electronic hoists for the cars, granite countertops, all high-end appliances. It hasn’t really been done here in America, for car enthusiasts. We have a Starbucks in the facility, we have a fully integrated website that connects all the car enthusiasts together. Everything is hurricane proof, hurricane windows, hurricane everything. Car Lofts is 80 percent sold out, and has really taken off, bigger and better than I ever expected. It’s a two minute walk to the beach, here in Delray, so it’s a really great location. My plan and agenda is to do a franchise, and put car lofts in every major city in America. And right now I’ve got three big partners that are looking at this real closely, and I’m about to close the deal.

What is the status of the Wellington home that will be featured on “The Vanilla Ice Project”?
The house here is about two weeks away from being finished. We filmed everything for the past two and a half months, the house was completely gutted — no air conditioners, no cabinetry, no toilets, just the walls. If you were to walk in the house you would see a disaster area, if you didn’t have the imagination and skills to know what you’re looking for. You would probably walk away from this. But the house is 7,800 square feet, it’s a mansion, and it’s got nine bedrooms. It’s really nice. I’ve done way worse situations than this — this is nothing. I think it’s gonna be fascinating. Plus, there is the celebrity aspect, and there will be a little bit of a “Jackass” aspect.

What’s next for Vanilla Ice in real estate?
I’ve got a good reputation around here in Palm Beach. So far I’ve got 100 percent [customer satisfaction]. Everybody is happy, all my clients are happy, everything is good. Basically I’m doing it because I enjoy it. My record right now is number one in the UK. I’m opening up for Stevie Wonder [this weekend] at Glastonbury. I’ve got huge stuff going on musically. Financially I’ve made some pretty good investments in real estate. I just enjoy it. Yesterday’s history is tomorrow’s mystery, and I just get in where I fit in.

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