The Rediscover State College Podcast

Owning a Real Estate Investment and Interior Design Company

Season 1 / Episode 6

Josh and Lizzie Parra’s cool job in State College: owners and founders of Parra Design & Build, a real estate investment and interior design company.

Josh and Lizzie Parra met while serving at Champs on North Atherton, and promptly moved to Boston once Lizzie graduated from Penn State. They started a petcare business and began their real estate journey while in Boston, falling in love with being their own bosses. Once they had their first child, they found themselves moving back to State College to be closer to family, bringing their modern and urban-influenced home design style with them to launch Parra Design & Build.

In this episode, Josh and Lizzie talk about how they developed a passion for homes and interior design, the real estate market in State College, and their unique and thriving AirBnB business.

Make sure you stick around through the end of the episode – we’ll enter our segment called “How to Do the Thing,” where Josh and Lizzie will give you three actionable steps you can take towards successfully working in real estate and interior design in State College.

Brad Groznik: [00:00:00] This is the Rediscover State College Podcast. On this show, we talk to locals about how they were able to find their happy place in Happy Valley. I’m your host, Brad Gronik. With us today, we have Josh and Lizzie Para. Josh and Lizzie are the owners and founders of Para Design and Build. A local real estate investment and interior design company.

We’ll talk about how the couple found their way back to State College after moving to Boston and how they have been able to successfully support homeowners and buyers across the county. Alright, so, you know, para Design and Build is a, a local real estate investment and interior design company. That’s what it says on your website.

What is that? That sounds like a whole lot of things.

Lizzie Parra: We do a whole lot of things. We pretty much do anything that has to do with a house from real estate, sales, uh, rentals, Airbnbs, and a big chunk of our business is residential home design and remodel.

Brad Groznik: [00:01:00] Is that how it, how did it get started? Did you just start doing all these things or is it one of those, those things where you started at one thing and it just kind of grew from there?

Josh Parra: Yeah. We, we started with one thing and it kind of grew organically from there. So when we moved back to State College, uh, we started flipping houses. And the first house that we flipped, people weren’t used to seeing that kind of style, obviously, because we had just come from Boston and living in Boston for 12 years.

So, you know, it was really nice. I remember a comment as, uh, a, a kid walked in was this is like a H D T V house. And, um, from that point forward, we had people reaching out to us to ask them or to, uh, help them with. Designing their kitchens or a space in their house. So we started doing that on the side and more requests started coming in as we were posting our projects to social media.

And it just kind of organically grew from there.

Brad Groznik: Yeah, and full disclosure, [00:02:00] my wife and I worked with you guys on our kitchen too, so that was one of when we bought our house, we. We moved in and we’re like, I don’t know anything about this type of stuff. Like who out there, uh, can, can help us? And we quickly gravitated to your style.

Like as you said, you know, it’s this. I don’t know, maybe, maybe an urban style. How would you describe the style that you have? But it, it was really attractive to us, you know, as young homeowners.

Lizzie Parra: I would say it’s urban influence.

Josh Parra: Yeah, urban, modern influence. That’s our style. But you know, throughout the years and, and projects, we’ve learned to collaborate with different styles, which is great because it kind of pushes us outside of our boundaries and we get to, yeah.

Um, experience. New ways of doing things.

Lizzie Parra: Yeah. ’cause if we did our design only, most of our stuff would be very, very modern. We tend to be like modern, minimalist in our own style, but since we’re always working with homeowners and they have all different style homes and they have their own different style [00:03:00] preference.

We end up doing things in a traditional style. We’ve worked in historic homes where we have to maintain that look transitional, modern farmhouse. So if you see some of our designs, sometimes it doesn’t really, it’s not like, oh, that’s a para design, because we’re, we’re usually working hand in hand with whatever the style is of the homeowner.

Brad Groznik: That’s a pretty cool job. Did you guys, how, how did you get into this? Is, is that what you went for to school for like, I think that that, you know, there’s a lot of people that watch H G T V and, and they say like, I wanna do that. And then, but you guys are, are doing it and, and thriving, you know, how, how, how did you build toward that?

Lizzie Parra: Well, Josh was in the Marines, so that didn’t help out

Josh Parra: I didn’t, I didn’t go to school, so,

Lizzie Parra: and I was a painting and drawing major at Penn State. So I guess the art kind of. Came from that. But I think honestly it was just our love of homes, right?

Josh Parra: Yeah. We, it, it was the passion for, for houses that we had.

Mm-hmm. You know, internally that kind of made it easy for us to [00:04:00] jump into this career and, um, you know, in all aspects of real estate actually. So not just the design aspect, but you know, the, the sales and the investing and stuff like that. It’s, it’s so cool. Homes are so cool. And like being able to tour homes or help homeowners.

And see the inside. I mean, it’s not every day that you get to see the insides of people’s homes, you know? So it’s, uh, it’s really cool for us. And it’s a, it’s a passion and I think that with anything in life, having a passion for something will make it not seem like a job. And, you know, I think that’s kind of where we fall right now.

Brad Groznik: You mentioned Boston. Um, tell me a little bit about how you ended up in Boston and, and what maybe brought you back to State College. Lizzie, I know you grew up here.

Lizzie Parra: Yeah, so I grew up here. I was um, going to Penn State. Josh had come here after the Marines and we met while we were bartending together at Champs North Atherton.

And so, um, we were just pretty much [00:05:00] gonna finish up my time at Penn State. And then we wanted to move to a city as soon as I graduated. ’cause we were like, You know, this town has nothing. It’s lame. We’re never coming back, so we wanted to go clubbing and be young, so we just kind of picked a city that would be within a driving distance and had water by it.

We didn’t really know anything about Boston

Josh Parra: and no, I had been there once in high school.

Lizzie Parra: Yeah. We didn’t really like have jobs either. It was a very like young person move. I wasn’t 21 yet.

Josh Parra: Even she was only like what, 19 something? 19 or 20. So I stole her away.

Lizzie Parra: I like finished my last year of college in the summer after my junior year.

’cause I just wanted to go to a city so badly. And so we moved to Boston and then we just had like random jobs. But then Josh got into real estate there. And I think that’s where his love for homes started. And then he was working with investors, so he got to learn kind of that side of the biz, like buying a kind of [00:06:00] old three family brownstone and turning it into three multimillion dollar condos.

We saw everybody doing quartz countertops and like really beautiful hardwood and accordion, like patio doors. And we were like, we have to bring all of this wherever we go. And then my whole family’s here, so we ended up coming back when we had our kid, he was two.

Josh Parra: Yeah. And his cousins. And one of his cousins is six months older than him.

And um, they’re like brothers. So, We had come back for Arts Fest and saw how they connected, and that was really important to us. Yeah, so at the time we had a dog walking pet care business in Boston. We decided to kind of put that up for sale and see if anyone would bite, and we put our house on the market.

It was in an up and coming neighborhood. The stars seemed to align and everything worked out. We got offers on both, and that was kind of our, you know, the, the deciding factor for us to move back to state college and be close to family.

Lizzie Parra: [00:07:00] And the town is so much better when you have a two year old, because yeah, you’re not looking for nightclubs, you’re looking for all the playgrounds to go to.

So that worked out very well.

Brad Groznik: Yeah, I could say, you know, my daughter’s four and the, the town even reinvented itself, you know, since I lived here before I had a kid, but now that I have a kid, it’s a whole, it’s a whole new town and, and it’s so supportive in that, in that regard. So did, when you came back to state college, was the plan to start your own venture, or what was the job idea?

It sounded like you were, you were entrepreneurial before this with, uh, your pet care business too.

Lizzie Parra: Yeah. We knew we could not work for other people. Right. Yeah. That was like, for sure. We couldn’t work for other people. We had to like start our own business somehow. ’cause we had already had the luxury of that when we had the pet care business.

But I do think after Josh was like working with these investors and then after we had had a Victorian home, that was like, we kind of fixed up as we lived there. So I think flipping was kind of what we thought [00:08:00] we’d do when we came here. And that was when we first started, was to try to acquire a house to flip.

Josh Parra: That was gonna be our main focus was flips, flipping houses. And that was just gonna, you know, hopefully with the profit margins on that, that would be enough to sustain our lifestyle here in state college. And it’s great with chunks at a time, but when people started, started asking us to. Help them out with, uh, their home renovations that it just kind of sparked another passion for us.

Lizzie Parra: Um, and then we kind of, I think that took so much of our time. Yeah. ’cause we were, they were referring their friends or they, we were working through their homes and like do, we’d do their kitchen and then we’d do their mudroom and then we’d do their bathroom and then we’d do the other bathroom. So like it started taking up so much of our time, we couldn’t really do a flip and we would occasionally do a flip.

And then we started holding the homes. Yeah, we would flip ’em and then we’d be like, but we don’t wanna sell it. ’cause we like it. And then we’d turn it into a rental and then sometimes the rentals would become Airbnbs, which is why we have so [00:09:00] many jobs now.

Brad Groznik: What is the, what, what is the market for home flipping in state college?

You know, you hear so much about how the price of homes here is, is high and, you know, I, I would imagine that’s not, that’s not the ideal for a home flip. What, what is the market or what, what is it like for that?

Josh Parra: It’s tough because state college real estate market is so competitive and in such high demand that homeowners could have an okay property or a distressed property and put it on the market and it’ll sell at retail value.

So, you know, the whole point of a real estate investors to get these properties that are undervalued and um, that you could kind of pay a wholesale price for. You, we really don’t have that in State College, but if you look at the sales, there are a lot of real estate investors that have been around for a while that have kind of a really good system down that could buy [00:10:00] at a higher price and do the things that they need to do and put it on a market and, and it sells.

So it’s just about finding the right property, but it’s not as, as crazy as it was in the Boston area because in the Boston area, you know, in any metropolitan area, There’s a ton of distressed properties and you know, a lot more opportunity there.

Brad Groznik: Mm-hmm. What about areas outside of State College? I know you guys did a little bit of work in Phillipsburg.

You might still like, is, is that an area that is undiscovered yet or untapped or,

Lizzie Parra: it’s hard because like you can definitely get homes for cheap in areas like that. There are definitely distressed homes as you get towards those outskirts. We’ve had some luck in Osceola Mills, Brisbane, which is like by Dale and Phillipsburg.

Even like if you get towards Beon sometimes you can get some places for cheap. The problem is that you can’t put so much into them that then you’ve over improved them, and [00:11:00] then people that are looking in that area aren’t looking to spend that, which is, I think, kind of what we ran into with Phillips Burke.

We like really went full parra on the Victorian that we did there and we ended up keeping it as a rental, which has been great. I think that it ended up working out for us, but if we hadn’t had a different exit strategy, that would’ve been a bummer because you really do cap off at a certain sale point once you fixed it up.

Josh Parra: Yeah. At Phillipsburg was tough too for us because like when we. So coming from a metropolitan area, you know, we weren’t used to having yard space and off street parking, so we were hoping to capitalize on young professionals that couldn’t afford state college, but could live in the Phillipsburg area and commute for work.

But the problem that we found was that everyone that was looking at houses there wanted. Off street parking and a large yard and the, the house that we have there [00:12:00] doesn’t have that. So it was a learning experience. Experience for us. Yeah. But I think that, you know, we shifted our focus from that to just really focused on the state college market.

Brad Groznik: Yeah. It’s ama like my wife and I moved from New York City and when we were first looking at properties and stuff, we were looking all over because we were commuting an hour to work on the on, on the subway. You know, a 20 minute drive from anywhere into State College just felt like nothing. But it’s just funny once you start living here that it, it just starts to feel like, oh, well, that I can’t go across.

That’s all the way across town and we’re talking about like a 10 minute drive. And it’s just funny how that like kind of happens, but I’m waiting for exactly like you pointed out. I think there is going to be a switch soon where, where people are gonna start really seeing the value of living on the outskirts of, of state college.

You know, ’cause of all, ’cause all the value.

Lizzie Parra: Beon iss having that moment. We did, so we did the Gamble mill speakeasy design project and that took us over there a lot. And [00:13:00] I, I think every time anybody from State College goes to Beon, they at least have to say one time, this sounds so cute. ’cause it really is.

And um, so I think that that Beon is kind of having that moment and I think that Phillipsburg certainly could have that moment.

Josh Parra: we saw, yeah. I mean it’s pushing out, you know, the state college market is pushing out towards. They’ve got that big, they did the big giant out there between, um, on Benner Pike, between State College and Bellmont.

Yeah. Between State College and Bellmont, you know, pleasant gaps. Also coming up with, you know, they got that new M M A gym out there, the M two Wrestling center. Um, so there, you know, we, we see it happening and pushing outside of State College, so I think it’s gonna go in the be font direction before it goes over the mountain.


Brad Groznik: Yeah. Over the mountain. You’re, you’re speaking like a local.

Lizzie Parra: We don’t dunno which mountain it’s, so we just say no, just,

Brad Groznik: Oh. Just [00:14:00] so the next valley, like, go to the next valley. I like when people say that too. Yeah. Just one valley over. Mm-hmm. So you mentioned it briefly, a lot of the work that you’re doing has, has started, uh, a little Airbnb business for you guys.

Can you talk a little bit about the Airbnb market here and, and what you guys are learning there?

Lizzie Parra: The Airbnb market is very strong. There’s a huge demand for them, not just, I think people sometimes think it’s just for football games, but they are all year round booking. We really enjoy having them. It’s so much fun.

We, at one point in our lives, we thought we might own an actual b and b, so the Airbnb is a nice thing for us. We know other people that have them that are very successful.

Josh Parra: Yeah, it’s fun. Yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s a great opportunity to have a property that. You can offer to people that don’t want the norm of a hotel room, especially with some of these local hotels that haven’t had been updated at all.

So they want that more [00:15:00] modern kind of flare. The reason we love it so much is because it’s not, it’s not getting the long-term wear and tear that a normal rental would be, because after every stay. It’s going in and being turned over and cleaned. And if there are any issues, you’re seeing it and you can get it taken care of right away.

Brad Groznik: So I went over and took a look at one of your Airbnbs on last Friday, and it’s just like such a, such a trip to walk in. ’cause it’s, it just, it’s so, you guys like, there’s such a, there’s a picture of Biggie Smalls on the, on the wall and there’s kinda like neon lighting and like old school hip hop playing.

You know, it, it’s, it’s a really fun. You know, unique kind of place. What’s it been like trying to bring in your taste to a town, um, that doesn’t necessarily like have it now and what kinda reception ha have you had to that?

Lizzie Parra: It’s been good. I actually feel like we could probably do more units like the one that you saw that was like a, also full parra, neon lights and accent, l e [00:16:00] d lighting.

We even have like the shampoo niche in the shower lit up. So we full Star Trek bathroom, like, we’re like very super duper modern. And we are surprised actually, I think by how much people are loving it and the fact that like whoever stays there is like, I didn’t know this was here, but now every time I come to State College I’ll be staying here.

Yeah. So we have, like we mentioned to you, we have, um, A bunch of different kinds of Airbnbs ones that we own with other people, that we manage with other people and that we own ourselves. And they’re all different styles. So that was the first one that we really went full par and it’s been really fun for us.

Josh Parra: It’s been really, um, a great process for us and. Uh, we have return bookings for the other ones. Mm-hmm. But like this one we’ve seen just a lot of people are drawn to it just because it looks so different than what you see on the market right now. And, [00:17:00] um, it is, I mean, the name of it’s Urban King Suite, so like we put that in there that it’s got that urban flare.

It resonates with the people that have moved away that are coming back for a football game and they might live in a city or something like that. It’s exactly what they’re used to. Just like when we were in Boston, you know, we go to the hotels in Boston and they had, they look like this. So like if we were coming back to State College, we wanna try to find something similar.

And unfortunately, um, some of these hotels don’t have that. So when they come across a, a cool Airbnb, you know, they’re happy to book it.

Lizzie Parra: And some of the Airbnbs, I think in this town too, were like, More like leftover linens and like mismatched towels and, and like a, a bed that’s just like on a frame, but there’s no like headboard and it’s like somebody’s, I don’t know, drop ceiling basement or something.

Like, I think that sometimes the Airbnbs just wear, so I feel like I have a spare space and I’m gonna stick a, like, blow up mattress in it and rent it out. So that’s not our [00:18:00] model.

Josh Parra: Yeah, that’s not what we do.

Brad Groznik: I’m curious, so where, where do you see para build and design going in the next five to 10 years?

Josh Parra: I think that we’d love to, to do new builds.

Yeah. And, and work with homeowners on, you know, from the ground up, working hand in hand with an architect and really creating some cool houses. We have a couple, I have a couple real estate clients that are alumni that live out of state, that they’ve been watching the market here to move back. You know, they’re just looking for the right time.

That have expressed interest in doing it and working with us. So I think that’s gonna be the next thing for us, that’ll really help us. I mean, it’s gonna be a learning process, but it’s also gonna really help us showcase, you know, what we can do in our style. Because the clients that have shown interest, they’re interested in like the, the, the Parra style, that modern kind of flair.

Lizzie Parra: And I do think that’s something to consider, like with people moving into this town from elsewhere. They’re looking at the market and they’re seeing a lot of [00:19:00] homes that are not updated, but maybe have so much potential. Or they’re seeing like really cool neighborhoods that have lots, but they’re wondering if there’s gonna be a builder that can actually build what they would want on that lot.

So I think that like we see ourselves being able to either take a home, uh, an updated home in college heights and work with that home and the homeowner and the town. To upgrade it. Upgrade to their, you know, kind of city style and, or like if they wanted to get a lot and we could work with a builder and actually build ’em their dream home and they don’t have to make sacrifices just ’cause it’s in central Pennsylvania.

Like we can do that here. We can make a really beautiful home in state college. Yeah,

Josh Parra: there’s a lot of like cool things that, you know, I follow still a lot of the builders in Boston. And, um, my friends over there are real estate developers and I’m seeing the stuff that they’re doing and we haven’t, A lot of it, we haven’t had the opportunity to kind of implement here in [00:20:00] state College.

So on a new bill to be able to do all these cool things and like make the house really stand out is gonna be something that’s really cool for us. Yeah.

Brad Groznik: Awesome. Lots to look forward to. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Now we’re gonna enter our segment called How to Do the Thing where we ask you to briefly lay out for us in three actionable steps, how to do the thing, or at least how to get started doing the thing.

The thing in this case is successfully working in real estate and interior design in state college. What would you say are three actionable steps our listeners could take toward achieving that goal?

Lizzie Parra: Okay. I think probably shadowing somebody is always a good thing to do. Yeah. Finding a mentor. Yeah, for sure.

I mean, that applies to pretty much everything we do. You do not wanna go into any of the real estate stuff or flipping homes or doing design or managing an Airbnb without following along with somebody who has done that before. So finding a good mentor is like step one and maybe step two [00:21:00] also. Right.

For those things, and I. Probably another thing is having a good team. One of the things that we’ve struggled with at the beginning was knowing, um, who to align ourselves with. The nice thing about State College is that it’s such a bubble that people have really good advice if you ask them. So you can talk to people like, say you wanted to get into home design, you obviously need.

Resources, places to get, like stuff like, um, like bio for plumbing things and Y B C for cabinets or pure dimensions or c s I, like, we have all these vendors we use, so you wanna talk to people and find out who they’ve had good experiences with and who. They would not wanna work with again. And that way you don’t learn from your mistakes, you learn from other people’s mistakes.

So definitely finding a good crew, a good team and people to align, um, yourself with that, do good work and have a good reputation in a small town. ’cause reputation in this town is obviously very important.

Josh Parra: The third [00:22:00] step would be to. Jump in and do it, I think.

Lizzie Parra: Yeah, take that chance because you could be a big fish in a small pond, so just go for it.

Right, right. Yeah.

Brad Groznik: Cool. Thank you so much. Thanks.

Thanks for joining us for this episode of the Rediscover State College Podcast. If you like what you heard and want to hear more, please subscribe to the Rediscover State College Podcast wherever you listen to podcasts. If you wanna connect with Josh and Lizzie about anything we just talked about, or you just have some thoughts about real estate and interior design in State College, email us at