17 July 2023

In this week’s episode, Patrick Donley (@jpatrickdonley) sits down with Marilyn Moedinger to chat about her career in architecture and academia, her early days in construction as a general laborer and project manager, what it was like traveling around the world studying vernacular architecture, and how it’s been renovating a 300-year-old family farm house, plus a whole lot more.

Marilyn is the founding principal of Runcible Studios and has been an adjunct professor for over 10 years where she has taught design studios, construction detailing, building science, theory, and design/build



  • How Marilyn got turned onto architecture
  • Why she took a job as a general laborer right out of college
  • What some of her early challenges were as a project manager
  • Why going back to get a Masters degree at UVA was one of her best financial decisions
  • What is involved in getting licensed as an architect
  • What her next steps were after obtaining her Masters degree in architecture
  • How she got to travel around the world studying vernacular architecture
  • What the jump was like starting her own architecture practice
  • Why academia wasn’t for her
  • Why she named her company Runcible Studios
  •  How she survived during the pandemic doing other entrepreneurial ventures
  • What it’s been like renovating a 300-year-old family farm house
  • What her own real estate portfolio looks like and her plans for the future
  • How she used a 1031 on a condo she rented to purchase two properties
  • How she bought and managed a renovation sight unseen
  • And much, much more!


Disclaimer: The transcript that follows has been generated using artificial intelligence. We strive to be as accurate as possible, but minor errors and slightly off timestamps may be present due to platform differences.

[00:00:00] Marilyn Moedinger: I actually did a project with a group of students where we designed and then built a house. So we, it was a modular house. We actually built it in pieces and trucked it to the site and craned it into place. And then, that whole summer, we built it, and I was like, “This is amazing!””Like, I’m building the thing I drew.”

[00:00:25] Patrick Donley: Hey, everybody! In this week’s episode, I got to sit down with Marilyn Moedinger to chat about her career in architecture in academia, her early days in construction as a general laborer and project manager, what it was like traveling around the world studying vernacular architecture, and how it’s been renovating a 300-year-old family farmhouse.

[00:00:47] Patrick Donley: Marilyn is the founding principal of Principle Studios and has been an adjunct professor for over 10 years, where she’s taught design studios, construction detailing, building science and theory, and design-build courses. She previously practiced architecture at UTL in Boston and worked as a construction project manager, contractor, and estimator in Virginia and Maryland.

[00:01:08] Patrick Donley: She earned a BS in Architecture, a BA in History, and a master’s in Architecture from the University of Virginia, where she won several awards for her teaching and academic work. Marilyn has led a super adventurous life, and this episode covers a lot of territory about the architectural path, project management, renovating old homes, and even what her own real estate portfolio looks like.

[00:01:34] Patrick Donley: And so, without further delay, let’s get into this week’s episode with Marilyn Moedinger.

[00:01:40] Intro: You are listening to Real Estate 101 by The Investor’s Podcast Network, where your hosts Robert Leonard and Patrick Donley, interview successful investors from various real estate investing niches to help educate you on your real estate investing journey.

[00:02:03] Patrick Donley: Hey, everybody! Welcome to the Real Estate 101 Podcast. I’m your host today, Patrick Donley, and with me today is a really special guest I’ve been following on real estate Twitter for quite some time, Marilyn Moedinger. Marilyn, welcome to the show.

[00:02:20] Marilyn Moedinger: Hi everyone. So great to be here.

[00:02:22] Patrick Donley: I’m really happy to have you on here today. I’ve been spending a lot of time on your Twitter feed. There’s a huge amount of information on there, and I just wanted to thank you for all of that. Like, it’s a wealth of knowledge that anyone listening can benefit from. So, check out Marilyn’s Twitter feed. You can learn a ton.

[00:02:47] Patrick Donley: I just wanted to kind of start off with the early days of Marilyn and hear how you first got the real estate bug. I know that there was a children’s poem that you’ve actually named your company after, which we’ll get into. But I wanted to hear if you had any other influences, like family members or teachers, or how you maybe knew early on that real estate architecture was going to be your thing.

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[00:03:18] Marilyn Moedinger: Well, I didn’t actually have very many influences.

[00:03:21] Marilyn Moedinger: I didn’t know anyone who was an architect. I didn’t know anyone who was in real estate. All I knew is from my earliest, earliest memories, I just loved buildings. So what I did when I was a kid was make forts and build buildings. So I had like dolls, but I never like dressed them up and played with them in sort of the traditional way.

[00:03:39] Marilyn Moedinger: I would just make them houses, and that transitioned into drawing houses. And I would sneak pieces of paper into my elementary school. And draw portions of a city and then take them home and tape them all together and have a city like as big as my wall. I don’t know where I got any of this. I just always wanted to draw cities and I made land plots that I would replant them and like show little, like towns or like different subdivisions of like buildings and things.

[00:04:09] Marilyn Moedinger: And then I would get floor plan plan books from the grocery store and a little plot of white out and white out all the walls and redraw them where I wanted to. And I just did all this for fun. I thought it was really fun until someone said, you know, that’s actually like, those are jobs. Like you could have one of those as a career.

[00:04:27] Marilyn Moedinger: And I’d never thought of that until someone mentioned it. 

[00:04:31] Patrick Donley: So, was that in high school that that happened, that somebody directed you towards architecture school? Or how did that come about? You ended up going to where? University of Virginia.

[00:04:44] Marilyn Moedinger: Virginia. Yeah, so I remember taking aptitude tests, maybe in middle school or early high school—career aptitude tests—and my two top scoring careers were equally balanced between actress and car mechanic. So I was like, “Alright, well, that’s cool.” I hadn’t really thought of either of those as a profession for me, but I didn’t get the most support ever in high school for it. Just because, I think, I was told flat out that girls don’t go to architecture school. So I found it on my own, and my parents were super supportive.

[00:05:21] Marilyn Moedinger: And then I had some teachers who were really supportive. And when I went to visit architecture schools, it just sort of occurred to me that I didn’t know anyone who did it. So I just started researching schools, and I was like, “Architecture school, this sounds like everything I’ve ever wanted out of school.” So when I started visiting them after, I guess, junior year, sophomore year, whenever you visit colleges, I would walk into these architecture studios, you know, these universities, and I was like, “I’m home. This is literally what I was doing when I was five years old. Except you can get a degree in it. And you make real buildings eventually.” It just felt so right.

[00:06:10] Marilyn Moedinger: And I wanted to go to UVA for many reasons, but one of them is that my other degree is in history, and I really wanted to have a robust additional education, not just strictly architecture.

[00:06:24] Patrick Donley: Yeah. So after undergrad, I understand you took a job as a general laborer. I had Eric Wetherholt on the show a while back, and I think he did a newsletter about his first day on the job in construction. I kind of wanted to hear some stories about your days as a general laborer, right out of college, doing really hard work. But I would imagine that you learned a ton in that first job, so I just wanted to hear a little bit more about that.

[00:06:59] Marilyn Moedinger: Yeah, for sure. So my whole final year of undergrad, I actually did a project with a group of students where we designed and then built a house.

[00:07:11] Marilyn Moedinger: So, it was a modular house. We actually built it in pieces and trucked it to the site and craned it into place. I worked with a local nonprofit developer to do that. That was my first exposure to, like, what is a proforma and why are we doing market-rate affordable housing? That was my fourth year of undergrad.

[00:07:34] Marilyn Moedinger: And then that whole summer, we built it, and I was like, “This is amazing. I’m building the thing I drew with this team of students and, you know, fellow students and Wow.” So it’s really hard to actually, you draw something, you think it’s gonna work, and then you go out there and you build it. Turns out it’s nothing like what you thought it was.

[00:08:01] Marilyn Moedinger: Our instructors and mentors, we had a general contractor who was our mentor as well, helped us through this and just let us have enough rope that we could actually kind of mess up, but not too much rope that obviously we would mess up enough that it would be dangerous or something like that.

[00:08:23] Marilyn Moedinger: So after that experience, that was winding down in October, I guess after I graduated and I got a job. Yeah, it was basically as a laborer, so it was part labor, part office. And the office part was basically a shop. They were a design-build company and they had a shop. So I would spend a lot of time vacuuming out saws and stuff.

[00:08:49] Marilyn Moedinger: But yeah, I mean, my first day on the job, literal first day, the construction company that I was working for was renovating an architecture office, and my job was to carry rubble from the basement where we were jackhammering out the slab to put in these footers for these steel posts. And I had to carry the rubble in these buckets from the basement through the architecture office like…

[00:09:17] Marilyn Moedinger: Past people who I had gone to school with, who were dutifully doing what you’re supposed to do after architecture school, which is learning how to be an architect. And I was sweaty and gross and pretty disillusioned on day one. Very hungry. I did not pack enough lunch, and that was my first day.

[00:09:39] Marilyn Moedinger: So after that, you know, lots of other stories about that as well. Similar type adventures. You know, I was the smallest person on the crew. I was always the smallest one on the job site. I was the only woman on the job site most of the time. And turns out that being the smallest one on the crew, you’d think means you get excused from heavy work.

[00:10:07] Marilyn Moedinger: Because they’re like, “Well, she can’t do that.” Well, that’s not true. You just have to find out ways to do it in a smarter way. So I was expected to do everything, and then also when you’re the small one, you get shoved in holes or like, “Oh, she’s light enough, she can walk up there and get that without breaking that.”

[00:10:32] Marilyn Moedinger: And I’m like, “Okay.” So, you know, I was an asset.

[00:10:36] Patrick Donley: Yeah, you’re the one that goes into the crawl spaces and like all the areas that nobody wants to go. 

[00:10:42] Marilyn Moedinger: Oh yes, I got shoved everywhere. 

[00:10:45] Patrick Donley: Yeah. And rubble is not light. I just got done with the renovation of like a home that’s got a ton of, kind of the same thing, just a ton of rubble that needed to go out to a dumpster.

[00:10:55] Patrick Donley: And it is like heavy, heavy stuff. 

[00:10:58] Marilyn Moedinger: Yeah, it was rough. 

[00:11:01] Patrick Donley: Yeah, yeah. So how long did that last, and then what was your next step? And I wanted to hear too, like as you’re working in this architectural firm that you guys are working on, and you’re looking at these architects, at that point, were you like, “That’s where I want to be?”

[00:11:22] Patrick Donley: Or did you still feel like, “I want to be in the field, I want to learn more about actual construction processes and methods, and understand construction deeper.”

[00:11:33] Marilyn Moedinger: Yeah, I definitely looked at the architects in there and I said, “I don’t wanna do that. That looks miserable. I don’t wanna be sitting at that computer just staring at a screen all the time.”

[00:11:48] Marilyn Moedinger: So what I ended up doing, I worked for that initial company for, I don’t know, six or eight months or so, and then got an offer from another general contractor that I’d been doing work for on the side. And he hired me to work in the office. And basically, you know, it was 2005, 2006, the economy was going completely crazy.

[00:12:13] Marilyn Moedinger: There was so much work, and he basically offered me a job that was like assistant to the assistant assistant copy person. And I was like, “Sure.” Because I wanted to work at a bigger construction company than just the one that was like four people. And while I really liked my time in the field, I wanted to know about how construction worked from a more experienced general contractor than the guys I was working for, who were great.

[00:12:45] Marilyn Moedinger: So I transitioned to this other company and got a huge raise. I was making more money than I ever thought, like $40,000 a year. It was blowing my mind. This is so much money. This is amazing. And I started as the assistant to the assistant assistant, did all kinds of drudge work. They didn’t give me a desk, they didn’t give me a computer, they didn’t give me anything.

[00:13:13] Marilyn Moedinger: It was like hazing. So for four months, I would just show up and I was like, “What am I supposed to do?” And they were too busy to tell me anything. So I would just have to figure out who needed help and how not to piss them off when I was being like, “Hi, can I help with something?” So there was a lot of that.

[00:13:40] Marilyn Moedinger: But sometimes they would give me these stacks of things that I would just have to copy on the copy machine. And I was like, “Oh, this is so demeaning.” Then I realized that I should just read what I’m copying, and I did, and I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is like 20 different electrical quotes. I bet this would be useful for me to understand and take back to my desk,” which I had finally fished one out of the back room and put it in the hallway so I could have somewhere to sit, and then I would analyze it myself.

[00:14:22] Marilyn Moedinger: I was like, “They’re not gonna give me anything to do.” So then I organized the back room, I organized the supply closets, and I just started by being at the supply closet. It was right outside the controller’s office. So I heard every conversation for the two hours that I was like, “I just tried to be really strategic.”

[00:14:46] Patrick Donley: Yeah, no, that reminds me of Sean Sweeney’s story a little bit. You know, he took a job as a receptionist in San Francisco, and, you know, just the same thing—making copies and just tried to learn as much as he could in the environment that he was in. It sounds like you did something similar, just tried to soak it all in.

[00:15:12] Marilyn Moedinger: I did, yeah. And then at one point, the president of the company—he was a really wonderful mentor to me and taught me so much about construction and how to do it. He one day leaned out of his office and said, “Marilyn, come down here.” I was like, “Okay.” So I went to his office, and he said, “Alright, we’re giving you a job.”

[00:15:38] Marilyn Moedinger: I was like, “What? Like yesterday I was organizing post-it notes.” He said, “We’re giving you a job. We want you to project manage it. So first, you’re gonna have to estimate it, ’cause we always train everyone as an estimator first. So you’re gonna get a crash course in estimating, which I’d already sort of been doing.”

[00:16:01] Marilyn Moedinger: I’d been helping with estimates, so, but he said, “At this company, you estimate your own job. You own it, and if you don’t have a good estimate and you don’t make the company money, you’re in trouble.” I was like, “Okay, what? Wow.”

[00:16:18] Patrick Donley: And what kind of jobs were you guys working on? Was it multifamily stuff or what?

[00:16:23] Patrick Donley: What were you guys doing? 

[00:16:25] Marilyn Moedinger: It was all kinds of stuff. So, I got assigned a single-family house, which I think was a good idea to start me off with that. We had a pretty robust arm doing a lot of medical and commercial buildings and fit-outs. We did multifamily, we did high-end custom residential, and we did sort of oddball commercial and industrial. The company also had a development arm, so there were also development projects.

[00:16:54] Marilyn Moedinger: And I got to be brought in on a lot of those as sort of my boss’s eyes and ears, which at first I was like, “What, you want me to take notes?” Then I realized that the person taking notes is the one who literally learns everything. So, I’d go to all these meetings, and it was a pretty wide array of stuff I got exposed to and got to participate in.

[00:17:23] Patrick Donley: So, how did that first project as a project manager on that single-family house go? I mean, were there some similarities with Antonio’s experience, where she was just thrown out into the field as a PM? It seems like there might be a similar story there. And what were some of the takeaways or mistakes that, looking back, you think, “Wow, that was a big learning moment I had from working on that single-family home?”

[00:17:53] Marilyn Moedinger: Yeah, I mean, I think, first of all, my boss assured me, he said, “We’re giving you a very experienced superintendent, so he’s going to help train you in how to do this.” And I was like, “Great, that’s a good idea. I’m 22. What do I know about anything?” So, three weeks into the actual construction, that superintendent was pulled off to do another job, and I got someone who was not experienced and not enthusiastic about having me as the project manager.

[00:18:27] Marilyn Moedinger: So, that was a challenge. The next thing that happened in this sort of situation was that because I was the lowest one in seniority, I did not get to pick my crews. So, I got the leftovers. Whoever was left over after every other project manager got the star framers and the good guys—I got whoever was left.

[00:18:50] Marilyn Moedinger: And in those days, anyone who had a pulse could be hired at a construction company. So, my crew was… it was pretty rough. I caught them cheating on their time sheets. I figured it out, figured out it was happening, and I was like, “Well, what am I gonna do?” So, I went in and talked to my boss. I said, “What am I gonna do? These guys are cheating on their time sheets.” He asked, “How do you know?” I told him, and he said, “Sounds about right.” I asked, “What am I gonna do?” He responded, “What are you gonna do?” He turned it right back around on me. He said, “Sounds like it’s a you problem.” And that was pretty intense.

[00:19:40] Marilyn Moedinger: So, I had to go out and confront these guys. And, you know, when you’re 23 and you’re a woman on a job site…

[00:19:50] Patrick Donley: And that’s tough. That’s tough for anybody to have that kind of confrontational conversation. 

[00:19:56] Marilyn Moedinger: Yeah, and you know, it was also a few years ago. It’s a different era, a different place. And I had to handle it.

[00:20:05] Marilyn Moedinger: And my boss was like, “You’re gonna handle this and you’re gonna learn from it, and someday you’ll talk about it on a podcast.”

[00:20:15] Patrick Donley: So what’d you do? Did you end up firing them, or how did you, how did you handle it? 

[00:20:19] Marilyn Moedinger: I couldn’t fire them because there wasn’t anyone else. So I was like, “Well, guys, we’re stuck with each other.”

[00:20:27] Marilyn Moedinger: I told them they were cheating, and that was not cool. I was like, “What’s their problem? What’s the deal? This is unacceptable. In what world is it okay to steal from your employer, which is ultimately stealing from the person whose house you’re building? For this guy, this couple, and their kids, get outta here with that.”

[00:20:50] Marilyn Moedinger: So I just… I was pretty tough, I guess. And they stopped doing it, so I guess it worked.

[00:20:58] Patrick Donley: Were these guys general laborers or were they, who were they? Were they, I’m just curious. 

[00:21:04] Marilyn Moedinger: They were laborers and carpenters and yeah. So, I mean, by cheating on that, I mean, you go out to the job site and you’re like, “Alright, guys, like there’s four pieces of plywood installed today.”

[00:21:18] Marilyn Moedinger: Like, in no way did five of you for eight hours do that. Like, that’s insane. So, that also taught me a lot about how to know what is an acceptable amount of work in a day, which is an incredibly valuable thing to have under my belt. Because ultimately, it’s up to me to justify it, you know, whether it’s a weather delay or they didn’t have the right materials and it’s my fault, or they used all the wrong stuff because I didn’t… Ultimately, the buck stops with me, which is what my boss, I think, was trying to teach me.

[00:21:59] Patrick Donley: So, at what stage did you start rethinking going back to getting your master’s in architecture school? And talk to me about that transition, because it sounded like maybe early on you were like, “Eh, I don’t know if that’s the route I want to take.” What made you change your mind to go back to school and get a master’s degree?

[00:22:24] Marilyn Moedinger: Well, a couple of things. One, so I worked at that company for, I guess, three or four years or whatever, and basically the recession happened. So 2008, 2009 hits, and there was just not the same amount of work. Layoffs started to happen. I knew I wanted to go back to architecture school. It’s not that I didn’t want to be an architect, I just didn’t want to be sitting at a computer picking up red lines day in and day out on some giant building with a team of 50.

[00:23:01] Marilyn Moedinger: Like, I just didn’t want that. I wanted to be much more in the driver’s seat. I wanted to be much more in the nitty-gritty of the project. So I always knew I wanted to be an architect. So at that point, I said, “Alright, well, this seems like a good time to go to grad school.” So I applied and ended up choosing to stay at Virginia.

[00:23:28] Marilyn Moedinger: So this whole time, I was in Charlottesville, Virginia, and went back to UVA for my master’s. One of the best financial decisions I’ve ever made in my entire life, frankly.

[00:23:40] Patrick Donley: Is going back to school. What’s the decision? 

[00:23:44] Marilyn Moedinger: Choosing to go back to UVA meant instate tuition. My tuition was like five grand a year, so I graduated with no debt. The other front runner was I had applied to Harvard and didn’t get in, and I actually am quite grateful for that because it would’ve meant three years and $175,000 in debt.

[00:24:06] Marilyn Moedinger: You know, it would’ve set myself up very, very powerfully for the rest of my journey, starting my business, investing in real estate. Not being saddled with that kind of debt made a huge difference.

[00:24:20] Patrick Donley: Yeah, no, it’s huge. It’s huge. And didn’t you actually go back to Harvard and you lectured there?

[00:24:26] Marilyn Moedinger: Yes, so the first time I actually set foot in there was because I was an invited lecturer, which was pretty awesome.

[00:24:35] Patrick Donley: That’s really cool. I want to talk a little bit about architecture school and how long it took, what goes into it. We’ve got a lot of beginning and intermediate investors or people just learning about real estate.

[00:24:50] Patrick Donley: Talk to us a little bit about that process and what it was like for you, just the experience of it.

[00:24:58] Marilyn Moedinger: Yeah, so architecture school, becoming an architect is quite a long process, and it consists of three parts. You have to have a professional degree in architecture, either a BArch, which is a special five-year program, or an MArch, which is a Master’s of Architecture.

[00:25:16] Marilyn Moedinger: If you go that route, it takes six to seven years to get all that education. Then you also need to intern for a certain amount of time. I don’t think they call it interning anymore, but you have to do around 5,000 hours in 18 different areas of experience, working directly for a licensed architect to gain those 5,000 hours.

[00:25:41] Marilyn Moedinger: In my day, they had to be completed after you were out of your master’s program. And on top of that, you have to take exams. At the time I took it, there were seven exams, now it’s six. The material is the same, they just condensed it. When I took it, each exam was like three to four hours, closed book. They covered topics like engineering structures, running a practice, ethics, and all kinds of stuff. If you failed a test, you had to wait six months to take it again, and you had five years to complete all of them. So, the whole process, most people aren’t aware that it takes that long to get licensed.

[00:26:28] Marilyn Moedinger: I was licensed at the age of 28 or 29, and I had been in the industry the entire time. So, it takes a long time.

[00:26:38] Patrick Donley: Super intense. It’s like medical school, you know. For architects, the amount of time, energy, and effort that goes into it is intense. Do you find, based on your experience, that there are a lot of people who think they want to be architects, they put in the time, but then they realize it’s not for them at all? You hear stories about doctors who go through medical school and then realize it’s not their passion. Do you find a similar attrition rate over the years with people you went to school with? How many of them stick around and end up becoming practicing architects, staying in the industry?

[00:27:22] Marilyn Moedinger: There are actually a lot of interesting statistics about this. For undergraduate programs, the attrition rate is very low because an undergraduate degree in architecture is not a professional degree. Mine was a BS, which meant it was a more technical degree. But with that, you can pursue other interesting career paths. You can go into engineering, industrial design, real estate, construction, and more. So many people may be in allied industries, but they’re not practicing architects.

[00:27:53] Marilyn Moedinger: Another common route is that many people work as designers but not as licensed architects. They don’t go through the entire process of licensure. Therefore, there are plenty of people in the industry and firms who are not licensed but still have significant training and experience.

[00:28:11] Marilyn Moedinger: In grad school, if you’re pursuing a professional degree in architecture, chances are you already know that it’s what you want to do. Most likely, you have some work experience or exposure to the field. Pursuing a professional degree in architecture is not an easy path, so people generally don’t pursue it unless they’re dedicated to the profession.

[00:28:34] Marilyn Moedinger: However, even with this dedication, there’s still a significant gap between those who go through the different stages of education and those who become licensed architects. In fact, there’s a substantial gender gap, with only 18% to 22% of practicing architects being women. The attrition rate for women is higher because the intense studying, work, exams, and internship hours typically occur in their mid-twenties to mid-thirties, which is a time when many women may also be starting families. It becomes a more challenging juggling act.

[00:29:08] Marilyn Moedinger: So, while architecture schools have seen a 50-50 ratio of men and women for quite some time, the number of women architects in the field is still around 20%.

[00:29:20] Patrick Donley: Yeah, I think Antonio made a similar point, something similar to that. It’s hard. Yeah, yeah. So, what happened next after you finished your master’s degree and got your licenses? Did you end up in Boston at that point?

[00:29:35] Marilyn Moedinger: I did, yeah. So, it turns out that if you go to a two-year master’s program, sometimes recessions last longer than two years. So I graduated into the recession. At my master’s thesis defense, one of the people on my defense panel was an architect with a firm in Boston, and he offered me a job. I also had another opportunity in New Orleans.

[00:30:01] Marilyn Moedinger: So, I was trying to decide between New Orleans and Boston. Both of them were part-time-ish jobs, not real jobs. It was a tough decision to make. I had graduated without debt, but I didn’t have much money. So, I sold my car. I chose Boston and started working at UT, which at the time had around 17 or 18 people.

[00:30:25] Marilyn Moedinger: Actually, I didn’t even start working there right away. I had to wait a few months, just being in Boston so that when they were ready for me, I could go there. In the meantime, I started teaching to help pay the bills. But that’s where I gained a lot of my multi-family experience because they were known for their expertise in multi-family projects at that firm.

[00:30:52] Patrick Donley: So that lasted from, what, 2000? When did you start? 2010. 

[00:30:58] Marilyn Moedinger: 2010. 

[00:31:00] Patrick Donley: Yeah, so that’s 2010. Things were a little bit on the upswing at that point. How long were you in Boston at that firm, and did you know that you wanted to start your own firm at some point? Did you have those entrepreneurial inklings of wanting to have your own shop in the future?

[00:31:22] Marilyn Moedinger: So, I stayed at that firm for a couple of years, and that’s also when I did my… I had won a fellowship to travel around the world and research vernacular residential architecture. So I was taking these trips in between trying to work and keep my job, which was a whole other story.

[00:31:43] Patrick Donley: Which I want to get into, the whole traveling.

[00:31:47] Patrick Donley: Can you explain what vernacular architecture is? Because I think there are a lot of people who may not know what that means.

[00:31:56] Marilyn Moedinger: Architecture not done by architects, aka 98% of the buildings in the world.

[00:32:01] Patrick Donley: So let’s jump into that. I want to go there. You got a $50,000 grant, I think, to travel the world studying vernacular architecture.

[00:32:11] Patrick Donley: Talk to us about that. You did a longitudinal line, it sounded like, of travel, which absolutely sounds fascinating to me. Share with us some of where you started. I love to travel, so I want to hear about some of the adventures you had.

[00:32:29] Marilyn Moedinger: I had a few adventures, let’s just say.

[00:32:32] Marilyn Moedinger: Yeah, so I did a line of longitude. I had studied one of my grad school summers in Jamaica. I participated in a field school where I received training in historic masonry and carpentry techniques from Jamaican carpenters and masons. I spent the summer doing that and documenting 18th-century buildings in a small town in Jamaica.

[00:32:54] Marilyn Moedinger: That experience was fascinating, and I learned a ton. One day, while sitting on the beach with some fellow participants, the idea came to me. I thought about applying for this fellowship and realized that my hometown and the place I was in Jamaica were on the same line of longitude. It sparked my curiosity about what else could be found along that line. So, I went back, traced the line on a map (this was before the internet was widely accessible), and that became the basis of my trip.

[00:33:30] Marilyn Moedinger: I started in Peru, and then I wiggled off my line a bit because I was traveling with some companions who had their own research to conduct in different places. So, in addition to the line of longitude, I also visited Beijing, Mongolia, Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Australia. 

[00:33:50] Patrick Donley: That’s awesome. And how long was the trip? 

[00:33:53] Marilyn Moedinger: Well, I broke it into different chunks. Oh, I also went to Switzerland as well, which is not on the line of longitude, but I was looking into the origin of the homes in my hometown. All immigrants came from Switzerland. So I went to the exact place in Switzerland where they were from. I examined the architecture they built there and compared it to the architecture they built in my hometown to see the differences and similarities.

[00:34:24] Marilyn Moedinger: The entire journey had to be broken up into chunks because I was teaching and working, and I didn’t want to spend the grant money on rent. I wanted to use it for traveling. So, the whole trip took about five or six months, split into different segments. My longest chunk of travel was about four months, and the Asia trip was one continuous journey.

[00:34:50] Patrick Donley: That’s incredible. It must have been life-changing. I can imagine it must have been hard to come back to Boston. There might have been some reverse culture shock after studying and experiencing different cultures, like being in Mongolia and studying yurts (pronounced “ger”).

[00:35:07] Marilyn Moedinger: Ger. That’s a Mongolian word. Yeah, ger. 

[00:35:10] Patrick Donley: Okay. So that had to mess with your mind a little bit to see how all these different people live and have lived for thousands of years. Talk to us a little bit about the ger, like that. I thought it was interesting what you said in your interview, just about how these structures have been around forever.

[00:35:34] Marilyn Moedinger: Yeah, well, you know, I think there’s a tendency, and I felt this way at times in my education. Certainly, feel it just as an American in the world, that Western ideas are like the first time anyone is sad about standardizing construction. It is a Western idea in the 20th century. That is a thousand percent not true.

[00:35:57] Marilyn Moedinger: Or the best masonry examples are like from the UK, from whatever. I mean, there’s gorgeous stuff there, but there are many people around the world who have amazing construction techniques and have wrestled with the exact things that sort of, when you go to school and learn about a lot of Western, when it’s very Western-centric, then you sort of think that no one else is doing this, or no one else has thought of this.

[00:36:28] Marilyn Moedinger: And turns out everyone has because everyone wants the same things out of a house. Turns out they all want to be, you know, dry from the rain or warm from the cold, or you know, cool from the heat or whatever. Like, these are the things that everybody wants out of a house. So seeing how people solve those problems in ways like in Mongolia where they’re using a Gur, which is basically the same, you know, if Genghis Khan showed up, he’d be like, “Yep, looks like a Gur.”

[00:37:04] Marilyn Moedinger: Like, I know what this is. And they’re all standardized parts and it works. It works in the climate, it works for lifestyle, and you know, they’re good to go. Then also seeing how some of these forms have translated over history. So the shop house form, which is all over Southeast Asia, it’s all over the world, frankly.

[00:37:28] Marilyn Moedinger: But like this particular form I was looking at the Southeast Asian version, so shops on the first floor, house up above, like pretty common all over the world. But the sort of way it’s laid out is there’s this unique situation, so that gets translated into modern cities that was an urban architectural type in the 17th century.

[00:37:52] Marilyn Moedinger: In Vietnam or in Malaysia, or wherever I was, those types are translated to modern types: modern shop houses, which are fascinatingly impacted by early zoning laws. They wouldn’t have called them zoning, but it was a combination of sort of zoning and tax law that created the lot shape that created this building type.

[00:38:14] Marilyn Moedinger: So when you’re thinking about how zoning impacts our cities or how governmental policy in the form of real estate tax impacts our built environment, turns out these are things that people have been doing and thinking about for hundreds or even thousands of years. And sort of seeing how people have solved that or engaged with that in different places just makes my tool belt that much more robust and also just takes my focus away from having everything be so Western-centric.

[00:38:47] Patrick Donley: Is it something that you can apply when coming back here? Like some of the things and the learnings that you took away from that trip? Is it tough to apply some of that stuff, or are you able to do it?

[00:39:04] Marilyn Moedinger: I absolutely am able to do it, but there’s an important distinction here. It’s not about copying something.

[00:39:11] Marilyn Moedinger: It’s not about seeing a form and saying, “Wow, that’s a really cool-looking window. I’m gonna paste that on a stick frame house in suburbia.” It’s about understanding how people operate their houses or how people interact with the urban environment. Most of the places I was looking at were urban, and finding new prototypes for urban living or residential living or whatever.

[00:39:36] Marilyn Moedinger: You have to understand that these types are deeply culturally connected. And there’s a lot of misunderstanding about this. You sort of think, “Well, I like the look of this, so now I’m gonna take it and apply it like a paint bucket tool onto a building over here.” And then people wonder why it doesn’t work.

[00:39:59] Marilyn Moedinger: Well, it’s because you’re not actually taking the function of it. You’re just taking the look of it. You’re not really understanding how it works either technically or culturally. And so I think it’s a couple of things. It’s construction technique for sure. I mean, I’ve seen so many things that, you know, I was just designing a porch recently for a project, and I was like, “Oh, right.”

[00:40:26] Marilyn Moedinger: Like there’s this joinery technique that I saw in whatever, whatever. Like, what if we just used a modified version of that that would solve this problem? So sometimes that does happen, but mostly it’s about the thinking behind it that’s most valuable.

[00:40:44] Patrick Donley: So, I wanted to jump back to when you were in Boston at this firm.

[00:40:50] Patrick Donley: You’ve done this huge, amazing trip. Talk to us about getting Runable Studios started. Explain how the name came about, and just talk a little bit about making that jump from, I guess, a W2 job to starting your own venture, which is a risky, unnerving process for most people.

[00:41:10] Marilyn Moedinger: Yeah, so I had a little bit of a stopover in between. I had about a year and a half after I left UTL where I was a design school administrator.

[00:41:22] Marilyn Moedinger: So I was working at the Boston Architectural College in their practice department, directing a whole series of sections of the curriculum, and also working on pairing groups of students with local nonprofits to do design-build projects. We did a ton of them. It was a really cool experience, but I knew within a few weeks of starting the job that this wasn’t for me.

[00:41:48] Patrick Donley: Why is that? Explain that to me. 

[00:41:51] Marilyn Moedinger: Well, I’m not political enough to be a higher ed administrator. I can play one on TV, but I just can’t. I’m like a builder. I’m a doer. Like these meetings where everyone’s talking for like three hours and then everyone’s like, “Wow, we got a lot of work done.” I’m like, “We literally just sat there and talked.”

[00:42:14] Marilyn Moedinger: So I just missed being around people, you know, architects, contractors, developers, people who are building things, who are making stuff. So I love teaching. I love curriculum building. I love a ton of the stuff I did, but it was pretty clear it wasn’t gonna be the right thing. So combine that with, you know, I don’t want to go back and work for a firm.

[00:42:41] Marilyn Moedinger: I sort of chafed under not having enough freedom to choose the projects I wanted to do or how I would do it. Also, salaries are just terrible. So I was like, I am not even being paid a living wage in academia, in architecture. No, academia is way better. So I was like, I don’t know what I’m gonna do.

[00:43:05] Marilyn Moedinger: I have three more exams to pass. You know what? I’m just gonna quit my job in academia. I’m gonna keep all my teaching. So I negotiated, keeping all my teaching. So I got paid for doing my courses. And then I had a, you know, I quit on my last day, which was November 1st, 2013. I had a W2, but I didn’t have a plan.

[00:43:32] Marilyn Moedinger: No plan. I quit and I said, “Well, I got three weeks paid vacation, so that’ll tie me over. Then it’s gonna be Christmas. Like, I don’t know, I’ll just pass my exams and then I’ll figure it out.” Like, I did not have a plan. So people heard that I was kind of a free agent and somebody said, “Hey, can you help on this project?”

[00:43:59] Marilyn Moedinger: Just a few weeks of work, like, “We’ll just pay you whatever.” I was like, sure. So word got around and I was doing some work for people here and there on the side, passed all my exams, became an unofficial architect. And then in April, the following year in 2014, I was like, “You know what? I think I just accidentally started a business.”

[00:44:25] Marilyn Moedinger: Like, I think that’s what just happened. So I should probably get a name. I should probably do an LLC. I should probably get some insurance. So I did all of that and filed my LLC paperwork on April 15th. So it’s very easy for me. My business birthday is also tax day, and I celebrate my business birthday every year on April 15th.

[00:44:51] Marilyn Moedinger: But yeah, I had about six months of like, so I did not do it in a traditional way. I didn’t do it in the super planned out, like, “Well, first I’m gonna do this, and then I’m gonna do that, and here’s my strategic plan.” It was very organic, and then I worked on my own. Once I decided to make a go of it, then I was like, “Alright, we’re doing this.”

[00:45:20] Marilyn Moedinger: I got a seat at a coworking space for $300 a month, which felt like the most money I had. Like, I didn’t have any money. I got an additional roommate. I was piling it in, like every dime I could save. You know, how could I execute? So the name Runnable comes from the poem “The Owl and the Pussycat” by Edward Lear.

[00:45:46] Marilyn Moedinger: And it describes a runcible spoon, which he doesn’t really define, but most people think it’s a spork.

[00:45:53] Patrick Donley: With a sharp edge, right? It’s kind of like everything altogether, right? 

[00:45:57] Marilyn Moedinger: Yeah, I have one right here. So it’s like a spoon and a fork. So, you know, people say later, I mean, it was a nonsense word, but basically using context clues, you can say that it’s a word that describes an object that’s both beautiful and utilitarian.

[00:46:16] Marilyn Moedinger: So I was like, “That’s cool. That’s a cool name.” And it was the first book I ever read.

[00:46:24] Patrick Donley: Oh really? It was your very first book. That’s super impactful. 

[00:46:27] Marilyn Moedinger: Yeah, so I also called it Studios with an S. So the company’s called Runcible Studios with an S on the end. And that was because I already knew that I was gonna be not only the Runcible Spoon but the Swiss Army knife.

[00:46:45] Marilyn Moedinger: I wanted to be able to be nimble and basically, Runcible Studios is a giant experiment for me, finding out how to make money doing things that I love, that I think are important, that are interesting, that fuel my curiosity, and that are good for the community and all that good stuff. So I’ve done a lot of things under the Runcible Studios umbrella that are not traditional architecture.

[00:47:13] Patrick Donley: Can you talk about some of those? Because I’m curious about, I was checking out your website, which is really well done by the way. I think you’ve spent a lot of time on it. But talk to us a little bit about some of the unique projects that you’ve done that maybe be out outside, like the general scope of what most architects would do.

[00:47:28] Marilyn Moedinger: Well, you know, two of the biggest ones happened right around the pandemic when everyone was getting creative about how to keep things going. One of them was, I opened up a store. It’s much smaller now because I sold a bunch of stuff and I didn’t restart it, but I have a little store and I designed all this stuff. And you know, someone just placed an order yesterday, so it’s still going. It’s just, you know, it’s kind of there in the background.

[00:48:02] Marilyn Moedinger: So I started a store. My mom owned a store for many years, so I was raised in the retail environment, and I love retail. I love it so much. So I loved every part of it, like figuring out how to set up the store, figuring out how the logistics work, how do I do shipping, how do I keep track of stock. It was really fun. So I did that under Runcible’s umbrella. And as part of that, I also, during the pandemic, opened up a mask factory. In the early days in Boston, the outbreak happened early there. So all of the hospital systems, no one had enough masks. So in like week two of the pandemic, I was making masks and sending them places.

[00:48:53] Patrick Donley: I imagine like nicely designed masks, right? Not just generic blue ones. 

[00:48:59] Marilyn Moedinger: Yeah, yes. I found a fabric store that would deliver because everywhere was closed, and so they would deliver and leave it on my front porch. Then I would make masks and give them away. And in those days, you know, nobody had anything.

[00:49:16] Marilyn Moedinger: So my friends would text me, and I would be like, “Yep, they’re gonna be on the front porch. I’ll put your name on a sticky note, you can get it.” I designed the packaging, I designed, I came up with a couple of different versions, like these cool ones that you could put a filter in and all this kind of stuff. And then I sold them on the website, and that funded the ones that I was making for healthcare workers in those early days when nobody knew what was going on. And I made them for organizations.

[00:49:56] Marilyn Moedinger: A developer actually hired me to make a whole bunch of matching ones for their whole team with their little logo on it. So I did that. So I would work all day trying to save my business during a pandemic, and I was pulling 16-hour days working in the business and then sewing masks.

[00:50:18] Patrick Donley: I love it. I love the hustle. The entrepreneurial spirit is great. Now, at that point, were you in Boston or were you back in Pennsylvania? Because you are kind of in between both places from my understanding.

[00:50:34] Marilyn Moedinger: Yeah, I’m between both places. The between both places started as a result of the pandemic. So all my family’s in Pennsylvania, and after a year of not seeing all of them, or seven months or whatever, I was like, “This is not it. This is not what I want.” The plan was always to move back to Pennsylvania.

[00:50:57] Marilyn Moedinger: So what I did was I was going to open up a branch in Philly. I got an apartment in Philly, and I started networking and getting my ducks in a row. I’d have a Boston office and a Philly office. It was pretty straightforward to add a city, whatever, and that was going okay.

[00:51:19] Marilyn Moedinger: But then very soon after that, I got the opportunity to renovate our family farmhouse or the house on our family farm, which has like three houses. This is the oldest one that I renovated. And that opportunity came up, and I was like, “Well, we’re close to Philly, but not that close. So maybe I will not do the Philly thing and do Boston and Lancaster, Pennsylvania,” which is where my other satellite location is now.

[00:51:50] Marilyn Moedinger: So it’s a moving situation and trying to figure out, like Boston and Philly, you can do the same thing in both places. There are subtleties and differences, and the cities are different or whatever. Lancaster and Boston are really different, so I’m navigating that.

[00:52:08] Patrick Donley: So, share with us a little bit more about the family farmhouse. Your family were Mennonites from Switzerland, is that right?

[00:52:16] Patrick Donley: That’s right, yep. Talk to us. They came to Pennsylvania and settled in the 17th century. You tell the story. Was it in the early 17th century?

[00:52:27] Marilyn Moedinger: Yeah, early 1711, they came over. So they were on the run in Europe for, I don’t know, a hundred years or so, being kicked out from various places because no one liked Mennonites. And yeah, they arrived here in 1711 and built the house that I’m in, that I renovated in 1730.

[00:52:48] Marilyn Moedinger: So, and they were farmers. My nephew is the 10th generation to be born and raised here.

[00:52:55] Patrick Donley: That’s amazing. That’s so cool. And so you’ve renovated this farmhouse. It has been in the family for generations, right? I mean, that’s incredible to me. I mean, talk to us about the process. When was it last renovated? Like, what has the experience been like? Because that’s pretty wild. 

[00:53:15] Marilyn Moedinger: Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. So the house was built in 1730, renovated extensively in 1810, again in 1910-ish, and then again in 1950, and pretty much not after that. So it was really rough. It had been abandoned for a while. There were bats in the attic, there were animals everywhere, groundhogs in the basement.

[00:53:37] Patrick Donley: So when was the last time somebody had lived in the farmhouse? 


[00:53:42] Marilyn Moedinger: Like 2012, I think. Okay, so it had been a while. Yeah. And my parents had done a bunch of really important work to it. They had repointed the whole exterior and done a bunch of work on the windows. So that was huge. And it’s a stone structure, right? It’s solid stone. Yeah. So 22-inch thick stone walls. That’s awesome, yeah. Yeah, it’s like a little castle. Yeah, really cool. Yeah, so when I showed up, it was pretty much a blank slate.

[00:54:15] Patrick Donley: Which had to be fun for you as an architect, coming in with carte blanche.

[00:54:21] Marilyn Moedinger: It was really fun, yeah. It was the toughest blank slate, though, that I’ve ever encountered because it’s a blank slate from the standpoint that, yeah, I need to run all new electrical and plumbing and HVAC and all the systems, but it’s a solid house.

[00:54:40] Marilyn Moedinger: Even the walls inside are solid. They’re solid wood. That’s how they built walls back in those days. They didn’t use studs. They’re just solid wall-like planks. So how do you run electrical when all the walls are solid? How do you run HVAC when there are literally logs holding the house up? So it was a phenomenal challenge, and one I embraced wholeheartedly.

[00:55:05] Marilyn Moedinger: I love that kind of stuff. So the fun part is now when I tell people, you know, because I’ve got heat and air conditioning, I’ve got ducts everywhere. I’m like, “Find me a duct. Tell me where they are.” They’re really hidden. So they’re not exposed at all? Huh? They’re not exposed. They’re definitely, if you can read a building, you can definitely see where they are.

[00:55:33] Marilyn Moedinger: But I got pretty creative about how they’re in here. So I worked with a mechanical engineer to size the ducts really carefully. I have a fresh air system and an ERV in here, so I had to run all those ducts as well. And then I also built a model of the house and mapped out every single duct, every single plumbing line, everything.

[00:55:59] Marilyn Moedinger: So that when I was working with the contractor and subcontractors, I was like, “We are not cutting through anything. We are not destroying these walls.” And they were all game, right? Like, if they’re on this project, they’re gonna be into it, you know? So, they were into it. But there aren’t many architects who do that.

[00:56:22] Marilyn Moedinger: We do it for actually all of our projects. We design all the ductwork, and it makes a huge difference because what the subcontractors will push you into doing is nowhere near as sharp and clean as what you can do if you really dial it in.

[00:56:41] Patrick Donley: You had a post on Twitter, a thread all about HVAC systems. It was like, maybe it was in your newsletter, I can’t remember, but super in-depth and like a standalone lesson on HVAC systems.

[00:56:55] Marilyn Moedinger: Yeah, I’m definitely an HVAC nerd. I’ve been looking into different HVAC certifications and things because I would love to. I’m not going to become a mechanical engineer. I don’t have six more years of education that I want to get, but I’d love to. I’m like a closet mechanical engineer.

[00:57:15] Patrick Donley: So is this something with the farmhouse? Is it completed, or are you still working on it?

[00:57:22] Marilyn Moedinger: So definitely not complete. I mean, it’s eminently livable. The bathrooms are all done, and for all intents and purposes, you can see it on my website, it’s complete. But there will always be a work in progress and things to improve.

[00:57:39] Marilyn Moedinger: Recently, my roof failed, so I’m getting that repaired, like a new roof. So, you know, that’s part of the challenge of running the business, is that I don’t have the same sort of cash situation that a lot of people might have. This house is not an investment.

[00:57:58] Patrick Donley: Right. So you’re not gonna Airbnb it or anything like that, like the other structure?

[00:58:04] Marilyn Moedinger: No, and I’m not going to sell it. So there’s no, I mean, did I add a metric ton of value here? Yes. But it’s not value that I can realize. 

[00:58:14] Patrick Donley: Yeah, it’s not gonna leave the family. Right. You’re not gonna. 

[00:58:18] Marilyn Moedinger: No, it’s kind of a financial responsibility to have the farm and all the buildings and all that kind of stuff. I mean, it’s not just me, there’s family involved, but it’s still a real responsibility. It impacts how I think about how I run my business and how I invest in other things.

[00:58:40] Patrick Donley: Which I want to get into your investments. You know, there are mostly real estate investors for our podcast. Talk to us a little bit about some of your early investments that you’ve done. I noticed on your pinned Twitter thread, it said it looked like you were looking for your next real estate investment project. Let’s start with the first one that you did and just discuss your thought process in terms of what you’re interested in pursuing going forward.

[00:59:12] Marilyn Moedinger: Yeah, so my first investment was a condo in Charlottesville, Virginia when I was living down there, working as a contractor and all that. I bought it in 2006, which was a great time to buy a condo. Yeah, great. And I think the interest was only 7.5%, you know, whatever. Like, what did I know? I didn’t know anything. So yeah, it seemed like a good idea. Yeah, this is what everyone is doing, right? Like, this is what you’re supposed to do. So I thought, I’ll just refinance later, no biggie.

[00:59:50] Marilyn Moedinger: By the time I was ready to move to Boston, I couldn’t sell it. You know, recession, no one was going to buy it for what I paid for it. So I was like, well, I guess I’ll just rent it out to my friends who are finishing grad school. Fine, I did that. Then eventually, I ran out of people I knew to rent to. So I was like, well, I guess I have to figure out how to rent to people I don’t know. And by the way, I’m in Boston, so I have to figure that out. And maintenance issues came up.

[01:00:32] Marilyn Moedinger: But luckily, I was a contractor, so I knew tons of people who could fix stuff for me in town. So I cobbled it together, and pretty soon I was running an out-of-state property as a landlord in a condo with a homeowners association that I had to keep happy and all that. So I was like, “I can do this. This is fine.”

[01:00:57] Marilyn Moedinger: But you know what? I really wanted to own a place in Boston. The problem was that I was saving up my nickels and dimes, but there was no way I was ever going to be able to afford anything in the city. I just didn’t have the money, so I would have had to sell the other place, which I still couldn’t sell yet.

[01:01:23] Marilyn Moedinger: So I thought, “Okay, where could I buy something with my pile of nickels and dimes? My hometown.” So I bought a two-family in Lancaster sight unseen, which I can do now.

[01:01:36] Patrick Donley: What’d you do? Like a zoom call or what? How did you even find out about the property? 

[01:01:41] Marilyn Moedinger: A Zoom call. Yeah, so the realtor I work with, he’s been a family friend for a really long time, so I trust him. And, at this point, he knows I’m going to look at something later with him today, actually. So he knew what I was looking for, and he knew the neighborhood. He’s like, “This is a great neighborhood.” This was before I knew anything about any of that stuff. But I was like, “Yeah, it is a good neighborhood.” Like, so.

[01:02:14] Marilyn Moedinger: But I learned a few things. I now have a list, as a good investor should, of things that, if the property doesn’t have these things, I’m probably going to pass. Just, say again, it was a duplex. Yeah, it’s a two-family. It was a single family that was converted. Actually, it was an old hair salon with an apartment above it. Someone converted the hair salon into an apartment. So it’s kind of, it’s definitely a weirdo building. Definitely.

[01:02:46] Patrick Donley: So what are some of the top two or three things you would avoid in the future?

[01:02:50] Marilyn Moedinger: One of them is that I need to have access to the utilities without going through a tenant space. I learned that the hard way because that building doesn’t have that, and I have to check with the tenant. And the tenant gets annoyed, and I don’t want annoyed tenants, right? I don’t want that in my house, people trucking through all the time. So, and then other things like, you know, just knowing that no matter what state the furnace is in, whether it’s brand new or 30 years old, I will have to replace it. It will fail, and I will have to deal with it. I don’t know if I just have bad furnace luck or what, but I just factor that in now. I’m like, “Okay, I mean, I’m being a little bit silly, but not, you know.”

[01:03:47] Marilyn Moedinger: And then some other things that are a big pain are that this property has nowhere for the trash cans to sit, and the city has certain regulations about where trash cans can and can’t be. And I basically can’t follow those regulations because of the way the building is laid out. So I’m constantly having to deal with all of that annoyance where the city’s like, “You need to do this,” and I’m like, “I literally can’t.” And then I can’t ask my tenants to keep the rolly trash cans in their house. So stuff like that, it’s little stuff, but it’s that stuff that every two or three months, there’s a little thing I have to deal with because the trash is on the street, you know?

[01:04:39] Marilyn Moedinger: So that’s another one.

[01:04:40] Patrick Donley: Yeah, just little festering problems that you just don’t want to deal with. So what’s next? What are your, you said you’re gonna go look at a place today, what’s kind of next on your agenda? 

[01:04:49] Marilyn Moedinger: Yeah, so I did eventually sell my condo and learned about 1031 exchanges.

[01:04:55] Patrick Donley: So real quick, kind of explain a a quick for people that don’t know what a 1031 is.

[01:05:00] Marilyn Moedinger: So, on October 31st, which I learned about on the fly, is when you sell a property, and you have to give the money to someone else who can’t touch it. You put it in an escrow account where a lawyer or somebody holds it, and then you don’t get taxed on it. Afterward, you take that money and buy a similar property. You can’t sell your condo and then buy, you know, a vacation home or something like that. Those are the rules.

[01:05:34] Patrick Donley: So you did the 10 31 on the condo 

[01:05:36] Marilyn Moedinger: or on the condo? Yeah. 

[01:05:40] Patrick Donley: Okay. So you’ve got this money in escrow, is that right? That is now ready to be, you’ve got what, 180 days to buy something? 

[01:05:48] Marilyn Moedinger: No, that was years ago, so I already bought two properties using that method. So I used it to invest in another two-family property and a single-family property, both of which I renovated and sold. Now, my funds have been replenished.

[01:06:04] Marilyn Moedinger: That happened right at the beginning of Covid. I sold that single-family property, thinking it would be wise to do so before things got too chaotic due to the pandemic. Unfortunately, I ended up missing out on the largest surge in value in history.

[01:06:22] Patrick Donley: Yeah, that timing is hard.

[01:06:23] Marilyn Moedinger: Yeah, I mean, I just… I don’t really care about those little updates from Zillow. They keep sending me messages like, “This is your property.” And I’m like, “I don’t want to know.” It’s like, “Great, thanks.”

[01:06:38] Patrick Donley: Yeah, thanks. That’s a nice reminder. 

[01:06:40] Marilyn Moedinger: So, yeah, I was able to set aside some savings.

[01:06:44] Patrick Donley: But you still did well, right? Maybe not as well as you could have, but you still had some success.

[01:06:52] Marilyn Moedinger: Yeah, I did fine. I did more than fine. And the amount of learning I gained from it was tremendous. It’s like getting paid to learn if you approach it correctly.

[01:07:04] Patrick Donley: Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. That’s how I view it. And so you were your own gc, I presume, right? You managed the whole project? 

[01:07:11] Marilyn Moedinger: I did manage the whole project, but it was like, I guess it was right before Covid, and I sort of managed it with a team. So I was still in Boston, managing this from afar. I bought that site unseen and ran the entire job site without seeing it.

[01:07:31] Marilyn Moedinger: People shouldn’t do that. No, that’s rough. They should not do that. I did it because my cousin is a general contractor, and he was on the job. I can trust him. It was a straightforward project, more or less, and I have a lot of experience. So I knew the decisions I needed to make. If someone said, ‘We just opened up this wall and found X, Y, and Z,’ I would respond, ‘That’s my day job.’

[01:08:03] Marilyn Moedinger: So I would say, ‘Do A, B, and C,’ and I’d be fine. But if you’re not seasoned, well, you shouldn’t do it anyway. And if you’re not seasoned, you really shouldn’t do it.

[01:08:16] Patrick Donley: So you’re not gonna do that again, something outta state and manage it. 

[01:08:20] Marilyn Moedinger: No, I mean now that I’m more focused on Lancaster, I can check on my properties more often. I can go see stuff, you know. I highly recommend going to see things in person that you’re planning to buy. It’s highly recommended.

[01:08:37] Patrick Donley: Yeah, I don’t get the whole out-of-state thing, you know? It’s like a trend or something, but I don’t get it. I mean, I want to see what I own.

[01:08:49] Marilyn Moedinger: Yeah, I do too. And I think it’s responsible, you know, like when things go wrong. And I self-manage my properties, which I know is a whole other topic that people have strong opinions on in both directions.

[01:09:04] Marilyn Moedinger: But I self-manage. No one does it as well as I do, and nobody will. I tried management. It didn’t work at all. I had angry tenants and a whole bunch of mess and whatever. I’m not saying I won’t do it in the future, but probably that’ll be an arm of rentable studios, right? Property management.

[01:09:27] Patrick Donley: Yeah, who knows, right?

[01:09:29] Patrick Donley: You’re nimble, like you can. Yeah, it definitely sounds like it’s a whole Mennonite thing in a way, like super entrepreneurial. And I’ve always admired that. I live in Ohio, and there’s a big Amish community here, and they’re just very admirable people, I think. So it’s gotta be in your DNA.

[01:09:49] Marilyn Moedinger: Yeah.

[01:09:50] Marilyn Moedinger: I mean, I think so. I also just think that both branches of my family are very entrepreneurial. I recently learned that my grandmother actually owned real estate on her own in Lancaster. It was back in the thirties. I was like, she bought it on her own as a young single woman and you know, worked outside the home and did all this stuff. She was moving and shaking in the thirties, and all my other grandmothers did really cool stuff.

[01:10:23] Marilyn Moedinger: So I think it was inevitable that I would do all sorts of business things.

[01:10:29] Patrick Donley: Yeah, that’s really cool. I wanted to ask real quick about the property. Do you, you know, with your experience in Mongolia, are you going to build any kind of alternative structures on the farm, or is that not part of the plan?

[01:10:46] Marilyn Moedinger: Yes, I was definitely part of the plan, so I want to build some experiments. I have a few ideas for experiments. I want to do things like using straw that we create here on the property to build a small building. I want to try to build something that is like the houses that are here, with these stones for this house.

[01:11:11] Marilyn Moedinger: The logs for this house were all within yards of where the house is. So what would be the modern equivalent? How could I do that? There’s a brick house, a log house, and a stone house. So I’ll make the straw house. We’re going to keep the three little pigs kind of going, so I’m going to make a straw building with straw that we create here on the farm.

[01:11:39] Marilyn Moedinger: I’ve been really getting into learning more about gardening and farming. So I’ve got a whole bunch of ideas about different regenerative processes, whether it’s for the land or also for buildings and greenhouses that use earth cooling and warming and this kind of stuff. So basically, yeah, I just would love to do a whole series of experiments here on the land and see what happens.

[01:12:06] Patrick Donley: And yeah.

[01:12:07] Patrick Donley: The nice thing about your situation is that you’ve got the canvas to do that. It sounds like you’re really fortunate in a lot of ways to be able to have the land, the structures, and to do these experiments. It’s fun stuff, yeah, for sure. That book that I mentioned earlier before we started, called “Design Outlaws on the Ecological Frontier,” has all kinds of stuff like straw bale construction, earthships, geodesic domes, and all kinds of alternative but very cool stuff.

[01:12:40] Marilyn Moedinger: Yeah, I think there’s a lot to be learned from it. You know, I want to try to figure out how to do composting toilets and all this kind of stuff.

[01:12:53] Marilyn Moedinger: In a way that isn’t stinky and gross, right? Like, I want to do this for people, like normal people who are not into these things or like, “Ew, I don’t want that” or “I’m not interested in alternative stuff” or “that’s, you know, too hippy dippy for me” or whatever. And I’m like, no, actually this makes a lot of financial sense as well.

[01:13:19] Marilyn Moedinger: I’m looking at renovating one of our barns into a potential Airbnb or guest house or something. And in order to do that, I would need to put in a septic field, which would mean taking a quarter of an acre out of cultivation, and it would have to be like a six-foot-tall sand mound because the soil doesn’t perk around here because it’s so wet.

[01:13:45] Marilyn Moedinger: And it would be, you know, a hundred to $200,000 by the time I’m all done with it. What if I got a composting toilet that actually works and is cool and isn’t stinky and doesn’t look stupid or designed one or figured out one? I mean, that’s a financial thing. It’s not just good for the land and the earth.

[01:14:09] Marilyn Moedinger: It is that, and also it will be the thing that makes a project pencil right.

[01:14:16] Patrick Donley: Yeah, this is totally random, but there’s one called the CLS Motrum, which I just love the name. It’s called the Clives Motrum, and it’s just like exactly what you need for the, you know, so you don’t have to build a septic system.

[01:14:33] Patrick Donley: Yeah, I’ve kind of gone down that rabbit hole myself, so it’s fun stuff. We’ve kind of, we’re approaching a little past an hour here. Do you have time for a quick fire round?

[01:14:47] Marilyn Moedinger: Yeah, sure. 

[01:14:49] Patrick Donley: Cool. So I know you’re a huge reader and I wanted to hear what book you think I should read, like what’s been a super impactful book in the last year or so, maybe over covid that you read really made a big impact on your life.

[01:15:02] Marilyn Moedinger: Wow, I usually like to have more time to think about a question like that because I always blank when someone asks me that. So, I mean, I read a lot of things that are not related to business or architecture, and that is on purpose. I read a lot of things. I’ve been on, like I mentioned, I’m reading a ton right now about organic farming and small-scale organic farming.

[01:15:31] Marilyn Moedinger: I mean, I’ve read like 20 books in the last 10 days, so stuff like that. But I was also on a pretty big kick and had been on a pretty big kick reading books about the 1960s Apollo program and the Gemini program and all that kind of stuff. So, space race stuff. I think some of that stuff to me is so fascinating because it describes a fascinating decade in American history where we said, “Well, we haven’t even sent… we just sort of sent someone up, you know, Alan Shepard, up for 15 minutes, and he landed, and that was it.”

[01:16:12] Marilyn Moedinger: And then Kennedy says, “PS we’re gonna send someone to the moon and bring him back safely.” And then that became like a thing that everyone put on a piece of paper and posted above their desk at NASA, and like 400,000 people worked on that program at its height. And I think the number of lessons that I’ve learned about management, communication, tracking progress… you can mess up in construction all the time, but you cannot mess up in space. There’s no room for error. So, reading a series of these books actually where they’re talking through exactly how they made this happen… I mean, it’s fun to read about the astronauts and like, they’re cool guys and that’s really fun, and the stories.

[01:17:02] Marilyn Moedinger: But actually, the nuts and bolts of how they made a project like this happen and brought all of those people together to actually make it happen, hundreds of subcontractors… this is the person who made the space suit, this is the person who made the valves on the thing that connects the other thing… how did they orchestrate that in the sixties with no email? And, you know, it’s sort of management, communication, quality control, creativity, engineering. It’s been profoundly impactful to me to read that kind of stuff.

[01:17:38] Patrick Donley: And manifesting a vision, you know, like John F. Kennedy, you know, like that. 

[01:17:41] Marilyn Moedinger: That’s right.

[01:17:42] Patrick Donley: It’s fascinating. So much that goes into it. Were you into science fiction, like as a younger kid? 

[01:17:47] Marilyn Moedinger: Not really science fiction that much, but I’ve always loved the space program and that kind of stuff. One of my many nerdy interests. See, there’s my Saturn V in the background. Do you see it, the scale model? Yeah, so I mean some of the great books there, you know, Andrew Chaikin wrote an amazing book about just that’s what I would start with if people are interested in learning more about how it all worked. How do you spell his last name?

[01:18:21] Marilyn Moedinger: C h a i k i n, I believe. And he wrote a book that goes through the Apollo program and just kind of describes how it happened; it’s very readable. And then my other favorite book is Mike Collins’ “Carrying the Fire.” So he was the command module pilot on Apollo 11. He famously got the closest to the moon, but didn’t get to, you know, buzz and Neil are like down on the moon and he has to circle above.

[01:18:54] Marilyn Moedinger: So he’s a fantastic writer. He’s a really, really good writer. He’s funny and engaging, and I’ve read a lot of the astronauts’ books, and they’re like engineers and test pilots, but Mike Collins is a real writer, so anyway, those are two good ones.

[01:19:12] Patrick Donley: I’ll put it in the show notes. So, next one, you’ve done a ton of traveling.

[01:19:18] Patrick Donley: Where is one place our listeners, would you say they’ve got to go? Which is a hard question, but like on your journey, what was one place that was like, “I really want to get back there?”

[01:19:33] Marilyn Moedinger: Basically, I would say that it’s not the best metric to determine where I would want to go back.

[01:19:41] Marilyn Moedinger: Because some of the places I went, I would never want to return to. It was very difficult to travel there. But I am so glad I did. For example, being in the Democratic Republic of Congo, that was really rough. It was on another trip. That experience was really challenging. I wouldn’t particularly have an interest in repeating that, you know, getting in a knife fight, losing all my bags, and walking across the border on foot.

[01:20:12] Marilyn Moedinger: However, that experience, putting yourself in a position where you are deeply uncomfortable within certain bounds, is the difference between traveling and vacationing. Right. That’s not a vacation.

[01:20:23] Patrick Donley: No, that’s not, I don’t even know if that’s traveling. Like there’s, there’s not the word for it, but that’s

[01:20:28] Marilyn Moedinger: A little bit of surviving. Yeah. Yeah. But that trip, you know, was absolutely life-changing. I mean, just life-changing. I was in Tanzania, Rwanda, and Congo, and I had friends in Rwanda whom I was staying with, experiencing things from the standpoint of people who live there. I think that’s really, really great.

[01:20:49] Marilyn Moedinger: So whatever you can do to go somewhere and either stay with someone who lives there or get connected to people who are actually living there, then you get to see a side of the place. And that goes for places that are easy to travel. I mean, I’ve been to Italy like seven times. I studied there multiple times, and I’m going back this October. Italy is so easy to travel, and it’s so fun, so great. It’s the place I’ve been back to the most number of times. However, there are also some places I’ve been to that I wouldn’t choose to go back to, but I am so, so, so glad that I went.

[01:21:36] Patrick Donley: Yeah, that’s awesome. Great adventures that you’ve had. I really have loved hearing about it. For our listeners that wanna reach out to you, learn more about you, we didn’t mention your newsletter.

[01:21:44] Patrick Donley: I wanted to ask about that a little bit. Can you talk real quickly about the newsletter, if you would? 

[01:21:50] Marilyn Moedinger: Yeah, so it’s called “Building Knowledge,” and it’s on CK. I just try to collect, in longer form, a lot of the thoughts that I have. Some of it comes from Twitter feeds that I expand on, or I have a list of topics that I’m just working through.

[01:22:09] Marilyn Moedinger: Sometimes people will ask me, “Hey, can you write about X and Y?” Or, “I have a question about this or that.” And the idea is to cover all parts of what I know about building. So, you know, for an audience of people who want to build or who are building, and that could be owners, developers, contractors, architects, people interested in all this kind of stuff.

[01:22:36] Marilyn Moedinger: I try to keep the content more intro level because I think there are a lot of people, especially in real estate, who don’t have a lot of construction experience. It’s sort of become one of my recent passions in the last year or two to help developers understand more about construction.

[01:22:57] Patrick Donley: So, Well, I saw you post something about that, like maybe offering a course on that to developers, real estate people that you know, don’t have the basic construction knowledge that, I mean, I think you kind of need, frankly, but a lot of people don’t have it.

[01:23:13] Patrick Donley: So is that something that’s in the works? 

[01:23:16] Marilyn Moedinger: Yeah, so I mean, I already do consulting with developers where I work with them one-on-one to help them through processes like this. But yeah, I’m looking into probably more like a seminar and less of a course. I mean, I’ve taught many courses over my time as an adjunct professor, but none of them would easily translate to what developers might want to know.

[01:23:42] Marilyn Moedinger: So it would be quite a lot of work to make a full course. So I’m probably interested in doing more like seminars and keeping it a little looser. But yes, I would love to do that.

[01:23:56] Patrick Donley: Cool. I definitely want to find out more about that. I wanted to hear how has Twitter impacted your career, your life?

[01:24:03] Patrick Donley: Like how, what’s your experience been with it? 

[01:24:07] Marilyn Moedinger: So Twitter, it’s sort of changed my life, honestly. Like, I know so many interesting people, and I’ve learned so much from everyone on Twitter. It’s just blowing my mind how the connections that I’ve made and the people that I know, and how I can get their counsel on certain things or be inspired by their work.

[01:24:30] Marilyn Moedinger: And, you know, there aren’t too many architects on Twitter. But I like being at the table where decisions are being made, you know, among people like developers. So I enjoy participating in those conversations. Yeah, I’ve gotten plenty of work through Twitter, made some wonderful friends, and built business relationships. It’s been an incredible platform for all kinds of things.

[01:24:54] Patrick Donley: Yeah. Well, you’ve been an important voice on there. I mean, I really think you’ve contributed a ton to the community. I tell every young person, and I don’t know if people really understand it, but you’ve gotta get on real estate Twitter. I mean, really, go do it right now. It’s such a wealth of information. It’s like a huge resource.

[01:25:19] Marilyn Moedinger: Well, I also think it gives me a chance to dispel a lot of the myths about what architects do and why they’re important to the process. And I think that’s also very important to me personally, but also to our industry. There’s a sense that developers and architects butt heads, or contractors and architects butt heads, or developers and contractors butt heads.

a[01:25:44] Marilyn Moedinger: And the reality is that, sure, that happens. It’s a tough industry. But when we understand more about what everybody has to do and what the problems are that they’re facing and the challenges, then we can work together to make buildings. That’s why we’re all there. Like that’s, we’re there to make buildings together, so we should understand each other’s roles and support each other to make it happen.

[01:26:12] Patrick Donley: So talking about Twitter, what’s the best way for people to reach out to you? Is it through Twitter? Are there other ways? Talk to us about a couple ways people can find out more about you. 

[01:26:22] Marilyn Moedinger: Yeah, so Twitter is the easiest. You can find me @mwmoedinger, and you can DM me. My DMs are open. I try to answer as many as I can. For my business, you can reach me through my website, If you fill out a form there, it goes right to my inbox, so it’s usually me answering.

[01:26:45] Marilyn Moedinger: You can learn all about our services and what we do on the website. Additionally, you can find us on Instagram at Runable Studios. However, I just can’t get it to grow like Twitter, so I’m always looking for people to follow me there too.

[01:27:03] Marilyn Moedinger: That’s where all the pretty pictures are.

[01:27:06] Patrick Donley: Yeah, right. You’ve got what, at least 20,000 followers on Twitter, right? 

[01:27:11] Marilyn Moedinger: Almost. It’s like 19.8. 

[01:27:15] Patrick Donley: Well, hopefully this episode will push you over the edge. Marilyn, this has been a lot of fun. I really appreciate your time and thanks for spending some time with us today.

[01:27:23] Marilyn Moedinger: Yeah, of course. It was an absolute pleasure.

[01:27:26] Patrick Donley: Okay, folks, that’s all I had for today’s episode. I hope you enjoyed the show, and I’ll see you back here real soon.

[01:27:47] Outro: Thank you for listening to TIP. Make sure to subscribe to We Study Billionaires by The Investor’s Podcast Network. Every Wednesday, we teach you about Bitcoin, and every Saturday, we study billionaires and the financial markets. To access our show notes, transcripts, or courses, go to

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