10 Things I Learned from Flipping Real Estate (and Why I’ll Never Do It Again)

Thanks to reality TV shows, the concept of “flipping” a home has become enticing for many people. We’ve all seen the shows where smooth real estate agents and investors swoop in, then make an obscenely low offer on a home that needs a little work. They spend a few weeks rehabbing the property, stage it with rented furniture, and make a killing in profit when it sells to some sweet new family. Sounds like a really easy way to make money, right?

Well, maybe.

My experience in flipping real estate is limited to one house in Ohio, which was a project with my sister. While we did make a profit, I can honestly say that I would never again flip a property.

flip-house

After expenses, realtor fees, and taxes, it just wasn’t worth the trouble or risk for me. However, just because it wasn’t my cup of tea doesn’t mean that fixing up and selling real estate wouldn’t be a good idea for you. Before making your decision, here are ten things you should know about house flipping, and why you should consider each one before ever jumping into that “deal of a lifetime.”

1. Turn off HGTV

My number one rule is this: ignore the TV shows. I don’t care how enticing that family of flippers looks or how much money some brothers say they make. It’s reality television. Please, please, PLEASE do not make your financial decisions based on the edited, often-staged shows. They’re for entertainment purposes only. Remember that.

2.  Work with someone who knows what they’re doing

The idea of finding some cute, foreclosed home to flip with your spouse sounds like a fun. But the reality is that it’s more of a recipe for financial disaster than anything. If you want to give yourself a good chance at success (and making a profit!), you’ll need to find someone who knows what they’re doing in the area. Then, work with them.

Your best bet may be a realtor who has a strong grasp of what sells in the area. They will know what properties are worth, as well as be able to snag good deals when they first become available. Even better, they may have bought their own rental properties in the past and even flipped their own homes.

Related: How to Save on Closing Costs When You Buy a Home

You may also want to work with a contractor or someone who is very heavily into real estate. They can tell you what repairs a house will need before you ever commit to the property. Otherwise, you could very easily find a problem (or many problems) later and spend tens of thousands of dollars above budget.

The initial assessment before buying a property is where your money is really made – or lost. Trying to guess what repairs a home will need, if you don’t have experience in that area, could be a VERY costly mistake. Not knowing the area, the market, or how much a home could sell for once it’s rehabbed could be an equally costly mistake. You absolutely must work with someone who knows what they’re doing.

3. Let deals pass you by

Don’t fall in love with the first home you find. In fact, I think you should look at a minimum of ten homes before you ever make the choice to buy.

Don’t feel like you need to make a decision on the spot because it’s the “deal of a lifetime.” It’s not. There will be many other “deals of a lifetime” that come around. Jumping into a property too soon, or without looking around a bit first, can mean the difference between a quick profit and losing your nest egg.

One way to find potential deals is looking at HUD foreclosures. Many states will even have websites showing available properties. Depending on how the economy is doing in that area, the length of the list may vary – but it’s one source.

Regardless of where you look, just be sure to do some looking before you commit to anything. Get to know what’s out there and how the market in that area is doing. Then, you can make an informed decision when finding your own deal.

4. Don’t overpay

This should go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway: don’t pay too much for your property.

The day that you settle negotiations and buy the property is the day that you either make or you’re your money. This may mean that you decide now is not the right time, or that a property you fell in love with really isn’t the best financial decision.

Don’t let your emotions get the best of you. Also, keep in mind that if the market isn’t in a good place right now, maybe you need to wait a little while until it favors the buyer again. Just as you wouldn’t buy an overpriced stock, don’t buy an overpriced house.

5. DIY

While there aren’t many people who can completely rehab a house on their own, you should try to do as much of it as you can.

Maybe you come in with the sledgehammer and bust up tile or tear down a wall. Get in there and pull up that old carpet on your own. The “sweat equity” that you personally put into the property is what’s going to really boost your profit margins.

Learn More: DIY — A Money-Saving Guide to Home Maintenance

There are things that you’ll probably need to call in the professionals to handle – electrical work in the attic, for instance, or replacing a roof. Those are worthy of hiring a crew. But painting, demo, and seeding the lawn? These are things that you can easily do yourself to save on costs.

This is also where partnering up with someone else can help. If you can find someone who is either great at renovating a house, or has enough connections to know who the good (and cost-effective) contractors are, you’ll save even more money.

6. Pay with cash

This isn’t going to be possible for everybody, but I would highly recommend paying in cash for any home you plan to flip. Of course, this is a much larger investment in some areas of the country than others, but it’s worthwhile if you can at all make it work.

Paying with cash will save you both time and money. You’ll save on transaction costs and interest on a short-term loan. You’ll save time on the application process and disbursement of funds for closing. Being able to pay in cash may even be a great tool during the negotiations process, allowing you to talk the seller down even further (more money saved!).

7. Keep records of EVERYTHING

This is a tough one, for me included. You’ll need to keep impeccable records of everything throughout the flipping process for tax purposes.

If you use a contracting company for the repairs, you’ll likely only have one or two big invoices to keep track of, so that’s easy. When my sister and I flipped our house, though, she managed much of it herself. This meant that I ended up with a messy shoebox full of receipts from those twice-daily trips up to Home Depot. (I still have them, by the way, in case of an audit.)

From day one, categorize your receipts and keep them ordered. Keep every single copy and update your records as you go along. You’ll be glad you did, in the end.

8. Consider becoming a real estate agent

If flipping houses is something you plan to do long-term, you should consider making it official. Becoming a real estate agent will allow you to find your own great deals as soon as they come on the market. You’ll also be able to buy and sell homes without the 6% realtor fees, saving a lot of your profit. Being “in the business” will allow you to get to know local contractors who can help you estimate repairs costs and provide services on the homes you renovate.

Related: 6 Simple Times for Selling Your Home

Putting in the time and effort to become a real estate agent is a great move if fixing up and selling homes is something you plan to continue for many years.

9. Extend the flip

If you really want to boost your profit, consider renting the property out for a year before selling. You’ll make a little bit of extra money from having a tenant in the property, but the real benefits come from taxes.

Flipping a property can kill your tax bill. Buying, rehabbing, and then selling a home a few months later is considered a short-term capital gain. As such, it’s taxed as ordinary income and you’ll be paying your normal, marginal rate.

Sure, renting out for a year or so will tie up your cash. But if you can manage it, the tax savings are well worth the extra time.

10. Remember that flipping is a job

There is nothing passive about flipping a house. It’s a job – often an intense, demanding, and stressful one. It’s a ton of work and you need to know that going in.

If you’re looking for a more passive form of income, go the long-term rental route. Sure, being a landlord isn’t without stress or risk. Pipes burst, a/c units need replacement, tenants are unable to pay on time some months… it’s not without its own issues. But it’s much more passive than flipping.

Be prepared

Between taxes and the amount of work involved, I can honestly say that flipping is something I will never do again. It’s just not my thing. There are a lot of people who do it, enjoy it, and make a lot of money, though. Just be sure you know how much work it entails before you make the leap.

If you have the right connections, resources, and patience, flipping houses can be a great investment venture. These ten tips can help make sure the process is as successful as possible and that you (and your wallet) are fully prepared.

Have you ever flipped a home? What was your experience and would you do it again?

Topics: Real Estate Investing

10 Responses to “10 Things I Learned from Flipping Real Estate (and Why I’ll Never Do It Again)”

  1. Matthew McGowan

    We have flipped at least 25 high end houses with no financing.At high end very little competition not many people have the cash needed to complete projects.Your assessment on flipping are spot on.We are a residential builder with a complete team of proffesional tradesman but you better know the market better than real estate professionals because they are still going to receive there commission no matter what with no skin in the game.If you know what your doing its very profitable

  2. Becoming a Realtor will not allow you to keep 6% when you buy and sell the flip property. Real estate commissions are typically split between the Realtor who lists the home for sale, and the Realtor who brings the buyers. Usually, the buyer agent (even if he/she is buying for theirselfs) will keep the 3% commission, buyer part of the split. When it is time to sell, the selling Realtor (who owns the flip) will need to pay 3% to the buyer’s agent, unless the Realtor who is flipping finds the buyer him/her self. It is still a good idea (to become a Realtor), just not 6% on EACH side of the deal.

  3. Paul @ ABL

    Excellent and balanced overview. I think real estate (including flipping) is oft presented as a surefire way to fabulous riches, while the reality is sometimes very different. It is a job, and there is a lot of risk, but it can be a way to build wealth. Nice post.

  4. Xyz from Our Financial Path

    TV shows make it seems SO easy and profitable to play in real estate when it is clearly not the case. Real estate has huge risk and this is a great article to enlight people.

  5. I agree with a combination of early comments. Success is best achieved if you have scale and patience. Having a team in place requires more than one property, it requires a business-like approach. Maximum profit comes after a holding period, if you can sustain it.

    So the old adage, “Rehab, rent, re-fi, repeat’ is really the equation that works best.

    Good luck!

  6. Dividend Diplomats

    Thanks for the overview Dough Roller! My wife and I watch HGTV all the time, so point number 1 hit home. Their profits are skewed I’m sure because the contractor and all other companies that they use for repaid are most likely giving the shows a break for publicity and the return business that will come from flipping a volume of houses. And of course they would never publish that detail.

    I’m sure you can achieve price savings with contractors if your plan is to become a full time flipper. But if you are only doing one house and you aren’t handy, I would imagine paying full price for everything would become a very, very expensive deal. I’m not handy, so I would consider partnering with someone who is to get the most out of it.

    Thanks for sharing your story!

    Bert, One of the Dividend Diplomats

  7. Stephen @ MyWordsandStuff.com

    HGTV definitely skewed a lot of people views. The biggest money maker for those shows are the seminars and stuff they sell afterwards to everyone who wants to make money as “quick and easy” as they do.

  8. Mrs. Picky Pincher

    Flippers completely messed up the market here in our city. I hate to blame HGTV, but it seems like so many people are getting into flipping now with zero experience. As a result, we were house shopping for over a year and saw so many flipped houses that were pretty much destroyed. People had no idea what they were doing and either used shoddy materials (hey there, granite fireplace caulked in place!), drastically messed up the floorplan, or didn’t to much-needed repairs and focused on the cosmetics.

    I have no doubt that great flippers are out there and it can be a sustainable living. But as it is I do think people need to know what in the world they’re doing before they become flippers. It’s not just you that it affects!

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