House flipping is when real estate investors buy homes, usually at auction, and then resell them at a profit months down the road. Can you make money doing this? Yes. Can you make a lot of money doing this? Yes. But you can also lose everything you own if you make a bad decision.
Risk vs. Reward
Imagine buying a house for $150,000, investing another $25,000 in renovations, and then…nothing. No one wants to buy it. You now have to pay for your own rent or mortgage, plus the mortgage for your flip property, as well as utilities, home insurance, and property taxes. You might also have to pay for home staging and realtor fees when the house finally sells. All of this cuts into your potential profit.
According to CNBC, house flipping is the most popular it’s been in a decade, yet the average return for flippers is lower than in previous years. Thanks to a hot housing market that’s raising prices, low inventory, and soaring rents (which drive even more people into home buying), it’s getting harder to make huge profits.
The average gross profit on a house flip during the third quarter of 2017 was $66,448, according to ATTOM Data Solutions. That’s more than many people make in a year, and it lures plenty of newcomers who dream of quitting their day jobs and becoming full-time investors. However, the investors making this much money really know what they’re doing — and even they still go bust sometimes.
RealtyTrac found that in 2016, 12% of flipped homes sold for break-even or at a loss before all expenses. In 28% of flips, the gross profit was less than 20% of the purchase price. According to RealtyTrac senior vice president Daren Blomquist, 20% is the minimum profit you need to at least account for remodeling and other carrying costs.
House Flipping Requirements
If you’re still reading, it means you’re relatively unfazed by the high risks of house flipping. Here’s what you need to get started.
You can’t get into house flipping with lousy credit, end of story. Unless you have enough cash to pay for a home and all necessary renovations, you’ll need some kind of loan. And lending standards are tighter than they used to be, especially if you want a loan for a high-risk house flip.
Your first step is to check your credit report to find out your score. Federal law allows you a free credit report from each of the three national credit reporting companies every 12 months, so this won’t cost you anything.
If you don’t have great credit, it’s time to start building a good credit score now. Pay your bills on time, pay down your debt, and keep your credit card balances low. There are plenty of other ways to improve your credit score, so take the time to do everything you can. The higher your credit score, the better interest rate you’ll get on a home loan. This can save you thousands when you start house flipping, freeing up more of your money to invest in the house itself.
Last, make sure you know what hurts your credit score. For example, taking out too many credit cards at once lowers your score. You don’t want to do anything to hurt your score in the months before you apply for a loan.
Plenty of Cash
If you want to flip a house, you need cash. New investors get into financial trouble when they buy a home without a sizable down payment, then use credit cards to pay for home improvements and renovations. If the house doesn’t sell quickly, or if renovations cost more than expected, suddenly the investor is in way over their head.
Don’t be that guy. If you want to flip successfully, you need plenty of cash on hand. Most traditional lenders require a down payment of 25%, and traditional lenders are where you’ll get the best rate. When you have the cash to cover a down payment, you don’t have to pay private mortgage insurance, or PMI. Most PMI costs between 0.5% and 5% of the loan, so having to pay this each month can really cut into your profits.
Loans for flips also have higher interest rates. According to TIME, most investors take out an interest-only loan, and the average interest rate for this type of loan is 12% to 14%. In comparison, the interest rate for a conventional home loan is typically 4%. The more you can pay in cash, the less interest you’ll incur.
There are several ways to build cash in your savings account. Use an automatic savings planto make saving money each month effortless. Or find ways to earn extra money on the sideand then use this money to build your cash reserves for an investment.
If you’re buying a foreclosure from a bank or through a real estate auction, another option is to take out a home equity line of credit (HELOC), if you qualify. If you have enough in savings and manage to find a bargain-priced home, you can buy the home and then take out a small loan or line of credit to pay for the renovations and other costs.
What Makes a Good Real Estate Investment?
Not every house makes a good flip. Just because a home is selling for a rock-bottom price doesn’t mean you can put money in it and automatically make a fortune. Successful flippers are very discerning about the homes they choose to invest in. Here’s what should you look for in a potential house flip.
Expert house flippers can’t stress this enough. Find a home in a desirable neighborhood or one that’s on its way up. You can improve a house all you want, but it’s next to impossible to improve the personality and safety of a neighborhood on your own.
Start by researching local cities and neighborhoods. Look for areas with rising real estate sales, employment growth, and other indications the town is thriving. Avoid neighborhoods with a high number of homes for sale; this could be a sign of a depressed local economy or a sign that neighbors are leaving due to crime or development.
Make sure the price of the home is below its value on the local market. Try to buy the worst house in a great neighborhood, versus the best house in a lousy neighborhood. The worst house in a great neighborhood has nowhere to go but up in value, due to the value of the other homes in the area.
Although you can search the web and see millions of foreclosed homes for sale, never buy a home without seeing it in person. This is the biggest mistake new flippers make. Keep in mind that an online photo gallery only tells part of the story. Out-of-date photos, awful neighborhoods, and black mold are just a few of the horror stories of foreclosed homes found online. Always investigate a property yourself before you decide to buy.
When you buy a home to flip, it’s important not to over-value the home by investing too much in renovation. You want to improve it just enough to make a healthy profit and keep it on par with what’s selling in the neighborhood. If you put too much into the home, you won’t make your money back.
How to Flip a House
If flipping were as easy as finding a cheap house online, buying it, and selling it for a profit, we’d all be real estate billionaires. You must educate yourself before you even start looking at homes. Here’s what you need to know.
1. Learn Your Market
First, research your local real estate market. Where do people want to live right now? What kind of house do people want to buy right now? Don’t speculate about up-and-coming neighborhoods. Remember, you want this house sold fast.
2. Understand Your Finance Options
Next, become an expert on home financing options. Will you buy a house with cash? Will you apply for a home mortgage loan or take out a HELOC? Make sure you understand the ins and outs of home financing before you apply for a loan or make an offer on a house. This will allow you to make the best decision for your circumstances.
3. Follow the 70% Rule
Analyze how much house you can afford and how much you can afford to lose on any deal. Experienced flippers follow the 70% rule when analyzing how much they’re willing to pay for a house. This rule states that investors should pay no more than 70% of the after repair value (ARV) of a property minus the cost of the repairs needed.
Let’s say a home’s ARV (or value after necessary repairs) is $200,000, and it needs $30,000 in repairs. The 70% rule states that you should pay no more than $110,000 for this home:
$200,000 (ARV) x 0.70 = $140,000 – $30,000 (repairs) = $110,000
This rule is a good guide to follow when you first get into house flipping as it can help you avoid overpaying for a home.
4. Learn to Negotiate
The less money you invest in a house, the more money you can earn during the flip. Good negotiation strategies will help you effectively haggle with contractors and other workers.
5. Learn How Much Average Projects Cost
Do you know how much it costs to recarpet a 1,000-square-foot home? Rewire a house? Build a deck? Landscape a yard?
Every project is different, but with some experience, you can learn how to estimate the costs of many home renovations and get an idea if a particular home is a good buy or not. One of the best ways to build your experience with this is to do some renovations on your own home. This can also give you a general idea of the type of projects you like to do and which projects you’re better off hiring out.
Know which home improvements increase a home’s value and focus on these projects first. These might include upgrading kitchen appliances, repainting the home’s exterior, installing additional closet storage space, upgrading the deck, and adding green energy technologies.
6. Network with Potential Buyers
Network extensively and talk to potential buyers before you even start looking for a house to flip. Do whatever you can to build relationships with future buyers. If you have a buyer lined up when you purchase an investment home, the home sells as soon as the updates are completed.
You can also save money long-term if you take the time to get your realtor’s license, which will enable you to broker your own deals and avoid paying another agent.
7. Find a Mentor
If you know a successful house flipper, ask if they’d be willing to mentor you. You might even want to consider offering this person an incentive to be your mentor.
For example, ask if they’ll mentor you in exchange for a small percentage of your first successful flip. This way the mentor is motivated to tutor you, and you’ll be sure to get a high-quality education. Offering a financial incentive also enables you to approach experts you don’t know personally since being compensated for their efforts will make them more receptive.