House Flips. While the phrase carries some negative baggage, it is also the origin story for several successful television shows. Everyone can envision themselves buying a fixer, making a bunch of great design decisions, and then selling the house for a profit. Easy, right?
No. Just no. I have seen too many homes that have been flipped that are full of bad decisions and bad work, and it almost always come down to not enough skill, money or time.
Is it always a bad idea? Of course not. Like everything else, you need to have the skills, the knowledge, and sufficiently deep pockets to be successful at house renovation for sale. And a lot of people either don’t know or don’t care that State law requires any work done on a home that is sold less than one year after purchase has to be performed by a licensed contractor.
My wife and I have been renovating our own homes for decades. We have also been able to purchase and renovate several homes for sale, and at the end of the process we have been able to take pride in the work we’ve done. We’ve actually become the preferred inspector for one real estate broker who represented a buyer on one of our flips. After seeing the quality of our renovation work, he felt confident using us as his inspector.
As a Home Inspector, it doesn’t take me long to figure out that the home I am inspecting has been flipped. There are clues that are easy to see that suggest the cutting of corners and/or the quick application of ‘lipstick on a pig’. Quick and badly done exterior paint jobs are often one of the first obvious clues. Has wood trim that to a trained eye is clearly deteriorated/rotted been heavily caulked into place and then painted? Quicker and cheaper than replacing it. Has fresh bark been spread around the foundation? Looks good for a few weeks, until the weeds that were not killed and/or blocked from growing start poking up through the bark.
One flip that immediately comes to mind is a house I inspected in Tacoma about 4 years ago. Older home with fresh paint, new flooring, new cabinets, new stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, etc. The flipper touched all of the design bullet points, but a deeper look showed:
-a new electrical panel that was incorrectly and dangerously installed
-many electrical outlets that were either loose in the wall or had no power
-electrical wiring and plumbing pipes run in an unorganized and unsupported manner
-exterior walls that were seriously out of plumb
-a laundry area with no accommodation for a dryer vent
-a substructure beam that was cut and missing half of its length (not sure what was holding the house up)
-extensive exterior wood rot
-a new roof installed incorrectly and in a manner that guaranteed future leaking
– gutter to nowhere
-foundation posts that were badly damaged by both Subterranean Termites and Anobiid Beetles
-significant concrete foundation cracking
The person looking to purchase this home was a young person buying her first home. She had no real construction skills and was working with the realtor who represented the seller. Had she not had us (or anyone qualified!) inspect the home, she would have been buying a serious financial burden. She decided to walk away, and on our recommendation partnered with a realtor who represented her. We had the pleasure of inspecting for her again about a month later… and the second time around was a good solid house that might not have had new granite countertops or stainless steel appliances, but it also was not at risk of falling down, wasn’t likely to electrocute her, and didn’t need ten’s of thousands of dollars of work to be livable.