“Do you believe in flipping?” That’s what several fellow attendees asked me while I was attending Yanik Silver’s tremendous “Top Secret” Underground Internet Marketing Conference in Washington, DC a few weeks ago. It all began when my pal and great Internet marketer, syndicated home improvement newspaper columnist Tim Carter (www.AskTheBuilder.com), blew my cover and made the huge mistake of saying some nice things about me from the stage and making me stand up.
After that, I was no longer Mr. Incognito Anonymous. For the rest of the conference, during the breaks lots of the nice folks wanted to talk with me about real estate (which I always love to discuss). But I didn’t get to learn enough from them about their successful Internet website marketing profit techniques.
Many of the key questions I was asked during that conference by the real estate attendees (I was amazed how many Internet entrepreneurs also invest in real estate) revolved around the pros and cons of flipping houses for quick resale profits. Personally, although I have “quick flipped” a few houses for fast profits, I am more of a long-term “slow” real estate flipper holding title for at least a year to build up profits from both fix-up improvements and market value appreciation.
The more I thought about those questions regarding flipping houses, I realized some houses (and condos) are ideal for fast resale flip profits, but others are best held for longer term profits. Thanks to Internal Revenue Code 121, holding title and occupying your principal residence at least 24 months can result in up to $250,000 (up to $500,000 for a qualified married couple filing a joint tax return) tax-free sale profits. More about that great tax-free benefit later.
As the nation’s real estate market slows down from its hectic pace of the last few years, this is an ideal time to concentrate our real estate investing on “flipper” properties offering profit potential. Lest you think flipping is not a hot real estate topic, in just the last two months I read two great new books on this subject – I highly recommend them to you.
The first book is Find It, Fix It, Flip It! by Michael Corbett, host of TV “Extra’s Mansions and Millionaires” and previous star of several daytime soap operas. Corbett, who has been flipping houses over 10 years, reveals his special profit-added tactics which will be discussed later.
The second new book is Flipping Properties, Second Edition by William Bronchick, Esq. and Robert Dahlstrom which takes a more basic approach to flipping houses. But it provides sound advice based on the many years the authors have been investing in flippers. These superb new books are available in stock or by special order at local bookstores, public libraries.
WHAT IS A FLIPPER? A “flipper” is defined as any real estate which can be purchased at least 25% below the fair market value of comparable nearby properties and quickly resold, usually after minimal fix-up work, for at least market value. Although we will discuss houses in this special report, flipper real estate principles also apply to condos, offices, apartments, warehouses, hotels, and even raw land. Often, the flipper buyer will either make major or minor improvements to increase the market value and the desirability of the property.
EXAMPLE: Today’s most famous “flipper” is Donald Trump. Although he rarely makes a “quick flip” (defined as reselling the property at a profit within 12 months after purchase), he usually buys at a bargain price, adds valuable improvements (including his name which, by itself, adds value), and then either resells for profit after a year or two, or holds for long-term investment. However, he usually refinances to take out tax-free refinance cash from his long-term holdings. Two of his famous flipper examples are the old Commodore Hotel (now the Grand Hyatt) on 42nd Street at Grand Central Station and the 40 Wall Street office building in New York City.
THE THREE PRIMARY REAL ESTATE “FLIPPER” OPPORTUNITIES.
Unless you buy a brand-new house, or a resale house which is in near-perfect “model home” condition, almost every property offers flipper profit opportunities. To illustrate, I wrote about him several times before, but I still remember the hotel investor I sat next to on a plane flight to San Diego a few years ago. He buys “tired” run-down hotels at bargain prices, fixes them up, and then either quickly resells or holds them for long-term investment profits.
Virtually every property offers flipper opportunities if bought at a low enough price! If you don’t believe me, look around your home. What could you do to add to its market value? Mine could use a coat of interior paint, new carpets, and new double-pane windows. Those are “value added” improvements which cost less than they would add in market value. But I don’t want the inconvenience so I keep postponing those overdue updates. Of course, if I wanted to sell and earn top dollar, I would immediately make those upgrade improvements, no matter how inconvenient.
OPPORTUNITY #1 – QUICK FLIP PROPERTIES. This is the primary “flipper” profit category. Many real estate “speculators” want to earn fast profits. They aren’t willing to wait for the long term profits most real estate “investors” desire. They expect to buy low, maybe spend a few dollars on fast cosmetic fix-up work, and almost immediately sell higher.
EXAMPLE: The National Association of Realtors recently published a report which says up to 30% of new condominium sales in some markets are bought by speculators who have no intent of occupying or renting those units. In other words, these speculators hope to buy low and quickly re-sell high. Markets where this is especially prevalent currently are South Florida and Las Vegas. If all those speculators dump their condo units on the market at the same time, when prices plummet due to oversupply, there could be some excellent bargains available. The same thing can happen in any local market, or even in a neighborhood, or a new subdivision. Buyers in a new development should ask the builder “How many of these residences have been sold to speculators who won’t be occupying them as their residences?” Fortunately, many builders refuse to sell to non-owner occupant speculators. But when a builder can’t find enough owner-occupant buyers, he often gets desperate and sells to quick-flip speculators.
Many “fast flippers” make a full-time business of flipping properties. To illustrate, I met a nice couple at Yanik’s conference who “fast flip” houses in Indiana (the current foreclosure capital of the nation!). I crowned them the “king and queen of lease-options.” I couldn’t help overhear the young man’s cell phone conversation in the men’s room as he was instructing his assistant back in Indiana how to sell a house with a lease-option.
If you are not familiar with low-cash lease-option benefits for both easy buying and selling, please read my special report “How to Profitably Use a Lease-Option to Buy or Sell Your Home or Investment Property.” Good times or bad, lease-options always work when implemented correctly.
An example of fast flippers I’ve seen in many cities are those franchised billboards which say “I buy ugly houses. Call Joe at 555-5555.” When I was in Houston a few years ago, I even saw a bus stop bench which said “I buy houses others won’t buy.”
However, I do not recommend buying quick flip properties in low income, high crime, or slum neighborhoods. The primary reason is buyer demand in those neighborhoods is usually so low you will usually have great difficulty making a quick profitable resale – unless the neighborhood is showing signs of fast improvement.
OPPORTUNITY #2 – 26 SOURCES OF BARGAIN PURCHASE PRICE FLIPPERS. When I last wrote about flipper property opportunities several years ago, I received many compliments about my “resource list” of how to find these bargain potential-flipper properties. Whether you want to earn quick flip profits, or want to hold for longer term investment, it never hurts to review the numerous possible sources of these bargain properties:
(a) Drive around neighborhoods which interest you and check the public tax records to contact owners of dumpy houses. Even the best neighborhoods have run-down houses
(b) Contact many local real estate agents (especially the “old pro” agents who often know about open “pocket” listings of owners who will sell but who won’t list their property for sale with a realty agent)
(c) Mail post cards, especially to out-of-town absentee owners, asking if they know of a house you can buy in the specific named neighborhood (of course, you want to buy their house)
(d) Post “I buy houses” signs in neighborhoods where you want to buy (I’m not sure why, but these signs are called “bandit signs”)
(e) Buy pre-foreclosure houses before the foreclosure auction (please see my special report “Foreclosure and Distress Property Profit Secrets)
(f) Purchase at the foreclosure auctions (to wipe out or eliminate junior liens on over-encumbered houses
(g) Buy REO (real estate owned) houses from foreclosing lenders, often with easy lender financing
(j) Probates – read the obituaries (please see my special report on probates and bankruptcies)
(k) Read the “for sale by owner” newspaper ads (these sellers can be very difficult, but they are often extremely anxious to sell without paying a real estate sales commission)
(l) Distribute “I buy houses” door hangers in target neighborhoods where you want to buy (this can be a great way to walk around a neighborhood to get the feel of the area)
(m) Place “House Wanted” classified newspaper ads, especially in the inexpensive weekly newspapers
(n) Advertise in direct mail ad packs (such as Val-Pak and others) which are mailed to homes
(o) Attend local real estate investor club meetings (to find a local investor club, go to www.creonline.com/clubs) to meet like-minded investors, real estate attorneys, tax advisers, etc.
(p) Look for vacant in-fill lots as you drive neighborhoods; check county records for ownership
(q) Inspect “tired listings” which have been on the local MLS (multiple listing service) over 60 days
(r) Offer to buy partially-completed remodeled homes; but be sure there are no mechanics’ liens and always get an owner’s title insurance policy for every property purchased
(s) Purchase at probate, conservator, public guardian, and estate property sales
(t) Offer to buy rental properties with high vacancies (apartments and office buildings)
(u) Offer to purchase over-priced MLS listings (most retail buyers and their buyer’s agents won’t waste their time looking at or making realistic offers on such properties
(v) Offer to buy advertised rental houses where the landlord might welcome your lease-option purchase offer, especially if it includes non-refundable option money
(w) Phone month-old newspaper ads, especially for sale by owners, asking if they sold their property yet
(x) Buy model homes whose builders will sell and lease-back for 12 to 24 months
(y) Check local tax records for properties with unpaid property taxes, and
(z) Give everyone you meet your business card to let them know you buy properties.
OPPORTUNITY #3 – ASK KEY QUESTIONS TO DISCOVER HIGHLY MOTIVATED SELLERS OF FAST AND SLOW FLIP PROPERTIES. A major real estate success secret is to buy from motivated sellers. That’s why I always ask “Why is the seller selling this lovely house?” Sometimes, if you are being 100% truthful, you will want to leave out the work “lovely!”
Signals of strong seller motivation include divorce, unemployment, job transfer, financial problems, health, foreclosure, illness in the family, and sale by an employer’s relocation company (relocation firms will often discount asking prices if they have held title over 90 days).
Additional key questions to ask in your quest for a quick-flip property candidate include:
(a) How long has the seller owned this property?
(b) How much did the seller pay for this property?
(c) Did the seller add any capital improvements? With or without building permits?
(d) What are the current mortgage balances? Are there any other liens against the property?
(e) Are the property taxes and mortgage payments current?
If your buyer’s agent or the listing agent either can’t find out the answers or aren’t cooperative, your favorite title insurance or escrow company can usually obtain this information for you at little or no charge. The longer the seller has owned the property, and the lower the existing mortgage balance(s), the greater negotiation room the seller has.
EXAMPLE: I have owned my residence for 28 years. If you offered me $10,000 less than I thought the house is worth (based on comparable nearby home sales prices), because I have a large equity I probably wouldn’t negotiate too hard over that $10,000. However, if I just bought my house last year and had only $20,000 equity, as a seller I would negotiate very hard over every equity dollar.
HOW TO AVOID OBTAINING NEW MORTGAGES FOR FAST FLIPPERS. Unless you expect to hold title to the property longer than 12 months, try toavoid the necessity of obtaining a new mortgage. The reason is new mortgage financing costs money for loan fees, extra closing costs such as lender’s mortgage title insurance, appraisal, credit reports, etc. If you expect to acquire the bargain-priced property and hold title for just a few days, weeks or months before selling it, your goal should be to avoid obtaining an expensive new bank mortgage.
Conserve your personal cash! If you are like I am, you’ll find you do your best negotiating when you don’t have much cash available. Frankly, my most profitable real estate purchases were made when I had to be creative, such as getting my seller to help finance my purchase by carrying back a first or second mortgage. When you are buying from a highly motivated seller, who wants to sell more than to get cash, that’s the kind of seller who will often help finance your purchase by carrying back a first or second mortgage.
Another reason to conserve cash when purchasing property is whatever cash you have available probably will be needed to pay for fix-up costs and carrying costs until you can either fast flip the house or refinance it after renovations. Here are the easiest ways to avoid obtaining a new mortgage at the time of acquiring a flipper property:
(a) Take title “subject to” the existing mortgage(s). Of course, you must pay the mortgage payments or lose the property by foreclosure, but you want to avoid formally assuming the existing mortgage(s) to save assumption costs and delays. Yes, buying “subject to” an existing mortgage violates the mortgage “due on sale clause” if there is one in the mortgage or deed of trust. The mortgage lender could call the loan due.
But as long as the monthly mortgage payments are paid on time, I haven’t heard of any mortgage lenders calling their loans due in full. However, if the lender is an individual private party, that person might try to enforce the due on sale clause unless you agree to increase the mortgage’s interest rate and/or pay an assumption fee (typically 1% of the mortgage balance).
The worst that might happen, but probably won’t occur, is (1) the current lender might demand a 1% assumption fee, (2) raise the interest rate, or (3) force you to refinance with another lender. However, you can probably either flip the property within a few months or make profitable improvements and then refinance with a new higher balance mortgage to pay off the old mortgage(s) and the costs of renovation.
(b) Assign your purchase contract to a stand-by buyer. The result is you don’t even need to take title! When negotiating the purchase price and terms, be sure the contract is assignable and that you are buying at a low enough price to build in a quick profit while letting your buyer earn a profit too.
EXAMPLE: Suppose you find a motivated seller who will sell his $250,000 house for $200,000 cash (which you don’t have!). But you have an investor friend who has access to $220,000 cash (perhaps his bank credit line). So you assign your $200,000 purchase contract to him for $220,000 cash, keeping a
$20,000 profit for yourself but leaving $30,000 equity for your buyer. This is called a “double escrow.” It is perfectly legal if you disclose to your buyer that you don’t yet own title to the property but you have the contract right to buy it.
(c) Lease-option or option the property you want to acquire so you can control it. As long-time subscribers know, one of my favorite methods of buying and selling real estate is with a lease-option. It requires minimal up-front cash, yet the buyer controls the future of that property.
However, be sure the lease-option terms allow the buyer to fix up the property and sell (flip) it without restrictions. Some lease-option buyers insist the seller deposit the deed to the property with a title insurance or escrow firm, or with a local real estate attorney, just to be certain the deed will be easily available when the purchase option is exercised. More details are in my special report “How to Profitably Use a Lease-Option to Buy or Sell Your Home or Investment Property.”
Although I have never personally obtained control of a property with a straight option, not connected with a concurrent lease, some option buyers have become very successful.
EXAMPLE: In Ron LeGrand’s superb book How to Be a Quick Turn Real Estate Millionaire LeGrand writes about one of his students, Marco Kozlowski. Just in his mid-30s, Kozlowski paid $100 for an option from a wealthy home seller to acquire his Orlando house for $4,000,000. The house had been listed for sale by a Realtor at $8,600,000 for four years! Kozlowski then hired a professional auction company which, 43 days later, auctioned the house for $5,600,000 cash. That “quick flip” $1,600,000 gross profit was supplemented by Kozlowski then auctioning the seller’s yacht for $4,300,000 and various furnishings for almost $1,000,000. LeGrand’s book reports, in his first year of flipping houses, Kozlowski acquired 119 deeds on flipper houses in the Orlando area. Now Kozlowski teaches real estate seminars!
(d) Seller financing. The property seller is often the best and least expensive source of acquisition financing. As the buyer, always try to get the longest term seller financing possible, such as five to 10 years. At a minimum, two to five years is acceptable if you plan to flip the property rather than keep it as a long term investment. Of course, be sure there is no prepayment penalty in the seller carryback mortgage so you can sell the property or refinance it at any time.
EXAMPLE: Foolishly, I once gave the seller of a fix-up house I bought a 12-month promissory note and deed of trust (mortgage) for my down payment. I was rather pleased with myself for negotiating a nothing down purchase. However, that was the fastest year of my life! My renovation plans didn’t go as quickly as I expected. Fortunately, I got that house sold in the 11th month. But I could have lost that house by foreclosure if the balloon payment came due in the 12th month and if I couldn’t sell the house or refinance its mortgage carried back by the seller.
WHERE TO GET CASH FOR FLIPPING PROPERTIES. If you follow these suggestions to avoid the need to obtain a new mortgage at the time of acquiring a flipper property, you will still need some cash for closing costs, perhaps a modest down payment to the seller, and the fix-up costs. Because you will be either flipping or refinancing the property within 12 months, don’t be too concerned about high interest rates (of course, keep the interest cost as low as possible).
I know successful flipper property investors who got started by borrowing on their credit cards for short time periods. If you own your residence, you can probably obtain a home equity line of credit (called a HELOC) at the prime interest rate, or lower. Or, with good credit and good income from a job, you can probably obtain an unsecured line of credit at your bank.
Another cash source is hard money lenders. These lenders, often called mortgage brokers, arrange private party mortgage loans. Their money source is usually individuals and retirement funds who want to earn high yields secured by real estate. But they aren’t cheap! Yet they are often the only game in town to raise cash for short time periods of a year or two.
However, watch out for some of the “loan to own” type loan sharks who create unreasonable terms they know you probably can’t meet. They obviously want to wind up owning the property. Shop around. Talk with fellow investors you meet at the local real estate investor’s club meetings to get their recommendations about honest hard money lenders.
Although I’ve borrowed from individual hard money lenders, an alternative is some of the finance companies such as Beneficial, Household, and Associates. However, a drawback of finance companies is their loans will show up on your credit reports and affect your FICO (Fair Isaac Corporation) credit score whereas mortgages from individual lenders usually aren’t reported to the credit bureaus. If you want to check your FICO credit score, the easiest place to do so is www.MyFico.com.
Don’t quit your day job! That leads me to the issue of whether or not it is wise to quit your job to become a full-time real estate flipper. My best advice is don’t quit your job until you have flipped several properties, enjoy the work, and are sure you can earn enough income consistently to support yourself and your family.
Having a steady paycheck, and your employer’s annual W-2, makes mortgage lenders feel very secure. Incidentally, becoming a licensed real estate agent earning sales commissions is not the same as having a “real job,” so I do not advise quitting a paycheck job until you are established flipping properties for at least 12 months.
DISADVANTAGES OF FLIPPER PROPERTIES TO CONSIDER. Flipper properties can be found in all price ranges. When starting out, however, I recommend flipping houses in the “bread and butter” working class neighborhoods where there is
always buyer demand and the cash requirements are not huge. But just last week I read in my local newspaper’s list of recently sold houses about a flipper house which was sold for $2,650,000 by a local speculator.
(a) Quick flip resale profits are taxable at ordinary income tax rates. If you sell your flipper property after less than 12 months of ownership, that profit is fully-taxable short term capital gain. However, if you hold title at least 12 months, then your maximum federal long term capital gains tax rate drops to 15% maximum, plus applicable state taxes.
Better yet, if you make the house your principal residence for at least 24 of the 60 months before its sale, then up to $250,000 of your capital gain (up to $500,000 for a qualified married couple filing a joint tax return) is 100% tax-free, thanks to Internal Revenue Code 121. In fact, you might want to make a tax-free “career” out of flipping your personal residences every 24 months. Details are in my special report “Everything Homeowners Need to Know About the New $250,000/$500,000 Home Sale Tax Exemption Rules.”
(b) Most properties purchased below market value need minimal fix-up work. At the very least, virtually every such property needs a coat of paint, inside and outside – but that’s good news because paint is the most profitable improvement of all! My personal goal is to increase the market value by at least $2 for each $1 spent on fix-up work. If the property needs substantial renovation, the result can be large flipper profits, but there will also be considerable construction work necessary to upgrade the property.
That brings me back to Michael Corbett’s superb new book Find It, Fix It, Flip It! mentioned earlier. In this new book, he explains his techniques for estimating fast flip profits, but also for changing the “ambiance” of a flipper house from ordinary to extremely profitable. His six levels of improvements are the basic “fix-it levels,” such as repair essentials and system upgrades, to the more important “profit levels” of lifestyle upgrades, designed-to-flip techniques, and dressed-to-sell essentials.
If you are really serious about earning big profits from flipper houses, this book must be read and studied. Although the photos are in black and white, they show the dramatic before and after changes, along with Corbett’s profits on the flipper houses shown. As suggested earlier in this special report, Corbett fast flips some houses and slow flips others which he uses as his principal residence for at least 24 months to qualify for the $250,000 tax exemptions mentioned earlier.
(c) Include a professional property inspection report escape clause in your purchase offer. Even if you have extensive construction experience, be sure to include in your purchase offer a contingency clause for your approval of a professional property inspector’s report on the house being purchased.
Also known as a “weasel clause,” this provision allows you to cancel the purchase and get your down payment deposit refunded if your inspector discovers undisclosed
defects for which the seller refuses to give you a repair credit off the agreed purchase price. Be sure to accompany your professional inspector to discuss any problems revealed during the inspection tour.
As long-time subscribers know, I highly recommend hiring professional home inspectors who are members of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) because of the tough membership requirements. Local ASHI members can be found at www.ASHI.org or by phoning 1-800-743-2744.
(d) Plan your exit strategy. The biggest drawback of planning a quick flip sale of a house after fixing it up is you have then sold your “seed corn,” as farmers say. That means you have nothing working for your future profits until you reinvest your quick flip profits into another flipper or keeper house.
Personally, my exit strategy has been to fast flip a few houses and keep others for long term profits from both the fix-up work and the market value appreciation which has been so good in recent years. You might want to adopt the same technique of flipping a few houses and keeping others as long term investments. Looking back, I wish I had kept all my houses! But at the time, the fast flip profits were most welcome, especially when the monthly rent produced a negative cash flow without considering the strong market value appreciation (which can’t be spent until the house is sold!).
You might want to do as I have done and carry back seller financing on the houses you sell. I discovered collecting monthly mortgage payments is far easier than collecting rent and maintaining the property. Yes, occasionally a buyer will default and you will have to begin the foreclosure process. But that is a win-win situation for the lender who either gets paid at the foreclosure auction or gets the house back to resell for a second profit.
Incidentally, if you ever encounter difficulty reselling your fast flip houses, I’ve found selling on a properly-structured lease-option always works. But don’t get greedy, such as by asking for a large up-front non-refundable option consideration for the lease-option. More details are in my special lease-option report.
(e) Avoid low income, high crime neighborhoods. My personal experience has been houses in low income neighborhoods usually produce excellent flipper profits, but not as large as in the higher cost middle-class neighborhoods. As always, the goal should be a sound, well-located house which is not in need of major repairs.
Long-time subscribers will recall my low income neighborhood “drug house” REO (real estate owned) purchased from the foreclosing mortgage lender where, shortly after my purchase, there was a murder on the street in front of the house. Fortunately, my Section 8 subsidized “star tenant” stayed for 13 years, the neighborhood crime rate dropped, and I eventually sold at a handsome profit. But that would not have been a good fast flip property!
Unless a low income and/or high crime neighborhood is showing signs of strong buyer demand and rapid improvement, I suggest staying away if you want to earn fast flipper profits. Such properties can make good long term investments, if you can handle the sometimes management-intense situations. Big real estate profits can be earned from houses in such neighborhoods, but please be aware of the high potential risk.
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ENTIRE CONTENTS COPYRIGHT 2006 BY ROBERT J. BRUSS, ESQ.
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