The term “flip” in all its permutations has various, and often ominous, meanings. For example the phrase, “I don’t give a flip”, indicates that you might be on the verge of “flipping someone off”. Wikipedia’s article on “flipping”, says in part: “The term “flipping” is used by real estate investors to describe “residential redevelopment”. Redevelopment of distressed or abandoned properties or neighborhoods has sometimes been linked to malicious and unscrupulous acts in the post housing bubble era.”
Try to make sense of that in the light of all the reality TV shows revolving around, yes even glorifying, that subject. There seem to be two sides to the popularity; the greedy side, represented by the TV house flippers (and their corporate sponsors), and the screwed side represented by those unfortunate dupes who buy into the house flipping scheme or worse yet, actually purchase the flippers’ products. Said another way we have those who are doing the flipping off and those being flipped off. Which side do you envision yourself falling on?
The get rich quick mentality has always been and will always be with us. Like the gold rush miners of a different era the lazy and avaricious are always in line to make that next quick and easy buck. In their minds the house flippers are entrepreneurial builders and developers. These folks envision themselves as the saviors of old run-down houses and the neighborhoods in which they can be found.
Those who fall into the trap of purchasing these homes may be identified in several categories. They can be buyers who want something nicer looking that they can afford; urban pioneers; or just members of the ever-burgeoning class of the clueless living under the spell of the inundation of advertising BS in which they live. Whatever their motive, the end result is the same. They get scammed and screwed to the wall by the flipper and his affiliates.
Somewhere in the middle of (or behind) all this are the picks and shovels dealers. Like those who really made money off the gold rush, the corporations like Dome Hepot, Lowest, HGTV, etc. ad infinitum, are raking in huge profits sponsoring the house flipping mania. They are the ultimate winners, ripping off both the house flippers and their customers.
So, how did this unscrupulous practice become so fashionable? It’s the curb appeal and staging, not the bones, that sell houses. Nothing describes flipping more accurately than the old phrase putting lipstick on a pig. That is, of course, if the pig can be had for a song and the lipstick comes from the Goodwill store. Ask any flipper if they yearn to be a porcine beautician and you’ll get some blank stares, but a house flipper, sure, why not? In fact, hell yes.
It is the same (lack of) mentality that entices the buyers of these piggies to plop down their hard-earned cash for boxes of unwanted surprises. Once the flipper has done his or her worst, the house will be like a scene in a movie with props to dazzle the eyes and draw attention away from their artificial nature and their unsavory surroundings. All of the usual impractical, gaudy features that lure the ovine home buying public are present, only in their cheapest versions, i.e. seconds, surplus, and off-brand crap only suitable for rent houses.
Most cannot hear the oinking beyond the flipped marvel replete with “builder’s hardwood” floors and granite countertops, the latest in shiny new off-brand or “builder’s quality” (a true oxymoron) appliances, shining new no-name replacement windows, cheap-ass carpet, budget plumbing fixtures, and mis-tinted paint splattered in all directions by daubers on low-flying ladders.
Flip houses are what most home inspectors dread the most. Why? Take the average resale home, add lots of deferred maintenance, rowdy renters, multiple occupations by every type of pet, borderline safe parts of town, and stir in the fact that all has been whitewashed and coiffed with building materials found at that elevator stop just beneath the bottom of the barrel, and voila! You’ve got yourself one hot, steaming mess to inspect.
I cannot go into the details, but here is the short list of things found during my inspections of flip houses just this year.
- No building permits. There never are.
- All work done by unlicensed individuals. They always are unlicensed.
- Many materials, fixtures, and systems touted as new are actually used or used and slightly refurbished.
- Supposed complete electrical service replacement only included what could be seen at the main panel. All else was 40 years old or older.
- Seconds roofing materials with no manufacturer’s warranty. Many of these are not insurable.
- Shiny, cheap plumbing fixtures connected to supply and drains systems that are 60 years old.
- Major ($60K) termite damage on house that was said to have been taken down to the studs and rebuilt.
- Seconds vinyl replacement windows that leak before they are installed.
- Clothes dryer vents that terminate in the wall.
- Completely rewired house where the flipper had wired everything visible in the attic with copper extension cords. Everything in the walls was aluminum wiring.
This list could go on to infinity. Of course, all of the flooring materials are seconds or surplus, so you’d best not crack or damage anything – there will be no matching it. Most of the appliances are off brands or below-builder’s grade with little or no warranties. The same is true of the windows, doors, door hardware, cabinets – all of it.
The situation in my area – the DFW, Texas market, is getting worse for the flippers and the flipped by the day. This part of the country has never experienced the kind of property evaluation it is seeing now. It’s perhaps one thing to play urban pioneer with $100K. That is no longer possible. $150K might buy you a complete dump if you pay cash and get lucky during the bidding. The last such gem I inspected was listed for $329K in a ratty, blue collar neighborhood backing up to the busiest highway in the city.
So, lusting for a screwing? Jump right in to the house flipping game – from either end – it’s all the same. But, if you adrenaline junkies are ready to take that leap, use a bit of common sense and hire a competent home inspector. You’ll wish you had. If it looks to good to be true, it’s likely been flipped.