So you want to flip a house? These days it seems like everybody does, and that is a great thing. Taking advantage of opportunities to make extra income while also meeting the needs of prospective homebuyers is a truly admirable thing. Remodeling a home that was once an eyesore will make the whole neighborhood happy! Still, we all must make sure we look before we leap. Knowing your costs and how you will handle them as early as possible is key to bringing stability, predictability, and ultimately, profitability to your next house flip. It all starts before you even purchase the home.
From the start, you should have an idea for how much you can sell the home for when it is finished. That means learning how to assess its value in as is condition, the market value in the area for similar houses, and approximately how much the work will cost to get the home up to market standards and housing regulations. You can get a good sense for what the total cost will be by answering these questions:
- What is the average sale price in the area?
- How long do similar properties sit on the market?
- Which home layouts and sizes tend to sell faster and for higher prices?
You will also want to get an inspection and factor any discoveries into the total budget of this home investment project. With this information in hand, you now have a better idea of the scope of the work needed. You need to create a list of every single thing that must be done and how much it will cost. For those of you who are not experienced with flips, you will want the services of a contractor. He can give you good estimates of how much the work will cost. Add this work to the price of the house and you now know the budge of the project.
About those Contractors…
So many investors look to cut costs on labor and start by trying to find the absolute cheapest contractor they can find. This is usually a disaster waiting to happen. There are, however a few good uses for them in low risk situations. Actually, all types of contractors can be of use to a small-time real estate investor, but only if you know how to use them.
The Very Best
There is a whole class of contractor that only touches expensive projects. They do all the mansions, shopping malls, and upscale hotels in your area. In many ways they are inappropriate for flipping houses and should be avoided most of the time, however, if you are selling a very high-end home or are integrating a few very high-end features into a home (such as expensive counter tops, custom fireplaces, unorthodox swimming pool designs) you will probably need their services. Chances are, your job is easy work to them; they won’t mess this up or take forever doing it. Letting a lesser contractor install your high-priced piece of granite can be a huge gamble. Even if it works, the workmanship may not be of the same quality as their more elite counterparts.
Most of the contractors you will see advertised in reputable media or will learn about through positive word of mouth will fit into this category. They have all the same licenses, credentials, and insurance as contractors on the upper-end of the spectrum but work for small to medium sized businesses and on projects that are more modest with more common materials. You will rely upon these guys the most. The average contractor is the one most accustomed to working with real estate investors on your level. They will be experienced in giving you what you need to succeed.
Contractors operating at the very bottom rung of the industry are not to be trusted with anything expensive or crucial to the success of your project. They almost never are licensed, bonded, or insured so if something does go wrong and you need to be made whole in some way, good luck finding these guys or getting money out of them that they likely won’t have. Still, for those light duties like simple lawn work, sign placement, or maybe junk removal, they can be a cost-effective solution.
Getting the Most out of your Contractor
No matter which one you choose, you need to be absolutely clear about the work they will do. If they are painters, does the cost of the work include preparing the surfaces with a cleaning? If a contractor is installing something, will they discard of the old item for you? Every single important step must be outlined on the contract. Also, you must determine how the contractor will be paid. I recommend paying per milestone completed or half up front, half at the end. Either way, for an expensive task, never pay the entire price immediately.
You are probably going to need more than one contractor working on the home at the same time. It is rare that a contractor is good enough at everything to give you both a great price and quality on everything. You must learn how to effectively schedule work. If you need drywall done, that will impact the painter. It isn’t too hard to get it right and experience from one flip will make you a pro at this. The key is making sure the contractors have a schedule and actually meet it so the next contractor’s work can get started on time.
Focus on the Kitchen!
The kitchen is usually the most expensive part of the home renovation project but it is also where more of the profit is made. People will largely make their decision to buy based on this one space. Bedrooms and baths are important, but nothing rivals the kitchen. Getting this right is absolutely crucial to the home investor.
Every home for sale needs “selling points” at various locations in and around the home to increase the appeal of the home. The selling price of the home doesn’t merely come from location, style, or quality construction; it also comes from specific features that appeal directly to the emotion or practicality of the prospective buyer. The kitchen is uniquely utilitarian while evoking strong emotion in people. So many of our family memories center around food – both the eating and the cooking. Cooking for others is one of the ways we show love; the space it is done matters a lot to people. The style of the kitchen will get attention, the selling points will keep that attention even when they are done viewing the property. The proper maximization of both selling points and style will mean less time on the market and more people bidding for your house!
Make the colors of the kitchen pop by contrasting the color of the cabinets with that of the countertop. A monochromatic color scheme will lose interest no matter how great the features are from a practical standpoint. Neutral colors are great for walls and maybe floors, but the cabinets and countertops should introduce a little color into the space. If your cabinets are dark, make the countertop light or vice versa.
Granite has become extremely popular and is almost a requirement for homes on the higher end of the market. Granite countertops are a true selling point that should not be ignored. Some buyers are making that a requirement. They are more expensive but can be a very justifiable purchase for a home above a quarter of a million dollars.
For homes at the lower end of the spectrum, laminate and tiled countertops are fine.
The cabinets will take up most of the space in the kitchen, so you have to make them a priority. You do not necessarily have to buy new cabinets, but you will probably need to put some money into making them look their very best. If the existing cabinets are in good structural shape but need a new look, simply refinishing or painting them will suffice and save you thousands of dollars. Something else you can do that is cost effective and impressive is to add soft-close hinges to the existing cabinets. Make sure to demonstrate this to the prospective homebuyer on the walkthrough.
If you do need to buy new cabinets, most housing markets will not reward you for buying the most expensive cabinets, but you do not want to buy the cheapest either.
And finally, I can say emphatically that you should stay away from light colored floors in kitchens. They will be difficult to maintain during the flip process. Whether it is all the contractors going in and out or all the customers viewing the home, the floor will get some abuse. Darker colored floors hide dirt and scuffing better.