Flipped homes, homes that are bought and resold within a year for a gain, made up an estimated 3.1 percent of all home sales in 2015. Flips were at their highest in 2005 during the housing boom at 4.4 percent of sales and fell in 2008 to 1.4 percent during the bust.
Even though it reflects such a small portion of sales, flipping activity can tell us a lot about overall market conditions. Investing in a flip involves making a bet on the market. It’s a vote of confidence that prices will appreciate, that value added by any improvements will outweigh the costs, and that a buyer will want to buy the home for the higher asking price.
In 2015, those bets paid off handsomely for many flippers. Last year, flippers gained more from their flips than ever, an average of $102,400 per home. It’s worth noting that gain does not equal profit as we do not know how much each flipper invested in renovations and updates.
For this analysis, Redfin defined a flip as a home that was bought and resold within a 12-month period and was resold for at least 10 percent more than the original purchase price. We specifically looked at only the fast sales that saw gains to isolate the sales most likely to be intentional flips. This analysis looked at flipping activity in 28 Redfin markets across the country.
Fewer Homes Being Flipped Than During the Boom
Across Redfin markets, we estimate approximately 43,000 homes were flipped in 2015, about half of the number of flips occurring during the peak of flipping in 2005.
And while prices continue to rise, the share of flips among all home sales has fallen every year since 2012. This is likely due to constricted supply of homes for sale overall, particularly at low enough price points to be attractive to flippers.
But before you run out to find a home to flip, remember that gains are not profits. Modest cosmetic fixes like painting, cleaning and yard maintenance can run in the hundreds of dollars while completely overhauling a home can quickly eat away at gains from flipping.
“Flippers must pay the fees and real estate commissions for both the initial purchase and the sale. There are recordation taxes and transfer fees, property taxes and carrying costs during the home renovation.” said Leslie White, a real estate agent in Washington, D.C. “Depending on the level of renovation, there may be costs associated with architectural plans as well as permitting. Of course time is money, so issues with weather, inspection problems, material delays and the home sitting for sale on the market can eat into an investor’s profit margin,” White said.
Real estate investing is risky. Even celebrity house-flippers Tarek and Christina from HGTV’s Flip or Flop admit they’ve made mistakes. But some markets may be riskier than others.
Flipping Gains Vary by Metro
Home flippers in the San Francisco Bay Area saw the largest gains. The average gain in San Francisco was $216,000, followed by San Jose and Oakland with average gains of $174,800 and $152,600.
“Even though prices in the Bay Area are among the most expensive in the country, the region has two things going for it that give flippers an advantage,” says Redfin Chief Economist Nela Richardson. “One is strong house price growth – prices in January were up a whopping 16 percent from a year ago – and reliable demand from well-resourced homebuyers from the tech-laden, high-income job market.”
We also crunched the numbers on the top 10 neighborhoods for flippers, available here.
On the other end of the spectrum, home flippers in Las Vegas, Atlanta and Raleigh-Durham had the lowest average gains of $53,600, $68,500 and $71,400 respectively.
Looking at the overall gain is only part of the picture. The following bar chart shows the relative gain by metro area. In Philadelphia, the average gain from a flip was just over $100,000, however that represents a 73 percent increase over the original purchase price, on average. Chicago and Baltimore also had high percentage gains relative to purchase price.
The Impact of Flipping on the Housing Market
Even though home-flipping activity represents a small portion of overall sales, it can have an outsized impact on the market. In the years of easy credit and zero money down loans before the housing crash, buyers with varying degrees of real estate and investing experience snapped up homes with the hope of selling them for a profit just a few months later, sometimes without even making any updates. All of that activity played a role in over-inflating housing prices.
In places where flipping is hot, first-time buyers often compete with investors for the same home since both are looking at affordable price points.
“Professional investors often have the resources to offer all cash, with no contingencies and a fast close, which may give them a leg up in a competitive offer situation,” said Leslie White. “For the earnest homebuyer who is looking for a well-loved home where they can build some sweat-equity over time, it can be frustrating to lose in a bidding war and know that you won’t be able to afford that home when it comes back on the market in six months for $150,000 more.”
And so not everyone is enthusiastic to see their neighborhood become a hot zone for flipping. As investors zero in on a neighborhood, home prices rise and rents increase, and some residents may find themselves priced out. (We recently discussed affordability and livability in Redfin’s hometown of Seattle.)
While on the one hand homeowners are often pleased when higher-priced comparables in the neighborhood increase the value of their own homes, they may have concerns about the character of the neighborhood changing. Likewise, the quality of the flip can be a concern as well as the homogenization of homes.
White said many flips in D.C. follow the exact same mold given similar floor plans of many townhomes and end up looking exactly the same, down to the paint colors. “Lots of grays,” she says. She isn’t always happy to see flippers who buy historic D.C. homes and remove most of the charming original features. “While there are definite advantages to new, solid renovations for the buyer, I appreciate a developer who takes the time to maintain some of the original character of the home,” White said.
For this analysis, Redfin defined a flip as any home (condos, townhomes, or single-family units) that was bought and resold between a three to 12-month period, for at least 10 percent more than the original purchase price. This was to filter out sales that do not appear to be intentional flips, which typically involve some investment. While a homeowner may buy and resell a property in a short time span for other reasons, we can assume that the majority of fast sales that are resold for a 10 percent gain were intentional flips.
The analysis looked at flipping activity in 28 markets across the country. We excluded homes that were acquired and resold by banks as those tend to be foreclosed properties, as well as homes below $20,000 or over $1.2 million. Redfin used county recorder data from CoreLogic from January 2001 through August 2015 and sales data from the multiple listing service through December 2015. We estimated flipping activity from September through December 2015 based on the first eight months of the year and annual changes.