Many buyers want a home that looks as fabulous as their Instagram feed. They’re looking for a home that they love. But if you are up for a fun and profitable challenge, consider buying a home that needs love instead of buying a home that deserves love.
My husband and I call it the ‘Slow Flip.’ We’ve done it several times over the last 15 years. Slow-flipping has given us some good investments, creative outlets and even a little marital bonding. We’ve looked for a home that’s in a great location, but because of some funkiness, has been sitting on the market a long time. If that funkiness can be cost effectively fixed, and if the seller is motivated to make a deal, then maybe it’s worth taking on the challenge.
The slow flip means you live in the house while you figure out how to fix its flaws. Living in a space, learning how your family uses it, can often result in more creative and cost effective decisions. Sometimes it takes a while to chew on the design problem before you come up with the right solution. With a slow flip, time is on your side. Better still, after you’ve lived in a home two years (or two of the last five years to be specific) you can avoid paying federal income tax on the gain you make when you resell.
If you find the challenge of home renovation interesting… and if taking on short term projects won’t add undue stress to your family and relationships, read on! Here are my top suggestions based on our experience.
Get wise counsel before you buy.
I’m a firm believer in seeking out good advice and that often means hiring someone with expertise. Some renovation wisdom is obvious – you see the biggest return in kitchens and bathrooms. Removing a non-load bearing walls or doors is usually inexpensive; moving plumbing is almost always expensive. But before you make a commitment to take on your slow flip, bring in a trusted advisor that can talk through your options with a fresh set of eyes and real world experience. During your option period, as buyer you can terminate the contract for any reason and not risk losing your earnest money. Use that time to ask the right questions to the right people.
Pick your battles.
Once you’ve decided on the home, decide what you’re able to live through. Some renovations are more disruptive than others. Flooring & painting wood cabinets are particularly tough – messy & stinky. If the floors need to be redone or you need to paint kitchen cabinets, consider doing them before you move in. Carpet is not as big a deal and can usually be completed in a day with installers moving furniture for you.
Don’t underestimate the transformative power of paint.
Paint can give you the most bang for your buck — hands down. It can take disparate materials and bring unity. It can transform the lighting of a room and make the old and dingy look new and clean. With the right primer, lots of different surfaces can be painted. So many times I’ve coached buyers “Ok, imagine this whole, dark, dingy space painted white…”
Are you are unskilled labor?
You can save a lot of money by doing the unskilled labor jobs yourself. Demo, painting, patching, sanding – if you need to find ways to cut costs consider DIY. Labor can be 50% of the cost of the job. Nervous? YouTube is your coach and can give you the confidence to take on all sorts of projects. Plus, it can be hugely gratifying when you take a crow bar or sledge hammer to a situation.
No shame in calling in the pros.
Be realistic about your skill set. Know when to call in the experts. When you do go to resell, you don’t want it to be obvious that you did it yourself. You are going to be spending a lot of money on materials. You have to live with it when it’s done. Some things that look “easy” really need a skilled hand. For example, perfect tiling is an art form – especially when you use dark grout.
Don’t start until you are ready to go.
Living through construction is stressful, so do your homework and don’t demo until you’ve got a complete plan. There will always be surprises and hidden costs. Don’t add to the challenges and the timeline by not having the components you already know you’ll need. When possible I buy materials myself, so there is no middle man. Many places will take returns. Better to overshoot and return, than to be unprepared.
Give yourself a break between big projects.
It’s stressful for everyone in your family to live through a construction zone. Don’t underestimate that. Having workers in your home early and late feels invasive. For that reason we’ve spaced our projects out and divided projects up when possible. Spacing projects also helps you save up to pay for them – win, win.
Our kitchen, for example, was done in three phases. Before we moved in, we had the cabinets painted, and a carpenter cut some of the upper cabinet doors for me to install glass fronts. The next year we retiled the backsplash and swapped out the sink faucet. After living there for awhile, we could see a 48′ refrigerator would be perfect where the ovens were located. It would improve the flow. After almost two years of looking, I found a used 48′ Subzero for a steal on a local FB yard sale site. Our carpenter was able to make it a built-in pretty easily and swap places with the ovens. It’s a totally different space. Dividing the project up made it not so bad to live through.
Don’t forget Craig’s List, E-bay, Demolition Sales etc….
Before you buy new, check alternative places like Craig’s List, E-bay, on-line yard sales, demolition sales, Habitat for Humanity Resale Shop. Call stores and ask what’s in their scratch and dent section. When we were planning for a bathroom renovation, I collected all kinds of things for months until we needed them. I found inexpensive 12×12 marble tiles at a big box chain and then had them cut to the more expensive 6×12 size to lay in a herringbone pattern.
I think of it like a treasure hunt. When you have time on your side you can patiently wait for just what you need.
This month we will finish the last planned renovation in our current home and we’ve had a few discussions about doing this again. The problem is that while I did not love my house before; I really do love it now. More importantly, our family loves our dear neighbors.
So we’re most likely here for a while. But just in case this article inspires you to try a “slow flip”, give me a call. I’ve been following several interesting properties on the market now. Maybe I can help you find a home you don’t love!