Remember the time A Beautiful Mess hired this girl named Sarah to do the photos for the blog, and then she went rogue, moved to Phoenix, and started flipping houses? Well friends, I’m back—at least just for a few minutes here. I’m so excited to share some things I’ve learned from the flipping/home design world over the past few years, and to hopefully offer some practical advice for anyone who’s curious about how to get started!
I thought for so long that flipping a house was an unattainable dream that would never work out until I could save up all cash, but I’m here to dispel some of the myths that I myself believed. I do caution you: If you are serious about getting started flipping, please don’t consider my advice to be the only route. Spend time asking other real estate investors about their thoughts, and please do your due diligence! There are so many ways to finance these things, and I’m not a financial planning expert. So like, try this at home but also don’t try this at home? Try to do your own thing at your own home? Let’s stick with that and move on!
Live by the Golden Rule
When I first started flipping, my fellow designer and friend Grace Carpenter let me in on the best piece of advice (if flipping has a “golden rule,” this is it!!): You make your money when you BUY your house. In other words, the house needs to be a good investment from the start in order for it to be a good flip. I know the current climate seems uncertain, but for the savvy buyer, this might be the BEST time to keep your eyes peeled for good deals!
How do you know it’s a good investment? Research, my friend! You need to know your neighborhoods, what fully renovated houses are selling for (not just by square footage, but all factors—beds, baths, lot size, curb appeal, finishes, etc.), what homes sell the fastest, what’s highest in demand, and what style people in the neighborhood generally like. So keeping all of this in mind, once you know these things like the back of your hand, you will know if a home is a good deal or not. If it’s not a good deal, you won’t make money. You can’t allow yourself to buy a home, even if it’s the cutest home EVER (and yes, I have had to walk away from adorable homes because the seller’s pricing didn’t offer me any profit margin after renovations), if there isn’t room in the budget for renovations, finishes, landscaping, staging, realtor commission, and factoring in hard money payments if that’s the route you choose (more on that later).
You need to plan ahead and work backwards in your numbers to ensure that you’ll have something leftover to make it worth your time and effort! For example, I had done a lot of research into the historic Garfield neighborhood in Phoenix, and when I saw a homemade “for sale” sign out in front of a dilapidated, old brick house, I immediately knew A) how much it would be worth after renovations, B) how much renovations would probably cost, and therefore I knew C) how much I wanted to pay for it at the most, in order to make a profit. I was able to make an informed offer so that I knew how much I would hopefully make at the end of the deal!
Think Outside the Zillow
Before I got into the world of flipping, here are a few terms I had never heard before: wholesale houses. Off-market pocket listings. Hard money loans. But let me tell you, these three things will change your world and you’ll never look at Zillow for homes to flip again.
First, let’s talk wholesale houses. I like to call this the underbelly of the real estate world, because it sounds so much more interesting, and the word underbelly makes me laugh. Wholesale listings are houses that need to be sold FAST, so they usually only accept cash or hard money loans, they have a quick close, their conditions are as-is, there’s no inspection period, BUT they’re also priced well below market value. Usually these homes would not be approved for any kind of traditional financing, which is why they are cash or hard money only. These houses will never have signs in front of them, they usually won’t be on MLS—in other words, the typical homebuyer would have absolutely no idea that they’re even for sale. The best way to find these homes is to do a search for wholesalers in your area (specifically wholesale home listings), contact whoever is the contact person for that company, and then ask to be put on their list. It’s also helpful to make a personal connection, so ask to take them to coffee or lunch or something to pick their brain on getting started! In a hot market, when the wholesale homes go quickly, a personal connection with someone will benefit you as they are blasting out the house to their mailing list—they might send it to you first if you’re fresh on their minds.
Next up, pocket listings! What are pocket listings, you ask? It’s a fancy term (impress your friends at the next cocktail party!) for listings that real estate agents might know about that might not show up on your typical Zillow or MLS searches. Like wholesale listings, they might not be eligible for traditional financing, or maybe the seller doesn’t want to improve the home but wants it to sell quickly. If you have any agent friends, it’s worth a shot asking if they have any pocket listings in the area you are looking to invest in.
Now let’s talk money! Obviously, as my fellow Ramsey fans know, cash is king. Do you have all cash to finance a renovation and a flip? AWESOME. Why are you even doing this!? Just kidding. If you’re not sitting on mountains of cash, your options are to either find a financial investor or to seek out a hard money loan. (Disclaimer: Hard money loans are a love/hate thing, but sometimes they are the only means to the end and they’ve ended up working out to my benefit, so I’d like to share a little bit about them!) So what exactly is a hard money loan, and why would you want one?
Hard money loans are short-term, high-interest loans with a quick application and approval process. Since you need to act fast in real estate, flippers often use this type of loan as a way to get financing quickly. With a hard money loan, you’ll make a high, interest-only payment on each month that you own the house. You still will likely have to have 10-20% of the loan as a down payment, but it is much easier to get a hard money loan for a home than a traditional lender loan since you’ll be working with a private lender instead of a bank.
When looking into hard money loans, it’s important to do your research and understand the risks. Since you’ll be making high interest payments each month, you need to be able to renovate and sell as quickly as possible to maximize your profit and minimize the number of those payments.
My FIRST STEP as a new flipper would be to do a little area research—look up hard money lenders in your area, contact them and ask what their interest rates are, how much down is required, do they ask for any points, and anything else that affects how much money your loan will end up costing you. You might also need to form an LLC prior to securing a loan. (If you are local to Phoenix, I highly recommend Karen at B.E. Lending. I believe they also finance to Tennessee and North Carolina.) Finding a good, honest, and smart hard money lender is vital to your process!
Set the Stage
Perhaps my biggest piece of advice is to package the home well. Packaging sells! According to this article from Forbes.com, a staged home on average will sell for 17% higher than a home that hasn’t been staged, and will sell 95% faster as well.
The old-timer mindset was that an empty home seems bigger. But these days, buyers want to imagine themselves living in the home. They want to know if the room is big enough for a king-sized bed. They want to know where they would put their TV in the living room and if a sectional would work or not. They want to know what size rug they should start shopping for if they make an offer. You know? We are a very visual culture and we need to see it to believe it. Staging achieves exactly that. It provides this extra level of assurance that this feels like the buyer could make this their home because they see themselves living in it.
(I would add to this—don’t neglect good photography as well! Stage the home, and make sure the photographs show it off!)
When it came time to put the Root Beer House on the market, I partnered with Article on the staging to show you all what a huge difference it makes! And I don’t mind telling you this because we’re friends, but once it was staged, I realized it looked WAY too cute, and decided the day before the listing went live to raise the price by $20,000. I’m pretty sure my agent thought I had lost it. But ya’ll, I sold this house in a week for just under asking price ($5,000 under asking, so $15,000 higher than I had planned to sell it!). It ended up setting the new price per square foot record in the neighborhood. It is always worth the investment to stage a home! Let’s say I had decided to spend about $5,000 on furniture for staging—I would have DOUBLED my investment. I could not have sold this home unstaged for as much as I did. Here’s a little bit about why I chose the furniture pieces I did!
The layout of this home was just a little awkward as you just immediately walk into the living room, so I wanted to show that the space could have a versatile use, and things could move around depending on if you’re hosting a party, etc. I chose a neutral gray sofa (the Anton Sofa in Winter Gray) because this one is a real crowd-pleaser. It’s comfy and inviting! I also brought this ottoman to bring in some warm tones, and we loved it so much we kept it in our own home because it’s so multi-functional.
For the bedroom, I chose the Culla Spindle bed in walnut with the matching Culla side table to show how much space you really have in here! This is where Article saved me a lot of time. Everything was delivered and assembled right in place by their delivery teams. I can’t tell you how much of a lifesaver that was, as we were frantically trying to do the finishing touches on the home to get it on the market! Our buyer ended up loving the bed so much she kept it for herself and I can’t blame her. It’s perfect and such high quality—it’s solid wood and it was so heavy I was very glad I didn’t have to move it, to be honest! I chose this fiery punch of a chair (the Spin Chair in Sunset Orange) for the corner to bring some life and color into the room, because I am a lost soul without something orange in my dang houses. It’s important to show what the extra corners can be used for, and setting up little vignettes here and there is always kinda fun.
As I sat down trying to decide on what to even share in this post, there is so much, I could surely write a couple of volumes on flipping houses. There is so much info about flipping within the Internet world and there’s already plenty of good advice about important topics I didn’t cover like budgeting, finding contractors for work you won’t do yourself, and building a team of people you trust to work together with. There really is so much info out there, so take advantage of all those free resources and learn as much as you can!
If you love business advice, check out this podcast episode to hear the best business (and life) advice that Elsie and Emma have ever received!
I hope this was helpful to anyone wishing to set out on their own in the world of flips. Good luck to you all!! Feel free to ask questions in the comments and I’ll try to answer as many as I can, and don’t be a stranger on Instagram (@parohome). Thank you Emma, Elsie, and the gang for having me back even though I abandoned you for sunshine and tacos. No hard feelings, yeah?! 😉 -Sarah Rhodes
Room Details // Master chandelier and fireplace sconces from Sazerac Stitches, Kitchen cabinetry by Lignum Cabinets and Woodworking, Wall art from Juniper Print Shop, Living room rug from Allmodern, Exterior house numbers by Dropcap Studio. Linked furniture items above c/o Article.
Article is offering our readers a special discount! Just use this link and receive a discount of $50 off your first purchase of $200 or more. Offer valid April 24, 2020 – December 31, 2020
Couldn’t agree more about your golden rule. There is nothing more dangerous in real estate than buying a house that isn’t a smokin’ hot deal. Great looking designs and work by the way. Looks like you made the right decision!
Lovely article Sarah! I feel when buying a house to flip it, it is a good idea to follow the 70% rule. It says you should not buy a house for more than 70% of the after-repair value of the property minus the repair cost/
Love this story! One question about the furniture for staging, once the home was sold, did you keep the furniture to use for another house staging? Or was it included with the home?
Hi! You take it all with you, unless it’s negotiated into the price or paid for on the side. The only thing that is you are supposed to leave are mirrors and curtains (things that take tools to remove…)
I LOVE this discussion and the different perspectives this comment section offers. That being said, these homes are gorgeous and I could look at pictures all day! Do you have a source for the black/grey backsplash tile?!
The house looks lovely and the piece is well written. However, I also agree that the timing of this post is insensitive and that the ethics of flipping houses purely for profit is problematic.
I remember when you were the photographer and I remember when you left!!! And we are in Phoenix also!! I loved this post as it covered so many things I wanted to know! It was so awesome that you started flipping houses and lived to blog about it!!! If your ever looking for help/ apprenticeship shoot me an email. I would love to connect and learn more! This has always been a dream of my husband and I. – thank you for sharing and pointing us in the right direction ♥️ – many blessings and future homes xo Savannah
Wow there are a lot of Karens in this post, I enjoyed this post. Yes housing is expensive but flipping is not the source of our problems. Stop attacking this woman, love the house.
i thought the commenters were thoughtful in their criticism and discussion. nobody was saying “sarah is stupid”, they were saying “the ethics of house flipping are problematic”, which i don’t even think is a controversial opinion? i agree that the post was well written, and I really like sarah’s writing voice. I also agree with the criticism of the topic. Having a discussion about this doesn’t make anyone a Karen.
Hess, nobody is “attacking” the author or the aesthetics of the house. I am critical of the whole idea of being a “house flipper”for profit, but I do say that the author does have great taste in decorating and she is absolutely right in stating the importance of “staging” a home – that is skill and creativity worth paying for. What is being critisized is the timing of the post, and the whole ethics of house flipping. Especially the whole idea of snatching up what would otherwise be affordable homes and selling them for much higher prices, especially if these are foreclosed homes. Flipping is not the source, but it is the symptom of a much larger problem, and that problem is that housing is seen as a source of profit, rather than a human right.
1. You’re not using the word “Karen” correctly, a Karen would be more likely to flip a house for profit than point out that house flipping is detrimental to communities.
2. “A 2007 study (so let’s add 10, almost 15 years of almost exponential growth in house flipping industry) by University of Texas at Arlington study quotes researcher Ada Focer, who states that flipping homes has a harmful effect on housing prices: As the price of flipped homes goes up, other sellers raise their prices, which can result in a low-income neighborhood with affordable housing becoming much more expensive.“
This isn’t a critique on the house, it looks fine and good for her for putting it together nicely. Flipping your own personal house, that you lived in, is a perfectly noble persuit. The problem is widespread home flipping as a business model, to generate the most profit, which has natural consequences of gentrifing neighborhoods and inflating housing prices. This has been covered by the NYT, Curbed, Miami papers, even Waco TX (home of Fixer Upper!). It’s a fair critique and it’s something the ABM community is allowed to comment on. This goes hand in hand with the proliferation of AirBNB/Short Term Rentals and their negative effects on neighborhoods and cities.
Clearly ABM can’t solve this problem alone, but since we’re all here because we love design, interiors, real estate, and our communities we have to recognize the problem. To ignore it is an act of privilege against the communities being harmed.
Hi! Just jumping in to say that we welcome constructive feedback, and are more than open to hearing different perspectives.
My opinion on flipping is that it’s unnecessary to generalize all house flipping into one category with a “good” or “bad” label. As with all industries- there are best practices and businesses who are genuinely fixing up broken homes and making them accessible to people who can’t afford the risks of buying a home in unlivable condition. At the same time there are definitely predatory practices, where people are doing the bare minimum and charging more than is fair because they can. I’d rather not group every person who has ever flipped a home into one category- it’s unfair.
As always- we’re open to critique (it’s one way we learn!) but it does make us sad when our comments section gets unnecessarily personal. Let’s *all* practice voicing our opinions without casting character judgements on others.
We love you all and don’t have a problem with you disagreeing with us or trying to share a different point of view ever!! XX
I’m sorry, is this Elena from Little Fires Everywhere talking? I thought you were Reese Witherspoon for a minute, displaying white woman fragility perfectly. (Oh, but wait, that’s right, Emma said it was a show about motherhood, not race.)
I’ve followed you from scrapbooking to vintage clothing to whatever this is now, and your inability to listen is astounding. This isn’t GOMI in 2010, this is white supremacy and systems of oppression that are very real in 2020. We’re not casting character judgments, we’re asking you to use your platform as white women to dismantle the systems in place. Stop hiding behind being a small business and do what’s right. Because I know you think you’re doing the right thing–I believe that, I do. But take a step deeper to sit with the discomfort and listen to what people are saying about your Amazon links and problematic house flipping tips. I’m not asking you to solve it or turn your blog into an activist space, but I do want you to consider your accountability as someone with an enormous platform.
From one white woman Midwester to another, consider the dangers of white women’s apathy, complacency, and defensiveness. You may be a design blog, but your words reach millions. Consider it.
If you want to inform me, please do. If you have something to teach me- I’m listening. I have a lot of learn and always will. Please be more specific about what changes you want to see, or what information you want to pass on to us. A comment like this could be so much more helpful with more detail. Remember- I can’t read your mind. I still stand by what I said before, that I don’t believe everyone who flips a houses should be put in the same category- but if you disagree with that explain your perspective. The details matter.
I really care about the ethics of our business and if we had a chance to sit down for coffee and you could hear more detail about what goes into what we do, and how some of our decisions are made you would probably be surprised by a lot of it. For example our Amazon links were covering the salary of one our employees. I said “were” because they just slashed the commissions they pay so low that we probably will mostly stop using the links. And we’ll have to make up for that loss in some other way. We actually are a very small business, that’s real.
I’m committed to learning and evolving until I die. If you’ve been following us since scrapbooking you’ve seen a lot of that evolution first hand… it’s embarrassing how many lessons I had to learn in front of our audience (SO many), but that is true for any person who spends a long time in the public eye. And honestly- I am proud of how I’ve changed and am still changing.
Anyway, what I wanted to say most of all is- I’m listening and your critiques are welcome here.
Karen- I never said LFE was about motherhood and not race. It really bothers me (and I think is pretty telling) that you have chosen to edit my words in this way.
Your businesses are wrapped up in controversial endeavors that have serious impact. In 2020, you can no longer detach from these implications and chalk it up to small business. House flipping and rental property development and constant promoting and consuming of physical stuff cannot be innocuous. They are connected to real-life problematic practices that have always had issues, but those issues continue to grow non-unseeable, which is necessary and to be celebrated. If you are going to show up in those arenas, you must be open to accepting the controversy they stir up. Your reception here and in similar posts/dialogues has been in line with peace-keeping which is niceness which is actually just privileged white liberal women fragility (i.e. Elena Richardson). While it may seem like the most logical or knee-jerk response (Keep the peace! There are two sides! Everyone can have an opinion and have their intentions be honored! Love you all!), it’s nuance like this that keeps harmful and unexamined behaviors and practices in motion. Other blogs and publications that have been around as long and are equally small in business but have wide followings (Cup of Jo, Studio DIY, and Man Repeller, for example) receive feedback to controversial posts of all degrees with grace, moving past fragility by putting defensiveness to the side and allowing itchy human conversation.
It’s understandable that you want to keep things “light” as an everyday home and lifestyle blog, but the reality is that the most important work we can do at this point in history is recognize impact and shift in our discomfort, especially publicly.
The same goes for Emma’s response to LFE. My original comment came from a heated place of frustration. Even in a small mention of a cultural zeitgeist in the form of a book or a movie, you have an opportunity to make a statement. When addressed for keeping it small and soft by reviewing it as merely “very sad,” Emma responded that she was referring to the motherhood focus of the show. That’s all fine and great, but there was still a lack of effort to agree with or even address the culturally blaring issues of white liberal fragility and race in her response to the commenter. It became another soft defense.
The lack of transparency with Amazon connects to the softness and easy way out. Obviously, employment and unemployment is a tragic and sensitive issue, but it took persistent poking and a public emergency to get a response regarding your Amazon affiliation. Regardless of what you use Amazon commissions for, you are still empowering an incredibly problematic machine with significant real-world impact and dodging the addressing of it. Again, many other blogs and publications in the same arena as you have been open to inquiry regarding Amazon affiliation and have honored it as being an issue.
You do not need to change the entire ethos or purpose or mission of ABM to have a truly no-longer-unavoidable impact. It has never been more important for individuals to check their intentions, choices, and reception muscles with brave and uncomfortable inquiry, and the same goes for businesses.
Where is the fan from in the living room area? Thanks!
Hello, I have the same question as Katie above about the partnering with Article. Many thanks.
How do you get out of flipping houses if you have a partner?
I was surprised to see this post rubbed people the wrong way, but PLEASE keep posting about usual ABM stuff. I come here to get away from the reality of what’s going on. And I LOVE seeing the creative posts. I found this one interesting! <3 Keep doing you, ABM!
Wow, I’m bookmarking this for when the climate is a little more certain for me! My husband and I have dreams about investing in real estate.
would you mind sharing the source of the bathroom vanity?
And I do agree these posts are hard to see (and the AirBNB posts), because we live in a late-stage capitalism nightmare. The USA doesn’t have a housing shortage, but affordable housing is scarce. Millions of unemployed people can’t afford to pay $20,000 more on a house just because it was staged by Article. People buying second homes they don’t need to drive up housing costs in neighborhoods takes away opportunity from first time home buyers and locals, and then that drives up rental prices and costs of living. It’s a huge arm of gentrification.
This is not an ABM problem, but a problem that’s in your field (home design/reno). I love the discussion around it, it could be a podcast topic?
What do you mean by “partnered with Article”? Did they rent you the furniture, give it to you as a business deal, did you buy it? Did the home buyers buy it with the house? Some clarity there would be helpful.
Some of the furniture pieces used in staging (the ones from Article, linked in the post) were given in exchange for promotion. This is usually indicated by c/o which means ‘courtesy of’ in the credits of the post.
I really enjoyed this article and would LOVE future articles that speak to specific details or specific deals you have made. And posts on how to chose which lendors, or whole salers to work with. And I love the pics! Thanks for writing!
Thank you so much for posting this! I’ve read dozens of articles on house flipping but this is the first one that really clicked with me in making this feel attainable!
Love this post so much! Personally looking for a flip house myself & needed these tips! Also, one of the reasons I want to start flipping is to help & see my neighborhood being taken care of & more cute! I don’t see the downside & love that there are people out there who want the same. Thank you so much Sarah- can’t wait to see more & also, what would you put your staging budget at? Whether you’re buying the items yourself or hiring it out? Thanks!
Can you please tell me where you got that orange lamp in the living room?
I find the ethics of the flipping business highly problematic. Flippers have destroyed the market in my area and made homeownership an unreachable dream for families who don’t bank $250K annually. While I found this post thoughtfully written, I do think the idea of driving up housing prices for fast profit is seriously gross. This is everything that is wrong with consumer culture.
I think it’s great that she’s taking old, uninhabitable residences, makes them beautiful again so that someone would like to live there. Why would anyone want to live next to broken down old haunted houses?
Betty, you might want to pause and ponder the fact that those “broken down old haunted houses” are the ONLY housing option that MANY families can afford to purchase. Removing that housing stock from the market before they even come on the market – as explained in the article above: work behind the scenes to get your hands on properties that never make it onto Zillow/Redfin/Realtor – means that those properties will never be accessible to those who could only afford them in their “broken down” stage. For example, a three-bedroom 1950s house of 1,200 sq ft down the street was sold “off market” to a flipper for $157,000 – a price that a family of modest income could potentially afford on a maxed out mortgage – who promptly repainted, reflowed, and staged with trendy Article furniture (!) the property for a cool $400,0000 not two months later, effectively making the property completely unreachable for the people who might have just been able to afford it for the “off market” price. f you think that is not a problem, I don’t know what to tell you.
Actually, lenders won’t generally lend on property that’s not livable. AKA “broken down old haunted houses”
If someone can make them livable and beautiful for a future family, why not?
Enma – 10000% agreed. The business of flipping is slow poison for cities and it’s so, so sad that shelter blogs like this promote it.
I agree with Enma. My small town has become the target of out-of-state AirBandBers and flippers. Also, realtors themselves are snapping up lower priced houses before they reach market and flipping them. While most of us do not have the skills to redo a house with serious structural problems, most of us do have the wherewithal to paint, update and learn basic skills to make a shabby house into a loved home. I mourn that our local residents who are not extremely wealthy have been almost entirely shut out of home ownership now. Who wants to live in a town with the very rich and out-of-state short term landlords?