Property Flippers Are Back as Housing’s New Middle Men

Flipping properties is not what it used to be - now they must add value.
Tony Cordoza | Photographer's Choice | Getty Images
Flipping properties is not what it used to be - now they must add value.

Who can forget the heady days of the housing boom when property flippers would follow condo developers around like hungry wolves, waiting to pounce on new projects before one grain of earth had moved?

Property auctions for single family homes weren't any different, as novice buyers were scooping up multiple properties only to flip them for a profit in a matter of weeks.

Those days are gone; the price appreciation is gone, and the funding is gone…but apparently the flippers are back. Some of them never left. Close to 100, 000 properties were flipped in the first six months of this year, according to RealtyTrac, which defines flipping as a home bought and sold within six months. That is a 25 percent jump from a year ago. But flipping is not what it used to be.

"There is this kind of middle man investor who is doing the flipping, " says RealtyTrac's Daren Blomquist, who ran a webinar last month titled, "Why Property Flipping is Flying High in 2012." Blomquist says the difference for today's flippers is that they must add value to the home before selling, because price appreciation alone won't net the profit they seek. That means rehabbing, which can be pricey, depending on the condition of the property. Many of the distressed homes now that flippers seek have been either ransacked by former owners or left vacant and untended for years.

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"You don't see any of that highly speculative flipping where it's solely reliant on the home prices going up for the flip to work, " says Blomquist, which is why many flippers are middle men. They flip to other investors in order to get the profit they need. "It's probably easier to flip to another investor because this person is an experienced buyer and should have their ducks in a row in terms of being able to finance the property, if not pay up front in cash."

Large-scale, big money investors, like hedge funds, have flooded the single family real estate market, looking for rental properties that will produce good yield. While some have their own teams attending foreclosure auctions and doing the rehabilitation and remodeling, many would rather buy turn-key products, even if the price is slightly higher. The "pure" property flip appears to be less popular, although in some stronger markets it is certainly still happening.

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"I have seen a return of flipping, but only at the individual or small investor level. In some cases, these investors are targeting larger, institutional investors as potential buyers, " says Rick Sharga of Carrington Mortgage Holdings, a large fund investing in single family rentals. "I haven't seen institutional investors doing much flipping (although they will occasionally sell off a few properties from a pool if the homes don't fit their business model)."

Investors planning a REIT would not be flippers, Sharga notes, as what they need is a large pool of rental homes delivering the cash flow a REIT would require. Most of the larger investors are paying market price (sometimes a little less, sometimes more), which makes profitable flipping difficult.

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Until the rental market chills and the housing market shows strong price gains, pure property flipping will not be nearly as lucrative as it once was. On the positive side, continued strength in the single family rental market and the ensuing large investors interest offers smaller investors willing to do the dirty work a large pool of cash-heavy buyers.

Sector Watch: Construction & General Building Materials

  • The Home Depot
  • Lowe's Companies
  • The Sherwin-Williams Company
  • E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company
  • Apogee Enterprises

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