Update on 'Fix and Flip'

Last Thursday night at the monthly REIA meeting, Than Merrill from A&E’s Flip this House presented an informative glance into his working business model. Than does more than 120 flips a year at an average of $27,000 each.  Although he just started 3 years ago, Than is making millions using a system that he partially nabbed from other fix and flip coaches and partially created himself.  Than acknowledged up front that he would have something to sell, otherwise he says there would be no point in his flying out here from Conneticut to talk to a real estate investment club.  And sell he did.  What my husband and I heard prompted us to attend an all day (9 to later than 6!) on Sunday.  The cost was relatively inexpensive and anything for more education, right?

In case you’re wondering who attends a real estate investing club, I noticed a lot of people with jobs looking for a way to become self employed, and I also found many who had already made that transition using real estate investment as monthly income.  Others are there to build a retirement using real estate investing as a vehicle. Some using sefl-directed vehicles and others doing 1031’s to defer taxes. 

Finding the right investment opportunity is key to good real estate investing. The investments we have been buying are properties that can be subdivided or converted to condos or in some other way create equity through development.  I hate fix and flips because there have been such a small margin in them because we didn’t knowi how to find below market inventory consistently.  We only do the fix and flips if we can increase the value of an adjacent lot or new construction home we sell by increasing the value of the original home. 

However, working with distressed sellers to find below market inventory is a business that is very specialized and can by itself be a full time occupation.  And there are a lot of investment buyers looking to buy discounted properties.  Finding these discounted properties has always eluded me. We have tried the foreclosure route and bought on the court house steps, but too many investors were chasing these properties and they still got bid up, squeezing that profit margin.  Then there are title issues and the fact that you can’t really inspect the properties among other things, like needing cash!

Than has been successful finding these sellers and I wanted to know how. He has multiple sources and mutliple campaigns aimed at finding anyone willing to sell at a discount. His program is a highly developed marketing and operation.  We were impressed, So, we decided to invest in the systems thinking that if he can make them work, so can we (I know, pretty egotistical). The cost of the program is pretty reasonable, the bigger cost being the time to attend a one week boot camp and implement the multiple marketing systems. But we’re looking forward to it and hope soon to have a source of ‘cents on the dollar’ real estate to offer our buyers.  Keep tuned.

BTW, still nothing definitive on the Contractor’s issue, i.e., an owner needing a contractor’s license to perform work on real estate prior to a sale if within one year. We’re all waiting for clarification. 

From 'A&E's Flip This House' to You!

[photopress:REIA__Image_Download__flip_this_house_logo_jpeg_from_mhv_reia_1_.jpg,thumb,alignright]Have you been watching the current real estate market and wondering how  to find the pot of gold in it? Fix and Flip guru Than Merrill from A&E’s Flip this House will show you how right here in Seattle on October 11. Than, like many other saavy investors, is building his business taking advantage of sellers in trouble.  Even though Seattle seems to be somewhat insulated from the current trend across the nation, there are still great opportunities to grab up distressed properties. Banks are looking to unload properties as are many homeowners on the brink of foreclosure.  These often become the inventory and raw product for the ‘fix and flippers’. But how do you find these elusive properties?

My husband and I have been involved with about 2 dozens ‘fix and flip’ properties, but finding the right properties at the right price, i.e., below market, is a challenge. As a realtor, I live and breathe the mls, but once a property hits the mls, it’s generally going to be sold at retail, and paying retail is not the way to make a profit on a ‘fix and flip’.

There are several real estate investment groups in the Puget Sound area that will help you get started and offer advice in marketing, legal issues (recently, state law passed requiring a flip in less than one year to require a contractor’s license.  More about that later) and tips of the trade. Says Shirley Henderson, President of REIA, ” flipping is profitable and a lot of fun if it’s done right”.  And the members want to help you do it right.  Usually they have monthly meetings and from time to time offer educational events to help their members. Members are happy to share their knowledge and are there to help each other.

On October 11, The Real Estate Investors Association of Washington (REIA) is hosting a fabulous Special Event straight from television land.  Than Merrill of A&E’s ‘Flip This House’ will be speaking at a this very low cost event ($15)  to show you how he and his team did 30 deals his first year and after that, double each year over the next 2 years.  The team has 260 deals under it’s belt at an average of $27,000 profit per deal.  $7,000,000 in three years, I could live with that!

If you’re interested in learning how he did it, join REIA on October 11 from 6-9pm to hear about Than’s systems and marketing to find those distressed properties and fix them for the best financial return.  This will be my first ‘fix and flip’ seminar and I’m anxious to hear from the best. Of those 2 dozen flips my husband and I have done, we’ve had varied results (yes, some were losses) because we didn’t have the systems in place to find the bargains.

Hope to see investors from Seattle turn out in big numbers. Make some great connections. Maybe you will decide that this could be your next career.

Would you lie for God?

Yesterday’s theme was PreFab, today I’m back to simply providing links to 10 interesting real estate conversations…

  1. Prosper is an online marketplace for people to lend money to other people. Shaun has been playing with Prosper and has some interesting observations.
  2. I don’t agree with Mark’s conclusions, but I think he makes an interesting case that a good time to “upgrade” is in a down market. (via Steph)
  3. For those looking to improve things before they sell, Rory provides some great home improvement links.
  4. If you are going to be upgrading (up market or down), you’d be wise to follow Noah’s advice and sell first!
  5. Will the number of sold homes rise in August as Bill suggests? But I sincerely doubt it.
  6. Todd, since you asked… My take is that if you are going to change domains, you want to do it sooner than later. You’ve still got lots and lots of growth left in your site, but the longer you wait, the harder it will get. Even better, consider getting a hosted version of WordPress that you can put under your own domain. Many hosts have made it so that there is a “one button” install of wordpress and they even manage the upgrades on the backend. (WordPress.org has a list of their “preferred” hosts.) In the long run, this will definitely give you the most flexibility with things like video/podcasts and stat tracking.
  7. Jim’s thinking he wants a sideblog plugin… I’m thinking just take notes and when you get to 10, hit publish. Have you noticed? 🙂
  8. Fran is good for providing a useful tip every few days… Today it is about the importance of the buyer walkthrough.
  9. Jay Thompson (of AZ) gives us a “pick of the week” that includes one hell of a house!
  10. Larry Cragun tells us to watch out for real estate transactions involving religious institutions. Some people are more than happy to lie for God.

I’m actually shocked at the number of emails these lists have generated. Don’t people know I have a job? 😉

Seattle in Top Ten for Continued Appreciation- Want to know Why?

We’ve talked alot on RCG about whether we’re in a bust or a bubble real estate market and we in the Pacific NW have been watching the rest of the country and wondering, Why all the gloom? Bankrate.com and today’s Seattle times have some explanation that can provide perspective:

Last week, Bankrate.com unveiled its forecast for the changing real estate market in the U.S. over the next few years – ten markets where housing prices and values will continue to remain strong, ten markets where appreciation will pretty much top out and the ten markets that are most likely to experience a decline. They talked to experts, studied public and private databases, analyzed market trends and examined the analysis of many others.

The ten “bubble blowers,” where appreciation should continue to grow, are:

  • Boise (ID);
  • El Paso (TX);
  • Albuquerque (NM);
  • Seattle (WA)/Portland (OR);
  • Salt Lake City (UT);
  • Raleigh (NC);
  • Philadelphia (PA);
  • Atlanta (GA);
  • Little Rock (AR); and
  • Cincinnati (OH)/Birmingham (AL) (they were too close to call).

Just why this is happening in the Pacific NW is the subject of this mornings Seattle Times article by Elizabeth Rhodes. She sheds light on why Seattle is breaking the national trend toward stagnating or dropping home prices. Her article notes that the average home prices have taken a steep hike in the last year and appear to be continuing the rise.

Citing the NWMLS statistics that came out on Thursday, median closed price of King County single-family homes has shot up almost 12 percent in the past year, reaching $405,000 last month (and up from $392,950 in February).

Interestingly, sales are down, but so is inventory. In March 2004, there were 7,156 homes for sale countywide. March 2005’s inventory was 5,244 homes. This March recorded a further drop, to 5,100. This is the pinch that causing the rise in prices.

At the same time, the local economy is growing and employers are adding jobs, bringing more potential buyers to the area. So the competition for available homes is strong and prices are reacting accordingly.

We agents have been experiencing this hot market all spring as we did through most of last year, possibly feeling the market fluctuations first. We’re out there in it, pricing homes to reflect the low inventory and coaching buyers for the best positioning in a multiple offer situation. I just watched the price of an Eastside condo jump $20,000 in a two week period!

Did you sell your SOLD before the bell?

As you may know, HouseValues (NASDAQ: SOLD) is a publicly traded company. As you may not know, they reported their earnings for the quarter and year ended December 31, 2005, this afternoon.

To quote the highlights from the press release from MSN MoneyCentral

“For the year, HouseValues reported annual revenue and net income growth of 82 percent and 101 percent respectively. For the quarter, HouseValues reported revenue of $25.2 million, an increase of 75 percent from the comparable quarter last year. Fourth quarter 2005 net income was $4.0 million, up 117 percent from the prior year. Fourth quarter 2005 earnings per diluted share were $0.15 compared to $0.08 per diluted share in the fourth quarter of 2004. Net income for the fourth quarter and the year included an increase of $1.2 million as a result of the favorable settlement of a state tax audit.”[photopress:hv_logo.gif,full,alignright]

Blah, blah, Growth Opportunity, blah, blah…

“A recent National Association of Realtors study showed that 77 percent of consumers used the Internet as part of the home search process in 2005. The study also found that buyers who use the Internet to search for a home are more likely to buy through a real estate agent than non-Internet users.* Real estate and mortgage professionals are projected to follow consumer behavior, dedicating more of their marketing spend online than to any other medium by 2009, according to Borrell Associates.”

Blah, blah, Mortgage Opportunity, blah, blah, blah….

“On November 3, 2005, HouseValues announced its acquisition of The Loan Page, Inc. TheLoanPage.com helps consumers find the best deal on all of their home related financing needs by providing them with up to four competitive bids from the nation’s leading lenders.”

So far so good, right? Not according to “Buy on the rumor, sell on the fact” nature of the Street…

To quote another press release from MSN MoneyCentral

“Shares of HouseValues Inc. plunged in aftermarket trading Tuesday, after the company reported a jump in fourth-quarter profit, but said its first quarter and full-year 2006 results would come in well below Wall Street expectations. Shares of the online subscription service for real estate agents and mortgage bankers dropped $3.26, or 25 percent, to $10.14 in after-hours electronic trading, after closing down 25 cents at $13.50 on the Nasdaq.””HouseValues said it expects first quarter 2006 earnings of 3 cents to 4 cents per share, including about 3 cents per share in stock option expenses. Revenue is projected at $25.5 million to $26 million. Analysts were expecting earnings of 14 cents per share, not including stock options, on revenue of $28.8 million.”

What’s your take on this? Does management think an upcoming war with Zillow is going to hurt HouseValues earnings? Is the slowing housing market at fault? Have enough people seen Ardell’s “Bottom feeder post” to cause this market cap hemorrhaging? Can TheLoanPage.com mount a credible threat to LendingTree.com? Can Batman & Robin save us?

Conspiracy theories and comments?

Futures and property values: you can bet on the bubble

Last November, Slate magazine posted a piece on the housing market futures. The gist: you can hedge a drop in your house’s property values by buying derivatives that pay if the region’s property values drop a specific amount over a specific time period or even if predicted growth doesn’t materialize:

Next spring, however, investors might finally have a better hedging product. Just in time for the apparent top of the housing market, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange is introducing futures and options on housing prices in 10 cities for the second quarter of 2006.

It’s pitched to big institutions, but it would probably benefit individual investors immensely. That is, if they used it. Unfortunately, the individual home owners it would benefit the most didn’t have enough cash on hand to put money down on their house and are currently just paying interest, so they probably don’t have extra money to invest in hedges.

Also, as Ardell eloquently pointed out a while back, different sectors of the market can “pop” at different times and at different rates. Unfortunately, this could only protect against region-wide shifts:

These options will cover large markets—it will be tough to hedge the value of your own house, which depends so much on your particular neighborhood.

I liken it to buying an index fund (or mutual fund) instead of a single stock, although maybe insurance against extreme price swings is a better analogy; the effect is to reduce the upside and the downside of your investment. It doesn’t seem very exciting in the least so I’m putting this one in the “popular after the crash” basket, as it’s hard to plan for hard times when the good times have lasted so long.

So who’s buying on opening day? And can the market correctly predict housing prices over the next few years, or are investors so oriented toward a bubble popping that they can’t see the inherent strength of the market (or vice versa)?