One of the more challenging aspects of fix-and-flip investing is finding properties that are suitable for flipping. Discovering an attractive property that is located in a good neighborhood and available at an affordable price can require weeks of searching. In many California markets, competition for fix-and-flips is fierce and many rehabbers are experiencing the frustration of discovering great properties only to lose those listings to other buyers before an offer can be made.
To locate affordable, high-quality properties, fix-and-flip investors are starting to think outside the box, looking beyond conventional strategies such as MLS listings and hiring a realtor. Here are several non-traditional strategies rehabbers can try when prospecting for properties:
For investors who have the ability to pay cash, a foreclosure sale can provide a great source of fix-and-flip properties. Lists of foreclosure sales are published in the local newspaper several weeks prior to sales, which gives rehabbers time to visit the property. Foreclosed homes are usually sold “as is” and it is often possible to find great rehab projects at these auctions. The principal drawback of foreclosure sales is that bidders usually can’t inspect inside the home. If curtains are drawn, bidders are forced to guess about the condition of walls and floors. Foreclosure sales typically require the buyer to post 10% of the home’s purchase price in cash at the time of the sale. Buyers must also complete the purchase within 30 days or lose their 10% deposit.
For Sale by Owner
Some homeowners balk at paying a realtor commission on the sale of their home and opt to market their property directly by placing a “For Sale by Owner” sign in the yard and ads in Craigslist and the free weekly shopper newspaper. Since these homeowners often want a quick close and a hassle-free sale, it’s not unusual for “For Sale by Owner” properties to sell at below-market prices.
The Direct Approach
An alternative approach that occasionally yields good results is to drive around neighborhoods looking for fix-and-flip prospects. The best flip candidates are similar to others homes in the neighborhood, but showing signs of deferred maintenance. Once you have identified a property, the next step is to search its address at the Assessor and Property Tax Records office. For older homes, chances are good that the person paying the property taxes is also the homeowner. Rehabbers may also consult other public records such as property deeds for names of owners. If all this sounds too complicated, there are online databases such as Propertyshark that provide this type of information on properties for a $30 fee. Alternatively, fix-and-flip investors can ask neighbors for the name of the property owner or mail a postcard to the property asking the homeowner to contact you.
Adults who are left holding a deceased parent’s or grandparent’s house are often eager to sell. Estate homes are mostly offered in “as is” condition. Since heirs are often seeking the easiest, cheapest way to monetize estate assets, many of these homes are very affordable. Just as is the case with home foreclosures, estate probate cases must be listed in the local newspaper. This is done to alert potential creditors or heirs not listed in the will. The average probate process takes anywhere from a few months to over a year, with the timeframe varying widely by state.
Rehabbers can follow up on a probate notice in the newspaper by contacting the executor of the estate, whose name is usually provided in the notice. Making an offer on the property before the probate process closes may allow rehabbers to negotiate a more attractive price with heirs who are eager to sell. A potential drawback of estate properties is that price negotiations may become difficult if there are multiple heirs holding small stakes.
Fix-and-flip investors may acquire properties at tax auctions by paying back taxes owed on the property. To ensure a smart purchase and avoid overpaying, rehabbers should attend the auction forearmed with comparable sales data on nearby properties. Upcoming tax auctions are usually listed on county or city websites. Fix- and-flip investors need to register as a bidder beforehand to participate in one of these auctions. Tax auctions resemble foreclosure sales in that bidders usually can’t inspect the interior of the home so buyers should proceed with caution. The two types of tax auctions are tax deed sales, where the property is sold outright, and tax lien sales, where liens on the property are auctioned. At a tax lien sale, the buyer secures the right to collect the existing liens, plus interest from the homeowner, and to foreclose on the property if liens aren’t paid within a specified timeframe.
Partner with Attorneys
Most investors have partnered with a real estate attorney at some point in their career, but rehabbers may also obtain useful leads on fix-and-flip properties by partnering with attorneys specializing in divorce, bankruptcy and estate law. Divorces often result in the sale of a home. Both the involved parties in the divorce are usually interested in moving on and dividing joint assets. Clients of bankruptcy attorneys are often looking to sell assets to raise some cash. Like foreclosures and probated estates, notices of upcoming bankruptcies must be published in the local paper several weeks prior to the actual bankruptcy filing.
Some fix-and-flip investors discover affordable properties by paying attention to properties posted with “For Rent” signs and contacting property owners to inquire about an outright sale. Many landlords grow weary of renters, but lack the cash necessary to upgrade the property. For rehabbers, this landlord’s dilemma may create a great fix-and-flip opportunity.