Investors Aren't The Only Ones Who Can Fix Ugly Properties

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A couple years ago, I took a look at a lender owned property a few miles from my office. It was ugly. I mean ugly. The yard was a mess, there was a deck that was rotting. The facade looked like it hadn't been painted since before President Kennedy was shot, and really needed to come off besides. Inside, the carpet was gone, the vinyl in the kitchen and bathroom looked like it was waiting for the return of President Truman, and most everything else looked even older. The color scheme was something out of the art deco age, too. You know the pastel salmon and blue.

But it had good intrinsics! Dynamite location within a mile of three freeways, although it didn't get traffic noise from any of them. The area is a resurgent one, and it's within fifteen to twenty minutes of just about everything, even during rush hour. The schools - especially the high school - are top notch public institutions. The property itself did not have any basic structural flaws that I could find - just an old and ugly surface. And that's not mentioning the fact that it had excellent sight lines and a pretty darned good view.

I tried real hard to get one set of prospective clients, a couple with two kids, to put an offer in on the property. Based upon what they had told me, they could afford the property with a thirty year fixed rate loan with good amount left over, even at the asking price, and the property was livable as it was. It just wasn't modern or gorgeous, and they still had room in their budget to fix it up. They could have spent roughly $40,000 for professionals to come in and fix the whole thing, or they could have cut those costs in half or more by doing it themselves. At the end of the process, they would have had a wonderful property worth at least $120,000 more than they paid for it, with at least $80,000 in smart sweat equity. Furthermore, the property taxes would have been lower, they would have had plenty of room in their budget for disasters, and on and on the list of advantages goes.

These people decided not to pay attention to me. They wanted something that was beautiful now, and someone else persuaded them to stretch past their real the limit to buy into a fairly new PUD on the other side of that particular suburb. HOA dues, and no room in the monthly budget for anything to go wrong. Not to mention they had to use an interest only 2/28 to qualify, and they called me about a year later and said they've got a late payment, but they were hoping I could do something for them. The answer was unfortunately no. I really hope for their sake that the market gains a lot of value soon, because otherwise they're going to be hosed as far as refinancing goes, and they're going to need to. I didn't say a thing even implying, "told you so", but to my surprise, he volunteered the information that he now wished he had listened to me. Unfortunately, he can't go back in time with what he knows now.

A flipper ended up buying the property I tried to talk them into for cash. He did a light surface rehab, and it's beautiful. He spent less than $500 getting someone to clean up the yard and haul away the wood from the old deck. He stripped off the old facade and put good quality siding on. Carpet went in before he even moved in, the vinyl is now a fairly nice tile, and the two bathrooms he basically resurfaced, one at a time. Kitchen cabinets he re-stained, and updated the sinks, the faucets, and the appliances. Put up a white picket fence, seeded grass, painted the inside, and now the property is on the market again. After all the costs of rehabbing and selling, he's going to come away with at least $40,000 pure profit, assuming he paid to have all the work done. Plus, he got a place to live for six months out of the deal, at least a $10,000 value even for a rental.

My point is this: Flippers aren't the only ones who can do this. In fact, the math works even more strongly in favor of someone buying a place to live. No seven or eight percent cost of getting the property sold. The lower purchase price means lower taxes, which last as long as you own the property. I know that career and kids are tough enough, but the property was livable as it sat, and you have however long you want to get it rehabilitated. Net difference to their situation: almost a year and a half of the income it would have taken to qualify. If I offered you a year and a half worth of pay to work overtime for less than six months, most people would jump at it, kids or not. Add to all of this the fact that this is money you didn't borrow, so you're not paying interest on it every month. At 6% interest, every $1000 you don't borrow saves you $5 per month, and this was a fair number of thousands of dollars.

Most folks are going to replace the carpet and paint the place anyway. It makes no difference if it was last painted by someone on an LSD trip in the sixties, or the carpet is a filthy nightmare shade of avocado green unseen since 1977. If you're planning to make it go away, it makes good economic sense to choose stuff that's ugly now, so you're not paying a premium for something beautiful you plan to replace anyway.

There is a reason Why There Is Money in Fixer Properties. I can understand if you're a big executive who needs to move into something beautiful now so you can have social professional or client sales meetings there right away, but this just doesn't describe most people. Not to mention that those folks aren't looking to scrape into a property - they make the money to easily afford the beautiful modern six bedroom home overlooking the ocean.

I'm not going to say that you'll never find a bargain property that isn't already beautiful. I'm saying you're at least a hundred times more likely to find this sort of bargain in a property that isn't beautiful yet, and that the vast majority of the time, the big stroke in the pocketbook goes to the people who make it beautiful. I had another couple a few months ago,and they listened to me about fixer properties, more than even I was really comfortable with. They bought a property that was almost a century old with some systemic issues (electrical, plumbing and sewage), and all through the inspections, I kept saying things like, "I expected worse." Turned out the property was more solid than I gave it credit for. I drove by a couple weeks ago, and the property has been fixed up significantly. Furthermore, I'll bet they could sell for a profit, even now, and there's still a long way to go. These people have basically zero pressure on their pocketbook, and zero stress in their life. They can still save money. They can still live like they were accustomed to. The only difference is that now they are owners rather than renters, and they have placed their cost of housing forevermore under their own control, they get the tax advantages of owning, and so on and so forth.

People stretch beyond their real means to buy that beautiful new gorgeous eye candy property all the time. It's never a sure bet, and when the market isn't going up twenty percent per year, it's considerably more risky. Far better to restrict yourself to a property you can afford with a sustainable loan, and that gives you some monthly cash flow for emergencies. You shouldn't plan to have a need to refinance for at least five years, but if such a need should happen, you're likely to be able to do so. If you'll buy a solid property that needs some updating and beautifying, it's likely to be a financially rewarding experience, and any number of professional property fixers can attest. There's no reason why you can't take advantage of this fact to find a property to live in, instead of the quick flip for profit. In fact, it makes even more sense to do it for a property you intend to live in for a long time.

Caveat Emptor

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on December 24, 2013 7:00 AM.

The "We'll Keep You In Your Property" Scam was the previous entry in this blog.

I'm Competing Against Multiple Offers. How Do I Proceed? is the next entry in this blog.

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