Why There Is Money in Fixer Properties

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I am an adamant believer in the Non-exclusive Buyer's Agency Agreement. In practical terms, as opposed to the Exclusive Buyer's Agency Agreement, it is so much to the advantage of the consumer that it isn't funny, and it doesn't usually hurt good agents. On the other hand, the proponents have one argument going for them that I do respect, having experienced it more than once. I start a client on the searching process. I explain it's going to take looking at a minimum of 12 to 15 properties before they know what the market is really like in their area in their price range. I find a whole bunch of properties, and start taking them to a few. I offer rational, real world comparisons of their comparative virtues. Ask about what they liked versus what they didn't, what they could live with and what they couldn't. And then, in between, one or both partners gets a wild hair about going to view another property. I've explained what their price range is, but they either don't realize it's out of their range or don't care. They just want to see what it's like. And because the property is out of their price range, it's going to be a more desirable property - that's why the owners think they can get more money for it!

So they go out, and after my careful work of making sure to stay within their budget, on a sustainable loan they can afford, this other agent shows them what, by comparison, is the property of their dreams and says they can buy it!, and he knows where they can get the loan! If this sounds familiar, it happens a lot. "Dan was showing us such ratty properties by comparison! This guy is showing us beautiful stuff we love! Let's buy one!" and the first I find out about it is they tell me they're in escrow on someone else's property.

Most people buy based upon emotion. If you want to make one change in the value of your financial future, learn how to take emotion out of your decision-making process, especially on anything big enough to require payments. Once people have emotionally convinced themselves that they deserve this property, my rational analysis of the situation doesn't have a snowball's chance in July of talking them out of it. I know this very well. I could stamp out buyer's transactions at the rate of three or four per week by showing clients two or three ratty fixers within their budget and then moving in for the kill by showing one immaculate property in ready to move in condition for thirty percent more. But this is hosing people with malice aforethought, and no matter how many others do it, I'd have problems shaving without looking in the mirror, and I need to shave every day that I work. The reason that wasn't within their budget is that they cannot afford the payments, or they cannot afford the real payments. I've said this before, but there are no tricks to make the real cost of the loan cheaper. There are ways to lower the payments for a while, but they always come back to bite you in a few years, and the situation will be worse than if you had taken the sustainable loan in the first place. Buying a more expensive property than you can afford is a way to put yourself on a course for disaster. Kind of like Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9

And that's why there is money in fixers. It's all very well for people to say they are interested in the $400,000 fixer that fits within their budget and that they can fix it up and sell. Particularly first time homeowners, particularly young married couples, and especially if they have children, show them the $600,000 move-in ready property and they will bite almost every time, budget buster or not. Put all three factors together and not all of the wisest people in history together could talk them out of it.

So the smart operator offers $350,000 for the fixer that's been on the market for four months, spends $40,000 on upgrades like carpet and modernizing the kitchen or adding one more bedroom and bathroom, and turns around and sells for $620,000, of which she keeps approximately $186,000 in profit. If the buyer needs them to pay some closing cost in order to make the transaction happen, she still makes $175,000 for a few months work. Not bad, eh?

The average couple won't have $40,000 to upgrade the property immediately. I consider myself very lucky to have worked with two such couples in the last year. Most potential buyers try to minimize the down payment as much as possible. But if they buy that livable fixer, they have a lot more room on their monthly budget and as much time as they want. At 6% interest rate and California standard property tax rates, the $620,000 loan has a payment of $3717, plus $646 in property taxes. The fixer property, even if they buy for $400,000, the payment is $2398 and the taxes are $417. I know that it's smarter to split the loan into two if you can, but work with me for the sake of simplification. So the already fixed property costs $4363 per month, while the fix it themselves costs $2815. That's over $1500 per month difference they have to put towards fixing it up, or anything else they want to. In two years, they've got the $40,000 from that $1500 per month payment difference alone. This is leaving aside the issue that the rate on the bigger loan isn't going to be as low. The new owners can concentrate on the most important updates. Sure, it's a pain. That's why buyers are willing to pay $620,000 for the ready to move in property. Actually, they'll line up to pay $620,000 for the more attractive property. It's just the way things are. And they get done with their two year project, and now it's worth every bit as much as the property that was worth $620,000 to start with. At 5% annual for two years, that's $683,000, and it's getting to the point where I expect our local market to grow faster than that. If they sell, that's approximately $235,000 in their pockets (tax exempt in most cases) instead of in the professional fixer's. If they bought the move-in ready property and then sold, they'd net about $15,000 by the same calculations.

Now most properties, even fixers, won't generate quite this kind of quick windfall. But that is a real example I encountered not long before I originally wrote this. Moral of the story: fix it yourself if you can. By isolating off the emotional appeal, you've made yourself - or saved yourself - a lot of money. And the reason there is money in fixers is because most people won't do this, instead convincing themselves that they're good people and they deserve this beautiful property. And you know, most folks are pretty good people, and they do deserve a beautiful property. But if you deserve the property that's beautiful now, you also deserve the huge cost, and the huge loan with the huge payments to maintain it, and you definitely don't deserve all the profit that the folks who buy the first kind of property make from the sale.

Caveat Emptor

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on February 5, 2014 7:00 AM.

The Lender's Rule of Mortgage Payments was the previous entry in this blog.

Payment, Interest Rate and Up Front Costs: Choosing a loan intelligently is the next entry in this blog.

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