Buying from a House Flipper? Use Caution

As a professional remodeler I see the good, the bad and the ugly.  Being an educated buyer is your best defense against inheriting someone else’s problem.

Common problems that I see regularly are that low quality materials were used on house flipper projects and low quality installation practices were used.  This is not to say that the person who passed along a problem to you intended to defraud you, however savvy home buyers need to understand that house flippers are in the business of making money — not doing the best thing for the next homeowner or investing in their own house.

Flippers understand better than most, that they will not have to deal with the ramifications of low quality work for even a season since many of these homes are priced to sell within a month or two of hitting the market.

Beware the one-page home inspectors or the home inspectors who come out with “check list reports” that are supposed to give you adequate information on which to make your home buying decision on.  These quickie inspectors are often quite cheap — ranging anywhere from $200 to $400 and spending an hour or less in your house.  There’s a saying in the home improvement market that if you buy cheap, you buy twice.  Usually that saying holds true for many home improvement projects as well as for tools and even durable goods, but if you’re buying a house, how are you going to unload a house that has multiple problems?  Chances are it won’t be easy.

Being informed doesn’t mean just verifying that the person who sold you the house has receipts.  They probably will.  Here’s a quick check list of things to ask about and to look for in those receipts and contracts.

Roofing:  How many layers (feet) of ice/water dam protection does the house have?  Is it even mentioned on the contract?  In northern climates it should have at least 2 three foot layers with a 6 inch overlap for a total protection of 5-1/2 feet from the gutters edge.  Also important is whether you have that membrane in any valleys (areas where two pieces of roof meet) and if those valleys have metal flashing where the shingles meet.  (It should be visible.)  Also, be sure that the roof was not installed in the winter or the shingles are likely to have micro fractures in them which decrease the life span of the roof.

Windows:  Check the u-factor.  The seller doesn’t have that information?  They don’t have the stickers?  Be careful here.  Most acceptable double pane windows have a u-factor of no greater than .27 but if putting in a window in the northern climate you would want a triple pane with a u-factor of no greater than .23.  Simply accepting marketing materials from a seller who shows low u-factors should be a red flag.  Flimsy or thin locking latches are a sure sign that you may want to replace the windows.

Glass Block:  Is there mortar between the blocks?  Cheap glass block will just have hot glue or silicon between the blocks.  If they saved a hundred bucks on a glass block window, where else did they cut corners?

Gutters:  If the gutters are new, are they attached with nails which could rip out with heavy ice loads, or are they screwed in?  Are they seamless or are they a pieced together handyman special?

Vinyl Siding:  Each piece of vinyl siding comes in an average of 8 to 12 feet.  Do the seams line up (which allows water and moisture into the house) or are they staggered?

Buying a home from a DIY homeowner or a house flipper isn’t always going to be a problem, but if you go into it knowing what to look for you will be much better off.  If there is something to be assessed beyond what the skills of an average home inspector can offer, consider calling a professional who will come out, and for a nominal charge of usually $100 or less, you can at least know what you are getting into.  (The folks who offer “free estimates” on houses you haven’t even purchased are unlikely to have the knowledge to give you the background that you need and you will get what you paid for.)   If you buy anyway from a house flipper, at least know what you’re getting into.

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