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Nuts & Bolts

January 25, 2013

House 'flipping' is back

Even in this market, investors are making money on real estate

During the housing boom, investors -- amateurs and professionals -- engaged in house "flipping" for fun and profit. They would buy or build a house and almost immediately sell it. A lot of money was made that way.

It wasn't that hard to do because it was easy to get a loan and home prices kept going up. But the housing market crash of 2008 brought an end to flipping -- or did it?

The A&E cable TV program "Flip This House," which follows investors and contractors as they buy, renovate and sell homes, is as popular as ever. And though there isn't as much flipping going on as there was a few years ago, the practice is making a strong comeback. According to real estate portal RealtyPin.com, the number of flips rose 25% nationwide in the first six months of 2012, compared to the same period of 2011.

How can that be?

Days of easy money

"Before the bubble burst, flipping was something that you saw going on all over the country," said James Paffrath, RealtyPin.com's CEO. "After all, it was easy to get financing, so no matter how high purchase prices were, it didn’t matter. Investors could qualify for a loan, buy what they wanted with very little cash down, make some upgrades, then turn around and sell for a much higher price. They didn’t need a ton of cash on hand to make it work."

Maybe, but home prices were escalating rapidly back then. Today, not so much. How are flippers making money in this environment? It turns out they're doing it a little differently.

For one thing, they aren't borrowing the money. They're paying cash. The monthly existing home sales reports from the National Association of Realtors (NAR) show that cash sales consistently make up about 30 percent of the sales each month and it's investors primarily who pay with cash.

Cash is king

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