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Once A Boon For Investors, House Flipping Is Back

May 29, 2013
Originally published on May 29, 2013 10:47 am

House flipping is back.

A popular phenomenon during the housing boom, flipping is when a house is bought and sold within a six-month period. Flippers are real estate investors who buy houses, fix them up quickly and then resell them, making money off the renovation. In parts of California, it's happening at some of the fastest rates in a decade.

At a recent open house in Glassell Park, a neighborhood in northeast Los Angeles, curious buyers and neighbors streamed into a green stucco house that had just come onto the market.

The multilevel property, built in 1979, is fashioned into a hillside. It has new windows and hardware, a freshly poured concrete driveway and tidy new landscaping. The renovations continue into the house, which has new floors, fresh paint and a redesigned kitchen with upgraded stainless steel appliances and trendy tile.

Michael Delacruz is one of the real estate investors from Dossier Capital, the group hoping to sell this house. He says it was purchased a few months ago in a short sale. Records show Dossier Capital bought it for $390,000. It's now listed for more than $720,000.

The key for investors, or flippers, is speed. Their success depends on buying low and selling high, and quickly. Dossier targets up-and-coming neighborhoods and has real estate agents looking for distressed properties they can fix up and flip. They've done quite well.

"Typically, our houses are in escrow first week," Delacruz says, "maybe even the first day that it's listed."

The demand can be intense. Houses are getting multiple offers, sometimes five or six the first day they are put on the market. Part of the reason is pent-up demand. Another key factor is a limited supply of houses, and thus ensues a frenzy.

"First of all, most of the foreclosure crisis is behind us, so there are far fewer foreclosed homes now on the market waiting to be sold," says Jed Kolko, chief economist for the real estate website Trulia.

Another factor, Kolko says, is that construction is still recovering and new homes are not going up as fast as they once did. In addition, though prices are rising, many people are still underwater — they owe more on their houses than the market says the homes are worth.

Those who can sell their homes and live in up-and-coming neighborhoods, like Glassell Park, are in a good position, Kolko says.

"It's a seller's market; houses are going for above asking prices," he says. "We're seeing homes spend less time on market before they sell. ... Prices are still relatively low, and mortgage rates, of course, are very low."

For buyers, however, this can be frustrating.

Connie Molina came through the open house in Glassell Park with her husband. They've recently started looking for a house.

"We'll see a house, and then ... within a week, it's already sold," she says. "It's gone."

According to DataQuick, a company that analyzes real estate trends, flipping is up in some parts of Southern California by as much as 45 percent over last year. And in April, the region reached a milestone: Home sales hit their fastest pace in seven years.

Both economists and investors agree that as long as mortgage rates stay low and the economy keeps growing, this housing recovery will continue.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

House flipping is back - especially in California, where homes are being bought, fixed up and sold, really, at a dizzying pace. In fact, the state is seeing some of the highest rates of flipping in a decade.

NPR's Nina Gregory went to check out the action at a flipper's open house, in a Los Angeles neighborhood called Glassell Park.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRAFFIC)

NINA GREGORY, BYLINE: The green stucco house sits at a busy intersection in northeast Los Angeles. Built into the side of a hill in 1979, the multilevel home is framed by new landscaping and a freshly poured, concrete wall. Everything about it looks new. But it didn't always look like this.

MICHAEL DELACRUZ: This was a short sale.

GREGORY: Michael Delacruz is a real estate investor who works for a company called Dossier Capital. And they bought this house a few months ago, for $390,000.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHATTER)

DELACRUZ: It was in distressed condition, meaning - you know, it was livable. But floors needed to be redone, doors; everything in the house, we redid, from floor to ceiling.

GREGORY: Now, this group of investors hopes to sell this redone house for $720,000, almost twice what they paid for it. For these kinds of real estate investors - flippers - success depends on buying low and selling high. Quickly. They target up-and-coming neighborhoods, often looking for distressed properties. And they've done quite well.

DELACRUZ: Typically, our houses are in escrow first week - maybe even the first day that it's listed.

GREGORY: Demand can be fierce. Sometimes, they get five or six offers the first day. Pent-up demand, and a limited supply of housing, are causing this buying frenzy. Jed Kolko, chief economist at real estate website Trulia, explains.

JED KOLKO: First of all, most of the foreclosure crisis is behind us, so there are far fewer foreclosed homes now on the market waiting to be sold. At the same time, construction is still recovering.

GREGORY: Another reason inventory is tight - a lot of people are still underwater. Though prices are going up quickly, many can't sell. Those who can sell in neighborhoods like Glassell Park, are in a good position.

KOLKO: It's a seller's market. Houses are going for above asking prices. We're seeing homes spend less time on market before they sell. Prices are still relatively low and mortgage rates, of course, are very low.

GREGORY: This can all be very frustrating if you're the buyer. Connie Molina and her husband are in the market, and dropped by the open house in Glassell Park.

CONNIE MOLINA: We'll see a house and then a week or two late - within a week, it's already sold. It's gone.

GREGORY: In some parts of Southern California, flipping is up by as much as 45 percent over last year, according to DataQuick, a company that analyzes real estate trends. And in April, the region reached a milestone: home sales hit their fastest pace in seven years. Both economists and investors agree - as long as mortgage rates stay low, and the economy keeps growing, this housing recovery will continue.

Nina Gregory, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.