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Buying a home that has been ‘flipped’? Be careful

Home buyers always need to have an eye out for shoddy renovation work and defect cover-ups before purchasing a home. But when it’s a “flipped” home they’re considering, it’s wise to be even more careful, making sure the investor didn’t cut corners while prepping the home for sale.


These days, a greater number of single-family homes are being flipped, or bought and resold within six months. In the first half of the year, flips were up 19% from a year ago and up 74% from the first half of 2011, according to data from RealtyTrac, a foreclosure listings website.

How do you make sure you don’t buy a home that has been renovated cosmetically, with serious underlying issues beneath the fresh paint? Below are some tips.

Find out who did the work

Make sure the person or company who did the renovations has been in the business for a while and has a good reputation.

The real-estate listing may not name the flipper, so you might have to go to the county assessor’s office to find out who had the last deed on the house. Once you have that, you can start researching to see if it’s a reputable business.

You’ll probably also want to steer clear of novices.

Hire a home inspector

An experienced home inspector will be able to spot some of the common shortcuts that flippers tend to take when revamping a home on the cheap. Many of the homes that are being flipped are in some state of disrepair or have a substantial amount of deferred maintenance.

For example, novices will sometimes put new shingles on the roof, but won’t repair the roof decking, Jacques said. They’ll sometimes paint and caulk wood trim instead of replacing it. He has even seen old heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems painted to look like they’re newer.

Keep in mind, a home inspector won’t find all problems. They can’t see through walls to look for damaged studs or improper wiring. And while they do test out the home’s systems, an inspector is only in the place for two or three hours and may not see a problem that could become evident to a homeowner who lives there every day.

But they’ll often have a better eye than the average home buyer.

Look for structural problems

Repairing a home’s foundation can cost thousands of dollars, so if you suspect issues, you may consider hiring a structural engineer for a second look. Tip-offs include cracking in the exterior brick or evidence of recent tuckpointing near the problem area.

Unlevel floors or shoddy finish work inside the home might suggest other structural problems were covered up.

Check the permits

If you suspect major structural work was done on the home, go to the local building department and make sure that permits were pulled and closed out properly, with inspections done at completion.

If bathrooms or kitchens were rearranged or moved, you’ll be able to tell from the paperwork what plumbers and electricians were used for the job, and then can check whether they are licensed professionals. If interior walls were removed, work should have been under the guidance of a structural engineer.

Of course, it might not be obvious that major work was done, and that’s why it pays to look at other houses in the neighborhood.

Also consider the age of the home. For instance, if it was built before the mid-1980s, the home probably wasn’t constructed with an open-floor concept. That means walls were likely removed if the house now has a more contemporary looking great room, where the kitchen, dining room and living room flow into each other. 

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