What to look for when buying a “fix and flip” house

It’s easy to be dazzled by the initial impression of stainless appliances, granite counter tops and shiny wood floors when looking at a home that has been remodeled by an investor for the sole purpose of resale. If you don’t know what to look for, there can be a lot of problems underneath all that bling.

The first and most important thing to know is that all work done was properly permitted and according to code. This is especially important for things like wiring, plumbing, HVAC and additions that changed the floor plan of the home. If the seller can’t provide you with written proof that this was done, walk away! If you don’t, you could be in for big problems later on.

Having said that, here are some things to be aware of when looking at a remodeled home.

Workmanship on new flooring. A sign of poor workmanship is flooring that has been butted up to base molding and butted up to door jambs. That’s a big red flag. The proper way to install flooring is to remove the molding, cut the bottoms of the floor jambs out and lay the flooring beneath them. Poor flooring is often a preview of more serious flaws with technical changes involving plumbing and electrical work.

Kitchen layout. Shiny new stainless steel appliances and granite countertops can’t hide a dysfunctional layout. When appliances aren’t laid out correctly, they’ve probably used the existing layout to save money. A sure sign is a refrigerator placed in an odd location, which was routinely done back in the day.

Gaps between backsplash and countertops and new doors poorly installed on old cabinets are also signs of economy over style. If things aren’t put together well, they’re going to fall apart quicker.

Take a hard look beneath the kitchen sink. The garbage disposal, dishwasher connection, sink drains, water lines and the electrical for the disposal and dishwasher are all there. They’re out in the open and easy to inspect to make sure everything was done correctly. The same holds true under bathroom sinks.

Electrical work. Given modern safety codes, would house flippers dare chintz out on the electrical system? They definitely do. People do their own wiring, when they don’t know how to do it to code. They often have too many lights or outlets on a single circuit and poorly-placed light switches and outlets. There are strict codes to prevent potential hazards to the house and inhabitants. Although it is expensive to rewire a home, that’s one area where corners should never be cut.

Doors. A stroll through a flip may not reveal a common makeover misfire with interior or exterior doors that don’t close smoothly, fail to latch securely or tend to open or close by themselves. These problems could be caused by a common contractor shortcut: replacing a door but keeping the existing jamb. That shortcut is actually a lot more complicated. Most times it’s actually easier to replace the entire door and jamb so that everything lines up. Watch for this by opening and closing every door in the house. The same malady can misalign windows, as well.

Finishes on fixtures. Unfortunately, house flippers are notorious for choosing price over appearance when it comes to finishes on faucets, lighting, doorknobs and cabinet pulls.

They were able to get hardware on sale and lighting on sale and plumbing fixtures on sale, and none of it matches. You’re not likely to get top-drawer lighting and fixtures in a fixer upper, but there should be some evident attempt at achieving a cohesive look throughout the home.

HVAC. A properly-functioning heating, ventilating and air conditioning, or HVAC, system is the heart of a comfortable home. Unfortunately, when a house-flipping team turns a residence into a construction zone for weeks or months on end, drywall sawdust and other airborne debris can inflict a lot of collateral damage to the home’s HVAC system.

Go to the furnace blower fan and run your finger along one of the blower fan blades to see if it’s caked in drywall dust. If it is, it means that the evaporator core for the air conditioner is also going to be caked in drywall dust, and it all will have to be professionally cleaned.

Safety features. Flippers can be flippant when it comes to safety rails and other safety features that were installed in the home they’ve acquired. If something met code at the time it was originally done, it still meets code today, even though it wouldn’t meet the code of a new install.

The results can be hazardous if flippers reattach safety handrails into nothing but drywall, for example.

House flippers have both a moral and financial obligation to make their flip safe. They are responsible for maintaining the safety of a home and are liable for at least a year for the safety of the people living there after they finish it.

All in all, a house that has been flipped demands a much closer look than normal. Before buying one of these homes make doubly sure to have it closely inspected by an experienced, local, licensed home inspector.

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