Buying a flipped house? You might be in for a wild surprise. A move-in ready property can look shiny and new, but there’s always a chance it started out as a dilapidated fixer-upper in distress. And if it was gutted and renovated quickly and cheaply, hidden problems could make it a headache for a homeowner later on that didn’t show up in the home inspection.
“When I see electrical outlets that aren’t at the proper wall height, crooked grout lines in floor tile, or house additions that have no flow, then I know the work was done by a weekend warrior homeowner and wannabe contractor,” says Marty Boardman, co-owner of Fix and Flip Hub and author of “Foreclosure Secrets.”
“People are always looking for ways to cut corners and save a few bucks, but these cosmetic and structural problems are important to spot because they can be frustrating and expensive to deal with later,” adds Boardman.
The sooner you can find out if your seemingly perfect home is a catastrophe in camouflage, the quicker you can back out or get compensation from your flipper to make things square—or, if things look especially bleak, scuttle the deal altogether. Here are a few red flags to look for in a recently flipped home.
1. Signs of a cheap flip: no building permits
There have been many scary stories of homes remodeled and flipped without permits.
Bill Gassett, owner of Maximum Real Estate Exposure, has been a real estate agent for the past 35 years and has seen his fair share of flipped properties.
“Not pulling permits is a significant no-no,” he says. “Without proper permits being pulled, it is harder to tell if work was performed up to today’s building standards.”
One of the first things a good buyer’s agent should do when showing flipped properties, says Gassett, is head to the local city hall and see what permits have been pulled. Buyers should also check how many times the work failed before passing.
“If you know the roof or heating system has been replaced and there are no permits, it’s time to start to worry,” says Gassett.
2. Signs of a cheap flip: fresh paint in certain areas
While new paint can refresh a home, it can also be used to cover up big and small boo-boos. One obvious red flag, Gassett says, is painting over previous water staining.
But there are other areas to check for, too: “Old, dated kitchen cabinets and bathroom vanities that have been poorly painted over,” adds Boardman.
Boardman also says to look out for interior paint bleeding or lack of enough paint to cover past colors.
3. Signs of a cheap flip: mismatched plumbing, faulty wiring
A major warning sign is when old and new plumbing are combined. To find out if this is the case in your house, turn on a faucet and then flush a toilet to see if the water output is weak. Low water pressure and a sputtering faucet could mean you probably have aging pipes that should be replaced.
You also want to test switches and outlets throughout the home, and be aware of any flickering lights, hot outlets, or circuits not working—they could point to significant wiring problems. This may be a sign that your flippers did their own electrical work or hired someone on the cheap.
4. Signs of a cheap flip: shoddy job on cabinets and drawers
Flippers tend to work more on the cosmetic appeal of the home instead of the functionality, and this can be especially obvious on cabinets and drawers. Focus on how they open and shut and the type of hardware used. Telltale signs of poor work are misaligned or uneven doors, drawers, and molding.
5. Signs of a cheap flip: flooring inconsistency
Another signal of poor craftsmanship: when the flooring in every room is a different height or if the trim doesn’t match up. Boardman says to be on the lookout for refinished hardwood floors with rough spots, bubbling, or discoloration; mismatched flooring throughout the home; and thin carpet and padding.
“Use of foam or sealants to repair foundation/concrete cracks is also a problem,” says Boardman.
6. Signs of a cheap flip: faulty doors and windows
New doors and windows can add value to a home, but if they stick or don’t open and close properly, you might want to start asking questions.
Bottom line: Get a professional inspection
In today’s tough real estate market, where buyers are often competing against multiple interested parties and waiving contingencies, it may be tempting to forgo a professional inspection. But if you’ve seen these red flags, that would be a mistake. The house may look brand-new and in tiptop shape, but don’t take someone else’s word for it. Just get the inspection, and then you can rest easy.
“When buying a flipped house, it becomes vital for a buyer to have a professional inspection from a highly qualified inspector,” says Gassett. “Without taking these precautions, buyers can end up owning a money pit.”