What you need to know about flipping houses

(Some of our strange flipping experiences.)

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Wood worker’s Revenge!

Our first condo

Often the owners are distraught when they lose their property. However, when we won that first bid, it wasn’t the owner who showed any emotion, in fact we never saw anyone or heard any complaint, but it quickly became evident that the renter of that condo was resentful about losing his home. Apparently he was a trim carpenter.

For those of you who don’t know, a trim carpenter is often revered as the most skilled craftsman in the building trades. He or she cuts and installs all the trim work around floors, doors, ceilings, and walls. Without trim all you have are rectangle and squares. No decoration — no cracks concealed. This takes meticulous and exacting work in which the slightest error in measurement, angle or cut can be costly.

I bring up his job/skill because of the condition in which he left the condo. In a word,


No broken furniture, no mounds of dirty clothes. It was clean. Empty.

Of course, this means that he took everything he owned. EVERYTHING! Including all the trim . . . and the flooring.

He must have bought the material and laid the floors himself, for, when we got to the condo, there was only concrete where there had once been flooring. He also must have made and installed all the trim, because, after examining what little he left behind, I could tell that it was all custom-made. From the imprints left in the corners where the walls met the ceilings, it was evident that the crown molding was very wide and expensive. Those rooms were probably beautiful at one time. I heard that he was a nice guy; from the care with which he removed all trim and flooring, I believe them.

But it did create a dilemma.

Should we try to restore the custom-made door and window trim? How about the crown mold and solid, high quality doors (some were missing)? And should we re-lay the floors with high quality material? Now that we’ve been flipping for a while, this decision would be obvious to us, but at that time I saw myself as a trim man of sorts, and, being a teacher, I had the whole summer to fix it all up. Let’s just say that, though the work was good, the time and the cost made it impractical.

That extra work was an act of egotism, not good business.

When the Pros are Cons: Tradesmen and Realtors

(Though MOST are ethical)

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We got lucky again with the first house we won in an auction. Once we cleaned it up and removed all the carpet, we were ready to make a plan.

The plan got interrupted when we found termites


LESSON one: If the prospective carpenter does not drive up in his own automobile, DON’T HIRE HIM!

Lesson two: If the carpenter looks like a drug addict, he probably is.

Lesson three: Don’t hire a drug addict

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As you read the following, you might just shake your head and ask, “How can anyone be that naive?”

The first carpenter, we’ll call him ‘Carpenter X,’ we hired was a good lesson for us. I found an online tradesman search site called Thumbtack. I set up an account on their website, posted the job I needed done, and waited for some responses. I immediately got some inquiries and set up interviews. I talked to a few carpenters who didn’t work out for a number of reasons, and then I found ‘Carpenter X.’ Now, the fact that he didn’t have his own transportation should have warned me, but he was such a nice guy, starting over after having some hard times and all, and his price and timeline were great (too good to be true), so I combined my sense of altruism and greed and hired him.

He did some good work, got the half payment as promised and then promptly disappeared. This was when we learned to pay for the work only when the job was done, and this was also when we learned about another web site, TRUTHFINDER. Truthfinder is a good site to get a person’s employment, residential, and criminal back ground.. If you flip a lot, you may be wise to buy a paid membership; it helped us many times.

Through Truthfinder, we found out that our carpenter was a two striker. One more criminal offence and he’d see the back side of the prison bars. His address was bogus – at least the one he gave us, but, with Truthfinder, we found him. Got his phone number too. Then we called the cops to see if they were interested in him.

They were.

All it took was one call from the police and he rushed back to us! Our true, misunderstood, methhead friend.

Yeah, he did the job the way we wanted it done and for the price we agreed upon, but only after knowing his head was in a sling if he didn’t.


You see, it’s like this. It ended up that the nice realtor(Yes, that would be the smooth talker with whom we signed a contract.) had a cousin who happened to be the buyer’s realtor. Our realtor was young and new and motivated, but he listened to his dear cousin a bit too much. It ended up that they got us a buyer — for $5000 less than we told him to list it. We were furious at first, but we realized that did give us a buyer, a quick close, and a healthy profit, so we went with it.

Not long after it sold, he gave me a call. “Please don’t report me!” he said, “I listened to some bad advice, I’m new, I didn’t know that I could lose my license by listing a price below your instructions.”

I didn’t tell him that was news to me too.

He went on, “My wife and I just bought our first home and I need to support my two young children. Please, I’ve learned. I won’t ever do it again.” I felt sorry for the young man — children and all, so I told him I’d say that he changed the price with my authorization. He learned his lesson and I learned about unethical realtors. End of story.

Or so I thought.

After a couple of years, he called me about a property we had on the market. Of course I told him that I wasn’t interested, but then I asked him about his children. His reply? “What do you mean, I don’t have any children.” I hung up the phone.

WHAT WE LEARNED: If we have to use a realtor, we use one that has solid references from people we know. Now, when we have to use a realtor, we choose from a couple of realtors with whom we have long-standing relationships.

Sometimes Flipping Stinks!

The adventures of a real estate flipper.

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We bought another condo — good location and an excellent price. The problem? The renter still lived there. The evening after we won the bid, I called him from my car. It was a first-floor condo, so we parked right outside his front door. When he answered his phone, I introduced myself and told him I’d need him out in a few days. I didn’t have the key, so I told him where to leave it when he left. He was cool; no problem, be out ASAP.

A couple of days later, we went by again. No answer to our knock, no handy key. No answer on the phone. We talked to neighbors, and they told us that he had a day job and went to school at night. They said he was a nice guy, so I left a reasonably stern message on his phone and a two day deadline.

Two days later, the key was available and he was gone.

But the stench wasn’t.

When we entered, we were first assaulted by an acidic odor of urine and feces. We saw 10 – 15 swirly ribbons of fly-trap tape hanging from the ceilings, heard the constant buzzing of house flies, and felt the soft, wet carpeted floors beneath our feet – they were actually wet! We could tell he left in a hurry because all he left were some electronics that told us he was a gamer, some clothes and a few pieces of destroyed furniture.

And, of course, a load of stink!

Apparently he had a couple of pets, and apparently they weren’t let out very often – if ever. It wasn’t possible to stay in there more than a minute or two before the smell ran us out. It was so bad that, within minutes of entering the condo, I could feel my clothes, hair, and even skin being penetrated by the sewerage-like stench that surrounded me. Walking through that condo was like walking through a chamber of vaporous urine. The feces on the floors added to the sense that I was in an odoriferous nightmare. And, as I said before, the carpets were wet – like soaked sponges. SHIT!

And this was in an above-average condominium complex. Heck, there was even a swimming pool twenty feet behind his back porch!

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Pool behind his condo!

So, we left. The next day we came back. We opened the front door and windows and the two 8′ sliding glass doors on the back of the condo to begin the airing out process. Anyone who passed by looked disgusted and veered at least 6′ away from those windows.

And then we had to work up the courage to pull all the carpets up (and the entire condo was carpeted) and get them to the dump!

I don’t remember how many weeks we spent discarding furniture, clothes, and assorted possessions, and then pulling up those carpets – that were literally drenched in urine – and scrubbing the concrete floors. Eventually it was possible to enter the condo without immediate revulsion — that is, if all windows and doors were open and there was a strong breeze flowing through. Since scrubbing the floors over and over again didn’t completely remove the stench, we scrubbed all walls. That didn’t do it either. After we painted the walls once, we were able to sit in a room for a short time. That gave us hope, so we painted coat after coat. We painted EVERYTHING! Then we tore out the kitchen cabinets and counter tops and scrubbed those floors and walls and painted twice, and were finally able to sit in the kitchen. Ditto on bathrooms.

Then we began repairing the condo.

The rest of the story is bla, bla, bla, boring. but what I’ve told you should be enough. What’s the lesson?


The good news is that we made a lot of money on that one. Our Northern friends will pay outrageous amounts of money to get a 921 sqft. condo that is within 5 miles of the water (and everything on James island is within 5 miles of the water!). Plus, it was clean, had a new kitchen and bathrooms and nice, clean carpets throughout. It even smelled clean. And, of course, the breeze was cool and the location was hot. We put it on the market and got a few offers immediately.


A budding elementary school teacher from New York had looked at the place and called her father to help her get financing. It was July and she was to begin her career here in Charleston that August, so the process needed to move quickly and smoothly.

Unless it is unavoidable, we don’t use a realtor. When I am writing the contracts, I usually spend some time with a prospective buyer and we hack out the contract together, but this was going to be different.

When we sold this condo, even though I handled all of the paper work with the buyer, I never actually met him. We worked out all contracts on Docusign, and handled all conversations via phone or e-mail.

I don’t know if this would feel strange to you, but during this entire process, one in which I would usually meet my buyer, walk the property and residence, and talk, everything was done on my computer and phone in my office. EVERYTHING! From my chair in my office, I wrote up the contracts and made all revisions we deemed necessary. Once he and I had all the paper work done, we e-mailed it to our lawyers. Our lawyer talked to his lawyer and, within a couple of weeks the whole process from beginning to close, took a couple of weeks.

What any long-distance business transaction requires is trust and confidence. My buyer needed to know he could trust me, so, whenever there was the slightest hint of concern on his part, my advice to him was, “Consult your real estate lawyer.”

Like one great man once said, “Trust . . . but verify.” I made sure he could do both.

Next, “Always keep it legal!”


Has this ever happened to you; an uninvited guest shows up at your party and just won’t leave? Well, I’ll tell you about a similar situation, but with a flippin’ angle.

This is the house when we finished restoring it. We bought it for $75K, sold it for $145K, and barely broke even!

It was November when we won the bid at auction for a 1,200 sqft. brick house. When we went there to take possession, we were in for a surprise.

The first signs that this might not be a quick and happy flip sat right there on the front porch. First, on the far right of their porch, a concrete, 12′ by 3′ job with an eight foot window at the house, there were two weathered, over-stuffed chairs. Seeing how they were basically collapsing from water damage gave me some concern, but the the most ominous sign was beside the front door. To the right of the door was a refrigerator, and from that frig, there was an extension cord running below the entrance door. Portentous, right?

I’m not the type to be easily intimidated by appearances, so while my wife stayed in the car, I walked up and knocked on the front door. I heard some shuffling around and waited. After a few minutes, the door was opened by an old man with an oxygen tube running from below his nose to a tank not too far away. The clothes he wore were a bit wrinkled and his shoes showed their age, but he seemed nice enough, so I introduced myself and shook his hand.

He invited me in to a front room that’s hard to describe. On the far side of the room, across from me, there was an old couch covered in clothes, crumpled sheets, and assorted engine parts. The space between that couch and the one to my right should have been about eight feet, but with an end-table in the center, more clothes, shoes. two plastic buckets (filled with prescription medicines), more engine parts, junk, a space heater, and oxygen concentrator, there really wasn’t any room at all. After he had welcomed me in, he sat on the dilapidated old couch that was in front of that large picture window to the right of the door. It had some sheets and bedspreads crumpled in such a way as to make a fine nest for the old man to sleep in. The picture window behind this couch had vertical patio blinds that allowed him to peep out without giving up his privacy. But that’s just two sides of the room. The clutter on the left side of the room blocked any hope of getting directly from the front door to the kitchen. It was taken up by small closet and a 50″ High Definition LED TV. This TV sat upon a 4′ high stand with shelves that were filled with boxes of medicine, more auto parts, mail, magazines, forms and assorted stuff I don’t quite remember. Past that was the entryway to, presumably, a hall or kitchen. One couldn’t be sure because the entryway was closed off by a couple of blankets that hung from the ceiling to the floor and were fastened to both sides of the opening. I soon learned that the purpose of this barrier was to keep heat in during the winter (provided by his little space heater) and AC during the summer. On the right wall there was a window with his other source of climate control, an old AC unit. Whatever might be in the rest of the house seemed to be secondary to him. After all, with all the conveniences of home right there in his living room and the refrigerator right out the front door, the only other needs he had were to cook and use the restroom. Basically, I had an indigent living in my living room!

While he settled back into his nest, I pushed some articles of clothing to the side and sat down on the arm of the couch across from him. He was congenial and told me he didn’t get too many visitors and was glad I came around. I kindly explained to him that I now owned his house and that we needed to make arrangements for him to move on. He assured me that I was wrong. He told me that he had a tax debt, so his house could neither be bought nor sold until that was cleared. Since he had neither the means nor intention of clearing a $149,000 tax debt, he figured that he could just keeping himself comfortable right where he was. Yes, I knew about the tax deed, but I made sure that was resolved in court before I came over to talk. He spent a lot of our time together reminiscing. It was interesting, but I could tell it was half lies on one end and mostly exaggeration on the other, so I took it for what it was worth. However, from our conversation, I learned two important facts: One, his son, the actual owner of the house, had died from cancer a few years back, and, two, his daughters wanted nothing to do with him.

I came by to visit him a few times and sat on the arm of that couch while I tried to convince him that I, indeed, owned his house. He listened politely enough, but at the same time he assured me that he was within his legal rights to stay there, and, because of that fact, he wasn’t budging.

He did, however, hope that I would come back and visit; he enjoyed my company.

Being November, Thanksgiving was on the horizon, and I couldn’t kick him out during Thanksgiving, so he made it through that month.

During our conversations, he incidentally gave me enough information to contact one of his daughters. She was a professional with a respectable career and lived with her teen-age son just 5-10 miles away. When I finally managed to get her on the phone and explain our dilemma, she told me that she had plenty of room for another person, but assured me that her father would never be that person. I asked her if she knew how he was living (I never told you about the rest of the house!), and she said no. I told her about my visits and asked her if she’d go by and talk to him. No, she told me, she was deathly afraid of rats. There weren’t any rats in that house, so either she was unaware of that fact, or she was talking about her dad. I also learned about another daughter that lived somewhere in Virginia, but the local daughter made it clear that that road was closed. Period.

Over a period of a month or so, I learned a little about the sordid past of my squatter. His sanity was in question as was his character. I let him spend Christmas in the house — after all, who could kick out out a poor, old, disabled, and bereaved father from his home on Christmas? And I gave him New Years for the same reason, but there are no major holidays in February , so after Jan. 1, the time for being Mr. Nice Guy was over. Though I was steeled in my purpose, because of all the legal hoops I had to jump through, he made it through February. FINALLY, by March 3, I had all of the legal processes completed and the time had come. I tried everything to get him to move out willingly, but enough was enough.

The court date was in a couple of days, so I went by one last time to try and talk some sense into him. This time, after I knocked, it took him a little longer than usual to get to the door.

I could hear some thumping and scuffling around in the room while I waited. Then came some scraping at the door. It gave the impression of a small child or maybe a lunatic pawing the door in a vain attempt to escape. Then the door knob began clicking from repeatedly being turned partially and then released. It was as if the whole effort of opening the door was simply too much for the inhabitant. After several attempts to open his door, he finally got it and pulled it back a few inches. I could see the reason he struggled so much to open that door. He was on his hands and knees a couple of feet from the door. It seemed that he couldn’t get any close,r and he could barely find the strength to reach over and turn the knob. His air hose was hanging askew and his facial expression was one of a totally desolate and haggard old man.

It was heartbreaking. I gently reminded him of our court date. He feebly nodded and shut the door. I thought about the struggle he must have gone through to get to that door, and the effort it would take to get back to that pathetic nest in which he slept. What kind of creetent was I?

It ended up that his court date was about a week before I was to appear. When I did come before the judge, I felt like the lowest person on Mankind’s totem pole. I mean, what kind of person kicks a feeble, sick and suffering old man out of his own house? I stood there, but despite the scum that the judge saw before him, he was very professional about the whole thing. He told us that the previous owner heard the decision to evacuate and calmly went home to gather his belonging and leave. I asked how that sickly old man managed to get there in his horrible condition. The judge had no idea what I was talking about. Apparently, my sick and slovenly squatter came before him well dressed, with no oxygen tank and in apparent good health.


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