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Is flipping houses still profitable in Australia? - featured image
By Michael Yardney
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Is flipping houses still profitable in Australia?

Have you ever thought of doing up an old property to on-sell and make a quick profit?

Of course, this concept is often taught at property seminars and has recently been popularised by reality television shows like “The Block”.

But can you really flip houses for a living?

Flipping Houses

If you’re after a quick buck I’m sorry to disappoint you.

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Note: While buying a run-down property at a good price, improving it and selling it for a profit sounds good in theory, in reality, most property flips flop!

Let me explain why…

What is a flipping house strategy?

Proponents of this strategy, and those who sell courses teaching how to do this, will tell you that the key to flipping houses successfully is knowing the types of improvement you should make to the property to maximise your bottom line.

They suggest that you should at least double your renovation outlay, aiming for about $2 for every $1 spent on cosmetic improvements.

In order to achieve such lofty profits, you are usually taught to undertake a heap of due diligence by researching:

  1. Local property values and the growth history of the actual building are to be improved.
  1. Ceiling prices – what is the highest property price achieved in the area? Obviously, if nothing has sold for over $500,000 and you need to achieve $600,000 to make the flip worthwhile, you could end up in hot water.
  1. Costs and potential profit margins – is there any profit left in it after all expenses?

This is the (sometimes literally) million-dollar question.

You need to have an idea of how much the renovations will set you back, the quality and reliability of local tradespeople (as this will impact your timeframes and end budget), and how much the local market is prepared to pay for a home improved to the standard you have in mind.

  1. The market itself – you need to become a local real estate expert understanding your target market, who is your potential buyer, what they expect, and what they’re prepared to pay.
  1. The target property – “house flippers” tend to go for properties being sold by highly motivated vendors. The theory is to buy at the lowest possible price – clearly something very difficult to do in today’s seller's market.

Generally, a strategy for flipping houses would look something like this…

  1. Cut costs where you can: Most people borrow against their home and then use the equity to fund their house flipping plans meaning you don’t need to apply for a new loan.
  2. Do renovations that add the most value: Cosmetic work (such as painting, which is low cost, kitchen renovation, bathroom renovation, and extensions are generally thought to be the works that add the most value.
  3. Pay directly for tradesmen rather than paying a contract builder: Hiring tradesmen directly will make the renovation cheaper, or even better, do the work yourself.
  4. Buy low and sell high: This means you not only have to identify the potential in a property but you need the negotiation skills to buy below market value. This is easier said than done. Especially in the current property market.

Flipping Houses2

Сan house flipping work?

While this strategy might make a few experienced property investors money, in my opinion, it’s the wrong strategy to adopt for two reasons:

  1. To improve a property's value by $2 for every $1 you spend on it you need to do much more than the simple cosmetic renovations – the type which is in the scope of most D.I.Y’ers. It generally involves structural renovations that cost significantly more, take more time, require permits and involve a different level of expertise.
  2. And even if you can undertake this type of work… Most of your profits will be eaten up in costs.

Once you look at the two tables below, you’ll see that in a typical house flipping project your associated costs could easily add an extra 50% to your renovation budget of $75,000 when purchasing a property for $400,000 and trying to flip it after renovation for $550,000.

Associated buying expenses Estimated cost based on $400,000 property purchased 
Legal fees $1,500 (but varies)
Stamp duty $20,000 (but varies by state)
Mortgage costs - application fees, bank fees, and exit/settlement fees $500 (but varies by lender)
Property valuation fees $0-$300 depending on the lender
Building & pest inspections $600 estimate
Lenders Mortgage Insurance (LMI) - applicable if your loan is less than 80% LVR $2,500
TOTAL (estimated) buying costs $27,400 (estimate)

 

Renovation costs & selling expenses Estimated cost based on sale price estimate of $550,000
Renovation costs $75,000
Legal selling expenses $900
Selling agent’s commission & advertising $15,125 (based on 2.5% sale price +GST)
Loan exit fees & charges $500 (varies by lender)
Rates etc. during the holding period $1,500
Interest on funds for 6 months (the time taken to renovate, sell & settle) $15,000
TOTAL (estimated) selling costs $108,025 (estimate)

The occasional flipper that makes a profit it’s likely that they have fortuitously caught the right stage of the property cycle and values have moved in their favour.

In other words, they got a “free kick.”

The problem is that most experts, let alone beginning property investors, have real trouble pinpointing where we are in the cycle until it’s already moved on to the next phase.

You must also be cautious with asset selection; one false move could trip up your flip.

That’s because budgets and time frames are at serious risk of a blowout should you purchase a property that, at first glance, looks like it’s in need of a few cosmetic enhancements, but actually turns out to be a structural money pit.

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Note: The main profit from flipping houses is to update a property without getting into costly repairs that are not easily visible, like replacing roofs or re-stumping.

These “invisible” works don’t seem to add much value, as purchasers want to see the “bang for the buck” and only tend to pay you top dollar for a tangible wow factor.

This means that a preliminary pest and building inspection is an absolute must, along with properly qualifying the level of work required by consulting builders and tradespeople.

Then of course there are other questions to consider:

  1. Are you going to project manage? Do you have the necessary time and skills to coordinate trades in the right order and in a timely manner?
  2. Do you have a contingency fund should things go pear-shaped, as they often do?
  3. Will you need to go through lengthy processes to obtain council approval for structural works?
  4. If you buy a property that is part of an apartment complex you’ll need approval from the owner’s corporation.
  5. Can you afford to hold the property in case it doesn’t sell according to plan?
  6. What about the selling costs? Real estate agents, advertising and legal fees, as well as early discharge fees on loans over the property, will all eat into your profit margin.

Flipping Houses3

Top tips for property flipping

As I mentioned above, at Metropole we advise against house flipping for all the reasons listed above.

But if you’re hell-bent on risking a ‘flop’ then at least read the following tips:-

1. Do careful preliminary research and due diligence.

If you're interested in property flipping you must understand property values, construction costs and start with a strict budget and stick to it

2. Don't overpay for your property.

Don't let emotions rule and overpay because if you pay too much you'll be forever chasing your tail.

Flipping Houses4

3. Carefully consider you loans

Don’t feel that it doesn’t matter what type of loan you take out because you won’t be repaying it for long.

Plan for the best, but assume the worst – that you won’t be able to sell for the price you want, and will have to hold the property.

4. Keep a close eye on your costs

If you have the skills, keep costs down by doing some of the work yourself, but not if it slows the progress of the project, because this will only increase your holding costs

 

Flipping Houses5

Is house flipping worth it?

While donning a project manager’s hard hat can be a romantic notion, there’s much to be said for a more “steady as she goes” approach.

The risks of overcapitalising on flipping houses and coming out with nothing but a headache at the end are very real, as is the potential to complete your project only to be faced with a market that’s cooled its heels.

After investing through numerous property cycles, I am now convinced that you create sustainable wealth by accumulating and growing your asset base over time rather than by trading, renovating, or developing for a quick profit.

Boring? Perhaps.

Tried and tested? Most definitely!

As I’ve shown above, losing substantial chunks of your investment profit with flipping houses is a real concern when you factor in all the buying and selling costs, as well as interest and holding costs as well as loan establishment fees.

Remember, you don’t have a tenant in there helping to pay the mortgage while you’re undertaking improvements.

And of course, if there is any profit left over, the taxman will take his share.

Rather than dabbling in the high-risk flip type of project, I would recommend investors buy, renovate and hold on to their properties.

You see… rather than selling you can release your newly manufactured equity by refinancing your property.

By doing so, you will not only retain all of your post-renovation profit, but you’ve retained that great newly renovated investment property, which should attract a wider range of tenants, command a higher rent, and give you the benefit of depreciation allowances.

That’s what smart renovators do!

ALSO READ: How Much Does It Cost to Renovate a House in Australia?

About Michael Yardney Michael is the founder of Metropole Property Strategists who help their clients grow, protect and pass on their wealth through independent, unbiased property advice and advocacy. He's once again been voted Australia's leading property investment adviser and one of Australia's 50 most influential Thought Leaders. His opinions are regularly featured in the media.
19 comments

Great read. As cash buyers we have viewed around 60 homes to buy to live in. Our main problem is flippers renovating, with cheap fittings, adding extra kitchen areas and doing away with an jnternal garage to add more bedrooms. It's very frustrating. ...Read full version

1 reply

Hi Michael Great Blog. Like most things there are exceptions to the rules but there is a reason most property investors dont get past 1 investment & even then its often not for long enough to reap the rewards. Time is the most important aspect ...Read full version

1 reply

Great article Michael! You raised some important points. But I feel by being intelligent flipping houses can still be profitable. After all, the average gross profit on flipping a house was $62,900 in 2019.

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