113: How to Repair Rental Properties and House Flips

Buying rentals and flips can be an awesome money-making opportunity. However, buying the property is only one step in the process because you usually have to repair properties as well. Even if you buy rental properties that are in perfect shape, you will have to repair them at some point after you run into some less than stellar tenants. I have 15 rental properties and 14 active fix and flips. There is a big difference between how I repair my flips versus my rentals. On this episode of the InvestFourMore Real Estate Podcast, I go into how I repair my properties and what other investors should look out for when buying houses that need work.

How big of a remodel job should new investors take on?

Many of the houses I flip need a lot of work! I have completed remodels that cost well over $100,000. While you can make a lot of money on houses that need a lot of work, the risk is often not worth the reward. Below is a before and after video of a house I recently spent about $100,000 remodeling.

This house should make me money, but it was a huge project that took too long and cost way more than I thought it should. I also had to let a contractor go during this job, which big jobs often involve. When you take on a huge project, accurately judging how much it will cost and how long it will take is really difficult. The longer you hold a property, the more money the project will cost due to carrying costs.

Every day you own a property, you pay property taxes, financing costs, insurance, and maintenance, which can all add up quickly. A big project can also expose investors to market changes. I like to get all my flips bought, repaired, and sold within 6 months. A big remodel can easily double the time it takes to complete a flip, which makes the project riskier if the market decides to decline. If you are a new investor, I suggest trying to find houses that won’t involve complete gut jobs.

What kind of repairs should scare new real estate investors?

Someone emailed me asking which repairs they should be worried about when buying their first investment. Answering this question is tough, but I tried to do it on this podcast. Many things can cost a lot of money to fix:

  • Mold
  • Meth production residue
  • Foundation issues
  • Electrical systems
  • Plumbing systems
  • Structural issues
  • Sewer lines

All of these issues can cost more than $5,000 to fix if they are serious, but they may only cost a couple hundred dollars if they are minor. There are other repairs to consider as well, like replacing windows, doors, roofs, HVAC, paint, bathrooms, kitchens, drywall, and more. These repairs can also be very expensive. As a new investor, the trick is knowing what repairs will cost and how serious they are before you buy a house. Even though I rarely, if ever, ask for an inspection when I buy a property, I do not suggest that for inexperienced investors. What I suggest to all new investors is getting an inspection, and if there are major concerns, have an expert in that field check out the issue. I talk much more about this on the podcast.

What should you repair on a rental versus a flip?

When I flip houses, I want them to be in really good shape. I am selling the house to a buyer who will be responsible for that property. That buyer will usually order an inspection and want the house to be in great shape. To get the most money, I sell to owner-occupied buyers who almost always get a loan. When the buyers get a loan, the house has to be in livable condition, meaning the furnace, roof, plumbing, electrical, walls, paint, and other items are all in good shape. I will replace furnaces, roofs, fixtures, kitchens, baths, doors, windows, flooring, and more on almost every flip.

When I buy rentals, I do not have to repair as many items. Renters know the landlord will be responsible for items that wear out or break. The tenant also knows that they are only living there for a set time. Because renters are much less picky than buyers, you do not have to spend as much money on a rental. I still want the house to be safe, meaning the HVAC is in good shape, the electrical system is safe, the plumbing is decent, and the roof is leak free. However, I may not have to replace all the fixtures, the kitchens, baths, the windows, or the doors.

[0:00:58.3] MF: Hey everyone! Mark Ferguson with Investor Four More. Welcome to episode of the Investor Four More real estate podcast. Today I’m going to talk about repairing properties. I had a really good email from someone kind of asking if I could cover this topic on my podcast. They want to know what repairs would stop me from buying a house. Honestly, there aren’t too many, depending on the numbers in the deal, but then I got to thinking I could also talk about repairs on rentals versus flips, how far to go, different price points, different markets. There are so many things to talk about in regards to repairs and how to best utilize your money when you're fixing up properties.

We’ll get into all of that soon. Before we get into that, I just wanted make a quick update. The book on negotiating real state, that has been submitted to Audible for quite some time. We’re just waiting for that to be approved. Again, hopefully that's available soon. Just waiting on them to give the final approval and put price on it and market it. We have no control over those things.

Also, I think I mentioned before, but I am going to be turning my fix and flip book into an audible book as well, and then some of my other books too, we will eventually make into audible audiobooks. Very popular choice for a lot of people, so trying to help as many people as I can, give as many different ways. Get that information out there.

All right. Let’ get into this topic. Get going. First thing I want to talk about is when I'm buying a property, what do I look at far as repairs. What scares me? What doesn't scare me? Really, I've been doing this for — What, 15, 16 years now? There's not too much that scares me as far as repairs because I know what they're going to cost. I have an idea, the seriousness of it. If the numbers are there, if the profit is there, I will take on most projects. I don't want to demo houses. I don't want to build brand-new houses and start from scratch. That’s not something I’m looking to do, but as far as any other project, I'm kind of willing to take it on as long as it's not a complete scrape.

I’ve bought houses that were completely gutted. Had no walls, no heating systems, no electrical and no plumbing, but other houses that were in much better shape, but you still had to go through and tear down the walls, tear out the electrical, tear out plumbing, tear out the kitchens, fix foundations. There’s been all kinds of things we’ve had to repair and I’ve seen budgets from a couple of thousand dollars for some of my rentals, all the way up to $100,000 for some of the properties that we had to completely redo. I did recently finish a flip where we did an addition as well which got up there close to that hundred thousand dollars.

When I'm looking at a property there's a couple of things to consider when doing repairs. I’m going to start with kind of the beginner's perspective, maybe if you haven't done a lot of flip or a lot of rentals or completed a lot of renovations, what to look for. First thing to consider is the more repairs there are the longer it’s going to take to fix and the more money it’s going to take. Even if you're using a hard money loan and you got draws, maybe you’re financing 80% of the purchase price, 100% of the repairs, you can kind of think, “Hey! You know, it doesn't really matter how big the rehab is because I can finance all the repairs with his hard money loan, but it’s still going to be harder to qualify for those bigger projects with a hard money loan.

They’re going to have more questions and you have to be really good at estimating how much those costs are because most hard money lenders will want to know, is it 80,000 repairs, 60,000 repairs, 40,000 repairs when you buy the property, and they'll get it set up to take draws out. They’re not going to give you the money up front. Once you complete the work, then they’ll pay you back for the work you did. They’ll also charge you to go out there and inspect it. The bigger the job is the more expensive it’s going to be to use of hard money loan. A lot of hard money lenders also charge you interest on the money for those repairs even if you have not used it yet. Let's say you've got $60,000 budget for repairs, you bought the property for $100,000, you’re going to end up financing $140,000 total with the hard money lender. Maybe $80,000 for the purchase price, $60,000 on repairs. There are going to be finances as well.

As soon as you buy that house a lot of hard money lenders will start charging you interest on the entire $140,000. They won't charge you interest once you draw the money. They’ll charge you interest whether you draw it or not. The more repairs you have, the longer it takes. It’s going to be a much more expensive project even if you can finance those repairs. You need to consider the size of the rehab how long it’s going to take, because it’s going to take much longer. The bigger rehabs always take longer. You run to more problems. It’s going to tie up your money a lot longer. It’s going to be much more expensive if you’re financing.

For beginners, for people who haven’t done a lot of flips, I usually caution about getting into a huge project that needs a ton of work. There’s so many unknowns. It takes so much longer. It's so much more involved. It's much harder for your contractors as well. There's a lot of things to consider. Once you’ve got some experience, you kind of work your way up. Then maybe you can take on some of the bigger ones, but be very careful about taking on bigger ones if you do not have experience in the very beginning.

I see this with my contractors all the time as well where I have bigger projects. I seem to lose contractors or have to replace them during the job because a lot of them have not done a huge, massive projects like that as well and I think they underestimate how long it takes, how much it will cost. It stresses them out. It puts a lot of pressure on them, and if you have really good contractors, one way to get rid of them, which you don't want to do, is to give them a huge massive project. Everyone gets stressed out. Everything goes over the budget. It can be a bad situations, so you have to be really careful with those big projects.

I still do them once in a while, but a lot of times once I’m done with them I’m like, “Why did I do that? That was not worth my time. It was not worth the money. Was not worth the headaches. I should not have taken on the project.” Just remember that when you're in the beginning. A lot of times you can't find those deals that are easy, cosmetic fixes, but there's usually those in betweeners that need cosmetics, some systems replaced. $20,000 to $30,000, maybe 40,000 rehabs instead of the 60, 80, $100,000 rehabs. It just can really eat up your time and cause a lot of stress.

When I’m looking at properties, I do consider that as well. I’ve got a number of — I’ve got private money. I’ve got my own cash. I’ve got bank money. I’ve used hard money before. I’ve got a lot of different financing options, and with every single one of them it cost me more money to do a big rehab. One of the biggest cost is the time it takes to rehab a property. We’ve had a goal to try and get everything done in less than three months on our properties which includes big rehabs. It almost never gets done if we take on a big project. You're almost always looking at six months it seems like to finish those really big projects. If you’re financing a property, that's a lot of interest that adds up. You need to make sure you're figuring that difference. If you're using cash, that’s a lot of cash you’re tying up that you can’t use on other projects while you're doing. There’s just so many things to consider when doing a big project, but that doesn’t mean I won't do it if numbers really work.

If you're starting out looking for a flip, looking for a rental, I think the things that would scare me as a beginner are foundation, number one. Foundations can be a $500 fix or $15,000 fixe depending on what's wrong with the property. A lot of times there’s a simple grading issues, where waters is getting next to the foundation and it’s causing some water leaks. Other times the entire foundation needs to be replaced. That can be something that you really need to get checked out before you jump into a deal. There’s foundation problems and you don't have experience with foundations. Get a company out there to look at it. Get someone to check out what's going on. There can be a huge difference in the costs of foundation work.

I have a guy who’s really good and he’s actually one of my contractors but he also does a lot of concrete work. He's fixed a lot of foundations for us from five to $10,000 that had pretty major problems. We’ve had other people look at our foundations when he was busy or we just wanted a second opinion. They’ve been twice as much for the same work. It really pays to shop around, network, try and find good foundation companies because there's a lot out there that will just charge incredible amounts of money for work that doesn’t need to cost that much because people just don't know any better. You really have to shop around foundations, but that can be a huge red flag when you're looking to buy a property.

Mold scares a lot of people and it can be scary, but it can also be a very minor problem as well. I’ve bought a lot of houses with mold. I've never bought a house that is completely covered in black mold from floor to ceiling, but I’ve seen other investors who’ve bout them as well. Really, again, you have to know what you’re getting into. You have to know how serious it is. A lot of mold can be remediated, fixed by just cutting out the drywall and replacing it. Some molds can even have — I don’t know if it’s bleach, but stuff sprayed on it, but you have to know what kind of mold it is. You have to know how serious it is. Again, we have a really awesome mold guy who’s local, doesn't belong to a big company, can go to a house, do a mold test for us, tells how serious it is, and get rid of all that mold for us at extremely affordable levels. I mean I don’t think he’s charged us more than $1,500 for any job in the last 10 years and most of them were a few hundred dollars.

Again, you get another company, some of these national companies who are restoration experts and they’ll charge you five or 10 times as much for the same work because they tell people how scary mold is. People don't shop around. They don't realize that they're getting ripped off, but try and stay away from the very big companies for mold or mediation environmental hazards. There is usually local people who are much cheaper. This guy is certified with the state, he’s licensed. Can do it all legally. He just doesn't charge as much. That’s the only difference between him and the big companies.

Again, mold can be super scary to some people. I think it's overblown. I don’t think it’s as big a deal as many people make it especially the companies trying to sell you on their services to fix it. Again, get it checked out. Figure out how serious it is. It's not something that would scare me away right away, but if it’s a lot of mold everywhere, realize you may be tearing out all of the drywall. You may have to get dehumidifiers in there, treating studs, two by fours, maybe even pulling some of them out if it's bad enough. Again, all that's fixable. You can do all of that if there's enough profit potential and room to cover.

Other things that we run into that are deal breakers for us, but serious issues, electrical systems. They can cost a couple of hundred dollars to fix, or 5 to 10,000. Again, depending on how old the property is, how much work there is to do. There are plumbing issues where, again, same thing. It could be $200, it could be 5000 to replace the entire plumbing system.

Things to watch out for plumbing are galvanized pipes. Those almost always need to be replaced. The whole house re-plumbed. A lot of manufactured homes have really bad plumbing that need to be rebuilt, completely redone. A lot of things to look at. Their roofing systems, roofs are pretty straightforward. Actually, pretty easy to fix and work on, so I’m not worried about roofs. Windows are pretty easy to replace, fix, once you know the costs. Structural issues are something that, again, usually comes out of foundation. When you get into really old houses, you need to look at with walls, support walls, sloping. There's a lot of different things that come into play with structure, but if you have a house that has superstructure problems, that something to worry about. You’re really need to get an engineer in to check it out and see exactly how severe those problems are.

Another thing that can be scary are sewer lines, which I honestly do not check for before I buy a house but have popped up recently from buyers doing inspections. Those can be a couple of thousand dollars, to $15,000 as well. If a sewer line pops up, that’s a huge expense. We see expenses popup all the time that are more than we think, and when I buy a house I’m always building an extra money to account for those extra repairs. When you’re brand-new, I’m doing a lot of flips, I can’t afford to pay more and some less than others, that can be a little stressful.

The things to really watch out for before you buy a house; electrical, foundation, structure, plumbing, foundation, mold, meth can be something else that’s a little tricky. A meth house may have to be completely torn down and rebuilt almost in some cases. It’s not always easy to know if you have a meth house unless you do a test, but some signs are just really bad smells, smells like smoke quite a bit but not like cigarette smoke, like a chemically smoke. There are stains on the walls. Obviously, houses that are super dirty, not well taken care of, with stains in the walls that smell really bad can be signs of a meth house and something that you may need to check out.

Figuring all these out is not easy in the beginning. That's why I suggest people get an inspection. Even though I don't get inspections usually — I bought a house from a foreclosure sale, from auctions where I can't do inspections. If you're doing your first flip, if your new, you don’t have the experience. It makes sense to buy properties where you can do inspections. You can have someone come in, find the major issues and give you an idea of how serious they are.

Now, in my experience, just listening to your inspector is not good enough to decide whether to buy the house or not. If you figure out, “Hey, there’s electrical problem.” “Hey, there’s plumbing problem.” Hey, there’s foundation problems.” Then you need to get the expert in who’s an expert on foundations, on electric, on plumbing, because those inspectors are meant to see an entire house, give an overview. They aren’t experts in every single system. Some inspectors were over below how serious a problem is. Some will underestimate it. You need to get that expert in who can then tell you, “How bad is the electrical really? How much needs to be done? How bad is the plumbing? How bad is this foundation?”

Inspectors can scare you off, or they might miss some things too. It’s a good idea to get someone else in there to confirm exactly how bad it is, and that’s kind of the steps I think new people should take when they're buying houses that need work. Get an inspection done. Once you have the inspection, get another expert in there to figure out exactly how serious those problems are. Then make a decision if it's worth moving on or canceling or what you want to do with the property. It will help you save a lot of headaches and it doesn't hurt to do a sewer scope as well which cost a little more money, but it’s probably worth it. Just some things that can save you a lot of headaches in the future. Now, once you get experience, once you learn how much some of these things cost, how serious, how major some of these problems are, then you can think about waving your inspection, not having to get as many people in there in the beginning. That helps you buy more houses, get more deals when he can do those things, buy for more sources, like the auctions, the trustee sales. It gives you a lot more flexibility, but you really need that experience to learn what to look for, what to watch out for in the beginning.

Once you’ve bought a property, what you repair, what you fix can make a difference as well on whether it's a flip, whether it's a rental, how expensive it is, and where your market is. I’ve had quite a few articles on what to fix. Some videos going through my properties on how much things cost, but that can vary in your market. That’s not a one-size-fits-all. Every market is the same. Labor costs are more in different areas of the country. Supply and demand for contractors can push prices up or down, and then demand from buyers, if you're in a high-end area, they might be more picky on what has to be done in houses versus entry-level homes. If you’re re renting a property, the renters are probably going to be much less picky than buyers on the repairs that are made. There’s all types of things you need to consider.

When I'm fixing a rental versus fixing a flip, I will not spend nearly as much money on the rental and it’s because I’m trying to be cheap or save money. I am trying to save money, but it’s because you don't need to do it and you're also going to be holding that property for a while. There's a chance the tenant is going to do some damage, have some wear and tear on the property. It doesn’t make sense to make it absolute perfect, spend a ton of money on it and just have to redo it again every few years to get it perfect again.

When I have my rentals, we’ll replace the carpet, or we’ll put in different flooring depending on what's there. We’ll almost always paint everything. We will put in new light fixtures usually. Sometimes we don't. Sometimes we’ll put new doors, sometimes we won’t, but we’ll make the cosmetics look nice. We’ll usually put in new appliances unless they’re really nice already, but things that we normally do on a flip we won't do on a rental and we don't replace many kitchens on rentals. We’ll just paint the cabinets instead, unless the cabinets are just destroyed and broken. Most renters are fine with the decent looking kitchen. They don't need a brand-new, fancy kitchen. If it has flat panel hollowed doors, we may just keep those, repaint them. We don’t have to put brand-new six panel or the colonial doors on there because the tenants — Really, they don’t care as much.

In the bathrooms, if the tub is decent, the tile is decent we won't replace all that. If the vanity is okay, we won’t replace that. You don't have to go all out when you're fixing a rental. It just needs to be livable, safe. Obviously, we will replace furnace systems if they’re older. We don't want anybody dying or getting carbon monoxide poisoning. Of course, we always have carbon monoxide detectors and smoke alarms in our rentals and flips. We’ll usually add AC to our rentals because that helps them rent — That's a big renting point in Colorado, is people want air conditioning. If the roof is getting old, we will replace that because we don't want it to leak and cause a ton of damage. Hot water heater, of course, we’ll going to replace that so it doesn't rust out and cause a bunch of damage.

Electrical, we want to be safe. Plumbing, we want to work right, but you don't have to go all out on the rehab. If the windows are older, we might not replace those where we would in a flip. There’s a lot of differences we do on rentals versus flips. A lot of that reason is because when people rent, they’re not buying the home. They know if something breaks, they’re responsible for it. It’s the landlord’s deal. When they're buying a house and you're flipping a property, they’ll get inspection done. They’re buying that house. If something breaks after they buy it, they have to fix the furnace. They have to replace the windows. They’ve got to do the roof. They want to make sure it's in great condition when they buy it, and they want to make sure it also looks really nice because it’s theirs. They’re not just renting it. They can't move out in a year. They’re going to be there in a while. They want to make sure it looks really nice and that's why we spend the extra money and flips. We will replace windows. Will replace doors. We will replace kitchens. Most of time, I think most of our flip were replacing kitchens. We’ll completely redo bathrooms. All the light fixtures, we will do. Just spend a lot more money on the flips that makes them easier to sell and you'll get a lot more money in our market. Again, that can change from market to market depending what price range you’re in.

We sold an $800,000 this last year, a high-end flip that I wrote about, did some podcasts about. When we first put that on the market people were leaving feedback on how bad the remodel was, and it was the same as our low-end ones. I’m like, “What’s going on? Everybody loves the other remodels we do, but it was a completely different market. $800,000 houses versus two or $300,000 our homes, and we learned that, man, you really got to step your game up if you’re going to sell that high-end house. Everything is going to be perfect. All the wood trim had to be re-stained. We had to fix a bunch of windows that weren’t quite perfect. Put in some new carpet. Actually, we had mostly new carpet in there almost, new paint. It wasn't completely perfect and that hurt us. If you’re doing high-end flip, high-end rentals, realize you’re going to be spending a lot more money on the rehabs because people will demand it. The low-end stuff, you won't have to spend as much money, do as much to get those properties sold or rented. That’s a big considerations that I learned this last year about doing rehabs.

Markets, like I said, if you're in the Midwest and you're doing super low-end rentals and everything else for rent, it’s kind of marginal, not that great. You don't have to do a high-end rehab to sell or rent it, or maybe you do if nothing is selling or renting. Maybe you do have to do it to get people interested. If you go to California and everyone's doing super high-end remodels, super high-end flips and spending tons of money on the rehabs, you might have to do that as well to compete with them to get the same price.

What you need to do is look at your competition. What is the competition doing in your market? Whether it's flipping, renting, what do you have to do? A lot of that comes with experience as well. You’re not going to learn all of these before you do your first property. A lot of that is trial and error and you don't have to be perfect. That’s something remember. It doesn’t have to perfect. You don’t have to do everything 100% the first time. You’ll learn as you go. You'll get better at it. Learn different things to do. I still constantly learn how to do things better and differently. It's not something we have to stress about being perfect before you get started. This is something as far as repairs go that you almost have to start doing to realize what your market wants, what works best and what you have to do. I will see flips in my market that I think are done and absolutely horrible. They won’t even replace carpet or light fixtures, but they still sell and those people are still making money, so there’s not always one way to do things either. You just have to find how you like to do them, what works for you and keep making your product better and better.

As far as how to fix things, when to fix things, I’ve talked about contractors before a lot as well, but I’ll touch in that briefly. We've moved to a system where we try and sub-out as much work as we can. It saves us a lot of money, does take some more time managing subs. We sub-out electrical. We sub-out plumbing. We sub-out roofs. We sub-out flooring. We sub-out paint sometimes. We will sub-about foundation work. We’ll sub-out even windows, landscaping, we’ll sub-out. The more subs we can get doing things, the faster job gets done because we can send multiple subs to the project at the same time.

Whereas when we have one contractor doing everything, if they're doing windows, if they’re doing roof, if they’re doing foundation, if they're doing plumbing, it almost always takes them longer because they don't have the manpower. They aren’t always experts at every single thing like those subs are. If you’ve got a contractor who can do 20 different things, are they going to be able to do those 20 different things as well as a plumber who only does plumbing? That’s all he does. Usually, the plumber, if you find the right plumber, it can be cheaper and faster than that contractor. We’ll use subs for almost everything. Have the contractor come in. He’ll replace doors, kitchens, baths maybe paint, may be fix some drywall, put in fixtures, but that has worked really well for us.

I have hired my own crew as well this year. We’ve got one person we hired, another we just hired. I’ve got two full-time time people who are handyman, can go out and do jobs and a couple of part-time peoples well who can help out, and that's just been amazing. If you get to a position where you’re doing a lot of flips or a lot of rentals, having your own crew if you can keep them busy is so nice. It’s so much better than working with contractors. I love it.

But I think that's all I've got for this show. Repairing properties is tough. Working with contractors is tough. Knowing what to spend, how much to spend is tough as well. We didn’t even touch on that on this show, but I've got a video I will link to on my YouTube channel that kind of has me walking through one of my recent flips talking about how much it costs to rehab things. That I think is really helpful. I’ll have a link to that in the show notes.

Costs to repair can vary so much with contractors. Some contractors will be charging $100 an hour, some $30 an hour. Some will use super high-end materials, others not. We get almost all our stuff from Home Depot, save time and money with our managed pro account. You don't have to spend 50 grand on a kitchen. You don’t have to do it. A lot of people, they go overboard with the repairs they make. You don't have to do it. Make it nice. Make it livable. Most buyers are more concerned with price points and having a nice house they can afford than having an extremely fancy house that’s going to cost them 50 grand more than the house next door that’s not quite as fancy.

I probably gave you guys a lot of things to consider, a lot of things to think about. If you have questions, always leave me a comment below on this post and I can answer them for you, or you can check out the InvestFourMore Facebook page as well. Thanks for listening. Hopefully everyone has a great rest of the summer, and we’ll talk to you again soon.


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