Tips to Maximize Profit with the House Flip

Flipping houses has become very popular and has sparked a number of television shows that gloss over the small details of what it takes to flip a house and maximize profits. If you aren’t willing to get a little dirty and invest your own time and sweat, be prepared to lose a significant chunk of profit to contractors. The more you take on yourself, the more profit potential.

I have been working with an investor for five years, helping him flip houses. During that time, I have identified a number of simple fixes that save time, trips and money when I first go to one of his houses to work. This article will give you a tip or two to save a buck and the basic contents of a house flipper’s essentials first day toolkit.

Baths and Kitchens

Two of the most important areas that can make or break the sale of a house are the kitchen and the baths. These can also be areas where fixture replacement can be expensive. However, just because fixtures look bad, doesn’t mean they must be replaced. Sometimes good solid cleaning strategies and a bit of elbow grease can make a fixture look renewed.

Baking soda and bleach are two components of the house flipper’s essentials kit. Baking soda is a low abrasive cleanser that can be rubbed into surfaces with a wet sponge and used like popular name brand cleansers. It works very well on stainless steel sinks, as well as on porcelain. It has the added benefit of being a deodorizer, so when you rinse it down tub and sink drains, it can eliminate drain odors, especially if a property has been sitting unused. It is also biodegradable. Bleach is an old stand by for getting out stains and sanitizing. Pour some in that ugly toilet bowl and let it sit for a few hours, then use a toilet brush to clean the bowl. You may have to do this more than once. Remember that bleach will remove color from things it comes into contact with, so be careful not to spill or drip it on non-colorfast surfaces. Both these cleaners can help to remove stains and grime from laminate and cultured marble counter and sink tops. Test laminate for color fastness in a hidden area, before using bleach.

I found a great product for removing cigarette burn marks and some other stains from cultured marble sink tops. It comes in a kit along with excellent instructions and two freebies-instructions for removing surface scratches on porcelain and a handy little book that gives “recipes” and instructions for inexpensive cleaning products. This product is called the Burn Buster Kit and the URL is in the Additional Resources. Well worth the investment.

For old style cast iron tubs with porcelain finishes, cleaning may not be enough. Sometimes you will find chinks in the porcelain or the porcelain may be worn and the black of the cast iron is showing through the finish. You have two potential options here. For simple chinks or nicks, use Nick Fix Porcelain-Enamel-Acrylic Touch-up. It can be purchased at Home Depot Supply or from Surface Repair. You will find it in and around the plumbing or the bathtub and sink caulk. It comes in a small bottle with a little brush and you apply it like paint. Another product that I strongly recommend to save those cast iron tubs with the gray showing through the bottom is SureStep Non-Slip Coating. I have used it many times and when used properly, it creates a very nice finish that eliminates the need to replace the tub, which is not only expensive, but time consuming. Buy it direct from the source at the URL in Additional Resources. Nice friendly folk who will let you buy one can or a case. Be sure to read the directions and feel free to tell them you read about it here.

After you have cleaned your tubs and sinks, before you do any finish repair or installation of new fixtures, strip out any old caulk that is discolored or stained and replace. They make a tool for this, but I have found a utility knife and a straight edge razor blade in a holder does a better job. Do not use painter’s caulk for wet areas, it will mildew. I recommend GE Silicone II, a Home Depot item. To give your caulk a professional looking finish, squeeze the caulk along the seam, then use the Homax caulk finishing tool to remove excess caulk (available at Home Depot for about a dollar). Wipe excess caulk from finishing tool frequently with facial or toilet tissue. Finish by gently wiping the caulk with a smooth damp rag.

If you plan to keep flipping, invest in a hand held steam cleaner. It gets into corners, cleans tile and grout, toilets, sinks, refrigerators, stoves, just about anything that won’t melt. Steam is also a super disinfectant. Because the steam loosens dirt, it may be as easy as wiping to clean.

Now that your fixtures and counter tops are all clean and looking good, just add some updated faucets, spouts and handles-and of course a new toilet seat-voila, looking good.

Cabinets

White kitchens are very fashionable, while that old dark wood is out of style. You don’t have to replace all those cabinets-big bucks. Take off the doors and hardware. Clean and then lightly sand the doors and the cabinet frames. Give them a coat of white primer, then a coat of good white semi gloss paint. Replace the old hinges and handles with updated versions and you have potentially saved yourself thousands of dollars and created a clean look. This process works for bathroom sink cabinets as well. Use white or use a color that compliments the wall color. Use masking tape to mark the doors so you know where they go back and put all your hardware (screws, hinges, handles) in zip lock bags, if you plan to reuse, so they don’t get lost. A product like Greased Lightening will remove grease from kitchen hardware, but remember to clean them immediately, don’t let them soak or they may rust.

Odors

A great product for eliminating odors in closets, cabinets, carpets and an assortment of other places is OdoBan. It works well on pet odors too. You can buy this at Sam’s Club (membership is well worth the dollars) or through Home Depot Supply (they can probably special order it for you at any Home Depot store, item #115500). It comes in a gallon jug and you can mix it to any strength needed. Instructions are on the label. Always keep a spray bottle of this around.

Cracks and Gaps

Keep a few tubes of painter’s caulk and a caulking gun in your first day kit. Use painter’s caulk to fill small cracks at wall corners or where ceilings and walls meet. It is also good to fill gaps where molding is not fitting tight against walls, where countertop is gaping from the wall or as a quick fill for nail holes when you don’t have any spackle. Be sure to smooth the surface. The best way to do this is with a soft wet cloth. Once you paint over your caulk repair, it becomes invisible and gives your paint job a nice finished look.

Spackle (wall board mud) is the standard for drywall repairs. If you are inexperienced with spackle, you may want to opt for one of the new lightweight quick dry spackles such as Patch N Paint. It dries faster than regular spackle, it is easier for a novice to apply and it works well for small holes. Home Depot has it in a kit.

Holes in Walls

How many times have you seen a door handle put a hole in wallboard? You can put caulking tape and caulk over the hole and spend a lot of time trying to “feather” the edges of the repair so that it doesn’t appear as a bump. Or, you can purchase a wall protector circle. It sticks to the wall, covers the hole, can be painted the same color as the wall and prevents another occurrence. It is available from Home Depot Supply in different colors and sizes (item #807835) and probably can be found in hardware stores.

If the hole is in the wall where the above solution is not an option, try this. Take a piece of lightweight cardboard (top of a nail box, back of a telephone book, business card, etc.), punch a hole in the middle and insert a piece of string or twine (a twisty tie will do in a pinch). On the backside of the cardboard, tie a small finish nail, piece of wire or a hair pin to the string and arrange it so that you can pull it tight against the cardboard, but not back through the hole. A piece of tape can help secure it. Fold, but don’t crease the cardboard and tuck it into the wall hole. You want the piece of cardboard to open inside the wall. Once it is open, pull the string to hold the cardboard against the back of the hole. Now put some regular spackle in the hole. Don’t try to fill the hole all at once. Put in enough spackle to cover the cardboard and hold it in place. Once this dries, cut the string, add more spackle and continue the process until the hole is filled. Then, sand and paint.

Reviving Wood

For wood you don’t intend to paint, an easy revival technique is to rub the wood with Tung oil (a hardware or home improvement store item) using a clean, dry, lint free rag such as T-shirt material. The Tung oil moisturizes the wood and gives it a bit of sheen.

Stoves

There is nothing like good old Easy Off to clean the inside of a dirty oven, unless you have a steam cleaner. Those little chrome colored drip pans beneath the burners can be purchased as replacement sets for under $15.00 at a home improvement store or an appliance parts store. Replacement is recommended for these because they rarely clean up to a sparkle. Knobs can also be replaced. Take a sample with you to the appliance parts store or find the model and serial number on the stove and call the appliance parts store to find a match. For tougher jobs, check out Home Remedies to Remove Sticky Grease From Stoves.

Mirrors

Mirrors over sinks tend to de-silver around the edges. There three potential solutions for this, if you don’t want to replace them. They are given to you here in order with most recommended first.

1. Take the mirror down and have a glass and mirror store cut it smaller to eliminate the de-silvered areas.
2. Purchase mirror edges from Home Depot Supply. They have a kit containing everything you need (item #900423). The kit contains mirror edges that are glued to the exiting mirror, giving it a three dimensional effect.
3. Buy some wallpaper border and glue it to the mirror edges to cover the de-silvering-make sure you miter cut the corners to give it a good finish and that the pattern chosen compliments or enhances the colors in the room.

Minimize Repair Clean Up

To minimize repair clean up, find a sturdy box about the size of a large microwave. An empty copy paper box is good too. Take this box with you from room to room as you are making repairs or installing fixtures. Put all your trash, nails, broken bits of drywall or glass, empty containers, etc. in this box. Trash bags are not as good as a box for throw aways that have sharp edges because they can puncture the bag and the box is safer for you when dealing with sharp edges. All your trash is in one place and you have one box to carry out. By having all the trash in one place, you can quickly remove it if a potential buyer shows up early to have a look.

House Flipper’s Essentials Toolkit

The items listed below will give you a big jump on getting your flip pointed in the right direction. Once things are clean, it is easier to see what needs replacement or repair.

Trash box, paper towels, cleaning rags (such as old T-shirts), trash bags, broom, dust pan, cleaning bucket, toilet and scrub brushes, old toothbrush (for hard to reach corners and tight spaces such as around faucets and knobs), sponges, Zip Lock bags (for small parts, screws or parts you need to take away for matching), permanent marker for labeling, pencil and notepad (to write down to dos and things you find you need), baking soda, bleach, glass cleaner (or one of the cleaning formula recipes from the Burn Buster Kit’s Good Old Fashioned Cleaning booklet), drain cleaner, plunger, phillips and flat head screw drivers, a pair of pliers and/or channel locks, painter’s caulk, caulking gun, spackle, spackle mud knife, dust mask, safety goggles, light bulbs.

Make sure the water and electric are on, otherwise take your own water and go in the daytime (take a flashlight too). You should be present when utilities are turned on, especially water and gas. If the water gets turned on when no one is around and there is a leak that you don’t know about, the price of your flip could go up dramatically due to water damage-and a gas leak would not be pretty! Also check out The Downside of House Flipping.

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