If you watch home-and-garden cable channels, it looks like everyone is flipping houses. "Flip This House" and "Flipping Out" are just a couple of the many cable offerings that sing the praises of buying a house and quickly selling it at a substantially higher price. But house-flipping is more like a basic investing lesson: Buy low, sell high. You want to find a property that is undervalued or in just bad enough shape that you can invest minimal time and money in it before selling it. There are people who have made careers out of buying distressed properties and quickly turning them around for a profit. However, in a real-estate bust, things aren't quite so easy.
The first piece of advice that most flipping experts give: Make a budget. While finding the perfect place and knowing your skill set (or having friends with skill sets) is important, budgeting is where new flippers most often fail. So where to start? First, get financing.
This step was fairly easy when subprime mortgages were hot. These mortgages allowed buyers to pay little or no down payment. In exchange, they were socked with higher interest rates -- but when you're planning on owning the house for only a few months, that's a minor issue. When the market is flat, however, obtaining a mortgage for an investment property is more difficult, and sky-high interest rates empty investors' wallets when a property sits on the market.
As a result, cash plays a much bigger role in getting that flip started. The bigger the down payment you can afford, the lower the interest rate. And, of course, it helps to have cash around for fixing up the flip. We'll look at how to budget next.