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Don’t buy a lemon! What to look for in a property

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39653963 - person hand with magnifying glass over luxury house
39653963 - person hand with magnifying glass over luxury house

Many people are busy these days, so it’s understandable that when they buy a property, they want something that needs the least amount of work. Many clients want properties which have been recently renovated, or are close to brand-new so that they can move straight in. But new does not always mean better. Here, Buyer’s Agent Henny Stier from OH Property Group explains what to look out for in a ‘flipped’ home.


In the course of inspecting thousands of properties, we often see ‘flips’. ‘Flips’ are basically properties which are bought cheaply, renovated quickly and re-sold with a significant mark-up within a short period of time. People who buy and flip can be small-time developers, builders, owner-builders, housewives, or professional flippers who try to flip multiple homes each year. The bottom line to keep in mind is that ‘flippers’ are often opportunistic business people who are renovating for profit – not to live. Therefore, more often than not, the quality of these newly renovated ‘flips’ are not to the same standard as homes renovated for owners to live in.

Flippers often renovate the superficial components of a home which are visible to the amateur eye, but bypass the expensive upgrades which are not immediately noticeable (such as wiring and plumbing) and therefore less likely to generate immediate return. Some vendors undertake a quickie renovation prior to listing their home for sale because they believe it will get them a higher price. For the purpose of this article, we also class this type of quickie renovation as a ‘flip’.

Identifying ‘flips’ is quite easy. Here are some examples of the things that our Buyers Agents look out for when we inspect properties:

  • How long have the current owners had the property? If they have only had it for a very short period of time (4 months to a year for example), then you can almost be certain that it is a ‘flip’. Just ask the agent outright if that is the case.
  • What type of roofing does the house have? Many ‘flippers’ these days use Colourbond roofing which is easier, cheaper and quicker to install.
  • What types of windows have been used? Cheap and thin aluminium sliding windows or timber double hung windows?
  • What types of doors have been used? Solid core timber doors are sturdier than hollow doors.
  • If significant renovations have been done, were speaker wires and alarm wiring integrated? This is not a costly thing to do as part of a bigger renovation – but you would be surprised at how many ‘flippers’ try to cut corners and avoid doing these things.
  • What grade floorboards were used? Many ‘flippers’ use cheap cypress pine timber or even floating floorboards. Whereas most people who renovate quality homes to live in would invest in higher grade of floorboards – usually Select grade timber and not the cheaper Feature grade. Some ‘flippers’ disguise cheaper boards by applying stains rather than upgrading.
  • Many ‘flippers’ try to save money by only using semi-frameless glass screens instead of fully frameless ones.
  • Is there central heating and cooling? Is it divided into several zones for better control?
  • What countertop and splashback was used in the kitchen? Many ‘flippers’ use 20mm manufactured stone because it looks good and relatively cheap compared to more expensive but longer-lasting options such as stainless steel, solid surface which is completely seamless, or marble.
  • If there is a swimming pool, what type of surface finish does it have? ‘Flippers’ often resurface the pool but use cheap finishes such as painting it – rather than the better, but more costly option of tiling it. ‘Flippers’ also often only use cheap fencing and not the sleeker but more expensive fully frameless glass fencing. What type of coping does the pool have? ‘Flippers’ often use cheaper rather than more expensive stones. Many ‘flippers’ try to save money and only use glass fence for part of the pool and use tubular fencing on other sides for example.
  • Some ‘flippers’ are in a hurry to put the property back on the market that they only do one coat of paint.
  • To hide old and ugly windows or possibly those which do not open properly, many ‘flippers’ would install plantation shutters. Most buyers don’t bother to open the shutters to check what is behind it, let alone try to open the windows.
  • Check for tiling work in the bathrooms. We have seen too many houses where the tiling is uneven and hurried. Worse is when new tiles are placed on top of old tiles so the ‘flipper’ can save on the cost of ripping out old tiles and re-waterproofing from scratch. Many ‘flippers’ try to save money by only using the cheapest tiles and not tiling all the way to the ceiling.
  • What type of vanities is there in the bathrooms? Most ‘flips’ use cheap and ready-made vanities instead of custom made ones which are tailored to the space and have soft closing drawers and doors. Check the quality of fixtures such as the toilets, taps and mixers as well. There are $100 toilets and $800 toilets. ‘Flippers’ usually put the cheapest fixtures they can get away with.
  • Do bathrooms have underfloor heating and heated towel rails? It’s not very expensive to put these in as part of the renovation. However, if the ‘flipper’ did not, then you would need to rip out all the tiles and essentially redo the bathroom to add this feature.
  • Retaining walls and driveways are costly to redo. So many ‘flippers’ simply re-paint them a dark colour to try and hide cracks.
  • To save money, many ‘flippers’ cut down trees but leave behind large stumps instead of grinding them down.
  • In a rush to put properties on the market, many garden beds are mulched within an inch of their lives. You can always tell a properly designed and landscaped garden which has been nurtured and established over the years versus those which have been freshly planted just for the sale.

So the next time you are out looking at properties and not sure if it might be a lemon, look at the list above and cast a discerning eye.

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