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Tampa Bay still a prime location for house flippers

Last year, the bay area ranked third among the 52 largest metro areas in the percentage of flips, defined as a home sold twice within 12 months in an arm's length transaction. [Times files]
Last year, the bay area ranked third among the 52 largest metro areas in the percentage of flips, defined as a home sold twice within 12 months in an arm's length transaction. [Times files]
Published Mar. 30, 2018

Last year, Brett Buras and a partner scored big on a flip. They bought a house in Belleair Bluffs for $185,000, spent another $70,000 or so on renovations and sold it for $359,000 — a net profit of $104,000.

"It was a great neighborhood, nothing strange or odd about the house and the seller was motivated,'' Buras said.

All in all, a good deal and the kind that continues to make Tampa Bay one of the nation's prime areas for house flipping.

Last year, the bay area ranked third among the 52 largest metro areas in the percentage of flips, defined as a home sold twice within 12 months in an arm's length transaction. One in every 11 Tampa Bay homes met that criteria, giving the area a flip rate of 9 percent and trailing only Memphis and Las Vegas.

Nationally, flips accounted for 5.7 percent of all home sales, an 11-year high, according to ATTOM Data Solutions.

"The surge in home flipping in the last three years is built on a more fundamentally sound foundation than the flipping frenzy that we witnessed a little more than a decade ago," said Daren Blomquist, the company's senior vice president. "Flippers are behaving more rationally, as evidenced by average gross flipping returns of 50 percent over the last three years compared to average gross flipping returns of just 31 percent between 2004 and 2006.''

By that measure, flippers in Pinellas, Pasco, Hillsborough and Hernando counties did very well last year. Gross returns exceeding 50 percent were the average in 74 of the 122 Tampa Bay ZIP code areas with at least 10 flips. The top ones:

33523: Dade City 126.2 percent

34601: Brooksville 119.4 percent

e_SBlt 33605: Tampa (Ybor City) 115. 8 percent

33612: Tampa (North Tampa, south of the University of South Florida and on both sides of 1-275) 99.9 percent

34690: Holiday 97.2 percent

One big reason those ZIPs showed such whopping returns is that flipped homes sold the first time for relatively cheap amounts. In Ybor City, for example, the median purchase price was just $55,000 and the flip price was $118,700 — a hefty increase but still only about half the price of the typical Tampa Bay home. And "gross'' return does not reflect carrying costs and the often hefty costs of renovation. The net return, or actual profit, might be much less.

In dollar terms, flippers in Tampa's 33602, the Seminole Heights area, made the biggest gross profit — $120,000. But because flippers had to pay more for homes in that trendy neighborhood — a median of $160,000 — their gross return was 75 percent, still good but not as good as in Ybor City.

Since last year, interest in Ybor City real estate has soared with the Tampa Bay Rays' announcement that they want to build their new stadium there. As prices go up, flippers will find Ybor a less fertile area and start looking elsewhere.

Good luck.

Except for a few pockets, the entire Tampa Bay area is seeing such a steady increase in prices that investors are working harder to find suitable candidates for flipping.

"It's daily grind, that's for sure,'' Daniel Paloscio says.

A former nightclub promoter, Paloscio began investing in real estate in 2013 and has since flipped about 30 homes. Earlier this year, a house he bought in Largo for $70,000 sold for $165,000 after relatively minor work. But while Paloscio once might have concentrated on certain areas, now "I go everywhere where I can find a good deal.''

After the housing crash, investors snapped up thousands of Tampa Bay homes on the cheap through foreclosure and short sales. But those have been drying up. Of the 9,300 single family homes currently for sale in the four-county area, fewer than 180 are bank-owned.

Buras, who flipped the Belleair Bluffs house, generally shuns foreclosures — dealing with banks "is a very slow process,'' he said. Nor does he think there are many good deals to be had with homes on the Multiple Listing Service. "My experience is that once a property is listed, a lot of the profit is gone,'' he said.

Buras prefers to send postcards to homeowners who might be enticed by his pitch: "I can pay you CASH no matter what the condition is of the home. No appraisals, no repairs, no hassles.''

The response rate is poor — less than 1 percent — but Buras mails thousands of cards and knows he can make money if he hears from even one person who has equity but wants to sell quickly.

"The way most people sell a house is through a Realtor but sometimes people are in situations where other factors are very important to them,'' he said. "It may be that they're moving out of state and can't deal with the waiting or maybe someone has passed away and the house is full of stuff. So what's more important to them is cash and convenience as opposed to maximum price.''

The woman who sold the Belleair Bluffs house, for instance, had lost her job and was leaving Florida to move closer to relatives.

Buras, who has a marketing background, said his approach has helped him find and flip dozens of homes, initially in New Orleans and since 2016 in Tampa Bay. He has learned that real estate investors need to change their strategy as market conditions change.

In the "buy and hold'' years from 2007 to 2009, investors bought houses cheaply and rented them out because there were so few buyers.

"Those guys are selling now and making a fortune because the market has roared back,'' Buras said. A flipper today who does a good rehab job and puts the house back on the market can also make money because the demand for nice homes is outstripping the supply, he said.

"When that swings the other way, if interest rates go up more than expected or if things slow down, you may be looking for more of a 'fix and hold' where you just hang onto something and rent it,'' Buras said. "You have to pay attention to where you are in the market.''

Contact Susan Taylor Martin at smartin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate

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