House flipping enjoyed a big spurt of activity in 2015, and there were few busier places for flipping than the Tampa Bay area.
Among 110 metro areas with at least 250 flips, the bay area tied with Las Vegas and Fresno, Calif., for second place in flips as a percentage of total single-family home sales — 9.2 percent.
Only Memphis at 11.2 percent had a higher share, RealtyTrac reported.
A flip is defined as a property sold at an arms-length sale for the second time in a 12-month period. By that measure, Tampa Bay had 4,561 flips.
"It was a banner year, probably the best year we've had on sales," said Chris Smith, whose Tampa-based Bay to Gulf Holdings does its own flips and also sells properties at wholesale prices to other flippers.
Fueled by the interest in such popular TV shows as Flip or Flop, flipping hit levels last year not seen since 2007 as the housing bubble was about to burst. According to RealtyTrac, 5.5 percent of all single-family home sales in 2015 were flips, up from 5.3 percent the previous year, which marked the first annual increase in four years.
"As confidence in the housing recovery spreads, more real estate investors and would-be real estate investors are hopping on the home flipping bandwagon," said Daren Blomquist, RealtyTrac's senior vice president. "Not only is the share of home flips on the rise again, but we also see the flipping trend trickling down to smaller investors who are completing fewer flips per year."
Smith agrees that "a lot of people" have become interested in flipping because of the potential profits. For Tampa Bay flips last year, the average gross return on investment was 66.5 percent and the average gross profit was $51,900. But those figures don't reflect the often substantial costs of repairs and renovations.
"People don't realize what it does take," Smith said. "You buy at $100,000 and sell at $178,000, but they don't realize all the money in between."
Smith said some of his customers are relatively experienced flippers, though "about once a week I sit down with someone who has never done it." He's currently speaking with a couple — she's a nurse, he works in a hotel — who want a property to flip or keep as a rental.
"They will buy," he said. "They have substantial money to put down, they've been saving money, which is what you have to do."
Some lenders are offering short-term loans to flippers like Benjamin Cordoba of Tampa. Last summer he borrowed $75,000 to buy and renovate a three-bedroom house in Seminole Heights, one of the bay area's most popular communities.
Cordoba sold the house for $137,5000 and closed Wednesday. After his loan costs and other costs, he made a net profit of about $50,000.
"Absolutely,'' he said when asked if he planned to try another flip. "I'm looking for my next deal this month.''
Although the Tampa Bay area ranked high in the percentage of flips, flippers in other areas did better financially.
Metro areas with the highest average gross flipping profit were San Francisco and San Jose, Calif. ($145,000); New York ($120,000); Los Angeles ($115,000); and Oxnard, Calif. ($110,000).
The Miami metro area had the most homes flipped of any market nationwide — 10,658 — and Lakeland had the biggest year-over-year increase in flips, up 50 percent.
The peak of home flipping came in 2005 at what was also the peak of the housing boom. That year, 8.2 percent of all U.S. homes were flipped as investors and speculators taking advantage of lax lending standards drove home values to unsustainable heights.
Recent data, though, "indicates that flippers in 2015 (operated) within relatively conservative margins," Blomquist of RealtyTrac said. "Homes flipped in 2015 were on average purchased at a 26 percent discount below estimated market value and re-sold by the flipper at a 5 percent premium above estimated market value."
Contact Susan Taylor Martin at email@example.com or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate.