Hat tip to SD Squatter for sending in this article from the wsj.com:
LADERA RANCH, Calif.—Rising home prices have fueled the return of a practice that some blamed for inflating the bubble: house flipping.
In California, the number of homes sold in recent months that had been flipped—or bought and resold within six months—has reached the highest levels since late 2005, according to PropertyRadar, a real-estate data firm. About 6,000 homes have been flipped in the state this year through April, or more than 5% of all homes sold statewide.
While flipping is re-emerging nationwide, brokers say it is happening most in California, where home prices have risen sharply over the past year. Six of the 10 largest price gains in major U.S. cities over the past year have been in California, according to Zillow. In April, home values rose by 25% from a year earlier in San Jose, San Francisco and Sacramento, and by 18% in Los Angeles.
“When prices rise, this trade works. It’s not anything more sophisticated than that,” said Christopher Thornberg, an economist with Beacon Economics in Los Angeles.
The industry is split over whether the current flipping activity could lead to potential problems. Jed Kolko, chief economist and a vice president at Trulia Inc., an online real-estate site, says the current activity isn’t indicative of a bubble. “A bubble is when prices are rising fast from high levels,” he said. “We’re not there now.”
Competition for homes “is reaching bubble proportions, and I’m very wary of it,” said Rich Worcester, a real-estate agent in San Diego who flipped about 25 homes last year for himself and clients. Mr. Worcester is representing a colleague who paid $675,000 last month for a foreclosed three-bedroom home in San Gabriel, a Los Angeles suburb. After installing new appliances, relandscaping and staging the empty house with furnishings, it hit the market for $867,000 earlier this month. Mr. Worcester said it hasn’t yet received any offers, and he conceded he may cut the price.
Investors generally make all-cash payments, which gives them an extra advantage over buyers who must complete a lengthy mortgage-approval and home-appraisal process.
Robert Ganem beat out four other offers this year when he paid $600,000 for a short sale—in which a home is sold for less than the amount owed on its mortgage—in Ladera Ranch, in southern Orange County. He made cosmetic renovations—fresh paint, new hardwood floors and kitchen tiles—before selling it a few weeks later for $755,000.
“A year ago, I couldn’t give them away. I was definitely swimming against the current,” said Mr. Ganem, who said he flipped 20 houses last year, double the previous year. Before he became a full-time real-estate investor, Mr. Ganem worked as a mortgage broker in Los Angeles. Flippers get a “bad rap” in the public eye, he said. “Most buyers want a home that’s move-in ready. We come in and make repairs that a bank or an underwater owner is not going to do.”
Meanwhile, the growing competition from investors is unwelcome news for ordinary buyers. After waiting years for prices to hit bottom, “buyers are jumping in before prices bounce so high they can’t afford it,” said Christine Donovan, a real-estate agent in Costa Mesa, Calif.
Parviz Goshtasby, who moved to Southern California three years ago, is finding few homes available to entry-level buyers in Newport Beach, where starter homes can begin at $800,000. “I slowly realized that I can’t compete with these investors,” said Dr. Goshtasby, a plastic surgeon.
After three unsuccessful offers, he agreed to pay $1.6 million for a home in January after the seller agreed to finance a 10% second-lien mortgage, but the deal fell through when the seller later got cold feet. Two weeks ago, he offered to pay the $1.2 million asking price on another home that ended up selling to a cash buyer.