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« All Together Now - Joanna in Toronto Life Magazine | Main | Greater Toronto REALTORS┬« Reported 4,120 Resale Housing Transactions in February »

Totally Flipped Out - Joanna in Toronto Life Magazine

Buying dumpy houses to fix up for the reno-averse was a foolproof way to make a buck. Not anymore

Toronto Life
Bert Archer
February 2009 

At the height of the boom, even total novices were able to make a bundle scooping up unlovely properties by the dozen to fix or fluff before turning them over. These so-called flippers regularly pocketed between 15 and 30 per cent profit on their investments, but don’t hate them because they’re rich: though the term “flipper” carries connotations of a cavalier disregard for anything but dollars, they play an important role in the urban property ecosystem. Pretty pot lights, granite countertops and stainless steel appliances lure otherwise wary buyers into dodgy neighbourhoods, expanding the horizons of prosperity. Areas like Leslie­ville and Riverdale owe a good deal of their ascendancy to flippers, who generally follow in the wake of artists and resourceful homosexuals, paving the way for the gentry.

Jason Etheridge, an executive in a distribution business, flipped 14 houses between 2005 and 2008. Employing two contractors and three general labourers full-time, and outsourcing on larger projects, he renovated properties in Riverdale, Leslieville and the Upper Beach. “I got sucked in by all the TV shows,” he says. “I thought it would be fun.” (A&E debuted Flip This House in 2005, and HGTV followed with four flipper shows; the latest had the misfortune to premiere this past October, when Toronto sales were down 35 per cent from 12 months earlier.) It was better than fun: Etheridge figures for every dollar he put in, he got two back. Now, however, his assessment of the future for casual flippers isn’t optimistic. These days, open houses draw just 20 per cent of the crowds they used to. There’s still money to be made on the low-cost improvements he calls “IKEA renos,” but in less urban areas, like Orillia or Barrie. In Toronto, he says bluntly, “It’s over.”

Agents who specialize in speculator clients—a formerly lucrative niche that’s now bound to wither—agree that there’s an industry-wide lull. Joanna Duong of Coldwell Banker Terrequity Realty says all of her investor clients are waiting to see if the prices are going to go any lower before diving back in, perhaps in the spring.

Flippers are jumpy creatures, the game they play not unlike a high-stakes version of musical chairs. When the downturn comes, someone is always left standing. The current crop of speculators may be able to take comfort in a comparison. Those caught holding properties in 1989 had little chance of ever recouping their investments. Back then, after a five-year value increase of 167 per cent, prices went into free fall and didn’t begin their slow climb for seven years. This time, the drop has been far less precipitous. Etheridge had two houses on the market when it tanked: one in Riverdale and one in Leslieville. They took more than 60 days to sell, but he didn’t make out too badly. He netted a $10,000 profit on the Riverdale house and lost $25,000 on the one in Leslie­ville. Previous profits helped cushion the blow: “That’s why I’m not having a panic attack.”

Posted on Tuesday, March 10, 2009 at 12:00PM by Registered CommenterElaine in | CommentsPost a Comment | References1 Reference

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