Armed with firsthand experience, D.C. Realtor offers advice on flipped homes

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Jordan Aquino is a Realtor with McWilliams Ballard. (photo courtesy of Jordan Aquino)

When local real estate agent Jordan Aquino bought himself a house two years ago, he chose a historic home that had been freshly renovated by a “flipper” — a developer who purchased the property to upgrade and quickly resell it.

But as Aquino learned from his own purchase, buyers of a flipped home should take additional precautions to ensure the property is in good condition and up to code.

According to Aquino, after purchasing his house in the Trinidad neighborhood, he discovered a number of problems that the developer hadn’t disclosed. There was damage to the drywall that had previously been covered by a mirror, and exterior brick that was chipped and had been patched with plaster.  Not only that, but the electric meter hadn’t been separated when what had been a single-family house was converted into a duplex.

“Maybe I just got to be the unlucky one,” Aquino told The Current. “But I’m sure I’m not the only one.”

Since his experience purchasing the home, Aquino, who works as a sales manager at McWilliams Ballard’s condo sales division, has developed a set of guidelines and advice that he gives clients looking to purchase flipped properties. Anyone buying a flip should hire a reputable home inspector to examine the property, he said. Many real estate agents have a home inspector that they use regularly, but in lieu of that Aquino advises prospective buyers to consult sites like Angie’s List, look at the inspector’s social media presence and solicit referrals from friends.

Although Aquino did hire an inspector when purchasing his home, the inspection was completed quickly. In particular, Aquino said it should be a red flag if the inspector says that nothing is wrong with the property. Looking back, Aquino said, he ought to have done more research.

Real estate agent Valerie Grange, also at McWilliams Ballard, recommends working with an experienced Realtor who has knowledge of the potential problems that can occur both pre- and post-settlement.

“The Realtor I think is at the top of the list, so that you can navigate properly through the process,” Grange said.

Both Aquino and Grange also recommended researching the track record of the developer who did the flip. In Aquino’s case, there was no sign of the developer as he prepared to purchase the home; he interacted with the listing agent instead. Since the purchase, Aquino has tried to contact the developer, but has been unable to get a response.

Grange told The Current that home flippers sometimes cut corners with the plumbing and electrical systems, and suggests researching who did the actual construction. Buyers should also pay attention to the condition of the foundation and the roof, she said. If the property was converted from a single-family home to one with multiple units, the buyer should confirm that the proper permits were obtained and check whether the structure complies with zoning requirements, Grange advised.

In addition to the major components of the home like the foundation, Aquino also recommends paying attention to the smaller details, like checking the soundproofing on windows and whether light switches are aligned with the outlet covers.

When considering a flipped house, Aquino and Grange both highlight the importance of checking to see if the seller is offering a warranty. Aquino recommended purchasing an extended home warranty if one is available. D.C. law provides for a two-year structural warranty, which covers some external parts of the house, Aquino said.

Corners are most often cut by house flippers who lack financing or did not properly budget for the project, Grange said. In her personal experience, these problems are most common among less experienced or small-scale developers.

Despite the problems with the property, Aquino continues to live in the flipped house he bought and plans to stay for the foreseeable future. He has had to make a number or repairs and modifications since moving in, but likes the neighborhood and intends to stay in the house.

“I think I am 150 percent more aware of exactly what I’ve experienced,” Aquino said. “There’s a lot more questions I do as an agent in terms of representing my clients to make sure that there aren’t any gray areas, there aren’t any missed opportunities in terms of finding any flaws.”