Smart About Money: Could flipping homes be a good “side gig” for you?

Nick Maffeo

Who hasn’t watched one of the multiple house-flipping shows on TV and wondered if that would be a good way to earn some extra money?

The programs are fun and interesting. They definitely show you the possibilities.

But – while many people have certainly made real estate into a part-time gig or a full-time career – it’s important to remember that the house-flipping shows are entertainment. They’re television. Even subtracting out the drama-boosting fake deadlines and scripted arguments, those shows are not even close to real life.

For one thing, I’ve never seen a house-flipping show mention anything about Zoning. Maybe the television producers think Zoning would be too boring. But understanding local Zoning really matters.

Many cities and towns have cable-access broadcasts of their Zoning Board hearings. Watching those hearings can be sobering. People just assume that getting a variance will be simple but that’s often not the case.

Then there’s the Building Department. They don’t get mentioned much either on the TV shows. In real life, anything more than cosmetic changes is usually going to involve the Building Department, especially with pulling permits and sign-offs.

Some shows make it seem like house-flips can be quick and easy do-it-yourself projects. Again, that’s TV.

Someone with construction skills and tools might be able to handle part of the work most house-flips require. Many people don’t have those skills or tools. With trusted and reliable tradespeople usually booked months in advance, it can be difficult (or impossible) to do a lightning-fast TV-style house-flip.

House-flipping shows’ expenses often seem ridiculously low – like a new roof for $2000. Come on! Recently and unexpectedly, epic lumber shortages have led to skyrocketing prices. For someone flipping on a tight budget, that could mean the difference between profit and disaster. (As anyone in real estate or the trades will tell you, dealing with the unexpected is the norm, not the exception.)

Location really matters. Given the intense buying competition in Metro Boston, obtaining flippable properties needing a reasonable amount of work could also be tough. Flipping in an area far from where you live has its own challenges.

One last thing – when calculating the profit, most house-flipping shows do not take into account the often-substantial time the property owner has spent or the fact that it’s the owner/seller who pays a selling real estate agent.

If this “dry stuff” is making your eyes glaze over, chances are you’ll enjoy watching house-flipping shows much more than actually doing a flip. That’s not a criticism. Many things on TV are like that.

If you still have a serious interest, be wary of seminars that can often be more about “selling their system” than helping you profitably flip houses.

Start with doing your own research. Make contact with your Zoning Board, the Building Department, a local banker and someone successfully flipping homes in your area. Talk to them about your plans. Ask for their advice. See if there’s some way for you to get involved with a local flip in some capacity – even as an intern or volunteer.

House-flipping can be a genuinely interesting and profitable business – or a risky gamble and an extremely-complicated, difficult way to make “easy money.” Getting straight information and (if possible) some hands-on experience before you put significant amounts of time, energy or money on the line will serve you well.

Nick Maffeo is the President & CEO of Canton Co-operative Bank – right next to the Post Office in Canton. Have a question? Email to info@cantoncoopbank.com.

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