Flipping Houses in NY: 5 Cities to Consider
DISCLAIMER: This article is meant for educational purposes only and is not intended to be financial or legal advice. If you are considering flipping houses in NY, HomeLight always encourages you to reach out to an advisor regarding your own situation.
Investors and individuals are drawn to house flipping in the state of New York because it can be creatively satisfying as well as a very lucrative venture, with flippers earning an average profit of $56,400 in the Empire State.
But a house-flipping venture is not for the faint of heart.
Flipping takes a lot of money, know-how, manpower, and planning to be successful. That is especially true in the New York market, where house flipping margins have gotten thinner as home prices and repair costs have escalated, and buyers have been shut out of the market by higher interest rates.
On the upside for flippers, property is very affordable in many cities in Upstate New York, such as Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse, which helps ensure room for profits at the end of the day.
We tapped two top HomeLight agents to help you navigate the ins and outs of house flipping in the State of New York as well as provide some tips and tricks specific to New York properties.
With more than 17 years of experience in the Syracuse market, Frank Procopio has closed nearly 600 real estate transactions and has personal experience flipping houses, as well as working with investors and homebuyers who are actively flipping houses in the area.
Dylan Wise, a single-family home expert, brings more than 10 years of experience to his work and has closed more than 200 transactions from his base of operations in Camillus, New York.
What is house flipping?
House flippers buy homes, hold them for a couple of months, and then sell them for a profit (that’s the flip part). Typically, they buy distressed properties — either short sales, foreclosures, or homes that need significant work — fix them up, and sell them for a profit. Sometimes flippers buy and sell homes to wholesalers without making any repairs or updates.
The goal is to buy low and sell for a high profit — one that covers both the home’s initial cost and any improvements.
“Most flippers who are successful have found off-market deals, in some cases, going direct to sellers and negotiating a deal,” Procopio says. “Investors used to get some of their properties from the county auction, but that inventory became limited due to the moratorium on foreclosures during the height of the COVID pandemic. So, they have had to look elsewhere in recent years.”
Is house flipping profitable in New York?
In New York, as in many states, the profit margin depends largely on the individual market, as prices in New York City are going to be dramatically different from Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, or Albany.
Profits are also going to be impacted in 2023 by anticipated slower price growth in some communities. Where New York City housing prices are expected to decelerate moderately or stay flat in 2023, price growth in Buffalo is forecasted to grow 6%. Albany, Rochester, and Syracuse are also expected to be on the plus side in the 4%-5% range.
On the national front, the percentage of houses flipped in the first quarter of 2022 was at its highest level since 2000, but flippers didn’t make a correspondingly high profit. According to Attom Data, profit margins were at their lowest since 2009. The rising cost of material and labor and the escalating cost of the properties themselves contributed to the decline. But if that sounds discouraging, the median profit was $67,000 per flip — which is still an attractive number to many flippers.
How much do New York flippers make?
According to the real estate investment lending site New Silver, the average Fix and Flip investors in New York are generating $56,400 per flip.
Wise says most of the investors in his area are looking for a 15%-20% profit. “Different investors are looking for different ROIs,” he says. “When I go into a property, I am looking for 15%-20%, but I have seen some investors looking for 10%-15%.”
Procopio agrees, noting that in the lower price range, it’s often not about the percentage. “One of our clients who flips houses in the $110,000 to $150,000 range won’t touch a deal if he can’t make at least $20,000. He’s not looking for a percentage. Others want a 15% return. How they are managing their debt is going to determine how much they need to make.”
Best places in New York to flip a house
While the State of New York ranks low on the domestic migration front, losing residents to warmer climates in recent years, the state is in the top three for international immigration. So, it’s not surprising that the highest population growth counties are in the New York City area, including the Bronx, Kings, Nassau, Orange, Queens, Suffolk, and Westchester, which makes it an attractive market for flippers.
Albany, Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse round out the top five cities for flippers in New York State, and these four cities are — not surprisingly — located in counties experiencing population growth, including Albany, Erie, Monroe, and Onondaga. Although New York City is typically an active market, these four cities are forecasted for growth in 2023 because they are some of the most affordable markets in the country.
Let’s take a look at the data for each area as well as the general economic factors that impact their growth:
Albany is the capital of New York State, with a metro population of approximately 900,000. Due to the presence of the state government and the recent growth of its tech valley region along the Hudson River, the city is one of the fastest-growing areas in New York. It boasts an unemployment rate of 2.5%, well below the national average of 3.4%. At the start of 2023, Albany’s average home value was $260,958, up 4.6% over the past year.
Buffalo is positioned for growth in 2023. Its 2023 year-starting median home value of $201,076 represents an 8.7% increase over 2022. Manufacturing, which has long been the staple of Buffalo’s economy, has fallen off in the past few years, but the city has successfully shifted growth to its technology, health, and education sectors. It also enjoys a healthy boost from trade with its Canadian neighbors. At 3.1% unemployment, it also falls below the national average.
Rochester is New York’s third-largest metro area, with more than one million residents. It is best known for its world-class optics, imaging, and photonics industries, which often work in tandem with the researchers at the University of Rochester, the region’s largest employer. The city enjoys a median home value of $182,940, which represents a growth of 8.3% over last year, and low unemployment of 2.8%. Low housing stock has kept the city in the competitive range, with more than 74% of homes selling above list price.
Syracuse, like Albany and Rochester, has seen a decline in manufacturing in recent years, but high-tech manufacturing is still strong, as is the city’s education, research, healthcare, and services sectors. University Hill is Syracuse’s fastest-growing neighborhood, as it is a prime location near the growing healthcare industry surrounding Syracuse University, Upstate Medical University, and small medical office complexes in the region. The median home value at the start of 2023 is a modest $157,662, which is an increase of 9.4% over 2022. Unemployment is low at 2.8%, which bodes well for the housing market in 2023.
New York City
New York City has rebounded from its population loss during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and is anticipating further population growth in 2023. Its technology sector has expanded in recent years, becoming an important part of its economy. Its diverse international culture continues to be a draw for immigrants from around the world. Affordability is an ongoing challenge — with a median home value of $629,516 — but this still represents a 4.1% increase over 2022. New York City’s unemployment rate kicked off the new year at 3.7%.
Step-by-step guide to flipping houses in New York
Create your network and evaluate your skills
Unless you’re a licensed contractor, you’ll need a network of professionals to help you flip. Even if you’re handy around the house, evaluate your skills honestly. For some projects, particularly electrical and plumbing, you’ll need an expert.
Keep in mind that buyers may be wary of purchasing a flipped home if they can’t verify that permits were pulled and the work was done by licensed professionals.
Put together a network of experienced, licensed professionals before you start scouting houses. In addition to people to perform the remodeling work, you’ll need an agent to find homes, a stager to help sell them, and possibly a lawyer to draw up legal documents.
“The investors I work with are mostly experienced and have their own crews,” Procopio says. “If I have first timers, they are the ones who will typically fail, and it’s because of the contractors they use. The successful flippers are the ones who have developed good relationships with contractors to keep them honest.”
You can save money by doing some of the work yourself, of course. According to Wise, putting in a little sweat equity on the interior work can improve your profit margin.
“If you have some skills, lay the flooring or do the painting,” he advises. “You can buy and place the cabinets yourself or do some of the more minor electrical work, like switching out lights. Demo (tearing down parts of a house) is a big one too. A lot of flippers have the ability to do that work and it saves money and time. Contractors can hit the ground running faster when they are coming into a space that has already been demoed.”
Develop your budget
A budget that takes into account all repairs, fees, and the unexpected is a key piece to successfully flipping a home. But how do you account for the unexpected? Since flippers don’t have a crystal ball to see the future, the industry has developed the 70% rule.
This rule states that you should never pay more than 70% of the after-repair-value or “ARV” of a property, less any repairs, that you’re flipping. The ARV is your estimate of the home’s worth after all repairs have been done.
For example, if the ARV of your flip is $300,000, and it needs $50,000 in repairs, you shouldn’t pay more than $175,000 to acquire the property. If all went well, you’d still have $75,000 in profit to cover other expenses (such as agent and stager fees). Even if something went wrong, you likely wouldn’t end up losing money.
Elements of your budget to pay attention to:
- Down payment and lender fees
- Home inspection fees
- Closing costs
- Mortgage payment, property taxes, and insurance fees for every month you’ll own the property
- Contractor fees
- Permit fees
- Utilities while you own
- Marketing fees, such as a stager and professional photographer
- Real estate agent fees to sell the property
When creating a budget, Wise says he begins with the number that he believes he can reasonably sell the house for when the repairs are completed.
“Generally, I start from the back — what is the after-repair value (ARV) when the house has been fully renovated? I determine what is the most I can get out of it. From there, I decide what repairs I can afford to make.”
Inflation has had a big impact on renovating a house and that is something flippers have to take into consideration when creating a budget, Wise adds. “The cost of all materials is going up and that is eating into profits.”
He also points out that in New York, the exterior of a house takes a beating from the weather, and you have to be cautious about buying a house that needs a lot of exterior work in addition to interior renovations.
“It is crucial that you make sure you have good bones to begin with,” he says. “Having to replace a roof, the windows, a furnace or a lot of plumbing and electrical is expensive. If those are OK, you can focus your funds on the interior.”
Financing your flip in New York
Purchasing a home to flip with cash is almost always going to be in your best interest — however, not all investors have that kind of funding. If you need to finance the home with a mortgage, there are a few options you should consider:
- Hard money loans: These are loans from private lenders for short periods of time — they can come with higher interest rates and can be risky for inexperienced investors.
- Fannie Mae’s HomeStyle Renovation loan: This is a kind of loan offered by certain lenders that will finance the purchase of the property as well as the costs of the renovations — all wrapped up into one mortgage.
- FHA 203K Mortgage: This option allows homeowners to finance up to $35,000 in repairs identified by an FHA home appraiser or inspector. This option, however, requires the homeowner to occupy the home as their primary residence after purchasing, so it will not be the right choice for many house flippers.
Disclaimer: As always, there are benefits and drawbacks to each financing option. HomeLight always recommends that you work with a financial advisor to find the best financing option for you.
“There are a lot of financing strategies,” says Procopio. “But the ones who are most successful at creating their profit margin are those who can eliminate the debt altogether. I have two flippers who manage it out of their own self-directed IRA. I know a lot of people who were doing fix-and-flips through borrowing and bridge loans, but now, with high interest rates and more challenging timelines, it is not as successful. Money was cheap but it’s not cheap anymore.”
Wise agrees. “When buying an REO (real estate owned/lender-owned property), the banks like to work with cash. And when you are competing for property, cash is king,” he says. “Also, if you have the ability to pay cash, it limits your risk in terms of the interest you are going to have to pay in the long term. On the other hand, if you have a decent enough margin and it’s worth it to borrow money, I recommend that strategy because it allows you to stay liquid while doing the renovations. It depends on your strategy. If the seller would rather work with cash and you get a better deal, that gives you better margins on the back end.”
Research your market
One of the biggest factors that will affect your return on investment will be the market conditions in the area you are looking to flip homes in. Flipping houses requires a delicate balance of availability of homes at discounted prices, making cost-effective renovations, and buyer demand for when you go to sell. Here are some signs that a particular area in New York will yield opportunities for profitable house flipping:
A strong job market and an increasing population generally translate to increased demand for housing — look into areas with recent influxes in residents as well as low unemployment rates.
The State of New York has a lot of advantages for flippers, since there is very low unemployment in the key cities in the state, and a lot of immigrants flocking to the New York City metropolitan area.
Albany and Buffalo are both experiencing strong economic growth as they have worked diligently over the past decade to diversify their base, which has attracted some moderate uptick in their population over the past few years.
And although the economies of cities like Rochester and Syracuse aren’t growing as fast, the low price range of many of their older properties — as well as REOs coming on the market — make each of these cities a great place for flippers to get started on more limited funds.
Steady home value appreciation
One of the keys to maximizing return on real estate investments is paying attention to home value appreciation in the areas in which you are investing. Steady home price growth over the last few years can help you predict how much your investment might appreciate in value when you go to sell — this can also help inform your strategy.
Nationwide, home prices have fallen from their peaks in 2021 and early 2022. However, economists are currently predicting that the market correction we are seeing in the form of falling home prices will be short lived — Wells Fargo’s economists are predicting that prices are going to rebound in 2024 with a 3.3% increase by the end of the year. This is good news for investors currently worried about home prices falling and losing money on their investments.
While New York City may experience a price correction in 2023, it is unlikely that Albany, Buffalo, Rochester, or Syracuse flippers will have to contend with falling prices.
The bigger challenges Procopio sees on the horizon are affordability and slower sales. “Unless you have access to really good deals, the cost of goods is going to factor in. Also, affordability is now coming into play for the average American who has to contend with higher interest rates.”
And if you are borrowing money to buy or renovate, Procopio says you need to pay attention to how fast houses are moving. If houses stay on the market longer due to slower sales, you must factor in the additional length of time you are paying interest on your loans.
It is helpful from the beginning to work with a real estate agent to have an accurate ARV. A real estate agent can also help by providing comps (comparable home sales) to share with the appraiser. It can also be challenging to find a buyer for a flip. There have been agents who have identified a buyer for a flip before it is even completed. That limits your risk and your days on market. If you have the ability to work with a real estate agent, you definitely should take advantage of that.
Partner with a top real estate agent in New York
A real estate agent helps with identifying current trends and popular home upgrades. When it’s time to sell your flip, they’ll sell and market it. But they can also help you find houses to flip.
Due to high demand for housing in general, and the fact that sellers can list on the open market and sell without repairing or remodeling, it’s become harder for flippers to identify potential homes.
Wise says there are a lot of benefits to working with a professional real estate agent when flipping houses, since they bring market knowledge to buying, valuing, and selling your flip.
“It is helpful from the beginning to work with a real estate agent to have an accurate ARV,” he explains. “A real estate agent can also help by providing comps (comparable home sales) to share with the appraiser. It can also be challenging to find a buyer for a flip. There have been agents who have identified a buyer for a flip before it is even completed. That limits your risk and your days on market. If you have the ability to work with a real estate agent, you definitely should take advantage of that.”
Procopio notes also that his clients rely on him for information because he shows houses every day and is in touch with the market.
“We help them understand what buyers are looking for,” he says. “A lot of these contractors don’t know what we are seeing or where to focus dollars to get a better return on their investment. Everyone likes a new bathroom, but everyone loves a new kitchen. We can also pre-market the property and if there is someone interested, the contractor can tailor the renovation to the buyer.”
Find a home to flip
Once you’ve got an agent keeping an eye out for you, alerts set up on real estate websites, and you’re scouring the multiple listing service, it’s time to find a home to flip. It could take several months, and you might have to make several offers on available homes before you’re successful. Be patient!
“The majority of flippers who are successful have found off-market deals,” says Procopio. “They also have relied on county auctions. Unfortunately, REOs dried up during COVID because lenders were not allowed to foreclose. Now, they are starting to release those properties and we are seeing that inventory come down the pike. That is usually a flipper’s target property.”
However, Wise cautions, the toughest part of a foreclosure is not knowing the condition. “You don’t have a great chance to do an inspection or have the utilities turned on. Anything you buy as an REO you are buying ‘as is.’ There can be some good deals with an REO, but you run the risk of not knowing what the potential issues are.”
That gets back to the “good bones” theory of flipping. Working with a real estate agent allows you to better understand the condition of the property in order to properly assess what the cost of the renovations will be and what margin you can expect on the sale.
Once you win your bid, it’s absolutely crucial that you get a home inspection and an appraisal. When you walked through the home, you could probably tell you’d need to remodel the bathroom to sell. But a home inspection will reveal any hidden issues beneath the surface, such as a rotted subfloor in that bathroom, which you might have to replace to safely and successfully flip the home.
An appraisal is an estimate of the home’s current market value. If you’re using hard money or a mortgage to finance the flip, the lender will likely require it. The appraisal tells you what the home is worth now — which is valuable information if you’re concerned that you’re paying too much.
Line up the contractors, plumbers, electricians, and anyone else you might need to begin work the day after the closing. Check licenses and references before signing any contracts. Once the property is yours, there’s no time to waste!
According to the National Association of Realtors remodeling impact report for 2022, high ROI renovations to consider include a bathroom remodel with a 71% return on investment, a kitchen renovation, which has a 75% return on investment, and refinishing hardwood flooring with a whopping 147% return on investment!
“The kitchen is the feature room, and creating a nice kitchen is extremely important,” Procopio emphasizes. “Bathrooms are second, and a nice master suite is great. We are looking at the buyer pool before we start to renovate. If your target group is elderly, buyers who are downsizing or who can’t do stairs, we want to make sure the house is renovated for easy access for that population.”
All of these projects have the added benefit of improving the home’s appearance and potential appeal to buyers. Remember that whatever you can do yourself — whether it’s a fresh coat of paint or scraping popcorn from the ceiling — builds sweat equity that will make you money when you sell.
Rent or sell
Once the work is done, flippers have a choice. You can either rent the home and become a landlord or sell it. If you used hard money to finance your purchase, you’ll have to refinance to hold the property long-term and rent.
How much should the home rent for?
There are a variety of different ways investors use to determine a monthly rent on their investment properties depending on their financing needs, fair market value, and comps in their market. Here are some methods to consider when getting ready to rent out your property:
- Use an online calculator to plug in your property’s information and determine a monthly rent.
- Research comparable properties and set a monthly rent based on your findings.
- Calculate based on your financial needs: Take into consideration a monthly mortgage payment, homeowners insurance, property taxes, and a monthly maintenance budget.
- Work with your real estate agent to evaluate rental listings and tap into the MLS.
- Consider working with a rental company to handle the listing process — they will likely set the rent for you. Keep in mind that these companies will charge a fee to manage the property (10% to 20% of the monthly rent).
Setting a list price
This is where your top agent can come in handy once again — crafting a listing that highlights the improvements that were made while not being unrealistic on price is a delicate balancing act.
Work with your real estate agent to evaluate comps in the area and set a competitive price. List too high and it might sit on the market for too long, too low and you could be leaving money on the table.
Procopio says the listing price is always based on the market. “We build a little fat in the pricing so there is room to spare,” he says. “I am constantly watching the homes around a flip to see what they are selling for.”
What can go wrong with a house flip in New York?
Experienced flippers price out home repairs before purchasing a house and leave themselves a cushion for the unexpected. But not even they could have predicted the 20% increase in construction materials between January 2021 and 2022. Building materials continued to rise in cost by 4.9% in the first four months of 2022, but have since fallen to only about 1.4% higher than they were a year ago.
Increases in construction costs could eat away at your flip’s profit, or put you in the red. A delay in getting permits, or having materials delivered, would also decrease profits due to increased holding costs. The longer you own the house before flipping it, the tighter the profit margin.
“Having a plan in place for materials is crucial to do up front before you close on the deal and then be realistic that your costs are always going to be a little bit higher than you planned,” Wise advises.
He also notes that a specific challenge in New York is the fact that most homes have basements. “In California or Florida most homes are built on slabs,” he notes. “We have to deal with foundation issues and potential moisture in the basement. There are a lot more things here that make the flipping strategy a little tougher.”
Procopio says the biggest mistake flippers make is not doing their due diligence. “Sometimes, flippers get into something they shouldn’t,” he says. “They deploy without thinking. It’s a numbers game from start to finish. You have to remove the emotion.”
If you’re interested in flipping houses, New York is a great place to get started. Thanks to the modest price of homes in many of New York’s cities, flippers can get into the market at a much lower cost than in other states. And because home prices have not escalated in New York as they have in the southern tier or the coastal areas, there is still plenty of room for prices to grow, which makes it a much more stable environment for savvy house flippers.
Be mindful of your budget, skill level, and timeframe when looking for a house to flip — and definitely make sure you have a great agent on your side to help you find, assess, and purchase the right house.
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