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Home Flipping Frenzy: Should You Be Worried?

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In another sign that the housing market is beginning to resemble its pre-recession heyday, house flipping is back in style.

ATTOM Data Solutions released a report Thursday showing that flipping activity — buying and selling the same home within 12 months — is at its highest level in six years. More investors completed at least one house flip sale than in any year since 2007. And per-sale profits enjoyed by flipping investors are the highest they’ve been since 2000.

A total of 51,434 U.S. single-family home and condo sales were completed flips in the second quarter of 2016, up 14% from the previous quarter, and up 3% from a year ago, ATTOM Data said.

Daren Blomquist, senior vice president at ATTOM Data Solutions, called it a “flipping frenzy,” but he also said observers shouldn’t jump to conclusions that increased flipping activity suggests the bubble days have returned.

“We’re starting to see home flipping hit some milestones not seen since prior to the financial crisis, which is somewhat concerning, but there are a couple of important differences in the home flipping of 2016 compared to 2006, when home flipping peaked during the last housing boom,” Blomquist said.

“First, home flippers are realizing a much bigger gross ROI in 2016, averaging 49% in the first two quarters, compared to an average gross ROI of just 27% in 2006. Second, while an increasing number of flippers are financing their purchases, more than two-thirds are still using cash to purchase, compared to about one-third using cash to purchase back in 2006.”

In other words, flippers are using their own money — and making good money doing so — rather than borrowing to flip and eking out gains, a sign of risky speculation that marked the middle part of the last decade.

Logan Mohtashami, a California loan manager and housing economy expert, agreed that increased flipping activity isn’t necessarily a sign of an overheated market.

“Home sales itself are at a six-year high, so (there’s) nothing out of the norm on [this] trend,” he said. “This cycle is different than the last … Overheating to me is speculation.”

Instead, investors are acting rationally to a shift in the housing market, Mohtashami said. Since the recession, housing investors have soaked up distressed sales, such as foreclosures, to turn single-family homes into rentals. The trend has exhausted itself as the inventory of distressed homes has returned to normal, so those investors are returning to house flipping, Mohtashami said.

“The rental yield play was big early on, but the cash discount is all gone, so you don’t see growth there. Prices are rising,” he said. “Always (with) distressed homes you can flip in certain areas.”

The ATTOM Data Solutions report suggests it’s happening in plenty of areas around the country. Cities with the highest percentage of sales completed as flips last quarter were Memphis, Tennessee (11.1%); Visalia-Porterville, California (10.1%), Tampa, Florida (10.0%); York-Hanover, Pennsylvania (9.7%); and Mobile, Alabama (9.6%).

Other metro areas in the top 10 for the highest flipping rate included Fresno, California; Lakeland-Winter Haven, Florida; and Clarksville, Tennessee.

Other large markets with a population of at least 1 million and where the flipping rate was above 7% included Baltimore, New Orleans, Phoenix, Nashville, Tennessee, and Las Vegas.

Flippers made pretty good money on their sales. Homes flipped in Q2 2016 sold on average for $189,000, $62,000 more than the average purchase price of $127,000, according to ATTOM data.

“That $62,000 average gross profit was up from an average $57,250 gross flipping profit in the previous quarter,” the company said in a release, “and up from an average $57,900 gross flipping profit in Q2 2015 to the highest average gross flipping profit since Q1 2000, the earliest quarter tracked in the report.”

Cities where flippers enjoyed the highest ROI in the second quarter of 2016 were Pittsburgh (133.3%), Allentown, Pennsylvania (117.9%); New Orleans (111.5%); Cleveland (102.6%); and Philadelphia (98.9%).

(Here’s a story Credit.com wrote about a Pittsburgh flipper earlier this year.)

“Home flipping is becoming more accessible for smaller operators, thanks to an increasingly competitive lending environment with more loan options for real estate investors, who are also benefitting from the historically low mortgage interest rates,” said Blomquist. “That favorable lending environment for flippers has helped to fuel the recent flipping frenzy we’ve seen over the past five quarters.”

Remember, if you’re buying a home for yourself or as an investment, it helps to have a good credit score. That way, you can qualify for the best rates on a mortgage. You can view two of your credit scores, updated every 14 days, for free on Credit.com.

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