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Don't flip out; be suspicious; do due diligence when buying a flipped house

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"Buyer beware" is a good idea when buying a house, even with contract stipulations, disclosure laws, house inspections, home warranties, insurance and prayer — because homebuying is like a stack of housewarming gifts: You never know what you're gonna get.

"Yeah, so, owning a home is pretty cool," R.F. tweeted wryly, attaching a picture of a man, presumably her significant other, on a ladder, a hole cut out of the drywall near the ceiling, and something draped over a flatscreen TV to protect it.

"Just because you are flipping a house doesn’t mean you are a plumber. Ugh. Can I track the sellers down to let them know how much this cost me?"

Upstairs plumbing leak, downstairs disaster — or costly life lesson, anyway.

What's the lesson? Stuff happens? You can't anticipate every flaw in a house?

When my wife and I moved into our house nearly 20 years ago, the sewer line from the house to the city line out back failed the first week. We'd spent every dime we had to get into the house. We had to put $2,000 or so in repairs on a credit card.

Learning what is and what is not covered by a home warranty in a buyer education class does not make it any easier.

Is the lesson emptor especially caveat — buyer especially beware — when buying from a house flipper? I'd say so.

Flippers who identify as flippers make no bones about what they do: Buy low, make repairs fast, to sell at a profit to make money fast, to buy more and repeat the process. Otherwise, they'd probably identify as "investors."

Not that there's necessarily anything wrong with that, whatever it's called.

People do use "investor" and "flipper" interchangeably, although "investor" probably should refer to buying houses to hold and rent out. TV shows made flipping cool at the height of the housing boom a decade ago, and apparently it's coming back.

Of course, buying houses, improving them and selling for a profit never went away. But "flipping" used to have a negative connotation, probably because the idea is that "anybody" can do it, and "anybody" is the lowest common denominator of everybody.

Back to R.F., the flipped-out buyer on Twitter.

She was not alone.

S.: "I have similar feelings about the people who flipped our house. We keep finding lazy work."

A.S.: "Same! They were supposed to have replaced the electrical stuff, mmmmmmno."

G.: "My brother-in-law lived 4 yrs in his house before discovering the kitchen electric was an extension cord in the crawl space."

S.: "OHMYGOD."

(Let me lean in here to second that. THAT'S NUTS. Probably criminal.)

S: "This is all why I want to build a house."

N.R.C.: "When we bought ours, all the windows had been replaced, which is awesome. But we have this dirt patch right off our back patio that keeps turning up little pieces of broken glass. I’ll pick up handfuls at a time. Pretty sure they dumped all the old windows there.

N.R.C.: "We have wanted to strangle them since about a week after we moved in. Having been on the other side of it, though, it is tough. There are shady plumbing and electrical and whatever businesses out there, and if you don’t know how to check their work — tough all the way around."

R.F. :"So true."

N.R.C.: "Yeah. It isn’t a huge deal for us, but we try to gather it as often as it surfaces because we have had our poor dogs get cuts on their feet and we generally assume that is why."

Poor pooches. Poor people. Flippin' flipper.

Warning signs are in the headlines.

"Buyer beware: Those picture-perfect flipped homes can be masked money pits"

"Flipper House: Watch Out for These Things Before You Buy"

"Local house flipper cautions looks can be deceiving on TV"

Considering a flipped house? Look at it with suspicious eyes.

Is the kitchen "off"? You will know it when you see it — and feel it.

New floors? Are they perfectly installed? If not, walk on. There are probably more flaws under other surfaces.

Check to make sure that renovations or additions were properly permitted and inspected by the city or county — and don't confuse those inspections with the work a home inspector does.

Get a home inspector. Be ready to hire a specialist such as a structural engineer if it seems smart to do so. Be smart.

And get your own real estate agent. You need people on your side.

You can email Real Estate Editor Richard Mize at rmize@oklahoman.com.

Richard Mize

Real estate editor Richard Mize has edited The Oklahoman's weekly residential real estate section and covered housing, commercial real estate, construction, development, finance and related business since 1999. From 1989 to 1999, he worked... Read more ›

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