5 Simple Things I Wish I Had Done When I Started Flipping Houses

by | BiggerPockets.com

Hindsight is 20/20 as they say.

Looking back at how things were when I was getting started, I realized there were things that I could have done better.

Had I done these things in the beginning, I’m 100% sure my house flipping would have progressed much faster. Hopefully these tips will find people that are struggling with some of them and are not even aware of it. If so, this article will surely speed up your progress.

Here are the 5 things I should have done when I got started flipping houses:

  1. How to Invest in Real Estate While Working a Full-Time Job

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    Figured Out I Didn’t Need To Be An Expert To Take Action

    Not that I became an expert before I got started, but I think I could have progressed much faster had I dealt with the self-doubt and started taking action earlier.

    I continuously hear people talking about analysis paralysis and needing more information before they finally ‘take the plunge’. We all just need to get one more course or learn about that other technique that we just heard about.

    If we could add another tool to our toolbox so that we could cover every conceivable situation, we’ll be good to go. Unfortunately, you will never be prepared to handle every situation. That’s just a fact of life. It’s time to face it.

    When I got started, I learned about the basics… which reminds me of the book title, “Everything I really need to know, I learned in Kindergarden.”

    Looking back, the basics were really all I used as I started taking action and putting myself out there, getting out of my comfort zone, growing, learning, finally making it happen. It turns out I really didn’t need to learn the ins and outs of ‘subject to’ or ‘section 8’ or ‘tax strategies for real estate investors’ (heck, I wasn’t even making any money yet and I was already trying to figure out how to save on taxes) or ‘land investing’.

    Man, what was I thinking?

    It’s Much More Comfortable To Have To Learn Just One More Thing

    It’s just a way to avoid what we are afraid of. If we don’t do something we’re not used to, we can’t fail. We won’t make a mistake while we’re trying to learn that new aspect of investing.

    As soon as I would read something new on a forum, I’d think, “Ok, I need to find out more about that. That’s something I need to know.”


    It wasn’t something I needed to know. It was a way to avoid having to take action.

    Of course, I needed to educate myself to a certain level, but that level doesn’t need to be an expert level. I don’t think people can get to the expert level until they take action and learn from the school of hard knocks. Besides, knowing a little about a lot of different things can be a true detriment. I’m immediately thinking of situations where new investors confuse the heck out of sellers with their 5 different purchase options that involve crazy tactics that were concocted by someone that had not even tried it before. Scary.

  2. Focused On Getting My Message In Front Of The Right People

    I wish I had truly focused on just getting my message in front of the people that needed it. I started by marketing to motivated sellers for deals.

    The majority of my time should have been spent working on doing just that. When spending some time working on something, I should have asked myself, “Is this allowing motivated sellers to find me NOW?”

    You see, I was spending a lot of time staying in my comfort zone, making SWAG. My wife would always see me designing and ordering new refrigerator magnets and pens with my message on them and would ask what I was doing. I thought I knew, but I was lying to myself. All of those things were just sitting in boxes in my office, yet I was ordering more. We had two boxes with 10,000 door hangers that sat for over 2 years.

    What good was that?

    It wasn’t like motivated sellers were going to magically come knocking at my door and go straight into my office to dig through boxes to find my message. I wish they would. That would truly make things a lot easier.

    What I needed was a plan.

    What I should have been doing was writing up a marketing plan that focused on the marketing that got the phone ringing immediately. A plan that I could start implementing that would keep my marketing consistent.

    Instead of ordering pens that very few people were seeing, I should have been putting bandit signs up at super busy intersections or driving neighbors looking for vacant, distressed houses. It’s very obvious that ordering more pens is the easier of the choices, but what were we trying to do? We weren’t trying to market for marketing’s sake. We wanted and needed to get the phone ringing.

    I was collecting junk in my office when I should have been collecting junky houses.

  3. Talked More With Other Local Investors

    I wish I hadn’t been such a hermit in the beginning. I’d been to local real estate investment association meetings on several occasions but didn’t talk to a single person other than my wife. At the time, I didn’t think it really mattered.

    Now, I know better.

    This one actually took me a while to truly figure out. I just wanted to be the lone wolf figuring out how to outsmart my competition. That’s not what we would call an ‘abundance mentality’. You’d think everyone would just want to keep what they are doing to themselves, but most are really willing to share if you take the time to really build a relationship. You’ve got to give in order to receive.

    One of the biggest benefits I’ve realized over the past several years is that other investors are willing to work leads that I have no interest in. I get leads all the time that I don’t have any desire in working. Now that I have good relationships with several other local investors, I just make a phone call or simply text message the information to them and they work the lead. If they buy, I get paid a referral fee. All from leads that would have just ended up in my trash can because they didn’t meet my investment criteria.

    Don’t assume all investors have the same criteria as you or are working the same investment strategies as you.

  4. Always Made An Offer No Matter What

    I wish I had made offers on every house that I looked at. It’s crazy to think about how much money I’ve left on the table over the years. Even aside from not knowing other investors that might be interested in a particular deal, there were houses that I could have made a super lowball offer on that may have been accepted.

    I’ll never know because I didn’t make the offers. They were just not houses that I had any interest in. But…
    At the right price, anything can be a deal.
    Buying at the right price will allow you to just sell the deal to someone that would be interested in it.
    These are the best opportunities because you don’t really care whether you buy the house or not. In fact, even though you are offering super low, you still kinda hope they don’t accept it. It’s funny how that works.

    Don’t be afraid to make super lowball offers for properties you have no interest in. There’s a good chance your competition isn’t even making an offer.

  5. Stayed Out Of War Zones

    I wish I had stayed out of war zones. It just wasn’t worth it. War zones are areas where gangs, prostitutes, drug dealers, etc. are out of control (or in control – however you want to look at it).

    You can find some really awesome deals in these areas … and these are the types of leads I sell to other investors (birddogging).

    Risking your life or well being to make a buck is never worth it, in my opinion. You never know what could happen in those areas. This is especially true if you prefer to drive a fancy car, wear lots of jewelry and don’t have a clue about how things really are in these areas.

    If you find yourself looking at a house that is one of more than 2 dozen that are boarded up on the same block, there are prostitutes walking the streets at 9:00 in the morning, guys are exchanging little baggies on the street corners and gun shots are being fired nearby, you know you are in a war zone.

    Do your family and friends a favor and avoid these areas. These are for hardened landlords and greater fools.

Final Thoughts

There you have it.

If you’re just getting started, I hope you gained some insight into what will surely help you avoid some of the things that stunted my growth.

If you have been flipping houses for a while and have looked back at some things that you could have done better, please share them in the comments below. It will be a great help to all of us. Thanks for sharing.

Don’t forget to ‘Like’ this article if you enjoyed it. 🙂

Photo: Kurt Nordstrom

About Author

Danny Johnson (G+) is a real estate investor in San Antonio, TX. Visit his blog: Flipping Junkie - A House Flipping Blog to follow along with him as he shows, in detail, the marketing he is doing, the leads being generated, the lead and deal analysis, the rehabs and really, just about everything. He also provides real estate investor websites at LeadPropeller.com.


  1. Melodee Lucido on

    Another great article by you Danny. Your stuff is always where the rubber hits the road and written in an enjoyable style.

    I was working with pre-forcs back in 2003-5 and did some marketing thru direct mail. I did pretty well but I wish I would have marketed more. The cost was a thing and then life happened in my world so I was out of the industry until this year.

    I’ve always longed to get back in the game. Now I do the good things you talk about here. And I am marketing like crazy—every which way I can. And I won’t stop. I know if the phone doesn’t ring this week it might next week. But it FOR SURE won’t if the marketing doesn’t go out.

    The phone is ringing with 95% genuine possibilities; only a couple lookie loos.

    Thank you for your shared wisdom!

    • Thank you!

      Awesome to hear you are getting back into it and sounds like making a real go of it. You definitely have the right attitude. Just a matter of time.

      Who are you targeting right now with your marketing, if you don’t mind my asking?

  2. The first flip house deal I ever did with was going to be a long term hold. I bought the place for $2000 (it was an estate house in a rental area).

    I was over at the property looking through the booty, the place was completely filled with 60 years of accumulated furniture and personal items, actually sold most of the stuff off for $5000 and found an antique pistol, about $420 in cash and a nice bottle of 18 year old Glenlivet . Just as I was locking the place up a guy in a pick up truck stopped to ask how I had gotten the place as he had been staking it out for weeks. Good thing too because he offered me $20k which I countered with $21k as is.

    At settlement he asked how long I had been flipping houses, “About 10 minutes!”

    Nice thing about this deal was the deed had not been recorded in the public record showing my low purchase price, later I got an irate call, the place had quite a few issues, including a structural defect. Lucky I found out about this flipping stuff just in time to unload this headache.

    Don’t feel too sorry the guy turned the place around and has a very nice 4 bedroom Section 8 rental house. Everybody has to learn sometime, I learned how to flip and he learned to look a lot harder before he buys next time.

    • Great story, Dennis. It was an awesome read.

      I’ve never found cash. Don’t know if that’s because I never really looked very hard through the junk or that the contractors found it and never told me. I’d like to think there just never was any in the houses we’ve done.

      Sounds like that place had a lot of ‘good’ stuff in it. There was one place we bought that had a cedar chest and some glass ware that was wrapped up in newspaper from the 50’s. I think that’s where we got the little ceramic squirrel that sits on our kitchen window sill that has a little name tag that says, “Nutsy”.

      Heck of a deal you created on that one. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Great article! Never been involved in the Flipping side of the business but it has always captivated me. I really liked your approach regarding to make an offer anyway, since I have walked away from some good deals that I probably could made it if I would offer. Sometimes I feel a little bit hesitant to make what it can be considered a low ball offer thinking that it will be rejected anyway and what the person might think about me. I will take your advice and will go ahead and be more assertive with the offers.

    Thanks for sharing your flipping experiences with us!

    • Hey Alex.

      Glad you had a good take away from the article. I too wish I had learned that earlier on.

      Regarding what they might think about you: you might just be the only one making an offer. So, in that case, you would probably like you very much. That’s one way to look at it. They probably know full well that they have an undesirable piece of…property.

      I hope that makes you some extra money.

      Take care.

  4. Great article. and very very timely for me. I have just started flipping (tried wholesaling but couldn;t get good enough deals). I have most of the issues you mention above – I have not been marketing (bad), I am terrible at networking – I go to REI meetings and don;t talk to anyone! (bad, bad) – I have stopped trying to learn everything – so one step forward, and I have made a bunch of low offers – not on all but a fair amount – so am progressing on that. And I don;t ever intend to go to a war zone: 🙂
    SO, I know how to market, I just need to DO IT! But I am stuck on the networking – I am a pretty shy person and feel uncomfortable approaching people that I don’t know. And on the odd occassion that I have tried, I get tongue tied. SO how do I overcome this obstacle???
    Any feedback or comments appreciated.

    • Hi Corinne.

      That’s a great question. The key is to understand that people, especially real estate investors, like to talk about themselves and the deals they’ve done. You should try to focus on meeting people that doing deals so they should have plenty to ramble on about. Just start by asking them their preferred investment strategy. Then maybe ask about what some of their best deals were. Have them do all of the talking with open-ended questions.

      If they seem like someone you could see yourself becoming friends with, tell them you enjoyed the talk and would like to get some coffee, or lunch, or whatever and talk more about the business.

      Another way is to let them know that you are doing a lot of marketing (when you are) and let them know that there will probably be leads that you won’t be interested in because they are not in areas you like, or meet your criteria. Ask if they would like to work out some sort of deal to pay you for leads that they end up buying.

    • Sonia Spangenberg on

      Corrine, I was severely shy when I was younger. One thing I discovered was that I was too focused on myself and worrying about what people were going to think of me. When I had my kids and was out in public with them and strangers would come up to talk the focus was on my kids. I noticed I seemed to be less shy. I find people generally love to tell you about themselves so I decided I was interested in what others were thinking or doing. I just started asking them about themselves and as they were responding, making a few appropriate comments to indicate that I was listening. I began to get over my self consciousness over time. Just go armed with questions you want to ask them about what they do and how they got started. Quit worrying about what you need to tell them about you. It’s okay to say you are just getting started and want to learn. I find people generally love to tell you about themselves so I go with it. Hope that helps a little. Give youself time. You’ll do fine. Sonia

  5. Agree 100% on the war zones. That is for the hard core landlord and junk investors without capital who could care less what happens to the property or investor who purchases it. These investors are just looking to make a quick thousand or 2 and do not care who they rip off in the process.

  6. Wow… thanks for an awesome post… well it’s true that in the beginning of every business is always a “me against the world”… but you showed here how to overcome that circumstances… and continue to grow as a good investor.. hope to meet up these requirements…

  7. Thanks for your great insights. I’m a new investor who tries to buy/fix/hold/rent. I just offered 3 houses which I’m waiting for the results. I’ve also had 2 renting properties @ SA, TX. I have met so many investors when I went to local investor clubs & exchanging business cards. Also, I’m learning a lot from the experiences investors how not to make mistakes when I’m investing real estates. Thanks again for your tips to succeed.

  8. Danny, I can’t help but add to your list of people who should operate in war zones.

    First, I 100% agree with you. It is not the place for flippers.

    But I don’t think you need to be “harden landlord” or “greater fool” to operate in a troubled neighborhood. There are other approaches to landlording in these areas – such as neighborhood restoration or advocacy. It’s is not for those wishing to be passive investors, but these approaches are lucrative and worth learning about.

    Anyway, your point is well taken; these places are not for folks with short term interests.

  9. War zones are good places to turn a buck, not every street or block as issues, I have done deals there, and earn a fair profit, I’m a whole saler, and my very first deal came from bandit sign marketing, the lady called me a had a house she wanted to get rid of, it had been vacant over three years, gang bangers were using the place as there hood written on the door in black spray paint, and the rest of the house had gang writing all over the walls as will, anyway sold the house with in three hours after getting it under contract for 3k sold it for $4,500.. made a quick $1,500, the house was rehabbed and everyone was happy, I have buyers who just buy these area’s, Its true you need to pay attention to where your buying properties, but to say NO Way I’m limiting my self, when my signs say any area I mean I’ll look at any deal, not all my buyers will buy in the area, howeverI have buyers that do, I have buyers that buy in different area’s price ranges etc. You can make money in the war zones, I,ve done it and have never had an issue, if you ask questions ID who your doing business with in other words do your due dilgence, in our area the city is spending money in the metro area, home values rose 8.8% over the past 12 months where the better area,s of town they stayed the same. Its just a matter of your comfort zone.

    • Paul Leason wrote:
      Paul Leason December 13, 2012 at 4:20 pm

      John I am interested in your comment about getting a house under contract. When you FLIP it on and make the $1500, is that profit disclosed in the Purchase Agreement? If so, how do you handle this with the buyer and seller when the Assignment amount is higher? Do you use a special form to Assign your purchase interest in the property to the new Buyer?

      I have the same question for you John. I understand the process of wholesaling, but I am in the dark about the different contracts. How is an assignment contract supposed to be worded?

  10. John I am interested in your comment about getting a house under contract. When you FLIP it on and make the $1500, is that profit disclosed in the Purchase Agreement? If so, how do you handle this with the buyer and seller when the Assignment amount is higher? Do you use a special form to Assign your purchase interest in the property to the new Buyer?

    • No the profit is shown on the contract of assignment, the contract with the seller is for 3K, I explain to the the seller that I will be finding a buyer to buy the house and close, in other words this is how I earn my money, remmeber we dont charge commissions or fees to sell the property we earn our money when we sell the property to our buyer, he thens signs the assignment contract agreeing to the $1500 fee, and closes the deal with the buyer. the buyer is happy to pay the fee. You want to build a list of buyers, you find them at REI meetings , sheriffs sales, running adv’s on criags list, bandit signs work the best, I always put bandit signs on shadow inventory houses, and REO’s, and alwatys around busy intersections the more eyes on your sign the better, marketing is key your always marketing if not your not in business, take action to get results no action = no results its just that simple.

      • Thanks for the reply. I was just wondering how to get a larger assignment fee. I had an opportunity to make $16k on an assignment, but knew that the deal would not go through if the seller found out, so I ended up cutting my profit significantly. The other option was to buy the properties (it was a multiple property deal) and then sell them, involving 2 closings, 2 sets of title insurance policies, 2 sets of sidewalks inspections etc….
        Do you use a specific assignment contract?

  11. Thanks Danny! This article is just what I needed to hear. I have been stalling on my action, too scared of the ‘what-if’s’.
    Challenges that I have been running into that make me freeze are 1) finding good comps w/o using the MLS…Zillow isn’t very accurate and doesn’t display all recently sold props, and 2) cost of repairs, I am afraid my lack of experience in this area is going to hurt me.
    ‘What if my offer is too high because I don’t have good comps and I my repair estimate is too high?’ That is what I struggle with.

    I think I need to take the plunge and just do it. I will learn more as I go.

    • When your not sure about a market, doing your first Deal I like to use what is call an “Option ot Purchase Property”, google This and learn how to use this doc it simple but powerful also,, if you over bid, a deal and the seller wont rengotiate the price you just walk away from the deal, the only money lost would be your Option fee, and what ever marketing cost you had, I like to use this strategy when I’m working a new area, looking to build a buyers list for the area, and the get time to market the property, ie 60 days,.Again every thing in the option is negotiatible, terms price etc,

    • Melinda,

      Great to hear that you are ready to start taking action.

      Concerning comps: have you tried to talk to Realtors to see if any would be willing to work with you and allow you to look up comps or look them up for you? How you approach them is of the utmost importance. You have to go into it with some value for them. That could be allowing them submit your offers and list properties you are going to be selling or even offering to pay part of their MLS fees. You might have to talk to a lot of Realtors before you find one willing to work with you, but it can be done. You know how important this is, so don’t be afraid to put in the necessary work to get it.

      Regarding the repair estimates: ask other local investors for referrals for contractors and/or drive areas with lots of rehabs going on and talking to the contractors. Schedule to look at some fixer-uppers and have the contractor go through with you and give you ideas of costs for major items. This should give you a good idea. Even if something is not needed for a given house, ask what it would cost to replace.

  12. Great article Danny… This article consists of the truth, that mostly experienced investors, even a little experienced ones can really appreciate the depth of wisdom in your singular message of “just get out there”, “just do it”, “take action” after, only some basic reading/ research. However Danny, on the flip side, as a beginner investor, you do not want to make avoidable mistakes, there are thousands at stake here, especially up here in New York State, with our $500k to $1mm plus properties…..

    • Thanks, Gregory.

      You are absolutely right. There does need to be a certain level of education to allow the reduction of risk to an acceptable level. What I am suggesting is taking action is the way of marketing, talking to sellers and generally doing the things that get you experience. Going out and just contracting property without knowing enough to know whether it is an actual deal is absolutely dangerous.

      Thanks for the discussion on the flip side of things.

  13. Those are some great lessons – did you steal my bio? LOL I made so many of the same mistakes you did, I thought I was reading my story as well. Its far easier to “keep learning” and never just do it – working 2 weeks on the perfect logo design for your business won’t get you any new customers. You doen’t have to get it perfect – you just have to get it done. Learned my lesson the hard way in the war zones as well, made far too many of those mistakes – they always look good on the outside – but until you do one, you’ll never really know. One of your best posts here, Danny.

  14. Great post. I think a number of people get stuck here. Action! I need to work on that myself in a few areas. I have an issue ordering books to read that look interesting but I don’t end up reading them. No one buy me any more books for Christmas! At least they are hidden in my ipad instead of on my desk.

  15. Very good artical. Obviosly Danny got started fliping so I would like to add one item for all the new landlords reading this.
    NEVER delay filing eviction papers in lieu of tenant excuses. I do not care what the excuse is. Most states give the tenant more than adquate time to bring the account current even after the paperwork has been filed with the court. Remember your threats will typically fall on def ears however when a court document shows up in the mail with a pending court date it is like a magic money tree sprouted in their yard and suddenly they will have the previosly unatainable rent (Plus Late Fees, & Court Fees if you are smart)

    *Additional benifit- Once you enforce the lease in this manner once it typically averts any further problems with rent or any other obligations they agreed to in the rental agreement.

    It pains me to think how many tenants I let skate in the begining because I was afraid of a arguement, was laze, or just did not understand that tenants will push a wimpy landlord right off a cliff.

    Good luck to all and Happy Holidays.

  16. Danny,

    You hit the nail on the head with #4! We made an extra $47,000 on a multifamily property last year that we would have otherwise passed on. I looked at it and said to myself, no way! Then made my very low offer hoping for it to be turned down. It was accepted on the spot and it scared the hell out of me. We ended up flipping it to a contractor and made a very nice profit, including paying out a huge referral fee to the wholesaler that found us the buyer.

    Keep at it,

  17. Funny, before reading this article I had just spent 30 minutes delving into the world of lien investing. Sipping on my morning coffee, I thought to myself “Self, you and your rabbit trails. You came to BP today to research resources for flipping homes and not liens”. Perhaps this comment isn’t about ones comfort zone and learning more aspects of real estate investing as a means to stay in ones comfort zone but reminder that ” A jack of all trades, master of none” won’t get you too far in this business.

  18. This article is awesome. Probably saved me from a bad deal this week as it relates to #5 and staying out of “war zones.” I looked at it today and my wife commented that she wouldn’t want me driving that street again. I’ll heed the advice here as well as listen to my wife. Win-win!

    Thank you for the post.

    • Lol. Always listen to the wife. Mine has kept me out of more trouble flipping than I would care to admit.

      There is a sign at one of my favorite bbq joints close to my house that says ‘If it doesn’t work the first time, do it the way your wife told you to’. 🙂

  19. Hi Danny,

    Thanks for this great article. It’s almost two years old, but to a brand new guy like me its gold.

    I’m also in the San Antonio area, so we might cross paths one day.

    Keep up the great work man!

  20. Thanks for this post Danny!

    Certainly food for thought. I find myself looking to learn everything first, so I can really identify with you!

    I am just getting started in this business and I really appreciate posts like yours.

    The BP community is truly something special and I hope that I can give back to you guy a once I’ve “made it”.

    Thanks again


  21. Joshua Hove

    Thanks for this post Danny!

    This is exactly what I needed to hear today. I have been “learning” for years now and dreaming about REI for much longer. The fear is keeping me from doing anything; I have a box of bandit signs in my garage that i bought 2 years ago. The actions I have taken in the last few days are helping. I am taking a day off next week to attend a sheriff’s auction, hoping to meet some investors, and I’m starting to interact on the forums on BP as well. Time for Action!!

    Thanks again!


  22. Jessica Hardison


    I loved your article! It made me laugh and was very insightful! I like that you followed your intuition and didn’t just flip a house for the money if you weren’t feeling it and I don’t think you should ever regret not being into it and acting on an opportunity just for the money that could or would have been made. I love hearing about your war zone experience but I still can’t let fear stop me from flipping in those areas if it feels right. I look forward to listening to your podcast!


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