Flipping Houses

From Layoffs to Payoffs: How Job Loss Led to a Thriving Flipping Business

Expertise: Real Estate Investing Basics, Real Estate News & Commentary, Personal Development, Flipping Houses, Landlording & Rental Properties, Personal Finance
99 Articles Written

Sometimes you get things because you do what other people won’t do.

In September of 2014, Denise H.’s husband was laid off. He was a circuit board engineer but always loved construction.

Wait. Let’s back up to the beginning of the story.

In 2010, Denise and Curt bought a house to flip. They paid $70,000 for the 800 sq ft house, and 10 short months later, they flipped it for a whopping $6,000 profit. Now, for those of you who haven’t completed a flip yet, these numbers might seem a bit off. Ten months? $6,000?? That’s it?!?

I’ve flipped a lot of houses. For your first flip, ANY profit is a huge win. Denise and Curt are still married, another for the win column. Ten months to complete? At least it WAS completed.

In 2012, they tackled their next flip. They paid $120,000 for the property, took another year to complete it, and netted $25,000. On a second flip, ANY profit is a huge win. Again, they completed it and are still married.

They purchased their next home in January 2014. And May 2014, and October 2014. And then they really kicked it into high gear.

Second Layoff

A few months after Curt lost his job, Denise joined him when her office — which handled foreclosures for several large banks — closed. Turns out the lower rate of foreclosures isn’t good news for everyone. Well, she mostly joined him. She holds the lending licenses in 40 states for her employer, so her salary took a huge cut — but so did her hours. She works about one hour a week right now, and once they find someone else to take over the licenses, that hour will be gone, too. (Update: Her job has now officially ended, freeing up that last hour to concentrate more on flipping.)

When her husband lost his job, they looked more closely at flipping. He has a construction background and decided that rehabbing houses would be his new job. They purchased their next property, and he started swinging the hammer.


Finding the Properties

Not every property is a good investment, and not every property would make for a good flip. Finding properties to flip can be a full time job. Enter Denise. She lives in a neighborhood of about 500 houses. They were built in the ’50s and ’60s, and Denise estimates that about 40 percent of them are still occupied by the original owners.

Those original owners are now in their 70s and 80s and are moving into nursing homes, smaller homes, or passing away.

Related: The 7 Commandments of Choosing a Profitable House to Flip

One such original owner toward the front of Denise’s street passed on, and her son was placing furniture at the curb as Denise drove past. So she stopped and started talking to him. It just so happened that he was putting some of the larger furniture on the curb in the hopes that someone would take it and save him the trouble of getting rid of it, so he could list the house.

Denise knew this was a good house and had had her eye on it for a while. It wasn’t yet listed, and Denise was able to make a sound offer for the property as-is.

Remember those original owners still in 40 percent of the houses? That means they’ve lived in these homes for 50+ years. That’s an awful lot of stuff to try to move out. Denise offered to buy the property, and the children could take whatever they wanted out of the property and leave behind anything they didn’t. It can be hard to sort through a lifetime of things — especially when your mother has just passed away.

Word of Mouth

Remember all those original owners? They raised their kids in the neighborhood. Many of these kids still talk to each other. Once Denise followed through with her purchase — a cash deal using hard money and closing quickly with no inspection — other opportunities presented themselves.

“Barbara’s kids sold her house to a woman who bought it with cash and didn’t make them clean it out.”

“Do you think she would want my mom’s house? I don’t know what to do with it.”

Guess what happened? It snowballed. She has purchased six properties in the neighborhood since her husband lost his job just over a year ago.

Walking the Dog

She doesn’t rely solely on this neighborhood or this word-of-mouth method for finding properties to flip. She has a dog, and takes the dog for walks every day. If she sees a house with potential, she knocks on the door and introduces herself. She always asks the same question: “Do you know anyone who is looking to sell their house?”

MLS Listings

In addition to all of her other awesomeness, Denise is a licensed real estate agent. She hung her license with a small firm that allows her to just work on her own investment deals.

Having a license allows Denise access to the MLS. Denise lives in the Denver area, which is very hot right now. Properties don’t sit on the market for very long, so if you can find one that has been sitting, you’ve got yourself a more motivated seller. Denise runs a search on properties that have been on the market for longer than 70 days, then contacts them.


Estate Sale Companies

Another great source for leads is an estate sale company. Denise has formed a mutually beneficial relationship with one, and when she purchases a home filled with stuff, she has them come out and host a sale. She just wants to get rid of the stuff, and if she can make a little money doing it, all the better. In exchange for allowing them to host the sale, they provide her with leads for other estate sales, putting her in touch with the property’s owner for her to possibly purchase their home.


Denise makes time to network with like-minded investors one to three times a week. She attends networking events and meetups — putting it out there that she’s looking to buy — and has the cash to make a quick sale.

Her experience with the aging residents in her own neighborhood prompted her to go get her Senior Real Estate Specialist designation for her real estate license, which will only help her further in her investing.

She also tells every single person she meets that she’s an investor looking for unattractive properties, that she has funding available for a quick sale, and that she purchases as-is.


Denise’s last couple of properties came through wholesalers because as she has scaled up her flipping, she has let the sourcing of new properties sort of fall to the side. Both properties were wholesaled from the MLS.

Related: House Flipping: 5 Vital Tips for Success (Based on My Mistakes!)

Since Denise is an agent, she's refocusing her efforts on finding deals. Curt just got his General Contractor's license, to give their investing an even bigger boost.

Funding the Flips

Denise and Curt used hard money loans to finance their fix and flip business in the beginning. Hard money loans have far looser lending requirements, and once you get started with a hard money lender and prove your track record, your limits increase and qualifying for the loans gets easier.

Denise was working with a hard money lender for her first few flips. She used their money to pay for the property and a HELOC to fund the repairs. Then something amazing happened. She discovered private money.

Denise has a friend who was looking to invest a significant amount of money into a commercial real estate deal that ended up falling apart at around the same time Denise needed a loan.

Let’s call her friend Sally. Sally is one of those professionals who makes a lot of money. Think doctor, lawyer, investment banker.


Denise and Sally are close enough that Sally knew all about Denise's house flipping successes. Denise made her an offer she couldn't refuse. She offered to pay Sally the same interest rate she was paying the hard money lenders — Sally would make a great return on her investment. Denise structured the deal so she would no longer have to pay points on her loan, so she benefitted as well.

Sally has a giant pile of cash sitting around, waiting for Denise to spend it. When Denise pays her back after the home sells, she just re-borrows it again the next time she needs it. Remember how Sally is a professional who makes a lot of money? She has professional friends who also make a lot of money, and if her pile of cash ever runs out because Denise has borrowed it all, Sally has friends who are looking to get into the lending business, too.

Having access to quick funding is a boon to her investing — especially in our super-hot market. She is able to make cash offers with no home inspection contingency and a close that fits into the family’s schedule — but she can close in as little as 10 days.

Denise and Curt have a house that is worth significantly more than they owe on it and use the equity in that home to fund their repairs. They pay for the repairs using a cash-back rewards credit card, then pay that off every month with their HELOC (Home Equity Line of Credit).

Their good credit allowed them to qualify for a great rewards card. They use the lower-interest rate HELOC to pay off the card every month and then use the profits from the flips to pay off the HELOC.

Lather, rinse, repeat on the next property.

Working with Contractors

Denise has been fortunate to find some pretty great contractors to use on her flips. Her electrician told her outright, “I want to be your electrician forever.” Then he backed it up by showing up when he said he would, giving accurate quotes and standing by them — and doing quality work. He is rewarded with $7,000-$10,000 electrical jobs just about every month.

He’s been with her since the first flip, and she’s had the same luck with her flooring company, who has eight crews available to do what she needs when she needs it done. (She went off-script on her latest flip and used someone who was 10 percent less expensive. They didn’t show up when they were supposed to, it took longer than planned, and ended up holding the entire project hostage until they finished. She’s going to stick to the script from now on.)

Her luck ran out with the painter. He did a great job at first, but became complacent and started to enjoy some of the recently legalized Colorado agriculture on a pretty consistent basis. He held up the last project as well.

Having a contractor come in and do the work for you is a great path to flipping success. But it can also wreck your timeline, as the painter and flooring company did to Denise. She has the proper financial backing so these hiccups don't ruin her, but that didn't just happen overnight.

Preparing for the Next Phase

Denise didn’t wake up one morning and decide she was just going to flip houses. OK, she did — but she didn’t get up, buy a house, and start flipping it before noon.

She and her husband discussed the concept of flipping houses. While they were both on board with it, it was really her idea and came to fruition because of her diligence finding the properties. The reason those first flips took so long is because she and Curt did the work themselves. At least, the majority of it.

In most cities, you have to use a licensed plumber and electrician if you are not going to be living in the property. But the demolition can be done by you, as can most everything else. So they did. Which takes a long time. You can’t flip multiple houses in a year if you are doing it all yourself AND working full time.

Denise started to lay down her foundation years ago. Someone introduced her to Dave Ramsey, and his concept of paying off consumer debt to live debt-free. She and Curt started their journey to debt freedom, reached that goal, and then started to grow their savings.

Related: The Offhand Tip That Ended Up Saving Me $11,000 on a Disastrous Flip

Once they became debt-free, they continued their frugal living, while saving their income. They built up a comfortable safety cushion and planned for an early retirement from their traditional 9-5 jobs. When Curt lost his job, it didn’t destroy them because they had a contingency plan in place.

Profits Recap

Remember back to the beginning of Denise’s flipping career? The part where she made $6,000 on her first flip? That was a hard-won $6,000. She gave up pretty much all her free time for 10 months to complete that flip. That comes out to $600 a month.

It can be so easy to become discouraged when profits are so thin. And if she was putting in 20 hours a week on the flip, assuming four weeks a month, she was making $7.50 an hour. That was more than minimum wage at the time, but not much more.

She made significantly more money on her next flip, but it also took her a long time to get back in the saddle.

Denise now hires the jobs out. She’s always on the lookout for people to add to her list but has a fantastic core of contractors she uses consistently.

She’s been making roughly 10% of the ARV in profits on her flips since she started hiring the work out, but remember her timeline. Her first flip was in 2008. She’s been doing this for eight years, so while she is enjoying enormous success now, it wasn’t always so easy. That first flip took 10 months. She made minimum wage — at the most — for all the work she did on that first project.

But she learned from it and tried it again. And made a little bit more.


Real estate investing doesn’t have to be HARD work. It can be. But it doesn’t have to be. Setting up your processes, finding your great contractors/suppliers/service providers can take a lot of trial and error.

But sticking with it, learning from your mistakes, and having a cushion for when things go sideways can make it so worthwhile.

Denise and Curt now spend their time doing things they enjoy. Curt enjoys working on the flips. Denise enjoys working on the flips.

But they can take time off whenever they choose. They can go to every event their children have, take vacations when they want to, and enjoy their lives. Because they worked very hard to get where they are.

Sometimes you get things because you do what other people won’t do.

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[Editor’s Note: We are republishing this article to help out our newer members.]

What drove YOU to start investing in real estate? What did the beginning of your investing journey look like?

Share your experiences with a comment!

Mindy Jensen has been buying and selling homes for almost 20 years. She buys houses, moves in, makes them beautiful, sells them, and starts the process all over again. She is a licensed real estate agent in Colorado, author of How to Sell Your Home, and the community manager for BiggerPockets.com, where she helps new and experienced investors learn the proper ways to invest in real estate to grow their wealth. Mindy is an alumnus of the School of Hard Knocks and will happily share her experiences with anyone who asks. When you can get her to stop talking about real estate, you can find her on her bike or adventuring in the beautiful mountains of Colorado.

    Replied over 3 years ago
    Great, realistic article. Congrats on your success. I have done a combo of fix and flips and fix and holds for 15 years now. I use a combination of private money, my IRA ( you should really look at that as a way to shelter income tax free or tax deferred), and believe it or not a small community bank that loans on rehabs and rentals. I am close to being able to live off the cash flow from my rentals. I still like the larger chunks of cash from the flips. Two recent issues have cropped up: Finding end buyers that can get bank financing is still extremely difficult. My houses always appraise, but there is frequently a bugaboo with the bank that is financing my buyer. It is not unusual to sell a house at least twice to get it closed. My flips are areas that attract first time home buyers and the banks are very stringent. Of course, I am paying taxes, interest, utilities the entire time. The second issue is that my once reliable contractors are watching me flip and they are deciding I am making too much money. My main general contractor has almost doubled his price in the past few years, with no good explanation. He does not want to seem to start or finish projects. He does not want to commit to a deadline. I am loathe to start over with another general, but that seems to be my only choice. Any suggestions from the group about either of these issues?
    Mindy Jensen from Longmont, CO
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Thanks for reading, Gary. Your question would be an excellent question for the forums, but I’ll give you my opinion. I’m not sure what area you’re in, but my recommendation is to put in the MLS that you require pre-approval letters to be submitted with any offer. Obviously not a fail-safe, but it could help you weed out the tire kickers. Another idea is to accept backup offers in case the first one falls through. Regarding the contractor, I wouldn’t share with them your profit margin. It isn’t their business how much you are making, although they can certainly see the property on the MLS and do the math. If his prices have risen, while quality has fallen, I think you do need to start looking for a new GC. Denise had to find a new painter after her original painter started flaking out. It stinks to try to find a new one, but your current guy isn’t getting the job done anymore. No need to keep him around.
    Randy Phillips wholesaler from Clovis, California
    Replied over 3 years ago
    I enjoyed your article, you have a flair for writing and Real Estate. As for dealing with contactors your going to need a tough skin and a bullet proof vest, I know, I used to be one. Rando
    Mindy Jensen from Longmont, CO
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Thanks for reading, Randy! You’re so right. Dealing with contractors requires very thick skin…
    Glenn Gerisch from Stockholm, New Jersey
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Thank you for the article, great info and well written. Was wondering if you might consider sharing a sample of one of your lending agreements?
    Mindy Jensen from Longmont, CO
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Hi Glenn. I don’t think Denise and Sally have a formal lending agreement anymore. Sally has pretty much given Denise access to her large pile of cash, and Denise pays her back when she sells the property. They’ve been friends for so long that they trust each other completely. One of the benefits of Private Money.
    Mindy Jensen from Longmont, CO
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Actually, that wasn’t **quite** the case. Denise just sent me this: “…my private money lender uses a Promissory note secured by a standard form Colorado Deed of Trust to secure her first lien position on the property while it is being rehabbed and sold. I don’t make payments, so it’s a balloon payment due when I sell the house for the original principal balance plus accrued interest at 10%. This way she gets a great return but it is a very safe investment as worse case she could foreclose on the house, take it back and sell it if I flaked out.”
    Zachary Sargent from Bloomington, Illinois
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Mindy- Another fantastic write. It’s getting to the point where you are becoming a must read for me on BP. From the 14 steps to stop relying on my 9-5 to layoffs to payoffs…this is inspiring material. Thanks again.
    Mindy Jensen from Longmont, CO
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Zachary you’re making me blush. Thank you for your kind words, you have made my day.
    Replied over 3 years ago
    I’m inspired Going throw this process my self. Thank you
    Alison Decastro investor from Monmouth County, New Jersey
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Thanks for the great article Mindy. I enjoyed reading…I think I can do this.
    Seth Carlone-Hanson investor from North/ Central, Florida
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Fantastic article, thank you! You mentioned Curt has his GC license… in your opinion, is it feasible/ beneficial for a flipper to have both a Real Estate and a GC license? Would that save money, or is that too much for any one person to take on?
    Mindy Jensen from Longmont, CO
    Replied over 3 years ago
    I don’t personally have a GC license, so I don’t know what it entails to get one. I do have a real estate license, and in our state of Colorado, that’s a hefty time commitment to get. I don’t see the benefit for one person to have both licenses – it seems an awful lot to keep up with for one person, and if you have one license, you could hire the other position out to someone who is more of an expert. I do see the benefit for each of them to have one of the licenses.
    Aimee Perry from Beckenham, Greater London
    Replied over 3 years ago
    This is not for everyone. Either you’re good in it, or not. Plus, you need some luck 🙂
    Mindy Jensen from Longmont, CO
    Replied over 3 years ago
    You are correct, Aimee. This is not for everyone. But Denise has found a really great way to make it work for her.
    Karen Williams rental_property_investor from Live & Invest Globally
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Mindy, I’m just a few months into my BiggerPockets Pro membership and loving the goldmine of education, insights, networking. I also really enjoy your writing so thanks for giving what you do to this community! I started into the real estate side of things by being a private lender for a real estate developer in Houston. I’ve also invested in some good cash flowing passive real estate investments in the midwest, but only within my self-directed 401k. I now want to start flipping for some bigger “chunks” of profit – but since I’m in ridiculously expensive Cali, I’m thinking about doing this in a couple of markets in TN. I’m working on developing relationships there w/ the real estate ecosystem (broker/agents, other investors, property managers, etc.) What are your thoughts on flipping houses remotely? Have you done this or know folks that have done successfully?
    Mindy Jensen from Longmont, CO
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Hi Karen. I struggle with managing my contractors when I am face to face with them, so I have not ever tried to explore the idea of flipping remotely. I’m a control freak, and do as much work as I can myself because finding a good contractor is so difficult. I have read a few people in the forums who have done this successfully. I’d start a conversation there to get some tips from them. Contracts will be your best friend, I would imagine.