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The Simple 6-Step Process for Estimating Rehab Costs

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One of the things investors who buy from wholesalers complain about the most—with regard to buying from wholesalers—is the wholesalers’ inability to accurately estimate rehab costs.

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“Dude, I’ve got this sweet deal that only needs like $5,000 worth of work” is a lie—and every cash buyer knows it. The fact is, the better you can estimate rehab costs, the more successful you’ll be.

Why? Here are a few reasons:

  1. By understanding how much it will cost to rehab a property, you can arrive at an accurate maximum allowable offer and avoid paying too much.
  2. By understanding how much the rehab will cost, you can accurately present the information to your cash buyer in an easy-to-comprehend way.

Keep in mind, this article will not be the end-all-be-all explanation of how to accurately estimate rehab costs. For that, you’ll want to get a copy of The Book on Estimating Rehab Costs: the Investor’s Guide to Defining Your Renovation Plan, Building Your Budget, and Knowing Exactly How Much It All Costs by J Scott, published by BiggerPockets Publishing. Every wholesaler should have a copy of this book and commit to fully understanding the concepts therein. In lieu of that book, however, here I’ll present my six-step process for estimating rehab costs.


Related: How to Estimate Rehab Costs with No Construction Background

The Simple 6-Step Process to Estimating Rehab Costs

1. Understand your buyer and the neighborhood.

Before you start calculating how much it will cost to rehab the property, you need to understand what the final product will look like. There are high-end remodels that take months, and there are quick flips that take just days. Understanding the level of finishing to which your buyer plans to rehab the property is imperative. Also, looking at the neighborhood around the property will give you a good indication of how far the rehab will need to go.

Typically, most investors do not want to go too far above and beyond the level of other properties in the neighborhood. Therefore, if the home is in a working class neighborhood with mostly working class rentals, you don’t need to spend hundreds of thousands on a rehab.

2. Tour the property thoroughly.

Next, with a good understanding of how you want the finished product to look, walk through the property very slowly. Take a lot of photos or record a video on your cell phone, so you can easily recall the condition later (trust me, you won’t remember it all). Furthermore, photos will help you sell the property later to the cash buyer.

If the seller is home, be sure to let them know you will be taking pictures, that they’re for analysis, and that you won’t be making the photos public. Don’t make them feel like you are invading their privacy.

3. Write down the problems in each part of the property.

While you are still on-site at the property, go room by room and write down its condition, as well as any needed repairs that you notice. For example, if you walk into the living room and see carpet that looks and smells like dog urine, write down “replace carpet in living room.” Also, write down a quick estimate of the size of the room. (It doesn’t need to be exact; just make your best guess.) Be sure to take a look at the exterior of the home, as well, and pay attention to any big issues, such as the condition of the roof, siding, and any outbuildings.

4. Condense your list into one of 25 categories.

Next, you’ll want take your comprehensive list of repairs and classify each one into one of the following 25 categories. For example, if the living room needs carpet, the bedrooms need carpet, and the kitchen needs vinyl, group all of them together and include them under “flooring.”

5. Determine a rehab price for each category.

Once you have your 25 categories spelled out, it’s time for the most difficult part: estimating the rehab amount for each category. However, once everything has been broken down into these categories, calculating an accurate estimate is much easier, as opposed to looking at the entire project.

Let’s return to the example of the flooring estimate. We may determine we’ll need approximately 1,000 square feet of carpet and another 500 square feet of vinyl. With that information, we can call up a local flooring or big-box store and ask what they charge for the flooring we need.

Speaking of big-box stores—I recommend spending a lot of time in them at the beginning. Learn how much material costs for the most common repairs, such as flooring, paint, cabinets, counters, appliances, etc. To get a really rough estimate on how much those items might cost in labor, double the price of the materials. Again, this provides just a rough estimate, but I find it to be fairly accurate. Additionally, you can go online and search sites such as Craigslist to see how much contractors are asking for certain jobs, such as replacing carpet or painting.

Related: Rehabbers Beware: 5 Big Issues Distressed Properties Hide (& How to Detect Them)

6. When in doubt, ask for help.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You can do this in a few different ways:

  • Visit the BiggerPockets Forums and ask people there what they are paying. This is an incredibly useful tool, because you are able to get an inside look at what your potential cash buyers are spending.
  • Ask a local contractor for help. Although you may need to pay them for their time, the cost of an hour or two consulting with this professional at the house would be an investment that would help you for years to come. Many wholesalers actually include a detailed, line-by-line bid from a licensed contractor with their presentation to a cash buyer, and I highly recommend doing that. The contractor will likely offer the bid for free, because there is a good chance the cash buyer will end up using them on the job, and you will not have to do the work of estimating the project.
  • Ask a local real estate investor or another wholesaler to come with you. Getting really good at estimating rehab costs quickly is an important skill to have, so consider working on your first deal or two with someone who has been around the block and can share their knowledge.

[ This article is an excerpt from Brandon Turner’s The Book on Investing in Real Estate With No (and Low) Money Down]


What process do you use to estimate your costs?

Leave a comment below.

Brandon Turner is an active real estate investor, entrepreneur, writer, and co-host of the BiggerPockets Podcast. He began buying rental properties and flipping houses at age 21, discovering he didn’t need to work 40 years at a corporate job to have “the good life.” Today, with nearly 100 rental units and dozens of rehabs under his belt, he continues to invest in real estate while also showing others the power, and impact, of financial freedom. His writings have been featured on Forbes.com, Entrepreneur.com, FoxNews.com, Money Magazine, and numerous other publications across the web and in print media. He is the author of The Book on Investing in Real Estate with No (and Low) Money Down, The Book on Rental Property Investing, and co-author of The Book on Managing Rental Properties, which he wrote alongside his wife, Heather, and How to Invest in Real Estate, which he wrote alongside Joshua Dorkin. A life-long adventurer, Brandon (along with Heather and daughter Rosie) splits his time between his home in Washington State and various destinations around the globe.

    Andrew Syrios from Kansas City, Missouri
    Replied about 2 years ago
    J. Scott’s book (and the list of 25 major items) is an absolutely necessity for investors IMO. His method really helped me when it comes to estimating rehab costs!
    Brandon Turner investor from Maui, HI
    Replied about 2 years ago
    Totally agreed! Super awesome book!
    Greg Parker contractor from Montgomery, AL
    Replied about 2 years ago
    Good list. I have a budget excel sheet I have been using for 25 years with your items on there. I have to go through the entire list on every fix-r-upper so I won’t miss any of the small items; locks $100, blinds 100, toilet kits 50, bleach 25, etc. At the end of the rehab, those small items usually add up to a few thousand unexpected dollars.
    Alexander Burkard
    Replied 24 days ago
    Hey Greg! Do you have a copy of that excel spreadsheet still?
    Lauren Weiss from Ogden, Utah
    Replied almost 2 years ago
    This is a really great point @GregParker
    John Murray from Portland, Oregon
    Replied about 2 years ago
    I do all my own work and it’s always the same story $100 per day no matter what I ever plan for. I always increase the value of the property by at least 20%. Most of my projects are from 60 to 90 days. My last I finished 1 Oct 2017 and it was $102 per day. This has held true for my last 8 projects in the last 2 years. When I look at property I can just about judge how much and how long. If the roof is good to go, the sewer lateral is OK, and the siding is good just a mater of time and materials. Most are from 600 to 900 hours of work and the properties are from $350K to $425K when complete. Major systems HVAC, plumbing integrity, major appliances and electrical systems all are integrated into the negotiated price. This part of negotiation is not for the ignorant, you can lose your ass.
    Alejandro Riera contractor from DFW, TX
    Replied about 2 years ago
    I think this matter is of the most importance in this bussiness, because it could signify to do some profit or not out of a deal. If the real estate investor has a good knowledge of the rehabbing costs, he or she can work with and supervise any good contractor and designing team (if any). Thank you for share this insights, Brandon!
    John Teachout rental_property_investor from Concord, GA
    Replied about 2 years ago
    My wife and I also do all our own work on the buy and hold SFR properties we acquire. Lately, we have been putting in offers but not getting properties. Just today, we were coming back from viewing yet another property and having the discussion that “we know too much”. This meaning that since we’re the ones that are going to be doing the rehab, we work up a detailed analysis of the property and then determine how much we can pay and come out ok. I’m thinking that because the market for investor properties is really competitive around here, people are buying properties and then having that “Oh crap!” moment when they learn the real condition of the property.
    Alejandro Riera contractor from DFW, TX
    Replied about 2 years ago
    Wow! Good analysis, John Teachout. It could be happening. How can that be reversed is the main issue we have to deal with.
    Cody Evans wholesaler from Fairfield, California
    Replied about 2 years ago
    Hi Brandon, thank you for the post and I just received J Scotts book yesterday and looking to have it finished on Sunday. How do I get an investor to look through the property with me without them just stealing the deal off my hands if I am a wholesaler? Do most investors have integrity?
    Replied about 2 years ago
    Home Inspectors would be hired before you actually closed. Home Inspectors can provide the estimating for the repairs.
    Gerald Hand from Flower Mound, Texas
    Replied almost 2 years ago
    The one big variable for me on estimates is kitchen cabinetry. Upgrading a home from 30″ uppers to 42″ is essential in our area yet I am still seeing a few listed properties with 30″ cabinets. Counter space, flooring, appliances, all that is easy for me. Does anyone have a suggestion on a rough number for linear footage of 42″ cabinets? (or even 30″ for that matter!)
    Mario Mormile from Burton, Ohio
    Replied almost 2 years ago
    Yes writing down every problem area is critical. I get in to as many properties as I can every week to see what they need and find out what costs are. This makes it easier when I am running the numbers and ready to put in an offer. @Greg Parker , I agree; all of the “little” things add up in the end…. landscaping materials, hardware, and any other odds and ends. Include it all- even the doorstops and the cabinet pulls.
    Marilou Ancheta
    Replied almost 2 years ago
    Great article! Very important especially step #2-4, we want to make sure we won’t miss out any details, even those small items otherwise we’ll end up with unexpected costs. Really helpful, Thank you for sharing!
    Lauren Weiss from Ogden, Utah
    Replied almost 2 years ago
    Awesome article, I’m going to order the book now! As a newbie I’m super interested in being able to estimate rehab’s myself.