Flipping Houses

Urban Redevelopment & How to Capitalize on a Profitable Trend

12 Articles Written
cranes in downtown area being redeveloped

When I started flipping homes almost four years ago, I wanted to do so in an area that was established but had appreciation or upside potential. I also wanted something a little out of the norm; suburban generica wasn't going to cut it for me.

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Neighborhoods with homes that only needed cosmetic or “lipstick” flips just weren’t as appealing as gutting a home to the studs, fixing every problem, and then putting it back on the market for a huge potential profit!

Another exciting part of urban flips is the real change you can make in a sometimes terrible neighborhood. Watching areas go from the part of town nobody will visit to the where “all the cool kids want to live” is very exciting and personally rewarding.

What are some of the unique real estate investing strategies you need to be aware of in order to capitalize on this trend back to urban?

1. The Houses Will Likely Be in Terrible Shape!

If you want to see how bad these homes get, check out this video series featuring one of the worst homes I’ve ever rehabbed.

I think many investors who are used to flipping in more gentrified areas don't realize the degree of the dilapidation some of these homes have experienced.

I’ve seen literally everything from dead animals under couches to refrigerators chock full of spoiled food to more holes in the floors and roofs than I could count.

Know what you are signing up for; this isn’t for the faint of heart.

Related: Planned Unit Developments: A Primer for Real Estate Investors

2. Appraisal Issues

If you work in a neighborhood that is just turning the cusp to become sexy and trendy, many bank appraisers will have no idea what’s going on!

I've always preemptively tried to contact and educate the appraiser about what is going on before they visit the property. Tell them what's happening with reinvestment and city infrastructure improvement. Point them toward articles that have been written about the area and how fast property values are changing.

Also be prepared to challenge an appraisal that’s super off base. This has happened to me. So be ready with your own comps and explanation for how you arrived at the sales price value.

3. City Politics & Historic Districts

Many people who come from flipping or developing in other areas of a city will be woefully under-prepared for local city politics and historic districts. If you flip in one of these regions, you will likely work near a downtown area. This means your projects will have a lot of eyes on them. From nosey neighbors to code compliance officers to the crackhead down the road, it can get pretty exciting!

Make sure you and your contractors pull all the necessary permits. Don’t try to fly under the radar. Been there, done that. It doesn’t work.

You may also end up working in neighborhoods that have recently been designated historic districts. In this case, familiarize yourself with the approval process you’ll need to go through if you choose to rehabs homes in these areas.

I’ve done well over a dozen projects in historic districts, and they can be very well received and very profitable. However, make sure you factor in extra holding time for approval hearings and meetings if you plan to make any exterior changes or even wide scale exterior repairs.

4. Crazy Neighborhood Leadership

You may also run into crazy HOAs that think they need to be involved in every neighborhood project. They will want to comment on everything from paint colors to driveway and window placement to how much density you can create on a lot.

To be successful, you must develop a process for working peacefully with these people. Therefore, get ready to attend HOA meetings, Saturday morning garage sale parties, and Wednesday night get togethers on how to combat homelessness.

There is a very real political element to working in these areas.

5. Getting Creative With Your Projects

Another part of urban revitalization that I love is the number of different investing and developing options it opens up. When there is a ton of dilapidated supply and growing demand, you can really explore those more off-the-wall ideas.

For example, I started by simply flipping in these areas, and now I’m transitioning to building urban infill neighborhoods. These projects, usually in the five-to-15-house range, allow me to create my own ecosystem in the neighborhoods, capitalize on density, and still get in and out of a project in less than 12 months!

I have participated in mixed-use projects. I own a commercial building I’m turning into a bar with a super-cool rooftop deck. And I’ve gotten to do land redevelopment; all within a two-mile radius!

Related: 101 Awesome Quick Tips for Flipping Success

6. Have You Considered New Construction?

Building on my last point, many urban areas that have suffered long periods of neglect are missing a lot of product. Homes have been condemned, burned down, torn down, or just fallen down! (Yes, I’ve seen all of this.) Which is another reason I’m focusing on brand-new product to market. Old, fixed-up homes are nice, but there’s a segment of the population that wants to live in something shiny and new. They want all the latest energy-efficient features and that ten-year builder warranty.

If new construction is out of your wheelhouse, consider partnering with a builder who can construct what you think the market needs.

This strategy is becoming more and more appealing to me in some of the areas I’m focused in.

7. Profitable Only If You Know What You Are Doing!

I hope this has gotten some of you excited about looking into urban redevelopment projects in your city.

I lucked into living and investing in San Antonio, where downtown is about 15 to 20 years behind other large Texas cities. Now the municipality has tons of city and political interest, dollars, and projects flowing into it. The whole fabric of the city is changing from focusing on tourism to becoming a diversified and culturally rich downtown.

Know the risks moving forward. Take time to plan. Enjoy working on something that’s different from what the majority of investors get to experience.

What are some of the unique strategies you use to capitalize on this urban-redevelopment trend?

Share them below!

Christopher Gill is a real estate investor and serial entrepreneur based out of San Antonio, TX. Starting with just $15,000 in working capitol in the past 5 years he’s owned millions of dollars wor...
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    Replied over 2 years ago
    In my community, you are not allowed to know who is appraising the house. Even the lender does not know.
    Greg Parker Contractor from Montgomery, AL
    Replied over 2 years ago
    Wow, never heard of that. Probably a good idea.
    Christopher Gill Real Estate Agent from San Antonio, TX
    Replied over 2 years ago
    The lender doesn’t know who the appraiser is, but usually they will contact the owner of the home (me) for details on access. I don’t always get in contact, but whenever I do I try to smooth the path to success.
    Replied over 2 years ago
    I don’t care about the “path to success.” I do care about getting an honest, independent appraisal.
    Christopher Gill Real Estate Agent from San Antonio, TX
    Replied over 2 years ago
    You’re totally right Katie! The goal is really to prevent the homes from being dramatically undervalued. They see the house next door that hasn’t been rehabbed and they don’t understand the dramatic price change that happens when a home gets fixed up. I’ve had several deals with ready, willing, and able buyers who are being told the trend they are capitalizing on and the area they want to buy into isn’t worth what they are willing to pay (and what history shows is a very fair sales price).
    Replied over 2 years ago
    Historically, before lenders were denied access to the appraisers, the problem has not been undervaluation, but overvaluation. It is silly to say that an appraiser cannot recognize the value difference between the junk next door and the newly rehabbed house. They also have the ability to look at recent sales of rehabbed houses and see for themselves what the after-repair value (ARV) is. They are just as capable of comparing market rent to sale price to figure out if the house is fairly priced. On the other hand, a lot of ready, willing and able buyers get misled by even their own buyer’s agents into paying too much.
    Greg Parker Contractor from Montgomery, AL
    Replied over 2 years ago
    Right, overvalued is bad for the buyer. Reminds me of 2007 when 40K houses were being appraised for 200K and the banks were doing 100% financing.
    Naren Gunasekera from Moorpark, CA
    Replied over 2 years ago
    Great article Christopher, this is one of my interest areas for the future, after househacking and building a stable portfolio of rentals first. I’m in land use planning myself so can attest to the fact that politics and NIMBYism plays a huge part in the timeline for projects in certain areas and can really trip up someone who is not cognizant of this.
    Greg Parker Contractor from Montgomery, AL
    Replied over 1 year ago
    hey Chris, would you mind sending me a pic of some of the small new construction homes you have built in the downtown area? We are working with an architect on a carriage style 2 story, 600 sf on second floor above a 600 sf garage that can double as a man cave/office. Our zoning allows for office/residential combined.
    Andrew Syrios Residential Real Estate Investor from Kansas City, MO
    Replied 12 months ago
    Great rundown Christopher!
    Matthew Adair Rental Property Investor from Chicago, IL
    Replied 12 months ago
    Chris- love your enthusiasm for attacking the issues you've highlighted when flipping in big cities! Great to have your perspective!
    John Jacobus Investor from New York, NY
    Replied 12 months ago
    Nice, Chris!