Sometimes you’ll walk into a house and think to yourself “Wow! This house just feels so awkward!” Whether it’s cramming too many rooms into a small space or using walls so much that the house has a closed-in and claustrophobic feel, layout can sometimes make a huge mental difference in the perception of a house. As a flipper, it’s your job to fix these structural oddities and solve that problem for a potential buyer. However, this is an advanced technique, and should not be attempted until after you’ve got a few flips under your belt.

Don’t despair however! If you’re changing the layout of the house, you will definitely need permits as well as help from the architect that you’ve found. Fortunately, an architectural professional with knowledge of the local building code will be able to work with you to develop a new layout that makes the house flow better and creates a more appealing space for the buyer.

The architect will help you avoid some of the major pitfalls in changing the layout:

  • You must NEVER, ever, replace a load-bearing wall. These walls are structural, not merely cosmetic, and taking out this wall will damage the structural integrity of the house. Sometimes the architect might not be sure that the wall is loadbearing, in which case you’ll have to ask a structural engineer.
  • It’s a lot easier to take out a wall than it is to put one back in. Make very sure that you truly want to replace the wall before you take it out!
  • If you’re finishing a basement, you’ll have to pay major attention to any issues with moisture. If the basement doesn’t stay dry, any carpeting or wall finishes may become moldy and need to be replaced along with the causes of the moisture problems.
  • If you’re enclosing a porch, make sure that the porch is quality construction, and possesses a flat surface. A floor that isn’t flat is a major turn-off for home buyers.

In addition to these major trip-ups, there are other things to watch out for as you change the layout on properties. In general, most layout changes will be done with an eye towards opening up the space. A kitchen that flows into a dining room can make the house seem much larger and spacious than it actually is.

However, the open floor plan concept can be taken too far. At some point in time, the lack of walls can impair functional structures from being added to the house. A noticeable case in point are kitchens and cupboard space. I’ve seen kitchens were zeal for an open floor plan has created a shortage of cupboard and counter space that detracts as much as 10 or 20K from the price of the house.

In addition, how you apportion the space can create a noticeable effect, positive or negative, according to how it affects function. I’ve seen bathrooms that actually suffered from too much space—the excess created an awkward, unfilled area that would have been better used by bringing the wall in and opening up more space in the cramped and awkward washer/dryer space that backed the bathroom.

In general, when you’re working with the layout of a house, you want to maximize the functionality of the rooms while giving off the appearance of space and luxury. There’s an ideal point to be found within this balancing act between the two opposing forces, and it’s your job to figure out what that is with each new house.