4 HGTV-Level Upgrades to Make Your Flip Stand Out

by | BiggerPockets.com

I distinctly remember two years ago via a random phone call, a producer called asking if they could view and shoot a property I flipped for the House Hunters television show. I was in the midst of a pretty trying and seemingly never-ending rehab, and I said yes without giving it much thought. The production team thanked us, said it was a great house, and they went in for a few hours and did whatever they do. And then it was silence.

Nearly two years later via a ping on Facebook, I learned the property had in fact been on House Hunters.

The TV show had aired without me even knowing my house had actually been selected and put on the show.

I thought that was pretty cool the house had been seen on national television, but here is the deal. Millions of people watch these television shows believing the couple they just watched searching for a home had this camera crew along to capture the experience. I have a few friends in the real estate world with their own show, and I’ve also spend time on numerous occasions with production teams talking through the possibility of our own show.

Right now the shows really come down to drama, get people juiced up about cool-looking houses, and the pictures of the “after” at the end. These stories for the most part are totally scripted and there to give you a show — not to teach you to be a good buyer or a  investor or to instruct you how to actually flip a house.

Through the nearly 100 houses we will have flipped this year within our business, our team has worked ceaselessly to understand not only how to make the house “look” good, but to really add value for the investors and home owners who buy our properties. For just a little bit more money, a little foresight, a little planning, you can add value both visually and for the longevity and health of the people who are buying and living in your properties. Let’s take a closer look.

design-flips

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Use Great Paint

With the incredible technology of paint these days, we’ve been testing all kinds of different paints over the years. There are a lot of options, but we’ve settled on SuperPaint from Sherwin Williams for both interior walls and all our exteriors. Our painters always say it covers better than nearly any other paint. It is durable and will last a long time.

On the exterior, we’ve painted it on during blazing hot summer months and into the coldest of winter months in our market. Have you ever tried to paint a second layer when it’s cold? It doesn’t go down smoothly, it will peel, and it won’t cover well. The SuperPaint is something you can put down when it’s as cold as 35 degrees, and we’ve never had problems.

You may be saying it’s a lot more expensive, right? Make a phone call and book an in-person appointment with the local sales representative. Tell them what you are up to specifically in your business, and then ask for what you want. The rep can give you some pretty incredible breaks in pricing depending on the volume and what product you are looking for.

Related: 3 Upgrades That Add Little to No Value to Your Investment Property

Teach your buyers and investors about the paint and how by buying your home, they are actually saving money because of the products you used to renovate their property. It also shows that you care about the little things.

Refinish and Restore Hardwood Floors

In our Midwest market, we have real original hardwood floors in many of our properties. I can’t tell you how annoyed I get walking into a “rehab” where someone has either not refinished beat up floors, or they have committed the ultimate sin in covering them up with tile, laminate flooring, or the worst, vinyl. Actually, even more terrifying is painting over hardwoods.

If you are doing that right now, stop it!

Hardwood floors look incredible, they maintain well, tenants and owners love them, and they look great in pictures.  Yes, I understand some hardwood floor companies want to charge an insane amount of money to refinish floors. That’s great for them, and if the general public wants to pay twice or more what we are paying for refinishing floors, that’s their choice.

But seriously, you are an investor. You are flipping and renovating a house. You want to make it the very best, stand out, and show up well. Refinish the floors and take pride in your property. Tell the story about how these are the original floors here, and this spot here, we patched and put this house back together. And then ask the client or tenant to guess whats old and what’s new. They will probably get it once you point it out, but who cares? They just bought into what you were selling!

Another bonus — if you have a lot of pet stains or smells, then sanding down, refinishing, and going a little darker color can nearly or completely hide all those problems.

stage-house

Add Quality Plumbing Fixtures

Look under “things that get under Nathan’s skin” in the real estate dictionary, and find “crappy #$^” plumbing fixtures right next to it. Can you feel how annoyed I get when I see this kind of stuff? Yes, you CAN buy a faucet from Walmart for $20, but that doesn’t mean you should. It’s like that all-you-can-eat sushi bar that’s only $5. Yeah, good luck. I’ll stick with the good stuff that I know is actually fish, and not fish-like. #urp

Seriously, though, the more expensive fixtures have better parts, they aren’t made out of level 1 (I made that up) plastic. PLASTIC! You are telling me after actually using that faucet for more than a few months with regular use it’s not going to break down? Of course it is.

Stop it. Put in a metal one, take pride in the materials, and make it last a long time for your clients. It’s worth it.

Install Good Windows

I distinctly remember walking one of our turnkey properties early on in our business. I was walking with “Texas Jon” (I call all our clients by their name and area of the world), and I recall seeing this great rehab we had done in the property and talking with him about the great paint colors, new fixtures, totally redone bathroom and kitchen. And there, like a screaming baby, the windows were yelling at me. Something like, “You replaced everything else, so why didn’t you replace me?”

Related: The Top 7 Upgrades Tenants Seek When Searching for a Rental

Yes, they were windows. And technically, we could have left them. We sold the property already and installing new windows was not a part of our scope or included with the sale. But it really bothered me. I felt like we had left something undone both for my client and for the tenants who would eventually move in.

We walked outside, I called my partner, and we decided right then and there any property we rehabbed, if it didn’t already have awesome windows, we would ensure it did when we were done with it. That goes for $80k rentals and $350k flips. And without any more money from my client, we immediately had new windows installed in that property.

home-staging-tips

Final Thoughts

There is no shortage of information, education, and entertainment with regard to renovating and flipping properties. Take pride in what you do. Don’t just take care of the pretty stuff like paint colors and a fancy landscape — take care of the important things.

How do you stand out in your rehabs and flip properties?

Let me know with a comment!

About Author

Nathan Brooks

Nathan Brooks is a dad, husband, worship leader, and real estate investor in the Kansas City market. Foodie. Coffee addict. Crossfit junkie.

14 Comments

  1. Brandon Sturgill

    Good post, Nathan. Totally agree on all your points! I have walked through too many shitty rehabs this year…hope your article makes it in front of the guys trying to squeeze every last drop of profit from properties by skimping…

    I put two new HVAC systems on my last flip because it was the right thing to do…could have got by with one, but the new owners would have had a difficult time in really hot or cold times keeping the climate comfortable (it was a split level house)…

    Keep up the good work!

    • Nathan Brooks

      Brandon, I love how you say this whole comment. I feel completely the same way. In real estate we always talk about a “win/win” and sometimes it’s almost like the anonymous gift. You do it because its the right thing to do, not because anyone else will know. Keep it up!

    • Nathan Brooks

      Hi Dave. In this case there were two ROI’s we considered. The sales price of what we could sell it for was higher (personal win), and the human ROI of the tenant now living there with great windows and a great safe fully rehabbed house to live in. They love it, they stay in it longer, we sell more turn key houses … it all comes back around. I love getting to tell our clients, “no seriously, we DO have the best TK houses in the midwest!”

  2. Janice Stein

    Totally in agreement on all your points. I, too, have walked into some questionable rehabs this year. What drives me to want to pull my hair and yell expletives is not matching the lighting fixture finishes to the faucets, cabinet knobs and door knobs. I consistently see multiple finishes in a single property and they’re asking top dollar. Please people even in the smallest detail and I believe you’ll reap great reward both personally and in profit.

  3. Wendy Hoechstetter

    As an interior designer who is also trained in staging, a couple of other things that drive me insane in so many of the rehabs I see that could easily be fixed:

    – Using brown and tan tile. This *screams* 1970s, and is *not* the “neutral” that people think it is. It is *brown*, and it reads as dirty. Neutral is pale creams; whites; very pale tans, etc.; you can absolutely never go wrong with those. What’s in style now is greys and blue greys – although there is a growing return to all white kitchens. Keep things light – and simple. Plain white subway tile *always* looks good in both kitchens and baths, and is both classic and very chic now, so it will continue to stand the test of time.

    – Using mismatched undertones in materials. This means things like tans with a yellow undertone for the tile but a tan with a pink undertone for the paint or carpet or vice versa, or some tile pattern that mismatches those undertones. Looks terrible – and many people *know* it looks wrong intuitively, but can’t explain why. Learn about color matching and undertones if you don’t already understand them. This slight shift alone can take a rehab from nice to wow! – and costs *zero*.

    – Doing patterns with multiple colors of tile – when they clearly have no training in design, particularly patterns and borders that are placed improperly, and are too busy. If you *must* do a pattern, keep it super simple. Even using the same field tile just turned a different way, or stacked instead of staggered can make things interesting without cluttering things up. It also provides a much better backdrop for *every* potential buyer’s or tenant’s own things.

    – Using raised panel cathedral arch builder grade cabinets. Again, this screams “dated” right off the bat. Go for something at least a *bit* more contemporary. You can still used raised panel cabinets, but skip that awful arch.

    – Varied height upper cabinets. Ugh – messy, especially if combined with too many busy materials, top rails, moldings, etc. Keep them simple and straight across at one height – and go to the ceiling, if possible.

    – *Please* use something other than linear brown, black, and white glass tile, or even the grey version of the same for backsplashes! Again, it’s dated and boring, and absolutely everyone is doing the same thing. Ditto with the same old brown and/or orangy or black and white granite for countertops. There are a million other possibilities for both.

    – Using too many different materials and finishes in one room. Your multicolor linear tile as mentioned above does *not* look good placed against a busy granite, and it all looks *really* worse if you have some other tile on the floor. Or you use wood floors, but they clash with the cabinets (see undertones above). If you use a busy countertop, keep the backspashes and floors plain and simple.

    – Badly designed, inefficient kitchens, or worse, just tossing in a couple of cabinets with the sink, stove, and fridge, with only enough cabinetry to hold the sink. A kitchen is more than a collection of appliances, and requires more than two base cabinets and one overhead. Take advantage of the free design services probably offered at the store you buy the products in, and do it right.

    – Plastic prefab shower and tub surrounds. Use tile – and take it to the ceiling. Ditto with shower pans. Tile on the shower floor should be no larger than 1×1 or at worst 2×2, and be *nonslip* (as should be the bathroom floor). Look for a high coefficient of friction, and skip the highly polished finishes.

    – Those awful, round-fronted bathroom all-in-one vanities with recessed drawer and cabinet space (which is practically useless), and terrible, plastic faucets. They are out, out, out – and miserable to live with. (Yeah, I’m stuck with them myself at the moment in a rental, and I loathe them.) These and the tri-door medicine cabinets that people usually put in with them are basically paper-laminated, and way beyond flimsy.

    – Using cheap white plastic/PVC railings on porches, patios, and outside stairs.

    – Staging with dated furniture, or worse, really funky things that have very limited appeal. Use something contemporary and clean-lined (but not wildly modern unless the house also is), and save the wild designs, puffy recliners and sofas, and funky faux-Victorian or faux-French things for your own home if you like them.

    The very best thing you can do for many rehabs is to hire an interior designer for a consult of an hour or three to help you evaluate your choices, to pull things like this together, and to explain about some of the issues mentioned above, or to at least help you select a color and materials palette. Once you understand a little more about color and basic design principles, and the basics of kitchen design, you will be able to produce a much better result on your own in future projects.

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