Home Renovation

Pro Secrets to Successfully Flipping a House

May 16, 2018

Have you ever flipped a house? If your experiences are limited to watching mesmerizing before & afters on home renovation shows, that's great (I'm right there with you!). But if you are seriously considering going into purchasing property in order to turn it over for profit, read on.

Cherie Barber is a renovation expert and host of the HGTV show, Five Day Flip. She shares her wealth of house flipping knowledge in her new book, Renovating for Profit: Transform Your Property on a Budget.

It’s no fluke that some properties sell in an eye blink, while others languish on the market for weeks or months, unable to drum up that excited conga line of buyers. Nailing exactly what your target market wants is one of the keys to profitable flipping. The aim is to buy, renovate, and sell in the shortest possible time frame—and that’s a formula I’ve successfully mastered over 100-plus renovations, both in Australia and in the U.S.

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So here are my five top priorities to consider if you want to buy the right kind of fixer-upper, bring your renovation home within budget, and turn your rough diamond into one of those hot properties that buyers desperately want.

1. Buy at the right price

This is absolutely critical. Once you overpay for your unrenovated gem, that’s instant profit down the drain; and if you’re working on a tight budget, it will be almost impossible to claw back. So do as much market research as you can before you buy. Once you’ve nailed down the type of property you want to buy, make sure your knowledge of property prices rivals that of the top real estate agents. That way, you can pounce when the right property comes up—and know exactly what you should pay for it.

2. Work on a budget

This may sound like a no-brainer, but so many people simply spend money willy-nilly as the renovation progresses, then find at the end they’ve hopelessly overspent. Your starting point needs to be a budget that’s proportionate to the current value of your property. For a cosmetic renovation, I cap the budget at 10% to ensure I don’t overcapitalize. That means if your property is worth $500,000, your budget is $50,000. Then the discipline is making sure all your materials and labor costs don’t go a cent over, or you’ll start eating into your profit.

3. Match your renovation to the target demographic

This is the key to pulling in a pool of excited buyers once you’ve renovated and are ready to sell. Spend time researching the type of renovated properties that are hot sellers in your target neighborhood. What are the key features that make them desirable? Once you know this, you can tailor your renovation to your buyers’ wish list and not fritter money on things they don’t want. And always match the caliber of your renovation to the value of your property and the standard of finishes your market demands. No laminate countertops if your buyers are expecting gleaming stone ones!

4. Don’t go overboard with the wow factor

While it’s good to have a bit of wow factor, you don’t want a renovated property that is going to polarize your buyers into those who love it and those who hate it. So when in doubt, keep it neutral: from your color palette through to your fixtures and fittings. Then maybe consider some glamorous accents, like feature lights or a wall in textured wallpaper.

5. Never underestimate the power of professional styling

It may seem like an indulgence you can ill afford at the end of a tightly budgeted reno—but trust me, you’ll always see that money back when your property sells. Professional styling can add real added value to the price your property fetches. It creates the magic for buyers and allows them to see the property at its absolute best. And it’s your best guarantee your renovated beauty won’t be languishing on the market for months.


Finally, here’s my hit list of things that work for virtually any cosmetic renovation. Your aim is to target the really visible improvements that you can knock over in a short time frame.

  • Give the whole place a fresh coat of paint. It’s what I call “liquid gold.” It’s inexpensive, one of the few things I can recommend you can safely DIY, and it will absolutely transform a tired property.
  • Revamp the flooring. If there’s tatty carpets with lovely old floorboards underneath, then ditch the carpets and polish up that beautiful old timber.
  • Update the lighting. Replacing gloomy old light fittings with contemporary beauties can radically change the feel of a property. Choose a mix of practical ambient lighting, along with task lighting and feature lights.
  • Renovate the kitchen and bathroom. Research confirms these are two of the most important rooms for buyers, so devote sufficient time and budget to doing them well, without overcapitalizing.
  • Make those first impressions count. From the landscaping to the house color to the paving, make sure your house has top-notch curbside appeal. It doesn’t have to be an award-winner. But it definitely needs to lure those buyers across the threshold and leave a lasting good impression.

Have you flipped a house before? Share your experiences with us below.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Diana
  • txchick57
  • CondimentQueen
  • Scott Laine
    Scott Laine
  • Rachel
Hana is a food writer/editor based in New York.


Diana May 20, 2018
txchick57, the time to buy is after Housing Bust 2 hits, when prices are lower. Rent it out until prices go back up, as they always do, and then sell. This is a strategy that has worked out well for me.
txchick57 May 20, 2018
Here's an even better tip. Don't even try it. The housing market is teetering. The Fed is raising rates. We're not to far from Housing Bust 2 - The Revenge
CondimentQueen May 16, 2018
I'm sorry if I don't get it but why is this article on the Food 52 website? What does house flipping have to do with food?
Rachel May 16, 2018
Hana A. May 17, 2018
Hi CondimentQueen and Rachel - thanks so much for stopping by. We've actually covered home & design content on our site for a while now, and we even addressed the "why" in a post: https://food52.com/blog/18802-why-we-talk-about-home-and-design-on-food52 - appreciate your readership either way.
CondimentQueen May 17, 2018
Hi Hana,
I have seen the other content and have found it usually has some relationship to food or home-keeping. 'House-Flipping' is a completely different lane and feels out of place here. I'm sorry but I just can't see the relationship between that and food - or even lifestyle content.
Scott L. May 16, 2018
Well said, and I look forward to reading the book. I am a Real Estate Agent in NYC that focuses on helping investors and sellers maximize their properties value by investing in renovations and staging prior to listing them for sale. I cannot stress how important it is to balance what I call Return On Design, every investment must pay a dividend. Since it’s not advisable to try and fix everything (unless it’s a gut job) you have hit upon the key elements and those need to be things you know you’re consumer is going to care about. For example, I am renovating a studio and we feel the bathroom will be key, so the owner has invested in WaterWorks fixtures. The kitchen is tiny so it will be high end appliances with IKEA cabinets. I see it as High <> Low, you need both to capture that Return on Design.
txchick57 May 20, 2018
Yeah, NY is blowing and going. I hate this whole RE and flip culture. https://www.cnbc.com/2018/01/02/manhattan-real-estate-prices-and-sales-fell-ahead-of-tax-changes.html