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Is a Live In Flip the Right Investing Strategy for You?

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I’ve been flipping houses since 1998. My investment model is the “live in flip,” where I live in the home as I remodel it. This strategy definitely has its ups and downs, but it’s an excellent way to dip your toes into the rehab market as a real estate investment to see if you like it rather than diving headfirst into the deep end. If you’re looking into this as a new adventure for yourself, you’re going to need to know the pros and the cons to make the best decision moving forward.

I bought my first investment property because I was sick of paying rent. I found a two-bedroom condo that I could afford—my mortgage payment was $7 more than my monthly rent payment. My brother lived in the second bedroom and went to school nearby. The condo had good cabinets, ugly flooring, and a broken dishwasher when I bought it “as-is.”

I kept the cabinets, replaced the linoleum floor with ceramic tile, fixed the broken piece in the dishwasher, and painted the whole place. I bought this jewel for $49,900 and sold it four years later for $76,250. And since I lived there, I was able to leverage the purchase with a lower rate, owner-occupied mortgage.


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Pros of live-in flips

But just because things worked out for me doesn’t mean this is easy or something everyone should get involved in. To start, here are the pros of live-in-flips.

No income taxes when you sell

In 1997, Congress passed the Taxpayer Relief Act, effectively relieving me of paying any capital gains taxes—as long as I follow a few rules.

  • I have to live there. It must be my primary residence in order for me to get any tax breaks.
  • I have to own the home and live in it for two of the last five years.

It’s a government program so there are more rules than just these two, but these are the main points. If I follow these rules, I can write off up to $500,000 in capital gains as a married person. If I were single, I could write off up to $250,000 in capital gains. And if you keep meticulous track of your expenses while you rehab the house, you maximize your profits.

No rush to complete renovations

Because I purposely chose a live-in flip project that wasn’t enormous, I didn’t have to work non-stop to complete it. The property was habitable from day one, so I completed repairs as I had money and time.

As I progressed to other homes with larger-scale rehabs, I was still living in them and still taking my time. For tax reasons, I couldn’t sell the property for two years. Taking my time with the rehab took off a lot of the pressure. Living in the home that I’m working on allows me to continue to invest without the time-sucking commute. I don’t have to drive over to my flip if I’m already there.

Save money when you DIY

When you’re already living in the flip, you can do all the repairs yourself and save tons of money you’d be using to hire contractors and big crews to get the work done. There may be a learning curve if this is new to you, but learning a new set of skills will come in handy.

Plus, when you do the repairs yourself, you never have to worry about random people in your house all the time. The carpenter using your bathroom when you need to use it won’t be an issue, for example. Your home is still your own while you live there.

More mortgage financing options

With house flips, there are more financing options available to you than if you were living elsewhere. Conventional mortgages, for example, are out of the question.

Cons of live in flips

While there are a lot of benefits to this clever investing methods, it’s not all roses. Watch out for these cons.

Your home is always messy

When you’re constantly working on your home, there’s always some kind of mess you have to clean. It can easily feel like it’s always a mess or that there’s always something to clean. This may not be the kind of life you want to live if you really like to have a clean, orderly home.

Work and relaxation get blurred

With a live-in flip, you work where you live. There’s always the danger that you’ll never truly flip off your work brain. Having to see the kind of work you have to do all the time can compel you to work until everything is done. And because renovations typically aren’t small projects, it can be especially stressful. This could easily mean you have less and less time to yourself unless you’re able to schedule your time effectively.

Easy to forget you’re flipping

Remember that you’re flipping the house to sell to other buyers or investors—not yourself. You’re not planning to live here long term. Especially when you make renovations you really enjoy and you’re proud of the work you’ve done, it’s easy to become attached and you may even want to plant roots there.

But flipping a home is like a job with an end goal in sight. To keep bringing in money and make this the lifestyle you want to live, you do have to move on to the next home and set of projects eventually.

Not scalable

If you’re doing it for the tax benefits, you can only sell a property once every two years. And if you’re not doing it for the tax benefits, it makes the whole process a lot less appealing.

Stressful

The construction zone is a mess, and it can be extremely depressing to come home to it every single night and wake up to it every morning. This is also a reason why it’s good to create a solid schedule and stick to it. Keep certain living spaces renovation-free so that you always have somewhere to truly unwind.

Even though there are pros and cons to a live-in flip, there are ways to make the process that much easier on yourself. They may be big projects that can be very stressful, but it’s small things that you can take control of that will make everything that much easier. Here are some things to keep in mind in order to make the best decision for yourself.

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Be organized

This is a vital point to hammer home. If you do not have an organized place to work, you will descend into chaos, which will drive you straight to the mental hospital. Know where your tools are. Know what the next few steps are on any project, and have backup projects to work on when you hit a snag or finish faster than you expect. Pro tip: You’ll never finish faster than you expect.

Knowing where your tools are is a HUGE time saver. I have multiple copies of numerous tools because, at some point, I couldn’t find it when I needed it, and I needed it right then and there. Somehow, I always live close to a big box home improvement store, and sometimes it’s just been easier to go buy another. Get yourself a tool belt, and wear it proudly. Be the pro you are.

Knowing the order of what to get done done can also be a huge time saver—if you run into a snag with one project, your entire workday isn’t wasted. Just move on to the next phase or project until you can resume the original task.

Prepare for demolition and drywall mess

You can tape and tarp as much as you want, but drywall dust will get everywhere. When you tear down the old, the dust gets into every crack and crevice you didn’t even know you had. When you put the new drywall up, the mess finds all new cracks and crevices you didn’t know you had.

In fact, drywall is one of the jobs I recommend hiring out. Professionals do it better and faster than you, for slightly more than it would cost you in materials alone. Honestly, it would be a bargain at 12 times the price.

The only way to possibly prepare for these steps of the process is to get as much of your stuff out of the house as possible. Put it in storage or put it in the garage. Even putting it in some other part of the house with doors closed and a towel at the bottom of the door will help. Although, don’t be fooled into thinking that will eliminate the mess—because it won’t.

Clean as you go

It goes without saying that your live-in flip isn’t going to be in pristine condition at all times. Construction is messy. But it doesn’t take much time to tidy up at the end of your workday, and you should plan a little time to make sure you aren’t tracking dust into other parts of the house.

Put your tools back where they belong so you can find them when you need them. I always set up tool shelves in a central part of the house to find them easily—in theory. But every once in a while I wouldn’t put it back in the right spot, couldn’t find it, and had to run to purchase a new one.

Plan downtime

As I said before, living in a flip is stressful so I planned breaks. Some were full-blown vacations to discover new locales or exploring the neighborhood while others were just a weekend away or even simply a night off. Taking a mental health break is vital to avoiding a meltdown.

Keep your focus

The whole reason for living in a home during a flip is to save money. Whether on rent or avoiding capital gains taxes when you sell, living in a flip can save you significant cash. It can also test your reserve. Keeping your focus on the end result can help you keep your sanity.

How to know if this is right for you

Even with all of these tips and tricks, being a live-in flipper isn’t for everyone. Here’s how to know if this might work for you.

  • Do you really have enough time? Like I said, living in a flip is a big commitment. It’s like having a full-time job you don’t get paid for. Make sure this is something you can dedicate enough time to with all the other aspects of your life because this could easily take over everything if you’re not careful.
  • Do you have the skills needed? If not, are you willing to learn them? Living in your flip does save money if you don’t have to hire people to do all the work. But you’ll end up spending even more money hiring people to fix your mistakes if you do things wrong. If you’re not willing to take the time to learn how to do things the right way, it will just cost you later on.
  • Are you patient? Not just with how long flips take to complete, but with yourself. As I said, you have to learn all these different aspects of the trade to even begin.
  • Is your family willing to take on the burden? If you’re living with family or anyone else during the flip, they have to put up with it just as much as you do. Keep everyone in mind before you make such a big decision.

Even with all the help in the world, things may not work out, and you have to know what’s best for you. Flips are commitments that last at least a couple of years.