The Westport, Connecticut house at 11 Guyer Road was flipped within six months. The above photomontage depicts the remodeled white house on the left alongside the old, dated blue version on the right.
Bought for a song, sold for a symphony.
That fairly sums up the five-month odyssey of 11 Guyer Road, in Westport, Connecticut, which was about as different from a normal residential real estate transaction as could be. Or transactions, plural, as it turned over twice in that time.
Most houses bought and sold follow a similar storyline. Owners decide to sell, hire a local REALTOR®, accept an offer and proceed to closing. Then the happy buyers move in…usually.
But once in a while, the scenario flips, literally, which was the reality for 11 Guyer, which was bought to be resold. Agents who have such a listing need to understand all the many quirks that can occur in order to have the answers for buyers and sellers alike.
What follows is the tale of 11 Guyer, followed by REALTOR® opinions and tips…
First of all, it’s odd to find the same house showcased twice on the internet, at the same time, with different images and prices. But that was the case for 11 Guyer, with national listing services that don’t update often and leave sold properties online. So the old, sold listing with somewhat gloomy pictures was viewable at the same time as the new listing with stunning photos.
The property would be sold, transformed, then flipped.
“Flips are like an onion and a box of chocolates,” quips Jeffrey Decatur, a broker associate with RE/MAX Capital in Latham, New York. “The more you peel away the layers, the more they make your eyes hurt, and you never know what you’re gonna get.”
A run-down, 67-year-old, 2,000-square-foot split-level with four bedrooms, two full baths, two half baths and an in-ground pool on a half-acre parcel, the owners listed it last August, missing out on the frenzy of multiple offers and bidding wars from just a few months earlier. Back then they may have achieved their ask of $989,000, or close to it, but instead got little interest.
It probably did not help that they went with an internet brokerage instead of a local REALTOR®, who might have had clients looking to buy in the area. Two months later, the price was dropped to $969,000. Desperate to sell after having already moved, the next reduction, just weeks later, was to $780,000. Finally, in October, the house was put up for auction, and closed for $760,000 in December.
The new owner told neighbors that he planned to occupy, but instead immediately began renovating the house and grounds. Crews of workers were onsite daily. A huge commercial dumpster would be filled and emptied multiple times over the next few months. The home would not simply be updated, it would be transformed. Reconfigured rooms, new flooring, new luxury kitchen, new opulent bathrooms. The central air conditioning system was refurbished, and the electrical and plumbing workings modernized. Pool pumps were replaced. The house was painted inside and out. The front and back yards were freshly sodded, with some 20 trees and other shrubs planted.
Neighbors looked forward to the owner moving in, delighted the block eyesore had been dramatically upgraded. Instead, a For Sale sign appeared in front. Deborah Angal, a sales associate with Coldwell Banker Realty, in nearby Fairfield, Connecticut, was the listing agent. She spoke with RISMedia at the open house, though the owner declined to answer questions.
Angal confirmed that over $200,000 was the cost for renovations. “I think he did too much, actually, like having expensive designer shades on every window,” she said. “He also spent $9,000 to stage the house entirely.”
While perfectly legal, flipping a house can be sensitive, as was the case with 11 Guyer, wherein neighbors were told one thing, but experienced another. Angal explained that the buyer had intended to live there, but his situation changed, and he chose not to rent it because he wasn’t sure of his plans. So he decided to sell it. That’s a logical narrative to convey, but Angal then admitted that he’d flipped houses before.
On May 11, 2023, 11 Guyer was back on the market, listed at $1.4 million. After the open house, there was an accepted offer for the full asking price. It fell through, but someone else stepped in at the same number. It was accepted on May 31, and closed on June 27. Guesstimating that the renovations and other costs were about $240,000, the seller, in about six months, earned a tidy $400,000 profit.
The flipper who bought the house paid work crews, taxes, the mortgage, closing costs and insurance and other bills for almost six months. Then add state-of-the-art appliances, fixtures, building materials and more. But with risk came reward.
Agent tips on flips
REALTORS® should be well-versed in all the intricacies of a flipped house if they are to be involved with such a property. Some are willing, while others are not. There is also the issue of representing a seller when someone wants to buy the property in order to fix it up for a fast profit.
“When it comes to flips, I have been on both sides of such a transaction,” says Decatur. “Each side has its own challenges and concerns. Typically in a market with a lot of flips, you will get to know the good, the bad and the ugly. You will see flippers who do a quality job, ones that make something just look shiny, and ones simply putting lipstick on a pig.
“Have you ever heard someone at your agency say a house they showed was a bad flip? Ask why, and go see it. It will help educate you so you can be on the lookout and improve your buyer representation skills. We have all seen beautiful pictures of a house, then gotten there and been disappointed. We as agents have to be uber-vigilant and very in tune with the flippers and what is going on in our market.”
Pam Rosser Thistle, a REALTOR® with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach, REALTORS® in Philadelphia, prefers not to handle a flipped house, but admits that they are really no different than most other homes for sale.
“I stay away from representing flippers,” she says. “They are generally not loyal, and like to work with multiple agents. However, I have represented many buyers who have purchased the end product. There is no issue or stigma if it is what they want. We check the value to make sure they are not overpaying. With a mortgage purchase, there is an appraisal, too. It is always the buyer’s choice if they want to buy that house.”
Thistle notes that a seller also usually has preferences as to who buys the house…to a point.
“Generally, a home seller will prefer a buyer who will live in their house,” she says. “Sellers don’t say it, but they really want the most money and easiest closing. But owners can feel taken advantage of when the flip is handled disrespectfully, or worse, never completed.”
Decatur seconds the idea that owners prefer a buyer who will occupy, not flip the house.
“Sellers have an emotional attachment to their homes,” he says. “They want to make sure it is loved and taken care of. They want someone who is going to live in the home and build a life there. Unfortunately, we don’t have much control over who puts in an offer, and as we all know, we cannot discriminate.
“Typically, flippers are looking for distressed and dated properties though, sometimes leaving these types of sellers with no choice. Most buyers in today’s market do not want fixer-uppers. They want turnkey, and typically are willing to pay for it. Around 25 years ago, buyers were looking for the ugliest dog in the best neighborhood and were not put off by putting in the sweat equity. Today’s buyers would rather have everything done and just unpack.”
Decatur also noted that agents should have eagle eyes for clients when viewing a house being flipped. Experience in knowing what to look for in terms of quality workmanship is vital.
“The most important thing as a buyer’s agent is to be hyper-vigilant, and hiring a quality inspector is a must,” he says. “A conscientious flipper will typically ensure that all the work is finished and buttoned up, with no trash around, no excess materials, everything cleaned and the landscaping completed. Less obvious things agents should note include moldings, checking the precision of the cuts. Do they line up? Is there a gap? Are there multiple pieces pierced together?
“Look at the bathroom tile. Was it installed squarely or was it hodgepodge? Is it old tile that was just painted over? Many buyers miss it because it looks pretty, until they shower in it for a couple of months and the paint starts to wear off. Did they do the insides of the closets or just puzzle-piece things together? There are a million clues.”
Thistle admits that there is nothing inherently wrong with people flipping houses. Buying and selling real estate is a business like any other. Speculating on value is a tricky proposition, and those that know what’s worth buying, renovating and flipping can do very well.
“The buyer put the work in,” she says. “He or she can lose or win. It’s a risk they take. What matters is the value. If someone purchased a home for $300,000 and is selling it for $750,000, and that is the value, no problem. If someone makes a couple hundred thousand (or million, these days depending on the scale), they took a risk, did the work and are justified in being rewarded.”
Which was the case with 11 Guyer. When the listing agent, Angal, held the open house, who should stop by but the former longtime owner who sold it to the flipper. After touring the now sleek, ultra-modern home, he was asked his opinion. “It looks like a hotel,” he said with a shrug.