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Monday, September 26, 2016

Do Northeast L.A. house flippers need a new style?

Photo from theMLS.com

Has that run down house next door been painted in shades of olive green or gray?  Has the rusty chain link fence been replaced by unpainted, horizontal wood slats? Is the front door now a shiny red, orange or chartreuse?  Then it looks like you got a house flip on your block, according to a recent Spot.us story headlined “House Flipping Wave Transforms Northeast L.A.  The story looks at the large number of investors and speculators who purchase, fix up and then soon after sell houses in what is known as a flip. The story features flipper Steve Jones of bettershelter,* one of the “boutique developers” that have been busy buying and selling homes across Highland Park, Glassell Park and other Northeast neighborhoods. He and the author take a tour of Northeast L.A. in search of homes displaying the signs of a flip.  They are not hard to find, the story says:

“There’s another one,” Steve Jones said under his breath, as he spotted the work of a competitor. “Hilarious.”

When Jones started flipping homes here three years ago, as principal of his design company Better Shelter, he was one of few people in the area doing this work. Today, a flipped home can be found on nearly every block in the neighborhood, thanks to at least a dozen small developers or individual flippers getting in on the game.

The houses aren’t difficult to spot. They usually follow some variation of the following pattern: gray or greenish-gray paint, with white or brick red trim, and a colorful door – mint green, orange, red – and sometimes a colorful accent mailbox. Instantly recognizable horizontal wood-slat fencing tops it off.

The large number of flips being remodeled in the same style may lead to the neighborhoods, the author said,  “getting remade in a uniform, ‘Ikea-like’ style.”
* Bettershelter homes have been advertised on The Eastsider.



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43 comments

  1. Would you rather live next door to that house, or what it looked like before?

  2. @RJ– Excellent point.

  3. How can anyone think that painting a house, planting a few trees, and fixing a fence is bad for a neighborhood?

  4. This is the east sider blog. Just give it a few hours Im sure the haters will get here soon.

    If its not a run down building with paint falling off the salmon color painted building with a grassless dirt front yard with a barking dog paired with a chain link fence with bars on all the windows. THEN GET IT OUT OF HERE! its ruining the vibe of echo park.

  5. Yes, as a matter of fact. Flipping drives up prices for first-time home buyers. That is a bad thing.

    • Rising prices are a good thing for the people who already own. It’s a two sided coin. Fising value of real estate is generally a good thing in a neighborhood, since it represents how much people want houses there. House prices in Detroit are super low because there are no jobs and it sucks to live there. West Hollywood is expensive because it is desireable.

  6. Market forces.

  7. @ B.E. – If you own a home, it’s a good thing.

  8. I read LACurbed (mainly for the comments) and I rent, don’t plan to buy but as I try to be a savvy consumer, I think about trends.
    One problem I could see with the “look” is that while one flipper might have good esthetics and good quality renovation work, another flipper might just copy the look and skimp on the renovations. Someone looking to buy might not know enough or look into what has been done to get the quality that the first flipper provides and not get stuck with a problem child (poor work) that might have cost almost as much.
    There will always be imitators (and it’s not always the sincerest form of flattery)but let’s face it knock-offs, whether electronics, clothing or whatever–are problems waiting to happen.

  9. Thank heavens no one in the ’20s said a similar thing about all the Spanish style houses in my neighborhood. They have a continuity and style that makes the place great and yes happily desirable today.

  10. The point of the original post/article was not that house flippers were good and/or bad for the neighborhoods, rather that they have just one uniform style. I agree, somebody should hire a new designer, or better yet, restore the homes to their original style.

  11. Hilarious! My entire street is starting to look like a cliche!

  12. Nice to know this is a recognized thing. I live in Mt. Washinton, and my husband and I call it the “hipster fence.” The only thing they forgot to mention are the sleek, stainless-steel mailbox and the Neutra-esque house numbers.

  13. The worst part about the fence is that they are generally so shoddily built that they look terrible in a couple of months.

    I am getting a little bored with it as well, not that it’s bad.

    • OMG, you are not kidding! A front yard fence, front porch/patio enclosure, wood driveway gate, and even back yard fence, when built with the right construction technique and design, with the right wood and properly stained, can appreciate property values on the entire block, while appreciating the property that enjoys the new build anywhere from 3x to 10x the cost of the project (and in many cases even more)! This is why some realtors and house-flippers fake it with a new and nice-looking (but poorly designed and cheaply built) new wood fence, driveway and/or pedestrian gate, or other outdoor wood project. I’ve seen this too many times with the new homeowner now contacting me to completely tear down the new outdoor wood project, to then build it right, strong and beautiful so it lasts. I often consider that it is not entirely honest for somebody to sell a property with a phony smile on their face, while they knowingly portray the newly built (but cheaply and of poor quality) wood fence as “It’s new so that’s one thing you (the prospective buyer) won’t have to worry about.” It really is a lie when you boil it down, presenting a new wood fence to be a quality build, when it’s really a crappy build haphazardly constructed by the nearest discount crew looking for a fast paycheck. I refuse to build such a crappy wood fence or other outdoor wood project, to me it isn’t an honest project built right.

  14. Three years in flipping makes one a veteran? That’s what, 2008?

    Let me tell you what it was like in ’04 to ’07, whippersnapper…

  15. Ok — guess I am a hater. I hate people who artificially raise prices for a profit, push local people out of their homes of many years, and then move on once they’ve sold. I’ve had too many houses around me be flipped for a profit — one at least six times. The last people don’t even want to live here (Echo Park) but got stuck when the bubble burst. I do think the work is eventually shoddy and falls apart, while temporarily looking okay. Yes, maybe it’s better than no fence, a ratty yard, and unpainted walls. But it’s not building community.

  16. Ummmmm… sorry to state the obvious here folks – but so-called ‘flippers’ are making a product that people want. You don’t buy a used car with a crappy paint job and dents. Often these ‘flipped’ homes get multiple offers. Many people can’t or don’t have the time/expertise to renovate a ‘fixer’. If they buy a property that’s ‘flipped’ they can get one loan and it covers the cost. If they buy a ‘fixer’ they have to pay out-of-pocket AND supervise (or do) the work (and live in a construction zone, nice). Renovated homes don’t “drive up the prices”… if a homeowner bought and renovated themselves (they always do) and then sold, the home would sell for the same price. ‘Flippers’ just do it faster – and often better.

  17. i don’t understand why the author is complaining about the “Ikea-like style” of cookie cutter houses when it is obvious his company is doing the same thing. pot calling the kettle black.

  18. In general, most of the flippers working in Highland Part these days seem to be doing a generally nice job. It’s a world of difference from the 2006 flippers that’s for sure. They are mostly buying the houses that the banks won’t finance anyway because they are in such bad shape, so not exactly stealing properties from first time home buyers, unless you happen to be a first time buyer with a couple hundred thousand in cash lying around.

    I’ll put in my vote though for being really, really sick of the horizontal fences and modern two color high contrast paint jobs however. They are both totally appropriate for a post war or mid-century stucco boxy house, not so much for some of the lovely craftsmans I’ve seen them imposed upon. I’d prefer to see those with paint jobs and fences more appropriate to the style of the house. They are going to look really dated in a few years.

  19. Do I have to turn in my too cool for school badge if I admit I kind of like those fences?

    And, seriously, the idea of someone complaining about L.A. housing becoming too uniform in style is ludicrous. Love it or not (I kind of dig it), one thing L.A. is notable for is its cacophony of housing styles.

    Also, seriously, who are the “local people [being pushed] out of their homes”? Housing prices are lower now than a few years ago…I’m guessing these flipped houses are sold, renovations and all, for less than what the the unrenovated house would have gone for 4 or 5 years ago. So, yes, JK, you’re a hater: you’re making up reasons to whine.

  20. I love and hate these houses at the same time. On one spectrum I like that they are beautifully done and easy to move into, they improve the neighborhood most definitely.
    However, as a soon to be first time homebuyer these flippers arent just getting run down ramshackles but homes that are still liveable, and maybe just need some cosmetic work, something I would be able to do myself over time.
    I would have been able to afford the house at say 280k but then they flip it and try and sell it for 479k! Thats insane!

    And of course the flippers will get the house before I will because Im financing with an FHA loan and they swoop in and flash the cash.

    It doesnt mean I want a chain link fence with a car sitting on lawn, I want the same things as well but thats something I just cant afford to do right now. Its not fair and these people seem ruthless.

  21. I’ve done several house renovation projects in Northeast LA and I agree that the uniform styling of most “flips” gets annoying. It would be great to see a more creative and less derivative/formulaic approach used, to see styling that is appealing but feels more authentic and diverse in a way that compliments what people like about these neighborhoods in the first place.

    I think that these projects are most successful (in a neighborhood context) when the rennovators take the surrounding neighborhood landscape into account, rather than antagonize it… Sometimes stark colors and modern fencing doesn’t fit, and those instances are more likely to create a tension within these neighborhoods. In terms of quality, one great thing though is that now even the imitators are using more period appropriate details and styling than used to be the case, which is a huge improvement over the practice of stripping houses of their character in favor of cheap new “upgrades” like aluminum slider windows.

  22. Say what you want about slated fences, it’s the tell tale granite counter tops that I can’t stand.
    I bought a house on Division & El Paso a couple years ago and in the process looked at around 80 houses in the area. I avoided flipped houses for a few reasons. First most flippers are looking to make a quick buck and so while they do cosmetic work they generally avoid the more expensive work that actually improves the functionality and safety of the home (reparing/retrofitting foundations, new wiring and plumbing, replacing cast iron sewer lines, radon gas mitigation, etc). Second, they hike the price way up. And lastly (and maybe most importantly) I can’t stand granite counter tops! Seriously, let’s please put that ridiculous fad to rest.

  23. No one is being forced out of there neighborhoods. That argument, carries no weight. If they are home owners, these flips only help there values. In the projects I’ve been a part of (NELA), the surrounding neighbors are happy to see a home transform into something modern/updated. Many times the home that is being fixed & flipped is that one house that everyone on the block has a negative story about and are very happy to finally to see it get taken care of. Flips are all the rage right now, but consumers are lining up for them. So pick your poison. The only concern I have is to make sure that the investor pulled permits to actually do the work that was performed. Otherwise, it’s buyer beware.

  24. We just bought a flip in NELA and they guy did a great job. Yeah, it’s got a wood slat fence and gray paint, but it also has a full earthquake retrofiting, new floors, walls, insulation, stucco, windows, doors, electric, copper plumbing, water heater, & kitchen. He also put in a 1/2 bath, and replaced the sewer line to the street, all with permits. The neighbors are thrilled to see the house fixed up…apparently there were between 10-15 people living here before and the place was an eyesore. If you look at flips, just get a good inspector to really look at the guts of the house and make sure the money was well spent on long term improvements. When we bought…we looked at similar houses for the same price or more that needed 30-50K worth of work, so this was a steal. No granite counter tops though, thank goodness!

  25. I’ve long speculated that horizontal fencing is the granite counter top of the future. It is going to start looking pretty dated. However it would be very nice upgrade to most of my neighbors. Oh and not the run down ones, but the ones with stucco over cinder block wall, chain link fencing, and travertine tiles. I call it the Home Depot aesthetic.

  26. I went to go look at a “bettershelter” flip in HLP a few months ago. As an architect, I was just appalled with their sloppy work. It was horrible. Paint it garish colors, use cheap materials, don’t bother pulling up the concrete in the back yard, and have set decorators “hipster” it up, why, they’ll even put an Airstream in the carport! Yay! But if you remove the decor, what you are left with is a house so void of charm and character that you might as well be living in a pre-fab shed you purchased from Home Depot.

    The best part, you can expect to pay 30% over market value for the privilege of living in one of their gutted facades.

    They are the WORST.

  27. Serious question:

    Are there specific qualities/improvements/forms etc or whatever that someone should investigate before buying one of these houses? I see there are builders/architects here, and was wondering if there’s some sort of tutorial/guide you could recommend to someone who wants to avoid buying a decrepit money trap with a new wooden fence?

    As is obvious from my question, I don’t even know what to ask or where to begin. Anyone have any pointers? Thanks.

    • HighlandPark REagent

      I suggest you only consider homes with permitted improvements. This assures you that if work was done, it was inspected prior to the interior and exterior walls being finished and painted.

  28. I can see what Darcie is getting at. You can usually tell when an architect was consulted. However I wouldn’t totally dismiss what a set decorators “hipstering it up” ads to a place. To some people it is worth 30% over market. It is interesting how much these flippers have affected the mainstream ascetic. They are starting to carry very cheap “modern style address numbers at home depot” and before long they will have horizontal fence panels. Maybe they will even sell vinyl ones.

    In all fairness it is much better than the pseudo mcmansion/home depot style of stuccoed cinderblock walls with iron gating panels, travertine tiles, and granite countertops. I guess I’d rather have even sloppily done crafty stuff than a mass produced aesthetic.

  29. I posted this on the original article: My fiancee and I recently bought a home in Highland Park – but we’ve lived in this city for the past 5 years (both of us born and raised in the LA area). We plan to live in this home for at least ten years, and if we move, it will be because we grow out of the home, not the neighborhood. We’re just blocks away from the Better Shelter new construction, and I notice all of the flips in the area. Perhaps it’s because I pay attention to local blogs and we were in the market for a home, but to me the homogeneity of the flips is very apparent. The “hipster fence” (horizontal planks) is a joke that is made often. I have said myself that the flippers must have bought every gallon of grey paint in the 90042. Now, I’m in a greyish bungalow with no money to paint anything but the front door. Red? Out of the question.

  30. I may have a horizontal fence, but at least it has interesting details other than silvery address numbers and a mailbox =) I don’t own a flipped house, but I agree on both sides of the issue – that of a homebuyer and of a homeowner. It had been a very aggressive market since at least mid-2008 (through 2010 when I bought in). International and local flippers with all-cash offers wrestled at least 20 homes I bid on as a 20% down conventional buyer. It was heartbreaking. Finally after two years, the hunt was over.

    As a homeowner, I still scan the market regularly, and watch quite a few houses in EP/SL sell at the $200,000 price point, undergo renovations, and list for double. Most of the homes are foreclosures or probates. No hipsters are taking houses away from little families or old ladies, or at least not in the context suggested on this forum. The flip up the street from my house may fit the homogeneous look of others, but I watched quite a bit of money sunk into that house in terms of replacing/repainting siding, the roof , floors, gutting the back yard, and last but not least giving the house interior walls! It definitely improved the neighborhood, but on a walk street house, did not improve the price per sqft. It sold for at least $30-50k less than what it originally listed. Demand determines the sale price, and most buyers who can fairly weigh the work completed and the recent sale price will know when the asking is overpriced.

    If you’re a new buyer to the market, don’t necessarily (wait for or) rely on a $350 inspection. Head over to downtown Los Angeles Bureau of Building and Safety and request copies of all pertinent permits (electrical, building, etc.). Let’s just say that if the house mentioned above looked completely different before/after on listing servers like Redfin, you should find recent permits on file (roof, moving utilities, earthquake retrofitting, a/c).

  31. Theresa Tillman

    I was reading the comments below and I got the vibe that flipping was a bad thing. My husband and I would love to buy a home and hopefully soon we will thanks to flippers like Better shelter. I am a designer and I would love for my first home to have the same design esthetic as my interiors do and personally the only way to do so it to buy a flipped home. I would rather buy a home with a “hipster fence” rather then one with home depot granite counter tops! And I would much rather buy a home with a new horizontal gate, a chartreuse door, new electrical, new tile, and new “hipster drought resistant landscape”! Who wants their first home to be falling down with the same linoleom that grandma had back in the 60’s with a metal fence that is falling down too! I sure don’t have an extra 80k in the bank to put into a house especially after we just threw down all our hard earned saving on our first home. Change comes, you have to embrace it.

  32. I can’t help but giggle when I see a totally trashed, stucco over wood siding house with a fancy horizontal slat fence around it. I mean, it sure adds curb appeal and keep the neighbors from looking at a blighted property, but there are more choices than horizontal slat versus chain link. Get creative folks!

    Thank goodness I only have the hipster mailbox and red screen doors (red doors are good luck to the Chinese, which I happen to be). But my mailbox is up on my porch so it’s not screaming “I’m cooler than you” to my neighbors. After 18 months and probably another 2+ years ahead of me of various improvements to my property, I promise not to get a horizontal slat fence. In fact, I’m going to build a river rock wall to extend the historic character of my 1923 home 🙂

  33. One time I came across an older house where the investor owner had moved the replaced furnace to the attic. The problem: he cut out part of the A-framing (a/k/ a part of the house structure) so he could shove the unit in more easily; and he didn’t install a catwalk or even a ladder to access the attic for service and repairs.

    Here are a few more things to look for when spotting a “flipped” house.

    http://beckyhopkinsc21jfrealtor.wordpress.com/2011/07/25/dallas-real-estate-agent-offers-ten-tips-on-spotting-a-flipped-house/

  34. Recently, I’ve spent a lot of time analyzing HLP flips .

    Aside from the fact that most buyers to not have the stomachexpertise to complete a major renovation, I think financing also mostly explains why there is an opportunity for a flipper to make money. I also suspect that the more successful flippers have the ability to complete construction at wholesale versus retail costs. Finally, some of the more skilled flippers do seem to add value through their creativity (which is why I think we see a lot of copycat efforts).

    With an FHA loan requiring a 3-4% cash out of pocket to own a refurbished home, the payment plus taxes and insurance is not that much out of line with a rental payment and if there are two people who have a job and are optimists about the future value of residential RE (I am not), it can make sense.

    With all of that said, currently, there appears to be a fairly large supply of these fixer properties in HLP sitting on the market after being recently listed. Quite a few have cut prices 5-7% within the past 30 days.

    Anybody who is looking to purchase, may be well served by being patient and waiting for the inevitable laws of supply and demand to take over. Some of these flippers may be lucky to break even.

  35. Yah, all renters should STFU. If you wanna flap yer gums, get some skin in the game. Quit your promising jobs at TJ’s (I can find my own pre-cooked Thai lime rice, thanks), lose the skinny jeans and go find a real job. Buy your own dump, crap it up with Ikea trinkets THEN you’ve earned the right to post on the Eastsiderla.
    Peace.
    Enjoy.
    Eat it.

  36. That horizontal redwood fence easily costs $2,500 with material and labor (probably an out of reach luxury for most do-it-yourself first time home buyers). Here is a link so you can see the rest of the house:

    http://www.redfin.com/CA/Los-Angeles/5418-Stratford-Rd-90042/home/7083377

    If you think you are going to get a bargain in Highland Park, you are about three years too late. If you want to get a good deal on a house, I suggest El Soreno (90032). You can still pick up a small home for as little as $150,000. And since it is adjacent to Highland Park and Alhmabra (and downtown), it is definitely the next neighborhood to explode.

  37. To give a little perspective to this discussion please take a look at this same house before it was renovated.

    http://dl.dropbox.com/u/32104702/stratford/IMG_0841.JPG

    The rod iron fencing was replaced with stained redwood (naturally resistant to termites and wet weather), as opposed to the unfinished knotty pine fence that better shelter uses. All the improvement were done with permits and inspected including a new roof, central air, re-plumbing, rewired electrical, solid wood cabinets with carrera marble countertops and bathroom tile. I agree that a lot of the flips I see are not of the highest caliber, but this house certainly does not fall into that category. The neighbors all love the improvements and great care was taken to deliver the highest quality, lasting improvements inside and out. Before people start worrying about horizontal fences and grey toned houses making neighborhoods too uniform, they should ask themselves would I rather live next to a dilapidated shack, or freshly renovated home with trendy design?

  38. I’ve lived in Glassell Park for a couple of years now and as of the last year have seen a lot of these “flipped” homes. My roommate and I marvel on how these old houses are getting the “Dwell Magazine 101 makeover” as we like to call it.

  39. Perhaps DWELL should also get a facelift, that way the FLIPPERS can get new inspiration considering they’re simple-minded money-making tactics are as challenged as the publications that appear to inspire them.

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