The act of buying low, renovating, and selling the house for more than it was purchased – has become fairly common in the real estate and investing worlds. There are multiple television shows to draw inspiration from.
But something of a rarity in the flipping world is a hoarder’s home. The hoarder could have anything from clothes to dolls, newspapers to random trinkets littering the floor and walls.
Somewhere between three and five percent of the population, or between about 9.6 million and 15.9 million people, suffer from hoarding, officially added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 2013.
Depending on the laws of the state in question, the seller may need to disclose of certain types of deaths in the home. For instance, in California, any kind of death in the past three years must be disclosed, while most other states do not require a disclosure if the death was from natural causes. A hoarder’s death in their home could cause either a spouse or their estate to sell the house – disclosure required or not.
Before beginning the buying process, ensure the seller actually owns the home. The hoarder may not be the actual owner – they may be living there free, or as part of a trust. You don’t want to be in a situation similar to renting an apartment from a squatter, without realizing anything is amiss until the actual renters show up at the door – and your money is already gone.
If the sale is a result of a death, the home may be sold as-is, with all the items still in the house even once your name is on the deed. From here, there are a few options. Hiring a service to help dispose of the items is a good start. Some services offer recycling or donation of items, which can help in easing the mind of a hoarder selling their own house, that the items will still be put to good use instead of sitting in a landfill. Even so, it may take a counselor to help them come to terms with their disorder before they are willing to part with their items.
Another option is storage, such as a local storage unit. Renting is an option, though could be expensive in the long run depending on the volume of items stored. However, if there are items worth selling, this is ideal. One real estate investor found a 1991 Camaro literally buried in the garage after buying a hoarder’s home as-is.
In another case, a flipper estimated he would need to spend $75,000 just to clean and ensure a two-bedroom, one-bathroom house was to code – without any other renovations or improvements. Depending on your dedication and how much help you have, it could be a solid time investment.
While Sue and John Fogwell bought a hoarder’s house without an intention to flip, it still took nine months with only a single day off just to clean out the home. Sue estimated cleaning costs would be in the $60,000 range had they used a professional cleaning service. Instead, with John doing most of the cleaning, that money could be used to renovate the home.
While cleaning, though it is an added expense, it might be worth it to see if your cleaning company utilizes surveillance cameras due to the volume of items being removed. The house may become a target for thieves and vandals, doing damage to the property or stealing potentially valuable items.
The key to selling a hoarder’s house, especially in working with living hoarders, is compassion. This is their life’s accumulation of items, and should be treated as such. To them, it is not junk at all, and items may be treasured for their memories.
Once the house is cleared out, be prepared for extensive damage. Peeling paint, mold, destruction from critters; due to the items blocking access, damage from neglect may affect large portions of the house. A good question to ask prior to attempting a flip is a simple, “Is it worth it?” Will any profit outweigh what it takes to fix any damage and possibly bring the home up to code, if needed? Is it worth the time and effort, as opposed to other flipping opportunities?
Because of the aforementioned disclosure laws, it may be possible to purchase the home for much cheaper than it normally would be sold. But, this is juxtaposed with what it will cost to renovate the damage. It may still turn up a large profit – especially if the flipper is able to do the majority of the work without needing outside help.
Once renovated, the home could look as good as new. All that’s left is to stage and sell it. It’s likely to be a long, grueling process to get to this point. From here, there’s three potential outcomes.
- The house sells, you make a profit. This, obviously, is the goal. Buy low, make vast improvements, and you should see a profit if you didn’t go overboard spending money on improvements.
- The house sells, but it takes too long to sell. There still might be a profit, but combined with the time it took to clean and renovate, profit margins could be slim to none. This may also be due to not renovating enough, or buyer’s tastes not matching the changes made.
- The house does not sell for a profit. Hopefully, this won’t happen due to low buying price combined with the renovations and repairs you have made. At this point, you have either taken too long to do the renovations, or not done enough renovations and repairs.
Keep this in mind as motivation, and don’t get discouraged. If you are working with a hoarder, you also have the satisfaction of knowing you helped someone, whether it’s simply moving their items or helping them sell, donate or recycle their items.
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