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The Most Popular Markets for Home Flipping

Alexander E.M. Hess

Even as home-flipping activity has generally declined in the past year, it continues to be quite widespread in parts of the country. In some counties, home flippers still buy large numbers of properties to renovate and resell at a potentially significant profit.

There were 22 U.S. counties that had at least 1,000 home flips each in the 12 months between April 2013 and March 2014. Among these, 10 counties had more than 1,500, while Suffolk County, New York, had more than 7,000 in that time. Based on recently released data from home data site RealtyTrac, 24/7 Wall St. determined the 10 counties with the highest number of home flips.

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In parts of the U.S. where home flipping is common, there is often a strong investor presence, Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac, told 24/7 Wall. St. Additionally, many of these areas have “low inventory of new homes for sale, combined with a lot of older inventory of existing homes.” These two factors, combine to create a distinct niche for recently flipped properties.

Indeed, many of the most popular counties for home flipping were located in metro areas where flips still accounted for a large percentage of sales. In the New York, Jacksonville, and Omaha metro areas, home flips accounted for more than 10% of all sales -- among the higher percentages in the nation.

The size of the county also plays a role in driving home flip totals, since a higher number of residents generally indicates a larger housing market. All but one of the 10 counties with the most flips were among the nation’s 100 largest by population. Additionally, six were among the 15 most populous counties nationwide.

Flippers aim to enter “markets at or near the bottom to maximize profits from flips,” Blomquist said. “The data suggests these markets are primed for a strong rebound, and some are already in the process of rebounding.” It is hardly a coincidence that the principal counties of the Las Vegas and Phoenix metro areas, as well as a number of counties in recession-battered southern California, were among the most popular for flippers.

In many of these markets, buyers were often willing to pay quite a bit of money for a property. In some instances, these markets are flirting with becoming unaffordable for many buyers, Blomquist noted, adding “these high-priced markets also present an opportunity for flippers to provide properties at a lower price point that appeals to more buyers.”

For instance, buyers in Los Angeles County spent 7.8 times their estimated median household income to buy a home. In San Diego County, buyers spent 6.6 times estimated income. Both were among the highest ratios in the nation. Similarly, ratios were also high in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, two of the hardest hit by the recession.

However, just because these counties were popular with home flippers does not mean they were highly profitable places to renovate a distressed home. Gross return figures, measured by the differences between the purchasing price flippers paid and the selling price they received, varied considerably among the counties with the most home flips.

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For example, flippers in Suffolk County had an average gross return of 53.5%, among the higher returns in the nation. Returns were also high in Oakland County, Michigan and San Bernardino County, California. However, while figures in San Bernardino were high, in neighboring Riverside County -- also a high flip area -- the average flip returned just 30.5%, lower than in many other U.S. counties.

Based on data provided by RealtyTrac, 24/7 Wall St. identified the 10 counties with the most home flips between April 2013 and March 2014. RealtyTrac also provided data on the average purchase and sales prices, and gross return on investment, for home flips. Gross return figures do not include the costs of renovating properties for resale. Additionally, we reviewed RealtyTrac data on median home price, median household income (forecast for 2014 based on rates of change from 2006 to 2014), unemployment, and the percentage change in foreclosures between the first quarter of 2013 and 2014. Quarterly figures on home flips by metro area are also from RealtyTrac. Home Price Index data from S&P/Case-Shiller was also utilized for certain cities.

These are the 10 most popular markets for home flipping. 

10. San Bernardino County, Calif.
> Number of home flips: 1,574
> Gross return on investment: 41.3%
> 1 yr. decline in foreclosures: 21.1%
> Metro area: Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, Calif.

A flipped home in San Bernardino County sold for an average of more than $250,000 between April 2013 and March 2014, representing a notable premium to the county’s median home price of $206,000. Already, the median price was roughly four times the county’s estimated median income, one of the higher ratios nationwide. San Bernardino County was one of the hardest hit in the nation during the housing crisis. Between 2008 and 2011, roughly one in 12 county homes was foreclosed upon. In 2012, the city of San Bernardino filed for bankruptcy, having effectively run out of cash for everyday operations. The city has yet to exit bankruptcy proceedings.

9. Oakland County, Mich.
> Number of home flips: 1,703
> Gross return on investment: 42.5%
> 1 yr. decline in foreclosures: 39.7%
> Metro area: Detroit-Warren-Livonia, Mich.

Oakland County, an affluent area located near Detroit, struggled during the recession as poverty rose dramatically. The area’s struggling economy may have played a role in attracting home flippers, looking to profit off a rebound in Michigan’s fortunes. Flipping as a percent of sales rose from less than 2% in 2011 and early 2012, before surging to more than 10% in late 2012 and early 2013. More recently, the number of foreclosures has fallen as well, dropping 40% between the first quarter of 2013 and the first quarter of 2014. County homes were more affordable than those in other areas with high numbers of home flips, with the county’s median home price just slightly more than twice the area's estimated 2014 median income.

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8. Riverside County, Calif.
> Number of home flips: 1,728
> Gross return on investment: 30.5%
> 1 yr. decline in foreclosures: 17.4%
> Metro area: Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, Calif.

One in 10 Riverside County houses was foreclosed on between 2008 and 2011, a high rate even for foreclosure-ravaged California. For many buyers, recently flipped homes have remained an attractive option, with flips accounting for nearly 6% of metro area sales in the most recent quarter, higher than in most counties. Over the last year, the average selling price of a flipped home was nearly $300,000, versus a median home price of $255,000. The county’s median home price amounted to 4.8 times the area’s estimated 2014 median household income, one of the higher ratios in the nation.

7. San Diego County, Calif.
> Number of home flips: 1,950
> Gross return on investment: 35.8%
> 1 yr. decline in foreclosures: 22.1%
> Metro area: San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, Calif.

San Diego County is one of the nation’s most expensive in which to buy a home. Between April 2013 and March 2014, the county’s median home price was $405,000, one of the highest in the country. While San Diego County is relatively wealthy, with an estimate median household income of $61,552 for 2014, the ratio of median home price to income was still 6.6, among the highest in the nation. Flipped properties in the area were expensive as well, selling for more than $450,000 on average. Home flippers have been active in the San Diego metro area for a while, with flips accounting for more than 7% of sales for nearly two years, higher than in most metro areas as of the first quarter of this year.

6. Clark County, Nev.
> Number of home flips: 2,542
> Gross return on investment: 32.5%
> 1 yr. decline in foreclosures: 50.1%
> Metro area: Las Vegas-Paradise, Nev.

Clark County, which constitutes the entirety of the Las Vegas metro area, was among the country's hardest-hit areas by the housing crisis. Even with the recent recovery, the area’s home prices remain far from their all-time highs. According to S&P/Case-Shiller, the city of Las Vegas’ Home Price Index score as of March was just 131.3, down 44% from an all-time high of 234.8 set in August 2006. As many as 10% of Las Vegas area homes sold in the first quarter were flipped properties. While this was down from a recent high of 13.2% of home sales, it was still among the highest rates in the nation. However, a 50% decline in the first quarter compared to last year indicates that the number of home flips could potentially drop soon.

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5. Duval County, Fla.
> Number of home flips: 2,803
> Gross return on investment: 40.1%
> 1 yr. decline in foreclosures: 21.4%
> Metro area: Jacksonville, Fla.

Duval County includes all of Jacksonville, which accounts for the vast majority of its residents. In the past year through March, more than 2,800 homes were flipped in the county, selling for an average of $115,692. While this is less than the price buyers in most metro areas paid for a flipped home, the flip itself was still often profitable, earning a gross return on investment of 40% on average, higher than in many cities with large number of flips. It likely helped home flippers that home prices in the area were relatively low. The median home price for property in Duval County was slightly more than $96,000 in the 12 months through May, among the lower figures nationwide.

4. Douglas County, Neb.
> Number of home flips: 3,095
> Gross return on investment: 35.6%
> 1 yr. decline in foreclosures: 76.3%
> Metro area: Omaha-Council Bluffs, Neb.-Iowa

While economically depressed areas often attract home flippers, Douglas County had a particularly low unemployment rate of just 4.5% as of March, among the lowest rates of all countries reviewed. The area’s housing market also seems to be improving, with the county’s foreclosure rate dropping by 76% between the first quarter of 2013 and the beginning of this year, among the largest declines nationwide. Yet, even with a relatively small population -- just 518,271 -- there were more than 3,000 home flips in Douglas county between April 2013 and this past March. This was more than all but three other counties, all of which were among the nation’s largest.

3. Los Angeles County, Calif.
> Number of home flips: 3,610
> Gross return on investment: 34.2%
> 1 yr. decline in foreclosures: 19.8%
> Metro area: Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, Calif.

Typical Los Angeles county residents had to shell out nearly eight times their estimated 2014 household income to buy a home, far more than the vast majority of counties. Potentially good news for the housing market’s future, foreclosure rates actually declined by 20% between the first quarter of 2013 and the beginning of this year, among the larger declines nationwide. Los Angeles also performed much better during the recession than much of California. One in every 22 homes in the county was foreclosed on between 2008 and 2011, versus one in every 13 homes statewide. The area's unemployment rate of 8.7% as of March was quite high, however.

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2. Maricopa County, Ariz.
> Number of home flips: 4,632
> Gross return on investment: 31.4%
> 1 yr. decline in foreclosures: 51.7%
> Metro area: Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, Ariz.

Maricopa County, which includes the city of Phoenix, is one of the nation’s most populous counties, with 3.8 million residents. After a precipitous fall, home prices in the Phoenix area have improved considerably in recent years. Home flippers entered the market relatively early on. For most of 2011 and 2012, the Phoenix metro area was among the most popular in the nation for home flippers. While flipping activity has since abated, much of this drop could reflect a decrease in foreclosed property. Between the first quarters of 2013 and 2014, foreclosures in Maricopa County dropped by 52%, one of the larger declines nationwide.

1. Suffolk County, N.Y.
> Number of home flips: 7,066
> Gross return on investment: 53.5%
> 1 yr. decline in foreclosures: 9.1%
> Metro area: New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, N.Y.-N.J.-Pa.

More than 7,000 homes were flipped in Suffolk County between April 2013 and this past March, far more than any other county nationwide. Part of the New York City metro area, Suffolk County is among the most populous counties in the nation. A large population and a high number of homes, however, are only part of the explanation. With the region’s foreclosure rate declining by just 9% in the 12 months through March-- much less than most other counties with the most home flips -- inventory available for home flippers remained relatively intact. Additionally, more than 10% of all New York metro area home sales were flipped homes, more than most counties in the nation. Flippers themselves reaped rewards, drawing an average of 53.5% return on homes flipped in Suffolk County in the 12 months through March, more than in most counties with a large number of home flips.

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