"Contractor's Specials"

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I was looking through some real estate listings and saw one property described as: "Contractor's special, first time buyers and investors. House needs TLC." Does contractor's special mean u better be a contractor if you wanna buy this place?

It means it needs some serious rehab work, but it's priced too high for you to make a profit paying to have it done, so the people they're trying to attract are people who are inexperienced home repair folk who don't realize what their time is worth, and won't realize how much time and money and dirt and sweat and just plain hassle that living with the problem and getting it fixed is going to entail.

In point of fact, it's an uncommon "contractor's special" that isn't overpriced. We're not talking about just carpet and paint here. We're talking some major league repairs. Foundation breaks. Significant settling damage. Plumbing that's broken and leaking water. Mold in the framing (which will usually spread). Wiring that's a fire hazard. The list goes on, but they've all got one thing in common: You're dealing with stuff that adversely influences the habitability of the property. Without those repairs, you're not going to get reasonable enjoyment out of the property. It fails the most essential test of inhabitability for a property: The ability to live the same kind of lifestyle in that property, as the rest of the country does in theirs, and to do so for the foreseeable future.

Martha Stewart notwithstanding, you can live with stained carpet. Whatever you read in Better Homes and Gardens, you can live with spots on your walls, or even holes in the drywall. It's possible to live with both old and ugly, if you get get electricity and hot and cold running water when you need them, and the house isn't falling to pieces around you. You can't really live if every time you plug something in or turn something on, there's a significant chance your property will burn down around your family's ears. You can't live if hot water is leaking out and eroding your foundation support, as well as keeping you from taking hot showers. You're not going to live indefinitely with a foundation break - sooner or later, it'll either rip the house apart or tear it apart.

Such properties aren't a residence at all, when you really think about it. I'd sooner put your average family of four into a one bedroom apartment than a "contractor's special." Sure you got a low price - on a property you can't use. Kind of like getting a deal on dog vomit. It begs the question not only of why you'd pay for it, but why you'd want dog vomit at all. Me, on those rare occasions when one or another of my best four-legged friends has lost their dinner, I'd willingly pay someone who offered a certain amount of money to get rid of it for me.

This kind of property can be an opportunity, IF you really know what you're doing, and IF it's priced correctly so that you can do the work and make a profit, and that includes some significant cash for being the one to deal with it. But it's no coincidence that the serial decorators who line up to replace bad carpet and paint ugly walls give "contractor's specials" a wide berth. The work that needs doing is far too expensive to be "worth it" - at least at the levels "contractor's specials" are usually priced. The most recent one I was in, a four bedroom place not very far from my office, was priced about $20,000 below what would have been appropriate for a turn-key property in the area - and it needed roughly $60,000 worth of work that I saw. For a forty year old 1600 square foot house, with position issues, floor plan issues, and not a single surface in the entire property that presents well. A more appropriate price would have been land less demolition and haul away. Which is about what it's going to go for - once the owners price it somewhere in the appropriate ballpark. Oh, I can fight the battle and often even win a signed purchase contract for the correct amount - but it's a lot more effort that finding someone who at least is willing to admit the realities of the situation up front. Sometimes, I'll see if I can get a client the property is appropriate for to make a test offer, just to see if the sellers and their agents are willing to admit the obvious truth. If not, we move on.

What the owners are really hoping for, of course, is someone who only sees only the relatively cheap price, but not the cost, in all senses of the word, of the work that's necessary to have a useful property once they own it. But this kind of cheap is no bargain. I've said it in the past, but Know What Can Be Fixed and What Can't, What's Profitable and What Isn't, which is only one of hundreds of reasons why You need a buyer's agent, whose job is to bring up all of these not so minor concerns that owners and listing agents would rather buyers didn't understand, because it means they get more of that buyer's money.

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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on November 28, 2007 7:00 AM.

Do You Have to Lose Your Home in Bankruptcy? was the previous entry in this blog.

Condo Assessments is the next entry in this blog.

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