Home & Garden

Flipping houses for fun and profit

Fixing up a home to turn it over is a newly popular amateur project

Peter Souhleris of “Flipping Boston,” a show on A&E, takes

 apart a apart a master bathroom at a house in Danvers.
Mark Lorenz for the Boston Globe
Peter Souhleris of “Flipping Boston,” a show on A&E, take s apart a master bathroom at a house in Danvers.

The kitchen components had all been removed by the time Dave Seymour and Peter Souhleris moved on to the upstairs bathroom, followed closely by a film crew.

Seymour grabbed a hammer and climbed into the massive Jacuzzi tub. He took one look at the light pink backsplash tile and swung. Tiles crashed down like hail, piling up near Seymour’s feet. Within minutes, the wall was bare.

Eager to join in, Souhleris took a sledgehammer to the bathroom’s twin sinks, and porcelain rained down from his enthusiastic swings.

Mark Lorenz for the Boston Globe
David Seymour cuts away sheet rock around the main water pipes as his team begins dismantling a master bathroom.

The havoc wreaked on this Danvers house on a recent spring day was part of the entertaining process of making the ugly uglier, the middle step in one of the house flips that has garnered the two men success, money, and three seasons of fame on the A&E program “Flipping Boston.”

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“People can see what our passion is and what we love to do,” said Souhleris, who, when not on TV, runs Peabody-based CityLight Homes with Seymour. “I love [transforming] an ugly duckling . . . I see it. I just look at it and have the vision to say this is going to be unbelievable.”

Though few home renovations get on television, the success of shows like “Flipping Boston” has been one factor contributing to the boom in house-flipping since the economic downturn began in 2008.

Opinions differ on exactly how active house-flipping — buying a run-down property, renovating it, and selling quickly at a profit — has been. But most people in the real estate industry agree there is a strong market in this region.

Mark Lorenz for the Boston Globe
Jeremy Morgan removes kitchen tile as the entire kitchen comes out in a “flipping” project at a large Danvers home.

“I believe there is a bubble going on in the Boston/Northeast market, unlike the rest of the country . . . because of the low [housing] inventory,” said Denis Keohane, a real estate investor and developer on the South Shore.


Potential sellers who became disenchanted during the economic downturn contributed to the low inventory of houses on the market, Keohane said. New housing construction statewide also has been at an all-time low for the last five years, Census data show.

With buyers badly outnumbering sellers, investors have begun clamoring for the small number of available houses in the Boston area.

For ease of commuting, the “Flipping Boston” crew tries to stay within an hour of Peabody, but it would be willing to go to the western suburbs, the South Shore, or even out of state for the right deal.

Others, such as Keohane, flip in “spillover markets,” or areas surrounding the most desirable towns. When properties can’t be purchased for the right price in Milton, for example, there’s Roslindale, Randolph, and Canton. Can’t find an affordable property in South Boston? Try Lower Mills, Neponset, and Savin Hill.

Matt Bessette, founder of East Bridgewater-based MJB Investments, said he focuses on Quincy, Braintree, and Boston, because properties there seem to sell faster.


South Shore real estate investor Mike LaCava also likes to stay within an hour of his home base, flipping homes in Norwell, Norton, Plymouth, Freetown, Middleborough, Wareham, and Scituate.

West of Boston, the scarcity of available homes is generating activity beyond the typical markets of Newton, Natick, and Framingham, where Framingham Re/Max agent Ben Saunders said there has been a flipping frenzy for several years. Seasoned investors and newcomers now are going further west toward Worcester to find houses.

Mark Lorenz for the Boston Globe
Typically, the pair handle about eight properties a year

“Having a shortage of inventory and prices on the rise, there are more investors looking to flip properties, but [the properties] are harder to find,” Saunders said. “Not only in Metrowest but all over [Greater] Boston, people are eager to find properties to flip.”

But more than the neighborhood, it’s the purchase price, the cost of construction, and property sales comparable to the finished product that decide the eventual payout, and thus which projects have the most merit.

For their projects, Souhleris and Seymour seek a 20 percent return on investment.

It’s numbers. It all comes down to numbers and time,” said Souhleris. “Know your market . . . know what your exit number is, what you can sell it for resale. Because once you’ve got that number dialed in, you can reverse-engineer everything.”

Souhleris declined to say how much he and Seymour earn a year, but he cited a couple of recent condo conversions. A Swampscott project had a $405,000 purchase price and sold for just over $1 million, yielding a $230,000 profit. They bought a Newburyport property for $460,000 and sold it for $922,000, netting $172,000.

Typically, the pair handle about eight properties a year, Souhleris said.

Mark Lorenz for the Boston Globe
Properties are reshaped and sold within five months.

While CityLight Homes operates with cash, banks have been willing lenders for investors.

“[Investors] still have to show financial strength, but you know the demand for their product is there,” Steve Costello, president of the Bank of Canton, said of financing for flippers. In light of that demand, Costello said, loans for speculative construction — or construction without a buyer — have increased.

That willingness to lend has been essential to house-flipping, Keohane said, adding that this aspect of his 24-year-old business had slowed when loans were hard to get. Now, brokers approach Keohane with a flurry of deals, and properties are reshaped and sold within five months.

Such success, propelled by the home transformations playing out on TV screens, has newer investors seeking ways to enter the industry.

Such success, propelled by the home transformations playing out on TV screens, has newer investors seeking ways to enter the industry.

Seymour and Souhleris teach seminars on their “Flipping Formula” around the country. In the Boston area, LaCava started The House Flipping School, which hosted its first class in January. Bessette offers house-flipping tutorials on YouTube.

“There are always new people who want to come in and flip,” said Marina Hauser, a founder and co-owner of Beantown Property Group LLC in Boston, and a coach and trainer for FortuneBuilders, which also educates newcomers to the flipping industry. “When the market is hot, you’re going to see more come in.”

Hot markets also inspire TV shows on flipping. Hauser would know — after real estate success from 2005 to 2007 with CT Homes LLC, the company was featured in “Flip This House: New Haven” in 2007.

“It’s a sexy thing,” Hauser said. “It’s a sexy thing people . . . want to get into. A lot of people look at it on TV and think, ‘I can do that.’ ”

But not everyone has seen a surge. Susan Johnson of Jack Conway Real Estate has worked with experienced flippers in Norwell and Rockland, but said she hasn’t seen many novices lately.

Kerry Sullivan, a Wellesley-based real estate agent, and Lenny Rowe, a member of the Molisse Realty Group LLC and the Plymouth and South Shore Association of Realtors, haven’t seen much flipping activity at all.

“A few years ago, there were a lot of them. It seems nowadays it’s sporadic,” Rowe said.

Souhleris speculated that his and other flipping TV shows could be creating more competition.

Are we shooting ourselves in the foot? I don’t care. We know the market so [well]. . . I think there is so much out there that it’s never going to end,” he said.

In fact, Seymour said, one measure of the show’s success is whether it has inspired others to try their own home updates.

Inspiration is easy to come by with such dramatic “before” and “after” photos in their portfolio, with Souhleris creating a design that Seymour builds, while they joke like brothers and resolve mishaps with humor and patience.

At the very least, it makes for good TV.

More photos of the Danvers home renovation can be seen at