Flipping Houses Requires a Gambler's Heart ... 6

as Well as Sound Time-Management and Design Skills

Like Realtors, house “flippers” know that “location, location, location” is a big part of the equation when selecting a home for a major renovation. But that’s just one of many factors one must take into consideration when deciding whether a structure is a good candidate for a major overhaul, says a local house flipper.

Jessica Naifeh Blyden, a Norman native and lifelong resident, recently took time out of a busy schedule flipping homes, serving as CFO for a local equine veterinarian (her husband, Josh, is owner and main veterinarian at Interstate Equine Hospital in Goldsby), and caring for their two children to talk about her experiences flipping houses over the past 14 years throughout central Oklahoma.

Blyden, who attended the University of Oklahoma and earned her degree in marketing and advertising (with a minor in public relations) from the University of Central Oklahoma, doesn’t recall what set her on her present course of work.

However, she said, “my grandfather was an architect and designer who built many houses over his lifetime. I think it was just in my blood.”

Blyden bought her first house to flip in Stillwater in 2002, while her husband was still in veterinary school. Since then, she estimates she has overseen approximately 20 flips throughout Cleveland, McClain and Payne counties, and as many more for paying clients.

Her reputation is such that Blyden no longer needs to seek out jobs; her numerous contacts seek her out. Chuckling, she added, “now, the houses find me.”

Probably at least due to the popularity of shows such as Flip or Flop, Flip This House, Fixer Upper, Rehab Addict and Property Brothers, Blyden often fields questions from people seeking her advice on how to become a flipper.

“You can’t teach it,” asserts Blyden. “It has so much to do with your personality, your creative and design ability, and your knowledge of the market.”

Successful flippers, she asserts, also must have the heart of a gambler.

To make it in the reno business, she explains, you have to “find pleasure in taking your life savings and stacking all on the table. When you’re flipping a large house, that’s what it feels like; you get a rush of adrenaline, just like at a blackjack table. You have to take a large amount of cash and be willing to lose it because there are no guarantees. You have to be a gambler.”

The reason is that one never knows going into a project what complications will arise. “There are a lot of ‘unpredictables,’” she said. “When you open a wall, you just prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”

She cited as an example a house she took on for renovation that turned out to be riddled with termites, despite having undergone a full inspection. The house had had only one owner since the 1940s; the hardwood floors were covered with lime green shag carpet and the walls were covered in wallpaper, so the damage was not initially visible. It all had to go, from the floors to the walls.

“As long as you have skilled laborers, it can all be fixed,” she said, noting that she has a team of trusted subcontractors, like Alan Carlson, with whom she has worked for over 12 years.

So, how does Blyden decide if she wants to take on a flip in the first place?

“I go off my gut probably 90 percent of the time,” she said, noting that houses have a certain “vibe”; if the vibe is bad, she walks away.  “Maybe one in 20 houses is a good candidate for flipping,” she added.

Blyden next gathers comps of like houses in that area, then sets her targeted sales price a little lower. Based on that figure, she makes a cash offer that includes room for the unexpected, plus a fair profit margin.

Once she’s closed on the property, she has to move fast. “In the perfect world, a flip takes three months, but may take up to six. Time is money, and the quicker you are in and out, the better you are off financially,” she said. “However, you don’t want to sacrifice quality.”

The most expensive part of most renovations is the plumbing and tile work, which means bathroom and kitchen work take the largest part of the budget. Blyden prefers to use natural stone and other “natural products that come from the earth.”

While acknowledging the popularity nationwide of the open-concept look, Blyden said that isn’t always the best alternative. “I think people who entertain a lot appreciate the open concept, but you have to consider that, if you are an avid art or antiques collector, you have to have walls. With open-concept plans, you lose wall space.

“Going into a flip, you don’t know who will purchase it, so from a designer standpoint, the challenge is to give the home personality while also staying somewhat neutral. One cannot always appeal to the masses.”

Flipping houses is more than just a job for this hardworking multitasker.

“Flipping houses has given me the opportunity to bring my kids to work, to be my own boss, and to show my children what hard work looks like. It is very rewarding. I love Norman, and I love preserving and rehabbing what parts of it I can.”

Blyden noted another great side benefit of her work: “When you start in on a house—and I do the landscaping as well–all of a sudden, down the street, you will see people putting in new plants, painting their front door…there’s a snowball effect, it (a flip) gets other people motivated. Inevitably it affects the whole street.”

For those considering doing their own flip to increase the value of their home, as well as to those considering a career in this field, she offers some sage advice.

“You need to have a decent amount of monetary cushion, be an excellent time manager, be able to mentally handle a large gamble, and then, after all that, be a good designer.”

What are the benefits of buying a flipped house over a new build? “Mature trees. Also, the bones of older homes are much stronger and have more architectural integrity, generally speaking,” she said.

Blyden loves her hometown, and wants her flipped houses to add value to her community. “The beauty of Norman lies in its small-town feel, in its community aspects. I think it’s important to make the most of what we have, and not just build and build and concrete it up,” she said.

Blyden gives her husband and the support of her family much credit for her success.

Not all husbands would be willing to let their wife take their hard-earned money “and gamble with it,” she said, noting that he trusts and supports her fully, even when the flip doesn’t go as planned. “That is a true test of a marriage.”