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Flip This House, If You Can

What was it, three or four short years ago, when you could find a little house in a desirable area that needed some paint, putty and petunias, and turn it around a few weeks after closing for a hefty profit?

Back then, the concept of losing money on real estate seemed far-fetched. But it happened.

Those qualify-by-breathing subprime loans dried up, people couldn't make payments on loans that adjusted way upward, and tons of addresses hit the multiple-listing service. With too much supply and little demand, many of those house-flippers with dreams of early retirement (and maybe their own cable TV show) have abandoned the quick-turnaround real estate market.

But for some, there's still opportunity.

How It's Done Now

"In a traditional house flip, you're buying at wholesale and selling at retail; it's simple," says Ralph Roberts, a Warren, Mich., flipping guru and the author of Flipping Houses for Dummies.

He points out that this works best when the market is moving quickly, since a house you buy in May would likely be worth more a month or two later. However, a flipper now needs to find not just a good deal but a great one.

"You need to buy at below wholesale and then plan to sell at a price that's under the current retail."

Despite the glut of homes on the market, getting those great deals is tough, even for the experts.

"Our company used to flip hundreds of homes per year," says Roberts. "This year, we've only bought one and sold one."

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