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Home Flippers Are Back, and That's Kind of Good

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Long considered a legend, like Bigfoot or the ability of leprechauns to find gold, the "home flipper" has risen from the ashes of the Great Recession and is once again leaving his (or her) imprint on the nation's housing market.

What's more, they're making big money doing so.

Home-flippers -- investors who buy homes and flip (sell) them for a quick profit -- were pervasive when the economy was rolling in the first half of the decade. But the housing collapse thinned the herd, as many home flippers were left holding the bag on for-sale homes with slipping prices and fewer buyers on the market.

In the past three years, though, home flippers have been creeping back into the housing market -- and more urgently of late.

Data from Irvine, Calif.-based RealtyTrac shows that single family "home flips" -- defined as homes that are bought and sold within six months -- were up 16% last year compared with 2012.

And get this: Home flips were up 114% since 2011.

All told, home flips accounted for 156,862 single-family home sales in 2012, and more investors will likely re-enter the market now that home prices are on the rise. RealtyTrac estimates the average gross profit linked to home flips was $58,081 last year and more than $62,000 in the fourth quarter, suggesting there is once again real money to be made by buying and selling a property within six months.

More expensive homes were especially popular with home flippers, as sales made up of flip-related sales from homes valued at more than $400,000 were up 36% last year. Sales of less valuable homes bought and sold within six months were up 16% over the same period.

Turnaround times were faster too. RealtyTrac says it took 84 days on average to flip a home last year, down from 100 days in 2011.

"Strong home price appreciation in many markets boosted profits for flippers in 2013 despite a shrinking inventory of lower-priced foreclosure homes to purchase," says Daren Blomquist, vice president of RealtyTrac. "For the year 21% of all properties flipped were purchased out of foreclosure, but that is down from 27% in 2012 and 32% in 2011."

"Meanwhile flipped homes were still purchased at an average discount of 13% below market value in 2013, the same average discount as 2012, indicating that investors are finding discounted buying opportunities outside of the public foreclosure process -- particularly in those markets with the biggest increases in flipping for the year," he says.

Of course some regions are seeing more flipping activity than others. Jacksonville, Fla., Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Detroit, all saw an increase in home flips of more than 50% last year. Cities such as Philadelphia and Phoenix saw a big decline, signifying that housing market recoveries are slower in those cities.

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