PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- Don't start pitching more house-flipping reality shows to mediocre networks just yet: There's money in house flipping, but not a lot of opportunity to do it.
According to real estate data firm RealtyTrac, just 3.7% percent of all U.S. single family home sales in the first quarter were flips -- in which a home is bought and sold again within six months. That's down from 4.1% percent in the fourth quarter of last year and down from 6.5% in last year's entire first quarter.
The good news is that the average sales price of single-family homes flipped in the first quarter was $55,574 higher than the average original purchase price. That's an average 30% return on investment. Not bad, right? Well, that's the bad news. The average ROI a year ago was 28%, so that return's a bit flat. It gets even more dicey when you consider that the average ROI for the fourth quarter of 2013 was less than 10%. It's better than the 10% loss house flippers were taking back in 2011, but it's still volatile.
It's also still highly dependent on where you're plying your trade. Foreclosure-plagued markets are still seeing the highest percentage of homes flipped, with New York City (10.2%), Jacksonville, Fla., (10%), San Diego (7.1%), Las Vegas (6.7%) and Miami (5.9%) leading the way. As foreclosure numbers fall, though, many property-rich markets are seeing fewer homes flipped. Some of the biggest drops were in New York ( where flips are down 37% from last year), Phoenix, Ariz. (down 39%), Riverside-San Bernardino in Southern California (down 22%), Atlanta (down 57%), Chicago (down 29%) and Las Vegas (down 9%).