I try to answer your questions openly and honestly. This post originated with a reader question:
Is there a way to buy into the market of homes that are up for auction an or tax liens without using my own money and doing the remodel myself and having a real estate agent do the marketing for it?
There are really three—maybe four—questions expressed here:
- Can I have a real estate agent do the marketing for me?
- Can I buy a house at auction or from tax liens without using my own money?
- Can I renovate a house using other people’s money if I don’t do the renovation work myself?
- Can I renovate a house myself using other people’s money?
The answer to each of these questions individually is a resounding “Yes!” The answer when you start stacking them becomes increasingly less certain until it finally results in, “Well…maybe?” I don’t like to argue for limitations, but it depends on your reputation and how persuasive you can be. Luck does not play a big role in business.
Can I have a real estate agent do the marketing for me?
I always ask agents to market my finished projects for sale. That’s their specialty, finding retail buyers for retail houses.
Agents can also bring you deals on foreclosures listed on the MLS. It happens. But they’re not going to make as much money on a house you buy at a steep discount than on one they sell at full retail. Most agents only get paid a percentage of the sale price, so they naturally focus on bigger prices. Retail prices, not what you need for a renovation.
You can have an agent find deals for you, but you’ll still have to put up some money to get them done. Agents expect to be paid for their services, and rightly so. Then there’s this: if an agent finds a deal that doesn’t require a lot of money or effort, why would they bring it to you? Why wouldn’t they do the deal themselves? They did all the leg work, after all. It could happen, just not very often.
But the best time to buy a foreclosure is before it goes to auction, when you can still deal directly with the owner and do the added good of saving them from years of harassment and credit problems.
Then there’s the problem of tax foreclosures. In Texas, homeowners have two years to buy back their homesteads for the auction price plus interest. Since they may not have to pay you back for any improvements you make to the house, the safest bet is for you to hold the property for at least two years before sinking any additional funds into it.
As I said before, agents may sometimes bring you a foreclosure that’s listed on the MLS and still has enough room to pay for a reno and leave something left over for your profit. But Texas requires all foreclosures (tax and bank) to be listed for three weeks before the auction. Most counties list these properties on their web sites. So, there’s plenty of opportunity for you to find these properties and save them before the auction. All you need is a web browser and a little salesmanship. But I guarantee every other investor in the county is also looking on the county web site for these opportunities.
Then there’s actually buying the property at auction. Some counties require a cash purchase at the time the auction closes. Some allow a couple of hours. I’m not aware of any in Texas that allow you any longer than that. So you must have the money in cash (or cashier’s checks) at or about the time of sale.
And the counties don’t make change. If you win the auction with a bid of $71,000 and have eight $10,000 cashier’s checks, you effectively bought the house for $80,000. There goes $9,000 of potential profit, and it gets worse. Some counties may only list the $71,000 you bid on the transaction record you turn in with your taxes.
Whether or not you do the work yourself, you can use other people’s money—either private money or hard money—both to buy the property and to pay for the renovation. Some hard money lenders encourage you to do so by loaning up to 70% of the after repair value (ARV). But all lenders want you to have some “skin in the game” other than your time and sweat equity.
You also have a responsibility to your lenders. They get paid before you do, and sometimes they make more money on a deal than you do. But that is only fair. The lenders are the ones taking the real risk. If the deal goes south while you’re using their money, they lose. All you’re out is your time. That’s why they want you to be invested in the deal, too.
It is possible to buy and renovate houses without using your own money, but you have to have access to the money. Then you have to pay interest on that money for as long as it takes you to complete the project.
You can have agents find deals for you, but that is not their focus. My role at Hermit Haus is twofold: I find the money and I help Carol find the projects. Good projects are a lot harder to find than money, and only a small percentage of them come from real estate agents or wholesalers.
A lot of people work in this business full-time or more. It is a risky, competitive business. You have to ask yourself, “What do I bring to the table that nobody else does?” That is your competitive advantage.
In descending order:
- You can bring the deal.
- You can bring money.
- You can bring the renovation expertise.
But you have to bring something. The more you bring, the more success you’ll have.
My dad used to say, “If it was easy, everybody would be doing it.” Well, sometimes it feels like everybody is trying to flip houses these days. That doesn’t make it easy.Hermann says please like and share!