Property Advice

The Flip Side: Perfecting the finishing touches

The finishing touches really do matter so you should never underestimate the appeal of a stylish coloured tap or new splashback.

Kiwis love to entertain outside in summer so having good indoor-outdoor flow is a must.

You’ve done most of the hard work. The doors have been sanded and fresh paint coats the interior. New carpet brings comfort to the bedrooms and living area and you think you’re almost ready to put your home on the market. But are you really? (See the Flip Side Part 3 for a refresher)

Finishing touches

Being so close to the finish line, it’s easy to cut corners. But being thorough with the final details is what will create a warm and welcoming home, rather than just a house. So avoid rushing this part and put in the effort on the finishing touches throughout the home.

These last elements are features such as tapware, basins, ovens and landscaping. You might replace old light switches and bathroom fittings with modern ones and update the letterbox with a stylish version. Handles, wardrobe organisers and an attractive patio area might seem like they won’t matter but are all part of making the home feel liveable to potential buyers.

Updating mirrors with better lighting, as well as adding a double vanity with new tapware are worth doing in a bathroom.

Is it worth it when it comes to resale?

Kitchen and bathroom designer Michael Reid, who has flipped eight houses, believes final details are the most important aspects of a house flip as they are what makes a buyer fall in love with a property. “That’s what you aim for; that’s when buyers get an emotional attachment to a property, causing them to pay more for it. Usually, the finishing touches create that emotional attachment.”

But don’t assume high-end is the only way to go. “It’s not necessarily important to spend more on expensive brands,” Michael says. “I’ve never had buyers who have homed in on these. Rather they’ve responded to the feeling a property gives them,” he says. “If the buyer is a family, does the house offer the feeling of safety and security? Does it offer a feeling of a sanctuary for a retired couple? I haven’t had people be hung up on brands, but more the feeling of the overall finish.”

Michael believes his buyers want a home that is low maintenance, with someone else using their vision to choose the finishings. “They want to be able to walk in and see it all done.”

Wellington-based house flipper Ana Ochkas-Hulena says everything is important when house flipping, as it all adds to the general finish, but to stick with a budget. “My husband Nigel and I shop around, look for sales and ask for trade discounts,” she says. “If we see, for example, a tap at a good price, we buy and hold it so we have it for when we need it. Once, we sold a house and the buyer said to us they were first attracted to the house because they loved the curtains we chose. Who would have known?”

Knowing how much New Zealanders relish being outdoors and barbecuing, the couple have been able to add a deck to every flip they’ve done. “Creating indoor-outdoor flow is a plus,” Ana says. “Planting makes things look finished. First impressions and street view matter.”

When implementing your fittings and products, ensure their style is consistent throughout for a streamlined look. If you’re bringing in colour, evoke personality but not too much. Ana says she and Nigel haven’t used colour, but in the right place, it would work. “Where we flip, our target is first home buyers, so appealing to the most buyers possible is best.”

Michael generally keeps the home neutral but feels the need to let it stand out with a little character. “I keep 90 percent of the walls and finishes neutral and safe. Then, I inject areas of personality, such as a tongue-and-groove feature wall in a painted colour that is still relatively neutral using colours that won’t offend. I’ll bring in colour where possible, such as a kitchen splashback, bathroom cabinetry, and coloured tapware because it hooks people in. If the interior is a basic white-on-white, nobody will hate it, but there is nothing to fall in love with.”

To make the home look its very best, Ana stages for selling. “It makes a difference and brings everything together. It makes it easier for buyers to visualise the space and helps to work out sizes and how things can fit. Also, we make sure there are fresh flowers for open homes.”

So where should you spend and where should you save with the final touches?

Labour is a big money eater, both Ana and Michael agree, so where you can safely and proficiently do work yourself, do so. “Our success is down to doing everything we can do ourselves,” Ana says. “Nigel can do almost anything, and if he doesn’t know, he learns. Not paying for trades where possible saves us money. Start small and do things yourself until you get experience.”

Where Ana and Nigel do spend is on new appliances, preferably from local stores so the new owners have an easy warranty if anything goes wrong: “We always rewire and replumb into each of our flips again for peace of mind for buyers.”

By avoiding big, branded appliances and fittings Michael saves money also, but still has the peace of mind they’re under warranty and look the part. “Other areas I save on are doing the painting and gardening myself, installing kitchen cabinetry and splashbacks and putting in an acrylic, not tiled, shower.”

Michael says DIY is another money saver and he looks for areas where value can be added. “It might be taking space from an open-plan area to create a separate study or adding another bedroom to elevate the home from a two-bedroom property to a three-bedroom home. Or it could be creating a powder room out of a separate toilet by installing a hand basin and mirror. Adding a study in what was a hallway cupboard can add value, especially when you’re not reducing the number of bedrooms.”

While finishing touches are important to a home’s polished look and feel, how can you avoid overcapitalising in order to achieve it? “Do it without emotion. Have a line in the sand. Set a budget and stick to it; there’ll always be areas to upgrade on,” Michael says. “Treat each case like a business; look at the return you’ll get from a product. Be mindful about not upgrading.”

Ana agrees, suggesting people set realistic budgets. “As you do more flips, this is easier to do as you learn the true cost of things. Know your market and what you can sell it for.”

The last house flip Michael undertook was in Tauranga, in what was a rough area. He bought well (in his opinion, you make money when you buy, not sell) and did the flip in six weeks. “I did all the planning beforehand, opting for a longer settlement when I purchased it, so I had a couple of months up my sleeve. It was a quick turnover, but I cleared $80,000 for a small property.”

For one house flip, Ana and Nigel tried to decide whether to just do a new kitchen and bathroom or completely change the layout within the existing floor plan. They ended up completely changing things around, adding a bathroom and bedroom, making it open plan to make it four bedrooms and two bathrooms. “This was our largest flip budget, but we also made our largest profit to date on this property.”

Remember, if you can, flip fast. This hopefully means you don’t get caught in decreasing house prices and you’re buying and selling in the same market. Ana says she and Nigel aim to have houses turned around in 12 weeks. “It’s lots of long, hard hours but worth it.”

Text Catherine Steel


Create the home of your dreams with Shop Your Home and Garden