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Flipping for fame and fortune

Buy a house, fix it fast, try to sell it for a profit. It's a way of life in L.A., and it's headed for TV.

August 27, 2004|Lynell George | Times Staff Writer

Relying mightily on her powers of imagination, Jeanetta Standefor paces the length of an unremarkable bare box of a dark living room of an equally nondescript condo complex in Pasadena.

Though just a week or so into escrow, Standefor already has big plans: "I want to replace that acoustic ceiling," she waves her hand at the "cottage cheese" above. "I'm thinking, I want to do something Mediterranean in this room because that's popular now." She muses, then heads into the next set of rooms. "That Formica? When was the last time you've seen that in a kitchen? I think I want to resurface it in granite," she decides, then strolls toward the rear rooms.

"And here," she says, standing in the center of a forlorn-looking master-bedroom suite, "I'm going to work on different window treatments. Maybe plantation shutters. Then some Berber carpets."

Even in the 100-degree heat, Standefor is unwilting. She ticks it all off in that bright-eyed, butter-cream cheerful spiel that we've become accustomed to -- and read as "enthusiasm" -- on television. That's because, ultimately, this will be for television -- or so she hopes.

That's right. She isn't sharing these grand plans with friends or curious potential neighbors but with two casting associates, Jennifer Ayala and Lindsey Topping, who are on the prowl for potential participants for the latest wrinkle in reality television: rehabbing homes to resell -- or "flip" -- for big profits.

Tentatively titled "Property Ladder," the series will air on the Learning Channel next spring. It takes its name from its British inspiration produced by BBC's Channel 4. Like its counterpart, the show will follow a series of novice real estate developers through renovation and resale. Concentrating on Southern California, the show hopes to tap into the ready-made drama of the insanely competitive -- and even more insanely priced -- California real estate market.

It was only a matter of time. Real estate stories in California have transformed into this generation's turn on the amazing fish tale: the quest, the wrangling and the lament of the one that got away. Inherent in those over-heated house-hunting scenarios are ready-made narrative tensions rife with possibilities for outrageous success or dismal failure. So producers, always in search of new reality TV formats, are only half a step behind.

Standefor, a senior account executive at Ameriquest Mortgage Co., is auditioning to become one of the first-time flippers. She says it began to dawn on her, as she helped clients get into homes or acquire rehab properties, that she could do it herself. She bought this property for $285,000 and hopes to make at least a $50,000 profit.

"I just began to realize that there are a lot of people who don't think that it can be done, alone, by a female," she explains. "I wanted to show people that it isn't that difficult."

The ground rules for "Property Ladder" are simple: Novice flippers will be coached by veteran flippers on the ins and outs of rehabbing property. They will have three to five months to purchase the property, rehab it and sell it (or, in real estate speak, to "turn it over"). Each episode is an individual stand-alone story that will track the process from beginning to end. The hope: that each rehabber will get his or her asking price.

Reality TV and real estate are proving to be a good mix. Viewers have already looky-loo'd deep into the nitpicky squabbles and tear-jerking epilogues of redecorating and rehabbing shows, from "Changing Spaces" to "Extreme Makeover -- Home Edition." But why stop at rethinking one room or even an entire house when one can delve into the risky business of flipping? What happens when the amateur flipper finds that a simple rehab has devolved into a waking nightmare -- termite-infested walls, mildew, archaic or byzantine electric wiring? How they recover from it -- or don't -- is the stuff of drama.

Overheated market

Flipping a home for profit has a few forms. There's the quick turnaround that might find the property back on the market mere days after a sale reaping a profit of, say, $10,000 to $50,000. Then there is the multi-stepped version, rehabbing an on-the-wane property, then turning it around -- flippers hope -- for handsome profit.

In recent years, the region has seen a dramatic increase in flipping. In a recent report in the Los Angeles Times' Business section, real estate experts noted that the number of homes sold last May after having been owned six or fewer months by the sellers was 47% higher than it was last year. These constituted 3.1% of all homes sold in the month, nearing the flipping record, set in early 1989, of 3.5%, according to DataQuick, a La Jolla real estate information firm.

Real estate experts see the trend as a sign of an overheated market. Television, however, sees it as a potential hot property, so to speak.

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