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Flipping homes for profit in Sonoma County

  • Victor Miranda coils an extension cord after a day of work at a home flip project in Windsor. (ALVIN JORNADA/Press Democrat)

The nine houses aren't yet ready for sale, but they offer a glimpse at a growing segment of the Sonoma County housing market: flipped homes.

The homes, featured last week in an email blast, were bought at foreclosure auctions and probate sales. Builders are now renovating them and will put some back on the market in the next two weeks.

Homes spruced up by flippers, like these, are moving quickly and frequently draw a barrage of offers, agents said.

“We have multiple offers for almost every property,” said Paul Heck, an agent with RE/MAX Central who sent out the email ad.

Real estate entrepreneurs have long engaged in flipping homes, the often-risky business of buying a property, fixing it up and quickly reselling it.

A decade ago, flipping drew attention as a way to make quick money off soaring home values. Some of the get-rich glamor faded when the housing market crashed and homes lost value faster than they could be flipped.

Today builders, investors and real estate companies have teamed up to flip homes into a market where prices are rising — the median was up 22 percent in February from last year — and inventories are at the lowest level since 2005.

The local companies include W Real Estate, Praxis Capital, Sun Pacific Mortgage and Christopherson Homes. The county's biggest player remains Vacaville-based Blue Mountain Realty, which sold at least 149 county properties worth $50 million in the past 12 months.

Builders have turned to flipping as a way to stay in business during a sharp downturn in construction. New home projects remain rare because homebuyers usually can purchase existing houses for far less than the cost of building new ones.

“A house flipper is your home builder of the current decade,” said Brian Burke, a managing director of Praxis Capital in Santa Rosa.

Some rough measures suggest that flipping increased last year.

In the first half of 2012, Americans flipped 100,000 homes, a 25 percent increase over a year earlier, according to RealtyTrac.

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