The Main Project Real Estate Agents Wish House Flippers Would Stop Doing

published Jun 5, 2022
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There’s one project most real estate agents wish house flippers would stop doing. Any guesses?

It has to do with wrecking the original wood. From wood siding and immaculate wood trim to charming millwork and ornate balustrades, one too many homes have fallen victim to the stripped-down aesthetic that house flippers assume their potential buyers want to see.

Buyers often know better. “If it’s made of a solid, natural material and if it’s an original feature that screams ‘this house was built to last,’ just leave it,” says Kirsten Jordan with Douglas Elliman. “Especially if it’s an entry level home. Those details signify quality, and in this market, quality translates to hidden value.”

Kate Ziegler, a Realtor with Arborview Realty in Boston, adds, “Inside and out, original woodwork is often lost over generations of renovations.” Yet it doesn’t have to be that way — here’s what house flippers need to stop doing to help save the wood.

Removing Trim Rather Than Repairing

“Wood trim requires regular care, from proper preparation when painting to avoid clumpy results, to routine exterior maintenance to avoid degradation and rot,” explains Ziegler.

That’s exactly why house flippers often find it easier to remove the existing trim rather than trying to salvage it. But the existing trim is what gives the house character and charm. 

“It’s the small details — the trim shapes you can’t buy today, the brackets, dentils, and spindlework balusters on an exterior that are finicky to keep up — that make your home so stunning,” Ziegler says.

Decades of replacing windows and doors, patching walls, and painting rooms may have stripped back these elements, but if they’re still in place, keep them. House flippers may think they’re doing a favor by making a space look like every neutral, minimalist home racking up likes on Instagram, but buyers don’t want to live in a social media-ready box. More often than not, they want a space with character — one that feels tied to a time and place, and lets the next owner become part of its journey. 

“Character can also make a property feel special and exciting for buyers. Why do you think there are so many Instagram accounts dedicated to colorful Art Deco bathrooms and historic homes? People love charm,” Jordan says.

Swapping Original Wood Fixtures for Newer Options

Ziegler notes that original wood trim also often tends to be higher quality wood than modern products — and not just because of a difference between solid wood and alternatives like composite. 

“Replacing an original door with a contemporary pre-hung door will often swap an oak sill and fir trim for modern yellow pine, which is a softer and less rot-resistant material,” she says. This doesn’t mean you should never replace older wood components, but “new” does not automatically equate to increased quality or durability. 

Replacing Exterior Wood Siding with Vinyl

“This is contentious, but I’ll say it: in my [New England] market, to my taste, there’s nothing quite like a well-kept, wood-sided home,” Ziegler admits. 

Vinyl siding has its perks: It requires minimal maintenance and can last up to 40 years. However, in the long run, preserving and maintaining existing wood siding could be a better play — and that’s best left to the future buyer to decide. If you go with vinyl, it becomes difficult to change the color, and damage is often not easily matched. Wood, on the other hand, may have to be painted or touched up more often, but there’s less of a commitment to a certain color, and repairs can be spot treated.

Painting Wood Without Honoring Provenance 

This goes without saying, but you can paint your home whatever color you’d like. If you want to go hot pink in your dining room, do it! Bring on the turquoise kitchens and the coral bathrooms. But if you’re a house flipper, please, for the love of all old homes, put down the white and gray paint. If you have an Arts and Crafts bungalow with stained original cherry trim, embrace it. If your Victorian has painted millwork, stick to the original historic palette. Let the future homeowner make the decision rather than stripping the wood before it has a chance to tell its next story, say the experts.