Picture this: You tour a house that feels light, bright, cheery. You decide to take the plunge and put in an offer. Every space might not be exactly what you want aesthetically, but it’s move-in ready and will likely require very little work until you can save up and do some of the remodels you have in mind (the kitchen, specifically).
“We loved the character of this house, especially the vaulted ceilings,” says Deema Lopez of the home she and her husband bought in 2019. “It was ‘turn-key.’ The previous owners had done some renovations and painted it all white and made it look so pretty and it felt very happy. But then…DUN DUN DUN.”
I’ve been following Deema of Pretty on Fridays on Instagram for about three years. Aside from being just a delight to watch (read: she’s hysterical), I’ve always been taken by her enviable creativity. There’s the “subway tile” she drew on with a Sharpie in her kids’ bathroom. And the window-pane grid “wallpaper” in her bedroom that was crafted with pencil. And of course, maybe her most famous DIY of tiny little flowers she hand-painted on the walls in her main hallway. I watched that come to life on Instastories across five full days. Oh, and how could I not mention the painted patio floor? What. A. Journey. For her and for her audience.
“I faked everything. I did pencil and sharpie tile, faked a backsplash, painted our checkers outside, painted our ‘wallpapers’,” Deema tells me while we reminisce about how I first found her (the pencil wallpaper). “We did so many budget-friendly things like that until we could afford real stuff.” After all, when your walls are chipping, there are mysterious smells everywhere and your windows are leaking (ruining your wood floors you never planned on changing), you gotta save where you can.
Back to the DUN DUN DUN: “There were so many things wrong with this house that it’s hard to keep track,” Deema says, half laughing. “So many bandaid solutions that on the surface level looked so pretty and you’d have no idea about but once we got in closer, it was a train wreck.”
For ease of reading, I’m going to list out in bullet points all the things Deema recounted to me that came up after they moved in.
- Plumbing issues galore. “They didn’t connect the pipes underneath the ground so we had a really bad smell near the laundry room and it all had to be rerouted which cost a few thousand dollars.”
- Air duct issues in the attic. “I don’t feel very well-versed in what happened there, but we had to pay a couple grand for that.”
- Toilets that weren’t sealed. “We noticed a smell around the ring underneath the toilets and called a plumber who told us the problem was they weren’t sealed. Just floating.”
- Fireplace detaching from the house. “All the previous owners did was fill the cracks with paint or some glue that wasn’t great.”
- Windows weren’t sealed from the outside. “When it rained, all the water seeped in under our hardwood floors.”
- Doors to kitchen cabinet drawers were falling off. “All they did was paint the kitchen cabinets horribly and add plastic hardware. The doors to the drawers would fall off constantly. I can laugh about it now. The caulk was coming off. Things were just uneven, outlets, plumbing…the kitchen was not great.”
- Entire house was painted without priming. “Everything was constantly chipping.”
- The divider between wood and tile flooring was not secure. “They just pop off all the time between rooms.”
- Spray-painted things to cover up. “Let’s see, they tried to cover up rust everywhere; all our hinges, and things in the bathroom. They also spray-painted the soot in the fireplace instead of just cleaning it.”
- Major electrical safety concerns. “There was one instance where we were installing a light and we found out our electrical was such a hazard that it could have set our house on fire. I’m not sure how that got past the inspection. It was on some setting that was too high and we only found it out replacing a light.”
- Subfloor separating. “This was a really big thing and held up our kitchen renovation for months. After removing our hardwood for the renovation, the contractor realized they had laid concrete on one side of the kitchen and a different concrete on the other and they didn’t connect them so there was a HUGE crack that ran under the whole house. We had to get an engineer and pay thousands of dollars to fix it. The old homeowners had to have known because it was new concrete. The engineer showed me where the new concrete was laid, so they didn’t disclose that even though they knew. If we didn’t fix it, it would keep separating, and ultimately, our floor would have busted open. It was so bad.”
- Even more subfloor separating. “My daughter has a dip in her room under the hardwood and I suspect the same thing is happening there that we found in our kitchen. We’ve been avoiding it because it’s going to be more thousands spent.”
Whew. When she was going through all this, I just kept dropping “wows” and “ohmygods” and the occasional awkward laugh because that’s just who I am when someone is telling me their comedy of errors. You might expect these kinds of things in a fixer-upper, sure, but in a “turn-key” house you purchased? Not exactly.
“I get pissed off every day when something falls off or chips or we find another thing wrong. There goes another couple thousand dollars, okay,” Deema adds. “It’s constant.”
After that laundry list of disasters, I ask her a provocative question I thought I knew the answer to. “Do you regret buying this house, considering all of this?” Preparing to hear an adamant “yes,” Deema surprises me.
“I don’t. I love this house. I don’t want to live here forever but I love this house. We bought it right before the pandemic so I’m so grateful for it. I regret not asking the right questions and what we didn’t do before signing the papers, but we probably would have still bought the house and maybe have the owners fix some things. I’m not really someone who has regrets, but I just wish I would have known what was waiting for us, what money would need to be spent.”
As someone who has lived through what feels like all.the.things, I asked Deema her advice for anyone considering a flipped or owner-renovated home so that they don’t end up with the unexpected money pit she did. Learn from Deema. Ask the right questions or do a little digging, such as…
5 Crucial To-Dos Before Buying A Flipped Home (So You Don’t End Up Regretting It)
- Always—ALWAYS—check if the owners pulled permits for the completed work.
“We never checked to see if the previous owners had permits for the renovations. I could be wrong but I don’t think most first-time homebuyers think to check for this. I mean, we didn’t. In retrospect, we know they hadn’t pulled permits which is a huge red flag.”
- Skip the traditional inspector.
“A lot of my friends have said that they have hired contractors rather than an inspector to walk through the home prior to buying it. From what I understand, many inspectors just have minimal training and really only look at surface-level stuff, but a contractor would flag a lot more. If I ever buy another home, I’m hiring a contractor to do the walk-through inspection for me even if I have to pay them more.”
- Check when the owners purchased the home and then when they put it on the market.
“I can almost guarantee that if they bought it, renovated, and flipped it back on the market quickly, there are going to be issues. Permits can take a while to get, so if something happened too fast, they maybe didn’t even get permits. It’s hard to mess things up if you have a permit and it’s inspected and approved. Our house, for instance, had been purchased by the previous owners, ‘renovated’, and put up for sale within a year’s time. I don’t think we’ll ever buy another home that has a similar story.”
- Ask more questions if another buyer takes back their offer.
“Someone had put in an offer before us and ended up walking away from the house. The realtor said it was because it was on a busy street, which it is, but knowing what I know now, it makes me wonder. You likely won’t be able to learn the real reason why someone rescinds an offer, but if you hear that information, you should probably go into things more cautiously. It makes me wonder if they had checked for permits, and realize there were none, and backed away. Do a bit more digging. I know there is a privilege of time to do all of this, especially in this market, but if you can, it’s worth it.”
- Learn what you can about the owners.
“We never got to meet the owners or know anything about them. Is that normal? They were very weird about the whole process and secretive. They were these mythical creatures that only spoke through their realtor. Maybe this is common, but in retrospect, it feels weird.”
So there you have it. If you’re a seasoned homeowner or have gone through the buying process before, maybe you know a lot of this already. But even if you are, you might not have gone the route of flipped home. In supersaturated markets like LA, the flipped property is so commonplace, often purchased as an investment to make a quick return, that Deema’s troubleshooting is a welcome lesson that she and her family sadly had to learn the hard way.
And because the EHD community is so knowledgeable with tons of home life experience, I’d like to open it up in the comments to add any of your own red flags or must-asks prior to signing on the dotted line.
Thank you, Deema for chatting with me and pulling the curtain on your home’s woes. If you’re looking for a new follow and love vintage, thrifting, art and a whole heap of creativity (you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t), go check out Deema’s accounts (Instagram, TikTok, Threads) and sign up for her great newsletter that I’ve shared before on The Link Up. You won’t regret it!
Your friend in design,