Estimating Rehab Costs

Estimating Rehab Costs: 5-Step Guide For House Flippers & Investors

flipping houses real estate investing strategies Dec 28, 2023

If you're thinking about investing in real estate, or if you're an investor with some experience, you're probably aware that any investment property you purchase will come with a list of items that need to be fixed. A successful real estate investor has to be able to estimate rehab costs -- that includes both time and money that is being spent on rehabbing.  

The following guide is meant as a general how-to for real estate investors to confidently start estimating rehab costs: Remember that every property will present its own set of unique challenges, but if you follow these steps you'll be able to adapt to problems as they come up.

*Before we begin our guide, we also invite you to view our video on How To FLIP A HOUSE For Beginners (Step-by-Step)Host and CEO of Real Estate Skills, Alex Martinez, & Stan Gendlin share how to flip a house from start to finish as a beginner! 

Together, Alex & Stan have completed over 1,000+ house flips. What you learn in this video will give you the confidence and guidance to successfully complete your fix-and-flip project!

What Does Rehab Cost Mean In Real Estate?

In simple terms, rehab costs refer to the expenses incurred in repairing and renovating a property. These costs encompass everything from materials and specialized tools to the labor required to transform a property into its optimal condition.

In the real estate industry, you may come across different terms such as rehab cost, repair cost, and renovation cost, but they all refer to the same idea of calculating the expenses involved in property rehabilitation.

Read Also: Rehabbing A House: The Beginner’s Guide To House Flipping

Why Is Estimating Rehab Costs Important?

Real estate is ultimately a numbers game, and property investors can only make a profit if the costs of a property are lower than the potential returns. Estimating rehab costs allows investors to evaluate whether a property's potential value exceeds the expenses involved in its rehabilitation.

By having a clear understanding of rehab costs, house flippers and investors can make informed decisions about property purchases, negotiate deals effectively, and ensure they are not overpaying for a property. Estimating rehab costs is a crucial step in the investment process that enables investors to calculate the potential profitability of a property and maximize their returns.

Read Also: Is Flipping Houses Profitable? Statistics, Trends & Forecasts

How To Estimate Rehab Costs In 5 Steps

Whether you're a beginner in the world of real estate or a seasoned investor looking to sharpen your skills, this step-by-step guide will provide you with valuable insights and strategies to help you confidently estimate rehab costs and navigate the exciting realm of real estate investing:

  1. Learn Your Market
  2. Property Inspection
  3. Create A Scope Of Work
  4. Obtain General Contractor Bids
  5. Compare Quotes & Add A Contingency

estimate rehab costs in 5 steps

Get ready to dive in and gain the knowledge you need to make informed decisions and succeed in your rehab projects.

Read Also: How To Flip Houses With No Money: Top 10 Expert Strategies

1. Learn Your Market 

The first step in getting started on determining your rehab costs is to determine what actually needs to be done to the property. Start by pulling comps in the area.  

Use these to develop a list of repairs and upgrades that a potential property will need in order to make a profit or turn up positive cash flow.

2. Property Inspection

If you determine that the property has the potential for profit, the next step is to get or perform a detailed property inspection. This walkthrough inspection should give you a detailed look at what has to be fixed in order to legally rent or resell the property in your area. It is also a critical part of the due diligence process for any home purchase and is usually required by a lender. Give high priority to the items that this inspection identifies as problematic.

The property inspection will not identify items that are considered cosmetic. For example, while a property inspection can tell you that a roof will need to be replaced in the next three years, it cannot tell you that it's an odd color that will repel potential buyers.  

Similarly, a property inspection will not indicate that appliances need to be modernized or bathroom fixtures updated. The specific needs for these types of rehab projects will likely be based on the comps in the area.

3. Create A Scope Of Work

A scope of work is a detailed list of all of the renovation projects and repair work that will be performed at a property. When making this list, be sure to include:  

  • Interior and exterior paint: Even if the paint is in good shape, it may be necessary to switch to more modern or neutral colors.  Fortunately, pain is usually one of the most cost-effective upgrades that can be made to a property.
  • Flooring: Tile pieces that are cracked and carpet that is worn out will definitely need to be replaced.  The flooring may also need to be replaced, however, if it makes a room look dated. Consider reflooring an entire house even if just several rooms need it; the cost difference is usually negligible
  • HVAC: This stands for Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning. Your real estate agent should be able to tell you how old the system is. If it's in good repair, replacing it may not make sense.
  • Roof and soffit work: The age of the roof can have a big impact on how much you're able to sell a house for. In some regions of the country, you may want to consider getting a wind mitigation report on the roof. For just a few hundred dollars these reports can be a huge selling feature for a home.
  • Electrical and lighting: If your home inspector flags any electrical items, you'll want to prioritize the repairs above nearly every other item on the list. Renting a home with faulty wiring is illegal in most cities, and if you're trying to flip the property be aware that many buyers will walk from a home that has electrical issues.
  • Plumbing: Your home inspector should make you aware of faulty pipes and existing water damage.  Be careful when picking projects to repair water damage. Simply covering up evidence of this damage can get you in a lot of trouble.
  • Baths, including cabinetry and fixtures: Modernizing cabinets can sometimes be as simple as painting them. Talk to your contractor about rehab options.
  • Kitchen, including appliances and countertop: Consider the type of appliance that are being purchased and the finish for the countertop carefully. Expensive items in a lower-end home are often a waste of money, while cheap items in a higher-end home will make it very difficult to sell.
  • Landscaping, sheds, and porches: Carefully consider whether it makes sense to rehab or demolish damaged outbuildings.
  • Pools: These usually require a different contractor who specializes in pool repair if repairs need to be made.
  • Pest control: This includes correction of damage from termites.

Specifically, while you're compiling your list, consider these questions that many real estate investors often overlook:

  • What is the condition of the flooring? Can carpets or laminate simply be cleaned, or do they need to be replaced?
  • Are the walls in good condition?  What needs a new coat of paint?
  • Are the kitchens and bathrooms up-to-date?  Can they be made more modern with paint, or are there features that need to be torn out and replaced?
  • What is the condition of the landscaping?
  • Are there any other obvious items that need to be removed, cleaned up, or replaced?

Your scope of work will vary a lot based on whether you intend to rent out the house or make it into a flipper.  

Rental property needs to start generating cash as soon as possible. The property needs to be in good repair to meet local housing requirements, but higher-end upgrades tend to add little to the amount of rent a tenant is willing to pay.  

For example, it rarely makes financial sense to invest in landscaping for a rental property. 

A budget for a rental property should have a strong focus on repair costs; everything must be functional in order to move in a tenant. Minor cosmetic details can usually be ignored.

Houses that are going to be improved in a few weeks or months and resold, or "flippers", will need to have a rehab budget that focuses on cosmetic upgrades.

The purpose of these investments is to improve a property so that it can sell for a higher price than it was purchased for. That means the focus needs to be on upgrades that add to the perceived value of a property.

Read Also: Free ARV Calculator: After Repair Value Calculation

4. Obtain General Contractor Bids

If you plan on hiring labor for the work on your list, start interviewing contractors. Good contractors can often be found through recommendations of family and friends, online resources, or even the recommendation of your real estate agent. Carefully consider customer reviews when selecting contractors for a bid.

5. Compare Quotes & Add A Contingency

Ideally, collect at least three quotes for every item on your list. When comparing these quotes, do not simply choose the lowest bidder. Availability of the contractor and time to complete the project can have a big effect on carrying costs if you're investing in a flipper.

Investors in rental property will want to consider the quality of work that is being performed as well. 

Once you've selected contractors, add a 5 to 10 percent contingency for all work. This is meant to cover the costs of additional materials and labor that may be needed should a problem arise.

What Is An Example Of A Rehab Job?

Here's one of the bathrooms we recently rehabbed in San Diego, CA. We tore out the old bathtub and pink wall tiles, took the walls down to the studs, then installed a tile-surround shower.

example of rehab job

*Real Estate Skills Tip: A bathroom rehab job can add more value to a home or rental unit than it costs to repair. Bathroom and kitchen renovations can produce some of the best ROI.

How Much Does It Cost Per Square Foot To Rehab A House?

This is a common question among real estate investors. The truth is, it can be very difficult to estimate costs in terms of square footage. Some properties will need extensive repairs that may include very pricey items such as foundation work or HVAC replacement. Other properties may only need new appliances and paint.  

New flooring will typically run between $2 and $6 per square foot, depending on if the material chosen is laminate, carpet, tile, or hardwood.

Paint is usually around $20 per linear foot if professionals are being hired to paint.  

A full cosmetic renovation (which includes replacing lighting plumbing fixtures, etc.) runs around $35 per square foot.

Of course, the labor and materials market in many areas is extremely volatile right now. That means these numbers can fluctuate wildly, and even change in the middle of a rehab project. For this reason, it is recommended that investors do their due diligence and actually go through the process of writing out a scope of work rather than relying on sought estimates when making bids on the property.  

How Much Does A Full Rehab Cost?

how much does a total rehab cost?

Total rehab jobs are rehab projects that involve actually changing or making extensive repairs to the structure of a home.  

This can include replacing a roof, water heater, and/or HVAC system. It is also not uncommon for total rehabs to involve the demolition or removal of all appliances and cabinetry in a kitchen and complete remodels of bathrooms. A rough estimate for a total rehab is between $85 to $100 per square foot.  

For comparison, new construction homes have a cost range of around $180 to $250 per square foot. These estimates are not very reliable, however. Just like cosmetic rehab projects, material and labor costs can vary wildly based on the economy, local market conditions, and even the season of the year.

What Is The Most Accurate Method Of Estimating Costs On A Rehab?

There are several ways to get estimates of the repair costs of a rehab project. Each of these methods has advantages and disadvantages:

  • Square Footage
  • Previous Costs
  • Contractor Quotes

Rehab Cost Per Square Footage

Estimating rehab costs based on the square footage of a home is one of the least accurate methods for determining costs, but it is also one of the quickest.

This method tends to work best for real estate investors that invest in properties with similar levels of disrepair; they can use the cost of their previous rehabs to estimate the cost of their next one. This method is notoriously unreliable, however, and shouldn't be used for actual cost estimates when considering a purchase of a property.

Previous Costs

Many experienced real estate investors make an estimate of needed repairs based on what they have paid in the past for similar jobs. While this method is more reliable than a square footage estimate, there are several problems.

  • Every project is different: Just because a floor replacement or cabinet swap cost a certain amount in a previous property does not mean that the scope of work for this project will be the same. A new project may have more extensive damage, need more materials, or require additional labor.
  • Material and labor costs may have changed: In certain markets, the cost of materials can vary wildly. Combined with the supply shortages and demand for construction materials all over the nation, it can be very difficult to use the costs for a previous project to estimate the costs for this one.  Many real estate investors have also reported a dramatic rise in labor prices as general contractors are seeing an increased demand for their services and a shortage of skilled labor.

Contractor Quotes

The best way to get an accurate estimate of the repair costs associated with a rehab project is to get actual quotes from contractors. Contractors can provide quotes for the actual project and can take into account all of the project variables.  

Just be sure to pay attention to the length of time that the quotes are good for.  Many contractors are offering very short time periods on their material estimates.

Whether you're virtual wholesaling, flipping houses, or building a rental portfolio, getting a line-item bid from local contractors will give you the most accurate price range for your rehab projects.

5 Factors That Affect The Cost Of Rehabbing A House

When it comes to estimating rehab costs in real estate, it's essential to recognize that the actual expenses can vary based on several factors. Understanding these factors is crucial for investors and flippers who want to accurately assess the potential costs involved in rehabilitating a property.

By considering these factors, you can refine your estimated rehab costs and make more informed decisions in your real estate ventures:

  • Price of materials: The price of materials can vary a lot based on market conditions. For example, plywood that used to be purchased for $5 a sheet just three years ago today can go as high as $65 a sheet. Inflation, supply chain issues, and local market demand can all affect the price of materials.
  • Quality of finishes: Laminate costs a fraction of the price of hardwood. Granite countertops can be triple the cost of laminate ones. It is possible to greatly increase a rehab budget by choosing more expensive finishes. All too often, however, real estate flippers make the mistake of picking the cheapest options available. While this can be a good strategy for low-end properties, it is a bad choice for higher-end properties, as it will make them much more difficult to sell. When choosing finishes study the comps for your property and choose materials of similar quality.
  • Cost of labor: Skilled labor is often the most expensive part of a rehab project. Costs for labor are usually dependent on market conditions such as availability and local wage scale.Some contractors try to save money by replacing skilled labor with less skilled or unskilled workers.  While this can work for projects such as landscaping, it's often more expensive to correct mistakes made by workers who don't know what they're doing.
  • Location: Local market conditions can greatly affect all aspects of a project. Areas with high wage scales and high demand for construction will see much higher prices across the board than areas without these conditions.
  • Timeframe: If a project needs to be done immediately, expect to pay more for it, especially if it involves a high amount of in-demand skilled labor.  If your project timeline is dependent on certain projects being completed quickly, be sure to incorporate this higher cost into your budget.

What’s The Best Rehab Cost Estimating Software?

We can recommend BlueHammer as a helpful cost-estimating software. 

There are several different types of software that can be used to estimate project costs. Many real estate investors rely on these programs, especially in markets where materials and labor costs can change frequently.  

Using rehab cost estimating software is also good for investors who want to run multiple scenarios for potential property investment. Looking at how different materials or timelines can affect a project's budget can go a long way toward determining the scope of work that will be required. 

Final Thoughts

Real estate investment is one of the most rewarding career fields, but it does involve a lot of planning and research. Estimating rehab costs and coming up with a scope of work is often a long process that requires days of research.

Once developed, however, the real estate investor will have a workable guide to everything that is supposed to happen with their property in order to obtain the highest after repair value (ARV)

Realize that the estimation process is just that; a process. An investor will have to make multiple adjustments as prices changes, workers' schedules shift, and projects become more involved. Realize that every project will be unique, and be willing to be flexible.

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