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Philadelphia Condominiums- Are They all ripe for flipping?

Most buyers here in the downtown Philly area are curious to know whether or not Old City Lofts or Rittenhouse Square penthouses are “flip-worthy”. At times, they are, but more often than not, they are not. There are many deterrents which may limit the ability of flipping a condo in the downtown Philly area and make a profit. Fron high buying and selling costs, to the many new construction projects, the idea of making a quick buck can be more of a myth than a reality.

To begin with, the transfer tax imposed on the sale of any piece of real estate in Philadelphia is high. There is a three (3) percent transfer tax on every sale imposed by the City of Philadelphia not to mention the one (1) percent already going to the State of Pennsylvania. It is standard to split this fee between buyer and seller, adding a substantial weight to costs of turning a Rittenhouse Square Condo or an Old City Loft into a quick buck. So to buy, and to turn around and sell, one would need to subtract four percent to their potential profit margins-two percent upon purchase, and then another two percent when they go to sell the property. Add this to the normal fees associated with buying and selling Philadelphia condos, and you have just had a fairly large bite taken out of your potential profits.

Add that element to the fact that if you are buying, say a high rise luxury penthouse condo in Rittenhouse Square, in a building with two hundred units in total, you would need to probably wait until the building sells out, in order for there to be demand for your unit. I mean, why would someone want to buy your condo, if the developer still has 74 units to unload? That particular developer may be able to offer incentives to attract buyers-be it an upgraded bathroom, a flat screen TV, or otherwise do some customizing to the unit that you may not be in a position to do to your lone unit that you have on the market. So why would a buyer want to look at your unit-a unit you have clearly marked up in price (to cover your in and out costs, not to mention your profit margin), when there is some substitutability in the market place for him or her to go directly to the developer, and strike a deal? Unless you got in on the “ground floor” of a new Philadelphia condominium project, and the developer simply “gave” you a unit at a steep discount, then there would really be no incentive for another buyer to come along and pay you a premium for your lone unit.

Lastly, I see one of the main restrictions or limitations to flipping a condominium in Center City to be plain old greed. Let’s say a buyer buys a condo in Rittenhouse Square for any given price. A thirty percent markup is something I see often just a few months after a Condo is purchased. But one needs to ask, why? Where did that instant appreciation come from? Thin air? Is there any concrete reason why another buyer would be willing to pay such a steep increase in price for a Center City condominium? Am I missing something here? Center City Real Estate does is not a rapidly appreciating investment. We are the classic example of the tortoise and the hare….and we are not the hare. Slow and steady had always won the race for those looking to invest into, say, an Old City loft, or a Society Hill condo. No bubble here as values have a tendency to creep along at a slow steady pace. Sometimes developers raise prices twenty percent but that does not mean all Center City Condos have risen twenty percent in value. An asking price is just that-an asking price. One should not assume that such a price is reflective of the true market value of real estate in Center City.

I hope I have adequately illustrated that some condominiums in Philadelphia are not worthy of a quick flip. I would classify Philadelphia Real Estate to be more of a “hold” investment. One may be better buying a condo with some substitutability and is more of a “dog” because of the barriers to resale-high in and out costs and all the new sonstruction….a unit that they can buy that is an ugly duckling, and turn it into a swan. I believe buyers want to see value for what they are buying, and cosmetic improvements almost always add up to an appreciable increase in resale value, whereas a simple flip might limit one’s ability to make a profit on such a buy and re-sell approach to looking for a profit.

As a REALTOR and homeowner here in town, I’d say that your best bet here in Center City Philadelphia is a long term approach. Your steady property value appreciation will pay off in the end when you are ready to sell a few years down the line.