Capitol Hill Restoration Society

How to Spot a Cheap Flip – Preservation Cafe

Posted on May 11th, 2015

The presentation, titled “Top Ways to Spot a Cheap Flip,” focused on visible items that will indicate to potential buyers that a house was remodeled quickly.  The March 18, 2015 Preservation Café speaker was Gary Barnhart, general contractor and owner of GL Barnhart Construction.  A Capitol Hill resident, Mr. Barnhart previously trained as a construction inspector before starting his firm in 1997. Today, the company focuses on modern renovations, historic restorations, and construction work in the Capitol Hill area.

The presentation, titled “Top Ways to Spot a Cheap Flip,” focused on visible items that will indicate to potential buyers that a house was remodeled quickly. These clues may warn of larger problems with the construction of the house. Topics covered included paint, exterior details, tile, access panels, cabinets, flooring, doors, trim and piping.

Gary’s tips for items to look out for are:

  • Un-professional paint job clues: “paint holidays” (a missed spot when using a roller, the previous color of paint shows through), tape release marks, bad paintbrush cut-ins, ceiling paint spots found on walls, bad caulk jobs
  • Exterior Assemblies: confirm that siding material is installed properly and matches trim material (different rates of expansion between materials leads to cracks over time), brick tuck pointing done with correct mortar (lime based mortar for older bricks), spongy thresholds
  • Ceramic tile not installed in the center of a room (look for uneven tile widths at the perimeter walls) indicate a rush installation job. Be aware of grout lines next to toe kick, missing grout sealer (if the water doesn’t bead up, it indicates the grout is not sealed properly), tile lip-age.
  • Access panels are often required by code at shower controls, crawl spaces, attics, shut off valves and all electrical connections. These panels are sometimes covered up or not provided by flippers. Access to the interior of walls, attics and crawlspaces can help confirm if the correct materials were used (such as cement fiber board at tiled bathroom walls)
  • Cabinets and drawers: finding gaps between appliances and cabinets indicates a lower end of cabinetry was installed. Higher end custom systems provide filler strips, solid wood doors, full opening/closing and better accessories.
  • Wood floor types: understanding the difference between thin engineered floors and solid hardwoods. Hardwood floors should not typically be installed in below-grade levels.
  • Grading: confirm that water sheds away from the house at yards, patios, and porches and that gutters and roofs are correctly sloped to avoid ponding water
  • For doors, make sure that all six sides are painted to maintain the manufacturer’s warranty
  • For supply piping, copper is usually better than CPVC plastic.

Happy to answer any renovation questions, Gary can be reached at 202.569.8471 or