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5: How to Determine Repair Costs Like a Boss

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Mike Hambright

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Mike Hambright is a Real Estate Entrepreneur. He’s purchased hundreds of houses over the past few years, along with his wife, Lindsay.

Mike is a professional rehabber, wholesaler, and owns a single family rental portfolio. He is also a mentor and coach.

Some of you may know Mike as the founder of, the leading social platform for real estate investors where investors find and market wholesale deals, find and build a vendor team, build community with other investors, and much more…. a super cool site.

He and his wife were in the corporate world before getting into real estate and he came to the realization that he needed to be in control of his income. That’s when he got into real estate investing.

In this episode, we delve deep into how to determine repairs costs for typical rehabs. This is something many of you out there are struggling with and definitely something I struggled with early on.

When determining what items to repair/update/replace within a house it’s important to avoid the domino effect. This is where you decide to replace something, and as a result of tearing it out or adjusting that something, you end up having to repair something else.

This happens a lot in kitchens where if you remove a countertop, you end up damaging the backsplash.

Another example that some people miss is that you might decide to repaint and then you realize that the plugs and switches that didn’t look bad before, now look horrible because they are up against the freshly painted walls.

Mike also discusses how to know which things you should rehab in a house and what kinds of materials to use by scoping out the competition. We have a great discussion on this part of the episode, so definitely have a listen.

What do you do if there is a repair needed that you’ve never done before or aren’t sure of the cost? We cover that to. 🙂

Basically, you will want to gift an estimate guess that errs on the side of caution…basically be very conservative and always add in a fudge factor to your estimate.

The reason why being able to determine how much repairs are going to cost quickly is so important is because great deals fly off the market. You have to be fast to be able to get the deals.

If you can accurately determine repair costs for a rehab, you could lose money on a flip. Not good.

You’re going to get to hear some great rules of thumb for determine the most common repair costs.

Learn what domino effect to avoid when doing repairs to a house and hear how to determine just how far you should take a rehab and how to know the level of fixtures and finishes to use.

You will also hear how to make a decent guesstimate for an unknown so that you can go ahead with your calculations and make an offer quickly.

We covered a lot of repair estimate rules of thumb in this episode while virtually walking through a house.

Some examples of the rules of thumb we discussed are:

  • HVAC replacement – $4,000/$5,000/$6,500 depending on the size of the house
  • Flooring – $2.50 per sqft (which averages out for needing mostly carpet and ceramic tile for kitchens and other wet areas
  • Interior Paint – $1.00 per sqft
  • Exterior Paint – $1.00 per sqft
  • Roof – $160 per square (10ft by 10ft roof section) for tear off and replace


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Danny Johnson: This is the Flipping Junkie Podcast Episode 5. [music] Welcome to the Flipping Junkie podcast. My name is Danny Johnson; former software developer turned house flipper, flipping hundreds of houses. Each week, we bring you interviews, strategies, stories and motivation to help you get started flipping houses and on your way to becoming your own boss and achieving financial freedom. Thanks for spending time with me today. Now let’s get to it.
I’m glad to have my good friend, Mike Hambright, on the show. He’s a Real Estate Entrepreneur. He along with his wife Lindsay have purchased hundreds of houses over the last few years. Mike is mostly a rehabber wholesaler but he also owns single family rental portfolio. He also is a mentor and coach that helps people get started flipping houses. Some of you might know Mike as the founder of Now that’s a website that he created for real estate investors to find and market wholesale deals, build the vendor team, build community with other investors and a whole lot more. It’s a really cool site. He and his wife got into flipping because they were tired of not being in control of what happened with their jobs and their income, and so they got into real estate investing.
In this episode, we really take a lot of time to delve deep into how to determine repair costs for typical rehabs. Now it’s something that many of you out there are struggling with, definitely something I struggled with early on when I got started. You’re going to get to hear some great rules of thumb for determining the most common repair costs as well as learn what domino effect to avoid when doing repairs to a house.
You’re also going to hear how to determine just how far you should take a rehab and how to know the level of fixtures and finishes to use for each rehab. As well as that, you’re going to learn how to make a decent guesstimate for an unknown so that you can go ahead with your calculations and make an offer quickly.
I’ve put together a great guide for repair estimate rules of thumb that you can download on the show notes page. Just go to FlippingJunkie,com/5, that’s the number 5.
All right, well let’s get on with the show. All right. Hello, Mike. Thanks for being on the show.

Mike Hambright: Hey, Danny. Happy to be here.

Danny Johnson: Great, great. Hey Mike, I like to find out from people how they get started and not only that but why they got started, what got you interested in real estate and flipping houses.

Mike Hambright: Yeah. That’s an interesting story. I guess everybody has an interesting story because there’s not… yeah, it’s rare to me, somebody that like was a born real estate investor unless their parents did it and they found their way in there. I know some people are like that but most came from somewhere else, all walks of life. So yeah, I literally even though I’ve personally bought hundreds of houses over the last 7 years and I now mentor and coaching people that will buy 700 to 800 houses this year or each year and growing rapidly, and I’m involved in a number of other things. Literally just 7 ½ years ago I only bought one house in my life and that was the house that my wife and I lived in. So, my experience is fairly new relatively speaking.
So I guess we go back to 2008. So as you know, the market was kind of crashing. Not too bad in Texas. I’m in the Dallas market, so not too bad here relative to other markets but that’s when we got started and we were pretty naïve about it. We actually had no idea what was kind of happening in the market. We didn’t, like, try to time the market or anything like that. Everybody thought we were crazy for getting in but the reality is it was probably the best times of getting in in recent history because everybody was running away and competition was a lot smaller than it is now. It was just a good time to get in as long as you had access to some capital and could aggressively get after lead generation because a lot of the competition was going.
But let me take it back before that though. So my wife and I were both in corporate America and I worked for a large Fortune 500 company that everybody would know that was doing really well, they were kind of flying high. I worked directly basically for the CEO. I was kind of his outspoken righthand man, if you will, had kind of an apprentice-type position that was just really awesome. But then, you know, never thought I would have to leave or anything like that because he was real early in his tenure and probably would be doing this for 10-15 years. And so, the sky was kind of the limit for me. It was a really awesome opportunity but then out of kind of nowhere he got fired and got kind of weird situation. But then the problem is I’m his outspoken right-hand man and now I have nobody shielding me and all those people that maybe kind of were rubbed the wrong way that I was safe, at one point I wasn’t anymore, so basically, I was next. Then I went to work for… and that was a very large company, like a $5 billion company at the time.
Then I went to work for a startup that was flying really high. And we grew the company in about 18 months. We had grown to about a half billion dollars so it was actually pretty crazy. I mean, a lot of the growth happened before I even came onboard, but it was just flying high, lots of acquisitions and very much a startup mentality. Then they filed for bankruptcy. And I actually left just before that, I kind of knew what was coming.
And at that point, our son had just been born. We only have one son, but our son was born at the time. He was literally like 2 months or 3 months old when I left my job there. And my wife who had more money than I did as a consultant had left her job to have our son. So here I am, you know, kind of new father, fairly new husband (we’ve only been married for a few years), sole breadwinner and now neither of us have a job. I don’t have insurance, we have a newborn. We had moved to Washington DC when our home was in the Texas and Dallas area. None of our family was there and it’s just like “holy cow, I got to do something here.”
So, long story short, that’s kind of how I got into real estate. I knew enough to know that I really wanted to work for myself and like I said, I’ve been in a large company and that didn’t work out. Not that everybody’s situation is the same. Then I went to a smaller company and just felt like I didn’t have control over my destiny of where I was going and financial security for my family and all those things kind of setting in at once and it was like, I can’t trust anybody other than myself. And if I don’t succeed, then it’s my own fault and my own doing, at least then somebody else isn’t determining that for me.

So it’s kind of like the stars were aligned to make something happen. You’ve probably heard a lot of people in real estate investing that a lot of really successful people in this industry, and we weren’t like sleeping in a car or anything like that. Honestly, it was a hardship story because we had done well, we had some savings built up and things like that, but it was this situation where failure just simply was not an option that we could even consider. You probably heard stories like that before where somebody got backed into a corner and then they made things happen. And that’s kind of what we did, that’s kind of how we get started.
For several years, we were buying 60 or 70 houses a year and then as you know, things started to get bolted on like property management and coaching and other types of stuff that looks appealing or is appealing, then all those things start to take on, kind of soak up your time, if you will.

Danny Johnson: Oh yeah, absolutely. Did you know somebody that was in the business that go you interested or did you see like a late-night infomercial? Or what was it that you –

Mike Hambright: You know, I guess when I was growing up, I used to watch this old house. My dad was always pretty handy. I worked at kind of a home repair center, like a Home Depot type thing in the Midwest where I grew up for several years and was just around a lot of people building things and things like that. Which is funny now because even though I rehabbed at least a couple hundred houses and wholesaled a bunch more and have a lot of rentals and stuff like that, I don’t do anything. I don’t touch any tools or anything. It really feels odd to me. And like yesterday, I was looking for a screwdriver for something and it took a while to find one.
But I guess I always had an interest in real estate investing and some of it was probably from early on like late-night infomercials. I remember my stepfather had bought the Carlton Sheets cassette tape like the big plastic package of cassette tapes, you know. And to be honest, that thing sat like in our basement for years. I don’t even know if it was ever opened when it kind of sat there for a long time. So I guess I always had interest but wasn’t really exposed to it. But, you know, it’s either I didn’t have the money for a long time and then it was like maybe I could find the money but I don’t have the time to do it and then it just came to a point to where we had to do something like from an income standpoint. And I wanted to do something on my own and that’s just kind of where we set our sights, was hey, let’s get into real estate investing.
So as you know, I wear a few different hats. I have the Flip Nerd website and show and all that stuff. But I’m also a franchisee with HomeVestors, the We Buy Ugly Houses folks and I recruit new franchisees in the system as well and mentor and coach them through a site called But that’s where I started, it was with HomeVestors, the We Buy Ugly Houses folks. They actually happen to be based in Dallas where I was at and I kind of say we stumbled upon them, which sounds crazy given that they’re based here and have bought over 60,000 houses now. But I just never put two and two together that that was a franchise or a business opportunity. I just assumed it was an investor and once I found out that it was actually a franchise system and looked into it a little bit more. It was just, you know, almost immediately the right fit for us.

Danny Johnson: Wow, cool. So you’ve done would you say mostly rehabbing or like a pretty even mix of rehabbing/wholesaling?

Mike Hambright: Yeah. So we’ve bought probably a little over 300 houses. And like I said, it was much more in the early years. We don’t do quite as much volume directly now but we do it indirectly in a number of other ways. And so, if I had to guess, I should probably know this but if it was 300 houses, we have about 40 rentals, so 260 left and I bet we’ve rehabbed probably 60 to 70 percent and the rest are wholesale, so probably wholesale nearly 100 and then rehab nearly 200.

Danny Johnson: All right, and so doing the rehabbing and even when you do the wholesaling, you have to be able to determine repair costs to be able to figure out how much you can offer for the house, how much profit you’re going to make and all that kind of stuff.

Mike Hambright: Yeah.

Danny Johnson: I wanted to spend a lot of time getting into how to determine repair costs, and I think we can probably, if we’ve got some to go into managing contractors and all that kind of stuff. But let’s start with how to walk through and learn how to determine repair costs, accurate repair costs for these fix-ups.

Mike Hambright: Sure. It’s a thing that a lot of real estate investors, especially newer folks, just they miss a lot of stuff. And so you want to be thorough but thorough doesn’t necessarily mean be complicated. But I think there are some folks out there, I’m not trying to say anything negative about anybody’s technique because I’m not saying that this is exactly how to do it either but this is just how to do it, is there’s a lot of things that are easy to miss and I think you just have to be careful with people even if you’re hearing this and this is something you do of just saying “Well, I estimate $12 a square foot” for a rehab. And I think people want to try to make this as simple as possible but especially even if you’re a wholesaler, I mean your ultimate customer is a rehab or somebody that’s going to have to bear those expenses. So it’s really important that you know how to estimate those expenses because if you’re not accurate in it, then that person is not going to buy from you again. And this is how I am and you’re probably the same way, Danny, you’re on a bunch of mailing lists for wholesalers and you just start to associate their name or the name of the company with BS. You don’t want to be on that list. And most are. So don’t be that guy or that gal.
I would say the interesting thing about estimating houses is that truly most stuff actually can be estimated based on square footage. You can even estimate… this is a little bit rough but you can even estimate a roof based on square footage of the house. You can kind of reverse engineer that and be pretty close. And so, stuff like HVAC. HVAC, if it needs it or it doesn’t and if it does, a replacement, let’s say, then you can just kind of use big buckets of saying hey, based on the square footage, it needs kind of small, medium, or large equipment, if you will. And you may just know, hey, it’s either going to be – these are real rough numbers but it might be like $4,000, $5,000, or $6,500 or something like that. So those are just kind of like checking the box. It actually needs this or it doesn’t and based off the square footage, the size of the equipment is going to vary. Carpet and flooring, and you know.

Danny Johnson: So what do you typically estimate for things like carpet?

Mike Hambright: So carpet, we actually itemize it. So I don’t really say hey, it’s $12 or $15 or $20 a square for a rehab. So for flooring, we usually go in around $250 a foot. Now that’s a blend between carpet that might be a $1.60 or so a square foot and tile that might end up being in the $3.50 to $4.00 range with labor and materials. So if you were going to tile an entire house, for example, you probably would want to estimate a little bit more. But if it’s kind of a 30/70 mix or 80/20 mix, they’re about where it’s mostly carpet throughout and then the wet areas are tiled then. We tend to use around 250.

Danny Johnson: So what you’re saying then is… and I agree with that, I think that matches up pretty close to how I estimate it. So let’s say like a 1,000-square foot house. Typically, you’re going to have the living areas, bedrooms, hallways carpeted and then you have the kitchen and bathrooms tiled, maybe the entryway tiled. And so if you just say $2.50 a square foot would be $2,500 is what you would estimate for the flooring for that house.

Mike Hambright: Yes. And we use the same thing kind of for texture. Does the house need to be retextured? If so, it’s a $1-ish a square off. If you have to scrape texture, if you have to repair, then that’s going to cost something as well. If you have to peel wallpaper, then you’re going to have to retexture. I’ll kind of come back to that because that’s one of those things that people tend to kind of miss.

Danny Johnson: So when you were saying texture, like that’s something on the walls. But you’re talking about square footage not of the wall space – of the floor space of the house, right?

Mike Hambright: Yeah.

Danny Johnson: So with texture, but different if you’ve got more involved like scraping off old texture or something.

Mike Hambright: Yeah. If you’ve got popcorn ceilings and you’re going to scrape it and you got to account for that, as you know, that could either be fairly easy or like really hard. It depends on what’s been painted over it before.

Danny Johnson: And how easy it comes off, right?

Mike Hambright: Yeah. So sometimes it’s just pretty dry, it’s still flat paint and it comes off, And if they painted over it with certain kind of paint or any sort of gloss or anything, then it could be like cement almost, it’s just terrible. But yeah, I think there’s a number of those things. You know, I would say kind of the big things like roof, HVAC, water heater type situation, you can kind of… those are just like big buckets that you can say hey, a lot of the stuff I do is based on square footage and the rest of it is these five or six things – HVACs, does it need water heater, does it need a roof, does it need new windows, and you can kind of estimate those at a higher level as well.

Danny Johnson: And what do you typically estimate for like roof per square? And a square for people, I don’t know, it’s like 10-foot by 10-foot so 100 square feet. Do you have a rough estimate for that?

Mike Hambright: You’re catching me on a day when I don’t have this off the top of my head. Because I tend to do more, my contractor lately has been more like turnkey for the whole thing. But I want to say, gosh, I feel like I’m going to be off a little bit but maybe around 150 to 160 a square. Did that sound about right?

Danny Johnson: Yeah. And in fairness to you, like I don’t really typically get up there and measure how many squares. Like a typical size of a house, like if it’s a 1500 square foot house, I’m probably going to pay about $3500 for a 20-year. Well, actually, I don’t know that they even have 20-year anymore, right?

Mike Hambright: They probably do. But yeah, we tend to like a 30-year dimensional type roof and we don’t usually use three-tab. I mean, the only time we use three-tab is if it’s on a rental property and everything else in the neighborhood is also a three-tab, then we might do that, but it doesn’t really save a lot of money. I mean, the biggest part of the expense is really the labor, so it’s not necessarily any easier, any costings on labor until you use a cheaper material.
That’s actually an important tip for rental properties too. Like sometimes people will say “I’m just going to put cheaper stuff in.” But I know for a fact that in a lot of rentals we actually put more expensive materials in there because it’s just, you know, it’s not always but in some instances especially with like plumbing valves and stuff like that, it’s like the cost of having to come back and redo that again or maintain it could be so much higher if you use cheap materials.

Danny Johnson: Yeah. I’m still amazed that when people scrimp on rental properties for shower surrounds. They put that stuff that it’s like a thin plastic stuff that you basically glue to the wall and inevitably within a couple of months it’s leaking, water’s getting behind, it’s rotting out your walls, your flooring, everything all because you tried to save a buck on the surround of the showers. It’s crazy.

Mike Hambright: Right. Yeah. But I would say this is going to sound easier said than done. I’m trying to be not like too academic, but I think as a rehabber, it’s important to overestimate some of those things and have a little bit of caution there. Now where it gets tricky is if you have a wholesaler, you want to maximize your profit so you don’t… I’ll tell you early on there are times when I wholesale properties and I would say, for example, “hey, the rehab is going to be 22,000,” and then somewhere we come back like, “man, I got that done for like 12,000. I got it done for a lot less than you thought.” And I was like, “Oh my gosh, I guess I left 10 grand on the table.”

Danny Johnson: Yeah, they’d probably pay attention to every single thing that you send to them after that for sure, right?

Mike Hambright: Yeah. So I guess in my early days which is 2008-2009, people tended to – I see this kind of trend across the board – they tended to be a little more detailed in what the house needed and now people tend to be more like “Oh, we estimate it’s about this” but you just need to do your own homework. So people would tend to like provide less information just because I guess, one, it could be a liability issue of like you said something doesn’t need to work and it does. But anyway, you want to be conservative enough to where you comfortably know roughly where you’re going to end up from a profit standpoint.

Danny Johnson: And what I do typically is if I’m going through and if it needs a whole lot of repairs, I’ll add a fudge factor of even like $2,000 to $3,000, maybe more sometimes. And if it doesn’t need a whole lot, I might add just like a $1,000 or something just in case something’s uncovered that’s got to be replace.
But let’s go into some of the key places where people maybe have trouble determining what the repair costs should be for certain general things. So if we go into the kitchen, what are the kinds of things in the kitchen that you’re looking at and even sort of rough… and as always for everybody listening to this, like everything we’re talking about is rough cost rules of thumb and you should definitely check in your local area to see if that sort of thing relates. But you want to just like act like we’re walking through one of these rehabs, going into the kitchen and we’ve got to do everything, we got to gut it out, what are we looking at with that.

Mike Hambright: So we almost always use granite pretty much on everything now, and we get some pretty good pricing there. But like I would say that I generally, I’m kind of eyeballing the countertops. I don’t really get out my tape measure and get a fine-toothed, you know, get my quill out and like start calculating what it’s going to cost. But I try to just throw numbers at things to say “Ah!” But some of it surely comes from doing so many rehabs. But I usually, you know, let’s just say like within $200-type buckets, I may say that looks like about a $1600 counter to me and that’s what I estimated.
But some of the things that people tend to overlook in my experience, it’s really easy to do. I did it a lot earlier one. In rehabbing, there’s just this domino effect of if I touch that, then this happens and then this happens and then this happens. So in a kitchen, let’s say an example would be if I want to replace the counters, I’m going to jack up all the backsplash for sure. Sounds probably counterintuitive when I say that but sometimes people don’t estimate the damage to the wall that’s going to happen. And it’s kind of like pool, to like tile in a pool, is if you think you’re going to save it and you don’t estimate it and then one little tile gets cracked somewhere, you have nothing to match it too so you’re going to do the whole thing. There’s a lot of things like that that are just kind of the domino effect.

But I would say kitchens are actually pretty straightforward. You’re either going to replace the cabinets or you’re not. Replace the hardware or you’re not. Replace the countertops or you’re not. If you’re replacing the cabinets, then surely you’re replacing the countertops and then you’re also going to have to replace the backsplash and then you’re going to have to probably do some patchwork for the drywall because you’re going to damage everything in the whole process. But aside from that, it’s tile on the floor and whatever you’re doing with paint and texture and lighting fixtures, but pretty straightforward for the most part.
It’s interesting. I know a lot of people get kind of crazy and move walls and stuff. We’ve done very, very little that we try to avoid that stuff as much as possible and we try to avoid change in layouts. I mean, it’s actually pretty rare that we do. And it’s interesting. It’s not that I don’t want to, that’s not how I would do it if it was my house, but when you just start to think about your competition of if somebody wants to buy in this neighborhood, this is how all the houses are and let’s just make it material-wise and finish-wise as nice as possible, but they just accept the fact that kitchens are smaller here because that’s who I’m competing against.

Danny Johnson: Right.

Mike Hambright: So I think people tend to get carried away with how to make it look like something that’s going to be in Better Homes & Gardens and you’re surely going to lose money on it if that’s what you do.

Danny Johnson: It’s important to figure out what level of a rehab you need and that’s how you do that, is looking at what houses you’re competing against, other houses that are for sale in the area so that if you put yourself in the shoes of a potential buyer, you walk through the other houses that are for sale in that area, so you’re going to see what they get to see and then what you need to make yours look like to make better than theirs, so that you get their yourselves before theirs does.

Mike Hambright: That’s right. In my experience over the years, it has been very common for us to at the time we buy a house, the house across the street has sign in the year “for sale” and by the time we totally rehab it, put it on the market, we’ll sell before they do. Because for us, it’s a business. As an owner/occupant, people tend to think of well, they think it’s worth more because they have all these memories or they with their own blood, sweat and tears did something in the house that if I was looking at it, I’d be thinking, “If I buy this house, I’m going to rip that right back out. I know you love it but I don’t.” So a lot of owner occupants that are selling their home tend to overprice it or they tend to underestimate how dated some things are or whatever and when they’re up against us that are constantly the name of our game is “build a better mousetrap,” you just can’t compete usually.

Danny Johnson: Yeah, yeah. And especially with this market right now, things are flying off the market pretty quick in most places. But back to the kitchen though, I just want to stay on this just a little bit more as far as a rough… for cabinets, honestly, we hardly ever replace cabinets. I mean, if they’re in good shape, we paint them. Do you do the same thing?

Mike Hambright: Yeah, we try to not replace them. I mean, if you’re doing like a higher dollar house where more custom stuff, where there’s again, looking at your competition, if you’re in an older part of town but there’s some major renovations going on and major updates, then we’ll consider putting in new cabinets or custom cabinets. Or even if it’s a lower-end house and they’re really ratty, then sometimes we just put kind of entry level cabinets.

Danny Johnson: Do you have a rough cost estimate for something like that? Maybe $200 like a linear foot –

Mike Hambright: Something like that, yeah. About that much, yeah. And we were fortunate a long time ago to find a local cabinet maker that makes kind of the same quality level you would get at Home Depot. But probably maybe even a little bit higher quality but they’re a custom fit because he’s making them from scratch. So if you buy off the shelf, they have a couple of different options for each like sink base and overhead cabinets and there’s only a couple of options and what you end up doing especially in a smaller, older style home is putting in a bunch of blank spaces to just like fill the gaps of they didn’t have a cabinet big enough so I’m going to put a blank in here. So with the custom ones, we’re able to really put some fairly inexpensive cabinets in but they look nice and new. We tend to stain them a dark color and put a little crown mold in so they look real custom but they’re not necessarily expensive. But yeah, I would agree with you. We would try to avoid that at all costs unless our competition is forcing us to do it.

Danny Johnson: So if you have to put those custom ones in for a standard, sort of smaller kitchen with maybe 8 feet of countertop space, having uppers and lowers for both, do you have like a rough idea of what the total cost is?

Mike Hambright: You know, just a real rough number, if you’re talking about kind of entry level cabinets by the time if you had to have them transported there, installed and all that stuff, you’re probably in the $3,000 range for kind of entry-level cabinets by the time you get them stained and finished. And we’ve spent many times that for custom cabinets and a higher end house that you could basically spend as much as you want to on the custom stuff for sure.

Danny Johnson: Yeah. The high-end kitchens, you can really lose your lunch pretty quick with the cost of doing some of those. What about laminate countertops like the stuff from Home Depot? Like an 8-foot length is usually, what, like $120 to $130?

Mike Hambright: And we very rarely use that ourselves. Sometimes, probably on rental properties we have but there’s actually… and the market is different now that 8 years ago it was I guess granted it’s become so prevalent and so inexpensive that it’s a little bit hard to compete, and it goes back to the labor there, is I have to have my GC cutting laminate and putting end caps on it and all that stuff, it starts to become kind of less competitive with granite even if it’s just a little bit more expensive. But I will say early on there were a number of times in the past where we had kind of a specialty paint guy come in and paint like an epoxy on countertops. We kind of did this on some lower-end houses so it wasn’t something that we do widespread. But this epoxy, have you ever used this? It’s kind of like a three-part epoxy. So pretty powerful stuff in terms of durability and if you get those counters that are like in great shape, they’re just 50 years old and pea grain, you know, but you can paint it with kind of a fleck that makes it look a little granite-y or look like stone at least and it’s clearly not, but it’s actually pretty impressive what you can do with some of those specialty paints.

Danny Johnson: You get that done for like 150 bucks too. And then especially whenever we encounter countertops that are sort of custom, you know, they’re laminate but they’re custom, so it would cost a lot more to replace them because we’d have to special order or do granite or something like that, so painting them as long as they’re not peeling up or anything with the epoxy.

Mike Hambright: Yeah. And again, even if they’re in good shape, just to take them out, it would cost you to take them out, then you’re going to scrape the backsplash and then all the kind of domino effect stuff we talked about. So, you know, painting them in the past especially on lower-end houses has been a pretty cost-effective solution.

Danny Johnson: Right. For the granite countertops that you say you mostly do that, do you guys hunt for like remnant deals, or what do you for granite?

Mike Hambright: We use almost the same color on every house and we just tend to use the same supplier. He’s like 26 bucks a foot, pretty cost effective, installed. And so, we tended to just text this guy and he’ll look at it the next day and we say “Can you put it in the next day?” and it’s just kind of done.

Danny Johnson: Wow, that’s nice.

Mike Hambright: Yeah. We tended to use probably a color that a lot of people who’ll use granite will find familiar. But new venetian gold is kind of one that we’ve used for many years.

Danny Johnson: Right. And so, what else in the kitchen? So do you guys put appliances in the houses that you’re –

Mike Hambright: Yeah. Not a refrigerator but we usually use for the past several years, it’s usually kind of a fairly entry-level stainless package and if it’s electric, we tend to use like a smooth-top type stove just because it’s a clean look and everything. But yeah, even with appliances I’d say we tend to have kind of packages. We’d say hey, if it’s like a basic house or not even necessarily entry-level but up to 150,000 which depending on where you’re listing it, if you have a $150,000 house in California, it’s still a little bit different. But for kind of around the median price in the market or below, we would use a stainless type package and it will end up being around 1800 bucks by the time you have a stove, dishwasher and probably a microwave with a vent hood under it, and delivered and everything. So that’s about that package.
And if you went to a higher-end house and we did something that has a cooktop or a little bit higher end like it’s gas or something like that, then we might be looking at $2500 to $3000. I mean, again, you can spend as much as you want there too. But I would say most of the things we do, we’ve always kind of had like an A package and a B package. Most of our houses, we’re going to use the A package which is all the same materials that we use over and over and over again. And if it’s a little bit higher-end house in our markets, if it’s in the kind of 180,000 to 200,000+ then we probably make some decisions like hey, instead of using satin nickel, we’re going to use oral rubbed bronze which the costs are really the same these days, so we’ve tended to use ORB a lot more.

Then we’ll step things up like instead of using ceramic tile, we might use travertine, we might use a little bit of engineered hardwood and a few things like that that are just more of like finishing-type things. But other than that, I would say one of the big tips I would give is just find kind of a level of material that you use the same thing over and over and over again. If we rehab 200 houses, we’ve used the same interior paint on all of them than a couple when we try to get creative and then regretted it. And so it’s just a lot easier.

Danny Johnson: You’re doing big murals like a wolf howling at the moon or something?

Mike Hambright: Yeah. If it’s a higher-end house, we’re going to like change the colors in the bedroom, one bedroom to the next, in the kitchen will be a different color. And then it’s a nightmare. You got to touch up paint and you’re like “A little heavy more of this one”, “And what color was that again? I don’t even remember.”

Danny Johnson: With paint, with regards to paint, do you have any sort of rules of thumb for determining paint costs for interior and exterior type of…

Mike Hambright: Well, so my contractor has tended to be around $1 to $1.10 a square foot of the house. This is for interior paint, not including texture. So if it’s an 1800 square foot house, he’s probably estimating around $1800 to $2000 to paint the interior and that’s all one color other than trim. We just usually use like a bright white for trim and doors, and we use kind of an off-white for everything else and just to try to keep it neutral. But yeah, it’s tended to be in that price range.

The outside, I don’t know, he probably estimates that a little bit less based off of the interior square footage, but it ends up being around $1 to $1.10 a square foot of the interior square footage as well. And that’s if it doesn’t need a bunch of trim repair and woodwork and stuff like that. Of course, all that stuff adds up quickly too.

Danny Johnson: Do you guys typically replace windows like if you come across a house that has single-pane windows or is that determined by what the competition is?

Mike Hambright: Yeah, you’re right. So that’s what we do. If it looks like a lot of the houses that sold recently have replaced the windows and had double-pane windows, I mean, I like them. I wouldn’t want my home to have old single-pane windows. But if that’s what is all recently sold and the budget is real tight, then we usually just kind of leave it there. I know that this could come off as wrong, it’s going to sound bad but on lower-end houses, the average buyer probably cares less about the efficiency of the windows than having granite in the kitchen, for example.

So if we had an extra thousand bucks to spend on something, we would probably do it on something more like granite or oil rubbed bronze fixtures or something than the windows unless a lot of the competition was replacing the windows. So I like to replace that, I like to make houses look like a new house but you really got to… it’s about trying to estimate what that buyer, who that buyer of your house is going to be and what their expectations are, more so than it is you being proud of the before and after pictures that you can put in a photo album somewhere.

Danny Johnson: Right.

Mike Hambright: But with that said, they’re always nice houses, I mean, for sure. But it’s just a matter of, you know, we’re not putting travertine in $90,000 house because we won’t get the value back out of it and people won’t even see the value in it.

Danny Johnson: Right. Yeah, you know one of the biggest difference that I’ve noticed that that doesn’t cost very much at all is changing up plugs and switches.

Mike Hambright: Yeah.

Danny Johnson: You know, just changing, like you paint everything. It’s funny because you might not even think about it until you paint everything, then you look and like something still looks wrong and it’s because you’ve got the old dingy and you can’t just change the plates most of the time because the plug itself is painted over or something else.

Mike Hambright: That’s right. We tend to replace plugs and switches in almost every house for that same reason. You get a nice fresh coat of paint on everything and then you got these kind of yellowed-looking outlets and of course if you put a white plate on a yellow-looking outlet, it looks like crap.

Danny Johnson: Right. And it’s like, what, 200 to 250 bucks throughout the house to change.

Mike Hambright: Not much like $3 or $4 a plug or a switch or something installed.

Danny Johnson: For windows if you do replace them, do you typically use the double paint like the vinyl low-e windows?

Mike Hambright: Yeah. It’s just a matter of over time, having contractors that we just say “Hey, the same ones you used on the last one, do that again.” And we don’t have to like go out and rethink “Well, what other types of windows do you have? Just use the ones we’ve done on the last 30 houses that you’ve worked on.

Use those again.” Unless they say, “Hey, we’ve got something equivalent to that but it’s even a better price,” or, “It’s a little bit more expensive but it has this awesome feature,” or whatever.

We’re always open to hearing things but I don’t want to have to go meet with my window guy and look at the window and all that stuff. I just want to know that I’m working with somebody that I trust and take their judgement and look at the cost and say “go”.

Danny Johnson: Yeah. Do you have a typical idea, a rough idea for cost for replacing one? I know they all come in different shapes and sizes but typically houses have this sort of normal type.

Mike Hambright: We tend to kind of estimate in the 250 a whole type thing. But, you know, we also tend to estimate kind of small, medium, large. So it might be 200, 250, 300 based on the size of the windows or sometimes if you’re estimating and there was like a large window in the front of the house, we might say “hey, that’s 250 x3 because…” you know.

Here’s what I would say. I think people tend to get hung up on “Well, there’s this weird kind of siding thing in the back. I think we need to replace a bunch of siding, and how do I estimate that?”

It’s like what I’ve tended to do is say “I don’t know what that costs but I’m going to say let’s just throw $1000 at it or $1500 or whatever that might be and I know that’s going to get done.”

And that’s my estimate. Because that way, I can make an estimate, a fairly educated estimate but I can make an estimate in 10 seconds versus could be days of like trying to get people to come and look at it and stuff like that. By then, you might lose the deal or you’re going to lose the deal, you know.

Danny Johnson: Right. Err on the side of conservative and just move on and get yourself…

Mike Hambright: Yeah. So stuff like carpet, something like that, like I said it’s easy to estimate by square foot. And then there’s the other stuff. It’s like soffit repair or something weird that’s unique to that house or removing this old ratty shed in the back or whatever it is, it’s like, I don’t know what that’s going to cost but I’m going to throw a few chunks of $500 at it and say that’s going to be $500, that’s going to be $2,000. I don’t know what it is but I know that’s going to get it done and that’s just kind of how I estimate that stuff.

Danny Johnson: Yeah. One other thing too is if it’s something that you’re really not sure of, to maybe consider what the material costs would be of whatever it is, you know, just like a rough idea or a guess of what it is and then determine how long you think it would take for somebody to do it and then put a dollar value of maybe $25 an hour or something, and then you can come up with sort of a rough guesstimate.

Then if it’s a big job or something you might think that might take a couple of days, then maybe a little bit of a fudge factor. But, you know, none of this stuff is going to be exact. You could go in there and know everything to repair down to a science and measure everything down to an inch or something and calculate or repair costs, and then do the rehab and find out that you weren’t even close.

Mike Hambright: Yeah. You’d still miss stuff. So if you’re a little conservative on a lot of the stuff that you estimate, then there’s going to be some stuff that you didn’t expect at all but hopefully that kind of bad news is offset by some good news somewhere else.

Danny Johnson: Right. All right, let’s move. I think one of the rooms that is important that we haven’t touched is the bathroom. So if you go into a bathroom and let’s say we got to replace the tub and do something with the tub surround, and a vanity which is typical, and the toilet and the mirror, what kind of costs are you typically looking at? And again, let’s look at like the typical median priced home. It’s not an expensive home, it’s not a super cheap rental. What would you say to something like that?

Mike Hambright: It’s some of the same things that we talked about in the kitchen. A bathtub by itself is not that expensive, but the labor to tear it out and the damage you do tearing it out and putting it back in is where the real money is.

But with that said, there aren’t very many houses that we bought that we didn’t have to replace the tub. I mean, probably 75% to 80% of the time we’re replacing tubs and shower fixtures. And all of the types of houses that we buy, they have a lot of deferred maintenance, so it could be like anywhere from horrid to, yeah, we just need to replace it. So even like the tile though, when you say it doesn’t look too bad but it’s pink or it’s some outdated color, it’s like I’m going to have to tear it off, in the process we’re going to basically just destroy the wall because that’s just what’s going to happen.

And therefore, by the time I’ve got the wall all torn up, probably while those guys are in there with hammers tearing up the tile, even if you thought the tub was in good shape and didn’t need to be replaced, well, how many of those tiles are going to land on their corner right on the tub. Next thing you know, you didn’t replace the tub and then they’re doing a final cleaning and there’s all these chips in the tub because somebody didn’t estimate that somebody was in there and accidentally dropped their hammer or something else, you know.

Danny Johnson: Right.

Mike Hambright: So we would tend to just gut it and kind of go back in with a new tub. But you know, we always tile the surrounds, we never put plastic surrounds in or anything like that. I mean, I don’t know that’s even any cheaper. But toilets are cheap and flooring is cheap, and say like the vanity… go ahead?

Danny Johnson: Oh no, go ahead.

Mike Hambright: Say like a vanity, it’s going to be the same thing with like the kitchen cabinets. We’re going to try to not have to replace it. So a much more common scenario for us is just to replace the top which is usually like cultured marble and we would have somebody come out and measure. We have just a cultured marble company that would come out and measure two baths or sometimes there’s like a little dressing table or something, whatever that needs that cultured marble. We just have them come out and measure replacing the tops which are kind of the sink and the top included and pretty cost effective. So that’s one of the ways that you can kind of get by with maybe an older-looking cabinet that you paint and put some nice hardware on it or something and then it has a brand-new top. So, that just kind of helps it look like it’s pretty new for the most part.

Danny Johnson: Right. What’s an idea for a cost of one of those tops for just the typical sort of single vanity with the sink?

Mike Hambright: Man, I should have listed my numbers before we had this show today.

Danny Johnson: I’m sorry.

Mike Hambright: I bet you somewhere in the $100 range, maybe give or take. It kind of depends on how many of them you’re doing because it’s like if you’re doing three, then the cost is not dramatically more because you don’t have a lot more for the trip charge and the installation charge and stuff like that. But just a regular kind of sink, I would say like 30-inch wide or something like that, probably in the 90 to 120 range by the time they come out and measure it, custom-make it, come back and install it and all that.

Danny Johnson: Right. Then the vanity, if you go to Home Depot or Lowe’s and get something and it’s decent, probably looking at 200 to 300 for the vanity with the top and sink.

Mike Hambright: Right.

Danny Johnson: And then installs probably like another 75 to 100 bucks maybe.

Mike Hambright: Something like that, yeah.

Danny Johnson: So then you can easily get up to $300 to $400. So by just replacing the top painting and putting hardware, you’re cutting the cost in half.

Mike Hambright: Yeah. And for mirrors, we tended to go to like a Hobby Lobby type place or like a home…

Danny Johnson: Yeah, home décor kind of store.

Mike Hambright: Home décor type place or whatever and just get like framed mirrors that are pre-framed and get something that looks nice. It’s always a challenge because a lot of the stores don’t have a ton of inventory so you never know what you’re going to get when you go there, but that’s been one of those things that’s been historically hard to out… I mean, my contractor has done a pretty good job but they were early on for a long time, it was like I would find myself even though I don’t tend to do a lot of the work, picking that stuff out because it was so hit or miss when you go to look that it was like I don’t want my contractor picking out something that just doesn’t look like it fits at all.

Danny Johnson: Right.

Mike Hambright: But yeah, that’s what we tended to do. And if it’s a lower-end house, we might use the flat mirrors with like the little plastic holders and stuff. I don’t really like those but…

Danny Johnson: The framed mirrors, I think you can get typically a good sized one for like 69 bucks or something. And it looks great.

Mike Hambright: Yeah. They’re not that expensive. It’s just the finding of them and if you need two of them, finding two that match or whatever it might be, or two that at least kind of go together.

Danny Johnson: And then a toilet to buy and install, what’s the rough idea on that?

Mike Hambright: Materials-wise, probably for a little bit above entry level, you’re kind of 100 to 120 range for materials and install is probably about that as well.

Danny Johnson: I would agree with that. Then a new tub, well, we talked about that. Well no, we didn’t talk about the price. I think new tub’s probably like $150 for the tub at most and then maybe another 150 to install, so that’s about 300. Would you agree with that?

Mike Hambright: That sounds about right. Of course, you get the tile surround and all that stuff. I will say why I don’t have like great numbers to give you off the bat is I tend to look at the project more in totality. I mean, we kind of roll it up with all those individual things. But when my contractor, and I use a general contractor that pretty much does everything except for… my guy doesn’t do roofing, he doesn’t do HVAC.

He does light, electrical and does most of the plumbing and then everything else, all the finish out and landscaping and stuff like that. But we would tend to kind of roll it up and then in my mind, it’s like “hey, I need to be at like 22,000 or less” and then he’ll give me an estimate and again, I work with the same guy for almost every house that are rehabbed so we have a really good relationship in that regard. But if it was in the ballpark of that, then I don’t usually dive into the details of what the individual costs are. Although he estimates it that way too but I tend to just look at the bottom and see what’s the number.

But yeah, so with all that said, I think an important thing to consider is you get some scale that way. So if you can find a contractor that can… because a lot of contractors, like somebody asked me the other day, “Hey, I need somebody to come over and re-glaze the tile in my shower.

Like who could I use for that?” And I was like, “I know a bunch of people but nobody wants to do that.” They want to go rehab a house. They don’t want to spend more time coming to your house and talking about it actually to do the work, you know. A lot of my contractors, they want big jobs, not like little handyman-type things.

So if you can find that person, then you get some scale because they know hey, in three weeks I’m going to get this much income and I paid my guys this much per hour and therefore I estimate that I’m going to pocket this much money when it’s all said and done. You can get a lot more scale than having somebody come over to hang one ceiling fan.

Danny Johnson: Yeah, absolutely. So find somebody that can handle doing most of the work. And you still have your specialty people, like your HVAC, like your electric, plumbing, roof. But for the most part you got one guy that’s managing and doing everything else.

Mike Hambright: Right, yup.

Danny Johnson: Absolutely. Yeah, that’s the way to go because you don’t want to be sitting here having to schedule everybody, having people walk over each other and running into all the scheduling problems because it becomes a real nightmare trying to juggle all of that.

Mike Hambright: Absolutely.

Danny Johnson: But man, we’ve already burned up 45 minutes. I wanted to get into a lot of other stuff but I think we got into a lot of great details. And I agree with you, Mike, it’s pretty hard to… I mean, especially because I didn’t say “this is what we’re going to cover exactly, prepare for it,” we just got in here and started talking about it. I’ve got a worksheet somewhere I think or a quick little list of rough rules of thumb for some of these major costs. I can include that on the show notes page.

Mike Hambright: Oh, great. Hey, one other thing, if I could give a quick tip to people. Because I think sometimes when I talk to people though, like, “Well yeah, you have those contractors because…” I mean, at our peak when we were doing a lot of houses, we were rehabbing 5 to 7 houses at any given time. So we were able to keep a lot of kind of crews busy and stuff like that, and that’s true if you are rehabbing a house every other month, you won’t have that same kind of… I don’t even know what the word is for that, but basically, you won’t have other contractors. You’re not as important to them and they’re not as important to you. Well, I guess they’re still pretty important to you but you’re not as important to them if you’re just doing some things here and there.
So, one thing I would encourage you to do is just try to – this is going to sound kind of crazy – but almost like form a co-op. Like if you have some other investors that you know in town that you can refer contractors to each other and those contractors kind of start to get that “hey, I work for this small group of guys or gals” or whatever it might be, that know that collectively they’re serving kind of you as a group and they don’t want to screw any one of you because then effectively they’d screw you all. So a co-op is too structured of a word or an idea but something like that where you kind of have a little bit of a consortium that uses the same type of contractors and they kind of know that you’re all together.

Danny Johnson: Right. That’s an awesome idea. And a place that you can maybe create something like that is if you go to your local real estate investor association meetings, usually once a month and then maybe find some people that are doing a rehab here and there that maybe have a good contractor and then you can even find out who the contractors are and talk with them, find out who you like, who you trust, and who can maybe give you some help determining repair cost also.

Mike Hambright: Yeah. Even at clubs, even if you find your contractors there, if they’re vendors for that group or a lot of clubs have different vendors or sponsors, then they probably will be more loyal to you because they’re loyal to that group and if you’re a part of that group, then it’s kind of a little bit of a co-op as well. They don’t want to disappoint you, they’re less likely to treat you wrong because they care more about their brand and that word of mouth will get back around.

Danny Johnson: Yeah, that’s awesome. All right, Mike, well this has been an information-packed episode. I’m sure everybody’s enjoying all the information that you’ve shared. Is there a book that you’ve been reading that you would recommend to the audience?

Mike Hambright: You know, I have been reading some books on marketing and so I don’t know if that’s going to help anybody. I don’t know if that’s the best fit. But what I would encourage people to do is – this is going to sound like a public service announcement of some sort – is just always educate yourself. I think it’s important in this industry to learn. There’s not a lot of books out on real estate investing other than, obviously, Robert Kiyosaki’s “Rich Dad, Poor Dad”.

A lot of those things are out there. But I think I would say most people that are real estate investors are in their nature they’re an entrepreneur. They’re looking to build something. Real estate might be the path that you’ve chosen but real estate tends to be the vehicle more so than I do this because I really love real estate. It’s kind of what it does for you if you do it right, that you care more about.

So I think it’s important to kind of stay sharp and stay educated in this industry because it tends to be kind of a lonely space. A lot of people are not. Podcasts and a lot of things have changed that but have added a lot of access to education and information, and people that have a lot of experience that you can learn from more so than in the past. But it can get to be a pretty lonely world, so I think it’s important to kind of stay on top of market trends and what’s going on out there.

Danny Johnson: Absolutely. And so the audience knows also that you run and you have just recently rolled out a really cool update to Flip Nerd. You want to talk to the audience about that real quick?

Mike Hambright: Yeah. So we just rolled out a change, literally just rolled it out. So if you’re hearing this, you may not even know this yet if you are a member of the site, but we have added… so first of all, if you’re not familiar with the site at all, we launched about six months ago. We have over 40,000 subscribers so far. And we have a free membership and we have a paid membership. Paid memberships are very reasonable per month. But we have effectively created the only kind of national online listing platform for off-market deals. So kind of the MLS but not listed properties, more of investor-type properties. So as we speak right now, we have a little over 800 properties on the site which are mostly wholesale deals all across the country and dozens more added every day. And so our pro members, our paid members which is a pretty reasonable price again, actually get real-time email and if they want, text alerts to a new property listed in your markets that you can find out real-time what’s going on. But we also have a vendor platform where vendors in your markets, it’s all segmented by market wherever you are in the US, can advertise from general contractors to tile companies and lenders, electricians, plumbers, on and on.
But some of the stuff we’ve just added is forums, something called member journals where it’s kind of like a member blog where you can actually write, if you have something great to share. You can teach other people, you can profile a recent rehab project you did and you can actually add video or before and after pictures or whatever you might want to, if you want to kind of express yourself and share some information with others and a number of other things. I won’t drag it out too long but it’s just a fantastic platform. Obviously I’m a little biased but I think it’s a great platform for real estate investors. It’s hard to imagine a real estate investor in America wouldn’t want to have at least a free membership to get access to all we’ve got. And then of course, my show, which we’re actually about to launch a second podcast as well, but our main podcast, we have done a little bit over almost 300 expert interviews over the past, kind of a similar format to yours although mine is more of a video format. But you can listen to the audio as well and I’ve done almost 300 expert interviews in the past, a year and a half or so.

Danny Johnson: Awesome. Yeah, everybody should definitely check out and then Mike’s podcast. What’s the name of your podcast, Mike?

Mike Hambright: Well, you can go to to get access to our different shows or if you just do a search in iTunes under Flip Nerd, you’ll see the different options we have available there. But the main show is the Flip Nerd Expert Interview Show.

Danny Johnson: Cool. Alright, well thanks again, Mike, for being on the show. I really appreciate it.

Mike Hambright: Great, Danny. Great to talk to you again.

Danny Johnson: All right. Have a great day!

Mike Hambright: You too, my friend.

Danny Johnson: All right, I hope you really enjoyed the show and if you want to find out more about flipping houses and getting started in this business, be sure to check out and go ahead and subscribe and get some great stuff including my e-book Flipping Houses Exposed: 34 Weeks in the Life of a Successful House Flipper. Then if you go to the show notes page for today’s show at, the number 5,, you’ll be able to find the repair estimates rules of thumb guide that I’m providing. You can download that for free and check out some of the rules of thumb for determining cost for some repairs for rehabs. Check it out. It’s really cool. See you next time.


Comments (1)

  • Jeff Arvizu

    I listened to Episode 5 this morning and it was very informative. You both discussed bad experiences working with contractors and you mentioned something that really caught my attention. You brought up a clause in a contract between the investor and the contractor that releases the investor from liability if the contractor does not pay subs. What was that called and is there a template or copy of that?
    I am really learning a lot from your podcast.
    Thank you.

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