A local teacher ‘bitten by the flipping bug’

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Stephanie Somers stands inside what will be the living room of her first solo rehab in Fishtown. Work is slated to be complete in January.

How many people would choose to buy a rundown building rather than throw an elaborate wedding for themselves?

That’s what Chris and Stephanie Somers opted for in 2006. “It was the best thing we ever did,” Stephanie Somers said.

The couple, both Realtors, invested about $6,000 into that first property in North Philadelphia, and walked away with a profit of about $10,000.

But the process didn’t go so smoothly.

“There were leaks everywhere, it was a nightmare,” Somers said. “We just patched it together and sold it. It was an ‘as is’ deal.”

Still, with some good timing — this was right before the real estate market crashed — the Somerses were able to sell the house within two months.

“We made money off those renovations, and it perpetuated a whole second career for us,” she said.

Somers, 48, was previously a teacher and the head of a holistic nutrition practice. She joined her husband — formerly an accountant and stock broker — in becoming a Realtor that year.

Since then, she has never looked back.

“I was bitten by the flipping bug, and there was no return,” Somers said.

Eight years later, the couple has flipped dozens of houses in Fishtown, Kensington, and Northern Liberties, and they established the Somers Team under Re/Max with four other real estate agents.

But it wasn’t until recently, Somers said, that she realized it was time to take her flipping game to the next level.

“I wanted to be a little more hands-on in some of the decisions being made,” she said. “I felt like when I was partners with Chris, he let the contractor make all the decisions, and there wasn’t a creative process for me.”

Somers decided to do a project on her own, and she scoped out her first prospect over the summer.

She purchased an 850-square-foot rowhouse on East Oxford Street in Fishtown for $80,000. It was dilapidated, with graffiti on the walls and an outdated interior.

She hired a contractor and began work on the house in September.

From going to Home Depot to buying all the essentials, to laying the bathroom tile and painting, Somers said, she is hands-on with the entire effort.

To pay for the project, Somers took out two loans from Quaint Oak Bank: one for $80,000 (the cost of the house, as noted above), and one for $50,000. She estimated the total renovation cost at $50,000. Work is slated to be complete in January.

The priciest part of the home rehab is the kitchen, which Somers said would cost about $25,000. She and her contractor had to rebuild the whole space, which Somers described as a dilapidated shed, for $14,000. Cabinets, counters and appliances make up the remaining $11,000.

The second priciest room is the upstairs bathroom, which Somers said is costing $4,000 for the tiles, cabinetry and plumbing. Also on that floor are the two bedrooms.

The remainder of the money will go to heating, ventilation and air conditioning, drywall, paint, lighting, and other finishing touches, she said.

Somers is designing the place in a style she characterized as “reminiscent of an industrial feel.”

“By being in so many houses, I’ve seen many where people have that industrial touch to it,” she said. “And the neighborhood is very industrial, so it just makes sense.”

Among the fixtures she’s adding to achieve that feel are a sliding barn door for the upstairs bathroom, a pipe stair railing, and old-fashioned light bulbs.

She’s also adding a half-bath in the basement and is semi-finishing that space.

Once the house is finished next month, she plans to put it on the market for $199,000.

As her first solo project is underway, Somers already is scoping out the next one.

When asked what advice she would offer to would-be flippers, Somers said she believes the most important things are hiring quality workers and not getting discouraged by mistakes.

Oh, and not trying to make a ton of money at first.

“Flipping is not for everyone,” she said, and it’s not just about a clipboard and crunching numbers.

“I think you really need to have heart and integrity and accountability as a small-time flipper like me. What I do impacts the neighborhood. I live in these neighborhoods. My family grew up here.

“It’s not just a profit center. It’s my community.”