Is there a “flipping” movement quietly going on in Winchester, and no one seems to know?
Growing up in Medford, said Aaron Breen, “I remember when anyone from Medford moved to Winchester. It was like, ‘They made it.’ ”
Breen, who now lives in Winthrop, has finally “made it” into Winchester, but he’s not there for long. The Medford High School grad is in town to rehabilitate and flip a distressed property — an anomaly in Winchester. He is working with his business partners, Marina Hauser and Delince Louis, who is also a Medford High classmate. In their early 30s, the trio are cofounders of Beantown Property Group, a Boston-based real estate firm.
The three are working on rehabbing a home they bought on Forest Street for $220,000, nearly tripling its size with hopes of selling it for over $1 million in the spring.
Thinking big, Louis said, allows for modernization and amenities owners want these days, such as an open-area kitchen and great room on the main floor, which overlooks a deck built over the backyard. Downstairs, the raw basement was replaced with a new foundation and 7½-foot ceilings, a wine cellar, and a huge media/family room, opening to the backyard. The bedrooms are on the second floor, and the master suite has a small balcony off the bedroom, sized for a couple to sit with a morning coffee or an evening glass of wine.
“We don’t skimp or cut corners,” said Breen. “We want to be proud.”
“It’s not a hobby,” Hauser said. “It’s our business, and you’ve got to build it.”
Winchester, located 8 miles north of Boston, is consistently rated as one of the top suburbs in which to live. About 21,000 people live in the affluent community known for stately Victorians, Colonials, and gambrels. The average single-family home is assessed at $770,456 and costs the owner $9,839 in property taxes, according to Dan McGurl, the town’s assessment director.
Last November, the Beantown group hosted a four-day housing rehabilitation “boot camp” at Boston’s Long Wharf Marriott, showcasing three properties they purchased — in Dorchester, Roxbury, and Winchester — in various stages of rehab. Boston is ripe for flipping, they said, since there’s a large inventory of homes 100 years old or older that can use updating.
Teaming with Fortune-Builders, a real estate investment education company based in San Diego and familiar to fans of A&E’s hit show “Flip This House,” the boot camp attracted 300 people seeking to learn the process, from identifying properties to marketing them when completed.
While many of Winchester’s homes have been upgraded to modern standards, flipping is another story.
“It’s very, very difficult to flip houses here,” said Mary O’Callahan, chief marketing officer at RE/MAX’s Winchester office. The acquisition cost is high; entry-level homes range from $400,000 to $450,000, according to O’Callahan.
“It’s price-prohibitive. In general, when people rehab and flip, they can get an excellent value if they contain costs. They can do well,” she said. “But people who do it all the time don’t come to Winchester.”
Even empty lots start at about $300,000, said O’Callahan, who has lived in Winchester for 40 years. “And that’s if you can find one. There just aren’t any.”
But drive around the busy Forest Street in Winchester where the boot camp exhibition home is located, and there seems to be a trend of upscaling the neighborhood. The house is located in the desirable Muraco Elementary School District.
Across the tree-lined street are the Churchill Estates, a cluster of newer homes assessed at $900,000 and higher. Two older homes, situated before the entrance to Churchill, are assessed in the $450,000 to $475,000 range.
In September 2011, a developer brought a single-family home diagonally across from the Beantown project for $355,000, bulldozed it, and built a new Colonial. It sold in May 2012 for $1.1 million.
“There’s a low inventory of newer homes, so that drives up demand,” said Breen.
Last April, Beantown bought the three-bedroom, one-bathroom, 1,549-square-foot Forest Street home — built in the 1920s — for $220,000, the same price the owner paid in 1989. Their construction budget is around $450,000, Breen said.
The house was assessed last year for $485,800. Neighbors’ homes on either side, neither for sale, are assessed at $535,000 and $555,000.
“The owner came to us,” said Hauser. “He needed someone with cash. We took the house as is, spent two weeks helping him relocate, then moved him, at our own expense, with our movers, putting his things in storage. We try to help our sellers to the best of our abilities.”
The group is hoping to sell the house this spring in the $900,000 to $1.1 million price range. For now, imagination is required when touring the property in order to envision the finished product, designed with Winchester architect David Stirling of Stirling/Brown Architects Inc.
“There’s a rhythm on the street,” Stirling said. “The houses are small, and the best thing is to maintain the original look on the front. The addition in the back is where you have the opportunity to add a lot of open space, something Delince [Louis] was really keen on.
“A fair amount of steel went into making those open spaces, something that’s not typical in construction because builders don’t like to use steel, it adds to the cost, but Delince wanted it.”
Right now, the wooden, faded green front door is one of the last original pieces standing, as the house, a partial tear-down — zoning wouldn’t allow a complete demolition — is transformed into a four-bedroom, 3½ bath, 4,200-square-foot Dutch Colonial with a two-bay garage.
The Beantown trio, who recently completed a successful rehab and flip on a three-family home on Woodlawn Street in Everett, hopes their investment proves positive in Winchester, too.
Stirling, the architect, is not worried. “Winchester’s an expensive town,” he said. “People here can get a good return.”