SAWYER - For some, a good job is about far more than a paycheck.
Mark Gagner, a North Dakota native and Realtor with RE/MAX Signature Properties, buys distressed homes, rehabs and then resells them. "House flipping," as it is sometimes called, is not for the faint of heart or inexperienced.
"It's basically taking a distressed property that's in need of some care ... and turning it into something that's got some value to it again. A lot of buyers either don't have the time or the experience to do the proper repairs," Gagner, who is currently rehabbing a home in Sawyer, said. "You have to know your codes and whatnot so that you can do it properly because you don't want to put a bunch of money into doing something and then have to be told you have to rip it out. When you're all done it has to be safe."
Prior to becoming a Realtor in 2010, Gagner worked in the oil fields, something he has done off and on since the early 1980s. Although the job came with big paydays, it also came with big costs.
"You're never home, you're just always gone. I'd be gone four to six weeks at a time. And so the idea to come back and start doing some houses again seemed like the best choice of action in front of me," Gagner said. "And with the chance of becoming a Realtor, it just seemed like the better way to go because of the exposure."
Along with working in the oil fields, Gagner has also done construction and carpentry in the past, giving him valuable experience to lean on when he rehabs homes.
"My first building that I bought was an old car dealership that I turned into a sign shop. It was just a matter of getting in there and doing the remodeling because it was a necessity thing," he said. "At that time I couldn't afford to pay somebody to do it all."
Gagner has been rehabbing homes since 2005, and generally does about 80 percent of the work himself or with the help of various friends he hires on a temporary basis. Other times city code requires the work be done by licensed professionals and be inspected, as is often the case with electrical jobs.
"It's not that I have a problem with inspections or inspectors, it's (that) you're putting yourself at the mercy of their timeframe," Gagner said.
When Gagner searches for a house to rehab, he looks for very specific things. The property is usually older and must need some work put into it, particularly in the form of cosmetic upgrades. Before he considers any home, it first and foremost must be structurally sound. If there are major structural defects to the foundation or roof, they will be very time consuming and expensive to fix. In the wintertime he also looks for big ice dams in the gutters, which is a good indication there is poor insulation.
"Which can make it a bad project because not only does ice build up and hang off the roof, it can damage shingles, it can damage rafters, water can drip in because the ice dam will trap it," he said.
Minot's booming housing market provides some definite pluses and minuses for a house flipper. The obvious advantage is it's a strong market to sell in, but conversely, that means finding a project home at a reasonable price in the first place is more difficult.
"Where our strong market affects this kind of project negatively is because of the increased pricing of the distressed property," Gagner said. "The people, and I don't want to say they're desperate, are seeking urgently places (to live) to the point where they'll take something that needs work or maybe that's the only way they can get it in their price range."
Gagner's job as a Realtor has a definite synergy with his work rehabbing houses. Experience he has gained from one job has ultimately helped him become better at the other, and vice versa. He said one area being a Realtor doesn't help his house flipping business is in finding a distressed home that just comes on the market.
He said when a home is new to the market, the owners are usually trying to get top dollar, which isn't to a house flipper's economic advantage. Gagner said the best homes for rehabbing have been on the market for a while and dropped in price. If the initial purchase price of a home is too high, by the time the cost of fixing it comes into play, it will be very difficult to sell at a reasonable profit because the price might start creeping into the territory new homes are going for.
Between being a Realtor and rehabbing the house in Sawyer, which will take months to do, it might be fair to wonder if all the time Gagner is sinking into his various jobs is worth it. His answer couldn't be more emphatically yes.
"When you get done at the end of the day ... you really feel like you accomplished something. You've taken a place that was basically not livable and turned it into a really nice home for somebody," he said. "There's a satisfaction in that way beyond making a profit on it. Yeah, it's definitely worth it. As far as I'm concerned, it would be worth it if I broke even."