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Young Real Estate Flippers Get Their First Taste of Losing

After piling in when the market was hot, investors are facing losses from homes that take too long to sell.
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Photo illustration: 731; Photo: Shutterstock

Sean Pan wanted to be rich, and his day job as an aeronautical engineer wasn’t cutting it. So at 27 he started a side gig flipping houses in the booming San Francisco Bay Area. He was hooked after making $300,000 on his first deal. That was two years ago. Now home sales are plunging. One property in Sunnyvale, near Apple Inc.’s headquarters, left Pan and his partners with a $400,000 loss. “I ate it so hard,” he says.

A new crop of flippers, inspired by HGTV reality shows, real estate meetup groups, and get-rich gurus, piled into the market in recent years as rapid price gains helped the last property crash fade from memory. Many newbie investors are encountering their first slowdown and facing losses from houses that take too long to sell. Meanwhile, they face steep payments on a kind of high-interest debt—known as “hard-money” loans—that helped power the boom.