The Sell: One family’s adventures in house flipping

The Sell: One family’s adventures in house flipping

They bought it for a song, gutted it, then learned a hard lesson about house flipping

Photographs: house by Daniel Neuhaus; couple by Liam Mogan 

The sellers: Phares Sekalala, a 41-year-old accountant, and Sarah Sekalala, a 43-year-old interior designer.

The property: A 1,400-square-foot, three-bedroom, four-bathroom house near Yonge and Davisville.

The story: The Sekalalas emigrated from Uganda in 2001 and settled in Queensville, just north of Newmarket. A few years ago, they flipped a house as a side project, and then did another one soon after. With a bit of extra money in their pockets, they thought it might be time to move into the city—something they’d planned to do as soon as they could afford it. They noticed an $879,000 listing for a detached house in Davisville. It needed some work, but it was a steal for the area. The couple jumped on it, started gutting the place, and then got cold feet. Their four young kids had grown used to life in the country and didn’t want to leave. The Sekalalas decided to unload the property, but they’d never flipped anything so expensive before, and the high-end market proved hard to navigate.

The prep: They spent about a year and $150,000 on the renovation, which included combining two of the bedrooms into a master suite (with a new bathroom) and finishing the basement. They opted against some bells and whistles—like backsplashes and new appliances for the otherwise reno’d kitchen—that hadn’t figured into their experiences flipping cheaper homes. In the $1-million-plus market, however, buyers expect all the elegant finishes.

The offers: The Sekalalas listed the house last August for $1.25 million. Two months and several price reductions later, there were still no offers. They got a new agent and did more reno work, then tried again at $975,000. Within a week they had five offers. The two highest came in at $1.05 million. After carry­ing a year’s worth of mortgage payments, the Sekalalas breathed a sigh of relief. Neither bidder had any conditions and neither would budge higher, so the deal came down to a coin toss. When the winner wanted to close earlier than the Sekalalas (who needed time to transfer their mortgage to another flip they were eyeing), the couple called up the other bidder, who was more flexible, and the deal was done.