SALT LAKE CITY — Mike Baird earned a B.A. in business management from BYU's Marriott School in 2002. But even before graduating, he made up his mind there would be no corporate employer or high-rise office in his future.
That's because Baird, despite not knowing how to hang a door or even paint a wall, aspired to build a business out of flipping foreclosed homes.
So for his graduation present, Mike's father took him to Home Depot and bought him $700 worth of tools — including his first tool belt, hammer and tape measure.
Nine years later, Baird's business of buying, restoring and selling residential property is not only thriving even after the housing bubble burst, but Baird and his partner, Doug Clark, now find themselves in the middle of a roiling national debate about best practices for dealing with the glut of foreclosed properties that weigh down housing markets across the country.
Perhaps you're curious just what kind of bona fides Clark and Baird possess that qualify them to dispense expert-level analysis on an issue of national importance. They're the freshly minted stars of "Flip Men," a new reality TV show about the acquisition and restoration of foreclosures.
"Flip Men" is an unscripted series that follows Clark and Baird as they juggle their revolving portfolio of 15-20 foreclosure properties in Salt Lake County. Each half-hour episode documents a single property from the time of purchase — often sight unseen — at one of the daily foreclosure auctions in Salt Lake City's Matheson Courthouse all the way through to its eventual sale. The show airs Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. MDT on Spike TV.
Clark and Baird, who have been flipping properties together for five years, are ambivalent about their newfound status as reality TV stars. They earnestly embrace the attention and efficiently navigate publicity requests, but also consciously wrestle with stereotypes about their line of work that potentially could cast them as parasites feeding off the misfortune of families who've lost their homes to foreclosure.
"There is this real negative pushback about real estate investors, that they're criminals who cause a lot of the market speculation," Baird explains.
"There's a lot of negativity there. But believe me — no one else is going to get involved in buying these properties and making them livable again. … Nobody's fixing them up except the free market and investors that are out there doing this.
"So for me to be able to tell the story of the good that investors are doing, and to show how, one house at a time, this market is going to get turned around — telling that story is the greatest part of all this."
In fact, the Flip Men even contend that once a lender forecloses on a property — something they're personally powerless to prevent — their model of private investors buying a foreclosure at auction, making significant renovations and ultimately selling the property is the optimal outcome. Because if a foreclosure doesn't sell at auction, the only alternative left is bank repossession — a designation also known as Real Estate Owned or REO.
"Honestly I think selling at auction is going to have less of a negative impact than when it goes back to the bank," said Daren Blomquist, director of marketing communications for leading foreclosure data source RealtyTrac. "You're getting an investor who's buying the property and taking instant ownership of it. Usually these investors want a quick turnaround, so they're going to start fixing up the property and putting improvements into it right away.
"Typically the banks are not as quick about turning around (foreclosures). They may take several months — our data shows on average it takes more than 190 days after a bank takes back a property at (a failed) auction before they resell it on the market. So that whole time the property is just sitting there, obviously vacant and falling into a state of disrepair."
Blomquist estimates 90 percent of foreclosures that go to auction don't generate the minimum bidding price and so fall into REO status by default, a figure that is especially problematic in light of data reported by the nonprofit website ForeclosureHelpandHope.org: "Homes in foreclosure that become vacant provide sites for crime or other neighborhood problems. One foreclosure can impose up to $34,000 in direct costs on local government agencies, including inspections, court actions, police and fire department efforts, potential demolition, unpaid water and sewage, and trash removal."
In the premiere episode of "Flip Men" that debuted Oct. 25, Clark and Baird buy a three-bedroom property in Salt Lake City near the Interstate 80 overpass of State Street. They pay $63,931 for a house they've never laid eyes on.
Cameras catch Baird kicking in the front door the first time the partners step foot on the property (at foreclosure auctions, keys don't come with the winning bid).
Once inside they find methamphetamine on the walls of one of the bedrooms and discover the house isn't hooked up to the city water lines but instead draws from a well in the back yard.
"The truth is, five years ago everybody and their grandma were flipping homes," Baird intones to the camera. "But now, the arena's totally different."
After spending $52,500 on renovations, Clark and Baird sell the house for $185,000 — meaning they net a cool $60,000 profit following closing costs.
A big reason "Flip Men" makes for fun viewing is the "opposites attract" dynamic embodied by Clark's and Baird's relationship. The men complement each other not only visually but with their personalities as well.
A former airline pilot and the more aggressive half of "Flip Men," Clark thrives on spontaneity and impulse. He grew up in the Salt Lake City suburb Murray and attended the University of Utah on an academic scholarship; these days he maintains a clean-shaven head and often wears T-shirts that show off a large tribal tattoo on his muscular right bicep.
Conversely, Baird — a Southern California native who came to the Beehive State to attend BYU — is a lithe, clean-cut family man and father of four with a palpable aversion to risk and strong preference for fully analyzing a problem prior to acting.
The contract with Spike TV calls for 12 episodes of "Flip Men," and nearly all the footage for those episodes has already been shot.
As Clark and Baird wait to see whether their show eventually gets picked up for a second season — a decision that a cable network like Spike TV will typically make after seeing the ratings for the first three episodes — they can't help but enjoy their journey.
"I'm a pretty loud individual, and I like the fact that this is a controversial subject," Clark said. "It's plastered everywhere; you can see something every single day in newspapers or online about foreclosures. But it's just stats — it's not stories and faces and the real deal.
"I've always said there are so many myths around foreclosures. … I love being able to tell the story in a way where I say, 'I know there's a taboo and a controversial aspect to this story, but let me show you more of the story than you've ever seen.'"
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