Which are the best types of floors for house flipping – hardwood, tile, carpet?
When you’re selling a home and looking for the highest return on investment, you need to factor in both what will sell at the highest price (and fastest) as well as the cost. Both of these questions are critical, and the answer will vary base on the home’s location, the home’s structure and price tier/neighborhood.
After all, we know that house flippers are in this to maximize their profit. And, a big part of that will be the final selling price and the time to actually flip the home (i.e. the time to renovate and the time on market).
We want to find the flooring that is most preferred and expected for the neighborhood. We would never want to over optimize (because then we are leaving money on the table as the house won’t sell beyond a certain price). Nor do we want to under invest as we would under optimize our return. We want the Goldilocks approach.
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Flooring priorities and principles for flipping a home
- Consistency of flooring surface
- Hard surface over carpet
- If you must use carpet (for budget considerations), only use in bedrooms (and basement if there is one)
It’s best to be consistent with your main flooring surface for as much of the home as possible. This will make the space look larger and more unified. This means, whenever possible, make the kitchen the same type of flooring (and color) as the main living areas (i.e. living room, dining room, family room, entryway). And, it also means that the bedrooms should be the same as well.
You will get some economies of scale by making everything the same too, so that can help your budget as well.
Second, hard surface is always preferred over carpet. While hard surface (e.g. hardwood) will cost more, it will improve the value of the home so you can sell it for a higher price. This will almost always lead to a stronger profit and ROI. And, it will help sell the home faster as almost all buyers prefer hard surface over soft surface, even in the bedrooms.
If you must cost costs, either due to budget constraints or what the market will bear, you would consider using carpet in the bedrooms where it’s more acceptable.
While hardwood is preferred in the bedrooms, carpet is the next best option (and would be preferred over laminate which looks and sounds cheaper…but is often more expensive than carpet).
If you decide to add carpet in the bedrooms, select a neutral color and use the same type in all bedrooms.
Now, let’s look at what buyers actually prefer, how it varies by area of the country, neighborhood and the rooms where things may differ a bit.
You will find that the 2 preferred surfaces are hardwood or tile, pending on the part of the country.
Hardwood is preferred in majority of the country
By far, hardwood is the preferred flooring choice in most areas, especially the cooler and more moderate temperature regions. Those would include the Northeast, Mid Atlantic (in fact most of the Atlantic coast…down to Georgia), Mid west, Rocky mountain region, Central, pacific northwest, northern California.
Not only is hardwood the gold standard for these regions, but it’s expected in mid range (and above homes), especially solid hardwood as it can be refinished many times and last for over a century. It is a true capital improvement that is reflected in the home’s value and selling price.
It allows new home owners to have a solid foundation that looks and feels great. And, it provides the new homeowner with the ability to refinish the floors to their own color preference based on their home decor style. Hardwood flooring is less expensive to maintain as well (vs. carpeting that gets dirty and needs to be replaced relatively quickly (often in 5 to 7 years).
Homes with hardwood flooring sell for a higher price and sell faster.
According to the National Wood Flooring Association, 99% of real estate agents say homes with hardwood flooring are easier to sell, and 90% say they sell for more money.
While this may vary a bit by market, generally dark hardwood floors are the most popular, followed by light natural (non-yellow) hardwood floors. See best stain colors for selling a house.
Higher end and luxury homes tend to have wider planks (e.g. 3 1/4″ or wider) as they make the space look larger and more upscale. (If you are adding in new hardwood floors, you will usually find the price difference between the 2 1/4″ and 3 1/4″ is insignificant vs the visual impact is large so it’s usually worth the small extra investment…and then some.
If hardwood flooring is already in the home, you have hit the jackpot. If the hardwood is underneath the carpet, it’s usually in protected and in good condition. You can instantaneously improve the floors by ripping up the carpet and refinishing the hardwood flooring.
This is by far your strongest return on investment as it’s less expensive to refinish the hardwood than to recarpet. In fact, it’s your cheapest option overall and improves the selling value the most.
While solid hardwood is the preferred route and can often be less expensive in many hardwood markets (or not significantly different), an alternative would be to engineered hardwood flooring. Generally the cost difference on the wood is not that different, but if you are dealing with a home that doesn’t have plywood sub-floors, the installation costs may be lower (as less prep work is needed).
Ways to save money on hardwood floors if you’re flipping a home
- If you’re adding solid hardwood, consider buying No 1 Common rather than Select grade. If usually costs a bit less. (If you are adding hardwood to an additional area (e.g. kitchen, entryway), be sure to match the species and grade that’s already there. See how to match existing hardwood).
- If you are refinishing existing hardwood, use a high quality polyurethane…but buy it yourself. Usually, this will save you some money. You can see my recommendations and where to order in this blog post – best brands of polyurethane.
- Find a good and reasonably priced local hardwood installer and refinisher. Use the same company each time. You may be able to get a discounted price if you use them more often. (And, you should also know that many “cheap” refinishers will actually cost you more money due to poor sanding jobs and other mistakes (including cheap polyurethane that will smell and take much longer to cure (which will slow down the rest of your work).
Tile preferred in warmer climates
In the warmer sunbelt areas, tile is the preferred surface for the main living areas. These areas would include South California, Southwest, Texas, the bible belt and Florida. Most homes in these regions are build on slabs, so tile is easier, cheaper and more practical to install. Tile flooring also helps cool the home so it leads to better indoor comfort and energy efficiency.
Likewise, in the cooler climates, hardwood helps with indoor comfort and energy efficiency as it’s warmer and insulates better which comes in handy during the cooler part of the year. Hardwood is not that practical in the warm climates where homes are usually built on a slab, and where there are wide variations in humidity levels.
Getting back to the southern regions of the country, tile is preferred (including tile that looks hardwood) and in more upscale areas, natural stone (e.g. travertine) are preferred or even expected. This is the case for the main living areas (living room, dining room, kitchen, family room), but often carpet is preferred for bedrooms for softness and safety (especially for younger kids or aging adults).
Generally lighter colored tiles are preferred as they retain less heat and show less dirt. They also make the space look larger. Home buyers often gravitate towards lighter and cooler tones (e. white and gray undertones) for wood look tiles and for natural stone, light tumbled stone as well as warmer earthy tones.
Alternative flooring when flipping a home – vinyl plank flooring
There will be times where hardwood or tile just won’t work with the budget…or the neighborhood. You never want to over improve a home beyond what the market will bear. Or sometimes, some spaces (e.g. apartments with concrete sub-floors) and there just isn’t enough clearance to install hardwood (as it may interfere with cabinet/appliance clearance…or the frond door won’t open (yes, I’ve seen this happen many times), so I want to provide some alternative flooring options.
My favorite alternative flooring is luxury vinyl planks. These are engineered vinyl planks that look like real hardwood, and come with a cork underlayment, so they provide a bit of cushion (as well as insulation) for your feet.
They look, feel and sound more real than laminate floors and are super easy to install. In fact, many do-it-yourselfers can install it themselves. Check out the below video to see how easy it is to install luxury vinyl floors.
Unlike laminate flooring, these floors are waterproof. So they work great in areas where water or moisture might be a concern (e.g. kitchens, basements). And, because the pieces are clickable, they can easily go on top of concrete sub-floors (as well as tile, plywood or other hard surfaces).
For more info on these innovative vinyl floors, check out my article on What is Luxury Vinyl Plank Flooring?
These floors tend to work in all climates – warm and cool, humid and arid. They also provide a great option for bedrooms, if you have tile in the main living areas, but want a softer option than tile (especially if you’ll be flipping a home where the buyers are likely to have kids (and also for aging adults).
Luxury vinyl comes in a variety of colors and styles. There are even some that look like tile or natural stone.
Considerations based on the price range of the flipped house
You want to take the Goldilocks approach here. If your home is on the higher end of the market, be sure to upscale your flooring (e.g. if it’s hardwood, go wider in the plank, if it’s tile, find more premium looking tiles, mosaics or natural stone). You may also consider upgrading other features (e.g. door handles, cabinet hardware, appliances, backsplash, countertops, etc.
Likewise, if you are the lower end of the market, you may cut back on your flooring and consider an alternative such as luxury vinyl plank, carpet or even laminate.
Best flooring for kitchens, when flipping a home
Generally, it’s best to continue the same type of flooring that you are using in the rest of the main living area. This will visually enlarge the space, allows for open floor plans and will usually save money at the same time. In cooler climates, this would usually be hardwood; in warmer climates it would be tile.
Be sure to color coordinate kitchen cabinet colors for a nice contrast with the floors. White cabinets are most popular and thankfully work with most types of floors. Brushed nickel hardware also works well with most flooring types and shades. (Check out Kitchen hardware trends here).
Best flooring for bathrooms, when flipping a home
Tiled bathrooms are universally preferred across the country. Quite simply they work best with water and look the most upscale, and they are just expected for bathrooms. They are sanitary, hold up best to any sort of moisture and just last longer.
For upscale and luxury homes, natural stone is often preferred, but also wood look plank tiles.
For low end home, vinyl (or linoleum) would be the runner up if tile is unaffordable.
What about powder room? Powder rooms give you more flexibility. It’s usually best to maintain the main flooring for the living space (hardwood in cooler climates, tile in warm climates) and continue the same color and type as the rest of the flooring. This will make the space look larger and will save money on the budget.
But, if this isn’t practical (e.g. you can’t match what’s there or there is damage), a great alternative is to add a stylish mosaic tile.
Best flooring for bedrooms, when flipping a house
If you’re in a hardwood market, the best choice for bedrooms would be hardwood (of course). The 2nd best option would be carpet for softness and warmth.
If you’re in a tile market, the first choice for bedrooms would be carpet for safety and comfort (imagine if a toddler falls out of bed…you don’t want them falling on a tile floor. Ditto for an aging adult). The 2nd choice would be luxury vinyl plank that is cushioned with a cork underlayment. Engineered hardwood can also work, but will often cost more.
Related articles for flipping or selling a house
- Best paint colors for selling a house
- Best stain colors when selling a home
- Hardwood flooring trends
- 27 DIY Home Improvement projects that improve a home’s value
- Does Hardwood improve a home’s value?