Anatomy of a 5-Figure Flip: Make Your Money When You Buy

This is the first article in a series, documenting the step-by-step approach I took to turn a $300 initial investment into $10,000 in 3 months, working only a few minutes a day. In a later article, I’ll also share the mistake I made that cost me at least another $8,000 on this same flip.

My heart started to beat a little bit faster and I could feel my palms get sweaty as my double-take confirmed that I wasn’t looking at a typo.  There it was on the NameJet pre-release list, with a marvelous “0” in the “bidders” column next to it: BetterParenting.com.  Its scheduled release was still weeks away, but it had gone unnoticed so far, and I had no desire to alert potential suitors to its presence.  An early bid would push this name out into the spotlight, so I just wrote myself a note: Keep track of this domain.

The Problem with Pre-Release Domains

Pre-release names can be a fickle friend — offering the hope of a drop that may never come.  These domains can still be redeemed by their current owners up until just before they are released to the affiliated drop-catch company.  After several weeks of stalking, I was afraid that this is exactly what happened to BetterParenting.com, as just days before its scheduled release, the name vanished from the NameJet pre-release list.

Prior to buying an expiring domain name, it’s important to do your due diligence — find out what was on the site before, who’s linking to it, what kind of traffic it’s getting, etc.  I had done that on this domain, and having looked it up on archive.org, I knew what the previous owner’s site looked like.  That’s why I was surprised to see a parked page now displayed instead of the old site (promoting an author of parenting books).  It looked like the name was redeemed but not by the previous owner… it seemed a little shady.

End-Around Domain Acquisition

Fearful that I was going to miss out on the opportunity to acquire a name I knew I could win with, I got aggressive.  I logged into my DomainTools account (an invaluable resource for flippers who buy domains or websites) and pulled up the historic whois records for the domain.  I identified the previous owner of the domain (who was technically still within their redemption period) and picked up the phone.

After asking for the gentleman listed as the domain owner, I introduced myself and made a play for the domain.

“Hello, this is Eppie Vojt,” I said.  “I’m calling about a domain name you own that just recently expired — BetterParenting.com.  Did you intend to let the name go or was it just an oversight?”

The elderly man on the other end of the line responded — he had been using the name to promote parenting books authored by his wife, who this year had passed away.  He no longer had use for the domain and had willingly allowed it to drop.

“You know, I’m really interested in buying the domain, and it’s still in its redemption period.  If I pay you, would you mind contacting your registrar to put the name back in your account, and then you could transfer it to me?  I’ll pay you $300 for your trouble.”

He agreed.  An email was sent to the domain registrar requesting that the name be redeemed, but the registrar was reluctant to cooperate.  Due to the private whois record, I can’t confirm exactly what happened, but my suspicion is that the registrar had hoped to keep the name, test it with a parked page, and potentially sell it on their own – avoiding the need to share revenue with NameJet.  I fear this happens more frequently than I’d like to believe.  After some additional back and forth, the registrar relented and returned the domain.  A day later, it was pushed to my account.  BetterParenting.com was mine, at a cost of only $300.

Money Made Before Any Work Was Done

I knew I was set to make a good sum of money — sold just as a brandable domain, I would be able to make a solid multiple on my initial investment.  While not a high volume exact match name, BetterParenting.com had a lot going for it:

  • It was an old name
    1998 registration history, technically transferred without dropping, long developed history
  • It was PR4 — though I would have preferred a stronger link profile (more links), it did have some decent quality links pointed to it (several Yahoo Directory links, .edu links)
  • It had built-in brand clout
    When you hear “Better Parenting” you instantly think credibility.  It sounds like it’s a legit magazine, right? This could be leveraged for free content, link exchanges and securing sponsors for giveaways.  It also suggested the possibility of an offline venture (launch a print magazine).

By acquiring a good domain at low cost, I had essentially already made my money — made entirely possible by leveraging the right tools, and aggressively pursuing the targeted name.  Now it was time to develop the site and increase the potential return.

A quick note — the strategy I employed to recover this domain after it vanished from the pre-release list is a great technique to use when you’re targeting a domain that you are pretty sure you won’t be able to afford at auction.  If you see 70+ people targeting a dropping name and your budget is limited, use DomainTools to find the owner’s contact info, then get in touch with them directly to see if you can bypass the auction.

If you’re looking to find dropping domains with high PageRank, inbound links, or traffic, I highly recommend using FreshDrop — the interface is a little awkward to use at first, but the service provides invaluable information about domains that are about to become available.  Think of it like your domain metal detector (only not as nerdy and way more effective)!

Next Steps

The next article in this series will cover the development plan I implemented, how I secured lots of free content, how I augmented that free content by hiring talented writers at a very low wage, and how I started to drive traffic to the site.  Eventually, I’ll get to that $8,000+ mistake (I promise).

P.S. — If you don’t want to miss any of the articles in this series, be sure to subscribe to our RSS feed.

  • Anonymous

    Domain buying and reselling them is also good business but you need some time to understand the industry and facts of it. Selling the website is also give you good money but create a website which is capable to sell someday is rally hard.

  • Jason

    Did you ever say what your $8k mistake was?

  • Dvanhulst

    Hey Eppie,
    Congrats on your purchase of Flipwebsites. This is the one weekly email (newsletter) that I actually look forward to receiving. Keep up Travis’ good work. Have fun!

    • Thanks — I’m doing my best to keep the quality high (both on the site, and in the email tips I’ve started sending). If you ever think I’m dropping the ball, shoot me an email and let me know! By the way – there’s lots of big stuff coming in the next 2 weeks to make the site even better.

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  • H Eppie, congrats on the purchase of Flip Websites. I’ll be keeping an eye out to see what you have going on here, sounds like this is going to be an interesting set of posts.

    Talk more soon!

    • Ryan — Great to hear from you. I’m definitely excited about the site and I’ve got some big plans for it. I love the stuff you guys have been doing on Flipping Awesome. Any reason for the slow-down since July? Hope to hear back from you soon.

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  • Po

    Is there a way to tell what the PR is/was after it has expired?

    • @Po — if the toolbar PR is gone, there’s really no way (or reason) to check. I don’t think anyone’s keeping a historic PR service, but even if they were, the problem is once it’s gone it’s gone. The key is to acquire names privately, or if they’re dropping pursue pre-release names. Don’t park domains with PR. Try to keep a real site with relevant content on them at all times, otherwise you risk losing the link juice they come with.

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  • Hi, Eppie:

    There’s a domain out there that I have my eye on, but am not sure what offer to place for it. It’s not a $10,000 domain, more of a small fish. But it would help me in my niche as it is currently a PR 1 and has content. It’s a developed domain name, but the owner doesn’t update the site anymore.

    I was going to offer $50 for the name. What do you think?

    p.s. If you took over for Travis, nice to meet you. Name is Missy.

    • Missy,

      Great to have you commenting on the site — are you the same Missy who’s a Chicago Cubs fan and posted a comment to the auction for this site at Flippa? Either way, I’m thrilled to have you here at FlipWebsites.com and I hope I can help you out.

      Making an initial offer on a domain can be tough — especially if it’s abandoned, but not publicly listed for sale (not sure if that’s the case with the name you’re interested in). Some folks would be thrilled to get any offer, since they’re just planning to let the name expire. Others may still have plans for the name but just have allowed other stuff to get in the way of actively maintaining the site.

      The problem with making an offer under a few hundred dollars is that the current owner may feel it’s not even worth their time to do the transfer. Sure, it’s just a few clicks of the mouse to do so, but casual website owners may not understand that the transfer can take place rather easily. When they read your email, they see the hassle involved — your offer has to outweigh that, at a minimum. I suspect $50 won’t be enough.

      If you want some more insight based on the niche or the specific domain but don’t want to share the info publicly, feel free to send me a note via the site’s contact form.

      • Yes! it’s Missy (a/k/a chicagocubsfan) on Flippa. I will have a look at the domain in question again and see how it’s doing. Appreciate your awesome response and will keep you in mind when I decide to go after it. (if in fact, I do)

        Cheers!

  • Hey Eppie, good find and a great post – invaluable in the details. Not quite sure I would have the courage to ring up and ask but it’s nice to know that it is possible to do that!

    Thanks

    Sarah

    • Thanks for the feedback, Sarah. As for courage — I used to be a sales guy, so I’m no stranger to rejection. The worst they can do over the phone is hang up on me, though so no worries.

      It’s like Gretzky says: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”