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It helps if you choose a house from the start that has a sound plumbing, heating and electrical system.

These are things that are expensive to correct in relation to the value they return to you upon resale. Most often, people cannot see the inner workings of these systems and they take them for granted.

Very few buyers are going to give you an extra $15,000-$20,000 in your asking price because you have replaced things that they can’t see and already take for granted as just a basic component that is buried in the structure. Also, they assume these components to be warranted against defects by you.

After all, it is mandatory in most, if not all states that you fill out a disclosure form that tells the buyer of every defect that exists or ever has to your knowledge. So inspect the systems of your investment alternatives carefully, as they can be expensive to repair and replace, with minimum dollar return value being realized at the sale.

Along these same lines, you should also pay close attention to the following cash vacuums:

Structural Integrity

Here are a few ways to quickly gage a home from its appearance:

Stand across the street from it. Now look at the bones of the structure. Does it look like a sway-backed horse, with the roof sagging in the middle? Does it have flat areas in its design that don’t allow water to be drained away quickly?

Water, dampness and rot are the equivalent of cancer to the human body when it concerns a structure. Shingles can be replaced. That won’t necessarily stop me from buying. Usually I will use that old roof as a bargaining chip in negotiating the seller down to a lower price. However, if I crawl into the attic and see that the plywood has become rotted and truss members are also affected, it’s time to move on to my next potential deal. Life is too short and I will never rehab it in a short time if I have to rip the roof off and rebuild it too.

Some other conditions, such as sagging eves, wavy roof surface, rotten fascia and trim pieces, and insect infestations can be deal killers too, if severe.

Solution: Get into the structural members with a long, sharp, sturdy, standard flat-tip screwdriver and attempt to penetrate structural components that are made of wood. You won’t hurt anything if there are no underlying deficiencies. However, if someone has freshly painted over or patched it, that screwdriver is one heck of a lie detector! Use it.

Now, I’m not saying people would do that. It may just be the termites have eaten everything but the exterior coating of the wood to conceal their activity whatever the case probe.

There are also tile roofs, metal roofs, cedar shake roofs, hot-rolled roofing, tar and gravel roofs and always a few new high-tech roof coatings. I feel my main concern is whether the decking or the roof support structure has been undermined by water, insects, rodents, poor materials, poor design or craftsmanship, a lack of fasteners, strapping, etc.

Shingles and coatings can be replaced. Just know what is underneath. That’s my criteria. Negotiate lower for needed replacement of roof coverings if you can. I dwell on roofs because it protects everything else!

Next on the list of deal killers is the foundation. The same thing applies to the foundation. I will start by standing back from it and looking at it from a distance. Does this place look like the Leaning Tower of Pisa? Or are the seams coming apart? Do the windows and doors look square? Are porches, stairs and additions on firm ground as well?

Block homes can tell you very quickly if they are stressed out just by the appearance of the mortar joints. Those giant unsettling cracks can and do tell a story. This does happen and mortar cracks maybe 10-years old. You need to investigate further.

Once again, water is a sign of trouble with foundations because it leads to erosion, rot, mold and mildew. It washes out foundation materials and slabs will crack. It rots sill plates and your walls are no longer firmly attached to a base.

If you have a crawl space, it’s time to get your coveralls on and get in there. Now, let’s use our heads here and I mean this! Before you enter a dark, supposedly uninhabited, infrequently entered, dark and restrictive to movement area, assess the situation. Ask someone who has knowledge of the dwelling if there has been any animal activity that they know of. You may also encounter bees, wasps, ants, spiders, snakes, slugs, mosquitoes, rats, mice and a host of other inhabitants. Beware and be prepared. It’s truly another world in some cases.

If you don’t want to do it, hire a professional and I do mean a pro, not some Joe who says he is one. For goodness sake, use a licensed professional home inspector to protect yourself in all areas if you’re just not sure!

You should have a strong flashlight, your trusty screwdriver, maybe some insect repellent and a safety observer standing at the access entry to give you piece of mind. Now you can go to the perimeter walls and inspect where the walls meet the foundation. Look for rot, misalignment, cracks, separations, water damage or any other condition that doesn’t appear normal.

While you’re down there, look at the other foundational supports, you will see pier blocks and posts, other concrete support pillars and walls, beams, joists and cross bracing, and the underside of sub-flooring. Check this stuff’s condition. Does it look original? Is it structurally sound? Or are there some discrepancies that need further investigation? Take a good look and smell!

Don’t leave yet. You also will want to look at all that plumbing and electrical that is there as well. Scan the perimeter. Do you see any sunlight coming in from where it shouldn’t be? That might be a hole that needs repair. This is common sense land, not computer a chip lab. You can inspect for general condition. Simply follow everything to its logical end, looking mainly at the condition of the different components.

OK, you’ve made mental and physical notes. Now dust yourself off and go inside the house if everything has checked out so far.

So the roof and foundation have passed your keen eye. Let’s look at the rest of the house with respect to its structural integrity. More than half of your structural integrity check at this point is already complete as the roof and foundation are two of the most important components and those have been done. Now you are left with the interior spaces of the structure.

Here’s what I do once inside. I stand at the front door with a checklist in hand and I begin to scan the walls, ceiling and floors. I’m looking for water stains on all three surfaces, as well as patches that were used to repair or conceal damage. I go through every room and look for signs of damage or concealment.

Any flat floor is a good candidate for my scientific marble test. I’ll drop my marble; if it rolls to a corner, that floor is not level That’s a simple test but I do want to know that the under-layer or sub-flooring is sound and firmly attached to all those joists, and beams and trimmers.

Soft spongy floors are of concern, creaky floors are annoying and rotten floors are another story. So once again, I’m looking at the structural support of the floors. I don’t care that the cheap, yellowed vinyl is coming up at the seams. I don’t care that the carpet is matted down or thread bare, and I don’t mind if the finish is worn off of hardwood floors or tiles are loose.

Floor coverings fall under the label of cosmetics that’s what you want to concentrate on.

So the floors pass my test for sub-flooring and structural integrity is great. Now I can check that the walls are square because they are attached to that floor, and then I can check that the doors all operate properly and are square too.

What is behind those walls? The things that bite you aren’t usually seen until you get bit. One particular painful bite is finding out your wiring is not grounded or that the circuits are not properly protected. You’re looking for three-pronged outlets and modern plastic-encased wiring made of copper, not aluminum. You want circuit breakers, not fuses. What you really need here is a licensed electrician to do this more in-depth and professionally licensed review of the system.

Licensed electricians bring you up to code and protect your investment. Find a good one and make it a point to shower him or her with praise, attention and money well spent.

They will give you free estimates, so use them as a preliminary inspector with you. If you decide to buy it, use them to do the work that needs to be done.

A plumber may or may not give you a free estimate. With a little digging, it can be done. Just give them the work if indeed you do buy the house.

With plumbers, the only time you’re going to need one is if you are doing major system work or the once every ten year hot water heater job. Also the occasional clogged main sewer line to the street.

In today’s P.V.C. plastic plumbing kits world, you can hire just about any good all-around handyman to get the job done.

Heating and cooling: the air conditioning system, if the house you’re inspecting doesn’t have adequate heating and cooling, that can become expensive. Let’s say you have a flat roof home in a hot climate with window unit air-conditioners, and you intend on bringing this house up to what a modern day home dweller expects.

You may have a problem. Where would you put new ductwork if you don’t have attic space to house and route central heat and air?

So now you have a solid house. By that I mean, plumbing, electrical, heating and air-conditioning, roof, foundation and overall good structural integrity.

So what’s left to do? Call in your army of carpenter ants, from painters to carpenters and flooring installers, yard maintenance and tree trimmers, and handymen of all sorts.

This is the whirlwind tour. Let the demolition guy in first. Order a dumpster for the next ten days. Order demolition man to throw out everything including the kitchen sink. What I am out to do at this point is to clear the decks.

A blank canvass is created for the painters to perform the transformation. They come in at this point and patch and paint. Let them blast the place with their airless paint-spraying arsenal inside and out. Give them 3 days and you have just added a huge improvement to your investment. This is the biggest dollar-for-dollar return you can make.

One cautionary note here: Make absolutely sure that quality paint is used. When it comes to painting, it’s the labor that kills you, not the material. I insist on Sherwin Williams Super Paint. It is a miracle formula that I am convinced could cover up bullet holes without any patching compound and it lasts forever. It’s worth every penny; insist on it!

So my idea of finding the ideal fixer upper is to find those where the structure and systems are fine but it still needs demolition man and the paint brigade. Everything up to this point has been inspection and appraisal of the situation. Once I’m satisfied that it is a cosmetic rehab and not the expensive money pit, I send in my cosmetologists.

I wouldn’t call these guys that to their face but these are normally men adding residential make-up to the bricks and mortar. Once the painters leave, the flooring guys are right behind them, laying tile and carpet. These guys are out in 2-3 days and my cabinet and handyman plumber are attacking.

Light fixtures, vanities, toilets, sinks, doors, switch plates and outlet covers…wham, ten days are up and this house is either held out for rent, lease-optioned or sold for a whole heck of a lot more than the ten grand I put into it, if that much.

You must be somewhat of an appraiser and deal finder. It takes time to recruit your cosmetologists, but you will run across them in your travels. Friends and family usually can provide you with some serious leads. Start networking and talking to tradesmen. Get their numbers and schedule them to descend upon your ugly duckling at certain times and watch the transformation begin.


Good stuff!

Thank you so much for your time, input, advice, knowledge and experience. Incredible info. Massive amount of gold nuggets in your threads!

You are greatly appreciated!

God Bless,

Improving Your Home for $1,000 or Less

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If moving to a bigger home or building an addition isn't in the cards, here's how to maximize the space you have - on a budget.

Make Over Cabinets, $1,000
Give your dowdy kitchen cabinetry a lift with paint and new hardware. Proper preparation -- cleaning, sanding, priming and painting with an oil-based or 100% acrylic paint -- is key to a good-looking, long-lasting result. Using a paint sprayer helps, too (rent one from a paint or home-improvement store). Pros charge an average of $547 to do the job with one coat of paint on 150 square feet of base and wall-hung wood cabinets, according to Do It Yourself or Not (

You can cut the cost of painting to about $200, regardless of size, if you do it yourself. For inspiration, visit Web sites such as Better Homes and Gardens (; see "30 Low-Cost Cabinet Makeovers") and Add touches by removing selected cabinet doors and painting the interior a contrasting color, adding glass panes to solid doors, and using beadboard for texture.

Hardware -- knobs and handles -- is the jewelry of cabinetry, and the Internet provides endless options. You can spend from a few dollars to $50 or much more per knob or handle. Anyone for a door handle in silver plate and Swarovski crystals for $120? You'll find a fine discounted selection at

Create An Office Nook, $250
Don't have an entire room to make into a dedicated home office? Create an office nook by redoing a corner of a room or repurposing a closet. If you use a closet, first remove existing shelves and the hanging pole, then paint.

Closet kits provide quick and easy storage, with shelves and brackets attached to tracks that screw into wall studs. Elfa's "Office in a Closet" ($232 if you do it yourself or $412 installed from comes with five solid (not wire mesh), 30-inch-long shelves, including a deeper shelf to use as a desk, and hanging hardware. Add a rolling file cart to store under the desk shelf. Elfa sells one for $99 with a hanging-file frame and two drawers, but you can get cheaper ones at discount stores. Hiring an electrician to install an electrical outlet for office equipment, if needed, will add $75 to $250 to the price.

Reclaim Your Garage, $1,000
Many homeowners have a no-car garage because it's so full of stuff that there's no room to park a vehicle. Look for a slatwall system that uses molded plastic panels with slots from which you can hang hooks, shelves and baskets. Fasten the panels to your garage walls via one of several methods, such as drywall screws into studs.

You can order a starter kit directly from manufacturer storeWALL ($529 at The kit includes six panels (4 feet by 15 inches) totaling 30 square feet, plus two shelves with brackets, two shoe shelves, six hooks, two baskets, trim, caulk and screws. At you can buy individual storeWALL components (six 4-foot panels totaling 30 square feet for $189, or four 8-foot panels totaling 40 square feet for $283), as well as hooks ($6 to $19), baskets and shoe shelves ($18 to $59), and shelving ($49 to $60). also sells kits for different applications, such as the WorkCenter kit, with an assortment of shelves, bins and racks for tools and hardware ($130), the Golf Sports kit ($72) and the Bike Sports kit ($39). And put the overhead space to use, too. Lift and store bicycles, canoes and bins of gear using a Harken ceiling hoist. A manual hoist ($29 to $180 at can lift from 45 to 250 pounds; an electric one, from 70 to 220 pounds ($169 to $229).

Organize Your Closet, $500
Has your closet become an avalanche waiting to happen? You need a closet organizer. First, empty the closet and decide what to keep, toss, donate, consign or sell. Once you know what stays, you can pick a system accordingly.

Most manufacturers of closet organizers offer an online tool with customer support. At, choose a layout similar to your closet's and enter measurements, then drag and drop closet kits onto the rendering. The tool will generate a shopping list of appropriate components available directly from Rubbermaid, and at Lowe's (where it's sold as the HomeFree brand) and Menards stores. For example, a walk-in closet with two 6-foot-long walls and one 8-foot-long wall would require three kits totaling $440. (Accessories, such as a two-drawer unit, would push the total above $500.)

Add Value
Make your house more efficient and comfortable with small projects that pay off when you sell.

Replace A Window, $500
Do you have a window that's especially leaky or tough to open or close? Replace it. If the framing is fine (try poking a screwdriver into the sill to see if it has rotted and use a level to see if it's reasonably square), you can install a replacement window into the original opening, replacing the sashes, side jambs and trim. Expect to spend $100 to $500, depending on the material and features (vinyl is cheaper than wood). A handyman may charge about $30 to $100 to install it, and as much as twice that if he must rebuild the frame (called a new construction frame). If you buy an Energy Star-qualified window through December 30, 2011, you can claim a tax credit for 10% of the cost (excluding installation) up to $200.

The Web sites of window manufacturers, such as Andersen, Marvin and Pella, include guides to selection also see Everything You Need to Know About Replacement Windows).

Hard-Wire A Room, $1,000
As the electronic gadgets in your home grow in number and appetite for data, you may want to replace a wireless network with one that is hard-wired and cabled. Such a system will provide faster data and video transmission that's more secure and reliable. Your images will be clearer, and you'll be able to move massive files from a laptop to a desktop computer in a tenth of the time it would otherwise take. You could also connect a game system to the Internet to play video games remotely with friends -- and watch the action on your flat-panel HDTV.

Start with your most-used room -- say, a family room or home office. An electrician will pull wire and cable through the walls, attic and basement as needed to create multiple outlets. The cabling will serve your computer, laptop, peripherals, HDTV, DVR and game system and run back to wherever phone and Internet service enters the house.

Look for a licensed and insured electrician who specializes in residential service and home networking. The more wiring that's required and the more difficult it is to access the wall space, the greater the cost, says Marcus Smith, owner of SmithLudwig Electric, in Austin, Tex. Hourly labor rates vary widely, so in some markets this project may exceed $1,000. Save money by obtaining permits and patching walls yourself.

Add Style
These projects will let you enjoy your home more if you're staying put, or add curb appeal if you're planning to sell.

Remake An Entrance, $250
If your home's front entrance presents a sad face to the world, brighten it up by painting the front door with an accent color. Benjamin Moore's Aura Exterior, about $20 per quart, is a good choice; it hides imperfections, is easy to apply, dries quickly and resists fading and weathering.

Finish the door with new hardware. A new lock set could easily eat up half your budget or more, so look for one on sale. At you'll find a good selection at discounted prices, often almost half off suggested retail. (Installation is an easy job, but if you lack the time, a handyman will charge $30 to $100). Add kick plates (screw-on or magnetic, $25 to $112) and door knockers ($10 to $226) from the huge selection at

Replace a beaten-up mailbox with one from, which carries almost 1,200 boxes, wall- and post-mounted, in many styles, materials and finishes. They run from $29 all the way up to $3,960 for a German-made, lord-of-the-manor model. Add pizzazz or character with house numbers from You'll find styles from Craftsman to the Age of Aquarius in copper, brass, aluminum, steel and tile ($11 to $47 apiece).

Update Your Lighting, $500
Are you living with outdated light fixtures that aren't yet fashionably retro? Switch out one or more, especially in a prominent place, such as over your dining-room table. To get a feel for styles, visit or the Web sites of home-furnishings retailers, such as Look for Energy Star-rated fixtures, which use one-fourth the energy of traditional lighting. Lithonia Lighting ( makes several styles of energy-efficient chandeliers. A five-light chandelier goes for $199 in antique bronze and $258 in brushed nickel. Installation costs $60 to $100.

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