If you want really nice home the easiest solution is simply to pay for one. Nice homes with big rooms, jacuzzi tubs, data outlets and everything else a person might want is there for the taking, For a price. The problem for me is that I'm a working stiff. I make a decent buck, but no one is going to ask me to serve on the board of a major corporation. Yet I want a nice home.

So for me the answer is sweat equity.

But I've also been there before. I call my current home Re-Biltmore for a reason. I knew it needed work when i bought it. What shocked me was how much. The bathroom has been rebuilt from the foundation up, as it was in imminent danger of dumping the bathtub into the crawlspace. The kitchen wasn't much better. The siding was ruined. You could play basketball through the garage roof.

These problems went on and on, and often led me to fantasize about coming home and finding a tail marked Delta Airlines sticking out of my roof.

But no airliners struck my home. No tornado blew the place clear to Oz. and no rich woman decided to make me her stud-puppy. I had one choice; Live inside a haunted house or get to work.

Eight years later and Re-Biltmore is done, and rather jolly place it is. Albeit a very, very small form of jolly. Many apartments are larger than my home. And I have a lot of stuff. So it is time to move on.

Today I looked at a very interesting home, advertised as needing 'a little TLC'. A little TLC my ass! The place had been boarded up because kids had kicked in the windows. But it was the right size, a decent neighborhood, bricked, new roof, reasonably modern. So it was worth looking at.

The first time you buy a home there is a tendency to romanticize how everything can be put to right. I remember focusing on how nice the trees were and how easily I could put in electric while missing less aesthetic structural issues.

Today I see houses like this one as a job. And I'm no longer an apprentice, but a foreman. I run a crew of electricians, keep them working, concentrate on what needs done. I'd like to think I'm good at what i do. And I looked at this house not as a starry-eyed engaged couple, but as a contractor. So you start by building a job list.

The first thing to do is look at the general condition of the place. The roof is straight, shingles tight to the roof and look reasonably new. Good roof vents. inside the walls and corners were all straight and level. So I saw no major structural issues.

But it was clear that the previous occupants had cleared out in a big hurry. I saw more clothes than I own abandoned on the floor, most near one large closet. There were two TV's, broken glass, bicycles and a lawnmower in the garage. Broken glass everywhere. Apparently the place had been used for drug parties as well.

So right off the bat there is a refuse problem. So I need a nice big dumpster, say thirty cubic yards. There goes $500, plus two days' labor tossing everything. If you call me to your home to do electrical work i will bill you out at $35 per hour. I'm worth every red cent, becasue I will tell you the things you don't want to hear and what I fix stays fixed. So there's 16 hours at $35 per hour.

Since I'm rounding things for estimation purposes there is $1000 is cleaning and refuse costs. Now the carpet may be good, but i couldn't tell in the light i have. Frankly, it's probably wise to assume it was all trashed based on the overall condition of the house. The house is listed at 1,300 square feet, but it's a split, so really the square footage is really larger. I figure that around 1500 square feet will need new carpet. So, at $1.70 per square foot around $2500 for carpet.

The total is now $3500

Next we go to the kitchen. The cabinets are quite nice, but the cook-top and its base are missing, as they have probably been pawned. A drawer is missing and a cabinet hinge is broken, probably due to abuse. It appears that a line of wall cabinets have been torn down as well. The countertops are also shot and it looks as though someone tried to pull out the double oven but only got the door to the microwave/top section. It looks like they tried to sell everything that would move.

That's fairly typical of repossessions and evictions. A lot of times people who are losing a home trash it or strip it on the way out. One one hand they need the money, because if they had any the bills would have been paid. Secondly, they're usually pissed off and take their anger out on the property. This house shows lots of anger.

If I can get the top section alone, there goes $250. The cooktop is probably another $400, though the carnage does allow me to easily convert it to gas which i prefer for cooking. the countertops are another $500, and the cabinet repair a grand. If I can match the existing cabinets. That's a really big if. Say $2500 in the kitchen, at best. Upstairs the main bathroom has been gutted. No sink. No sink base. No toilet. They even stole the tiles off the floor. The tub is filthy, but it surrounded by tile. Pink tile. As a heterosexual male there is no way I'm redecorating around pink bathroom tiles.

So, we start with $800 for new floor and wall tiles, and another 20 hourse of installation. $1500 there. $200 for a new toilet, $250 for a new sink base, $150 for the sink, $150 for the countertop, and an additional $100 is miscillaneous parts. Ssay $3500 with labor

The total is now $9500.

Now we need new windows, including a big picture window up front.$2700 sounds about right, thought it might get cheaper or more expensive depending on just what needs replaced.. Needs a new double door in back and a new side garage door. With jambs. $1200 more done right.

The total is now $13,400

We need drywall and ceiling patches, about $100 for stuff, and about 20 hours of labor. Let's round that up to a grand. $14,400.

The electric service needs to be upgraded. $500, and I won't count the labor there because that's labor of love.

So, for this house we need $15,000 and we have not yet begun to paint. The previous owners had made some particularly-- ahem-- daring color choices. Only the best paint will do, and only multiple coats will cover. It does not pay to scrimp on paint. The cheap stuff doesn't cover well, is hard to clean and easy to stain. So I figure the house has to be $18K below market value before I can think of breaking even. Understand these are 'fast and dirty' numbers and if I were really serious the calculator would come out.

The realtor says the house 'needs TLC and is priced accordingly'. My take on this is he has priced the house at about $10K below market value for a ready to live in house. He's dreaming. I'm not buying this house for a red cent less than $20 or 25K below market value, because if I've missed anything i could end up in the hole over this, and if i'm going to do the work I intend to be well paid.

On the plus side, the seller is a bank. They know that a house in that condition can't go through conventional financing. There are permit issues before the house can be occupied, that affect financing. They put out that price hoping for a starry eyed idiot. Which I am not.

So, I shall sit back and wait, because every month that house costs them money. And I may make them an offer they won't like, but may not be able to refuse.

Because done right, it might be the right place to grow old in.