Who is the Housing Guru?
So, you want to know if I can really drive a nail, cut a set of stair stringers, wire a ceiling fan, install a brick patio, or any of a hundred or more other home building and repair projects, or am I just another pretty face? The answer is an honest yes—at least to the construction stuff. There’s some disagreement on the pretty face part. Yes, I’ve done all of those things and more.
I’ve always been a tinkerer. A radio experimenter as a kid, I even set up my own clandestine AM radio station and played the latest hits for my friends. Later I would receive my amateur radio license, and learn how to convert “junk” AM radios into short-wave receivers. That was back in the days when radios had tubes, something most of you have never seen. I would sit for hours listening to Radio Free Europe, Radio Moscow (which broadcast in English), and “ham” radio operators across the globe.
My dad was so concerned that my experimenting might burn down the house that he bought the office from a defunct car lot and set it up about fifty feet from our house so I could continue my work without destroying the family home. Within a week I had run power to my “radio shack” and even had my own private phone installed—at that time a phone line only cost about $9 per month, and I was earning $10 a week, working weekends in a restaurant.
If you’re still interested, grab some popcorn and I’ll tell you the rest of the story. My first “hands-on” construction project began out of necessity. I was out of school, earning $200 a week—mid 1960’s—just beginning a family, and needed a house. I found one for the amazing price of $4,800—really, four-thousand, eight-hundred dollars! Remember, it was the 1960’s, and it wasn’t a great house. It had two bedrooms, a living room, kitchen, and bathroom; and it had been rented and poorly maintained for about 20 years. It’s what we affectionately call a “fixer-upper.”
I bought the house and immediately began making changes—repaired flooring, installed a new furnace, made drywall repairs, installed a new kitchen sink, and best of all, a large window air conditioner that cooled the entire house. Two years later I was ready to upgrade, and I found a nice brick ranch with a basement that fit the bill. I sold the first house, pocketing $1,500 in profit—I thought I’d made a killing—and moved on to the next one. Two more years passed, during which I’d added a bath and two rooms in the basement of my new digs, and I sold it for an astounding $10,000 profit. I used the money as down payment on the house that would get me started on the road to homebuilding.
That home was a fifty-year old, 4000 sq. ft. mansion—at least to me it was—but at the time it looked awful. I worked for two months just making it livable, and then spent the next year going room by room to restore it to its original grandeur.
During those early years I worked in my father’s hardware store, which had made it easier for me to have the time for some of my construction adventures, as well as a few misadventures; and I had access to tools, materials, and supplies at a discount. I felt I had learned so much—little did I know that my knowledge had hardly scratched the surface—that I wanted to go into the remodeling business full-time.
The following year I purchased 6 homes that were in the path of a freeway, moved them 30 miles, and set them back up, doing extensive remodeling on both interiors and exteriors. I hired a “jack of all trades” to help me and we did ALL the work. We replaced plumbing systems, wiring, roofing, made framing repairs, installed flooring, siding, ceramic tile, wall paper, paint, and landscaping. I’ve included a couple of before and after photos so you can see the extent of the repairs.
Much has changed since I did these, almost 40 years ago.
I had so much fun with those homes that I felt I was ready to graduate from remodeling and begin building homes from scratch, and I did just that beginning about 1971. I continued with my original helper, added two more to my crew, and we built and sold more than a dozen homes.
A major housing market crash in the mid seventies drove me away from residential construction—I barely escaped with my life—and I spent three years working for a commercial builder. I quickly learned that commercial was too impersonal; and, for me, it was just plain boring. When the market returned I was offered a job with a growing home building company. I accepted, still nervous after my narrow escape and having seen most of my friends go broke building spec homes.
Back in the home building business, I began work as a field supervisor, and in my second year became the top producer in the company, building more than thirty homes in my location alone. As the economy and the company grew, I moved into management of field operations. Eventually the company grew to be one of the largest residential builders in the southeast with offices in several states. I continued to advance within the company, responsible for construction operations involving hundreds of employees, and millions of dollars in construction annually.
In 1990 I resigned my position as senior vice-president, planning, once again, to run my own company. However, I didn’t get much time to think about it, for a major homebuilder made me “an offer I couldn’t refuse.” As soon as I started, though, I knew it wasn’t right; they just didn’t build houses with the attention to detail that I felt purchasers deserved. A few months later I left to do my own thing. I sorely missed the satisfaction and involvement that comes from touching the wood and smelling the sawdust, benefits that only a small building company can offer.
Nothing compares to the sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that comes from building and remodeling houses, and delivering the finished product to a satisfied owner. For me that always meant being on site every day, some days wearing a tool belt, others, sweeping out houses; and working directly with my subcontractors and suppliers. Yes, I was back in business and loving it. I built or remodeled a couple of hundred homes, and even flipped a few when the market was hot.
After a few years, I began to realize that I wasn’t as young as I had once been, and walking rafters to discuss a framing question 40 feet above the ground was beginning to get a bit unnerving. After all, if you break something at my age, they have to shoot you. I finally realized I needed to work closer to the ground. But I wasn’t ready to retire, just ready for a new adventure.
I’ve always enjoyed writing, beginning in college, and over the years had written and sold a few poems and articles. In 2002 I sold my first novel. During my days in the corporate world I had written construction and training manuals for new employees and subcontractors, so I was already comfortable writing about the building business. I felt I could use those skills to share the lessons, tips, tricks, techniques, as well as the mistakes I’d made, with those who also like to smell the sawdust and who want to do the job right, while saving money in the process.
I started TheHousingGuru.com in an effort to use my experience to help those who long for the days when quality, dedication, and preventing waste were expected aspects of construction. And, while it’s “tooting my own horn,”—but then I can’t find anyone to toot it for me—I would guess that I have more direct experience in building and remodeling than anyone else on the web. My plan is to make The Housing Guru the one stop for all housing questions, with the most comprehensive and accurate information related to building, remodeling, selling, buying, and repairing homes available, information that can’t be found in any other single source. With your input and support we’ll do just that.