Thursday, August 25, 2011

Remodeling Vacant Properties

Some things, when they are in bad enough condition, you just toss them.

The list is actually pretty long.  It goes way beyond a side chair that has a broken leg, or a lamp that's too nasty a style to tolerate.  Americans will cheerfully throw away almost anything.  Bicycles, lawn mowers, pets, you name it.  Is there an upper limit to what people will throw away?

No.  When you can find cases of abandoned family members, too old or too sick for their families to care for, there is no upper limit.  And that's a damned depressing road to travel, so I'm not going to do that today.

I've seen abandoned houses.  Sometimes they have a sign out front with a realty company's name, but sometimes they don't.  The house is just there.  No tenants, no owner, no nothing.  Just an empty house.  What's up with that?  Who owns it?

Most likely the city owns it, or is about to.  Unpaid taxes pile up because no one has been seeing to the place for years.  Grass gets longer, bats move into the attic, that kind of thing.  But the place is still standing, right?  That's got to stand for something.

A house still standing has some strength left in it.  You can fix it.  A lamp that still turns on is still a lamp.  And even if it doesn't turn on, you can fix that too.  You can get the parts anywhere, up until a few years ago you could expect to find a couple of lamp repair bits in grocery stores or the Woolworth store.

Remember Woolworth?

Anyway.  The point is that even though it doesn't have the value it used to have, it still has value.  Lamps can be fixed.  Cars can be fixed - even though ones mouldering on the hill at Lambert's Used Auto Parts.

Houses can be fixed.  What's a house, anyway?  A great big box people live in.  That's pretty simple.  Of course, there are somewhat more complex bits that go on, too.

Roofs wear out.  But they can be replaced.  Scrape off the old roof, put on a new one.  That's easy.  I've done it before, the most difficult part is not falling off the roof.   Do that and keep the courses even from one side to the other, and it's a good roof.

Electricity goes around inside a house, too.  Well, if it's a battered, stripped-out shell of a house most of the wiring may well be already exposed.  That makes replacing it easy.  Super easy.  And you can replace wiring without tearing open walls, just attach new wires to the ends of the old wires, pull the new through as you're pulling the old out.  Strenuous but not impossible.  No popping or sparks when you turn the lights back on, either, so that's good.

Siding keeps the wind and rain out of the wall.  I can tell you from experience that replacing siding is easy - easier than roofing.  There's not as far to fall, generally, so that's good.  And if you're replacing all the siding, you can add an inch or two of foam insulation to the wall and make it easier and cheaper to keep the place comfortable when all's done.

Working on plumbing is straightforward too.  If you're fixing up a tax sale house, you might need to tear everything out and start over.  But with modern PEX tubing for fresh water and PVC for drains, you don't need to know anything about how to solder or leading joints or anything like that.  If you ever glued a model airplane together, you can handle plastic drain pipe, no problem.  And PEX tubing with its new fittings is almost literally plug-and-play easy.  It's even flexible, so you don't need to make as many joints as the old copper lines.  Just flex the line to where you need it.

Why give up on a house?  Everyone needs someplace to live.  Seeing the homelessness problem go up and up pretty much all over the country, and so many municipalities have these vacant homes on their tax rolls.   Rather than sell them in a bidding war to entrepreneurs, why not give the vacant house to a homeless family?  Let the homeless families apply for the house.  They can't live there until the place is fixed up of course, but if they do have a place to live while doing the work to make it safe, that would get an eyesore fixed up so property values around the house would go up, a homeless family wouldn't be homeless anymore, and the house could start generating tax revenues again.  Everybody wins.

That sounds like a proper job of remodeling to me.

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