Buy, Fix & Sell: Part 3 of 5 - How to Buy, Fix-Up & Sell Your Home

Skylights :: Kitchen ReDo :: Replace Bathroom Floor

Back porch after remodel
••• © Elizabeth Weintraub

My next house was a 1945 Cape Cod that I bought from an unrepresented seller. Now, very rarely does property appraise higher than its sales price, and it's even more rare when it's an FHA appraisal. But that's exactly what happened because the seller of this home should have hired a real estate agent. It appraised 10% more than list price. It's nice to make money walking into a deal.

Seller's Mistake #2

In addition, because the sellers had nobody to advise them, they did not realize that they had to pay off the assessments levied against the property. FHA, at that time, would not fund a loan for a property with unpaid assessments. So, I picked up a property free and clear of the sidewalk assessment.

Seller's Mistake #3

The sellers did know how to calculate the square footage of the property. They advertised this home as 1,200 square feet but, in reality, it was 1,600 square feet. They made the mistake of measuring the interior walls.

So I Cut Three Holes in the Roof

I might not have thought about putting in skylights, but I didn't know any better. My imagination was free to roam and, because my upstairs' ceiling was so close to the actual roof, my thoughts landed on skylights. If I could do one skylight, I reasoned, three were better. Here's what I learned:

  • I felt much safer on the roof wearing a harness. I threw a long rope over the ridge and tied myself to a pole in the back yard. In hindsight, wrapping the rope where it moved across the ridge would have prevented rope burn on the shingles.
  • It's easier to mark parallel lines for a row of skylights by snapping a chalkline than to try to draw a line using a level.
  • To ensure cutting through the roof in the right spots, I pounded 16-penny nails into each of the four corners I had marked inside the house. Then, once back on the roof, it was easy to tie off the four corners with string and see exactly where to cut.
  • My skylights were 24-inches wide, and my joists, like most, were spaced 16-inches apart. Cutting through the joists meant I needed to add reinforcement by tying in cripple studs.
  • The biggest mistake contractors and DIYers make is failing to properly seal the skylights. You do NOT want your skylights to leak when it rains or you'll be back up on the roof during the next thunderstorm.
  • The second mistake is failing to visual the view from inside the house before cutting the holes. A street light shone brightly through my third skylight at night.
  • When I woke in the morning, however, I never had to wonder if it snowed last night.


A New White Kitchen!

White is very hard to keep clean, and it shows dirt. Every morning I transferred black smudges from newspaper ink on my hands to my cabinets. The white ceramic reflected dusty or wet footprints and paw prints. I do not recommend white kitchens. But when it was clean, it really sparkled! Here are my tips for kitchen remodeling:


  • Cabinets are priced by whopping percentages off retail. Don't buy at those prices because they can be further discounted. When you find the manufacturer and style you like, then call every distributor for quotes and make them offers.
  • Everything costs extra: decorative trim and accents, molding, plywood sides, panels, glass inserts or feet, so decide upfront what is most important to you because it quickly adds up and could double your base price.
  • It's faster and a lot more fun to bash cabinets off the wall with a sledgehammer than to carefully unfasten each screw.
  • Install upper cabinets before lower.
  • Use molly bolts if you can't attach the cabinet to a stud, but drill a hole in the cabinet before raising it.
  • It's easier to attach the cabinets to each other on the wall than trying to lift them as one unit.

Tiled Counters

  • Glue Luann board over plywood for a smooth surface or install Durock on top of furring strips.
  • If you're tiling an L-shaped counter top, start the pattern on the short-leg in the corner.
  • Remember to use bullnose or trim tile for the outside rows and the backsplash that abuts the cabinets.
  • Before covering the backsplash, make sure you have enough receptacles. In fact, just install a few more. You can't have too many.

Appliances, Sink, Lighting

  • When shopping discount or big-box stores, ask about floor models or discontinued items stashed in back.
  • Cast-iron sinks are very heavy and expensive but worth it.
  • When installing a dishwasher, remember to include an air-gap for sanitary purposes, which will prevent backwash.
  • Padding the sides of the dishwasher with insulation will decrease noise.
  • Allow for height differences in the finished floor when installing the dishwasher so you can pull it back out if it needs repair.
  • Don't hang lighting where you're likely to walk into it.

    Covering Stairs in Carpet

    If your stairs are in good shape, it's probably better not to cover them at all. Most people today seem to prefer natural wood. However, there are good reasons for carpeting stairs. The carpeting muffles sounds. It's softer on bare feet. You're less likely to get hurt if you trip and fall on carpeting. Here are tips to help you:

    • It's less expensive, plus easier to install if you buy carpet with the padding attached.
    • Buy a top-of-the-line super-sharp carpet knife, which will easily cut any grade of carpeting straight and clean.
    • Cutting the carpet "as you go" will ensure a custom fit.
    • Start at the bottom and work your way up, stretching across the tread and kicking into the riser.
    • Tuck under the ends and glue.

    Replacing a Bathroom Sub-Floor

    Out of all the rooms in a home that could require a new sub-floor, the bathroom is most likely. Moist conditions are conducive to dry-rot and pest infestation.

    • If you're installing new plywood in one piece, remove door handles, knobs, toilet paper roll holders, all exterior items from the walls before attempting to lay the wood.
    • Screws are less likely to pop than nails.
    • If your floor height increases, you'll need longer a longer toilet supply line connector.

    The Payoff

    This house was in a flight path. Too noisy. I decided to move to the suburbs. When my next-door neighbor had an open house, I stuck a sign in my yard and sold it that afternoon for a profit of $32,000.

    NEXT . . . Buy, Fix-up & Sell: Part 4 of 5

    At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub, DRE # 00697006, is a Broker-Associate at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, California.