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Fixer-upper benefits

| Sunday, May 30, 2010

If only more Americans had bought fixer-uppers, the country would be better off.

My first house was a real fixer-upper. And, boy, did my father and I suffer mightily when we renovated the bathroom.

The project started well enough. We tore down the old wall tile, then put up wallpaper and a tub surround. We repainted and put down a new floor. All we had to do to was reinstall the commode.

That's when the torture began.

The bolts that secure the toilet to the floor had both broken. I had to buy new bolts and a kit that allowed them to be reattached.

My father spent an hour getting the bolts reattached. When he got the job done, the bolts were beautiful.

But as we attempted to fish the bolts through the commode's bolt holes, we discovered they were too short.

"Son of a ... !" said my father.

"The idiots gave us the wrong bolts!" I said.

I raced to the hardware store and bought longer bolts. My father spent another hour redoing the work he had done and attaching the new bolts.

Our second attempt to secure the commode to the floor went better -- until a second problem occurred. The wax goop that seals the commode to the sewage pipe wasn't thick enough to seal anything.

"Son of a ... !!" said my father.

"The idiots gave us the wrong goop!" I said, as I then raced back to the hardware store.

Our third attempt to secure the toilet succeeded. The bolts were long enough and the goop sealed. But we still had to reattach the water fittings.

To reattach the water fittings, you had to wedge your body between the tub and the commode. Then you had to screw the water-line bolt, made of metal, into a plastic pipe coming from the commode. But they wouldn't screw together.

So you had to keep trying to screw them together until you'd bang your head on the commode, which had to make you angry, so you'd attempt to stand quickly, which would kick the newly laid tile out of place, and then you'd bang your shin on the toilet, which would cause you to throw whatever you'd be holding through the bathroom window.

Eventually, we got the metal water-line bolt to screw into the plastic pipe -- but we stripped the threads. When we turned the water back on, a leak sprouted that made Niagara Falls look like a lap pool.

"Son of a ... !!" shouted my father.

"The idiots!" I said.

I raced back to the hardware store and bought every plumbing fitting ever designed by man. I bought glue, sealant, putty, rubber washers and pumps. I bought anything I thought I might need.

Eventually, my father and I got the commode installed. We got the sink installed. And we cured every leak. The job took several hours more than we had planned.

I have had dozens of similar experiences over the years. If more Americans were willing to have such experiences, we'd all be better off.

You see, in the sensible old days, before Americans bought massive houses they couldn't afford and paid more than those massive houses were worth, Americans were cautious and frugal.

The smartest ones bought houses for less than market value. They weren't afraid to get their hands dirty to produce wealth through sweat equity.

In the process of working hard, they came to understand how difficult it is to create and grow wealth.

Many Americans -- a quarter of homeowners owe more on their homes than the homes are worth -- have learned that lesson the hard way.

Too bad they didn't buy a fixer-upper.

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