What matters the most to you – the Fixture’s or the Foundation?

By Sean | Published: June 2010

As a contractor, it constantly amazes me how people seemingly could care less about items that truly matter or will even pay them dividends down the road.  Unfortunately, some people never listen and / or seemingly forget that conversation later on when they get there first electric bill, or the traffic noises seem just a little bit louder than at their neighbors house.

So what should one look for, and what truly matters when buying or renovating a house? In this case, I am actually going to turn it over to a designer.   Before you think I have lost my mind, I encourage you to read about what truly matters from one of Northern California’s premier interior and kitchen designers – Kelly Morisseau.

Bad bones with cheap houses.

By Kelly Morisseau – What I learned on HGTVs House Hunters

Do you watch Househunters?  For those of you who don’t, here’s the premise: a potential buyer or buyers views 3 homes and selects one of them.

Here’s what I learned: I’d be a lousy potential “guest”, but it’d be fun, at least in my head, which led to the cartoon this morning.

I’m interested in seeing homes from all over the continent, but the reasons why someone accepts or rejects a home truly fascinates me. Sure, there are some good reasons – the rooms are too small, or the location isn’t convenient – but the main reasons for selecting or rejecting a home seem to be:

a) Outdated or wild light fixtures

b) Counter/cabinet/space (I saw one kitchen where the dishwasher was wedged against an angled corner sink and I could see the gouges in the cabinet door. Nobody noticed. Even when I was ever-so-helpfully pointing it out like they could hear me.)

c) Outdated appliances/closet doors/etc.

d) Paint colors

Dear people in the show: These things can be fixed. They should never be part of the reason for buying your home.

Choose a home with good “bones”, not good “clothes“

Ironic that a designer would say that, isn’t it?  But it was drilled into me at an early age to always select a well-built home, a home with good “bones” — a strong foundation, good framing, sound structure and ignore the clothes — the carpets, fixtures, cabinets, painting, and plumbing fixtures.

“Sure”, you say, “but I have good taste. I need it to look good too.” Me too, and I didn’t say it’d be cheap, especially fixing a poorly designed kitchen. What I’m saying is you’ve never seen money drain so fast as you will in a poorly built home, where the guts and structure have been compromised. (I refer you to the movie, The Money Pit, which is clearly mislabeled as comedy. It’s horror and clearly NSFW – not safe for work. That would be MY work; I can’t watch it. You think I’m kidding. *winces*)

Damaged bones are rarely fixed with a quick repair; they require exploratory surgery, and a fairly intrusive fix. Plus, there’s not as much joy to it. As my designer mother is fond of saying, “No one ever says, ‘Oh, what a stunning glu-lam you have!’ “

So when the buyer walks through the home, saying, “Oh, I really don’t like those chandeliers; they’re a dealbreaker”, it surprises me.

How to spot the trouble signs

Of course it’s my day job, and I’m not a contractor, but the following checklist is ingrained into my system when I visit a client’s home. Here’s what I look for:

Cracks – above doorways, on walls, beams and ceilings. Slab floor cracks. Wood flooring bending or splitting. I’m not talking minor sheetrock cracks which are a part of earthquake country; I’m talking some fairly substantial cracks.

Doors or windows that won’t open (not simply a moisture issue, but doors with racked frames because the load-bearing beam in the ceiling cracked and the roof is in danger of coming down. True story.)

Dippy floors – I really wanted to write that, although I’m referring to the unevenness of the floors. I once lived in a home from 1906 – I feel slopes and dips by walking into a room. Laser levels are also your friend. Also I look for dips or sags above doorways, or on roofs.

Squeaks in the floor. (Okay not such a major issue and easy to fix, but if every area of the floor is squeaking…Eek.)

Water damage – Discoloration at doors or windows, under the sink(s). Sponginess around the toilet, or on shower or wet walls. (When you push against tile and it moves, this is not a good sign. Double points if it’s crumbling off the walls.) Exteriors where poor sprinkler location or leaks have flooded the crawl space.

In one of the homes, the clients warned us the entire subdivision had been poorly built. Their house was on piers — well, part of it was on piers – some of the posts hung in mid-air in the crawlspace. Fun. When we went outside to look at the kitchen area, we noticed a huge swayback in the roof which turned out to be poor framing in the attic. It was work that needed to be done and it unfortunately wa$n’t cheap.

Something to at least consider if you’re planning to purchase a new home.

I would like to first thank Kelly for allowing us to repost her article & I would encourage anyone interested in interior or kitchen design to check out her blog: Kitchen Sync

So what matters the most to you – the Fixture’s or the Foundation? Both? Was something left out? Feel free to leave a comment below or shoot us an email. Need help figuring out what needs to be done, and what can truly be accomplished without cutting corners? Give us a call – let us talk about your house or project. We can then set up an on-site consultation for a small nominal fee that might save you thousands.


  1. Kelly and Sean,

    Great post! I see similar approaches in my travels and I’m always dismayed at the short-term thinking of many. Cosmetics are great but strong foundations endure. It’s a priority thing.

    Thanks for posting.


  2. Good Article!

    I love nothing more than going into a client’s home and making it look fantastic.

    I love nothing less than having to tell them I need to replace structural framing, call in an engineer, repair unforeseen water damage etc. It’s not that I mind doing the extra work, it’s just not something the customer is going to ooh and ahhh over at the end, other than the fact their house will no longer fall down.


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