Q: We have a cement patio that is severely cracked, but my husband doesn’t want to jackhammer it out because it butts up to the foundation. Is there any way to put a wood or other type of decking over without removing what is already there? –Darlene H.

A: You can install a wood deck over the old concrete, but the trick is in how to do it without resting the new deck on the old concrete, which sounds like it’s not structurally solid. So how that’s done is really dependent on what’s existing.

The easiest way to do it would be to attach a ledger board to the house, above the level of the old concrete. Then outside the perimeter of the concrete, install new pier blocks, posts, and beams. Between the beams and the ledger, you would install pressure-treated joists that would span the distance, and would be above the old concrete. Then you install new decking boards on top of the new joists, leaving the old concrete concealed under the new decking.

This really depends on the size of the old concrete patio and how much you have to span. If it’s a large area, you might also be able to do something similar by breaking or drilling some holes in the patio at the midpoint of the span and installing a second beam, to break up the length that the joists have to span.

Also, don’t give up on the idea of removing the old concrete. The most common installation for patios is to pour them after the foundation, so it’s doubtful that the patio concrete is tied into the foundation in any way; you should be able to break out the old patio without risking damage to the foundation. Another option is to contact a concrete-cutting company and have them come out and remove the old patio for you. That way someone else does the hard labor, and also assumes any liability for your foundation.

Q: What can you suggest to a person like me living in an area where even starter homes are hundreds of thousands of dollars? –Mark F.

A: I really applaud the fact that you want to make a start in the real estate market. Depending on your personal financial situation and how much time and energy you have, I can give you a couple of options. They all take work and some dedication on your part, but you sound like the kind of guy who’s up for the challenge, so it’s definitely doable!

1. Fixer-uppers: This is my own personal favorite, and it’s where I started. You don’t have to be a contractor or a highly skilled handyman to undertake it; you just need to be patient, willing to learn and willing to live in a less-than-ideal home for awhile. With a little looking, you can find habitable homes that need work ranging from cosmetics to major structural repairs. The more work it needs, the cheaper the price.

I’ve seen people live in the garage or the basement while they fix up the rest of the house, or, if zoning allows it, live in a travel trailer or small mobile home on the property while you do the work. I’ll be honest in saying that it takes a lot of time and hard work, but the profit potential is enormous, and in just a few years you can climb the property ladder to a pretty nice piece of property.

2. Foreclosures and short sales: With the down market, you may be able to find a house where the owner or the lender is desperate to get out from under it. Some of these may be in good shape while others may not, and you’re buying "as is." Talk with a local real estate agent that specializes in foreclosures and short sales and go from there.

3. Unfinished houses: You may be in an area where builders are stuck with excess inventory, and in some cases with homes that are not quite finished. Tour subdivisions, talk to contractors and sales agents, and see if you can get a lead on a home that a builder wants to get rid of, that you can then step in and finish.

4. Second job: There’s another way that you can turn your time into a home without actually working on the home, and that’s by getting a second job. This includes part-time work, a home business in your spare time, or anything that will generate money above and beyond your normal living expenses. Set that money aside, cut out all the other unnecessary expenses, from gourmet coffee to the latest cell phone, and set that money aside as well. With some dedication and a clear goal, in a surprisingly short time you can save the money you need for a sizable down payment, which will reduce your monthly payment and let you get into a house that doesn’t need to be worked on.

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