Before: Waist-Deep in Garbage

The bedrooms down the hall were a mass of congealed clothing, drained water jugs, and more piled-up furniture. So up I went again, to the third floor. There, in a front room, I got my first peek at the floorboards. They were honey-hued heart pine, and they hinted at the rich potential in what was otherwise a 3,800-square-foot nightmare of tightly glued-together filth. Had the health department gotten wind of what I was seeing, the house would have been condemned. And I couldn't let that happen. When I found out it was going into a sheriff's sale because of back property taxes, I tracked down the owner and negotiated a way to buy the house from her, saving it by the skin of my teeth. That was May of 2008.

Shown: It took seven strong men armed with pitchforks to clear five dumpsters' worth of garbage out of the house.
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