All posts by JanneZack

I grew up in Memphis TN, got a bit tired of humidity, so moved to New Mexico for College and then to Utah with a job change. I began working with an Architect there, and decided to change careers. I moved back to Memphis to apprentice in the Residential Home Design field. Now, almost 18 years later, I design custom homes which are built all over the United States. I LOVE what I do.


by Ralph Jones

The first subdivision I worked in had small, lower cost homes in the south-east part of Memphis.  These houses were only 900 to 1200 square feet in size, 3 bedrooms, one bath a living room and eat-in kitchen.  A sink with a two foot cabinet on each side of the sink and a washing machine hook up was the extent of the kitchen.  There was a space allotted for the range and refrigerator as well, but neither of these was furnished.  All were built with a concrete floor, no garages and only the larger units had a single carport.  All the driveways were gravel unless extra money was paid, and most folks did not have enough to purchase the house hardly, much less, a concrete drive.

We had regular sub-contractors that did all of the building, be it concrete work, framing, electrical, plumbing, heating or whatever.  There was a foreman and one hourly labor, “step and fetch-it” guy on the job other than the sub-contractors.  This hourly laborer cleaned windows, hauled debris, and was there just in case an extra set of hands were needed.  Except where I was concerned and they were trying to teach me how to be a foreman so they put me with one of their best, Robert Herring.  I took almost every step that Robert took and sometimes more.  I learned all that I could from him and soon enough they turned the subdivision over to me to complete and moved Robert on to a new area.  We started early in the day, about sun up, and quit late in the day at dark or past.  It is almost like Mr. Kimmon Wilson, founder of Holiday Inn use to say, “You only have to work half days for me, the first 12 hours or the last 12 hours.”

The company I worked for had about 8 or more subdivisions going at any one time and these sub-contractors would move around to the other jobs as needed.  There were three brothers that did concrete work for several of the subdivisions, named Bohannon.  These guys worked for me out in the Parkway Village are and one day the payroll clerk, Pat Roper, called me in and asked me about their payroll.  They had worked for three different foremen that week and had spelled their names different on each work sheet they had turned in.  I told her they were indeed all the same people and to just pick the name that looked right and pay the guys, they too were good men and hard workers.

One of the contractors we had was a very nice person that did our electrical work.  He had a crew and they did a good job.  However the boss of that crew, let’s just call him “Frank,” had broken his neck in the past somewhere, and although it had healed; his head always leaned to one side.  We all got use to this head leaning and thought nothing of it, like I said; he was a real nice fellow and a hard worker.

Sometimes when things were very busy he would jump in and help his men wire the house.  I could tell when he had been helping with the “finish-out” of the house.  All the receptacles and switch plates were crooked.  They all leaned in one direction.  I’d walk into a finished house and there it would be staring me in the face, all the electrical plates leaning.  I’d call him over to the house and say, “Now Frank, you’ve got to straighten all these receptacles and switches up before it will pass final inspection.”  His reply to me was always, “Well, they look alright to me!”  We’d both laugh and he would have them repaired and corrected before the inspector came.

I would have him wire anything we had and never would there be a problem except if he did the “finish-out” all the visible plates would be crooked; but they “looked alright to him.”



Introducing Ralph’s Writings

Ralph Jones, now retired, began his lifelong career in construction, and later home design way back when he was just a kid.  He began working on construction sites back in High School in Pontotoc Ms.  His parents had always taught him to be a hard worker and give a man an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.

Through the years, he has collected some rather good stories of people he worked with, or worked for.  He has learned some lessons along the way too.  These are too valuable to let fade into obscurity, so I have decided to have him write some of his favorite stories down and I will forward them on to you, his friends, family and former co-workers.  I hope you enjoy his stories.

If you are interested in reading his stories, be sure to bookmark this page.  You will see off to one side or another the topics covered in this Blog.  If you click on “Ralph’s Writings” you will see all the stories I publish for Ralph.  Feel free to click on any of the other topics as I think they are also worth the read.

I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Janne (aka Ralph’s daughter)

Don’t be a Closet Painter

My dad, Ralph Jones, has been in the Construction and Residential Design business since… well, way before I was a twinkle in his eye.  He has some stories to tell, so I thought I’d share some of there here on my blog.  We are thinking about writing a book about the process of designing and building houses, but some of these stories will probably work their way into the book to lighten up the process if not educate everyone in better building practices.  Hope this gives you something to smile about as well as watch out for in your own building endeavors!

“Back in 1952, when I was about 15, I started working for G&K Construction Company in my hometown of Pontotoc, MS.  The ancient two story elementary school building with a full basement had burnt to the ground during the winter.  I was fortunate enough to secure a job with the company doing the construction of the new building when they began the next spring.  That first summer was a tough one, digging footings and grade beams; and since there were no redi-mix concrete company’s within 100 miles, we mixed our own concrete on the job.  That sun baked red clay was almost like digging in concrete itself, but we made it through somehow.

The boss Mr. Charles Gaskin saw that I was not going to quit, however bad the job was, so he kept me on.  When school was about to start again in the fall, he told the foreman to use me in some capacity whenever I showed up for work through the winter.  Working Saturdays and holidays through the winter it rewarded me with a little spending money and also kept my job in-tact.

As we got the frame of the building up, a roof installed, and began the interior finish, some wood work was to be added; and a painter was hired.  He was an old gentleman; tall, skinny, a good natured guy, but very quiet.  As far as everyone knew, he did his job with no complaints from anyone.  His job got done, but no one saw much of him during the day; just when he came to work and as he left.

Being a school job, an architect of the project visited on a regular basis to check and see what was happening and if all was up to his required standards.  One of these requirements was the wood trim had to be coated with a coat of primer paint on both front and back before it was installed.  This old painter would lay the strips of wood trim on saw-horses and prime them in each room.  Since I was sort of an “extra” on the work detail my job might be working here one day and there the next, moving around sweeping, cleaning, whatever.  As winter progressed, I noticed that a stray Gordon’s Gin bottle would show up occasionally; empty of course.  The further into winter we went, the more bottles showed up.  I would discard them as I went about my job of keeping the job at least ‘broom clean.’  I had no idea of who was drinking the gin but I had an idea.

One day while working in a particular class room there were several empty bottles, some saw-horses with freshly painted trim lying across them, and a tall metal scaffolding setup there in the room by some other tradesman.  This room had a medium sized storage closet opening into the room, but the metal scaffolding was pushed nearly up against the only door to that closet.  Again I thought nothing of this scene but a noise or something told me to move the scaffold and see what was going on inside the closet.

Screeching back the scaffold on the concrete floor, and opening the door; there was a scene that would never be forgotten, even though more than 60 years have passed, the old painter was sitting, ‘spraddle’ legged on the floor, head down on his chest, drunker than ‘Cooter Brown; either passed out or asleep; reeking to high heaven of paint primer and Gordon’s Gin.

Gordon's-Gin - 1952

I probably should have turned him in to the boss or foreman, but I had not been exposed to such a scenario before, so I just eased the door back closed and pushed the scaffold back near the door just as I had found it.

That was the last time I ever saw the old painter.”

Running the Business of YOURSELF Better…

There is a wealth of free information available to us via the web.  I know many of us “old folks” are not in love with the web, computers or new technology, but it is really incredible how much you can learn for FREE if you know where to go for the information you need.

In my day job as a home designer, I was recently looking for information on Solar Panels.  Search for that on and you get hundreds of videos, everything from where to buy them, what brands to buy, to how to install them, how to link batteries – both serial and parallel (whatever that means) and how many do you need for the Watt hours you’ll be using… WAY more information that I could actually digest, but extremely helpful!

Last weekend I tried to pick up a pair of knitting needles that had been sitting in a basket for over 2 years.  I couldn’t remember the first thing about knitting.   I opened a knitting book, but it was full of these weird abbreviations causing me to get lost immediately.  “YO” and “Slip 1” and “PSSO” and “K2tog”. I was lost until I remembered YouTube.  So I searched for “Knitting YO” and there were dozens of instructional videos about that one stitch.  So each time I came across an abbreviation that I didn’t know, I searched for that thing specifically.  Before I knew it, I was knitting again.

It doesn’t matter what you are interested in doing, whether Real Estate Investing, starting a Food Truck, cooking in a Pressure Cooker or Knitting there are YouTube videos and Pod Casts for every walk of life, even Real Estate Investing.  To prove my point, go to and type in “Real Estate Investing” and you’ll see a list like this:

Be Specific on what you are searching for!
Be Specific on what you are searching for!

Click on any one of these topics and you’ll get a bunch of videos to watch.

If you are not an experienced investor, M.I.G. is definitely the best place to be for monthly meetings and break-out meetings as far as education and networking are concerned.  Many M.I.G. members are very experienced in their particular course of investments (Wholesaling, Buy & Hold, Hard Money Lending, etc.) and are happy to help educate the rest of us, but one thing we could all use some help on every once in a while is running the business of ourselves better.  When it comes to our own Real Estate Investment companies, many of us work for ourselves and though we may extensive formal education, most of us need refresher courses in running our daily business of ME.  How do we recharge ourselves to get re-invigorated about the business we own (or aspire to own)?  How do we plan out our day to keep the main thing the main thing and to avoid having the tail wag the dog?

How do we prioritize our daily activities so that we:

1.) Get the things done that need to be done; and

2.) Improve ourselves a little bit each day; or

3.) Become a better business person and overall better individual?

There are countless self-help books that can be checked out at the local library that we can read for free, or purchased in a store or online, but which book would you begin with? There are thousands to choose from!  You can get recommendations from other M.I.G. members or from your friends.  A few favorites would include Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki, Seven Secrets of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, or Failing Forward by John Maxwell.  There are literally hundreds of books out there that will come highly recommended, but if you are like me, the first thing you’ll get is overwhelmed by so many choices.   My quick answer to this “where to begin” question would be podcasts and/or YouTube videos. They are generally short and free.  You can listen while you are otherwise bored:  while driving or waiting in a line at the DMV or the doctor’s office.  You can “subscribe” to these which makes listening/viewing very easy.  My suggestion on the perfect place to begin this year:  Listen to the Bigger Pockets podcast # 157 (created on January 14, 2016) and work your way back to # 1.

I am a member of Bigger Pockets (, a national club, a lot like the Memphis Investors Group where you can go online to visit discussion forums, get forms for your investing business, network, ask and answer questions, etc.  They even have calculators where you fill in the blanks to see if a deal is worth the investment (membership has its privileges). Kevin Perk, former M.I.G. president ( has a regular posts on Bigger Pockets.

Last Thursday I got the weekly email about their new podcast and as I was reading through the main page (on my phone at a traffic light – it was red!) I accidentally hit “play” on the podcast and because I was driving, decided to let it play rather than listening to my music (for a change of pace) because I have a daily one-way commute of 30 minutes and podcasts really make the time fly.  WOW!  Was it AMAZING!  It was not about Real Estate Investments per-se, but about beginning your day better regardless of your line of work.  The guest was Hal Elron, who wrote the book The Miracle Morning which has sold THOUSANDS of copies to date.  The podcast was certainly worth the time spent listening and that has prompted me to actually purchase the book as I believe it will be well worth the read.

I highly recommend the podcast and/or YouTube video (of the same thing).  You can listen to the podcast here: (even while you drive) or you can watch the interview on YouTube here from your home computer or mobile devise:

I find it cool that a well respected person like Robert Kiyasoki has not only enjoyed this book personally and put its principals into practice, but has highly recommend it to regular folks like you and me.


Quote from Amazon: “As my rich dad often said, “I can always make another dollar, but I cannot make another day.” If you want to maximize every day of your life, read Miracle Morning.”  – Robert Kiyosaki


I hope some of you out there will read this book with me, but will also recommend other books that are especially meaningful to you as I’m always up for a good read… but often get overwhelmed at all the choices!


Janne Zaccagnino

Ralph Jones Home Plans, LLC


The Rent House dilemma

Well, I haven’t posted a lot lately, but thought I’d add a little bit today.

I have a dilemma.  I finished construction of a beautiful Rent house in Cordova, TN back in July.  I have posted signs around it (including a HUGELY BUSY main road, I have listed it for sale in the Newspaper as well as online, (at least 30 websites have my house listed) as well as the Military Off-Base Housing site to try to attract military guys/families.

It is priced well, or so say my investor friends, but it has yet to rent.  I know it is probably “user error”, (i.e. I’m doing something wrong) but I can’t figure out what that is.

I started off advertising it at $1365, which is what Zillow had suggested.  But after no hits, I took it to $1295, then $1199, THEN $1095… I got LOTS of hits when I took it to $1095, but all of them had CRAZY credit issues from multiple Bankruptcies to Evictions and even one Meth Felony Conviction!!!  I can’t put someone in my house who could possibly start cooking Meth again!  WOW!

Once I got the house down to $1095, one of my really experienced Landlords told me that I had the rent WAY TOO LOW!  So, I contacted a Real Estate Manager to try to list it on her end for a great fee.  I sent in all my paperwork, but it’s been 3 weeks and she still doesn’t have a sign in the yard.

Just a bit frustrated at this point and don’t know what else to do to get it rented.  I would LOVE some feedback.


Rent House – The Chumley – is almost finished!


Yes, I’ve decided to name my rent houses.  I bought 4 lots right in a row, and since my son made this venture possible, I decided to name these first 4 houses after the initials U.S.M. C.  (left to right).  This first house, just happens to be on the far right, it earned the initial “C”.

So in choosing a name, I decided to use one of Garrett’s first nicknames given to him by his superior Marines.  They called him Chumley, after the old-timey cartoon character.  When he first became a marine, he was a bit chubby, and I’m sure that’s where the name probably originated.  Now, I’m old enough to remember the cartoon and remember Chumley being a rather dumb character.  Garrett was no where near dumb, but his superiors called him this to do what they do… probably considered hazing now, but much to their surprise, he embraced the nickname and was excited to finally have a nickname other than what his parents called him… Bear, or Garr-Bear.  So, Chumley he became.  This rental unit will be called “The Chumley”.  It is almost finished, here are a few more recent pictures of the unit. We have 1-2 weeks for completion.  So if any of you know of someone who would like to rent a BRAND NEW HOUSE, this is a very rare opportunity, please have them contact me by making a comment to this post.

The Chumley.  Still not fully painted, but it looks MUCH BETTER now with a garage door.  Shutters are coming as well as a few shrubs.  The nice level lot made a huge difference.
The Chumley. Still not fully painted, but it looks MUCH BETTER now with a garage door. Shutters are coming as well as a few shrubs. The nice level lot made a huge difference.
The Single Garage Door (with auto opener) has been installed.
The Single Garage Door (with auto opener) has been installed.
The water heater is located in the garage (rather than in the attic) so that if it fails/leaks, nothing in the house will be damaged!
The water heater is located in the garage (rather than in the attic) so that if it fails/leaks, nothing in the house will be damaged!
Master Bathroom with dual vanities and dual mirrors/lights.
Master Bathroom with dual vanities and dual mirrors/lights.
The Patio.  I know it isn't large, but it's about as large as we could possibly make it.  There is a big drop-off on the right. Still big enough for a grill and a couple of chairs.
The Patio. I know it isn’t large, but it’s about as large as we could possibly make it. There is a big drop-off on the right. Still big enough for a grill and a couple of chairs.


At Home Memphis – Magazine Writeup


At Home Memphis & Mid South Cover June 2015
At Home Memphis & Mid South Cover June 2015

I have some good news for those of you who follow our Home Plan Design business;  I was recently interviewed by Robin Terry of the West Tennessee Home Builders’ Association.  She was interested in new trends within the design industry.  She interviewed both me and a friend, and fellow designer, Gary Gardo.  The article is included below.

The photos are from my own collection, which they graciously printed.  And I want to give a “shout out” to David, Jon & Geoff Benson of Benson Builders, who did the work in both of these shots.  They are fabulous builders and without great builders it doesn’t matter how good a design is if it isn’t carried out to plan.

I hope you enjoy viewing this article.  I’m so excited to be published… in real print, not just the internet.

Enjoy, Janne

The Best in New Construction, by Robin Terry of the West TN Area Home Builders Assoc.
The Best in New Construction, by Robin Terry of the West TN Area Home Builders Assoc.
page 2
page 2

We’re Getting CLOSE to completion!

Wow, it seems every day new things happen and I just can’t wait until it’s all done!  Here’s what has happened lately:

Measurements for closet rods/shelves

Measurements for Garage door installation

Cabinets are in, Counters are a-comin’!

Bathroom vanities have been installed (see pics)


2015-05-12 18.43.03 2015-05-12 18.42.20 2015-05-12 18.41.52

Shower door and mirrors are ordered.

Waiting on one tiny sheetrock repair and then off to the paint wars!

Then install mirrors & Shower doors & Garage door

Then flooring….

Lighting, final electrical and final plumbing…

Inspection… Move in!  Hahaha!  I’m sure I’m forgetting something incredibly important, but so far, this is all I can think of… been running around like a crazy person dotting all my “T’s” and crossing all my “I’s”!

I’ve done a craigslist ad for the rental on this unit… hopefully we’ll be done within the month! So excited.


I can’t believe the progress as we near the end of construction.

We have Brick.




We have a cute little porch over the back door:

back porch
back porch

We have CABINETS!!!!!

Master Bathroom (double bowl vanity)
Master Bathroom (double bowl vanity)


Bath 2 Vanity (54" wide)
Bath 2 Vanity (54″ wide)
Incomplete Kitchen Cabinets
Incomplete Kitchen Cabinets

These are the kitchen cabinets here.  He is working on my corner cabinet.  This one faces him (the Dining Area). The dead corner is no longer dead!  I know this cost me a little money, but I wanted to take advantage of every square foot in this house. This may only house tupperware or children’s toys, but it is a much needed cabinet.

The cabinets now have crown molding around the top which makes them look like a custom home rather than a rent house. Stove goes against the wall and the sink/dishwasher will be in this island. The dining room looks HUGE with the cabinets now in! I Think this house will be NICE when finished!  I know there aren’t that many kitchen cabinets, but there will be a lot of counter space and the bonus, a HUGE pantry.

Below we have a pic of the Vaulted Master Bedroom.  Of course it doesn’t look like much YET, but it will be amazing.  10′ ceilings in a rent house.  Nice!

Vaulted Master Bedroom
Vaulted Master Bedroom

Walk in Closet(s):

Closet for Br. 2
Closet for Br. 2

This is the closet for the larger of the kids’ bedrooms.  It is a walk-in.  I utalized the space over the staircase (being sure to leave ample head-height below).  My framers made these two landings in the closet so that the space above could be used.  We will have double rods on the right wall until you get to that highest shelf, but the top rod will continue in an ‘L’ shape around the back wall (straight ahead).  The tops of these two shelves will be carpeted as well as the step.  There is a window on the left wall just out of the picture.  I can only imagine what a little kid will do with this closet as a secret hide-out.  I had a closet like this as a child and LOVED sitting on the shelf reading books.

The view:

Master Bedroom view
Master Bedroom view

The view out the master bedroom window is stunning.  There are undeveloped lands beyond my property.  I’m not sure how long it will stay this way, but for now, it is extreamly peaceful.  I saw deer walking across the property a few months ago and then as spring budded, there was a lone dogwood blooming near this dead tree stump.  Some of the trees will go away, we have some scrub-type trees too close to the house which we will remove, but this will give a nicer yard to my future tenants and will keep them from falling on the house during a storm.  Best of both worlds, loads of trees, just not on my property!

Tiny Home Subdivion Discussion

I ran across an older post on the Tiny House Newsletter about codes regarding building tiny houses on a foundation.  The question was simple, “can’t tiny houses be built on foundations? if so how would codes affect their construction, etc”.  The discussion that followed was fabulous!

I LOVE the Tiny House (TH) movement.  I LOVE most of the tiny homes (mostly on wheels/trailers) that are in the Tiny House newsletter, (you can sign up for your copy of the online newsletter by visiting the link above).

SO I’d like to start an interaction with all my Tiny House loving friends about the “WHAT-IFs” of a Tiny House Community, specifically located in a large city.  (Not necessarily out in the country off grid, etc.)

My thought is this.  If I’m going to live in a TH some day,  I know I’d have difficulty letting go of my car, but I’d LIKE to be able to live daily without using the car.  BUT to survive psychologically, I’d need shops, grocery stores, coffee, cafe’s, etc.  Let’s face it, if you live tiny alone or with one other person, you’d need a place to get away TO, not that you are angry, but just too much of a good thing can turn into a bad thing and cabin fever is REAL.  So, to walk down the street to a coffee shop to visit with “people who know your name” is valuable.  In my city, that would be Mid-Town.  Live music, food trucks are often here and there, but lots of local joints.

So with that in mind, I want to know the answer to the following question(s):

IF a “subdivision” (for lack of a better term) could be developed in the center of  a large city, close to restaurants and shopping, but to keep it operating as a high quality subdivision (not trailer park trash), to keep home values NORMAL – relative to what it cost to build it plus a normal “builder profit”, but if it were operated somewhat like a Co-Op or Condo, meaning that the GROUND is owned by the WHOLE and each unit is owned by the individual.  An HOA fee is paid which would include the rental on the property, grass-cutting, parking maint. property taxes, and other maintenance issues which may occur, but otherwise, keep these as low a possible.  The goal being, let’s all get along like other “regular subdivision” dwellers do, but smaller with lots of outdoor living aminities, things like built-in charcoal grills, picnic tables, a Gazeebo or a Community Clubhouse for larger groups and parties.   What type of Subdivision RULES would you think are practical?  If you were developing the Subdivision Covenants, what would be your “MUST HAVE” rules.  What things that your NEIGHBORS might do would drive you batty?

In Normal subdivisions, the goal is to have your home increase in value build your equity, but if property taxes are going to disrupt the idea of living tiny, maybe there should be a limit as to their value, such as you build it for $25k yourself.  Add a 30% builder profit to achieve a fair market value.  While some rich person may be willing to pay $100k to buy you out, the value would still be assessed at the $32.5k ($25k+30%).  The TAX sould be assessed on this not the $100, but personally one of MY rules would be to not sell at $100k. Because this would mean that the TH in the area certainly ALL increased from the $32.5k to $100k, thus all our taxes will be out of sight.

I’m also not naieve enough to know that those who are original owners in the TH subdivision will live there for ever.  Life happens.  Plans change. People have kids. Stairs no longer work for you. Jobs move.  You’d need to be able to sell your unit, but in my opion, to let someone new in to your place, would need to be  community interview event.  They would need to sign a comunity agreement… Thus this post.

On the website above, someone mentioned the “Pleasantville” idea.  A place where everyone is nice, we all get along, it’s all beautiful, etc.  I know this doesn’t exist in most places, it is a dream, but not everyone is nice all the time.  BUT with a bit of self control we can all get along.  This would be the ultimate goal.  I could see large cities allowing a small community such as this as a trial run and if it works, allowing more and more.  It just takes ONE to get started.  If it doesn’t work, if the cops are called for domestic disturbances among the residents often enough, they won’t let it happen in the future. But I doubt this would happen, especially if these are not rental units at $300 a month (such as is often found in innercities – crap (crack) houses.

Would you want to park your car right beside your unit? Or would you be acceptable to a parking lot so that your unit could be all green grass/trees/flowers with parking blocked out of sight by a fence or shrubs.

Would you want a “committee” to interview each new resident, such as in a Co-Op situation to make sure there are no giant dogs to bark all night?  Should the units be SOLD, or rented? What to do IF a resident turns out to be “trailer trash” or an annoyance to everyone else in the complex.  What about that overly Nosie Rosie, who rats on everyone?

I REALLY want your feedback!

If you have developed a TH subdivision/community and IF you already have covenants in place, would you mind sharing?  I’d love to post them here, or at least pieces of them here depending on if they apply to my area.

So, with all that said, on your mark, get set, GO!!!!!