BUILDING: Finish-Your-Own Houses

For harried house hunters in 21 states across the southern tier of the U.S., the real estate ads seemed too good to be true: "Jim Walter Homes. Priced from $1,395. Nothing Down, 100% Financing!" But true they were. The houses were shell homes—frame dwellings completely finished on the outside, but with plumbing, heating, wiring and interior decorating left as unfinished business for the enterprising buyer. So enticing have they proved that, despite a general housing slump this year, the Jim Walter Corp., the biggest U.S. builder specializing in finish-your-own houses, last week reported earnings up 21.4% to $3,424,465 for the...

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