Local News

Habitat focuses on rehabbing donated properties

SEBRING - Highlands County Habitat for Humanity has accepted donations of homes and lots for many years. This year, they are doing something new – taking foreclosed homes. So far they have accepted two foreclosed properties – a duplex in Sebring and a single family home in Sun ‘n Lake. Early this year, Habitat applied for and was selected to participate in two property donation programs – the Chase Community Revitalization Program and the Bank of America Donation Program, said Executive Director John Hawthorne.
Under these programs the two lenders notify Habitat when certain foreclosed properties are available and give the group the chance to get “first grabs.” “These homes are evaluated, rehabilitated by Habitat staff and volunteers, and then sold to a partner family on the waiting list,” said Sarah Pallone, director of development, in a news release. Hawthorne and his staff are trying to reach out to local lenders and Realtors to “see if they have anything that we can get,” said Hawthorne. The need for affordable house is “tremendous,” said Hawthorne, but to make the program financially viable, the property has to be either donated or be within price range affordable to the group, Hawthorne said. “If we are paying more than $40,000 to $45,000, it doesn’t make sense to us,” he added. Not only is the group limited by budget constraints, even with a donated home if it needs work, it gets harder for them to find qualified applicants the more the home costs. “We don’t want an oversupply,” said Local Realtor and Vice Chairman of the Habitat Executive Board Chip Boring. “We have to pay the taxes and the insurance.” Boring calls the program a “win-win” situation for both Habitat and lenders who may be stuck with foreclosed properties whose insurance, taxes and maintenance they are responsible for paying. Habitat can rehabilitate a foreclosed home for “far less” than build a new one, Boring explained. And lenders, who may be incurring ongoing expenses for certain properties, may be better off donating them. “There are certain tax benefits for the lender to do that,” he added. The impetus behind the new push is a strategic shift in Habitat’s game plan. When they found out last year that appraisals of new homes were coming in low, their focus changed to rehabilitating existing homes and making them available to families on their waiting list. “The board decided that we would not build new homes, not unless we have full sponsorship,” Hawthorne said, or families who could qualify for second-party mortgages such as through the United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development programs. Recently, they’ve had three homes and two mobile homes donated to them. “Work will begin on these properties as soon as funding is secured,” Pallone said. One of these is a home in Avon Park that was hit by a fire but is otherwise structurally sound. Another is a single-family canal home, which was donated by a couple who moved back north. The fully-furnished house has everything -- from a vacuum cleaner to a pontoon boat, which was anchored by a boat dock on a canal leading to Little Lake Jackson. “It made more sense for them to donate it to us than to try and sell it,” Pallone said. Habitat doesn’t know yet what it’s going to do with the home. It’s possible they may sell it and use the money to rehab foreclosed properties, Boring said. “It’s a very generous donation,” Pallone said. “Sometimes you get that unexpected call.”


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