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Lease-Purchases Turn Florida Renters Into Homeowners

New homeowners favor alternative financing opportunity

Nov. 18, 2015

By NICKY GORNY Ocala Star-Banner - Tribune News Service


When Carol Gardner caught wind that her Ocala, Florida, apartment complex was going to triple the rent for new residents, she decided it was time to look into buying.

She did not want the hike to seep into her $850 rent, she said. And, with a little looking, she found she could be a homeowner for just a little more than she was already paying in rent.

Add to that a location near both her aging mother and the amenities of downtown Belleview, she said, and it seemed like Coral Gables was a perfect fit.

Gardner moved into one of the 10 townhouses at the Coral Gables complex about a year ago, she said, shortly after the gated community off Southeast 52nd Court began accepting residents.

She is one of nine families to sign on to a lease purchase agreement, meaning her mortgage is financed through the development rather than a bank.

And developer Tom Cafaro has more neighbors for her in the works: He has deposits on four of the 14 townhouses currently under construction on the property.

"It just keeps getting better and better," said Cafaro, who broke ground on the development in 2013, after sitting on his plans and property for several years throughout the economic recession.

Cafaro is a familiar face around the development. He is friendly with each of his residents, and is on the property daily in and out of his office, a glassed-in pavilion just past the construction site for one of two new buildings.

His vision for the community extends beyond offering an affordable path to ownership for his wide variety of residents: He is also proud to build a community based on Christian values, he said.

The entrance to Coral Gables is flanked by two stones carved with Bible verses -- Matthew 6:33 and Luke 19:40 -- as well as several other religious references, such as six large pots to represent a miracle Jesus performs in another Bible passage, for example, and a set of praying hands.

While Cafaro said residents don't need to be Christian to live at Coral Gables -- at least one is identified as agnostic -- he said that ties to Christianity are at the heart of his housing project.

That was part of the appeal for Gardner, a licensed practical nurse who has decorated her town home with Bible verses.

It was also attractive to Jeremiah and Natasha Goodrich, who moved in about four months ago with their 5-year-old son Isaiah.

"I'm glad that he stuck to his roots," said Jeremiah Goodrich, referencing an incident that occurred before he moved into the development.

Cafaro's display of Bible verses on signs near the roadway generated a complaint to the Belleview City Commission in 2013. But he said the complaint just bolstered his resolve. He eventually settled the issue by removing the signs, which are regulated by the city, and replacing them with the stones, which are not.

And Christian values aren't limited to the physical neighborhood, Cafaro said. He also sees them in the neighbors, who he describes as a good mix of professionals and families.

As an owner-financed subdivision, Coral Gables offers other benefits to its residents as well.

Rather than secure a loan through a bank, residents with an eye toward home-ownership finance through Cafaro and his partner. That means they pay $2,995 down for a townhouse, Cafaro explained, and arrange to pay $888 monthly for their mortgage, property tax escrow and homeowner's association fees.

That model widens the pool of people who can own homes in Belleview, said Mayor Christine Dobkowski, pointing out that it can sometimes be difficult for residents to get home loans through a bank. And that was particularly so after the recession, she said, noting that the economic downturn hit Belleview hard.

"We had a lot of foreclosures in the city, and a lot of people who lost their homes," she said, adding that this made Cafaro's path to home-ownership a good fit for the city.

More than 70 percent of Belleview residents own their homes, according to the most recent U.S. Census data. Of the approximately 26 percent who rent, the median monthly rent is $990.

Such costs were a factor in the Goodrich's decision to move into Coral Gables. They were renting in Marion Oaks, they explained, paying essentially as much as they do now for their approximately 1,000-square-foot townhouse.

"I see renting as throwing money away," Jeremiah Goodrich said.

And, like other residents, the Goodrich's have more freedom to individualize their townhouse than they would with an apartment. They were able to pick out their paint colors, floor tiles, cabinets and counters, for example.

For the Goodrich's, that includes two dark red accent walls in their living room. For Gardner, a neutral wall color and floor tile.

The new townhouses -- 14 of them divided into two buildings -- will have essentially the same layout as the current townhouses: a kitchen, living room and half bathroom downstairs with two bedrooms and two bathrooms upstairs. But there will be slight adjustments, based on what Cafaro said he has learned from his first round of construction.

Storage, for example. The 14 new units under construction will be closer to 12,000 square feet when you factor in a loft upstairs. Cafaro said he added this to the design once he was able to see a townhouse in person, rather than gauge it solely from a blueprint.

One of the new buildings is further along in construction than the other, with a framework already up. Cafaro said he expects that building to be ready for residents in January, and hopes for the second building to be ready by the end of February.

These will be financed the same way as the current townhouses, he said.

After that, his plans for Coral Gables are less firm. Maybe a different financing model, he said, or a different design.

"The only constant in the development business is change," he said.

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To see more of Ocala Star-Banner or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to www.ocala.com

Copyright (c) 2015, Ocala Star-Banner, Fla.

Distributed by Tribune News Service.


This story was distributed by TNS - Tribune News Service
 
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