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Homeowners Get Tips On Maintenance

February 21, 2005
By MELISSA PIONZIO, Courant Staff Writer

For the first time, Hartford resident Nilda Lopez owns her own home, and with this ownership, she says, comes many perks. She can paint her rooms any color; she can park her car in her own driveway; and she can watch her grandchildren play from the safety of her own backyard.

"It makes you feel like you prospered in life, like you achieved something," Lopez said of home ownership.

But her new home also brought unexpected responsibilities, and the 46-year-old had a few questions about its upkeep and maintenance. So when she heard about a free training session available to people, like herself, who had purchased a house in the city's new Rice Heights development, Lopez got her list of questions ready.

"We learned about mortgages, maintenance and saving money for the future in case something breaks down," she said. "That's the furthest thing from your mind when you're renting. If something breaks down, you just called your landlord."

So far, two such sessions have been provided by David Sherwood, owner of Sherwood Inspections Services LLC in South Windsor. (Sherwood, president of the Southern New England Chapter of the American Society of Home Inspectors, also had been hired to do house inspections for the homeowners before they purchased their properties.) The sessions were sponsored by Sheldon Oak Central and SRC/Carabetta Construction Inc., the nonprofit development corporation that built the 49-home development in the city's Behind the Rocks neighborhood. The new three- and four-bedroom homes are located on the site of the former Rice Heights housing project, which was demolished in 1998.

Families who were relocated from the former project were given priority to buy the new homes, which range from 1,200- to 1,400 square feet. To qualify, they were required to secure a mortgage and complete homebuyer education in personal financial management. Once purchased, the families must live in the home for at least 10 years.

The information sessions were offered "... because at least half of the homeowners were first-time homeowners," said Emily Wolfe, deputy director of Sheldon Oak Central. "We really wanted them to sustain their investment and figure out how to do the little things to maintain a house to prevent big problems."

The sessions, which were held in the summer and fall of 2004, were advertised by pamphlets and word of mouth. During the first meeting, Sherwood said he didn't think anyone was going to show up.

"When I got there around 6:30 p.m., there was nobody there except the developer and an interpreter because many of the home owners are Hispanic," he said. "All of a sudden, about 30 people came walking up the hill."

Using the few words of Spanish he knew, Sherwood broke the ice with the group and sat with them until after 9 p.m., discussing anything from sink caulk to shower curtains to drainage strategies. Each participant received a 30-page homeowners guide, which included maintenance solutions and a blank section where they could take notes. Sherwood also gave a walking tour of one of the homes during which he pointed out specific areas that needed close attention, such as drainage pipes, gutters and the basement.

"They were starving for information," Sherwood said. "They cared about their homes and wanted to know how to care for them, how to stop things from happening."

The class went so well that Sherwood scheduled another, and this time the participants were ready and waiting for him. Forty-two of the 45 people who had bought the homes showed up, said Sherwood, who also provided his work and cellphone numbers to the homeowners in case there were additional questions or concerns.

"My objective is to teach people how to care for their homes and, in a way, that increases the quality of their lives," said Sherwood, who plans to hold another session this spring as more homes in the development are completed and purchased. "If these people are willing to change their lifestyle and make this commitment, I needed to commit to giving them the tools to make owning their own home successful."

For Lopez, the classes made her a more informed homeowner, and she made some new friends in the process.

"I got to meet a lot of nice neighbors," she said. "We all watch out for each other. If we see a stranger, we tell each other and keep an eye out during summer vacations. The class made a big difference for me."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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