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Economy Just Right for Many to Build a Home

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By Alan J. Heavens

RISMEDIA, August 2, 2010-(MCT)-For some people, now is precisely the right time to build the house they want.

Like Jennifer and Julio Cassanelli, who bought a three-bedroom house in Williamstown, N.J., soon after they married-before their three children came along.

“Three girls and 1 1/2 bathrooms,” their mother said. “Can you imagine what things would be like when they’re teenagers?”

Then there is Katherine and Jonathan Mattison, who married in May 2010. With the two children from her first marriage, the couple are living with her mother in a four-bedroom house.

For each family, a freshly-built home was the answer: for the Cassanellis, a $307,000 four-bedroom, two-bath single a mile from their old house; for the Mattisons, a $237,500 three-bedroom, 2 1/2-bath townhouse in Avondale, Pa.

And why not, with builders so eager to deal they’re offering incentives and discounts and faster move-ins?

“Buyers might do as well or better now than when the tax credit was available, since some builders may need to move inventory that did not sell in March and April,” said Wayne Norris, regional sales manager for Hanley

Wood Market Intelligence, which tracks U.S. new-home sales.

Neither the Cassanellis nor the Mattisons wanted to buy fixer-uppers. In 2008, during her divorce-but “fortunately before the crash,” Katherine Mattison said-she sold a 250-year-old house that needed lots of work. “Not this time,” she said.

The Cassanellis’ house was just a few months old when they bought it in February 2002 from a couple getting a divorce. “We spent almost nine years working on this house,” Jennifer Cassanelli said. “We wanted to move into a house and not have to do that again. With kids, it’s much harder.”

The Cassanellis bought their last house with 5% down, for $162,000 in 2002, records show. She said they were “lucky we were able to get it before the market began heating up.”

When they reappraised a few years ago during the real estate boom, their equity had increased enough to drop private mortgage insurance. That, and paying “everything off we needed to get into shape to buy” were solid steps to moving up to their second house, Jennifer Cassanelli said.

“We put ourselves on a plan,” she said. “It was supposed to be three to five years, but the tax credit made us push up our deadline.” They believed-correctly, as it turned out-that a first-time buyer might want their house.

Still, they had big concerns.

“The economy is always in the back of my mind,” she said. Even though her husband has been working with Thomson Reuters for eight years, “no one’s job is secure. There’s only one income now. What happens if that goes away?”

They considered adding another bedroom and a bathroom, Jennifer Cassanelli said, but the estimates were through the roof. And when they called their lender about financing for the improvements, they were told that “because of declining home values,” they would not qualify.

The Cassanellis were well aware some houses were languishing on the market for six months to a year. “That was the reason we wouldn’t even look at another house before we sold ours,” she said.

Julio and Jennifer Cassanelli put the house on the market in February and got two offers the first week. They accepted one from a couple getting married in early May who wanted to close later that month.

The sale price, $239,000, was less than the $300,000 a house exactly like theirs sold for 18 months ago, but they reaped much equity. They decided not to pay more than $330,000 for their new house-and, they hoped, even less.

On the Cassanellis’ wish list: four bedrooms, two baths and a finished basement with an office because Julio works a lot at home.

Online, Jennifer Cassanelli saw nothing she liked. “Houses in Williamstown are either 40 years old or new,” she said. Their real estate agent sensed this and took her to Savona, a Paparone New Homes development a mile away.

“We arrived in a heavy rain and spent two hours looking, but the base price was still high, and there was no finished basement,” Jennifer Cassanelli said. Paparone took $25,000 off the base price, which allowed the

Cassanellis to move up to the next model, with the finished basement.

Price: $307,000. Two weeks ago, the couple locked in to a 4.5%, 30-year fixed-rate loan. They are scheduled to move in Aug. 20, meaning that Jennifer Cassanelli’s “vacation” with the in-laws will end. “I’ll have to start cooking,” she said with a laugh.

Jonathan and Katherine Mattison, both 31, have known each other since high school.

“While no construction is inexpensive, builder Charles Wilkinson in Avondale had townhouses in the low- to mid-$200,000 range,” what she and her husband considered affordable, Katherine Mattison said.

The builder offered the couple 20% off the base price of the model and had promotions, which enticed them to make an offer.

The only problem the couple faced in financing was that Jonathan Mattison had no credit history, so there was no evidence that he could repay the loan. Though they have not yet locked into a rate, Katherine Mattison expects it to be competitive, “since the people we are dealing with are on the ball.”

c) 2010, The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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