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News Journal
November 2005
By Joe Crews

Bargain Hunting
"Success Requires Patience, Willingness to Renovate"

     Despite skyrocketing real estate prices, it's still possible to find a home for less than $100,000 in the Volusia-Flagler market -- if you persevere and are patient, and are willing to repair and renovate it. Just ask Carla Gamble. She and her 42-year-old husband, Roy, this month moved into a two-bedroom, two-bath home north of DeLand they bought for $87,500. "It almost took three months" of looking for a suitable home in the couple's price range, Gamble, 45, said. "I found it on the Internet."
     She said real estate agents were showing them flooded properties, mobile homes or "neighborhoods I didn't want to live in." That prompted her to search the Internet, where she found the 48-year-old fixer-upper on Mohawk Avenue for sale. 
     The Gambles, now first-time homeowners, had been renting in DeLeon Springs. Their landlord wanted to sell that house, so they first looked at renting elsewhere. "What they wanted (in deposits and two months' rent) was a lot more than buying would be," Gamble said. "We jumped into (buying) and got a home at a really great price."
     She knows their new home needs a lot of work, but they plan to live out their lives in it. As a bonus, the home also has a detached mother-in-law suite they're planning to rent out. "I probably won't want to get rid of it after I put my heart and soul into (fixing) it," she said. "We love this place."
     Real estate agents say there are a few houses on the market for less than $100,000, but most will be -- to put it generously -- humble abodes in need of some work. Maggi Hall, broker/owner of West Volusia Properties I(which helped the Gambles buy their home), said she is listing a couple of houses in the DeLand Garden District and some in the Spring Hill area. (Spring Hill is a predominantly black community on DeLand's southwest side and adjacent to unincorporated Volusia County.) "Of course, they need restoration. That's about it, unless you want a mobile home in Lake County," Hall said, only half-jokingly.
     Mobile homes are considered single-family residences, Hall said, but are much harder to get insurance and financing for unless they're less than 20 years old. But single-family homes with five-figure price tags are scarce, unless potential buyers are handy with a hammer and paint brush. Hall recently found about three dozen homes on the West Volusia Multiple Listing Service that were priced less than $100,000. Some were in more rural areas, such as Seville and Osteen, but others were in Lake Helen, DeBary and Deltona. Virtually all were "handyman specials."
     Pickings also are slim in Flagler County, according to Realtor Matthew Wilson of Coquina Real Estate and Construction. He found eight in the listings there for less than a hundred grand -- seven mobile homes in the far western portion of the county, and one in a rundown neighborhood in Bunnell. "Most are listed in fair or 'handyman' condition," Wilson said. "If you find anything under $100,000, it's not going to be much."
     Realtor Anne Wilson -- no relation to Matthew -- of RE/MAX Beach Realty in Palm Coast said for less than $70,000 "you have your choice of delightful two-bedroom, single-wide mobile homes manufactured prior to 1980." "How you finance it is up to you, since most lenders won't touch it," she said. Aside from one side of a duplex in Bunnell, she added, there aren't any fixer-uppers available in Flagler County. "None worth sinking much money into."
     Southeast Volusia has even slimmer pickings. Realtor Donna Concannon-Kosmas of Prestige Properties in New Smyrna Beach said nothing on the beachside is selling for that little. On the mainland, "whatever's there, they're tear-downs." "Anything under $100,000, you're really just buying a lot," she said. "The houses are not habitable." Even mobile homes are probably out of the question in the New Smyrna Beach area, Concannon-Kosmas said. "The land is just so much more valuable for other things."
     The median price of existing houses sold in the two-county area surpassed the $200,000 mark in June. The median means half sold for more and half for less. A spot check of Volusia County sales in late August and early September turned up about two dozen houses scattered around the county selling for less than $100,000. Some were mobile homes or units in multifamily dwellings, but many were slab-built houses in or near Daytona Beach (6 of them), DeLand (5), Deltona (3), DeBary (1) and Ormond Beach (1). Of the 16 single-family houses in the two-week sample, half were bought by investors. Buyers of the other eight were moving into their newly purchased homes. Only one of the six houses sold in Daytona Beach was occupied by the new owner, according to records at the Property Appraiser's Web site. Five of the homes were within an area bounded by Nova Road, Mason Avenue, Beach Street and International Speedway Boulevard. One was south of Daytona Beach Police Department.
     In DeLand, three sold properties were outside the city limits. Two of the existing-house sales were to owner-occupiers, as were all three in Deltona, one in DeBary and one near Ormond Beach. Hall, the West Volusia Properties broker, said prospective buyers should get a "four-point" inspection before finalizing any contracts. That would include detailed examinations of the house's roof, plumbing, electrical system and heating-ventilation-and-air conditioning system. Anyone buying a fixer-upper or handyman's special, should expect to spend thousands of dollars on repairs, Hall said. "I have never seen anyone do a decent job for under $5,000 if they're doing more than cosmetic work," she said. "Many just need a thorough cleaning and a coat of paint . . . (but) restoring a home is big bucks."
     Some jobs, such as re-roofing or electrical wiring, should be done only by certified contractors in order to meet building codes. But painting, re-carpeting and the like can be handled by do-it-yourselfers. Hall, herself a contractor, said a new air conditioner can cost $3,500 to $4,500; a new roof about $4,500; rewiring the electrical system about $5,000; re-plumbing a kitchen and bathroom about $2,000 apiece; and new carpeting about $1,200. "There's a difference between remodeling and restoring, and doing just cosmetic work," she said. "If the new owners can do a lot of the work themselves, they will save some money. Done right, the value of the home will appreciate."
     That's what Roy and Carla Gamble are betting on. And while finding a home for under $100,000 is daunting, Carla Gamble insists "if you have the patience, it can be done."


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