He celebrated his 50th birthday, his kids grew up, he continued to hold a solid job at Nisshinbo and he got engaged - but he didn't have a home. When he drove by 545 Jack Neely Road, the house caught his eye. When he walked inside, it felt like home. When he met the property owners, they told him they would take care of him.
He was the long-awaited guinea pig, the first homebuyer in Newton County's Neighborhood Stabilization Program.
"It was worth it. Absolutely," Rhoades said in a July interview, sitting in the comfort of his newly renovated home. "When we lived in an apartment, we all had to share one room. Here we have separate bedrooms, and we even have a bonus room. I just want to express my appreciation for everyone involved."
Rhoades and his fiancée Helen Ruddick aren't just homeowners, they're educated homeowners. IECDG, the county's non-profit partner for the NSP, put the couple through an eight-hour, first-time homebuyers course, and a series of FDIC-formulated, online "Money Smart" courses. IECDG trained them in financial literacy, foreclosure avoidance and the responsibilities of home ownership.
The group received a low, 3.5 percent interest Federal Housing Administration loan and down payment assistance through the NSP.
"This was our first time going through the process and we needed it," Ruddick said. "It means a lot, having our own home. It's more stable for my two boys."
Marcia Mayweather, a mortgage consultant with Community Capital Bank, worked with Rhoades and Ruddick to form a loan to fit their lives.
" I am proud to participate in arranging financing for Mr. Rhoades and also new homebuyers in the metro Atlanta market," said Mayweather in an Aug. 26 e-mail.
IECDG CEO James Hellams said the NSP can turn lives around.
"This program gives them a new sense of family and pride," Hellams said. "This gives the kids an opportunity to be in a home in a nice community with a big yard - their own yard. It's the perfect family setting."
Better Than New
The couple and their family didn't just get a nice home, they got a home that had been totally renovated.
IECDG Construction Manager Kenneth Colado said many of the 11 houses were in bad shape, because the families that lived in them had eventually succumbed to foreclosure and the houses had sat vacant for a time.
The company spent a lot of time and money getting the houses up to code and making them as close to new as possible. Colado said repairs included adding insulation; replacing smoke detectors, light fixtures, doors, fencing, water pipes and even entire floors; widening doorways; steam cleaning or replacing carpets; repairing sheetrock, siding, ceilings, chimneys, foundations and roofs; painting; laying down new sod; and planting trees and shrubs. He said the company spent an average of $15,000 to $30,000 per house.
Colado said he replaced all the windows at the Jack Neely property and added a full line of new energy star appliances.
"Our intent is to make these homes as new as possible. Sometimes we're even painting the foundations with Sherwin-Williams super paint. We're even pressure washing and staining garage floors," Colado said. "We're paying attention to the details; we want these houses to be the gem of the neighborhood."
Hellams said the rehabbed house isn't just a benefit for the Rhoades family but for everyone living within a 10-mile radius. IECDG bought the beat up house for $85,000, and after making extensive repairs sold it for $114,000.
He said the key to the program is to stabilize and eventually increase the value of all homes in an area.
"We've started a trend of raising prices in that neighborhood. If an investor would have bought the property, they would have put a renter in there and that $85,000 price would have been set there. We're fixing it up and selling it for what's its worth," Hellams said.
That's also a benefit to the county which gets to experience a boost to its tax base.
IECDG recently closed on its first home in Fairview Estates at 130 Chandler Field, and is working on the rest, Hellams said.
Anyone interested in learning more about Newton County's NSP can contact Harriette Habersham, IECDG field operations liaison and NSP coordinator, at 678-487-2411 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.