A column in the Orlando Sentinel about an excess of abandoned and substandard houses in Leesburg — and their connection to rising crime — prompted discussion on social media and email about how to change the situation.
This column encouraged more aggressive code enforcement as a start. Most suggestions involved a bulldozer or the combination of a 5-gallon can of gas and a Bic lighter.
This, however, is the story of one investor’s quest to turn a 1925 frame house — the haunt of prostitutes and drug addicts — into something usable and decent.
The investor is commercial real-estate agent and Florida CCIM Central District President Rick Gonzalez, CCIM, who wasn’t opposed to making at least a few bucks off the project.
Gonzalez is the first to admit that what he did with house at 1712 W. Main St. in Leesburg isn’t a solution for the rundown residential neighborhoods in town. Property on Main is simply worth more because it’s in a busy area with commercial or professional zoning. Still, Gonzalez’s effort could be a replicated in some areas.
“I was driving through town last year and saw it, and I thought, ‘What is going on with that house?'” Gonzalez said.
The answer was nothing. The owner had started a renovation project that went bust, leaving the sorry old structure to society’s vultures. Gonzalez bought the house that has about 1,000 square feet along with a lot of 50-feet by 140-feet for the bargain price of $4,000 the week before it was to be sold for the owner’s failure to pay taxes.
“I went over there prior to closing on it with a good friend, looked at the heart of it. We thought, ‘There are good guts here’ — I’ll just rebuild it, and it will become a rental,” Gonzalez said.
But nothing is ever quite that simple, is it? Especially when it comes to renovating old houses.
The 59-year-old real-estate agent, who owns three other rental houses, cleaned out the trash and listened to tales from neighbors about the antics of crack users who squatted there, how often the police came and how many people had been dragged out in handcuffs.
In that part of the city, the home ownership rate is about 50-50, and those who lived around the old house were thrilled it was getting a facelift.
Under two layers of vinyl flooring, Gonzalez found “beautiful old wood” — the heart of yellow pine so often used in homes of that era. Then, his framer pointed out the termite damage. Heart of pine joists underpinning the building that Gonzalez originally thought were good instead were eaten away. The framer joked that the front porch was being held up by the vinyl flooring.
“Now I’m into it,” Gonzalez related. “I told him, ‘OK, just do what you gotta do.'”
So, he did, and so did other subcontractors working on the house. They stripped the house down to her bones. They set her on new concrete pillars and squared her up. She got a new roof, custom cabinets, new walls, double-pane windows and a laundry room in the back. They saved as much wood as possible.
The project that started in July ended in November as potential buyers began looking at the finished house. Nobody who wanted to live in that neighborhood could get their own financing, and those who could didn’t want to live there, Gonzalez said.
Then, he thought about Tina Travis and her project, Restoration Outreach Community Center. Travis, 52, delivers newspapers at night so she can run the nonprofit agency that seeks to help a variety of people who often are forgotten — homeless veterans, felons just coming out of prison and families struggling to overcome poverty.
Travis has lots of heart, but not lots of cash.
“I depend on God a lot,” she said.
Gonzalez contacted her and offered to sell her the house and hold the mortgage. He said he had at least $82,000 in it, and he sold it for $90,000. He said he knew that Travis could make the payments by renting it to people in need of housing at a reasonable monthly rate.
And so the two-bedroom, two-bath house is back in Leesburg’s community life, helping to give the neighborhood a fresh look and providing a place to stay for people starting over.
“One house at a time is how it starts,” Gonzalez said.
Source: Orlando Sentinel