SEARSPORT, Maine — Wanted: family for three bedroom, two bath house. Must be willing to pay interest-free mortgage based on assessed value of property.
Waldo County Habitat for Humanity, the 3-year-old local affiliate of the international nonprofit, is building its second home, and through unusual circumstances, has not yet found the family that will occupy it.
The organization’s president, Andrea Walker, said typically an applicant is selected before construction begins, but the group is still in the process of trying to match an applicant to the house. Anyone interested should complete a preapplication form on the organization’s web site at habitatofwaldocounty.org.
There are income guidelines, Walker explained. A family of four must have an annual income of at least $16,250 and not more than $43,350.
The successful applicant also must complete 200 hours of what Habitat for Humanity calls “sweat equity.” The work, often split among several family members, does not have to be highly skilled, but the investment of energy by the new owner is a vital component of the process.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins will visit the house at 84 Old County Road at 10 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 5, to mark World Habitat Day.
This week, Jenness Robbins, a volunteer who serves on the board of directors, was overseeing work on the house. His company, Robbins Lumber in Searsmont, donated the pine boards used to sheath the 26-by-36-foot, two-story, Cape Cod-style house. The paid lead carpenter, Richard Ames, was cutting off rafter tails as part of a trim detail, while volunteers Keenan Mitchell and Kyle Skinner were installing roof shingles.
Businesses including Viking Lumber, EBS, Mathews Brothers and others donated materials, while companies such as GAC, a chemical manufacturer with a plant in Searsport, sent employees to work on the house as their contribution.
Walker said Habitat’s first house was built in Belfast on land near the former Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad line donated by the Unity Foundation. Local contractor and board member Larry Jones volunteered as construction supervisor. A family moved into that house in December 2010.
The Searsport house is the first of three to be built on five acres donated by the town.
“We fundraise for all the materials and the cost of building the house,” Walker explained, with donated lumber, windows and other construction material a critical factor in keeping costs down. She estimated that the Searsport house will cost $60,000 to $80,000 to build.
But that won’t be the sale price.
Habitat affiliates typically sell at fair-market value or at the municipally assessed value; the latter is often lower than the former. In the case of the Searsport house, assessed value will be used, Walker said. A noninterest mortgage is offered, with the length varying from 15 years to 45 years, depending on the owner’s finances.
To qualify, the applicant must have a decent, if not stellar, credit rating and have a steady income. Those now living in poor housing are given priority.
“They’re hard-working families that don’t make quite enough money to qualify for a loan,” Walker said of applicants. The owner of the Belfast house is a single mother with two children. “She always paid her rent, but she was never going to qualify for a [bank] mortgage.”
The owner “can’t turn around and sell the house immediately,” Walker explained, without turning any profit back to the organization. After about 15 years, the owner can sell and pocket the gain in value.
The Habitat group is pleased to build near service-center towns like Belfast and Searsport, but its goal is to build a house in each of the county’s 26 towns, she said.
Those interested in volunteering — and expertise is not required, Walker stressed — can fill out a registration form at the website or call 557-6071.