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Little house saves couple a lotta loot

Thinking small helps them afford home

Thinking small helps them afford home

November 25, 2007|By ARNOLD S. PLATOU

HAGERSTOWN - Jennifer Leizear and Reese Roberts didn't think they could afford to build a new house, but they did.

Today, their home sweet home is 344 Dayspring Lane, a small rancher on a quarter-acre lot in Hagerstown's North End.

Size is the key.

The home is just 960 square feet - three-fourths the size of the rancher that their builder, Home Construction Corp., usually does and the smallest it has built in at least five years.

"We just went through a time when everybody wanted everything," said Dennis Swope, vice president of Home Construction. "People aren't doing that anymore. They've got to save money."

Keeping to a budget definitely was what Leizear and Roberts had in mind last winter when they began looking for a house.

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"I'm not a renter-type person. To me, that's just like throwing away money," said Leizear, 24, who had been renting an apartment in Hagerstown since graduating from Fairmont (W.Va.) State University with a degree in mechanical engineering technology. "So, as soon as I could afford a place of my own, I knew that's what I wanted to do."

In January, Leizear and her boyfriend, Roberts, began their search.

They wanted to find a house in Washington County, not far from Frederick, Md., where she works at Bechtel Corp. as a designer and layout engineer on power plant construction projects. Roberts, 25, is a mechanic's helper for Metro in West Falls Church, Md.

"When we started out, we thought we'd just buy an older home," Leizear said. "They'd be cheaper, we could afford it and fix it up, and maybe sell it."

With a maximum budget of $215,000, they went looking every weekend, seeing maybe 15 or 20 houses in all.

Most of those they found needed major work soon. In one, "the ceiling was falling through in the kitchen and there was like a little swimming pool for kids, to catch the plaster," Leizear said, laughing.

They found some nice homes, too, and made offers on four, but other buyers were faster or there were problems.

That's when Leizear's father, Tim, who works for a company that excavates foundations for Home Construction, stepped in.

"The older ones were in the $200,000 range and my father said you could build a new house for that," she said.

So off they went to Home Construction and asked what was possible. Given four options, they made choices, deciding, for instance, to go with an unfinished basement to save $10,000 to $20,000, Roberts said.

More savings

Another "cheap" choice, Leizear said, was vinyl siding. To save money, she wanted it on all four sides of the house, but Swope insisted at least the front be brick - to keep the appearance uniform in his Potomac Manor development.

The living room, kitchen and a table they refer to as the dining room are in an all-in-one area, made so by the wood-trimmed half-wall Leizear wanted in place of the original solid wall "that made the rooms seem so small," she said.

The vaulted ceiling becomes an 8-foot standard height in the three modest-sized bedrooms and a bath in the house's other half.

And yes, they love the place.

"I actually have a yard," Leizear said. "Both front and back. A quarter-acre lot. That's pretty exciting having your own washer and dryer after living in your own apartment."

Exciting, too, they said, is knowing they can afford this place. The 30-year mortgage has a 6.75 percent fixed rate of interest for the full term.

There again, Leizear listened to her mother and father.

"My parents told me I should go with a fixed," she said. "I didn't want an adjustable really low now and, in 10 years, go really high."

The house is much smaller than the one she grew up in near Boonsboro and than the one Roberts grew up in near Brunswick, Md., but neither of them seems to mind.

They seem almost proud showing off the double-patio doors that lead to ... nowhere.

"Hopefully, next summer, we'll tear up the grass we planted down there and put in a patio," Leizear said with a laugh.

And fencing in the backyard is a priority, too, though when and what kind of fence "depends on how much money we get back on taxes," she said.

The same is true, Roberts said, of the shed and, for his daughter, Alexa, the little playground he pictures.

But the garden next summer is a definite, Leizear said.

"Tomatoes and cucumbers," she said firmly.

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