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We Bought The Worst Home On The Best Block

How An FHA Home Loan Helped Us Buy The Worst Home On The Best Block
An overgrown yard and an interior in serious disrepair didn't keep this couple from creating their dream house on their dream street.

When Heather and Jason Piccirillo, both 32, began looking for a house to buy, they were in the market for a fixer-upper. Jason has a background in construction, and he knew they’d get more for their money if they bought a house that needed some work. “With our budget, anything we found that was turnkey was super-small with no yard,” he says. With three young kids, yard space — and a great, safe street — took priority for the Piccirillos. Here’s how they landed in a neighborhood they originally thought they couldn’t afford.

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Family FHA Home Loan

The perfect neighborhood

The couple first narrowed their search to Cheshire, CT, an idyllic town with highly rated schools, affordable tax rates, tons of kid-friendly activities, and easy access to New Haven, CT, where Heather works as a nurse. And there, on a quiet block of Colonial-style houses with perfectly manicured lawns, sat the ultimate fixer-upper: a ranch-style home whose yard was so overgrown, the house itself was barely visible. Bags of garbage filled the interior, the floors were rotted, the roof leaked, and the backyard swimming pool hadn’t been tended to in years.

While many first-time buyers would have run the other way, the Piccirillos knew they had found their future home. “I saw instant equity and potential in the layout and size,” says Jason. “This house was our way into a neighborhood full of well-manicured homes, where our children would enjoy growing up. I was just going to have to work for it.”

“It certainly didn’t scare me off,” agrees Heather. “My mom thought we were nuts. Most people did. But I could see us living here. The neighborhood had so many places for the kids to safely bike and walk. And the nearby schools are excellent.”

Exterior Home

Jason took the house down to the studs and gave the layout a makeover.

Exterior Home After

Jason took the house down to the studs and gave the layout a makeover.

A numbers game

The Piccirillos discovered their “dream” house had two mortgages on it, but the bank agreed to a short sale rather than letting the home fall into foreclosure. The couple qualified for an FHA loan, a mortgage insured by the Federal Housing Administration, which lets borrowers put down only 3.5% and roll their closing costs into the mortgage. Doing so allowed Heather and Jason to put more cash toward the extensive renovations the home needed.

Living Room Before

Three years later, the Piccirillos have their perfect home — and they’ve built up a lot of equity by doing much of the work themselves.

Living Room After

Three years later, the Piccirillos have their perfect home — and they’ve built up a lot of equity by doing much of the work themselves.

Rebuilding a house into a home

Once the property was theirs, Jason set to work making their dream home a reality. For the next five months, after putting in a full day as an electrician, he’d make the 40-minute drive to the house, work on it until midnight, and then drive home. Only to wake up and do it all over again. Their new neighbors stopped by on the day the Piccirillos closed to thank them for “saving” the neighborhood’s property values and then promptly pitched in to help. “They’d watch the house for us when Jason wasn’t there, they helped cut down trees, and our next-door neighbor’s teenage son and his friend would haul things to the dumpster and help with the demo,” recalls Heather. “We paid them with pizza, but they came because they wanted to. It’s a really supportive group.”

For what it’s worth

Now almost three years later, Heather, Jason, and their three children are happily entrenched in the Cheshire community. While there is still work to be done on the house, the risk has paid off — literally. Their work has raised the value of their house and their equity, cash that will come in handy if they decide to upgrade to a larger home in the same neighborhood in the future. For now, the Piccirillos are enjoying their newly renovated abode and the picturesque neighborhood. “It’s worth the effort to give your kids a nice neighborhood to grow up in,” says Jason. “Location really is everything.”