SCHENECTADY — Sonya Hawkins didn’t have any plans to purchase a home.
But on Sunday, she found herself beginning to envision herself buying and turning the house at 1455 Lexington Ave. into her own during a citywide open house.
Hawkins, a single mother living on Watt Street, walked into the kitchen and beamed with excitement when she saw the stove had six burners. She walked up to the second floor, which was converted into a loft, and immediately had plans to turn it into her 14-year-old daughter’s bedroom.
The four-bedroom, one-bathroom home, listed at $149,900, was a bank-foreclosed property and was purchased by a private owner, according to Frances Callahan, an associate broker with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Blake Realtors.
She said the home was once considered a “zombie property" — a term used for vacant and dilapidated homes — but the owner ended up making renovations.
This included a brand-new kitchen with new floors, a remodeled bathroom and new floors for the upstairs loft.
While Hawkins continued to tour the house, her friend, Denise Harris, walked in as well.
“This house is actually really cute,” Hawkins said to Harris. “We might have to fight about this one.”
Hawkins and Harris both came out during the open house on Sunday after they were given information about state and local home buying assistance programs by Councilwoman Marion Porterfield.
The local program, Home Ownership Made Easy in Schenectady, looks to increase homeownership and reduce the number of vacant and dilapidated homes in the city. It does this through offering funding assistance for first-time homebuyers in the city, and works with banks that offer renovation loans.
There was also the announcement of the expansion of the state’s Neighborhood Revitalization Program into Schenectady County on Thursday.
The program offers assistance with down payments and up to $20,000 in renovation assistance. It is funded through a $22 million settlement from JPMorgan Chase and sponsored by the State of New York Mortgage Agency’s RemodelNY Purchase Renovation Mortgage Program.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo noted in a press release on Thursday that “zombie properties” can be a burden on local communities since the homes serve as an eyesore and can negatively impact nearby property values. That’s why funding-assistance programs like the state’s can be helpful.
“By investing in the construction of safe, affordable homes, New York is restoring our communities, strengthening neighborhoods, and helping to ensure homeownership remains within reach for all in Schenectady County and across this great state,” Cuomo said.
The open-house, which featured five different homes in Schenectady, drew a larger crowd than expected.
Jennifer Yetter, a saleswoman for Berkshire Hathaway, said she had already seen seven groups of people looking at the home within the first 40 minutes.
“We’re lucky to get seven people total,” Yetter said of open houses.
Callahan said the funding-assistance programs are beneficial to potential homeowners. She said it’s something she can even use in marketing the homes.
“Anything that helps homebuyers is helpful,” Callahan said.
She also said it’s helpful to have homebuyer assistance programs on the city level.
“It’s great [the assistance program] is on the city level because they can be intimately aware of the properties,” Callahan said.
It was the state and local assistance programs that drew a lot of people out on Sunday, including Harris and Hawkins.
Harris said she never planned to buy a home in Schenectady. But with the state and city assistance, it made the idea of buying a home a little more enticing.
She said the program helps people who may have had enough money for a down payment, but didn’t have a good enough credit history to purchase a home, or vice versa.
“It’s every man or woman’s wish to become a homeowner,” Harris said. “Now [the assistance programs] are giving you money to put you halfway there.”