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Faces of first-time buyers in Yellow Springs

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This is the fifth in a series of articles looking at various aspects of affordable housing in Yellow Springs.

Geno and Krystal Luketic are the sort of young couple that local leaders hope will settle in the village. A potter, Geno is the artist-in-residence at John Bryan Community Pottery as well as a part-time teacher, and Krystal works for the Downtown Dayton Partnership.

When they first arrived in town several years ago, the Luketics became deeply enmeshed in village life through their jobs, with Geno working at the Glen and Krystal assisting at the Yellow Springs Chamber of Commerce.

“We both met a ton of people,” Geno Luketic said in a recent interview. “We loved Yellow Springs.”

However, while Geno continues his work at the pottery shop, the Luketics are no longer village residents. After two years of searching for a home they could afford in town, they recently purchased a house in Xenia.

“We slowly conceded that we wouldn’t be able to buy a home in Yellow Springs,” Luketic said. “Then we started with Yellow Springs as the center and began working our way out.”

The Luketics were seeking a rare commodity in the village, a house priced below $100,000 in move-in condition. While they found several houses in that price range, the homes needed extensive repairs.

“They all needed a ton of work,” he said. “We’re both working full time and couldn’t do the renovations.”

The couple initially considered buying from Home, Inc., the local land trust organization that has built or rehabbed 14 affordable homes in town. However, after Krystal started a new job and Geno opened a business, they found themselves no longer income-eligible for a Home, Inc. house.

The Luketics had better luck in Xenia, where they found a three-bedroom home with a large backyard and a garage that can be converted into a pottery studio, all in good condition for $92,000.

The Luketics’ needs sound familiar to local realtor Craig Mesure of Coldwell Banker Heritage Realtors, who specializes in working with first-time buyers.

“First-time buyers are usually looking for something between $100,000–$125,000 that’s the best looking house and is up to date,” he said of the buyers he has worked with. “They don’t want to have to do a lot of work. They have enough money to buy, but not enough for upgrades.”

Concerning finding housing that fits that description in Yellow Springs, “It’s tough,” Mesure said.

A combination of the village’s aging housing stock, the community’s desire to stay within existing boundaries and banks’ current reluctance to make loans for new home construction means that village homes in that price range are largely older homes in the center or north end of town, which may need extensive rehabbing work, Mesure said.

According to listings on the Dayton Area Multiple Listing Service, or MLS, Web site, there is one home currently on the market in the village priced beneath $100,000, a Davis Street house priced at $84,500, with the warning that the seller will not disclose the house’s condition. There are currently two homes on the MLS Web site priced between $100,000 and $125,000, a one-bedroom on Xenia Avenue, and a three-bedroom on West South College, advertised as “needing some updating and TLC.”

Two homes are listed between $125,000 and $150,000, six between $150,000 and $200,000, 10 between $200,000 and $250,000, five between $250,000 and $300,000, and four above $300,000 on the MLS site. However, Mesure emphasized, the housing season, which tends to run from spring through fall, has largely ended this year, and will rev up again in the spring.

New residents Zo Van Eaton Meister and her husband, David, a newly hired Village police officer, have been looking for two years for homes in the $150,000–$175,000 range with four bedrooms, since they have three children and one more on the way. Currently, the couple rents the home of a friend, and they feel somewhat discouraged about their search, thinking that renting might prove the better option.

Meister spent 22 years on the West Coast before moving back with her family to her hometown a year ago. She fervently hopes that they find the home they are seeking in town.

“We moved here to be in Yellow Springs. I love riding my bike and walking and the whole experience,” she said.

The couple owned a home in Seattle while both worked, and with the proceeds from that sale, they initially were looking for homes in the $200,000 range in Yellow Springs. However, Meister later decided to make the transition to a slower, less stressful lifestyle that allowed her to stay home with her children. Consequently, they decided to seek a lower mortgage and are looking for less expensive homes. Realtor Sam Eckenrode showed the couple three four-bedroom homes on Omar Circle that were in their price range, partly, according to Meister, because perceived contamination from Vernay has brought down prices in that neighborhood. However, they lost the home they most wanted to another buyer and ended up renting one of the three. Currently, they’re renting a home on Corry Street for $1,300 a month.

While the couple ultimately hopes to own again, they aren’t sure that they’ll be buying in town.

“Places are so unaffordable that we’re looking to rent now,” she said. “We’d love to buy a home — it’s better for ours and the Village’s taxes, but we’re not sure it’s the best idea anymore.”

First-time homebuyers Luke and Sally Dennis have a happier story to tell of their search for a Yellow Springs home, and credit their 2008 purchase of a 1850-era house near downtown to a combination of good luck and good timing.

“A lot of stars were aligned that allowed us to do this,” Luke Dennis said in a recent interview.

Renters for two years, the Dennis’ only looked for a few months before they found their Dayton Street home, which had been on the market for more than a year. The previous owners had lowered their price from $250,000 to $200,000, which was just at the upper end of what the Dennis family — they have two small children — could afford. A first-time home buyer tax credit kicked in. And the couple got what they wanted, a move-in ready home with three bedrooms, a big backyard, and a location close to Mills Lawn School.

Houses on the market at the time below $200,000 were another story, Dennis said.

“There wasn’t a whole lot under $200,000 that was suitable,” he said.

Most recently from Cambridge, Mass., Luke Dennis is currently executive director of Muse Machine in Dayton, although at the time he and his wife purchased the house, he had a different job in the organization.

The couple is thrilled with their purchase, and Dennis said that, for the first time, he’s even pleased to be paying the taxes that come with home ownership in the village.

“We love the town so much,” he said. “It’s a pleasure to become an official tax paying resident.”

According to Mesure, his challenge as a realtor in the village is “to sell Yellow Springs,” given that home buyers soon realize, “that there are certain compromises you have to make in the size and quality of housing” to live here. But many of his clients, like the Dennis family, are willing to settle for less house in exchange for living in a small, friendly, walkable community.

If the prospective buyers simply desire the most house for their money, “I tell them they should look in Beavercreek,” Mesure said, adding that so far, no one has taken him up on his advice.

However, he has witnessed quite a few first-time homebuyers who end up buying a house just outside the village, close enough so that people still feel a part of the community and far away enough that they get more house for their money, Mesure said. Those homebuyers, of course, do not then pay Village income tax or Village and school property taxes.

If the Village government wants to attract young families to Yellow Springs, as the current Village Council says that it does, Mesure would like to see Council find more proactive ways to attract those families, such as providing grants for portions of downpayments for first-time homebuyers. While Council is currently exploring the possibility of building four affordable homes on Cemetery Street using a community land trust model, there are other, more nimble ways to attract young families, he said.

“That would be more of a positive growth tool rather than the village becoming a developer,” Mesure said.

When their rental is up this spring, Zo and David Meister will start looking for a new home in the village, and they haven’t given up on finding a house in town. And while Geno and Krystal Luketic already purchased a house in Xenia, they also haven’t completely given up on living in the village at some future time.

“As our financial situation changes, then our chances of stepping up into the $140,000 to $160,000 range increase, and we hope more homes will be available,” Geno Luketic said



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