Paul and Marcela Ramirez wanted a home to raise children. They wanted to settle near their family. They wanted to live near the church where they were married and in Santa Ana, the town where they were born.
With the help of NeighborWorks Orange County, their dream came true in October 2015.
The couple met through a church group in their early 20s, and about a year later, started dating. They began attending homebuyer classes at NeighborWorks after they got married in January 2013.
“We knew we wanted a home to raise our growing family, a place where members of our church could come and celebrate,” said Paul, 32. “That’s what we prayed for.”
They heard about NeighborWorks through a friend in their church community.
The most important thing they learned came in their first class – credit. They had no credit history, so they took the advice of the “Friendly Experts” at NeighborWorks and began building a credit history and saving.
“The lesson I learned is that you have credit, but you have to be responsible and you have to live within your means,” Paul said. “To have credit, but to be smart about it.”
Paul, a sixth-grade teacher at Valencia Park Elementary in Fullerton, returned to NeighborWorks for a refresher in 2015. By this time, the couple was ready to become first-time homebuyers.
NeighborWorks showed them an affordable condominium in Buena Park, a beautiful three-bedroom, two-bath home they thought would make a great choice. But their NeighborWorks Realtor saw a little hesitation.
It wasn’t, Marcela said, in Santa Ana, where they had lived with Paul’s parents. It was distant from St. Anne Catholic Church, which they attend, and where Paul had proposed to Marcela after a moment of prayer.
Their NeighborWorks Realtor had another house on South Van Ness Avenue in the Santa Ana Memorial Park neighborhood to show them.
It was a mess. The paint was peeling from the blue and white exterior. The ironwork in front of the house was rusted. A dilapidated shed stood alongside the house. Even the windows were boarded up.
It was also smaller than the condo they had seen, with two bedrooms, one bath and 844 square feet. Friends warned them about the age of the house, which was built in 1939.
But it was within walking distance of the church and near family. And it offered a chance to live in a home of their own, free of worries about rent increases and conflicts with landlords over maintenance.
NeighborWorks acquired the property in January 2015. Over the next few months, the Ramirezes would stop and check the progress made on renovations. They abandoned any plans to buy the condo.
Crews worked steadily at the Van Ness Avenue house. The plumbing and electrical systems were replaced, and dual-pain windows, central air conditioning and heating were installed. The foundation was re-enforced. New flooring, paint and a roof brought the interior and exterior to life. The kitchen was remodeled with new white cabinets, a granite countertop and stainless steel, energy-efficient appliances. The dilapidated shed was torn down and a long, concrete driveway was poured.
The overhaul of the house was completed in July 2015.
Overcoming their reservations about the house’s size, the Ramirezes decided to buy it.
“I was just ready to be in a house,” Marcela said. “I said we can make it work.”
They qualified for financing aimed at helping buyers earning less than 80 percent of the area’s median income. The sale closed on Oct. 30, 2015.
Paul, who attended Middle College High School in Santa Ana and went on to get his bachelor’s degree and teaching credential at Cal State Fullerton, looked over every detail of the paperwork.
“NeighborWorks knows me as the guy who asks questions,” Paul said. The staff always responded.
The couple’s efforts have paid off. Paul likes walking out the door and along a walkway with green lawn on both sides. Marcela, a Santa Ana College graduate and stay-at-home mom, likes the kitchen upgrades and the house’s architectural touches, such as the arched entryways. Daughter Liliana, age 1, plays with her toys in her room, and with rocks out in the garden. The couple has decorated the home with artwork by Marcela and her mother and with religious icons, like an image of Mary and the infant Jesus.
”The biggest lesson we learned is just to trust in God, to be patient, and that whether we had the home or not, God will provide,” Paul said.
As the 2015 holidays came to a close, a Christmas tree stood in the living room, Advent candles decorated the dining table and a crèche spread over a console.
The Ramirezes are grateful to NeighborWorks and have told several people about the help it can provide low- and moderate-income households.
“My advice to a first-time homebuyer is to call NeighborWorks,” Paul said. “Buying a home can be overwhelming, but you do not have to do it alone. There are no commitments with NeighborWorks and they will help you from step one to step thirty.”
Marcela, 31, is expecting the couple’s second child in April. Paul is already thinking ahead to the possibility of expanding the house in the spacious backyard, where citrus and avocado trees dot the lawn. They’ve met their neighbors on both sides, and discovered that people on their street look out for each other.
“God has always been good,” Marcela said. “This opportunity for a home has been a grace.”
“It is a blessing to have this home,” Paul said.