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Fix-up project is halfway home

This is one in a series of articles about Richard and Dorothy Watts, who won a house on Second Avenue in Largo in a drawing Nov. 5. The house, sold to the Wattses for $1 as part of a federal housing program, must be renovated extensively before they can move in. The couple has not owned a home before.

New homeowner Dorothy Watts could barely contain her excitement as she toured the two-bedroom bungalow at 622 Second Ave. NW with city officials Tuesday morning.

The 66-year-old house, which Mrs. Watts and her husband, Richard, were able to buy for $1 when their names were drawn out of a box last November, is undergoing extensive renovations.

On Tuesday morning, contractor Bill Heaberlin pronounced the project half completed. Wobbly porches and antiquated windows have been replaced, walls have been torn out in some places, as have old bathroom fixtures and kitchen appliances. The Wattses and their 1-year-old son, Alex, hope to move in sometime around the middle of March.

"See where they moved the two big oak tree stumps?" Mrs. Watts asked. "That's where we're going to put the white picket fence, and then Alex will have a place to play."

The old house, with its pinewood floors and front and back porches, got a new roof earlier this week. For the first time, there is a heating and air-conditioning system in the attic.

Richard Watts, who works for Glenn Moon Heating and Air Conditioning in St. Petersburg, put in the unit himself working most nights until 1 a.m., Mrs. Watts said.

The family lives with Watts' mother. They have never owned a home before.

Because the Wattses were able to buy their house for $1, they will not have a monthly mortgage payment. But they are paying for the renovations, which cost $27,857, with a 3 percent federal home improvement loan acquired through the city's housing department. They will have 20 years to pay off the loan.

Similar loans are available to other low- to middle-income homeowners in other Pinellas cities and the unincorporated area of the county.

While repairing the fireplace, Heaberlin said he found a 1956 Clearwater Sun newspaper underneath the hearth. He said he also found a spoon made of silver, which he threw into his toolbox until he has time to clean it.

This week, kitchen cabinets are to be installed, Heaberlin said, and the white aluminum siding will go up on the outside of the house.

"We're halfway there," said City Manager Stephen Bonczek, who seemed almost as excited about the improvements as Mrs. Watts.

The city got the house through a now defunct government program that allowed cities to take over foreclosed property. George Romagnoli, who supervises Largo's housing program, was in charge of the acquisition.

"It's hard to believe this was once a house about to be condemned," Romagnoli said.