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Builders Blitz: How a Durham nonprofit built 2 houses in 7 days for less than $360,000

January 8, 2024

Written by Chantal Allam
Published by The News & Observer, January 5, 2023

On a rainy morning last October, a crew of roughly 100 subcontractors and volunteers descended on a cleared lot at 708 and 712 Belmont Drive in Durham.

Their mission: Build two 1,200-square-foot homes, from start to finish, in seven days.

The local builders — Garman Homes and J. Hoffman Studio — also had a tight budget: around $170,000 per house.

Amid rising costs of materials, labor and land, and the tightening of bank lending standards, that’s no small task in today’s market. Small, detached single-family homes priced under $300,000 are hard to come by, let alone build.

But they met their deadline.

Neither rain nor material shortages — or even a last-minute order mishap — could stop them.

“You just don’t let anything get in your way,” said Alaina Money-Garman, chief executive of Cary-based Garman Homes. “Some trades would stay until the wee hours of the morning. They’d end up with double crew sometimes.”

A PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP

The weeklong event was part of Habitat for Humanity Durham’s annual Builders Blitz.

On pause since 2019 because of pandemic-related supply shortages, it serves to make homeownership more attainable as rising housing costs squeeze middle- to low-income workers.

Today in Durham, the median home price stands at $416,460 — up 4.2% year-over-year.

That’s basically out of reach for someone who earns 50% to 80% of the area’s median income — $35,400 to $80,900 for a family of four — which Habitat serves. You’d need to earn $37,864 to $83,364 more — around $118,764 — to afford that median-priced home with a 20% down payment.

“That gap is creating increased challenges for [us],” Habitat Durham CEO Tiana Joyner told The N&O.

To make the math work, she said, “It takes the support of materials and manpower, and partnerships like the one we have with Garman Homes and J. Hoffman Studio Design + Build.”

As part of the deal, Habitat acquires the land, develops the sites, provides the house plans and permits, and selects the partner families.

The builders call on their regular contractors to provide materials and labor.

Money-Garman calls it “personal favor” pricing.

“Our average price point has jumped by six figures since 2019, she said. “We only get to that $170,000 [for Habitat] because we cash in on every favor that we’ve earned.”

They’ve also established a “Give It Back” fund. Each year, they build around 300 homes, ranging in price from the high $300,000s up to $555,000. They funnel an undisclosed amount from each home’s sale into charitable causes, she said.

In recent years, Garman Homes has built over a dozen homes for Habitat and helped develop Weavers Grove, a mixed-income community in Orange County. Of the 238 units, 102 will be Habitat homes.

It’s also behind Chatham County’s tiny home village project for people with mental illness at The Farm at Penny Lane.

Money-Garman said it’s an essential part of her business.

“I don’t want success without impact. The more people buy Garman Homes, the more impact we’re able to make in our communities.”

A NEW YEAR’S HOMECOMING

For Pateryl Hargett, it’s proven to be a godsend.

Last month, the 33-year-old closed on one of the homes built during the Blitz for $180,000, including closing costs. The single mother of two boys, aged 10 and 13, moved into her three-bedroom, two-bathroom ranch home just in time to celebrate the holidays.

The home sits on a .10-acre lot about four miles east of downtown Durham. It comes with a front porch and rear deck that backs up to woods.

“I’m truly blessed,” said Hargett, who works from home for UNC Healthcare. “I’m excited to start my journey as a new homeowner.”

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