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Great deal unlocks door to a home

[Times photo: Dirk Shadd]
Sabrina Gutillo peeks around the front door of her new home in St. Petersburg.

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 8, 2000

ST. PETERSBURG -- While their 20-month-old toddler wobbled on the front steps, Mark Gutillo and Mayra Wever gazed around their new home.

"I still can't believe it's for real," Gutillo said.

The young couple was chosen from about 100 applicants to receive a refurbished house that they'll own after making payments for only three years.

Bay Area Development Group, a non-profit housing provider, made the deal possible. It bought the dilapidated house at 210 42nd St. S from the Department of Veterans Affairs at a reduced price. City Construction Co. renovated it. Community businesses pitched in. The couple got a house estimated by Bay Area to be worth $70,000, now that repairs have been made. They'll pay $350 a month for three years, then get the deed to the house.

The unusual deal appears to bring Bay Area little more than favorable community notice.

"There's a little bit of that, but mostly we did it just because we feel like we ought to be doing it," said Linda Sorem, Bay Area president.

"We'd love to do it again. We're planning on it, but we just have a whole bunch of bills to pay," she said.

Bay Area, in business for 14 months, seeks to renovate houses and sell them to families at minimal cost, bypassing conventional down payment assistance programs.

Gutillo, 22, is chef and kitchen manager at Applebee's restaurant in Pinellas Park. He said owning a house has been a longtime goal.

"We've been trying to get in a place forever," he said. "But it's almost impossible to try to rent and save up money."

Others who helped the project include Weathermakers Air Conditioning and Heating, Home Depot, Tom Cook's Siding, architect Ronn Ginn, North American Mortgage Co. and DRS Home Services.

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