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Neighbors of North Aurora

Home Improvement – Beyond the Granite Countertops

03/24/2014 11:49AM ● By Tim

Sometimes, life circumstances can have a monumental impact on a family’s living situation. A sudden illness or a disabling accident can send a family into panic mode as they attempt to make their home accommodating to the new situation. “Aging in place” may mean a home remodel is necessary.  Perhaps a child is moving back home “temporarily.”  In extreme case remodeling is really rebuilding, from the inside out (Habitat for Humanity tells us about that process).  For many, the concept of “remodeling” is changing. 

 In the early 2000s when the economy was booming, home equity loans were plentiful and keeping up with the neighbors seemed to be essential. People were making what many thought were important upgrades to their homes. Then the housing market crashed, the economy sank and homeowners were underwater in mortgages and debt.

 During the recent recession, home remodeling wasn’t a priority – instead people were focused on just making a house payment. According to, things are looking up today. In a 2013 Hanley Wood survey, remodeling sales were up 10% compared to 2012 and 45% of remodelers surveyed expected another 10% growth in 2014.

 Granted, the “cosmetic” changes remain popular. Modern kitchens, replacing brass accents, updating bathrooms, painting, and using sustainable materials are popular home improvements today. But what does a family do when life’s circumstances have changed and those changes impact their home improvement plans?

 Family dynamics

According to a 2011 Pew Research Center report, now more than in recent modern history, the country is experiencing a trend of multi-generational households. Whether it’s a “boomerang” adult child who has moved home due to economic or life circumstances or an aging parent moving in with their “child,” several generations are now sharing a roof.

 Aging in place

Americans are living longer. According to the AARP, nearly 90% of seniors over age 65 want to remain home as long as possible instead of moving to a nursing or retirement home. With the high cost of assisted living and many seniors not able to make ends meet on social security alone, the concept of “Aging in Place” is a buzzword in today’s home improvement market.


The idea is to live in their home independently and in a safe, comfortable and accessible home. Modified bathrooms, stair lifts, one story living spaces, wider hallways to accommodate a wheel chair, rails and ramps are just a few of the improvements that are essential for a senior wanting to age in place in their own home.

 Annette Kallevik, is a North Aurora resident and a real estate broker with Kettley & Co. Inc. of Batavia. She is no stranger to the concept of aging in place. Several years ago she “dropped out of the world” to care for her parents, who also lived in North Aurora.  To continue to live in the home and neighborhood they loved, home modifications were necessary. She said that thinking ahead is the key to staying in your home longer and independently.

 “I’m seeing home buyers in their 40s and 50s making home-buying decisions based on whether there is a first-floor master suite,” Kallevik explains. “They are not only thinking about their own aging in place, but the very real possibility that they may have Mom or Dad live with them in the future.”

 She says that many of the buyers of existing homes realize they may need to modify the home to accommodate walkers and wheelchairs to live independently at home. Although these changes aren’t made for marketability, it is likely they will enhance it as more and more baby boomers look to find homes where they can age in place.   

 Kallevik suggests homeowners remodel a house to include these features – before changing circumstances dictate that they are a necessity for either yourself or a loved one.

·         Main floor bedroom and full bath

·         4-foot wide hallways

·         3-foot wide doors throughout the house

·         At least one walk-in shower

·         Grab bars in showers/tubs

·         Grab bars and or additional railings on stairs, even for two-step entrances

·         Lever door handles and faucets

·         Better lighting

·         Hard surfaced flooring

·         Anti-scald devices on faucets

 Home ownership – the American Dream

Owning your home has long been considered part of the American dream. No more so than for those who move to the United States seeking better opportunities.

 One such family took ownership of a townhome on the east side of North Aurora slightly over a year ago. Enid Vargas and her daughters Wilenid Torres and Jennesis Jaca moved to Illinois from Puerto Rico seven years ago. At the time, Enid was married to Wilenid’s father.

 The family’s dream was to find employment and then purchase a house. Unfortunately, timing couldn’t be worse as the United States was headed into a recession. Although they found employment, owning a house seemed unattainable. Then they heard about Habitat for Humanity and applied.    

 According to Jeffrey Barrett, the executive director for the Fox Valley Habitat for Humanity (FVHH), it is usually at least a two-year process before an approved applicant can move into their home. When Vargas and her husband divorced, she was forced to begin the process once again, based entirely on her own financial standing.

 Barrett says that people often misconstrue what the nonprofit does.

“We help families who won’t qualify for mortgages through normal channels become homeowners,” explains Barrett. “We qualify potential recipients and they are then required to attend financial management classes as well as invest up to 500 hours of sweat equity before they get the keys to a house.” 

 According to the Fox Valley Habitat for Humanity website, “Fox Valley Habitat for Humanity families work for local companies, live in substandard or overpriced rental units, and earn less than is required to qualify for quality affordable homes.”  

 Because of the due diligence of FVHH in qualifying families for home ownership, they’ve had only one foreclosure in 22 years

 Meanwhile, Enid worked on her English-speaking skills and found employment. She currently works fulltime at the downtown Aurora Waubonsee Community College campus. As a student support development technician, she greets and directs students and visitors, along with other secretarial duties. No doubt, her bilingual skills come in handy.   

 Once approved by FVHH, Vargas took the required Habitat for Humanity workshops and classes and the family began to work off their sweat equity. It turns out; they cleaned and painted the home they eventually would own.

 When remodeling actually means gutting

 The majority of Habitat for Humanity homes are newly constructed. Barrett says that with a large number of homes in the Fox Valley sitting empty because of foreclosures, the group decided that remodeling these homes for new families made sense.

 One of their first remodels is the townhome in North Aurora where Enid and her family reside. Termed an “extreme situation” by North Aurora Code Compliance officer Rhonda Klecz, the Village became the owner of the residence when a lien placed on the property to pay for a cleanup wasn’t paid.

 In August 2012, the Village sold the property to FVHH through a sealed bid process. Barrett says that although part of the drywall was previously removed to treat for mold, they found evidence of mold elsewhere. Down came the remainder of the drywall, trim and cabinets, removing everything down to the studs in the three-bedroom, two-story attached home.

 Because the property dates from about 1962, much of the plumbing and electrical were no longer up to Village of North Aurora codes. Besides bringing the infrastructure up to code, the HVAC system was updated with a new energy-efficient furnace and central air. New appliances include a washer and dryer, refrigerator, stove and dishwasher.

 The full- and half-bath fixtures are new, as is all the trim and entry doors. According to Barrett, despite the original odor that permeated the hardwood floors, they were able to find a product to neutralize it. Today, the newly stained and finished hardwood floors gleam, perfectly matching the newly added hardwood in the kitchen.

Keys to their castle

 Less than five months after taking ownership of the eastside townhome, Fox Valley Habitat for Humanity handed the keys to Enid and her daughters on Dec. 25, 2012. It turns out this was quite the Christmas present.

 “I feel really, really blessed to have this home,” says Enid.

 She said she enjoys decorating and has plans to finish part of the basement soon. Evidently, her Habitat for Humanity “training” has spurred her to even bigger construction goals.

 “I want to frame the room in the basement myself,” says Enid. “I’ve watched some videos on You-Tube and I think I can do it. At least I want to try.”

 Fourteen-year old Wilenid, a freshman at West Aurora High School, says the stability they have now is most important.

 “It (owning this home) is a blessing because we’ve wanted this for a long time – and I like this house,” she said with an excited grin. “We didn’t have anything. From nothing, we came to this – owning a house.”

 The small family embraces not only their new home and the culture of the western suburbs; they also celebrate their Puerto Rican heritage. Wilenid is the reigning 2013-2014 Miss Teen Puerto Rico, a title she won last summer at a pageant run by the Aurora Puerto Rican Cultural Council.

 Twenty-one year old Jennesis, newly married and pursuing an associate’s degree at Waubonsee is particularly poignant in her comparison of the opportunities in Puerto Rico versus the States.  After moving back to Puerto Rico after she graduated from West Aurora High School, she found that the motivation to improve wasn’t as evident on the island.

 “You can find less expensive housing in Puerto Rico, but the job situation is much worse there,” she explains. “There are jobs, but they require specific capabilities. How are you going to get the necessary skills if you aren’t given the opportunity to develop them?

 “It is beautiful to live there, but…”

 No matter what life throws your way, it is evident that with some forethought and hard work, the American Dream of home ownership is possible.