HYRUM, Cache County — A year ago, Jake and Katie Netzley were nearing their "wits' end" as they searched for a home to buy for their young family of five — soon to be six.
After months of looking, they were unable to find anything in the greater Logan area they could afford and became discouraged.
"We looked around and realized the prices were out of our budget and out of our range," he explained.
Then they happened to learn about a local program that could help get them into their first home — a brand new home at that — and with no down payment. But there was a catch: They would have to build it mostly themselves.
"The work was long and hard, but it seems small in comparison now that we're done and we have a home that we can afford and fits our growing family," said Jake Netzley, a father of three with a fourth on the way. While they are happy now that the hard work is done, Katie Netzley said the actual building process was quite arduous.
"It seemed impossible (at first), but after I went to an open house and I could see the beautiful new homes that were built, I knew it was a good investment," she said.
The Netzleys were one of 10 families that celebrated the completion of a 10-month experience that allowed each household to become homeowners through a program developed by Neighborhood Housing Solutions, a Logan-based nonprofit whose mission is "to create affordable housing opportunities, to strengthen and enhance communities, and to provide households with the skills to become self-sufficient."
The group signed up for the Owner-Builder Program, described as similar to a modern day “barn raising” in which each of the families commit to build their own home and to help each other as well.
No family could move into their house until all the homes in the group were completed, explained Kim Datwyler, executive director of Neighborhood Housing Solutions.
All the families work together to build their homes, committing to over 35 hours a week on top of their regular jobs, she said. The homes take about nine or 10 months to complete with payments based on the individual family's income, which helps make the home affordable.
More importantly, Datwyler noted, participants don't even have to "know how to use a hammer." With the help of an experienced construction supervisor, participants are instructed how to build a home from the first nail to completion.
"When we start, they look at the power tools like they're rattlesnakes," Datwyler said with a laugh. "By the end, they're picking them up and using them (like an expert)."
With the rising cost of housing creating a lack of affordable ownership options, many families struggle to get into a home. This program makes those dreams come true, she said.
To qualify for the program, households "can't make more than 80 percent of the area median income level designated by (U.S. Housing and Urban Development), have reasonably good credit, have your debt in control (and) a willingness to work."
"Right now, our mortgages are running around $210,000 to $215,000," she said.
Qualified buyers also receive reduced interest rates ranging from 1 percent to 3.75 percent based on income and family size. The typical house is approximately 1,350 square feet with three bedrooms, two bathrooms with a two-car garage, an unfinished basement and a landscaped front yard.
"And if they have the funds, then we fence (the house)," Datwyler said. "We think fences do make good neighbors and it sure makes the neighborhood look nice."
Because the homes are built as part of a larger mutual effort, the families are forced to build a sense of community, said participants Jason and Paige Hamblin.
"It's been really good," Paige Hamblin said. "Every Saturday (during the building period), we'd get together and have lunch or dinner. You get to know everyone and it's really great."
Speaking following a ceremony celebrating the families' completion of the owner-builder program, Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said these kinds of programs can help mitigate the state's current housing affordability concerns for those willing to make the commitment and put in the work.
"This is a very unique way for those that can and are willing to work hard — up to 1,800 hours or 1,900 hours over a 10-month period," he said. "Then that first day they move in with their kids and knowing that it's theirs — that's really a game-changer!"
While the work was laborious and days were long, the experience paid off in the end, said Reese Wirick, another new homeowner.3 comments on this story
"It was a really big commitment (for us) because my wife was in school and limited to what she could do (to help), but it was so worth it," he said. "The skills you learn, the people you work with and the program in general (was amazing)."
For people looking to get into their first home, he said the program is a great option.
"Do it! It's the best thing you can do," Wirick said. "Just the money that I've saved and the equity into my house, it just puts me on top. It's less worry. My house is less. There is nothing bad, only benefits."