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Betting on a belief

Couple behind Good People Good Homes LLC developing “The Residences at West River.”

Steve Franco, left, and his wife, Kelly Rafuse, the people behind the real estate investment company Good People Good Homes, made a good find of a six-unit apartment building they are renovating on West River Street, Wilkes-Barre.

FRED ADAMS/THE TIMES LEADER

WILKES-BARRE – When New England didn’t feel like home after being away for a while, Kelly Rafuse and her husband, Steve Franco, returned to the Wyoming Valley.

The couple bought a house in Pittston and set about starting a real estate investment company, Good People Good Homes LLC, with an eye out for old buildings.

They didn’t have to look far.

With the help of an agent, they found a property on Barney Street and began renovating the six-unit apartment building.

The property was shut down by the city after the former landlord failed to pay the water bill. Pipes burst during the winter, causing damage in some of the apartments.

It’s a work in progress, just like their second property, a two-unit apartment building on Grove Street, and their third and biggest project, “The Residences at West River.”

“I had a dream,” Rafuse said, explaining why they bought the abandoned six-unit apartment building on West River for $160,000. “It was the neighborhood we used to live in.”

The city is showing signs of life again, leaving Rafuse inspired, she said. Plus, there are older buildings that, with some investment and work, can be restored to provide affordable housing.

“We want to make money,” Rafuse said. But at the same time, she added, they have a greater mission of participating in the city’s revitalization.

“Make it a good, solid home and good, solid people will want to live there. And enough good, solid people living downtown can turn a neighborhood around.”

The West River Street building has three apartments on one side. On the other side is another apartment and two, larger, two-story townhouse apartments. Monthly rents are $750, $825 and $900.

The building already has one unit rented out. The tenant moved there from the Barney Street property in search of more room.

“We cleaned up a lot. We painted it,” said Robin Gardner, who lives in the first-floor apartment with her sister, Colleen Regula.

The property is near completion thanks to a loosely organized crew of contractors the couple have gotten to know and trust. When an unscrupulous contractor failed to honor a contract, it delayed the renovations. On Monday, contractors were painting, removing debris and scraping off old wallpaper in anticipation of an open house scheduled for Sunday.

The couple, who work in local media, are putting their own money into the renovations and investing in properties at a time of rising foreclosures and troubles in the housing and mortgage industries.

“There’s bank financing,” Franco said. But no government money was available for the project, he said.

“We didn’t spend more than we had,” Rafuse said of the disciplined business strategy they intend to adhere to.

“Eventually we want real estate to be the only job we have.”

Open for tour

Good People Good Homes has scheduled an open house for 1 p.m. Sunday for the apartment building at 165/167 W. River St., Wilkes-Barre.

For more information, call 570 237-1866 or visit, www.goodpeoplegoodhomes.com.

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