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Finishing touches, furniture put into new home

POPULAR COMMUNITY - Thursday night will be the first night Renee Wilson and her four grandchildren spend in their new "Extreme Makeover" home: a house nearly eight times bigger than the trailer the family shared for more than two years.

Wilson, a school cafeteria worker, and her four grandchildren - Hakeem, 10, Timothy, 8, R.J., 7 and Erica, 5 - were chosen by the show to receive a new home after they were nominated by Gail Horton and Jayson Bendik, Hakeem and Timothy's teachers at North Myrtle Beach Elementary School. As a result of their good fortune, however, they will certainly see higher property taxes, insurance and utility bills, but builders say a sustainability fund set up last week will provide what's needed to operate and maintain the new house. As of Wednesday, the fund held about $60,000 with an ultimate goal of $100,000.

"We thought of that early on," said Clinch Heyward, a partner with Hall Custom Homes, who, with Classic Home Builders & Design, built the house and coordinated the volunteer labor. "We want them to be able to enjoy it."

The builders initially pumped $10,000 each into the fund and sought corporate donations. The community also has responded. For example, a benefit concert held Tuesday night at the House of Blues, starring Hootie and The Blowfish, raked in about $20,000 in door donations as well as corporate sponsorships.

"If the spirit moves you, the time is now," Heyward said. "Every little bit helps. We want this family to grow up here."

The fund is restricted and can only be used for operating and maintenance expenses, Heyward said. However, should there be a surplus, it will be used as scholarships for the childrens' education, he said.

Wilson, who had been paying less than $100 annually in real- estate property taxes while living in her mobile home, won't see the tax increase on her new home until October 2008. Assessments are based on what's on the property as of Dec. 31, and since it's a new home, it won't be assessed until this fall.

An appraisal on the property is required within three to four months after a building permit has been filed, said Lisa Bourcier, Horry County's public information officer. Builders filed the permit last week. The owner of a nearby house, which has a fair market value of nearly $170,000, paid approximately $1,100 last year in property taxes.

Neighbors of the new construction also could see some benefit of higher property values.

"It certainly doesn't hurt the neighborhood," said Tom Maeser, president of Fortune Academy of Real Estate. "And it could be the start in bringing newer homes into the area."

Community response has been tremendous both in the way of donations and volunteering to help, the builders say.

Donna Burns and Julie Davenport with Appliance Plus, which donated laminate flooring and carpeting, worked together to gather clothing to fill the childrens' dressers and closets.

"We've had a great response," Burns said.

Construction on the new 3,400-square-foot house began Saturday after the Wilson's mobile home was demolished while film crews with the ABC television show recorded its destruction for airing March 25.

Builders finished the five- bedroom house off S.C. 90 on time Wednesday, relinquishing the keys to the designers, who spent hours inside working their magic after volunteers unloaded several furniture- filled trucks in front of production cameras.

Late Wednesday, Wilson's twin sister, Thera Stevenson, helped carry furniture into the new house. Pieces included a green sofa, a blue sofa, plaid club chairs, a white dining set, lifeguard-like chairs, indicating a beach-themed room for one of the children, an oversized basketball [another theme clue], and several red tables and lamps.

Volunteers also stocked the refrigerator and pantry.

"Words can't express how pretty it is," Stevenson said. "Renee is going to fall out. We're going to need some paramedics when she sees this."