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Success Stories

“This is Home” – A Family Finds Their Forever Home in Calais, Maine

Leigh Hallett
A mother and three daughters pose around a dining room table. There are lace curtains and blue wall in the background and some dishes on the table in the foreground.
A woman and her daughter smile for a selfie portrait indoors.
One of the first rooms Heather Gagne and her daughters began redecorating in their new home is the dining room, shown in the top photo. They have been busy repainting and making other updates.

Raising a family in coastal Machias, Maine may sound lovely, but for Heather Gagne recent years proved stressful. There were few housing options in their Downeast community, and Heather was glad to find a rental home to accommodate her four kids and their family pets. However, the rental was tiny and had a leaking roof, no central heat, and serious electrical problems. While Heather searched in vain for an affordable alternative, the landlord refused to repair any of the problems. With a limited budget, the family just couldn’t find any suitable rental options. 

Then a realtor friend told Heather that USDA Rural Development has a program that might help her to purchase a home (Single Family Housing Direct Home Loans). She called the Presque Isle, Maine office to learn more, explaining that she manages a fixed income and did not have a substantial down payment. Rural Development Housing Loan Specialist Stacey and Housing Loan Technician Mariah crunched the numbers and gave Heather the news: it would be doable for her to purchase a home… but not yet. Heather was going to need to get her financial house in order and was going to need to invest time and hard work in the home-buying process. Heather was all in!

Over the next eighteen months, Heather worked with Stacey and Mariah closely. She followed their advice and steadily raised her credit score. She also explored the local real estate market to learn where she could get the most bang for her housing buck. There were many discouraging hurdles, but her Rural Development team coached along the way. “I never thought homeowning was going to be in my picture,” says Heather. “I never would have known about these options without their help.”

A two story grey home is pictured with a green lawn, bright blue sky, and trees in the background.
Borrowing through USDA Rural Development can take time. Heather says some sellers weren't willing to be patient. She just told herself, “It's okay - that house is not where I need to be.” Heather says her Realtor, Crystal Wild, was "amazing" and played a critical role in finding the right house.

Then one day Stacey called Heather with the good news: she was approved for a $131K mortgage. The hard financial work had paid off, and finally she could start house-hunting in earnest. But she wasn’t at the finish line yet! Most houses in the area were selling for much more than Heather could afford with her USDA mortgage, even “starter” homes. She was determined, though, and made “I will find a house in this bracket. I WILL,” her mantra. 

With ongoing help from the RD team and her “rockstar” Realtor, Crystal Wild, Heather dove into the search. She saw many houses that just wouldn’t work. Then one day she and her agent toured a Federalist style house near the Canadian border in Calais. It was love at first sight! The home was near her price range. At 2400 square feet, it was a great size for the family. The antique home also featured architectural details that reminded Heather of her grandmother’s home. But it was an hour from where the family was living at the time, and relocating would mean building a new community of friends and school. Could they make it work?

A hand is shown holding a set of keys in front of a magenta house door that is ajar.
The family documented closing day with photos, including this one of their new front door. They finally have a home large enough for everyone. "We have to LOOK for each other in this house!" Heather laughs. 

Two years into her home-buying quest, Heather was finally entering the home stretch. She was still committed and energetic, but harbored doubts about how her kids would feel about moving to Calais. She also was concerned about how she would make some necessary repairs to the home while staying on budget. 

To Heather’s relief, her son and three daughters adapted quickly to the idea of moving. And her Realtor and Rural Development team helped her manage the financial components, including negotiating the purchase price, navigating the home inspection, and incorporating some necessary repairs into the mortgage. Says Heather, “The USDA Rural Development housing staff talked me right through getting house insurance and other things that I didn’t even know I needed to do. Thanks to them, I could actually enjoy the process. I could be excited instead of feeling overwhelmed. I knew that the other end of that line they were there to help.”

The family closed on the home on February 7, 2024. Once moving day came around, Heather was so eager and ready to go that she had their boxes unpacked and their things arranged in a mere three days. In their new home they love the large living room, kitchen, and dining room that enable them to spend time together as a family, unlike in the tiny rental. Also, unlike the rental, their new home has reliable heat and a solid roof. (Heather says that the first time it rained after they moved in, out of habit she reached for buckets to catch the drips. Her kids were quick to remind her, “Mom, we don’t need buckets here!”) 

A woman stands on the front porch of a grey house with white trim with a large dog at her side.
Heather poses on the front porch with the family dog, Bubba. It can be especially hard for renters with pets to find accommodations. Her family is thrilled that the people and pets in their family have a secure, permanent home now. 

For the Gagne family, it was a long road to home ownership. Just a month after moving in, Heather reflected, “If you had asked me two years ago if I would be sitting in a house, I would have said no. I heard the most discouraging things all along. And I kept going until there was nothing more to do. And now there really is nothing more to do – because I’m in my house!” She went on, “One of my daughters went to the closing, and asked, ‘Is this really ours?’ The kids were just so happy - over the moon happy. They all cried when I came home with the keys in hand. I told them, ‘This is really, really ours. We’re not moving again. This is home.’”


Obligation Amount:
Year(s) of Obligation:
Congressional District:
  • Maine: District 2