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Keeping character: Fred and Rhonda Motes renovate, restore Hartselle homes while honoring the past

Photos by Rachel Howard and contributed

A farmhouse built in 1912 was the first house in Morgan County to be revitalized by husband-and-wife team Fred and Rhonda Motes in 1998. 

The Motes own and operate CHA Homes, LLC, and the endeavor keeps the pair busy in their retirement years. Having finished their eighth house that was a top-to-bottom rebuild, Rhonda says the journey into the home restoration business has been a process that has taken 35 years.

“We completed home renovation projects for ourselves for 30 years,” she said, attributing their knowledge mostly to Fred’s learned skills from Morgan County High School and years of experience.

“It’s been a growing process; a 35-year learning curve.”

Fred retired from General Motors after three decades with the company, and the couple moved back to the area from in Kansas City, Missouri in 2016. While in Missouri they completed a from-the-ground-up rebuild of their home there.

“That house was inspiration to us because when we put it on the market, it sold in 15 days,” Rhonda says. “The people who bought the house said they didn’t know what we planned on doing in our retirement, but home renovation looked like our calling.

Photo by Rachel Howard

“It was an old house; we renovated it to add modern conveniences while keeping its character,” she added.

Rhonda said her love of all things vintage began earlier in life when she owned an antique business in Morgan County for 14 years.

“We like old things; we like restoring the past,” she said.

When the Motes returned to Alabama, having never sold their family home, they purchased a house close to West Hartselle Baptist Church and it became the couple’s next project.

Since that time, they have completed two houses on Sparkman Street and one on Day Street.

“When we first started out, I would take pictures of the before and after and we gave the new owner a (keepsake) book,” she said. “It’s great to be able to look back and see where a project began once its finished.”

Rhonda said the houses they choose to renovate are usually not livable – and they’re chosen that way for a purpose.

“It sounds strange, but the worse they are, the better we like them,” she said with a laugh.

“For instance, if somebody goes in, and remuddles something – just does the surface and doesn’t address the root problem – you’re paying for their labor and their materials of what they did that is going to have to come out to get it back to its original state,” she said.

The majority of the work is done by Fred and Rhonda themselves, with specialized services like HVAC work and spray foam insulation being contracted out.

“Everything else that we can do, we do ourselves,” Rhonda said.

Their son Johndale Motes works with them along with one employee, Noe Morales, who is a framer by trade. Johndale, Rhonda said, has his homebuilder’s license and he and Morales are especially looking forward to the time when CHA Homes takes on their first new construction. There are current plans to purchase a vacant lot close to Day Street that will be the site for the build.

The job can be a hard one, Rhonda said, but so far, they haven’t come across a house that was too big or too much work.

“I’m not a quitter,” she said. “I’ve got grit, and if there’s ever a problem we come up against, there’s always the next day.”

It is apparent to Rhonda that people like vintage things if they’re updated, have modern-day conveniences and spotlight the true character of the home – it is to that fact that she attributes their success in selling each home they have taken on.

Rhonda reconfigures each house before the building begins, moving walls, adding bathrooms and expanding kitchens virtually. A plan is put in place on paper far before the first swing of the hammer hits a nail, she said.

Design wise, she said she likes to leave certain aspects up to the buyer so they’re able to add their touches.

Rhonda said each house they have rebuilt has taken a minimum of six months to complete, with some projects, like 808 Sparkman, featured in the January/February issue of Hartselle Living, stretching longer.

“Each house becomes its own story,” Rhonda said. “I pray for these houses and the people that are coming.

“Just like we take these houses – quite literally that we down to their foundation and work on them one day at a time – God is working on our lives,” she said.

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