By Elizabeth McGowan
When Jose Ortiz enrolled in medical school in his native Honduras, he expected to eventually apply his healing touch to broken bones, upset stomachs and ailing organs.
But then life intervened. He fell in love with a fellow student, Denise Cintron, and soon bravely followed her to her family’s home county of Prince George’s after they married in November 2004. Memories of studying medicine faded as Denise pursued a career as an office manager and Jose cleaned roof gutters by day while earning certification as a plumbing, electrical and heating, ventilation and air conditioning specialist at night.
Now Jose applies his doctoring skills to aching homes in the Washington, D.C., region. These days, his main “patient” is the 73-year-old Capitol Heights, Maryland, bungalow the couple bought in August 2009. Jose and Denise are resuscitating their little tan house—from the drain of its basement sump pump to the peak of its asphalt shingle roof—with supplies and tools from the Community Forklift.
Hardwood floors, ceramic tiles, a large glass block window, a stainless steel kitchen sink, kitchen cupboards, bathroom vanities, carpet squares in a walk-in closet, ceiling light covers, vents, light switch covers, and yards of trim and molding are just some of the evidence of their discovery of the surplus and salvage jackpot in Edmonston.
“It’s so awesome at the Forklift,” Denise, 29, says while walking across the odd lots of handsome hardwood flooring that Jose painstakingly pieced together in appealing patterns in both the living room and front hallway. “You have to know what you are looking for but there are really good deals. And what you don’t you use, you can donate back.”
“We knew we didn’t want carpet,” Jose, 34, chimes in, adding how elated he was to rip out the hideous carpet they inherited with the house. “It just took us a while to figure out the look we wanted.”
Forklift staffers are familiar with the family’s prolific and epic ventures to the 40,000-square foot warehouse. Jose, with his distinctive black ringlets, inches his way down each aisle methodically, measuring once, twice and perhaps three times to make sure no matter what he buys is a sound investment. Several hours later, his cart will be stuffed with a motley and unwieldy collection of necessities that go into the guts of most every house—a garbage disposal, screws, nails, valves, angle iron, PVC and copper pipes, paint cans, drywall mesh, sheetrock compound and grout.
Not far away, Denise, mingles exuberantly with Forklift staffers and customers, and periodically reminds Jose that Joaquin—their almost two-year-old toddler who inherited his father’s black curls—is becoming a bit antsy.
Yes, they both agree, their home improvement projects would proceed much more rapidly if they shopped exclusively at big box stores. But they are willing to follow the slower route because of the magnetic pull of the Community Forklift’s hot coffee, monthly specials, discounted prices, funky inventory, welcoming staff and offbeat events.
“When I saw the announcement for that, I told Jose we had to go,” Denise says. “That was so much fun. We really enjoyed it.”
Browsing at the Forklift allows them to stumble across such unexpected treasures as the wooden table base they unearthed recently. Topping it off with the circular piece of marble they’ve been storing in their living room for close to two years means they will finally have the dining room table they’ve always craved.
“The way I look at it is, if you don’t have a lot of time you have to spend a lot of money,” says Denise, who earns her living as a translator and interpreter. “But if you have time, you don’t have a lot of money to spend. We’re willing to be patient.”
Irrefutable proof of their frequent Forklift forays is visible from the foot of the basement steps where a ceiling light fixture glows. Its distinctive orange price tag is still attached to its outer rim.
Their purchases helped the Community Forklift surpass $1 million in sales in 2012—the first time it has done so in its seven-year existence.
Denise and Jose’s first Forklift encounter happened years before they even purchased their home. An Edmonston business owner directed them to Tanglewood Drive in their search for appliances that would fit in the series of apartments they once called home. Renting one tiny apartment the size of a walk-in closet allowed them to save for a house down payment.
They are so thrilled to be homeowners, it’s a minor inconvenience for them to tolerate constant upheaval, wade through piles of sawdust, endure three weeks without a kitchen and resort to digging a drainage trench around the house’s foundation to keep water from entering a basement that they had to tear out and replace because of a severe mold infestation.
“I figured, we had lived in a closet at one point in our lives,” Denise says, displaying her usual optimistic disposition. “What couldn’t we do, even with a house that had problems?”
Now, they are likely just a few weeks away from renting out the tidy Forklift-themed apartment they’re close to completing in the basement.
When their friends observe the amount of repurposing that Denise and Jose have so cleverly executed throughout their home, they assume the couple has a deep green streak.
It’s more about sticking to a budget than the three R’s, Denise says.
“We do stuff that is environmentally conscious but we don’t really think of ourselves as environmentalists,” she concludes. “We just like to save money. What we don’t have to spend on the house we can spend on other things.”