Casey Howell is an independent woman. Some of it is by choice, and some of it is by circumstance.
But it’s all colored by her blindness.
The single mother moved from Orlando, Florida, to Apex this summer with her two pre-teen boys after finalizing her divorce. She said she “needed to get out of there.” She happened to have some friends in Raleigh, prompting her to choose the Triangle as her new home.
“It was stressful,” said Howell, who is 41. “I had a goal in my mind, and that drove me.”
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Such a move would be stressful in the best of circumstances, let alone for someone lacking her sight and also trying to sell one home, buy another home in another state and figure out how to relocate her seeing eye dog, children and furniture.
But with the help of James Brooks, a local real estate agent, Howell has a new home in Apex’s Bella Casa neighborhood.
There, kids play outside when it’s warm, and neighbors are social.
Brooks, who works with Raleigh Triangle Realty, said the inviting atmosphere is something he always looks for in a neighborhood – especially for a blind client.
“He was the most patient, motivated Realtor,” Howell said. “I was like, ‘This must be God.’ Not trying to be spiritual, but with my divorce, moving with my kids? I needed it.”
A lengthy process
Howell lost her sight when she was 21. She said she caught a viral tumor while pregnant with her first son, now an adult living in New Jersey. That tumor pressed against her eyes and caused her blindness.
She’s never lost her sense of fashion, though, and she knows how she wants things to look.
She still worries how her hair and makeup look in pictures, and she insisted on decorating the swanky home herself – with some help from Josh, 11, and Josiah, 12.
“I know what I want in my mind,” Howell said. “So we go shopping, and they find it.”
Her sons also helped her pick Brooks as her Realtor and were able to tell their mother what the homes she visited looked like.
Brooks and Howell linked up after she dropped several other Realtors she didn’t trust.
Brooks, who has a thick black mustache, joked that Howell’s kids probably only picked him during their online Realtor searches because he looks like the Nintendo character, Mario, of the Mario Bros.
When Howell and Brooks went to visit a home, it took hours to go through each one. He described everything painstakingly and took pictures for her sons to look at after school. He had to cancel appointments with some other clients to do it, Brooks said, but he has no regrets.
“It’s called doing the right thing,” he said.
Howell said she loves her house and is making friends at Apex Baptist Church and Apex Middle School, where her sons Josh and Josiah also are making friends.
Brooks still visits the family regularly, even though he closed the sale half a year ago. If they weren’t friends already, they would have been after Brooks entered Howell in the Great Home Giveaway, which helps potential home-buyers.
She ended up winning $10,000 in a random drawing last month.
In December, two days before Christmas, about 40 friends, neighbors and fellow church-goers gathered to surprise Howell outside her home with the check. She escaped back inside, crying, but soon returned to celebrate.
“I was so happy that day, because I was so lonely at Christmas,” Howell said.
Howell used to work as a massage therapist but hasn’t found work yet in the Triangle. She said the unexpected money reaffirmed her faith in a trying time.
“In a business like ours, it is an opportunity to give back,” said Jason Hoback, president of Commissions, Inc., the realty company behind the giveaway.
The company is giving away $10,000 every two weeks to potential home buyers. There will be a drawing for $100,000 next month.
“It’s very rewarding for us to give these down-payments and see the reactions in these people eyes,” Hoback said.
Howell doesn’t have a mortgage. She bought her $380,000 home outright, having just sold her home in Florida.
She spent her winnings on a computer system that announces when doors are opened, as well as upgrades for her backyard pool – one of the places she can safely exercise – as well as on interior decorating.
Armed with self-confidence and a strong Christian faith, she has found some positives in her loss of vision and still tackles life head-on.
For example, she now remembers the voice – instead of the face – of the people she meets and said she can detect the subtleties in conversation that other people miss or ignore.
“It would help having my sight, but,” she said, pausing. “But it actually has let me get a better sense for people now.”