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SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Imagine allowing your neighbors to move into your home and giving them carte blanche to do a renovation project. Then imagine having the opportunity to do the same thing at their house. A sure way to break up a beautiful friendship? Or an unusual idea with a happy ending? That was what longtime Folsom friends and neighbors Doug and Teresa Tostenson and Jac and Mona Noel may have been wondering when they won SAFE Credit Union’s Fall Fix-Up Contest. For 48 hours, the couples swapped homes and, along with work crews, painted, hammered, sewed and sweated as they worked to transform a room in each other’s house. While the Tostensons labored over remodeling the Noel’s master bedroom, the Noels were hard at work redoing the Tostenson`s living-dining room. Neither couple was allowed to get a sneak peek at the progress being made on their home. “I love it. I love it,” said Mona Noel when she finally saw the finished result. “It’s exactly what we always wanted,” said Doug Tostenson when he viewed his neighbor’s handiwork on his living-dining room. The real winner, however, may have been SAFE Credit Union, which reported $18 million in new home equity loans as a result of the promotion. Officials said it also generated more than $100,000 in publicity on radio, television and in print. “In your career you hope that each promotion comes off okay and that you meet your goals,” said Faith Galati, vice president of marketing for SAFE. “This so exceeded my expectations for this promotion. This one just got legs and took off.” The event was so successful that the credit union is considering launching a new contest annually, perhaps with next year’s focusing on landscaping projects. “The SAFE Fall Fix-Up couldn’t have turned out any better,” added Crystal Martin, SAFE’s marketing promotions specialist who also served as contest manager. The contest was designed to promote SAFE’s special home equity loan package that came with interest rates as low as 4.75%. Such loans are often used to finance home improvement projects, so the tie-in with a home remodeling project seemed a natural. SAFE partnered with Ace Hardware and Home Interiors by Western Contract. Ace provided the paint, tools, crown molding and other renovation supplies, while Western Contract supplied an interior designer to each couple as well as about $7,000 in furnishings. Each project had a budget of $5,000. The contest was promoted through print ads as well as on local radio stations and in the credit union’s newsletter. Sign-ups were taken on the credit union’s Web site and each applicant had to submit a photo of the room to be remodeled to show the potential of their one-room renovation project. The promotion created a lot of “buzz” in the area, Galati said. “If I wore my SAFE badge into the grocery store, people were stopping me and asking `Hey! How do I get into that fall fix-up thing?’” she said. A total of 150 couples – or 75 teams – signed up for the two-day project, agreeing to live and work in their neighbor’s house. Entrants did not have to be members of the credit union. One of the entries -which was subsequently rejected by the panel of judges – was for a “dog room.” “We had a lot of bedrooms and living rooms, a couple of kitchens, some children’s rooms. But the dog room was definitely the most unique,” Galati said. The Tostensons and Noels turned out to be the lucky winners. “When we saw the SAFE Credit Union contest, we said, `We have to do this,’” said Mona Noel. “We thought we’d just go for it and see what happen.” What did happen was a complete makeover of the Tostenson’s living-dining room and the Noel’s bedroom and bath. For the Tostensons, the redesigned room featured a new high-end dining room set and chandelier, an oversized ottoman-style coffee table, a paint job on the walls in deep red satin enamel and off-white for the ceiling, bright white crown molding and a wrought iron gate set purchased at a consignment store to be faux painted and turned into wall panels. Interior designer Kitt Haman said her goal with the living-dining room was to “make it grand.” At the Noels house, interior designer Joyce Fugitt`s aim was to create a comfortable but elegant master retreat in the bedroom, which previously served as both a bedroom and office. The new look included a four-poster iron bed, a velvet chaise and walls painted in a deep green and and light toffee. The Tostensons and Noels had help in the remodeling efforts, with work crews from Ace and Western Contract, along with six to eight volunteers from SAFE CU. To celebrate the completion of the projects, a neighborhood party was held outside. Neighbors and news media mingled to get a glimpse of the results. SAFE also launched a second contest allowing people to vote for which project resulted in the most dramatic change. With the final vote nearly a tie, three winners were selected and each was given a $100 gift certificate. Because the vote was so close, a $500 gift certificate from Western Contract for the winning house was split between the Tostensons and the Noels. -

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