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With his in-demand skills of an experienced plumber, Mr. Carr was able to find odd jobs installing toilets and fixing leaks by advertising on Craigslist, and took on whatever work was available through a friend in the construction business, remodeling beach properties in Ocean City, New Jersey.

For a year or two, Mr. Carr cared for the children while his wife worked, including doing the lion’s share of caring for the baby Olivia after she was born last year. During that time, he developed his love of cooking. Because of his ample skills in the kitchen, he continues to be the household’s main chef, preparing family meals after he gets home from work each day.

“I feel like I’m good with the kids,” he said, but it was trying at times when he was out of work.

The couple had lived comfortably together before the recession without getting married. But they decided to tie the knot in 2010 so Mr. Carr could get health benefits through his wife’s plan at Wentworth, which already covered the children. Health care proved to be one of their biggest worries during their periods of joblessness.

At those times, they had to do without insurance as it would have taken nearly all of their unemployment benefit checks just to pay for a family policy.

Then a year ago, Mr. Carr found a new job with Madsen, a local plumbing contractor, after accepting a pay cut of $7 from the $32 an hour he made on his last steady job. It could have been worse. He was offered positions making one-third of his former salary.

Stability returns

Mr. Carr is philosophical about the highs and lows of the housing market.  He says he expects life in the industry to remain on the roller coaster for some time to come.

“We used to get Christmas bonuses” of as much as $1,800 a year at the Worth company, he said. “Now, you’re lucky to have a job at Christmastime.”

Mrs. Santo is less anxious about the family finances these days, and is busy planning for the future again.

“Things are much more stabilized now. We hope they stay that way,” she said, noting she has gotten good raises and quarterly bonuses at Wentworth that have increased her income close to where it was a Wachovia.

In fact, things are going well enough that the couple this spring saw opportunity after the cratering in the housing market cut home prices by one-third or more in Pennsylvania and the rest of the country from the highs seen during the housing boom. They bought a foreclosed rowhouse in downtown Philadelphia with $65,000 in cash derived from her father’s home equity. Mr. Carr and Mr. Santo, who owns a home remodeling business, fixed it up working on weekends, putting about $60,000 in construction materials on their credit cards.

The family has a contract to re-sell the city rowhouse to a young urban professional at the end of August. They intend to use the proceeds to pay down bills and refinance their mortgage, following a week-long vacation in Maine last month.

The success with flipping a foreclosed house this year has inspired Mrs. Santo to start planning another project for next year, buying a foreclosed property and fixing it up for resale.

“We know this business well. It’s a lot about timing,” she said. “I enjoy the hunt for a fix-up house. …There’s still a lot of money to be made out there.”

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