By Christopher G. Cox
If you’ve been thinking about buying a home, there might be no better time than June, which is annually recognized by such organizations as the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB) as National Homeownership Month.
These entities work with lending institutions, realtors, housing counseling agencies, community organizations and many others to make individuals aware of programs that will assist them in the quest to become homeowners.
“One of the many opportunities potential home buyers can take advantage of is free counseling,” said Coleen Baumert, the director of homeownership programs for the Harrisburg, Pa.-based Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA), “We believe that financial education is a key component to purchasing a home, so we work with a network of counseling agencies to provide one-on-one, group and online counseling.”
Baumert noted that counseling is mandatory for anyone with a FICO score of 680 or lower.
“We want buyers to be able to maintain and sustain their decision to enter the housing market,” she added.
Baumert’s emphasis on counseling is reinforced by research from HUD. According to independent research, HUD reported that, “…delinquency, default and foreclosure rates for borrowers who have received counseling from a HUD-approved housing counseling agency are 30 percent lower than uncounseled borrowers.”
In addition to free financial counseling programs, Baumert points out that PHFA can assist qualified buyers to obtain mortgage loans at rates below prevailing mortgage interest rates obtained by most buyers.
“Even a quarter of a percent reduction in a mortgage interest rate can help potential buyers to obtain more home for their money,” Baumert said.
Baumert noted that PHFA works with first-time buyers, buyers who are moving up to larger homes and single buyers, as well as families that own a larger home and have decided to downsize. PHFA also helps buyers to find affordable financing for different types of mortgage loans: conventional, FHA, rural development and VA.
Charaka Cook, the Region V vice president of NAREB, noted that her organization hosted a number of community events around the country in June in recognition of National Homeownership Month. She pointed out that the goal of the NAREB is to increase homeownership among African Americans by 2 million over the next 5 years.
“Homeownership is the cornerstone of the American dream,” Cook said. “Creating awareness of this fact is particularly important in the African-American community where homeownership has slipped from 49 percent to 41 percent since the housing crisis of 2007.
Cook noted that homeownership among non-Hispanic Whites by contrast is about 71 percent.
Cook observed that NAREB works with real estate professionals who can help potential home buyers to overcome past financial mistakes and low credit scores.
“There are many ways to help people get back on the right track,” she said. “We want everyone to understand the many benefits of home ownership.”
Cook continued: “Among other things homeowners are less likely to move so family stability is enhanced, and more importantly you’re creating a lasting legacy that can be handed down to future generations. Overtime this will help to close the generational wealth gap that exists in much of the African-American community.”