First time home buyer assistance

Are you a first time home buyer worried, overwhelmed, or intimidated by the process? You’re not alone.  First time home buyers have had the most difficulty getting back into the real estate market after the Great Recession.  Many would-be first time home buyers lack the financial resources, while others worry about the long term value.  However, there is probably no better time than now to buy your first home.

This is a first time home buyer market

first time home buyer
First time home buyer assistance (infographic from mgic.com)

You may be one of the many would-be first time home buyers who opted to continue to rent or live with their parents until the timing was right.  Many would-be home buyers did the same, as a 2106 Pew Research Center report pointed out the millennial housing trend that may be associated with the decline in the homeownership rate since the Great Recession (For First Time in Modern Era, Living With Parents Edges Out Other Living Arrangements for 18- to 34-Year-Olds; pewsocialtrends.org; May 24, 2016).  However, economic factors have significantly improved, and the housing market has stabilized.  So what’s holding you back?

Are you overwhelmed or intimidated by the home buying process?

First time home buyer
First time home buyer (infographic from keepingcurrentmatters.com)

Buying a home can seem intimidating, and overwhelming.  But it doesn’t have to be. On the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale (Holmes & Rahe 1967), having a mortgage over $10,000 rates 31 (just above being foreclosed upon) and moving is rated as 20. This commonly used stress scale is cumulative, so the rating for buying a home is at least 51. However, being prepared can help you anticipate and deal with most circumstances that may arise.

Finding a professional and competent Realtor who will “be” with you throughout the process is highly important.  Of course, finding an agent whom you trust can be a process too.  It’s important to know your agent will be there for you, not only to answer questions and resolve your concerns, but to also represent your best interests.

What are your expectations?  Your home buying expectations are influenced by your experiences.  However you are also influenced by a combination of the media, relatives, friends, and co-workers.  Having very high and unrealistic expectations can not only increase your stress, but can but a wrench in the transaction before it starts. Discussing your expectations with your Realtor will determine if they are realistic or not.

Choosing your Realtor

Before deciding on the realtor you want to work with, informally talk to several about how they help first time home buyers.  Unfortunately, home buyer surveys (such as the annual National Association of Realtors Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers (nar.realtor)) suggest that the majority of home buyers and sellers typically hire the agent they first encountered.

Besides assisting in home searching and negotiating sales contracts, your agent should be by your side throughout the transaction.  Your agent should be available to you to help you maneuver the bumps and surprises that can derail your home purchase.

Even though you may not place an agent’s experience high in your list of agent characteristics,  a research study by Bennie Waller and Ali Jubran (“The Impact of Agent Experience on the Real Estate Transaction.” Journal of Housing Research 21, no. 1 (2012): 67-82) suggests otherwise.  They concluded that an experienced real estate agent can yield a better result than an agent with little or no experience.

Check your agent’s license.  Make sure your agent is a full time agent (meaning that the only job they have is selling real estate).  Don’t be shy about asking and calling your agent’s references.

First time home buyer down payment and closing cost assistance

If affordability, down payment and closing costs are a concern, apply for a first time home buyer assistance and/or grant program.  There are many programs available offered through local and state organizations. Your lender can help you find and apply to the programs for which you qualify.  Regular communication with your loan officer is important because the funding is limited annually and can quickly run out.

Locally, one of the mainstays for first time home buyer assistance is the Maryland Mortgage Program (mmp.maryland.gov).  The MMP is provided through the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, and funded by the Community Development Administration.  It is described as “…providing home loans and down payment assistance to Maryland’s working families to encourage responsible homeownership and build strong communities, working through a network of Maryland Mortgage Program lender organizations.”

MMP loans are just like other mortgages, except that they offer competitive rates and offer additional assistance in the form of Down Payment Assistance and Partner Match Programs (up to $8,500 from the Department and possibly more from partner organizations).  Some Partner Match programs offer homebuyer grants.  However, other Assistance programs are generally in the form of deferred, no-interest loans.

Combining Down Payment Assistance with a Partner Match program can significantly reduce the amount you need to buy your first home!  The Down Payment Assistance program is a loan of up to $5,000.  The loan is a zero-percent deferred loan, which is repaid when you pay off the main Maryland Mortgage Program mortgage when you refinance, or sell the home.

Department of Housing and Community Development has partnered with many organizations and employers that can provide you with additional assistance.  Your current employer may be a participant with the Partner Match program (check the Partner list at mmp.maryland.gov).  Local organizations also offer home buyer assistance (including the Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit Program) as well, such as the Housing Opportunities Commission (hocmc.org) and The City of Gaithersburg (gaithersburgmd.gov).

Copyright© Dan Krell
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

Affordable housing redux

Affordable HousingStatistics and indices have indicated that buying a home has become more affordable in recent years. In fact, the October 2014 Trulia Rent vs. Buy Index indicated that buying a home was 38% cheaper than renting (trulia.com). Additionally, the S&P/Case-Shiller National Home Price Index released December 30th indicated that average home prices for the 10-City and 20-City Composites are at “autumn 2004 levels” (housingviews.com). However, while interest rates continue to be favorable along with an expanding inventory that offers more choices, obstacles remain to home ownership.

Unlike the high home prices that drove affordable housing concerns in the past, many would-be home buyers today face income and savings challenges. Statistics suggest that many do not earn enough to qualify for a home purchase and/or have not saved enough for a down payment and closing costs. The latest report (Q2 2014) of the Maryland Association of Realtors® First-time Homebuyer Affordability Index revealed a decrease in home affordability from 84.1% to 75.7%; which indicates that Maryland first time home buyers had 75% of the income required “to purchase a typical starter home” (mdrealtor.org).

More importantly, a survey conducted by the Consumer Federation of America (7th Annual Savings Survey Reveals Persistence of Financial Challenges Facing Most Americans; February 24, 2014, consumerfed.org), revealed that “most Americans are meeting their immediate financial needs but are worse off than several years ago.” And, “… that, despite the economic recovery, most Americans continue to face significant personal savings challenges….” Stephen Brobeck, Executive Director of the Consumer Federation of America and a founder of America Saves, was quoted to say: “Only about one-third of Americans are living within their means and think they are prepared for the longterm financial future. One-third are living within their means but are often not prepared for this longterm future. And one-third are struggling to live within their means.

With an eye to address housing affordability, the President reduced the FHA annual mortgage insurance premium (MIP). Increases in FHA’s MIP in recent years have helped offset losses from the foreclosure crisis; and inadvertently made mortgages more expensive. And although the recent MIP reduction helps more home buyers qualify, critics claim it increases FHA’s risk and exposure to future foreclosure losses. According to Zillow (How Much Can You Save with Lower FHA Annual Mortgage Insurance Premiums?; January 7,2015, zillow.com), a home buyer who has a 3.5% down payment on a 30 year mortgage of $175,000 can save about $818 per year (about $68 per month).

For those who have not saved enough for a down payment and closing costs, State and local initiatives offer down payment assistance and low interest rate mortgage programs. The Maryland Mortgage Program (mmp.maryland.gov) offers down payment assistance in the form of loans, an employer match program, or financial grants. Locally, the Housing Opportunities Commission of Montgomery County (hocmc.org) offers several down payment assistance options, including the House Keys 4 Employees program for many Montgomery County Employees. These programs have restrictions; you should check with each program for qualification and eligibility requirements.

The Montgomery County Department of Housing and Community Affairs (montgomerycountymd.gov/DHCA) offers additional affordable housing options: The Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit (MPDU) Program offers affordably priced homes to first-time homebuyers who meet the program’s eligibility; and the Work Force Housing Program promotes “the construction of housing that will be affordable to households with incomes at or below 120% of the area-wide median.”

© Dan Krell
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.