|Neighbors Of Watertown, Inc - News & Articles||
By: Nancy Madsen, Times Staff Writer | Sunday, January 3, 2010
For first-time homeowners, closing costs can be a burden.
But a national program helps prospective buyers save for the cost and get a little help, too.
First Home Club is a program through the Federal Home Loan Bank system, which was created in 1932 and provides flexible credit for member community lenders. First-time homebuyers, such as Kim M. Flake, commit to putting money away for at least 10 months and their money is matched through the program.
"It's a good program for anyone starting out," she said. "You have to have patience — it's not going to happen overnight."
Ms. Flake was tipped off to the program through the Homebuyer Education Program that Neighbors of Watertown runs. An approved class is one of the requirements for First Home Club, as is an income at or below 80 percent of the median income of the area.
"It really helps people understand saving money, putting your taxes in the mortgage and other things about buying a home," she said. "It's a great class. It takes you through each step to closing."
Ms. Flake applied for First Home Club through Northern Federal Credit Union, one of a few local institutions that use the program.
"In the simplest view, the money match covers most of the closing costs and gives borrowers money towards their down payment," said Stephanie A. McGuire, home lending manager for Northern Federal Credit Union in Watertown. "Ultimately, it creates the discipline of saving, which is a lifelong habit that is critical for home ownership. With this habit, you've already saved for the accidental things that come up."
Ms. Flake had a three-to-one match and received $1,500 toward closing costs. Since then, the maximums have increased — the club will match four-to-one, up to $7,500.
"We work closely with the borrower to match their payment with what their budget will allow," Ms. McGuire said.
The Federal Home Loan Bank of New York provides the matching money. It sets aside 10 percent of its earnings for affordable housing programs.
The New York branch has had 3,000 homeowners complete the program in New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands since 1995. For those who complete the program, the default rate on mortgages is less than 0.5 percent.
About 3,200 people are enrolled in the branch's region. The program is open for those who haven't owned a house in the last three years and those who have lived in a building that isn't in compliance with building codes, according to the Web site for the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York.
A. Chris Calmer-Beasley, grant administrator for Neighbors of Watertown, said the organization's Homebuyer Education Program explains the program and recommends local institutions that use it, including Northern Federal, HSBC Bank and M&T Bank.
"More than 70 people attended the class last year," she said. "We're actively making the program known as we can."
She said the state runs a similar program that can be tapped with the one from the banks. Neighbors can enroll people for the state program.
"It's huge for those that can do it," she said. "The income guidelines for the state are a little different."
For local prospective buyers, the First Home Club can ease the hurdle of closing costs and add to other attractions of buying a house now.
"It is an encouraging time to buy with the programs that are out there and our market has stabilized," Ms. Calmer-Beasley said. "The difficulty now comes in that banks are more strict in who they will loan to. Credit scores need to be higher."
First Home Club will improve credit scores, Ms. Calmer-Beasley said.
Along with the First Home Club, Ms. Flake qualified for a no-interest loan from the city of Watertown and a loan from Neighbors for household renovations, including a new roof, heating, plumbing and electrical system.
Now, she's working room by room to update the house.
"I'm very fortunate," she said.
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