June 17, 2013

Local agency can guide you through homebuying process

By Mitch Talley, Whitfield County director of communications

— So you want to buy a home?

Before rushing blindly into the process, be aware that a local agency can offer you free advice along the way to becoming a homeowner.

The Dalton-Whitfield Community Development Corp. — a local nonprofit organization, originally sponsored by the local governments, that aims to help residents with their housing needs — offers homebuyer workshops to groups as well as one-on-one counseling for residents as they prepare to make what will likely be the biggest financial decision of their lives.

“If somebody is looking to buy a house now or think they’re going to within the next six to 12 months, I would rather they go ahead and start getting prepared now,” said Brenda Terry, housing counselor for the Dalton-Whitfield CDC. “If they think next year, maybe with their tax refund, they’ll be able to do something, they need to start at least six months before they are ready to buy.”

The message is especially timely as Dalton-Whitfield joins the rest of the country in celebrating National Homeownership Month during June.

CDC Executive Director Gaile Jennings believes local housing prices may have finally gone as low as they are going to, based on statistics she’s seeing, and with interest rates and home prices still low it’s a great time to buy.

That’s where the expertise of the Dalton-Whitfield CDC staff can help.

“The market seems to have bottomed out so if people purchase a house now they’re not going to end up in an underwater loan situation, where they owe more than the property is worth,” Jennings said. “I think that’s been a fear for potential new homeowners over the past couple of years. People were ready to buy, but they were afraid to because they were worried they would wind up underwater.”

She says even people with a foreclosure on their record shouldn’t be afraid to test the housing market again.

“Some people think that’s it, if they’ve lost their home to foreclosure, that was their one and only chance and they just lost it,” Jennings said. “But that’s not true. If it’s been at least three years and they’ve worked to improve their credit, then they may be able to buy a house again.”

Terry stands ready and willing to help, just as if she were Bill Chappell leading the Dalton High football team into the playoffs.

“I’m just like a coach,” she said. “I’m really anxious for people to make that step forward into homeownership. If they’re ready, I’m going to be there behind them saying, ‘Yes, you can do it.’ I’ll be there to the finish line.”

Homeownership counseling, Terry says, will help potential homeowners create a realistic plan that will allow them to manage their monthly bill payments, review their employment history and stability of their income, balance their budget, decrease their expenses and save for their goal of homeownership.

“Our counseling also provides clients with information about their credit standing that will help them review all the accounts listed on their credit report and correct any errors, identify credit references that may not be reported to the credit bureau, find out their tri-merge credit scores and review the information that determines those scores, and create a workable plan to help them improve their credit standing,” she said.

The Georgia Department of Community Affairs supports nonprofit agencies like the Dalton-Whitfield CDC that provide two types of homeownership education: group homebuyer workshops and one-on-one homeownership counseling.

The workshops provide a general overview of the homebuying process, with presentations given directly by real estate and mortgage professionals.

“You’ll learn the steps you need to take to purchase a home, the personal benefits of homeownership, about the special programs in our area that provide financing and assistance to homebuyers, and what to expect from lenders, real estate and other housing professionals,” Terry said. “You’ll receive written materials to guide you in preparing for and completing the purchase process.”

Meanwhile, one-on-one sessions can give homebuyers a chance to freely discuss any issues they have privately with a housing counselor like Terry.

“We can discuss which programs best meet your individual needs,” she said, “and outline the steps you need to take to purchase your home. We can also talk about programs such as the Georgia Dream Homeownership Program that can assist buyers with down payment funds and reduced mortgage costs.”

That six to 12 months of preparation can make the buying process go much more smoothly, according to Terry.

“When you have managed your income and spending, established a record of paying bills on time, saved a portion of your earnings, addressed your credit issues and learned about each of the steps to homeownership,” Terry says, “it’s time to start the process of purchasing your home.”

She suggests working with a real estate professional who can help you find the best home to meet your needs, work on your behalf and ensure that your interests are considered throughout the purchase transaction, and help you submit a sales contract which shows that both you and the seller of the house have agreed on your offer.

“In the past, some people have been rushed through the closing process,” Terry said. “We strongly recommend that you read all documents before signing them. Don’t be afraid to ask for an explanation, and keep copies of all loan documents.”

With your “coach” guiding you along the way, you can make the homebuying process the great experience it should be.