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It’s actually a good time to buy a home — IF you know what you’re doing

Anyone thinking of buying a home right now is most likely bewildered by headlines like “Cities Grapple With Fallout From ARM resets” and “Housing Hopes Come Up Short” — as if buying a home weren’t intimidating enough.

These messages of doom and gloom can make potential buyers fearful and confused. But now is a good time to buy a home — IF the buyers  go through the right channels to protect themselves from becoming part of another foreclosure headline.

The slowing housing market and lower interest rates make it a buyers’ market for those in good credit standing. That means buyers have leverage; now is a great time to take advantage of that.

Hundreds of nonprofit organizations are available to help would-be buyers navigate the path to homeownership. In St. Paul, Community Neighborhood Housing Services (Community NHS), the organization I lead, deploys a range of services to arm area residents with the tools they need to make smart home-buying decisions. It is a member of NeighborWorks, a network of more than 230 local homeownership advocates that provide pre-purchase homeownership education and counseling.

Community NHS helps buyers determine the appropriate price range for a home based on their income, as well as help them understand rates and terms of mortgages notes, avoid predatory lending and special low front-end predatory loans, and learn what to expect from a real estate agent, how a title company works, and what is best for you and your family. We provide face-to-face counseling, as well as state grant funds to help with a down payment and closing costs. Over the last year, Community NHS helped 197 families who were purchasing homes.

Enter process with eyes open

Educating yourself is the key to reducing the risk of mortgage-loan defaults. That, coupled with ongoing budget and financial fitness, helps potential buyers move into homeownership with their eyes open. In this market, or any market, we recommend doing the following before buying a home:

• Get your financial house in order: Obtain a copy of your credit report and know your score. A score above 620 will put you in good standing to obtain a mortgage.

• Create a wish list of what is important to you, whether it’s a particular neighborhood, specific features of the home or community features — but be prepared not to get everything on your wish list.

• Hire a real-estate agent who will work within your parameters and who understands what you’re looking for.

• Make your offer contingent on a home inspection. An inspection will tell you about the condition of the home, and can help you avoid buying a home that needs major repairs.

• First-time homebuyers should investigate first-time-homebuyer mortgages. They can save families thousands of dollars.

• At your closing, be sure to read everything before you sign!

Buying a home can be an intimidating process, but it can be a major move toward the accumulation of wealth. (It’s also important to know that homeownership is not always the right fit for every family; homeownership education can be valuable to see if and when buying a home is right for you.)

If you’re interested in gaining the knowledge needed to purchase a house or want to explore any of the state-funded programs, you can call us at (651) 292-8710 or visit the Community NHS website to find out more. You can also contact the Minnesota Home Ownership Center to find a housing counselor near you.

Cynthia Paulson is the executive director of the nonprofit Community Neighborhood Housing Services in St. Paul.

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Mark Gisleson on 03/11/2008 - 11:28 am.

    While the stability of our neighborhoods depends on home ownership, I have read far too many critics who say now is NOT the time to buy. I’m hardly equipped to gauge how accurate their assessments of the current market is, but the people I read all saw the subprime mess coming years and years ago.

    Frankly, I do not think an average person has a prayer in this rapacious and bank-controlled real estate market. American wages simply are not high enough to make home ownership feasible until the price of housing drops still further, or — an unlikely prospect — wages go up.

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