Potential first-time buyers learn about home ownership in West Oak Lane

Nearly 100 people came out for the ninth annual “Living the Dream” housing conference hosted by state Rep. Dwight Evans at Imhotep Institute Charter High School in West Oak Lane on Saturday. The event is geared toward increasing African American homeownership rates in the neighborhood and beyond.

“We’re here to educate people about the housing market, tell them things they need to know about buying a house, and refinancing houses,” Evans said.

A series of workshops about credit and home repair were offered, as were vendor-services tables and a housing tour of available properties in West Oak Lane ranging from an $80,000 “fixer-upper” to an $185,000 “luxury home.”

In one room, about 20 participants listened to a presentation by the West Oak Lane Community Development Corporation as part of a pre-purchase certificate program, designed as the first step in home buyers counseling.

Donald T. Stafford, director of housing counseling at the CDC, said 50 percent of his clients are currently trying to buy a house while the other half is facing foreclosure. He noted that the biggest mistake first-time home buyers make is closing on a property that they can’t afford.

“Buying the maximum you can afford is like buying shoes that are too tight. It’s fine for 15 minutes, then you have to take them off,” he said.

Stafford recommended looking at houses that are no more than three times the annual income of the individual, but preferably less because there are more costs than just a mortgage.

Other mistakes first-time buyers make include not getting a fixed mortgage with a low interest rate, and not taking control of their credit before applying for a mortgage. Few bother with pre-purchase counseling at all.

“It’s really just not being prepared for the overall process,” Stafford said, adding that he spends the bulk of his time helping homeowners emerge from financial straits.

While mortgage-relief programs have expired at the state and federal levels leaving residents at the mercy of their mortgage lender for re-financing, Stafford said it’s a good time to buy.

“The housing prices are way low right now. It’s just that getting a mortgage is harder,” he said.

That’s just what Aalyia McLean plans to do. The 22-year-old from North Philadelphia already has a realtor, has been browsing for a few months and said she is ready to buy.

Her biggest incentives right now are state and federal tax credits for first-time home buyers; the pre-purchase certificate program will save her $500 dollars on closing costs.

“I think the most beneficial part was actually seeing the documents I’m supposed to be signing, because I’ve never seen them before,” she said. “It’s good to know what you should be looking for and not get tricked or lost in the process.”

As an incentive for home ownership in the Northwest, the CDC makes residents who purchase a home within nine months of the conference eligible for a $1,000 to help with extra costs. The prize itself serves as a reminder of what such a meeting is needed: In nine years, it has yet to be claimed.

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