At least a year away from buying a home for herself and her two daughters, Ellicott City renter Nicole Harris decided attending the Howard County Housing Fair would be the perfect way to learn more about the home-buying process.
"I had no clue that there would be so much here," Harris said during the county's sixth annual housing fair, held Saturday, April 14 at Long Reach High School. "I'm glad I made a decision to come out so I can get connected with the resources as much as possible."
Harris, 36, said she was hoping to buy a townhouse in Howard County, so her daughters, ages seven and eight, can stay in the county school system.
Like others who attended the fair, Harris said she is ready to make the transition from renter to homeowner because "this is a good time for buyers."
The 2012 housing fair drew a record number of attendees, according to Howard County Housing Director Tom Carbo. As of 1:15 p.m. — 45 minutes before the four-hour event ended — 933 people had entered the fair. The 2011 housing fair had about 800 attendees, Carbo said.
Carbo also noted this year's event had a record number of vendors at 52. And new attractions, such as the BB&T credit report bus, were a big hit, he said.
"It has gone wonderfully," Carbo said. "Everyone seems to be not only enjoying themselves, but learning a lot."
The various vendors — real estate companies, lending organizations, property management groups and government housing organizations — fielded questions about the home-buying process.
"We've had great response, very serious buyers," said Carol Gamble, an associate broker with Century 21 New Millennium.
Gamble said she attended the 2011 fair as a board member of the Howard County Association of Realtors, and "it was a great turnout," so she convinced her company to have a booth at the fair this year.
In classrooms, housing officials led educational seminars on various topics, such as working with a Realtor, questions to ask a lender and keys to homeownership in Howard County.
"The MIHU (Moderate Income Housing Unit) class was very informative, just how the program works," Carla Ellerbe said.
A Columbia renter, Ellerbe said she is hoping to buy a home in the next year or two and the fair helped prepare her for the process.
Andrea Eyabi also found a lot of new information at the fair. She said she didn't know about the MIHU program and that she plans to apply.
"Everything is eye-opening," Eyabi said.
Eyabi, who rents a three-bedroom townhouse in Elkridge, said she's looking for something similar to her current home but wants to buy because of tax write-offs and other savings that come with owning a home.
"When I tell everyone how much I pay for rent, they say 'Whoa, that's too much,' " she said.
Eyabi's children also had fun at the fair, getting their faces painted. County Recreation and Parks provided entertainment for the kids so parents could get the information they sought.
In addition to the vendors and the educational seminars, the fair offered attendees an opportunity to go on a bus tour of various Howard County properties.
The BB&T bus, where attendees could get a free copy of their credit report, also was a draw. Valerie McGuire, a North Laurel renter who was waiting to get her credit report pulled, said she came to the fair because she's looking to buy a condo in a 55-plus community.
"I share an apartment and I really would like to have a place of my own," she said. "The rents are so high in Howard County, it's better to own."