First-time and low-income homebuyers have no shortage of information on how to find a home.
Banks, realty companies, nonprofit organizations and government housing authorities are staffed with people itching to answer any question a prospective homebuyer might have about achieving the American Dream.
The problem is that many homebuyers don't know which of hundreds of experts can best provide the answers they need.
Here's a rundown of the types of groups in the Baltimore area who make it their business to help first-time and low-income people buy homes. Often the help is free.
Ruth Crystal, executive director of the Maryland Low Income Housing Coalition and Information Service in Baltimore, estimates there are more than 500 housing groups in Maryland designed to help people get ready to buy homes. Ms. Crystal's nonprofit organization helps direct people to the groups that can help them the most.
Who is the expert on low-income loans? Who can talk about repairing a credit record before qualifying for a loan? Who can give objective advice on where to get the best financing? Who can help you calculate just how much house you can afford?
Ms. Crystal's staffers direct callers with those questions to housing counselors, city or county housing authorities, bankers, or realty agents. In turn, housing counselors, bankers and others may refer callers to home-help groups all over the state.
Larry Hatcher, deputy manager of the U.S. Housing and Urban Development office in Baltimore, says people who are just thinking of buying a home have plenty of help at their disposal. All they need to do is ask.
The Baltimore area has many counseling centers for homebuyers. Some operate within geographic boundaries. Most charge no fee.
Counselors conduct one-to-one and group seminars on topics ranging from how to qualify for a loan, to how to budget for home maintenance once you have a home. If you have no credit record, they'll show you how to get one.
If you have no money for a down payment, they'll point you to other groups who can offer no-money-down loans.
"We play the role of the real estate agent and lender, explaining the whole home-buying process," said Vincent Quayle, director of St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center in Baltimore.
St. Ambrose offers nondenominational counseling to first-time and low-income buyers.
The group also offers deferred loans and other programs that help renters buy their homes from landlords.
Another free counseling service is People's Homesteading Group. President Mary Harvin says People's Homesteading offers information on how to read a credit report, what to do to repair credit and how to make a debt-reduction plan.
Government home-buying help, including counseling and loan programs, exists on federal, state and local levels.
HUD's Baltimore office offers regular homebuyer workshops, open to everyone. HUD's Mr. Hatcher said its counselors also meet frequently with counselors from housing organizations -Z throughout the state to coordinate efforts for first-time and low-income buyers.
In addition to counseling and loan programs for low-income people, HUD offers properties for sale at competitive prices. Most of its properties are Federal Housing Authority foreclosures.
On the state level, Maryland Housing and Community Development Administration (CDA) Homeownership Programs offer loans to low- and moderate-income buyers. CDA money is available through most banks and mortgage corporations at various interest rates, depending on income.
"CDA has done a tremendous number of mortgage loans," through banks, as much as $50 million a year, said Ms. Crystal, of the Low Income Housing Coalition.
The Homeownership Institute, part of the Baltimore City Housing Authority, provides free homeowner counseling for people looking for homes.
"We've done homebuyer seminars for the last four years at Enoch Pratt [library]," said Tom Jaudon, chief of the Homeownership Institute. He said the seminars attract mostly working-class families from Baltimore. "We follow up with
individual counseling sessions to help people sort out and understand the process of home buying."
The Homeownership Institute offers CDA and other loan programs for city residents who meet income requirements. Mr. Jaudon says his office also underwrites loans for some single-family properties developed in Baltimore.
And in January, Mr. Jaudon said the city began its Settlement Expense Loan Program, which helps first-time and low-income buyers finance their settlement costs. Until now, settlement costs had to be paid in cash by the buyer when they moved into fTC their home.
The Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors (GBBR) sponsors a free "housing advisory service" a few times each year to help first-time homebuyers understand what it takes to buy a home. Fletcher Hall, GBBR's executive vice president, describes the housing advisory as step-by-step instruction on how to become a homeowner.
"We discuss what type of first home you can afford, how to select a Realtor, what financing options are available, what financial considerations you need to know about," Mr. Hall said. "People think simply because they have a down payment that's all they need. They have a rude awakening when they find out about settlement costs."
Some banks are geared to helping first-time and low-income buyers understand the buying process.
NationsBank, for instance, the largest bank holding company in the metropolitan Washington area, recently set up shop in the
Baltimore Urban League headquarters for a day.
Here are some of the resources available to first-time and low-income homebuyers in Baltimore. A combination of private, government and nonprofit groups, these organizations provide homeownership counseling. Also, some offer special loan programs and some sell rehabed properties.
For more information, contact one of the agencies below, or the Maryland Low Income Housing Information Service, 727-4225 or 727-4200.
Baltimore County Housing Assistance.. .. .. ..887-4000
Baltimore Urban League.. .. .. .. .. .. .. ...523-8150
Belair-Edison Housing Service .. .. .. .. .. .485-8422
Center for Affordable Housing .. .. .. .. .. .727-3562
Coalition of Peninsula Organizations .. .. ...385-1738
Coil .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..752-8500
Comprehensive Housing Assistance Inc. .. .. ..466-1990
Govans Economic Management Senate .. .. .. .. 889-3015
Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors .. .. .. .462-2500
Homeownership Institute (Baltimore) .. .. .. .396-3124
Housing and Urban Development .. .. .. .. .. .962-2520
Maryland Housing and Community Development ...514-7700
Middle East Housing Center .. .. .. .. .. .. .675-0900
Neighborhood Housing Services (Coppin Heights) 669-2634
Neighborhood Housing Services (Irvington) .. .664-1904
Northwest Baltimore Corp. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..542-6610
People's Homesteading Group Inc. .. .. .. .. .889-0071
St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center .. .. .. .. ...235-5770
St. Pius Housing .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..728-5086
Sandtown-Winchester .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..462-1933
Southeast Community Organization .. .. .. .. .327-1626
Tri-Churches Housing .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .385-1463