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Low-interest mortgages available for first-time homebuyers


Howard County residents seeking their first homes can obtain low-interest mortgage loans through a state program offering $3.3 million to eligible county homebuyers.

The Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development is offering a total of $78 million in mortgage loan assistance to residents in 21 counties and Baltimore City, in a program financed by tax-exempt revenue bonds.

To qualify for a Maryland Mortgage Program, fixed-rate mortgage loan, individuals may earn up to $37,000 a year and families may earn up to $47,000 a year.

The latest round of the annual state lending program, which began Nov. 18, offers 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage loans at 5.5 percent for those earning $30,200 or less a year and 5.95 percent for those earning more than $30,200 a year. As of last week, Baltimore area 30-year commercial mortgage rates averaged 7.33 percent.

The state low-interest loan program requires a down payment of 5 percent to 9 percent of a person's or family's yearly income, instead of the usual 10 percent cost of the home, said Sue Gregson, spokeswoman for the state housing department.

"So not only do you save thousands of dollars in interest, you're going to save a lot of money on the down payment, too," she said.

Applicants for the Maryland Mortgage Program already should have a signed sales contract on a qualifying home before contacting a participating lending institution that will serve as the official lender for the state money.

The maximum purchase prices are $93,500 for a newly constructed unit or $88,000 for an existing unit.

In Howard County, such price ranges would tend to limit homebuyers to newly constructed or existing condominiums and to some small, mostly two-level townhouses, said Kenneth Steil, president of the Howard County Association of Realtors.

But for a county with a waiting list of more than 600 people for low-income housing, the loan program is a relief, according to Mr. Steil.

"We're always glad to see the government and the state making money available for affordable housing," Mr. Steil said.

After a 120-day period, which began Nov. 18 and ends March 18, the $3.3 million in funds reserved for Howard County will be available to anyone in the state, said Ms. Gregson.

The state also has set aside $19.5 million of the $78 million statewide loan total for those who don't meet the qualifications because their incomes are too high, the home cost exceeds the maximum or because they are not first-time homebuyers.

A program brochure and list of participating lenders is available by calling the Homeownership Program office at 1-800-638-7781.

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