Interfaith launches new program to assist want-to-be homebuyers

Feb 21, 2016

Interfaith Housing Services has launched a new program to assist want-to-be first-time homebuyers who do not qualify for the agency’s IDA program to reach that dream.

The Hutchinson Area Homebuyers Club makes education and counseling now offered through the Kansas IDA program available to others for a one-time fee, said program manager Alicia Marsh.

“We work with first-time homebuyers who need assistance getting to that goal, whether it’s looking at developing a budget, to saving, to needing credit repair,” Marsh said. “Maybe there’s some debt in the way and they can’t qualify for a mortgage, we work with them to get them there.”

Because it is outside of the IDA program, which is an income-qualifying matched savings program intended to assist low-income individuals set aside money for homes, small businesses or secondary education that might otherwise be out of reach, there are no restrictions on who may participate in the Homebuyers Club. There is, however, a $99 fee.

“A first-time homebuyer is defined as someone who has not owned a home in the last 3 years,” Marsh said. “It doesn’t mean an individual or couple has never purchased a home before. Things have drastically changed, however, particularly in the past year, in how mortgages are handled and how credit works. That’s even a loose term.”

The training

The eHomeAmerica program offers six online education modules that the participant can go through at their own pace, Marsh said. Once the modules are completed, Marsh then works with the client, either in person or over the phone, to address outstanding issue or needs in getting a mortgage.

“They don’t even have to talk to me,” Marsh said. “They can just go to the website and get started. If they have more questions or want the direct link from me, they can call.”

The training does not just stop with identifying how much of a home a person can afford and obtaining a mortgage, but also addresses issues of maintenance and repair once they have bought the home.

“It is a really comprehensive course,” Marsh said. “It starts with basics, talking about saving and budgeting, then it digs a little deeper, how to qualify for a mortgage. It goes through all the terminology and identifies who are the key people – from lenders to Realtors – and homeowner’s insurance. Then it goes further. Once you have bought the home, how to do you keep it and sustain it? What are the costs? How long does a furnace last and how much does it cost to replace? How much to replace a roof and how to prepare for that? How to avoid foreclosure.

“It goes through the whole process what it means to be a homeowner, not just to buy it, but how to keep the investment they spent so much time and energy to obtain,” Marsh said.

The course is broken into chapters, Marsh said. Each chapter has a short quiz, and each section a concluding test. Participants must score at least 80 percent to move to the next segment.

“I tell people not to stress about the test,” she said. “It’s only 10 questions and the quizzes are only two or three. It helps to understand the material, which is provided through video and through reading. So it hits all the senses, through hearing it, seeing it and reading it for yourself.”

After the course

People can go to the website and register on their own, or contact Marsh for the link. Once the course is completed, Marsh gets electronic notification and then contacts the individual to schedule a counseling session.

“The counseling generally takes about an hour,” Marsh said. “We review the material to see what questions they have, what their understanding of everything was. It’s up to them what I can do for them. We can talk about their specific situation; what their finances are and what they want to do. We can continue to meet and go step-by-step or it can be one time if they got what they needed.”

The counseling is no extra charge, regardless of how many times they meet, Marsh said.

“Another benefit that comes through the course and counseling is that I have a referral list,” she said. “I’m still building it and hope it grows, but I have some Realtors and lenders and other industry professionals, such as home inspectors, who are sponsoring the program.”

Any industry professionals wanting on the list should contact Marsh, she said.

Marsh started working for Interfaith Housing Services in 2013, primarily with the IDA Program. She then attended NeighborWorks America training in Washington, D.C., and obtained certification as a homeownership counselor. She has been using the online training course with IDA clients since last year.

“I took the class myself, and was able to buy my first home,” she said. “We had some credit building that had to be done, and rearranging of finances for me and my husband to feel safe. We were really able to take the tools used in the training to accomplish that. We didn’t qualify for the IDA program. We didn’t have that assistance, so we had to figure out a way to do it ourselves. These tools and resources let me do that.”

Marsh is targeting Hutchinson and surrounding communities to start, but said the program is potentially open to anyone in the state.

“Since counseling can be over the phone, I can work with anyone across the state,” she said. “But I’m starting here and hope to expand.”