Prospective homeowners have options

By JANELL HUNTER

Times Leader Staff Writer

MARTINS FERRY — There is much that first-time homebuyers need to know when purchasing a home, and banks and state agencies are there to assist.

Agencies in Ohio and West Virginia are able to help low- to moderate-income homebuyers purchase their first home, if they meet qualifications for assistance. The Ohio Housing Finance Agency sees its mission as “getting low and moderate income people to be homeowners,” according to spokeswoman Molly Moses.

“We want everybody to know that home ownership is available and possible for everyone, not just the elites. There are homes in everyone’s price range,” Moses said. “Rent is on the rise, and many times people don’t realize they can get a lower mortgage payment than what they are paying in rent.”

The agency has several programs that help first-time homebuyers get discounted interest rates and assist with down payment and closing costs. It works directly with banks and does not service loans itself.

For example, the agency has the Grants for Grads program, which assists individuals who have earned an associate degree or higher from a college or university in the last 48 months. The Ohio Heroes program is similar to Grants for Grads, but recognizes those who work in public service, such as teachers, firefighters, emergency medical service workers, nurses and veterans and active military.

Asked what advice she had for first-time homebuyers, Moses laid out three important steps: looking into one’s credit score/history, budgeting and obtaining pre-approval for a home loan, and hiring a real estate agent.

“You must have a good credit score or the banks will not loan for a home. We see 640 and below as a baseline for loan rejection. Prospective homeowners can contact a credit counseling agency or a housing counseling agency to help correct their credit,” Moses said.

The next step in the process is budgeting, or looking into what one can actually afford with a bank loan officer. Moses said getting help from a real estate agent also is important, because real estate agents can find exactly what you want in your price range, and they see listings before the public does.

The West Virginia Housing Development Fund also has programs that can assist qualified buyers with programs such as the Homeownership Program which is a 30-year fixed rate mortgage loan with up to 100 percent of the purchase price of the home able to be financed, the Find a Lender program which helps prospective buyers locate a lender that uses the WVHDF programs, and the Down Payment/Closing Cost Assistance Program.

Rich Silverio, mortgage broker with Belmont Savings Bank, said his bank makes prospective homebuyers feel comfortable and encourages them to ask questions. The bank provides free consultations before people apply for a loan.

“We always stress that we are a local bank and service our loans — we do not sell them. The loan file is maintained here so any problem that may come up can be resolved here,” Silverio said. “We make all decisions locally and are always a friendly name and face our clients can work with.”

Silverio noted that at his bank, loan decisions are not based only on credit score. Factors such as value of the property, debt-to-income ratio and credit score are taken into account.

“We are trained as lenders to look at available cash, collateral, personal character (as seen through credit score), and income of each individual to determine each loan. The numbers don’t lie,” Silverio said. “We really want people to come in and not be afraid to ask questions. We firmly believe and tell our customers there are no dumb questions. We hold your hand through the process and we can help you determine whether you are ready for a home purchase or not, and then service that loan right here. We are your hometown community bank.”

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