Are you a First-Time Homebuyer (FTB)? These Frequently Asked Questions are for you!

April is National Fair Housing Month!

As a HUD-certified Housing Counseling agency, St. Ambrose has the responsibility and privilege to Affirmatively Further Fair Housing. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 protects individuals from discrimination when they are renting or buying a home, getting a mortgage, seeking housing assistance, or engaging in other housing-related activities. “Housing, like food and water, is an essential basic need. Fair housing laws are in place to ensure everyone has equal opportunities to access appropriate affordable housing. This process in action doesn’t occur in a vacuum. For more than 50 years, St. Ambrose has assisted Baltimore and surrounding areas in making safe, affordable homes a reality for its residents,” said Erin Broussard, Deputy Director of St. Ambrose.

HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, Anna Maria Farias, addresses the recognition of Fair Housing Month amidst the current Coronavirus pandemic.“I invite all of you to join me in using the occasion of Fair Housing Month to renew our commitment to the principles of justice and equality, beginning with our response to discriminatory policies and practices associated with Covid-19.”

FAQ’s

Are there incentives for FTB?

Yes. Many incentives are provided by local and state housing agencies. We can help you navigate the details and requirements to obtain many of the FTB incentives. Click here to visit the Maryland Mortgage Program: www.mmp.maryland.gov, which provides information on home loans, financial incentives and other assistance options for many homebuyers.

Do you think it’s a good time to buy a house in the current economic climate?

If you feel financially stable and have 3 to 6 months of living expenses saved, the current housing market could be a great opportunity to purchase. Mortgage rates are low, sellers may need to drop sale prices in order to make quick sales, and there is less buyer competition.

While the status of the housing market depends on how bad an outbreak an area is suffering, most markets are feeling some sort of hit. “The Coronavirus is leading to fewer home buyers searching in the marketplace, as well as some listings being delayed,” says Lawrence Yun, Chief Economist for the National Association of Realtors®. Conversely, here at St. Ambrose, our Real Estate program has been amazed at how active the market is during this crisis!

Bottom line: With fewer buyers in the marketplace, there is less competition plus the added benefit of historically low interest rates.

Will mortgage rates increase?

Based on a prediction from Freddie Mac and other housing authorities, rates will continue to hover around 3.32% for the next 90 days. Forecasts for 2020 say rates will average around 3.7%.

For instance, rates could bounce between 3.3% and 4% all year, and you’d get an average of around 3.7%. But when you lock in your rate during that range is important.

Still have questions? Please contact St. Ambrose’s Housing Counseling program at 410-366-8550 ext. 249.

Thinking about adding somebody to your deed? Here are a few things to think about.

The St. Ambrose Legal Services Department often receives calls from Marylanders who have been advised to add a relative’s name to the deed for their house. It is a common misconception that this is the only way to ensure that a house passes to a family member after the owner’s death. In fact, there are several more ways to ensure that your loved ones receive your home after you pass away.

At St. Ambrose, we help clients prepare three different documents that help secure clients’ property for the next generation. Take a look below for an explanation of these documents and their benefits and risks.

1. Will

The simplest way to ensure that your house transfers to your family members after you die is to write a will. The will specifies who is to receive your home after you pass away – it can be one person or multiple people.

Benefits: Writing a will is a quick, easy way to make your estate plans legally binding. Will appointments at St. Ambrose are free and they typically take less than an hour. Wills also cover other property like your physical possessions (cars, clothing, jewelry, etc.) and money in your bank accounts.

Drawbacks: After you pass away, somebody will have to open an estate on your behalf. An estate is the legal entity that represents a person who has passed away. Your family members may have to pay money to open your estate after you pass away. Additionally, if you die owing debt (credit card debt, medical debt, etc.), those creditors may file a claim into your estate. All claimed debts that are allowed by the Orphans’ Court must be settled before any assets, like your house, can be given to the person or people that you designated to receive them in your will.

2. Joint Tenancy Deed

You can also have a deed prepared where you add one or more people as “joint tenants with the right of survivorship.” This means that once the deed is filed, you become a co-owner of the property along with whoever else you have added.

Benefits: This ensures that whoever you have added to the deed remains an owner of the property after you have passed away. There is no need for anybody to open an estate for your co-owners to retain ownership of the property. If you pass away owing any debts, your creditors will not be able to place a new lien on your property after you die.

Drawbacks: You lose a certain amount of control over your property by filing this kind of deed. If you want to sell the property and a co-owner does not agree, you will not be able to sell without filing a lawsuit. Also, if a co-owner gets sued and loses, a lien could be placed on your property and you could be forced to sell it even if you are alive and living in the property. You will also have to pay fees to your local jurisdiction to record a deed.

3. Life Estate Deed with Powers

This is a special kind of deed that allows you to keep your ownership of the property during your lifetime and specifies a person or people who automatically receive the property after you pass away – these people are called “remainders.”

Benefits: After filing a life estate deed with powers, you keep full ownership of your property during your lifetime. This means that you can sell it, take out a loan on it, refinance a loan on it, or anything else that you were already able to do with the property. If you still own the property at the time you pass away, your remainder(s) automatically take title to the property after you die. There is no need to open an estate for the property to transfer ownership. If you pass away owing any debts, your creditors will not be able to place a new lien on your property after you die.

Drawbacks: You will have to pay fees to your local jurisdiction to record a life estate deed. Also, if you want to change who is the remainder on the deed, you will have to have a new deed prepared and recorded. If your remainder dies before you do and you do not change the life estate deed before you die, then your property will go to your remainder’s legal heirs.

If you would like any of these documents prepared for you or have any other estate planning questions, please call the Legal Services Department at St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center at 410-366-8550 extension 209.

Our Newest Homeowner Proves the Power of Resilience

Joseph Butler recently purchased a newly renovated home from St. Ambrose in the Belair-Edison neighborhood. Fifty-seven years old and a first time homebuyer, Butler said that he was looking ahead to retirement and wanted something to call his own, “anyone can own a car, but a home- that’s something special.”Joseph Butler

Mr. Butler is a particularly special first time homeowner for St. Ambrose because he is a former tenant with St. Ambrose Rental Services. He lived in St. Martin’s apartments in West Baltimore for seven years before purchasing his new home in Belair-Edison. As the first client who has both rented from St. Ambrose and purchased a St. Ambrose home, we sat down with Butler to inquire about his journey to homeownership.

This spring, “things just fell into place” for Butler, who had always dreamed of owning his own home. Although he admits that he had his doubts during the home-buying process. Things were moving slowly before the settlement and his patience was tested as he waited for the final approval to go through. Working with Denise Hairston, our in-house realtor at St. Ambrose, Butler finally went to settlement on Friday, June 12th, accompanied at the signing table by his proud father.

Through support from the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) based in Washington, DC, St. Ambrose offers closing cost assistance grants for first time homebuyers. This special funding helps us to bring new homeowners into Baltimore neighborhoods. Butler, however, was a special case.  Because he was our renter at the time, a technicality prevented St. Ambrose from offering him the closing cost grant. But NFHA wouldn’t allow a small complication to prevent Butler from receiving this support. The last thing to fall into place for Butler was a grant check directly from NFHA to support his closing costs. Hairston’s advocacy on Butler’s behalf was critical in ensuring this benefit was accepted by the lender.

Butler’s advice to someone who wants to own a home is to “save money, be patient” and citing the old adage that so often rings true, “Rome was not built in a day.” He also recommends others to be proactive in addressing their credit issues. “Have an open conversation with those who you owe debts.”

Resilience and gratitude are two other factors that undoubtedly contributed to Butler’s success in achieving his lifelong goal.  An army veteran from the DC area, Butler moved to Baltimore in 1998. Butler was honest and candid about his life’s journey. A former drug user, Butler went through rehab at Maryland Center for Veterans Education (MCVET) in 2000 and has been clean for 15 years. While living in St. Martin’s, Butler paid off all of his debts and sought assistance to help to repair his credit in order to prepare to take out a mortgage. “I am so blessed,” Butler emphasizes when he speaks of his journey to homeownership. His warm smile radiates his appreciation for life’s lessons and successes.

Mr. Butler works for the federal government as a security guard for the Smithsonian. He commutes to Landover, Maryland where he works an evening shift at the Smithsonian storage facility. He’s also worked at the American Indian, Air and Space, American History, and Natural History museums. Butler has loved the opportunity to learn from museum curators during his tenure at the Smithsonian. The American History Museum is his favorite, noting a Duke Ellington exhibit, JK Lilly’s historic coin collection, and the first ladies’ inaugural dresses.  Another testament to Butler’s ethic, he actually left his position at the Smithsonian for several years and was successful in earning his job back- not an easy feat for a position in the government.

What is Mr. Butler looking forward to about his new home? For one, all of the appliances are brand new. The luxury of not having to worry about replacing the air conditioning, furnace, and kitchen appliances is peace of mind for a first time home buyer, and having his own brand new washer and dryer means he has the privilege of doing laundry in the comfort of his own home. Another amenity about his new home is that he can practice his saxophones (both alto and tenor) more freely than he could in his apartment. Afforded with both a front and backyard, he’s also looking forward to sitting outside and drinking coffee while he reads the paper.

When asked what attracted Butler to Belair-Edison in particular, he didn’t hesitate for a moment before responding, “It’s nice and quiet. Listen… all you hear is the wind blowing across the trees.” Indeed, nestled on a quiet street next to Herring Run Park, Butler’s new home is far enough from the bustle to feel at complete peace.

“This will always be mine,” Butler says with pride. “I am so blessed.”

closer up

Home Matters: Renting and Owning

The MacArthur Foundation published a recent report that indicates that Americans are not totally convinced that the ‘housing crisis’ is over and many, while still adhering to the dream of homeownership, are willing to wait awhile before embarking on that effort.

”  A strong desire remains among Americans to own their own home – in fact, greater than seven in 10 renters aspire to own one day.  However, the overall appeal of renting versus owning is changing.  Fifty-seven (57%) of adults believe that “buying has become less appealing,” and by nearly the same proportion (54%), a majority believes that “renting has become more appealing” than it was before.”

Lifestyle changes, as evidenced by a more mobile younger population who are willing to relocate for work, account for some of the shift.  However, increases in rents charged and historically low mortgage interest rates remain factors in this major financial decision.  To read more about this subject visit: http://www.macfound.org/programs/how-housing-matters/

Your New Belair-Edison Neighbors

St. Ambrose recently hosted a happy hour for new homeowners and friends of the agency at the Station North Arts Cafe.  We were so grateful that Ms. Shanice Jones, who recently bought a St. Ambrose home, came and met other homeowners and some staff.  Here is her uplifting story as told by Belair-Neighborhoods, Inc.

“Keeping Up with the Joneses” – Written by Kadija Hart for Belair-Edison Neighborhood News Spring 2012

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Ms. Shanice Jones and her son, new neighbors in Belair-Edison.

When Ms. Jones came to Belair-Edison Neighborhoods, Inc. (BENI) First Time Home Buyer’s Workshop, back in June of 2011, she knew homeownership was in the very near future. After conducting her one-on-one counseling session with Roy Miller, BENI’s Homeownership Specialist, she knew that Belair-Edison was the neighborhood that she and her 15 year old son would soon call their home!  “Mr. Miller was very nice and knowledgeable”, said Jones. “He made me feel comfortable … and reassured me that this was the community for my family.”

With the help of her phenomenal Realtor, Yolanda Powell of Long & Foster, Jones closed on a newly renovated St. Ambrose home on Cliftmont Ave.  “The day I closed was move in day too,” said Jones. “My friends and family were waiting for me, outside, with the U-Haul Truck. We were so excited!”

Ms. Jones had been a renter for over 10 years and was somewhat afraid of taking the leap into homeownership. However, she wanted to provide a stable environment for her son. “I want to be an example for my son,” she said.  “Not only by teaching him responsibility, but should anything ever happen to me, I want to be able to make sure that his future is taken care of. This is an investment in his future.”

The path to homeownership was a bit of a long one, but that didn’t matter to Jones. She used the time to become fully educated about all of the closing cost assistance she was eligible for and received a large amount of grant assistance.

“I went on the Trolley Tour and spoke with Live Baltimore and Healthy Neighborhoods. I worked with St. Ambrose, and I even received an FHA grant,” said Jones. “I was determined.”

The oldest grandchild on her maternal side, she is the first grandchild to purchase a home.  Jones loves being the example for her family and friends. “I tell as many as people as possible about this program,” she said. “I want to help them accomplish their dreams like I have.”  What Ms. Jones loves the most about her block, is that it is filled with homeowners.  “I was tired of renting from unprofessional landlords who seemed all about just collecting rent and not making me feel like the house I lived in was mine,” said Jones.

“I know that many renters expect the landlords to keep up the property, but it’s important they do their part too,” she said. “Homeowners protect the value of their properties, and that’s what I like about my block.”  In addition to the block’s charm, and her homes new renovations, Jones loves her parking pad. “I can just park in the back and bring my groceries right in,” she said. “I don’t ever have to look for a parking space!”

Ms. Jones has big plans in store including finishing up her BA in Accounting at Sojourner-Douglass College, continuing to be a foster parent to young children, helping her son achieve academic success while in High School, and starting her own business!   “I am extremely motivated, always trying to accomplish things that will allow my son to have the best quality of life as possible,” Ms. Jones affirmed.  Welcome the Joneses to neighborhood!