Monday, July 26, 2010

Mayor's Home Ownership Fair hopes to fulfill dreams of buying or building

Free annual event answers questions about ownership issues

By Maria Giordano • THE TENNESSEAN • July 26, 2010

With three kids ranging in age from 8 to 17, Angela Miller wants to move out of public housing and into her own home.

It's a dream for now, but Miller took her first steps Sunday toward making it a reality by asking plenty of questions at the third annual Mayor's Home Ownership Fair at Bridgestone Arena.

The free event featured more than 50 booths with representatives from local realty companies to title companies to lending institutions, all available to answer those burning housing questions.

"I've always wanted to move into a house," Miller said. "I just want to better myself — get something better for my kids."

Although mortgage rates are lower than they've been since the 1960s at about 4.5 percent, it's not necessarily easier for first-time homebuyers such as Miller. First, it's more difficult to qualify for a loan.

Gone are the days when all that was needed was a driver's license, Social Security card and gainful employment, said Rick Florita of Farmington Financial Group. Now, lending institutions need not only that vital information but also W-2 forms, good credit scores and tax returns, Florita said. At Farmington they check asset statements, he said.

The Nashville company is seeing fewer homebuyers, but they are seeing plenty of homeowners refinancing. Like many firms, they expected to lose business after the federal $8,000 tax credit for first-time homebuyers expired.

It turns out many homeowners don't have enough equity in their homes to move, Florita said. "People are in a good position to stay in their homes," he added.

Many hurdles exist

Organizers say more than 700 people attended the fair, where many businesses said they fielded plenty of questions about the loan process and dreaded credit scores, a measure of one's debt and ability to pay bills in a timely manner.

Lisa Vogel, a mortgage originator at Old Hickory Credit Union, said poor credit scores have been a hurdle for many homebuyers. People have lost their jobs or their marital status has changed, causing defaults on credit cards and mortgage notes and sullying their ability to borrow money.

"The hardest part is getting people re-established and into a more affordable situation," Vogel said.

This won't be a problem for Antonio and Dorothy Marks of Nashville, who attended the fair to meet builders. The owners of a parcel of land near Belmont University, the couple said they are already pre-qualified for a loan and ready to build.

Unfortunately, meeting that builder has been more difficult than they had thought.

"It's been really hard because a lot of builders are dealing with flood victims," Dorothy Marks said. Of the few builders at the fair, only one was able to help them, they said. The others constructed homes in subdivisions only, they said.

In the meantime, Miller says the home-buying process does not daunt her.

"I've learned how to get a loan, how to get out of debt and the importance of inspections," Miller said. "I've learned a lot that I didn't know."

The Tennessean was a sponsor of the fair

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