Classes Build a Better Homeowner

Classes Build a Better Homeowner

MAHP course ranges from house mortgage to maintenance

The Gazette March 2, 1994

By Lynn M. Tefft

Christal and Jeff Henderson of Cedar Rapids had wanted to buy a house for a long time, but after reading real estate listings and talking to agents, they concluded there was nothing in their price range.

“We’re kind of locked in our jobs, and we don’t make enough for a conventional loan,” said Christal, a child care assistant with the Five Seasons Day Care Center at Johnson Elementary School. Jeff works in reconditioning at Allen Motor Co.

“Finally, we decided to call HACAP (the Hawkeye Area Community Action Program) to see if they could help us,”she said.

The Hendersons were referred to the Metro Area Housing Program (MAHP), an organization whose mission is to develop housing programs for low- and moderate-income families. There they learned they were eligible for some of MAHP’s assistance programs, but to apply, they needed to complete homeowner education classes.

“Up until now we’ve been renters,” Christal said. “The extent of our knowledge was how to run the sink — and to call the plumber when it didn’t work.”

The classes have taught them a lot, she said.

Rollie Lobsinger, an MAHP housing specialist, said the Hendersons are typical of many prospective home buyers.

“There’s a lot to know,” he said. “People must be patient and well informed.” Making housing buyers better informed is what MAHP’s basic homeowner education class is all about. Lobsinger said anyone can take the class, regardless of whether they want to apply for any of MAHP’s assistance programs.

Meeting two hours a week for four weeks, the class focuses on every aspect of buying and owning a home, from financing and insurance to repair and maintenance.

The strength of the program is its teachers, Lobsinger said. A bank officer, insurance agent, power company official and housing inspector are just a few of the housing market representatives who teach short sessions.

“It’s great to bring in people who are really involved in the housing process,” Lobsinger said. “We’ve even had a representative from the Iowa Finance Authority.”

Questions asked most often by class members focus on how to fix bad credit and how to budget, he said.

“We start with the basics,” he said. “Right down to the difference between a fixed- vs. adjustable-rate mortgage.”

After learning about budgets and mortgages, some people find they can make a monthly payment but can’t come up with the down payment, Lobsinger said.

“MAHP and other local programs can offer assistance to people in that situation,” he said. “After teaching them the basics of home ownership, we teach them about the programs, so they can go after the resources they’re best suited for.”

Frustrated by the prospect of saving for years to make a down payment, the Hender­sons were encouraged when they heard about the assis­tance programs.

“Some people, if they can’t save up the money them­ selves, can get money for their down payment from friends or family,” Christal said. “We just weren’t able to do that.”

Through additional classes on financing, the Hendersons have had practice interviews with lenders and made other preparations for a mortgage. They are now in the “pre-pre-approval” stage of their loan.

In return for the help, the Hendersons will perform com­munity service and participate in a neighborhood association.

“Our 10-year-old daughter, Kalissa, is looking forward to becoming part of the neighbor­hood group and so are we,” Christal said. “We’re feeling comfortable with the idea of home ownership. We’re going to make our home a good place to be.”

HACAP first offered the homeowner education class three years ago as part of its INVEST housing initiative but turned over most of the planning to MAHP when it was formed a year and a half ago. HACAP still helps staff the class and solicits speakers. Local banks take turns paying for class materials and providing refreshments.

The class culminates in a take-home test, and if partici­pants pass, they are certified; as educated home buyers.

“The certification really means something,” Lobsinger said. “When lenders find out that a prospective buyer has taken this class, they know they’re dealing with somebody fairly well-informed.”

The Hendersons agree. “It’s’ been really helpful,” Christal, said. “We’re not home free yet, but we’re definitely making steps in the right direction.”