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Welcome mat for city homebuyers

Project links loan break, education

– When Richard Spriggs lost his job as a general manager at a movie theater company, it may have been a blessing in disguise.

The job forced him and his wife, Holly, to move around a lot, and they were getting ready to settle down.

So they came back home to Fort Wayne and moved in with Holly’s parents to save money for a house of their own. Richard, 27, began working for Lassus Brothers, and Holly took a job at Cold Stone Creamery.

“We thought it would be nice to sit tight, have some stability,” Richard Spriggs said.

Then, as they began thinking about buying a house, they heard about the city of Fort Wayne’s Down Payment Assistance Program, which offers first-time buyers a loan up to $9,500, due and payable only if the applicant sells or leaves the house within 30 years of purchase. After that, the loan is forgiven.

“We heard there was assistance for first-time homebuyers, and if there’s something out there we qualify for, why not take advantage of it?” Richard Spriggs said.

But to qualify for the program, applicants must first complete the city’s Homebuyer Education course.

Rather than a barrier to the program, Spriggs said, the free, eight-hour course was a major benefit.

“It was extremely helpful, and I mean extremely,” he said. “It helped us figure out what stage we were at in the home-buying process, for one thing. Realtors were telling us one thing, the bank was telling us another. This showed us the steps you have to take and in what order.”

Now, a process that seemed complicated and foreign is a little less so.

“We were like, ‘Wow.’ We thought it was going to be very easy,” Richard Spriggs said. “Then we saw every little micro-detail that goes into it.”

Heather Presley-Cowen, director of the Office of Housing and Neighborhood Services, said that is a common response to the course.

“We have a huge number of people who went through the program and then were saying, ‘Whoa!’ ” Presley-Cowen said.

And the course is not for those with low incomes or those who need home-buying assistance, it’s for everyone.

“We’re trying to increase the number of educated buyers,” Presley-Cowen said. “That means more bankable buyers in the future. It’s not designed to help someone who’s not bankable to become bankable.”

The classes use the “Realizing the American Dream” curriculum developed by NeighborWorks America and help participants see whether they are ready to buy a home, how to manage money, understand credit, get a mortgage, shop for a home, protect the home they buy, maintenance issues and housing and credit rights.

“They talk about applying for a mortgage and show them why they don’t want a balloon mortgage, and why they do want a fixed rate and a fixed term,” city loan specialist Karma Rowe said. “A lot of the mentality of people coming in is, ‘The bank says I can afford this, so that’s what I want.’ … But the bank isn’t going to tell them that they might need to buy a furnace or a roof a year from now.”

Presley-Cowen said the important thing is to have educated buyers making educated decisions. They may still make the wrong decision, but at least they have a much better chance to make the right one.

For the Spriggs family, the class made a huge difference in their comfort level with their purchase, and they’re now hoping to close on a house Jan. 28.

“We’ve already signed a purchase agreement, we’re just waiting on financing,” Richard Spriggs said.

“This is a great starter house, and it’s right in our price range. The neighborhood is good, the price is good, it’s everything we’re looking for.”

If you go

What: City of Fort Wayne Down Payment Assistance Program
When: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Jan. 16
Where: American Red Cross, 1212 E. California Road
Cost: Free
For more information: Call 427-1127 or 311

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