Finding housing continues to be a challenge in the Bitterroot Valley, but one program helps consumers increase their purchasing power.
The Homebuyer Assistance Program is designed for low- to moderate-income families or individuals to help them purchase their first home. The program offers deferred payment, zero interest, and a second-mortgage loan of up to $35,000.
Shera Carlascio, loan officer with the program for six years, said first-time homebuyers are defined as not having purchased a home in the past three years.
“It can really help folks get that extra little push to get them into a unit that suits their needs,” Carlascio said. “For example, I see someone who is ready to go and prequalified for a $160,000 first mortgage loan. There’s not a home on the market for that amount, so this loan can bump their maximum purchase price to $195,000, giving them a lot more options.”
The loan does not accrue interest and can be satisfied when purchasers sell their home or pays off their first loan.
“Then they would be expected to make payments on this,” Carlascio said. “It’s a great program. I tell people to chip away at their first mortgage first, make extra payments for that because you’re accruing interest on that and you’re not on this.”
Typically, the homes are usually starter homes and the loans are paid off when the homes are sold. The funds are placed back into the program to be used by the next person.
The Human Resource Counsel has been operating this Homebuyer Assistance Program in Mineral, Missoula, and Ravalli Counties for more than 20 years.
In 2017, Carlascio served 20 families in Missoula and Ravalli counties. She said the program is not used much in Mineral County, and that for 2017, 40 percent of the funds were used in Ravalli County and 60 percent in Missoula County.
Guidelines to qualify include annual gross income not more than 80 percent of the area median, applicants must contribute 3 percent of home’s purchase price, must qualify with lender, and the debt ratio must not be more than 42 percent of monthly gross.
Carlascio has the median income guidelines broken down by family size and in Ravalli County; for example, a four-person family earning at or less than $48,400 qualifies for the program.
“In all reality, about 50 percent of our population would qualify but there are so many people that don’t know about it,” she said. “The other issue across the board is actually finding affordable housing, finding homes that are listed for an affordable price for the price range they are looking in. When you look in the Multi-Listing Service there is not much under $200,000.”
Carlascio has been working with clients for more than a year who are ready to go but are unable to find a home in their price range.
“Or by the time they get to it, it is already under contract,” she said. “That’s the tough part – finding the house. It is a tough area for affordable housing.”
Carlascio praised the fall symposium by the Bitterroot Task Force on Housing and Homelessness as bringing the topic into the community discussion.
There are several steps to receive the Homebuyer Assistance Program funds.
First, contact Carlascio in the Human Resource Counsel Office, 532-8238, 303 North Third, in Hamilton on Wednesdays and Fridays.
Second, complete a homebuyer education course offered through Homeward in Missoula or Sarah Briggs with the Bitter Root Resource Conservation and Development area, Inc.
Brigg’s classes are HUD-approved first-time home-buyers’ pre-purchase classes costing $50 with a one-on-one financial counseling session required prior to taking the group class. Dates of classes are 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Bitterroot Valley Board of Realtors office at the corner of Fourth and Cherry streets in Hamilton on Saturdays – Feb. 17, March 17, April 14, May 12, June 16, July 14, August – no class, Sep. 15, Oct. 13, Nov. 17, and December - no class. Contact Briggs or Bitter Root RC&D at 406-363-5450.
Carlascio is a certified pre-purchase counselor and knows the variety of programs available for qualified consumers. The First Time Homebuyer class is a requirement for more than the Homebuyer Assistance Program and will help consumers understand the process.
“The reality is there are a lot of loan programs that require that class anyway, so you might as well get it out of the way,” Carlascio said. “The class will give them, especially if they are a true first-time home buyer, a better understanding of the process from start to finish. It is a great class with a variety of experts.”
Carlascio encourages people to shop around for a mortgage loan by visiting a few lenders to see at what amount they prequalify.
“Sometimes people aren’t even at that point,” she said. “They may need to pay off debt or pay off some collections before they get qualified for a loan. It is important to find that out at the start rather than looking for a house first.
“It’s a bit of a process but when you get into a house that suits your needs and a loan that is not accruing any interest, it is worth the hoops you have to jump through to get it.”