For those stuck in the rut of Utah's high rental market, the prospects of homeownership are not as hopeless as they might think.
Housing officials and mortgage officers say many state and federal programs are available to help renters become first-time home-buyers. In most cases, however, it requires a little planning, some lifestyle changes and some material sacrifices."There's a lot of ways to stretch people's qualifying ability," said Gary Robison, manager of Accu-bank Mortgage in Orem.
A prospective homebuyer's first step is to find out if they qualify for a loan and whether they meet the criteria of many government assistance programs.
"We always encourage people to go through the process to at least find out where their starting point is," Robison said. "They need to put a stake in the sand and say this is what we need to do to buy a home."
Most lenders know what loan-assistance programs are available, the qualifying criteria for those programs and can counsel those who are struggling to qualify.
"I've found more and more over the years that that's what our job is," Robison said.
Mortgage companies hold regular seminars on homebuying. Local colleges and school districts also sponsor adult and continuing education courses for first-time homebuyers on homeownership.
Community Action Services, a social organization that serves Utah, Wasatch and Summit counties, is one of a few agencies in the state that has housing specialists who are federally certified to provide homebuyer assistance. Instruction is available on budgeting to buy a home, options and resources available to prospective homebuyers and on credit management. The agency offers counseling on an individual basis or instruction in a classroom setting.
"We actually teach specifics that someone should consider when pre-paring to be a homeowner," Executive Director Myla Dutton said.
The agency also instructs new homeowners on problems they didn't encounter as renters, repair problems and expenses. Counseling is available to help new home-owners avoid mortgage default by overextending their finances on furniture and other items.
"We do a lot of upfront discussion about those kinds of things so people clearly understand what it's like to be a homeowner," Dutton said.
The best advice most experts have for prospective buyers is to save for a down payment. For many, however, saving is difficult when they're paying between $500 and $700 a month for two-bedroom and three-bedroom apartments. That's why most state and federal homebuyer programs provide down-payment assistance.
The Federal Housing Administration used to require down-payment assistance received from family members to come in the form of a gift. Now loans from family members can be used for down payments.
Workers can also withdraw money from 401K accounts for a first-time home purchase, but about 20 percent of the withdrawal goes toward taxes. Most builders also allow first-time homebuyers to use sweat equity for a down payment. For many, painting, roofing and plumbing are much easier than saving.
Mortgage officers say that lack of a down payment is often not the obstacle keeping a family from purchasing a home. Many prospective homebuyers have bad credit and are overburdened by debt. If young couples want to become homeown-ers, they should seek counseling on how to avoid these pitfalls.
"People need to be responsible in how much debt they take on," Robison said. "If anything, they should try to buy a home first rather than a big new car because a home is the only thing that appreciates and gives them a tax break."