Opportunities Amid Housing Woes

August 25, 1993

Baltimore City -- and the rest of the metropolitan area -- is filled with horror stories about the difficulties of selling real estate in today's recessionary economy. "Buyers' market" is the often-used euphemism that applies to finicky bottom-fishers wanting perfection for nothing. Yet houses do sell and opportunities abound. For every Baltimorean with a hard-luck story there is likely to be another with a tale of triumph and satisfaction.

Conditions for buying a home in Baltimore City have seldom been as opportune as they are now. The supply is ample, values are unbeatable, interest rates are registering 22-year lows. And while many would-be first-time homeowners may have difficulty coming up with the hefty settlement costs, unprecedented aid programs are available.

Late last year, the municipal government earmarked $2.5 million for a program under which purchasers of homes costing $60,000 to $100,000 can borrow up to $5,000 for closing costs. That price-range covers the majority of homes currently for resale within city limits.

The Neighborhood Housing Services of Baltimore has now gone a step further. Under a pilot program, persons buying homes in the West Baltimore neighborhoods of Coppin Heights, Irvington, St. Joseph and Carroll may qualify for closing cost help for more modest houses.

"We will have up to $500,000 for this purpose in the next two years, enough for 100 to 150 houses," says NHS executive director Mike Braswell. While NHS is selling rehabilitated houses in those areas, the program applies to purchases as well.

NHS has been active in Baltimore for over 19 years, forging a partnership with banks and thrifts and other local companies. It has packaged 1,500 loans totaling $22 million and enabled families with little or no prior credit record to become homeowners. While many of these purchasers would have been regarded as too risky by traditional lenders, NHS says failure rates have been negligible.

The settlement cost pilot program is part of the national organization's drive to increase home ownership and urge would-be homeowners to take advantage of the current low interest rates. "These things will turn around," Mr. Braswell warns -- as they always have. This is one economic opportunity that city homeowners should not miss.

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