5 fairs to extol homes in the city Low interest rates, few nTC restrictions aim to lure city residents

$3,000 vouchers offered

Events are to be held by regions to show houses for sale

September 27, 1998|By Robert Nusgart | Robert Nusgart,SUN REAL ESTATE EDITOR

A city incentive program -- with a range and scope that makes one of the most liberal and accessible to homebuyers in recent years -- will make its debut in October at the first of five regionalized housing fairs.

Last week, the city rolled out its "Buying into Baltimore" program that offers $3,000 vouchers toward down payments or closing costs to 100 homebuyers who attend one of five regionalized housing fairs in the next year.

Not since the 1994 Baltimore City Homeownership Program, which offered city employees $10,000 toward the purchase of a city home, has a program been so generous to qualified applicants.

The liberal requirements of "Buying into Baltimore" include: Not disqualifying a buyer because of a high income.

Not being limited to any particular neighborhood. That means a voucher can be used in such hot, trendy neighborhoods as Canton or Fells Point as well as the middle-class, family neighborhoods of Hamilton and Mount Washington.

Allowing a buyer to borrow up to $227,150, the Fannie Mae maximum for a conventional loan.

And the ability to combine the $3,000 with numerous other city housing incentives that can virtually eliminate any out-of-pocket expense for a down payment and closing costs.

The first home-buying fair, featuring neighborhoods in Southeast Baltimore, will be held Oct. 17 at Hampstead Hill Elementary School from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Trolleys will be provided to take participants into neighborhoods where they can visit houses for sale and meet residents. Subsequent fairs will held in the northwest, southwest, northeast and central areas of the city during the next 12 months.

The fairs will also offer participants the opportunity to educate themselves -- through lenders, real estate agents and housing counselors -- about the home-buying process.

"This is an opportunity for folks to take the time to get to know the neighborhoods, take the tour and take advantage of some dollars," said David Elam, director of the Fannie Mae Partnership office in Baltimore, which is helping to finance the fairs.

The program comes at a time when homes in Baltimore are selling at a feverish pace, with sales through August rising 41 percent over the same period in 1997.

So is offering $3,000 in incentives really necessary?

"The times are good, but we don't know how long it is going to last. This is something that is intended not to be just a one-time shot or a blip on the screen," said Elam, adding that the program is aimed at keeping sales strong in the city.

Last year, the city held a single one-day fair that attracted 4,000 people, but a similar type of event in Cleveland -- one that took people on trolleys to view neighborhoods -- caught the eye of Elam and Tom Jaudon, chief of the HomeOwnership Institute.

And when planning for this year's event, Elam, Jaudon and Tracy Gosson, director of the Live Baltimore Marketing Center, put forth the idea of regionalizing the fairs.

"Instead of trying to get people to come downtown to a fair, let's go to where people buy homes," Elam said. "This was a natural; you are bringing it home for folks -- so to speak -- they can see what they are interested in buying."

Donnell Spivey, president of the Baltimore chapter of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers, said the program will be "hard to resist" for homebuyers, but added that the key to success will be "finding a house in a neighborhood that people really are willing to move into."

By combining the "Buying into Baltimore" program with other incentives, "Homes in Baltimore City [will be] more affordable, and that's what it is all about," he said.

Incentives include a $3,000 grant under the "Live Near Your Work" program, or a 10-year, $5,000 loan at 8 percent to cover closing costs under the "Settlement Expense Loan Program."

According to Gosson, participants will get a tour ticket and a printout of all the homes for sale in a fair's region.

Five homes on the trolley tour will be open for inspection, and participants will need only to visit two of them to get their ticket validated. The $3,000 voucher will then be granted to the first 20 homebuyers to execute a contract and close on a home within 90 days. No previous or pending contracts will qualify.

"Even though we can [take the trolley] through 12 neighborhoods, it's still open to the whole region," Gosson said. "We are hoping to make this an annual event, and next year we'll do it and the route will be a little bit different. We will show some different neighborhoods. That is the goal."

Gosson, a Butchers Hill resident who's been put in charge of aiding neighborhood associations and publicizing neighborhoods, said the skepticism of buying in Baltimore comes from those who live the closest.

"People moving in from other places into Baltimore City think that living in the city is the greatest thing. They hear so much about Baltimore and the value is there," she said. "It's the people that live here that we are having a harder time trying to convince that it is a great place to be."

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