A few years ago a couple came to Evelyn Doane, a sales associate in William Raveis Real Estate’s Chatham office, looking to buy their first house.
“They fortunately had a good credit rating, same jobs for a number of years,” Doane recalled. The jobs were “not terribly well-paying, but a steady income.”
While the couple qualified for a loan, they did not have money for a down payment for their dream house in Harwich. Doane managed to find a suitable loan for them through Raveis that required no money down (although they did have to pay closing costs).
“They were able to buy a very nice home in Harwich which perfectly suited their needs and they are very happy with it,” Doane said. “This made me feel very good, too, as they were natives of the Cape and we know how so many places just price working people here out of the market.”
The Cape’s seasonal economy, combined with a vigorous second home market, has made it challenging to find what some call “starter homes.” Real estate prices have risen dramatically in the past 17 years while wages for many have not kept pace—the median household income across the Cape is about $63,000. While the median selling price of homes in Chatham was about $100,000 in 1998, that figure peaked at about $700,000 in 2006 before the financial recession of 2008, according to the Chatham Community Housing News Spring 2009 Newsletter. Today the median selling price in Chatham $677,500 and the median selling price in Harwich $352,250, according to the latest figures available from Bayside Realty Consultants. The least expensive house on the market in Chatham right now, according to the real estate website estately.com is listed at $299,000. Find it a bargain? The two-bed, one-bath house is a tight 608 square feet.
Many people believe that we lose the flavor of a community if only the affluent can afford to live in it, and affordable housing has been created to try to deal with that issue. But how do first-time homebuyers who earn too much to qualify for affordable housing but too little to make a down payment on a house crack into the market?
The Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank offers a new solution through its unique Buy Programs. The bank is partnering with Mass Housing to promote home ownership for first time buyers on Cape Cod and the Islands. The program offers a low down payment, flexible underwriting and a quick approval process—typically 45 days.
“We’re all working hard to keep the younger people here, so they can find a home here,” Dave Brennan, senior vice president at Cape Cod Five said in a telephone interview last Friday. The intent of the new program “is to try to make more opportunities for purchasing homes down here on Cape Cod for first time buyers. It’s geared to someone living and working in the community trying to find a house here.”
This means that people buying second homes or people who are looking to move from the home that they now own cannot apply.
Right now mortgage interest rates are at historic lows (roughly 3 percent) which means that with the right mortgage, home ownership is affordable for many people. But sometimes the typical down payment of 5 percent ($15,000 on a $300,000 home) makes buying a house out of reach, Brennan said. Through the Buy Programs, Cape Cod Five offers qualified buyers financing – with competitive fixed rate mortgages available – with no points and as little as a 1.5 percent down payment.
So what makes a “qualified buyer?”
In Barnstable County, a family cannot earn more than $108,405 annually.
The maximum price a family might expend for a single family property would be $417,000. It is possible also to buy a two-family property for no more than $533,850 or a three-family property for $645,305.
If a family cannot come up with a down payment of 1.5 percent (which would be $6,255 on a maximum loan of $417,000), the nonprofit Housing Assistance Corporation may help provide a down payment for qualified borrowers.
A lower down payment increases the risk for the lender, and that’s why banks require mortgage insurance to protect their loan when there is little equity in the property. A nice feature of the Cape Cod Five Buy Programs is that Mass Housing is providing mortgage insurance that is “less expensive than private mortgage programs out there,” Brennan said. Also, Mass Housing provides a period of unemployment insurance, to prevent foreclosure during a time when a mortgage holder might be out of work.
“It benefits not just the lender but covers borrowers’ risk,” Brennan says.
Helping people to buy their first homes makes everyone feel good.
“This was one of my very favorite stories as they were so thrilled to have a home of their own, finally, instead of renting,” Doane said of her young clients.
Information on how to qualify and other details can be obtained by calling Cape Cod Five’s Customer Service Center at 888-225-4636 or MassHousing at 888-843-6432.