Simone Griffin of HomeFree-USA discusses homeownership and the African American community part three

This is the conclusion of my interview of Simone Griffin of HomeFree-USA regarding Homeownership and the African American Community.  In part two of our discussion, we talked about some of the impediments of Black homeownership, some things our youth can start learning at an early age regarding financial literacy, and finally, the effect of the housing market boom and crash on African American wealth.  In part three of our discussion, we talked about Reverse Mortgages, and general recommendations and considerations for first time African American homebuyers.  This entire interview addresses all of the principles of my blog recently added to the site.

Anwar Dunbar:  What is a Reverse Mortgage and why are they bad products?

Simone Griffin:  They aren’t necessarily bad.  It is about the type of reverse mortgage you get and what you need it for.  A Reverse Mortgage is for people 65 years and older who wish to borrow against the equity in their home. This is a loan which has to be repaid when the homeowner dies. The homeowner still has to maintain the property, and pay property taxes and homeowners insurance.

Reverse Mortgages can come with high fees, so they should really only be utilized if there are no heirs to the house, or if the homeowner truly has no other money to live on.  Let’s say you own your home outright and have no other ways to pay your bills.  If you get a reverse mortgage and there’s nobody who can step in and pay that loan off when you die, the only way to get it paid off is by selling the house.  You’ve lost way more than you’ve gained.  Your family and future generations have just lost a piece of property that they could have lived in.

Consider Brooklyn, NY, where the difference between the average income and the cost of a home is astronomical.  Imagine a Black family who bought a home in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, who may have come in through the great migration from the south and bought a home in the 1960s or 1970s – now those Brownstones are going for well over a million dollars.

In 2010 Grandpa took out a reverse mortgage for $300,000, plus fees.  He died last year, and now the family can’t come up with the amount owed to the bank, so the only thing they can do is sell the house.  That’s a million-dollar house which they could never afford today, and $700,000 in equity has gone to the bank.

This is why we have to train our people in their working years about how to afford retirement. Aside for a reverse mortgage you can’t borrow for it.  If you don’t have anyone to leave the home to and you need the money, then it’s fine.  However, it should be a choice, not something you do because you didn’t plan well for retirement; especially if you have kids and grandkids who can utilize that property.

AD:  Redlining.  Are you seeing a lot of that in DC?

SG:  After the housing, boom shady investors went door to door saying, ‘We want to buy your house. We’ll offer you $300,000 cash if you move tomorrow, and we’ll take care of all of the repairs.’  Except that the house is actually worth $500,000.  When you’re paying cash for a house, an appraisal is not required.  So people didn’t bother to spend the money on one, they just took the $300,000 and ran.  If the homeowner had the property appraised, they could have sold it for a much higher amount.  Or they could have kept it. Unfortunately, many of the same people in DC with parents or grandparents who purchased houses for $30,000 or $40,000 sold them at the wrong time.  Now the neighborhoods are turning and they’re saying, ‘I want to move back,’ but they can no longer afford to.

AD: I used a first time homebuyer’s 3% down program with cash back at closing when I bought my condo.  That came with several caveats and nuances that I didn’t understand – I just saw that it was 3% down with cash back at closing.  I also bought into the sentiment that I was wasting money by renting and making someone else rich – a common motivation for first time homebuyers.  What advice would you give first time African American home buyers who are looking to purchase a home?  What things should they stay away from and what would you encourage?

SG:  I would encourage them to stay away from Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARMS) and creative financing.  A 3% down payment is fine.  Right now those the 3% down loans are often an FHA product, which means you have to pay Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI), around 1% of the total loan until you have about 20% equity.  There are also 5% and 10% down products that don’t require PMI but the additional down payment may delay your purchase.  Using an organization like HomeFree-USA will help you leverage the home buying opportunity since we’re familiar with many different products, as well as different loan officers.

Lenders are now starting to understand the drawbacks that requiring 20% down or PMI brings. As a result, more are offering lower down payment products. Our job at HomeFree-USA is to be aware of these products, and marry them with local, state and federal funds that will help decrease the cost of homeownership for the buyer.  Now is a very good time to buy.  But don’t fret if you can’t find a product right now – we know where they are.

If there is any way to pay down your debts as much as possible, you should do that.  I know this is easier said than done, but if you can do it, it’s incredibly important to your peace of mind and  for affordability.  People get intimidated by their debt pay down process and what they have to sacrifice.  They’ll say, ‘Well it’s two whole years,’ and then I flip it and I say, ‘It’s only two years.’  In the grand scheme of life, the money you can earn from saving or investing the money you’re paying in debt is substantial.

Let’s say you’re paying $200 in student loans every month, and you’re able to get that paid off in one or two years.  If you put that $200 into a Mutual Fund, that money will grow over time.  You’re paying interest while in debt, so it’s worth it to just drop out of life for two years, or however long it takes, and say, ‘I want this over.  I’m paying off these debts and moving forward with life.’  Then you can take the money you’ve saved and use it towards a down payment on a house and avoid things like financing cars by paying cash.

People assume that they have to finance a car and that’s not the case.  I’ve never financed a car.  I only buy used cars, and each one is better than the last. But many Americans do not take the time to say, ‘I’m willing to put off something that I really want for the greater good (delaying gratification), so I don’t have to spend money financing a car.’  I recommended this to a friend.  She didn’t do it and is still not at the level that she wants to be financially. I thought to myself, ‘If she’d taken the year I suggested to not have a car, her company would have paid for transportation to and from meetings, she could have walked, gotten rides, taken the Metro or Lyft, and after only a year would’ve been in a much better position in life.’

She lives in the center of the city.  It’s an entirely different situation if you live in Odenton and have to drive to DC every day.  But when you live in the city and work in the city, and the metro is only 10 minutes away, there is some leverage.  It’s just a matter of being slightly inconvenienced for now in order to get to a greater position later (delayed gratification).  And many Americans don’t feel comfortable doing that, but the problem is Black Americans have fewer options than non-Hispanic whites.

AD:  That’s absolutely right.  I personally have some higher financial goals and decided to get rid of my car for numerous reasons in 2012; living right next to the metro being one of the main ones.  Some people just can’t fathom the idea of not owning a car.  But I aspire to do things like growing my net worth, and attaining some assets (stocks and eventually real estate, for example).

SG:  My father has a condo in the U Street Corridor.  I was there this week helping him, and it’s very hard to find parking. The metro, and a bike stand, are both 2 blocks away.  There are three grocery stores in the neighborhood and numerous restaurants.  Why would you need a car if you lived there?  If you live someplace that’s not far from the metro, why not take the opportunity do this for yourself so that you can eventually drive whatever you want?  Like Dave Ramsey says, ‘We’re going to live like no one else, so later we can live like no one else.’  Take that opportunity now.  But many people just don’t see it as an opportunity which is unfortunate, because where Black people are concerned, we don’t have as much to fall back on.

AD:  That’s right.  So a lot of this is in how you’re perceiving things, what you know, and what you’re willing to do.

SG:  Exactly.

AD:  Well, Simone, that was awesome.  A lot of people are going to benefit from reading this.  Do you have any parting comments or do you want to introduce HomeFree-USA one more time?

SG: To learn more about HomeFree-USA, go to www.homefreeusa.org. My financial blog is www.moneymagnet.homefreeusa.org.  If they have any questions they can reach out to me at moneymagnet@homefreeusa.org. If your readers are ready to start the homeownership experience, they can contact us at 301-891-8400.  They don’t have to talk to me for that.

We have a free class at our Riverdale, MD office every other Thursday, “Five Home Buying Secrets Everyone Ought to Know”.  HomeFree-USA is judged by the number of successful and sustainable home owners we produce, not just the number of clients we see.  That’s the key difference.

AD:  Okay, well Simone, that’s all I’ve got.  Once again thank you for this interview and for sharing your expertise and your experiences.  If we can do a follow up piece in the future, that’s something I would be very interested in.

SG:  Okay, thank you Anwar.

Thank for taking the time to read this interview.  If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site. Lastly follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and at the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Simone Griffin of HomeFree-USA discusses homeownership and the African American community part two

This article is a continuation of my interview with Simone Griffin of HomeFree-USA regarding homeownership and the African American community.  In part one, Simone discussed the inception of her organization HomeFree-USA, and why homeownership is critical to the African American community in the United States.  In part two, we discuss some of the historic and recent impediments to black homeownership, some of the things our youth can start learning at an early age regarding Financial Literacy, and finally the effect of the Housing Market Boom/Crash on African American wealth.

Anwar Dunbar:  You touched upon this earlier when you discussed disparities in income, but what are the other main impediments holding African Americans back as a group in terms of homeownership?

Simone Griffin:  There are a couple of different things.  Number one, lenders aren’t as open to lending to people with lower credit scores.  Because they’re over-correcting after the housing crisis, they prefer to lend to people with a 750 credit score or higher.  Many black people don’t have that, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t pay our mortgages.  They simply may not have learned the importance of credit and how to manage it.  And it has nothing to do with your education status – they don’t teach personal finance in college, and are just beginning to do so in high schools.

AD:  No, they don’t.

SG:  If your family doesn’t know anything about credit and you don’t learn about it in school, then how could you be prepared with a 750 or greater score?

AD:  Yes, that’s a very good point.

SG:  A big difference between us and non-Hispanic whites is that between the Great Depression and the 1960s when America was building its wealth, black people were locked out due “Redlining” and other discriminatory tactics.  The Fair Housing and Fair Credit Laws were enacted in the late 1960s and early 1970s, which made it illegal to discriminate against people of color.  The problem was, when we tried to buy homes we were expected to make a 20% down payment, and many black people simply didn’t have that type of money. So when home appreciation soared during the 1970s and 1980s, many moderate income black people were unable to buy, which further crippled their ability to build wealth.  Many are still trying to catch up, and it’s 2017!

Meanwhile there are other ethnic groups who have money saved and may be able to give their kids a leg up.  Their kids may have student loan debt, but they can help them pay down their debt faster, or with a down payment on a house.  Mostly though, we’re starting over with every generation.  There are still many first generation college students in our communities – and college is a big indicator of how much more money you’ll make throughout your career.  So we’re still playing catch up to a degree.  This is why HomeFree-USA is so important, because you need that type of knowledge and access to get ahead.

Likewise, we’re positioned to tell the mortgage industry, ‘You say you want diversity, and want to lend to all kinds of people, but your 750 credit score requirement is locking black people out – black people who really could qualify.’  We’re not suggesting they throw a mortgage product out there and tell everyone they’re eligible. We never did that.  There were so many people we met with during the housing boom and said, ‘You should not be buying right now.’  But there were certain things they could do to improve their position, and we’re here to guide them through the corrections.

What’s important is a level of education to the borrower and to the lender.  The lender needs to understand what the borrowers are dealing with right now – what black people are dealing with.  We may have excess student loans, but if you look at non-traditional sources of credit, you will see that these borrowers are typically paying their rent on time for example, something that’s rarely reported to the credit bureau.  Cell phone and utility bills are also not always reported.

Many African Americans are unbanked or under-banked and we’re not used to working with the traditional lenders.  But that doesn’t mean that we’re not paying our bills, and these are the kinds of things that we’re communicating to the lenders.

AD:  I help teach the Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University Ministry at the Alfred Street Baptist Church.  As I’ve gone through as a student and a group leader, I think about the things that I was taught home (and not taught).  My mother says that she taught us about mortgages, but I don’t remember getting any of that – or I was just too caught up in the distractions of being a young adult.  Is there an age that’s too early for our kids to start learning this stuff?  Ideally how early should our kids be getting these things?

SG: I think you can start early, but age appropriately.  The sooner someone can start working and making their own money, that’s a big thing.  But in the interim just teach kids about giving, saving and spending, and allow them to hold their own money.  Kids for example, may know that money comes out of an ATM but they don’t understand what goes into making the money.  They may ask, ‘Can we get this?’, and you might reply, ‘No it’s not in the budget,’ allowing you to go into an understanding of what the budget is.

My friend has a nine-year old son who is in love with Pokémon cards and always asks her to buy them so he can trade them in school.  The problem is, he has no concept of how much the cards cost.  I suggested she give him an allotment of money every month for the cards, and once he spends it, it’s gone and that’s it. When it’s his money, as opposed to asking her to spend her money, it will change the level of focus he has on the purchase and care of the cards.

AD:  Earlier you talked about African Americans not having access to homeownership when other groups did from post the Depression era to the 1960s.  How did the 2008 Housing Market Crash affect African American homeownership since we were already playing catch up and were just getting into the game?

SG:  It obliterated our wealth.  One big mistake African Americans made is that we looked at our houses as investments.  We would buy a house, but not put any money into savings or other investment vehicles.  In the 1960s, 70s and 80s, our parents and grandparents had pensions, but most companies have replaced those with 401k plans, which they may not contribute to.  We now have to be conscientious about our entire financial life, including retirement.

When the housing crisis hit, it wasn’t all our fault.  Some people were truly led astray, and there were certainly many people who shouldn’t have been approved for such large mortgages.  I lived in Atlanta during the crisis, and the city was hit brutally by the crisis.  I met so many older people whose houses were paid off, and somebody at their church convinced them to get a Reverse Mortgage, which needlessly got them back into debt.  They didn’t even know what they were signing.  There were so many scams going on in Georgia at that time, including one where people thought they were signing up for one mortgage payment, only to find that there was a carbon copy of the real mortgage document underneath the original one, which required them to pay a far higher monthly payment.

Buyers were often blamed and told they bought too much house.  No, some of these people did their best to buy affordably, but were led astray – another reason why HomeFree-USA is so important.  If you’re working with us, we teach you the questions to ask your loan officer, realtor, inspector and appraiser.

During the housing boom loan officers were saying, ‘Oh, I can get you qualified for a $400,000 house even though you only make $40,000.’   Couple that with an agent who says, ‘I see you’re qualified for $400,000. Let me show you a house that’s worth $450,000 and we can negotiate down to $400, 000,’ and it ends up finally being around $425,000.  You say to yourself, ‘It’s fine because my loan officer says I can pay $500 every month.  So, today your payments may be an affordable $500 a month, which makes you feel comfortable in using your credit cards to pay for your new furniture. But five years later you receive a letter stating that you owe $20,000, due within 30 days. After the 30 days and $20,000, your new mortgage payment will be $5,000 per month. This actually happened to several people.  The homebuyers were either completely unaware of the balloon loan, or were told by their loan officer that they could simply refinance.  But the housing market crashed and they now owed more than their house was worth, meaning they were stuck.

This is why I avoid thinking of a home as an investment.  It can go down in value, especially at the beginning of your mortgage before you’ve built any equity.  We go financially awry when we make our house our only real investment without understanding that you have to diversify your portfolio.

This interview will continue in part three of Simone Griffin of HomeFree-USA discusses Homeownership and the African American Community.  To read some more of Simone’s financial writings, visit her blog at www.moneymagnet.homefreeusa.org.  She can also be contacted directly at moneymagnet@homefreeusa.org.

Thank your for taking the time to read this post.  If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment.  To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site.  Lastly follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and a the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page.  While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/site I endorse which be found on that particular page of my site.