help with a downpayment in buying a home

A New Home, With Help From HOPE

Downpayment assistance enabled one young couple to purchase their first house

Clara Strong was familiar with the nonprofit organization known as HOPE of Evansville because of her work as part of another service organization, ECHO Community Healthcare, which provides healthcare to the uninsured, underinsured, and homeless, among others. As a case manager there, part of Strong’s job is to connect her clients with services like Medicaid and food stamps, and to act as a liaison between patients and doctors, she says, but she’s less used to being on the receiving end of such good turns. “I’m pretty familiar with local resources in the area for that reason, and that’s actually how I heard about HOPE of Evansville, because I refer people there on occasion when they’re needing help with homeownership,” she told Good Turns recently.

So when Strong and her husband were thinking about buying a home, they knew where to turn. “We’ve been together for four years, we’ve known each other for six, and we lived together in a dorm room and then in two tiny apartments after we graduated from college, never more than 500 square feet,” Strong said. “We just really wanted more space, and I had been looking for properties in Evansville, Indiana, just because it’s where my family is, so I have a pretty great support system here.”

That support system is important, because the couple welcomed their first child into the world this past January 1. “He was the first baby to be born in our county,” Strong says. “He was definitely a motivating factor for buying a house.”

Strong’s home search paid off when she found one on the market that belonged someone she knew—more or less. “We found one that was actually being sold by super-distant relatives of mine that I didn’t really know personally,” she says. “That same week, we got approved by HOPE of Evansville for their downpayment assistance program.”

“The whole time I kind of didn’t believe that we were actually going to get it, it seemed too good to be true”

Strong and her husband had applied for downpayment assistance because, though she’s committed to the part-time work she does with ECHO Healthcare, “I would make more money bagging groceries at the grocery store,” she says. Her husband works as head of photography and videography at the local news station, but their combined income was low enough to make them eligible to receive downpayment assistance from HOPE.

Still, the process wasn’t simple. After submitting pay stubs, other documentation, and “tons and tons of paperwork,” the couple also had to take a financial literacy course that covered everything from the ins and outs of homebuying to how to write a check and balance a checkbook. “Some of it was kind of condescending, but it was a small price to pay,” Strong says. The house, too, had to be approved, as HOPE’s downpayment assistance only goes to “starter homes” priced below $100,000 and which do not need a lot of work to be livable.

“The house we bought is a really great little house,” Strong says. “It was just kept up really well by the previous owner, but it hadn’t been updated in like 30 years, so there were a lot of odds and ends we had to take care of before the house could get approved.”

“That was probably the longest part of the process, going back and forth between ordering the inspections, sending those results to HOPE of Evansville, then they sent them to the city of Evansville, then we were given a list of things we had to fix. It felt like a very long time,” Strong says. “The whole time I kind of didn’t believe that we were actually going to get it, it seemed too good to be true. We had to open a very specific kind of savings account at one of the banks they partner with, and we had to leave the money in that account for at least 30 days before it could be matched.” Through a state program facilitated by HOPE, the couple’s savings was matched four times over. “That made our downpayment way better than it could have been if it was just us. Then we got an additional $2,000 that went toward closing costs. We only had to bring $40 to the closing, which was amazing.”

Though the sale closed in mid-July, the couple has the lease on their apartment until mid-August. Their original plan was to slowly move their things into the house and then take up residence there when the lease ended, but things took a different turn. “I just wanted to move in immediately,” Strong said. That process was simplified because the sellers, Strong’s distant relatives, had left the house furnished for its new owners. “So we packed a few suitcases and moved. We still have a lot of packing to do but we’ve been living in the house. I was way too excited to wait and move gradually.”

“I feel like we had a lot of things on our side working to help us get the house,” Strong says. “It was so surprising. I honestly didn’t believe that it was going to work out because there were so many hoops we had to jump through. I really didn’t believe it until the day it happened, which I think is kind of normal even if you’re just going through the normal channels of buying a home. But for us it felt especially tenuous.” Thanks to the kindness of people like Strong’s relatives and organizations like HOPE, though, the couple and their young son have a new place to call home.

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