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A Virginia nonprofit has been teaching homebuying basics for years

A green sign that reads "FOR SALE" sits on a white-painted piece of wood
Cameron Houck
What started as a 3-hour seminar for first-time homebuyers has evolved into a 15-hour, week-long course to cover all of the basics of buying a home.

Read the original story on WHRO's website.

Buying a house for the first time can be daunting, especially when you don’t know how a mortgage works or what interest rates really mean.

That's why the nonprofit Virginia Housing and Community Development Corporation offers a course for first-time home buyers. When it started the class in 2014, it was a three-hour seminar.

But VHCDC President James Taylor said the Home Ownership Assistance Program has expanded based on years of feedback from students, who say they aren’t getting good information elsewhere.

A session earlier this year ran for 12 hours. And after the latest update, the class starting in August will run for 15.

"Although we put three hours into personal finances and credit, it just wasn't enough time for probably more than half of the attendees to understand some of the material that we're giving them," Taylor said.

So VHCDC is doubling the financial discussions and adding another three hours on things like dealing with collections agencies, credit and banking.

That last one is important, Taylor said, because they see many first-time buyers enter the market without a bank account.

"We're looking at a generation that doesn't bank," he said. "They're using cash apps of all kinds. They don't really have any kind of relationship with banks."

Buying a home is often more affordable in the long term in Hampton Roads, according to an analysis by WHRO.

Rental affordability in the region is lower than in areas like Richmond or the Washington, D.C., suburbs that are commonly viewed as more expensive — once incomes are considered. Hampton Roads residents spend a higher percentage of their monthly incomes on housing because wages in Hampton Roads are lower while housing prices are relatively high.

Homeowners on average are less burdened by their housing costs than renters in Hampton Roads.

Taylor said instead of just running down what an inspection report or personal financial statement is, VHCDC's class shows participants examples and explains what they're used for, something that's lacking in classes like those offered by the state.

Despite the complexity, Taylor said now is a pretty good time to buy a home because there's more assistance from lenders and governments for down payments and closing costs than he's ever seen.

A bigger down-payment can translate to lower monthly payments despite interest rates ticking up over their historic lows in 2020 and 2021.

"That's the financial part of the of the training that we're trying to emphasize more in the classes is to have students look not just at the price of the home or just at the interest rate, but to do the calculations for themselves and compare that against what is the cost of renting look like to your finances," Taylor said.

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