By Ken Abramczyk
Homeownership represents one of life’s solid benchmarks, setting a foundation for future economic success for Americans. Purchasing a home enhances a sense of belonging, contributes to the quality of one’s life and achieves the American Dream. First-time homebuyers in Georgia may run into frustration and difficulties leaping a huge financial barrier: saving enough cash to finance a down payment. Through the Georgia Dream Homeownership Program administered through the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, they can obtain a low-interest loan to help with that down payment and land that all-important first home. And helping them navigate through the paperwork and forms are 97 participating lenders located across the state. These professionals walk home buyers not only through the application process for their mortgage loan, but also simultaneously through the Georgia Dream Program to obtain a secondary loan for the down payment, closing costs or other fees associated with the sale.
“Lenders who seek us out are really enthusiastic about the program, and a lot of the loan officers have passion for first-time home buying,” says Tonya Cureton Curry, Deputy Commissioner for Housing for the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. “I find that when I talk to the lenders, they really want to help further that ownership for the first-time homebuyer. These loan officers really are mission-oriented.”
In the last five years, 6,800 families have benefited from the Georgia Dream Program. Dealing with lenders adds more forms and paperwork for borrowers to fill out, but it is well worth it to obtain the low-interest Georgia Dream loan. In fact, homeowners who meet certain requirements may be eligible for a $5,000 loan. In addition, first responders, public protectors, educators, healthcare providers, military personnel or those who work in related industries and families that include someone with disability may be able to access a $7,500 loan. This secondary mortgage has zero-percent interest, and no monthly payments are made on the loan, as the loan amount is absorbed into the home’s equity. If the home is sold or refinanced, the proceeds fund the next generation of home buyers in the Georgia Dream program.
The Lender’s Role
The lender with whom you choose to work will help steer the entire process, including securing both the main home loan and the secondary Georgia Dream mortgage loan, which applies directly to the down payment on a home. Participating lenders are trained by the Office of Homeownership and introduced to the program’s guidelines to ensure that they can work with clients easily, helping them beyond the traditional mortgage to create a good experience, Curry says. In fact, participating lenders are trained continuously to help the lenders, closers and underwriters understand the process.
“The borrower will experience the normal rules and regulations because the lender has to get that loan insured through HUD or VA, but they will also experience a different set of guidelines through Georgia Dream,” Curry explains. “It’s two-fold, so the goal of the lender and Georgia Dream is to make it as seamless and invisible as possible, which is why we have participating lenders and we work together. We provide training to those lenders to make it a seamless process for our first-time homebuyers.” Most of the lenders are very knowledgeable and versed in FHA, first-mortgage loans and conventional, uninsured loans, she adds.
As with a regular mortgage, the Georgia Dream loan requires continuous communication about the rules and regulations between the borrower and lender. “It is something that the lender will talk to them about as the borrower goes through this process,” Curry says. “The lender will prequalify them and tell them that they are a candidate for the Georgia Dream Program. As the lender is informing them about the first mortgage guidelines rules and regulations, they are also informing them at the same time about the Georgia Dream guidelines.”
You can visit the Georgia Dream website to view income and other requirements and to decide whether the Georgia Dream program can work for you. Georgia Dream loans, which are 30-year fixed interest rate mortgages, are available to first-time home buyers, buyers who have not had interest or homeownership in a primary residence in the last three years or those who purchase a home in certain areas. Borrowers must have a household income up to the maximum, have liquid assets of no more than $20,000 or 20 percent of the sales price (whichever is greater) and meet mortgage loan credit requirements. Additionally, participating lenders give credit for FHA, USDA-RD, VA or conventional eligible mortgage loans.
If you believe you qualify and have found a home you wish to purchase, then you can peruse a list of participating Georgia Dream lenders online, which are categorized by region. Once all of the necessary documentation is completed, the lender will contact the Georgia Dream Program. “Once the lender gets that loan packaged and ready for underwriting submission, they’ll send that to us, and we’ll have the loan for about five to 10 days,” Curry says. Once all the documentation is completed and requirements are met, the Georgia Dream program issues a commitment letter to the lender, so that they can move forward with the closing. Curry notes that the entire process lasts about 75 days.
In the end, Curry believes homeownership is critical to building equity. “Home buying is one of the most important things a person can do for the first time,” she says. “It brings them pride, helps them build up confidence and helps them build credit and accumulate additional credit going forward. They get a credit score, and they have access to other opportunities financially. They have an asset building in value, hoping that the property’s future value will help them accumulate financial wealth and growth going forward and break down some generational barriers.”
For more information, visit dca.ga.gov/safe-affordable-housing/homeownership/georgia-dream.