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Ins and outs of home ownership at City Hall Karina Hernandez | Thu, Jul 01 2010 04:23 PM

Gary Morgan intends to own a home in Chula Vista one day, so he sat in Chula Vista City Council chambers last Saturday morning with the hope that someone would demystify the eligibility process for him.

Morgan, who rents in Chula Vista, attended the South Bay Homeownership Resource Fair at the Chula Vista Civic Center on June 26 with a simple goal in mind: "I just want to get my feet wet, talk to people, get some cards," he explains. Like many potential first-time homeowners, he's been waiting for the right time to buy. It was difficult for him to qualify when home prices were at their highest, and now that they've come down, he says he's still unsure whether he'll get a loan because lenders seem more strict these days.

Morgan wasn't the only one interested in learning the ins and outs of homebuying that day.

More than 20 others attended the workshop, which covered topics ranging from finding an agent to budgeting for the purchase.

Presenters offered specific tips, advising would-be buyers to interview more than one agent, and to call them to see if they'd call back. According to them, buyers' number one complaint is that agents don't return calls. "Remember that the agent works for you," they repeated.

Meanwhile, 50 vendors lined the courtyard outside for the four-hour event sponsored by the Pacific Southwest Association of Realtors and the Housing Opportunities Collaborative. They ranged from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and various departments of the city of Chula Vista, to real estate agents and lenders from throughout the South Bay. The resource fair was organized to provide residents access to vendors and educational sessions that promote homeownership.

Sustainability seemed to be a recurring theme throughout the fair. Two of the four workshops focused on sustaining homeownership by presenting homeowners in financial distress with retention options such as refinancing, property tax re-assessments and low-income energy programs.

First-time buyers were introduced to loan options such as the Mortgage Credit Certificate Program, which reduces the homeowner's federal income tax liability, increasing their monthly take-home pay. They also discussed down payment assistance programs available in the South Bay.

A representative for Community Housing Works (CHW), a local non-profit organization, said their booth's visitors were most interested in CHW's homebuyer education courses. The eight-hour classes, which take place multiple times per month throughout the county, are a pre-requisite to obtaining the city of Chula Vista's first-time homebuyer loans. Currently, the city offers an interest-free, shared equity "silent second" loan of up to $70,000 for borrowers who haven't owned a home in the past three years and have low to moderate incomes. Last week, National City approved their own first-time homebuyer program. Both programs are administered through CHW.

Representatives of various Chula Vista departments and divisions were also on hand to talk sustainability.

Andrew McGuirre of the Code Enforcement Division is a sustainability coordinator and building inspector. Part of his job is to provide outreach to residents and teach them about the latest programs, legislation and codes pertaining to green building standards.

According to McGuirre, Chula Vista is progressive in its efforts toward energy efficiency and points to new home developments in the eastern part of the city as an example. He said that since the beginning of 2010, builders have upheld higher standards of energy efficiency, water conservation and environmental friendliness than is required by the state, and that new home development is 20 percent more water-conservative this year over last year. He also said that residents should take advantage of the city's subsidy permits, which are offered for energy efficient remodeling projects.

The Home Depot conducted how-to clinics on "eco options" for the home, remodeling and painting. The Home Depot stores of Chula Vista have both seen increases in sales and foot traffic over last year, according to Janet Wheeler, manager of the Rancho Del Rey store. She said the clientele has shifted from predominantly homebuilders and construction-related patrons to homeowners, which she's happy to see.

New homeowners seem to be on tight budgets and a majority of them look to painting projects as a quick, easy and affordable way to change the look of their home.

Also in attendance were the Chula Vista library and the Animal Care Facility.

Librarians set up an array of homeowner resources from their catalog. They included do-it-yourself books for remodeling to "The Idiot's Guide to Buying a Home," demonstrating their inventory of homeowner resources.

A representative from the animal shelter, with three dogs for adoption at her side, reported that the number of stray dogs in Chula Vista is up due to the summer season and changes in the the housing market. Hard economic times have led people to let new litters and pets go astray.

She said they've also received calls from residents whose neighbors left their dogs behind after vacating their homes. The shelter's number one concern right now is rescuing strays and currently, the space at the Beyer Boulevard. facility is limited, so she encourages those who must surrender a pet to call in advance for availability.

On a brighter note, the representative said they were pleased many new homeowners are adopting their pets from the shelter.

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