Tag Archives: Home of Your Own

Home Sweet Homeownership

If the headlines are to be believed, it’s been a tough few years for the first-time homebuyer.  Reports circulate of homes listed in the morning and under contract by the evening.  Interest rates are inching up, credit scores are tightening, and those pesky student loans mixed in with car loans and credit card debt are creating a debt-burdened buyer with little wiggle room to take on an additional mortgage.

Yet despite the unfriendly market, attendees of our Down Payment Assistance Workshop given by Easter Seals Greater Houston in The Woodlands, continue to realize their homeownership goals. As class settles in Saturday mornings, and we begin to discuss available down payment assistance programs, the conversation around the table always seem to return to two main concerns:  where am I going to get the money for down payment, and how do I dare add a mortgage payment to my already hefty debt load.

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I’m happy to say that the first question has a simple answer.  There are a variety of down payment programs designed for the homebuyer lacking the out-of-pocket funds for a home purchase which may be combined with a number of great mortgage loan products.

To the second question, there is no simple answer.  Creating a realistic budget which controls spending and reduces debt continues to be the subject of scrutiny from social scientists to behavioral economists, with agreement as to the need, but little consensus as to what constitutes a successful plan.

In our present-day digital world, the proliferation of budgeting and spending apps designed for your mobile device of choice has been overwhelming.  Mint.com, the  ‘Cadillac’ of apps, with a reported 20 million users to date, set the standard in app technology for linking all financial accounts, and with one stroke, allowed a user to monitor the flow of dollars in, dollars out.

Pocketsmith.com, referred to as a crystal ball for your bank accounts, generates what ifs scenarios through delightful images of your future if you stick to your budget –  key word here being if.

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YNAB.com, You Need a Budget app, preaches zero sum game approach, with every dollar assigned a ‘job’.  As the app says, you are in effect, the ‘maestro’ in charge of sending every dollar to its pre-determined role; i.e., savings, vacation, credit card debt, etc., before buying that impulse item.  The thinking here is that if every dollar coming in is already pledged to some expenditure, then you are less prone to splurge on that fun spur of the moment experience not included in your master plan.

As software designers have become more bold, recent apps have devised more and more ingenious ways to move dollars from the ‘to be spent’ column to savings.  For example, Acorns.com focuses on your pennies by rounding up your expenses to the next dollar and investing in a pre-determined investment portfolio.

Digit.com app takes an even bolder approach to policing your disposable income by sifting out anywhere from $5 to $50 of your fun money and stashing it safely away in a savings account.  Their website states that this dollar round-up is accomplished so surreptitiously, that “you should never notice its missing”.   (Somehow, I think I would notice!)

Yet despite all these sophisticated apps, we still struggle to control our spending.  For most of us, the recommended emergency fund of 3-6 months of living expenses remains a pipedream, and paycheck to paycheck living is far too common.

Maybe the problem is that budgeting apps have not gone far enough in making spending so unpleasant, that we are forced to become a nation of savers. If we look outside the app world of money management, you find some pretty extreme versions of self-help strategies conceived to reach your goals.

For those people who renew their New Year’s pledge every year to exercise on a regular basis, Equinox, a health club chain, has designed a chatbot that reaches out to members weekly to “encourage” them to stay on track with their exercise regime. (I think the word “encourage” here could be a euphemism for nag or hassle.)hoyo-staff-and-family-close-up

For those people who struggle to wake up mornings, there is a very annoying alarm clock called Clocky on the market which doesn’t just beep you awake, but actually jumps off your bedside table and runs off to the far corners of your room.  Needless to say, if you want to turn off Clocky’s beep, you have to get out of bed and chase it around the room. You would start your day on schedule, but probably not in a very good mood – always trade-offs!  Do we really want or need to design budgeting apps with similarly irritating functions to help us reach our financial goals?

I suggest that there are other approaches to achieving a financial stability that opens the door to homeownership.  Easter Seals Greater Houston offers a variety of classes focused on credit building and debt reduction through our HUD-certified Homebuyer Education Classes.  As a great first step towards homeownership, our Down Payment Assistance Workshop covers a range of assistance programs, mortgage products, and income/debt ratios review in determining how much house you can afford.  The combination of peer-support group classes and one-on-one counseling is invaluable in helping you create a realistic action plan that moves you forward to your goals.

The proper money management app can serve as a great budgeting tool for individuals working towards specific financial goals, but are only part of the equation.  The Easter Seals housing staff is here to provide you with comprehensive counseling services to ensure that your financial plan will take you where you want to go.

Katy Thorstenberg, Housing Program Manager, Easter Seals Greater Houston

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Financial Literacy Pays Off

It is Saturday, not yet 9—an early morning in The Woodlands with the promise of heat and humidity as people begin to arrive for the monthly Easter Seals Greater Houston‘s Homebuyer and Financial Literacy class/Down Payment assistance workshop. Zip codes filling up the sign-in sheets speak of distance traveled that morning:  Harris, Ft. Bend, Brazoria, Waller, Walker Galveston, and  Chambers.  They come from neighborhoods from rural to urban, big city and small town, over a multi-county stretch.  They represent many different income, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds, but all with the same purpose – qualifying for the down payment assistance program that will allow them to purchase a home.

Over coffee and doughnuts, the individual hoyo1stories take shape.  A widowed grandmother talks about the apartment complex where she has lived comfortably for the last 15 years but has struggled to pay the rapidly increasing rent over the last few years.  Living on a fixed income with little assets, meeting her monthly rent payments had become unsustainable, and homeownership seemed to be a pipe dream without some kind of assistance.

A young couple with 2 young children spoke of their need for space, a backyard, and safe sidewalks where their kids could bike to neighbors or area parks.

One single Mom of 2 children, who had survived on rental assistance through the county, proudly talked of her now stable job with the expectation of finally owning her own home close to her children’s school.  Without down payment assistance that dream of homeownership would remain just that – a dream, as even with good credit and little debt, qualifying for a home she could afford on her income would be impossible without some down payment assistance.

hoyo-staff-and-family-close-upOver the course of the morning, all the local, state and federal down payment assistance programs were reviewed.  Mortgage guidelines were discussed and the steps towards homeownership were outlined.  Each of these families left class that day with a plan before them, and some months later, all are now proud property owners of a home of their choice.

Homeownership is not for everyone, nor is it something that happens over night; however, with the help of the Easter Seals Greater Houston housing team, commitment to your financial goals, and perseverance, it is attainable.

Whether this is your first home or a move back into homeownership after years of renting, the homebuyer class/ Down Payment assistance workshop is a great first step towards one of the most important purchases of your life.

For more information on Easter Seals Greater Houston’s Homebuyer/Down Payment Assistance workshops or #BankOn, email: kthorstenberg@eastersealshouston.org.

Katy Thorstenberg, Housing Initiative, Easter Seals Greater Houston

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Pardon the Pun…Rainy Day Investments with our Housing Initiative

Lately it feels like we’re in the middle of a monsoon season here in Houston. From the Tax Day floods to the cresting creeks and bayous, it may seem like we’ll neverBailey family 005 see the sun around here again. And don’t forget, hurricane season is just kicking off too! All of this water can really spell trouble for homeowners. And for potential homeowners, you may be wondering if now is really the time to buy? Even if homeownership isn’t on your radar, it’s hard not to argue that we all need to have a “rainy day” fund.

Our financial coaches and homeownership counselors in our Easter Seals Greater Houston Housing Initiative may not be able to predict the future (or the weather!) but there is a lot we CAN do for those of you who may have questions or need help reorganizing and reevaluating your financial goals:

  • Our Easter Seals Greater Houston Homebuyer’s Education Classes walk you through the process of purchasing a home, plus ways to protect your investment and what to do when the unexpected happens
  • Our Credit Boot Camps help you to understand the credit system and how it can impact you–not just when you want to purchase, but also if you need a loan to help repair your property in the face of events like floods
  • Our individual coaching sessions help you to refine and set financial goals and create an action plan to achieve them. The goals are up to you, and can be anything from managing your budget to save for a rainy day fund, to rebuilding credit, to purchasing a home!

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Our coaches are here to help (rain or shine!) and we look forward to working with you. Additionally, as part of United Way Greater Houston’s THRIVE Network, we’re happy to help connect you to organizations and services to address your needs even when they’re not within the scope of our expertise.

To schedule a class or an individual appointment, or to get more information on how our program may be of use to you, please call (713) 838-9050 x320, or email HousingProgram@eastersealshouston.org.

Dana Adams, Housing, Easter Seals Greater Houston

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Time To Re-Establish Some Good Financial Habits!

It’s back-to-school time! And even for those of us that are well past our school days, it can be really easy to relax our routines over the summer. That means that this time of year can be a perfect time to re-establish some good habits and get back on track toward achieving financial goals.

Here in the Easter Seals Greater Houston Housing Initiative, we love to remind our clients that small steps can help us reach big goals. Getting ready to purchase a home starts with small steps and good habits, such as making and sticking to a budget. There are lots of easy ways to make a household budget; you can put pen to paper, make yourself an Excel spreadsheet, or use one of the many cool new apps out there for your phone, like Mint. Whichever method you choose, get started right away! With back-to-school shopping out of the way, September is the perfect month to start and stick to your budget; just make it part of your new routine, just like getting to bed early, packing lunches, and all the other good habits that come with getting back into the school swing!house

Still not sure that a household budget will make a difference? Just ask Easter Seals Greater Houston’s client Laura! She came in for an appointment with a coach and worked out a household budget so that she and her husband could pay off some debt and start saving for a house. Three short months later she had paid off two outstanding bills, paid off her vehicle, and started saving toward a down payment for a house! She and her husband hope to purchase by the end of the year.

Another Easter Seals client, Christine, used her household budget to determine how she could pay more than her minimums on her credit cards plus save a little money each month on a very fixed income. With her new budget in place, she received a windfall in the form of a monetary gift from her brother, and since she already had her financial plan in place, she knew just what to do with that money. She opened a high-yield savings account with it and is now on her way to paying off her debt without sacrificing her ability to save for a “rainy day!”

If you’d like help making your budget, give Easter Seals Greater Houston a call! We have lots of great tips and tricks to get you back on track toward your financial goals, whether that means buying a house, increasing your savings, or improving your credit scores. Check out our calendar so you can join us for a class or come in for an appointment!

Dana Adams, Housing Initiative, Easter Seals Greater Houston

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Time for a Financial Wellness Checkup?

Ahhhh – yes, it must be summer.  Rodeo crews have hitched up their trailers and gone home, art festivals and crawdad 2014 home ownerfeasts spill outside, , allergies and….TAX Returns.    As we mull over our 1040s and contemplate how best to make some positive changes, a number of remedies come to mind.

For the mosquitoes and allergy thing, there is the convenient corner drugstore, but for that IRS love-letter called our tax returns which clearly shows how much we spend and how little we save, there is no such easy solution; however, it can be a not-so-subtle wake-up call to ask ourselves what kind of money management plan we follow.

That old baseball sage, Yogi Berra, famously said, “When you get to a fork in the road, take it”.  When it comes to a social media, free-spirit quality kind of thing, that philosophy works rather well.   However, the ‘fork’ plan, which is actually the NO PLAN path, or what I call the bumper-car strategy to life, is probably not going to help you build those financial resources so important in creating a firewall between you and that ugly ‘D’ word – DEBT.  Did you know that you should not be spending more than 30% of your monthly income on your housing expense?  Did you know that at any one time, your family should have at least 3 – 6 months of funds set-aside to help you survive those unexpected, unpleasant, and really unfortunate events that happen all too frequently? You might ask….how much exactly is 3- 6 months reserves in $$$$$$?  A very good question which leads to the next best question, do we even know how much we spend on a monthly basis, or, bottom-line, do we have a household budget?  By that I mean a real budget based on real income, not future hoped-for windfalls, AND including fixed debt, variable debt, and monthly savings towards our dream goals – a house, a not-pre-owned car, or the inevitable retirement.

If you would like to  take a financial wellness check-up, the Easter Seals Greater Houston’s Housing Initiative staff is here to help.  Financial coaches work with families to reduce debt and build credit and resources. HUD-certified Homebuyer Education is provided, and down payment assistance for first-time homebuyers is available for Montgomery County.  For whatever your income and whatever your goals may be, a sound financial plan is your first step.  So when you get to that fork in the road, ask yourself… Does this fork take me where I want to go?

Katy Thorstenberg, LMSW, Easter Seals Greater Houston

Many thanks to United Way Greater Houston, United Way Montgomery County, & Woodforest Bank and the many other collaborators we work with, to make this possible!

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New Young Adult Program!

My name is Ashley Davis. I am the new Assistant Program Coordinator for the Young Adult LEAD (Life Enrichment for ashley pic 1Adults with Disabilities) Program at Easter Seals Greater Houston.

A little about me- although I was born in California,  I tend to call myself a Texan since I moved to Texas when I was 4 years old.  Recently, San Marcos, TX was my home as I was finishing my degree in Recreation Administration at Texas State University. My parents live in both Dallas and Fort Worth so I have lived in five wonderful cities that Texas has to offer. Houston has quickly become one of my favorite cities as the diversity here is incomparable. I am happy to say that I have been working with people with different abilities for ten years. This all began as I was an aid in the special needs classroom in 8th grade. It was then that I fell in love with working with this population. In high school, I helped to found an organization that helped students with and without special needs to form friendships in a safe environment. The past five summers have been consumed with camp as I have worked for Camp Summit, in Argyle, TX, and Camp For All, in Burton, TX.

ashley pic 2I cannot wait to get March started as we have will have had one month of our newest program up and running. My goal is to help this program grow into its fullest potential by planning it  full of educational and fun events for our young adults. We want to see this help our young adults grow, learn and have fun!  Please email me at ADavis@eastersealshouston.org or call me at 713-838-9050 if you are interested or want more information about the program, volunteering with the program or any other info!

Ashley Davis,  Assistant Program Coordinator, Young Adult Program, Easter Seals Greater Houston.

 

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Homeless, then a House and then a Home!

I arrived in Houston in August of 2002. Prior to that time, I was successfully employed as a professional educator and trainer in the state of Washington; the proud recipient joseph photoof 2 graduate university degrees and a proud father and grandfather. My world turned upside down after I suffered a major health challenge. I was not able to work, and had to rely on state welfare and on disability income. Most of my family lived in Houston, so I migrated to Texas to live with family and continue my medical recovery. More unfortunate circumstances came my way with a death in the family and the loss of resources I was counting on to start my recovery. While living with a friend who offered the generosity of his home for a short time, I realized I was just a friend away from homelessness.

My desperate conditions began to turn around when I was referred to Easter Seals Greater Houston and the Home of Your Own Program. My Housing Coordinator gave me confidence that after a brief period of financial literacy training and increasing my credit score, I could buy a home of my own! I was diligent about my studies and work. Easter Seals assisted me in securing funds for the down payment, making a house more affordable. I was truly blessed to receive down payment assistance funds to help in my house purchase.

In 2010 I purchased a small house in a Houston Hope neighborhood with a house payment I could afford. My blessings continued as I learned Easter Seals was an AmeriCorps participant and I could become part of this program. I worked part-time at Easter Seals in the same program which helped me so greatly! The AmeriCorps program ended after one year. Just after that, I was offered a part-time Financial Coach position in the Home of Your Own Program. I was thrilled with this opportunity to give back and to help others pull themselves out of the grip of homelessness and despair. Easter Seals has a culture of acceptance and nurturing, and they welcomed me with open arms to their Easter Seals home. I went from Homelessness to a House of my own to my Easter Seals Home.

By Joseph Bowman, Easter Seals Greater Houston Housing Coordinator, Home of Your Own

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