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Susan Kang Sunderland

A Friend On The Path To Home Ownership

Hawaii HomeOwnership Center, a nonprofit that helps people realize the dream of owning a home, will participate in the Hawaii Homebuyers Fair this Saturday. Here, executive director Dennis Oshiro celebrates with Sheree Young and Dane Quitevis on the purchase of their new condo

The home-buying process is like a love affair. When things get serious, there is intense scrutiny of each partner’s true worth, a deep examination of character and candid judgments on making long-term commitments.

Then there are the emotions. Am I good enough? Is this the right match? Will I settle for less? If I’m rejected, will I recover? One is stripped bare, both emotionally and financially.

And that’s just the mortgage application process!

Thankfully there are ways to kiss frustration goodbye, according to Hawaii HomeOwnership Center. It claims that too few buyers are prepared adequately for the home-buying process. It’s like a blind date with a deceptive lender.

What you don’t know can hurt you.

Hawaii HomeOwnership Center (HHOC), a nonprofit organization, was started in 2003 to help low- and moderate-income families with the home-buying process. Online/distance learning classes and phone counseling are available for Neighbor Island residents. Its statewide educational and counseling programs have served more than 4,069 families to date with 1,000 happily crossing the threshold to new homes.

HHOC is one of the participants of the Hawaii Homebuyers Fair Saturday (Oct. 5) at Hawaii Convention Center (see sidebar). It is not a real estate or lending institution. There are no commissions involved or any vested interest in what kind of home you buy or where. It simply wants to make you smarter about making the most important purchase of your life.

Sounds like a sensible, logical step, doesn’t it? Yet many individuals and couples approach real estate transactions with nothing but a dream and a scant down payment.

Like a mismatch in romance, the experience can be disappointing, according to Dennis Oshiro, HHOC executive director.

“The home-buying process can be overwhelming,” he says. “Many clients referred to us by Realtors and lenders have problems qualifying for a loan or have financial issues. No two families are alike. They could have similar incomes yet dramatically different expenses and lifestyle choices.

“We provide one-on-one counseling to analyze each situation and offer options and solutions. Often potential homebuyers are unaware of the assistance programs, grants and other tools available to them.”

Oshiro knows the drill. The Kaimuki High School grad, who grew up in Palolo, has extensive experience in real estate lending and credit management. Following 30-plus years with various financial institutions, he moved to the nonprofit sector, where he has been for the past five years.

Naivete – nay, downright ignorance – of the home-buying process and its terminology can be barriers to achieving goals, he suggests. Like scoring in sports, having a coach can assure that you have a game plan and the right plays.

The power of HHOC is “empowerment through knowledge,” Oshiro asserts.

“Find out what you don’t know,” he says. “Then when you’re ready to buy, you’ll be ready to buy.”

HHOC is part of the national network of NeighborWorks America, a federally funded program serving urban and rural areas in affordable housing and community development.

In other words, it’s an established, credible source of information and resources to help homebuyers work through the 12 steps of attaining the American dream of homeownership.

Those steps include: first contact, orientation, assessment, initial counseling session, home-buyer’s education, subsequent counseling sessions, mortgage readiness, prequalification, house hunting, mortgage application, close of escrow and post-purchase services.

Note that house hunting is not the first phase. Most buyers skip the critical preparation steps where self-examination, financial fitness and foundations for the future are built.

Coaching is not limited to low- and moderate-income earners, although they are likely targets for self-help disciplines. Anyone with an interest in taking an informed and purposefully directed course to home buying would benefit from HHOC’s programs.

Membership fee is $60 for lifetime benefits and services, with online enrollment available at hihomeownership.org.

Program director Reina Miyamoto emphasizes, “The building blocks provided are significant. Buying a home is a goal to be celebrated, but there are so many milestones that happen along the way. So, even if not ready for home ownership today, one can get a good understanding of what’s involved,” she says. “We’re focused on readiness versus the actual buying of the house.”

Speaking of milestones, HHOC recently reached one of its own when its 1,000th homeowner closed on a property. The couple, Sheree Young, 27, and Dane Quitevis, 26, represent the young generation of members who now seek HHOC advice and guidance. They completed the center’s 12-step program and moved into a two-bedroom condominium in McCully, where Quitevis exclaims, “Wow, we own this place!”

“We were faithful to the system and followed the recommendations,” says Young, a public relations account executive. “In one-and-a-half years we paid off $10,000 in debt and saved $15,000 for a down payment.”

Thanks to HHOC access to grants, the couple also qualified for additional funds in down-payment assistance.

“Our counselor Becky Yara helped us face our financial picture in terms of debt and credit score,” says Quitevis, a maritime vessel planner. “We were scared. She was militaristic, but in a motherly way.”

He recalls, “We didn’t buy Starbucks (coffee). We’d think about Becky and ask ourselves, ‘Do we really need this?’”

“We lived on a budget of $40 each a week, including food and gas,” adds Young. “We stayed with our parents in Kapolei and stopped going out a lot.”

But the sacrifices and trade-offs led to a comfortable, centrally located condo at Wiliwili Vista, where the couple is happily ensconced.

Their advice to young homebuyers? “You just can’t wake up one day and say you want to buy a house and have it happen the next day,” says Young. “You need information, resources and the money to figure what out what you want to do.”

Indeed, the American Dream only can become a reality with realistic goals and action steps. The average HHOC member is 38 years old, with others ranging between 20 and 60-plus. About 65 percent are considered low or moderate income under federal guidelines.

After attending HHOC’s money management class, this reporter learned more about personal capital, capacity, credit and collateral that are applicable to purchases of any kind. The principles are practical for everyday living.

Impressed with the class content and learning, another participant hails, “This should be a required course for every high school graduate.”

As for making that initial property purchase, it can be the harbinger of things to come. As Theodore Roosevelt put it, “real estate is the basis of wealth.”

Taking that first step is the hardest. But like the first kiss, the effects linger for a long time.

ALL IS FAIR

Find everything you need to know about buying a home at the Hawaii Homebuyers Fair Saturday (Oct. 5), 8:30 a.m., at Hawaii Convention Center. Presented by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and Sunetric, it is a one-stop shop for first-time and repeat home purchasers. Whee, it’s free!

Save wear and tear on yourself and your vehicle by concentrating your energy and focus where everyone who’s anyone in residential development, financing and home improvement will be gathered. It’s a rare opportunity to meet developers of master-planned communities and affordable housing in Kakaako, Kapolei, Makakilo, Honolulu, Maili and more. Informative workshops cover real estate and mortgage basics as well as the latest solar energy solutions.

There’s a carnival of ideas and contacts at the trade show, where you can have a dialogue with professionals without playing phone tag or email chase trying to ask a question or get an appointment. You even can be pre-qualified for a home by bringing your W-25, tax returns, pay stubs and expense information. Now is a good time to take advantage of historic low interest rates. Ask about down payment assistance programs, too.

There’s free parking for the first 500 who pre-register online at hawaiihomebuyersfair.com. Got questions? Call 538-6397.

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