Central MN Housing Partnership helps with home ownership

by Amy Doeun

Contributing writer 

Home ownership is perhaps one of the best ways to bring stability not only to families and individuals but also to communities.
Leah Engnell, program manager for the Central Minnesota Housing Partnership, works tirelessly to make sure families and individuals have the information they need to be able to buy a home of their own.
She spoke with the Post Review about the current state of the housing market.
“We kind of liken it to a pendulum swing, after the crash (of 2008), no one was able to qualify, that pendulum is ending up in the middle at this point,” she said. “There are policies in place to minimize that predatory (lending) experience, and there is additional help towards saving for a down payment.”
Engnell teaches the Homestretch workshop for the Central Minnesota Housing Partnership.
“The Homestretch workshop has been around for 30 years, it is not a new way to own a home,” she said. “It is not about perfect credit and huge down payments at this point in time. It is about the average Joe being able to afford and buy a house.”
The partnership serves 16 counties in central Minnesota. Engnell said there are additional difficulties toward affordable housing.
“We have a very diverse field in greater Minnesota. There are less affordable rental situations than just rentals. Many rental situations cost as much if not more than ownership. When you get into rural areas, the rental opportunities dry up. Transportation is another issue, a barrier to home ownership.”
The Homestretch workshop “takes you from A to Z through a homebuying workshop,” Engnell said. “We discuss the basics of budgeting. How does budgeting for home ownership look different than budgeting for other things? For example, how do you make your budget flexible enough to become homeowners?” Extra fees that have to be paid upfront like insurance, taxes and a home inspection need to be accounted for.
The workshop also talks about how to find and talk with lenders.
“You learn about some of the things you should ask and things you should look for,” Engnell said. “We try to bring in professionals from the area so they can ask questions specific to their area. We want them to be on top of what is happening in their area.”
Real estate agents also come to the workshop.
“They talk about what they do,” Engnell said. “It is more than just opening the door and showing us a house. “They are proverbial middle man. We also try to have someone from a title agency come in. It is very important to have a clear title.”
Other professionals like insurance agents and home inspectors may also come in.
Engnell said since it is a face-to-face workshop, she tries to leave time to answer questions specific to those attending the workshop.
“There is an online option available,” she explained. “It is more expensive, and you work at your own pace. I think they get more out of it if they attend in person. If you take the workshop at the beginning of your process you are able to digest it. We get a lot of people who say they have a closing date the next month.”
Some lenders like FHA, Rural Development and special programs like Habitat for Humanity and the VA require a homebuyer education workshop. The Homestretch workshop fulfills this requirement.
Workshops are held monthly in Baxter, St. Cloud and Cambridge. People can attend any of those. A person doesn’t have to be from those counties to attend. The workshop in Cambridge is held in the Rural Development office.
“It is really good for us because they can give some information about what the funds are looking like at this time,” Engnell said.
Engnell said the education piece is definitely increasing.
“Interest rates are low and a lot of people think the time to buy is now,” she said. “I think people are becoming more educated and getting involved in the process. But the seller-driven stock and pricing is making it harder for first-time homebuyers. First-time homebuyers are not ready, willing or able to move that fast. I hear them say things like, ‘I had to put bids in on multiple homes,’ or ‘I had interest but was too late.’”
Engnell said prospective buyers should watch the market for ebbs and flows.
“There is less of the foreclosure and short sales (houses) that was helpful and increased the stock,” she said. “Perhaps in the future it will be more of a buyer’s market. Education can help people recognize the trends. People want education and knowledge for themselves.”
Registration is required for the workshop. There is typically a fee of $30, but that can be waived for certain circumstances.
There are also sales and discounts throughout the year. Typically June is free because it is home ownership month. Feb. 15 is the next date for a Cambridge workshop. People interested can register on the website www.cmhp.net or call the office at 320-259-0393 with questions.

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