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Herald Inside LI panel guides first-time homebuyers

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When Max and Ashley Kramer decided to buy their first home together before Covid-19 hit, they quickly realized it would be a lot of work. “We went on a whim to look at a few houses before we were prepared at all,” Ashley said. “That was important for us because it made us realize, ‘Ok, we need a team. We can’t do this on our own.’”

To begin the process in April, they first called a mortgage broker. Though they lost out on deals for two homes because of the fast-paced market, they landed in a house that they say they are happy with in North Bellmore.

The Kramers shared their first-time home-buying experience on the latest in a series of Herald Inside LI webinars produced by RichnerLive, a division of Richner Communications, publisher of Herald Community Newspapers, discussing different aspects of life in the Covid-19 pandemic.

On Oct. 8, the couple was joined by panelists Scott Wallace, certified buyer representative and real estate salesman at Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International Realty; Matt Korman, licensed real estate broker at Douglas Elliman; and Veronica Ferrero, assistant vice president and community lending coordinator at Emigrant Mortgage Company Inc.

Moderator Skye Ostreicher, of RichnerLive and Herald Community Newspapers, first asked the panelists the most important thing a first-time homebuyer should know. The experts’ resounding answer was to find a reliable team, composed of a mortgage broker, a buyer’s real estate agent and an attorney, who will help at every step of the way.

“It’s all about communication between everyone,” Wallace said, “and unfortunately, in this market right now, I feel for the buyers out there. They’re trying so hard, and they are qualified; sometimes they just need a little more education about their qualifications.”

Ferrero said that step one in the home-buying process is to do what the Kramers did — consult with a mortgage broker, assess finances and answer questions like, “How much am I comfortable spending?” and “How will I show proof of income, credit, savings and assets?”

“The most important thing is to plan, to budget and to basically check your credit and speak to somebody that will be pre-approving you,” she explained, “because if you don’t have that pre-approval or you don’t start that process, it’s going to be difficult to know where to go from there.”

In the time of Covid-19, securing a pre-approval or pre-commitment based on finances is crucial, the panelists agreed, because many sellers will not allow buyers into the houses without one.

The next step for a buyer is to decide where they want to live. Consult with a real estate agent who knows the areas well, walk through the neighborhoods and decide what they want and need in a home.

“I’m seeing a trend from west to east as people are coming out of apartment living and are wanting more space,” Korman said. “People aren’t necessarily going to be going into the city office five days a week anymore.”

While there is high demand for people moving out of apartments and into larger homes on Long Island, there is also low supply of homes on the market. This means the market moves quickly, and everyone needs to be on top of their game when making offers, the panelists said.

Max suggested securing a pre-commitment rather than a pre-approval for the mortgage. “Our offer was a little shakier because it was lower, and we didn’t have a commitment to lend so that would have helped us on the terms side,” Max said of the Kramers’ first offer on a house.

Once an offer is accepted, Korman explained that time is of the essence — a buyer needs to immediately call to schedule an inspection and close on the deal, especially in today’s hot market. “It’s very stressful for all,” Wallace said.

Max said to expect large closing costs, especially on Long Island. “The down payment you expect,” he said, “the closing costs you don’t, and they’re high — you’re talking $15,000 to $20,000, and that’s not going toward the principal of your house.”

There are several grants available for first-time homebuyers, either to go toward down payments or renovations, Ferrero said. These include the state’s SONYMA program, homebuyer “dream” programs with certain banks and down payment assistance programs. Wallace encouraged people to visit the Long Island Housing Partnership website, lihp.org, to learn more.

“It’s important to educate people and not scare people,” Ferrero said. “Markets change. Never give up because there are programs out there to help you and homes for you. It may not be the right time for you but that time will come.”

Emigrant Mortgage Company, Scott Wallace Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International Realty and Douglas Elliman sponsored the event. Visit liherald.com/insideli to view a recording of this webinar and find more information on upcoming webinars.