Atlanta Agent (AA): You host seminars for first-time home buyer clients. What are some of the things you cover in those seminars?
Natalie Vuoriaho (NV): I host free first-time home uyer seminars, where I cover topics such as renting vs. owning, the steps to homeownership (starting with pre-approval), selecting properties, offers, inspection, appraisals, final loan approval, closing, etc. In addition, I have lenders available throughout the seminar, who talk about the approval process, different mortgage options, the amount of money to put down, the do’s and dont’s while planning for a purchase, etc. There is also a Q&A session.
AA: Why have you made first-time buyers a focus of your business?
NV: I didn’t really plan on making it my focus. I think because of my dedication to service, my nurturing personality, and past career as an educator, I find myself enjoying the work with first-time homebuyers. I love educating them, answering questions and holding their hand – so to speak – as we go through the entire process together. Many times, I have to keep them calm when obstacles arise. I get extremely excited at closing when I see their face light up as I hand them their keys and closing gift. When I visit them after they have moved in, it is amazing how grateful and proud they are as they show their home to me.
AA: Are there any challenges first-time buyers face in today’s market?
NV: Yes, there are several challenges facing first-time home buyers; however, many of those challenges can be dealt with, and it starts with changing how buyers think. Many first-time buyers are intimidated by the process and do not want to hear a “No” when applying for a loan. I work to help them understand that, even if a lender says “No” and they cannot qualify right now, the lender can still advise them on what they need to do to qualify in the future.
Another challenge is coming up with the money for the down payment. I educate my clients by providing them with a listing of many different sources, such as savings, checking, retirement or monetary gifts from friends and/or relatives. Many times, homebuyers are able to save or pull from those other sources so they can purchase their new home.
A couple of the biggest challenges is the changed FHA guidelines, where student loans are now counted as 1 percent of the total debt amount as the monthly obligation, instead of the monthly amount that they might actually be paying, due to deferments and loan consolidation. That has made it more difficult for first-time homebuyers to purchase a home. For example, if a buyer has $50,000 in student loans, lenders will look at them being responsible for $500 a month in debt, even if their actual monthly reduced payment is $150. That has made many potential buyers not be able to qualify for the amount of home they had wished for.
AA: Finally, do you worry that rising home prices will complicate matters for first-time buyers?
NV: Great question! I do not. The Atlanta area is such a large city, and there are condos/townhomes/homes in a variety of price ranges; so, there are plenty of options for first-time home buyers. As far as buying when it’s a seller’s market, for every month they stay as renters, they are throwing away money, considering they are building equity for someone else. They are not able to make any improvements to the place they call home, and in addition, they are not able to use the interest as a tax write off. So, even with rising home prices, it’s still a great time to buy. At the end of the day, if buyers are comfortable with the monthly payment, it is still better to own than to rent.
Natalie Vuoriaho is a Realtor with Keller Williams Buckhead. Natalie was born in Stockholm, and is fluent in three languages. She is a proud mother of two sons, and in her spare time enjoys traveling, cooking, listening to music, reading, watching movies and spending time with family and friends. She belongs to the Atlanta Board of Realtors, the National Board of Realtors, the Swedish Women’s organizations (SWEA), the Swedish Chamber of Commerce and National Hispanic Realtors.