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Home fairs target working-class buyers

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Kimberly Blanton
Globe Staff / May 23, 2008

Mortgages have become scarce in the credit crunch, but some buyers can still get a loan: Working people and the middle class buying their first homes.

MassHousing said yesterday it is teaming up with real estate agents on the weekend of May 30 to host home-buying fairs and open houses for properties listed at prices that qualify for MassHousing's loan program for moderate- and middle-income buyers.

The home fairs will be held in six communities.

The agency makes loans for houses priced up to $428,000 in high-cost housing markets in Eastern Massachusetts, such as Somerville, Cambridge, Dover, and Nahant, and as high as $396,000 in communities such as Lawrence, Andover, and Boxford. In Western Massachusetts, the maximum price is $273,500.

MassHousing teamed up with agents to make prospective buyers aware that the market decline has put more houses within reach of working people with limited incomes. The median price for a single-family house declined 8.4 percent in April, to $315,000, according to the Massachusetts Association of Realtors.

"We're going to have listing sheets right there for homes in the area that fall within the purchase price limits," said Thomas Gleason, MassHousing's executive director.

Maximum incomes for borrowers seeking MassHousing mortgages range from $78,200 for a single person in Brockton and $94,300 for a single person in Boston, for example, to $98,600 for two-income families in Quincy and $110,600 for two-income families in Easton.

The agency's current interest rate is 6 percent for a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage, with no points; it also provides no-down-payment loans. Its foreclosure rate is less than 1 percent, compared with a 2 percent national rate.

Boston's fair will take place on City Hall Plaza May 30. The other fairs will be on May 31 in Brockton, Holyoke, Hyannis, Lawrence, and Worcester. For more details, visit masshomefair.com.

At the fairs, prospective first-time buyers can meet with MassHousing officials and lenders' representatives to learn about qualifying for a loan and obtain listings of properties at prices that qualify for MassHousing financing.

Susan Renfrew, president of the Massachusetts Association of Realtors, said her members hope to have open houses for more than 1,000 properties during the weekend. Jack Conway & Co., which sells homes in suburbs south of Boston, said it has 503 properties that are within MassHousing's price limits.

During the housing boom, many low- and moderate-income buyers flocked to subprime mortgages that were aggressively marketed by loan brokers. But many could not afford those high-rate loans, and a record number of Massachusetts homeowners are now facing foreclosure.

Gleason said MassHousing's borrowers are required to take classes that teach the fundamentals of how mortgages work, how to pay off debts and improve credit scores, and how to budget once a house is purchased.

He said that home buyer courses are filling up in the wake of the subprime mortgage crisis. "People are saying we're going to do it right because we've seen what happens when we do it wrong," he said.

Kimberly Blanton can be reached at blanton@globe.com.

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