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RISMEDIA, Jan. 23, 2007-(MCT)-People who want help purchasing a home have a place to go for advice.

The Frederick Community Action Agency offers a free, monthly pre-purchase housing counseling class.

The course, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. the third Saturday of each month, guides participants through budget management, crediting and the mortgage application and closing processes. It also teaches how to maintain a home.

While the six-hour course is an overview, Brad Petersen, housing counselor for FCAA, offers one-on-one follow-up sessions with participants.

During those sessions, Petersen works with class members on things like reviewing credit reports and establishing household budgets. He also will answer any questions about settlement and closing.

FCAA provides different services to low-income and homeless people, including food, shelter, medical care and housing. The agency began holding the classes in September after receiving a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

This is not the first time, however, that FCAA has offered home-buying courses. While staff members have provided such counseling as funding has allowed since 1996, the agency has not received HUD funds for this class for the past two years, said FCAA coordinator Todd Johnson. If the money is not there to fund pre-purchase education, Johnson said, the agency's priority is to provide crisis services for people in danger of losing their homes.

First-time home buyers who complete the class will get a certificate that may help them access down payment and mortgage programs such as CDA mortgages, which offer low, fixed-interest rates and down payment and closing cost assistance.

"What we really want people to understand is that they're not just coming here (and) getting a piece of paper," Johnson said. "There's some meat to it."

Only Frederick residents can take the class and while it is geared to first time home buyers, those who already own a home can attend, Petersen said. The FCAA accepts any interested participants, regardless of their income level.

Since the agency began offering the class, six have purchased homes in Frederick and Washington counties, Petersen said. Four others are in the process of buying their homes through Frederick's Department of Housing and Community Development's Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit program.

FCAA partnered with the department on the MPDU program, which requires builders to set aside a certain number of lower-priced homes in new developments. Part of the program requires home buyers to complete pre-purchase counseling, Petersen said.
Even if participants do not purchase a home immediately, the class can be helpful, Johnson said. After taking the course, some may realize they cannot afford to buy a home and they can begin setting up a budget to save for one.

"That's a successful outcome even though they didn't buy a house," Johnson said. "Right then they've made an educated decision."

Many walk out of the class with more realistic goals, Johnson said. Instead of believing they can afford a huge house with a three-car garage, they have a better idea of the type of home they can actually buy.

Copyright © 2007, The Frederick News-Post, Md.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.