(BPT) - More than any other demographic group, African-Americans perceive homeownership as an integral component of the American Dream, and a way to build security and wealth for their families, according to a recent survey.
The poll by Ipsos Public Affairs, conducted on behalf of Wells Fargo, found that 90 percent of African-Americans said homeownership would be a dream come true, and more than half were considering buying a home within the next two years.
However, African-Americans currently have the lowest rate of homeownership among ethnic minorities - just 42 percent, or 20 points short of the national rate, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. African-Americans are expected to represent the third largest segment among new households (renters and owners) in the U.S. by 2024.
"Americans of every demographic aspire to homeownership, but this survey indicates African-Americans place high value on the emotional and financial benefits of owning a home," says Brad Blackwell, executive vice president and head of housing policy and homeownership growth strategies for Wells Fargo. "Unfortunately, myths about down payments and credit often deter people from inquiring about loan options."
Barriers, real and imagined
Like many Americans, African-Americans want to own homes, but are often challenged by factual and perceived barriers. Real barriers include tight credit markets, lack of affordable inventory in many areas and underemployment or unemployment.
Perceived barriers are directly related to a lack of experience with the homebuying process. For example, in the Wells Fargo survey, nearly half of African-Americans believed a 20 percent down payment is necessary to buy a home. However, many home loans permit down payments of less than 20 percent. Some are as low as 3 percent.
Mortgage approval is not contingent on full-time employment, either. Homebuyers need only be able to demonstrate their ability to repay their mortgage loan, regardless of whether their income comes from a full-time or part-time job. However, 54 percent of African-Americans believed homebuyers must have full-time jobs in order to qualify for a mortgage. In some loan programs, income from others who will live in the home, such as family members or renters, can also be considered.
The survey also highlighted the possibility that some credit education could help aspiring African-American homebuyers. Eighteen percent weren't sure what constitutes a good credit score, 35 percent didn't know what minimum score they would need to qualify for a mortgage, and 20 percent didn't know their own credit score range. While lenders do consider credit scores in making mortgage decisions, credit scores are only one factor, and minimum credit scores vary based on the type of mortgage and loan amount. Homebuyer education and credit counseling could provide key information about the elements of a good credit score or how to develop a good credit profile.
Improving African-American homeownership
"Just 5 percent of homeowners are African-American, according to the National Association of Realtors," Blackwell says. "African-Americans and other minority groups should have equal access to the wealth- and stability-building benefits of homeownership. In an effort to positively impact the homeownership rate among African-Americans, Wells Fargo has committed to providing education, counseling, a more diverse sales team, and mortgages to African-Americans."
Wells Fargo recently announced plans to lend a projected $60 billion to qualified African-American consumers with the goal of increasing the number of African-American homeowners by at least 250,000 by 2027. They'll also hire more African-American mortgage consultants in an effort to make their mortgage workforce more closely aligned with the populations they serve. Finally, Wells Fargo will provide $15 million to support educational initiatives and counseling for African-American homebuyers.
Meanwhile, if you want to purchase a home, you can maximize your chances of getting approved for a mortgage with several important steps, including:
* Monitor your credit - Your credit report and score can affect your ability to qualify for a mortgage, how much you can borrow, and the interest rate and terms you'll be offered. Review your credit report and score at least once a year. You can get an annual free credit report from all three national credit bureaus at www.annualcreditreport.com.
* Control other debt - Debt-to-income (DTI) ratio is an important factor lenders consider in mortgage applications. This ratio compares your total monthly debt to your monthly income. Keep your DTI below 36 percent by paying down credit cards, auto loans and student debt.
* Save - Even though you don't always need 20 percent down in order to qualify for a mortgage, having savings can still positively affect the mortgage process. Some financing programs allow qualified homebuyers to secure a mortgage with as little as 3 percent. Or, you may qualify for programs that benefit veterans if you've served in the military.
* Be able to prove income - Although you don't need a high income to qualify for a mortgage, you will need to be able to document your income with W2s, tax returns and other paperwork.
* Build up an emergency fund - Unexpected expenses are a reality of homeownership. An emergency fund can help you cover costs such as repairing a leaky roof or replacing a broken-down appliance. Lenders are also likely to view you as more financially responsible if you have six months' worth of expenses saved up.
To learn more about homebuying and to find a mortgage professional near you, visit www.wellsfargo.com.
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