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7 questions from first time home buyers that every broker needs to answer



Buying a home is a huge investment for first time home buyers – and their inexperience means that they often have a lot of questions.

The good news is you don’t need to do something heroic to get buyers to trust you. You just need to be ready to address their concerns and answer their questions. So below, we answer seven questions first time home buyers may ask their mortgage brokers.

Read more: Is there hope for first-time buyers post-COVID-19? Part One: The case against

1. “Buying a house is expensive. Is it worth it?”

The first thing you should do is understand the reason why the buyer is thinking of buying a house. Are they buying to build their asset portfolio? Or are they looking for a place to live and settle down in?

If they’re buying a house to build wealth, then yes it’ll be worth it – though you have to be clear that they shouldn’t expect their investment to see immediate growth.

If they’re looking to buy a primary residence, then it depends – after all, the process of buying their dream home could potentially stretch their funds a bit. In that case, you can steer them towards considering a more affordable starter home that they can trade up in the future.

Get to know their reasons first so you can answer honestly and professionally.

Read more: Six ways real estate agents can manage unhappy homebuyers

2. “I’ve owned a house before. Am I still considered a first-time home buyer?”

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines a first time home buyer as:

  • an individual or person who hasn’t owned or bought a principal residence in the last three years;
  • a single parent who previously owned a house while still married to their former spouse;
  • a displaced homemaker (such as a stay-at-home spouse) who owned property with their former spouse;
  • an individual or person who owned a principal residence or property that wasn’t affixed to a permanent place or foundation in accordance with applicable regulations (such as a mobile home); and
  • an individual or person who owned a property that was not in compliance with local, state, or model building codes, and whose property can’t be brought into said compliance for less than the cost of building a permanent structure.

As you can see, the term has a bit more leeway than its name suggests. For example, if the buyer has owned a property or house within the last three years but their spouse hasn’t, then both of them can still buy a house as first time home buyers.

This is important because there are many government incentives for first home buyers, especially if they’re part of the remote workforce.

3. “I have a 401(k). Can I use it to buy property?”

The short answer is yes – but should you? That’s the real question.

A buyer can tap into their 401(k) if they’re short of the funds they need. They can do it two ways – either as a straight withdrawal or as a loan.

However, a buyer can only withdraw from their 401(k) after turning 59 and a half years old (or 55 years old if they lost their job or have retired). Younger buyers can still withdraw their funds, but they’ll have to pay an early withdrawal penalty of 10% of the amount they take out. They’ll also owe income tax on the funds they take out, regardless of their age.

Meanwhile, if a buyer opts to borrow from his or her 401(k), then they’ll have to pay it back – with interest. And the repayments won’t count as contributions, meaning no reduction on their incomes.

So, to put it simply, yes they can use their 401(k). But the trade-off isn’t ideal, so it might be better to look for other options.

4. “I have no cash so can I put $0 for down payment?”

Yes, but there could be some work involved.

A first time home buyer can only put $0 down payment if another entity foots the bill. In this case, it’s the federal government through what’s called a government-backed mortgage.

Three US federal agencies can give mortgage assistance to first time home buyers: the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). These agencies will insure all loans given, so lenders are protected in case the borrower can’t pay their debts.

However, you may still have to check if a lender accepts USDA loans. Quicken Loans, for instance, stopped accepting applications since July 2020.

5. “Am I qualified for the $15,000 tax credit?”

The bill hasn’t passed yet, but if it becomes law, the First-Time Homebuyer Act will require participants to be:

  • a first-time homebuyer, with the same conditions mentioned above; and
  • an individual who doesn’t earn more than 160% of the median income in their area.

Additionally, the price of the house they purchase must not be more than 110% of the median price in their area. The house should also have been purchased after Dec. 31, 2020.

6. “I don’t have a good credit score. Can I still buy a home with bad credit?”

The short answer is yes, you can still buy a home with bad credit.

Lenders often don’t have a minimum credit score requirement because no two credit scores are the same. A buyer might have a credit score of 400 – a poor score according to the main credit bureaus – but the circumstance behind that score is different from what another borrower with the same score has gone through.

Additionally, lenders often take other things into consideration in their decisions – such as the amount of debt accrued, income, debts in collections, and the size of the down payment.

Different lenders have other requirements but having plenty of cash available for down payment is always a plus. The buyer can always repair their credit and refinance down the road.

7. “I’ve heard 2021 is a bad time to buy a house. Should I go for it or just wait?”

Again, it’s best to assess the buyer’s needs and know the reason why they’re looking into buying a home.

They might be thinking of purchasing because the mortgage rates are so low. But you must remind them that the cost of buying a house goes beyond the purchase price. They also need to consider property taxes, insurance, and upkeep costs. Maintaining a house isn’t cheap and so many new homebuyers fail to realize that.

Read more: New data finds high level of regret among homebuyers who purchased during COVID-19

On the other hand, mortgage rates will likely rise once the pandemic eases up. So, if the buyer is looking into buying a house to cater a growing family, they might have to seriously consider buying regardless of market conditions.

The key is knowing your client’s priorities and going from there.

A first time home buyer is eager, but undoubtedly full of questions. They will be leaning on your advice for their final decision. Getting to know them, building a strong rapport, and answering clearly, honestly, and professionally will instill the trust that will help build lasting bridges for years to come.


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Is There a Difference Between No Credit and Bad Credit?



The short answer is yes, and understanding the difference could be instrumental in getting better credit.

No credit and bad credit often get grouped together. It’s understandable why, as they both sound similar enough. And if you have either, the next step forward is to focus on improving your credit.

The two situations aren’t the same, though. It’s important to know the difference, because the right way to build your credit often depends on whether you have no credit history or bad credit.

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The difference between no credit and bad credit

Having no credit means that there’s not enough information on your credit file to calculate a credit score for you. It’s also known as being credit invisible. Sadly, this is an issue that affects millions of Americans.

There aren’t any problems on your credit file; the credit bureaus just don’t have enough data on you. That means when a lender or any other third party checks your credit, there’s nothing to go on.

Meanwhile, “bad credit” is a common term used to describe a low credit score. That low score is because of negative items on your credit file, such as not paying your credit card bill.

When you have no credit, the solution is to build your credit. When you have a low credit score, the solution is to rebuild your credit. Now, let’s look at how you can do each one.

How to build credit for the first time

Here’s the simplest way to build credit:

  • Open a credit card.
  • Use the credit card for at least one purchase per month.
  • Always pay your credit card bill on time and in full.

It’s that easy; that’s all you need to do to get a good credit score. When you use a credit card and pay the bill on time, you establish a positive payment history. That’s the biggest credit scoring criteria.

The tricky part when you have no credit is finding a credit card you can qualify for. Secured credit cards are one of the most common options for consumers in this situation. You pay a security deposit for this type of card, so it’s possible to open a secured card even if you have no credit.

If you’re in college, credit cards for students are available. These are often an option for applicants without any credit history.

How to rebuild a low credit score

It’s a little more complicated to rebuild your credit. First, you need to find out what negative items are affecting your credit score. Here’s how to start:

  • Use an online credit score tool to check your score and learn about any items damaging your credit. If you have a credit card, there may be a credit score tool in your online account. If not, there are plenty of free ways to get your credit score.
  • Request your credit report from the three consumer credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). You can pull a free annual credit report from each bureau, and through April 2022, you can get free weekly credit reports. Your credit report will show you exactly what’s affecting your credit.

Once you know what’s affecting your credit, you can work on correcting it. Below are a few of the most common issues and how to fix them.

Problems with your payment history

This includes anything related to not paying a bill on time, from late payments to having accounts go to collections.

The first step is catching up on your payments. If you can’t pay in full, contact your creditors and see if you can set up a payment plan with them. They may be willing to work with you if that means you’ll be making regular payments.

Next is rebuilding your payment history. The easiest option is to use a credit card at least once per month and pay in full by the due date. Why do you need to use a credit card? Credit card companies report on-time payments to the credit bureaus, which helps your credit score. With other types of bills, your on-time payments typically don’t get reported to the credit bureaus. That means you may not be able to improve your payment history with rent, utilities, or other monthly bills.

If you already have credit cards, you can continue using them to rebuild your payment history. If you don’t, look for secured credit cards and apply for one you like.

Using too much of your credit

A big factor in your credit score is your credit utilization ratio — your credit card balances divided by your credit limits. If this number gets too high, it can lower your credit score. The standard recommendation is a credit utilization ratio of under 30%.

Let’s say you have one credit card with a $4,000 balance and a $5,000 credit limit. That would put your credit utilization at 80% ($4,000 divided by $5,000 is 80%), a very high number that would decrease your credit score.

Fortunately, only your current credit utilization matters. Once you pay down your credit card balance, your credit score will bounce back.

Errors on your credit history

A low credit score may be due to an error and not any action on your part. This is why it’s so important to pull your credit reports from each credit bureau. By reviewing those, you can see if there are any mistakes.

If there are errors on your credit report, you can go to the credit bureau’s website to dispute them online and get them removed.

A low credit score and a nonexistent credit score are both things you can change. After you determine exactly what the issue is, you’ll be able to choose the best solution to fix it.

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‘There is no new normal’: Worcester small business owner pivoted during COVID-19 and expects only more change after pandemic



It took about eight minutes for the bank to reject Natalie Rodriguez’s application for a loan through the Small Business Administration.

Rodriguez opened Nuestra, a Puerto Rican inspired restaurant in Worcester, in January of 2020. When COVID-19 arrived months later she discovered Nuestra wasn’t eligible for the federal or state funding that thousands of other establishments received.

To qualify, restaurants were required to show payroll and salary for years before 2020. Those figures didn’t exist for a restaurant that weren’t open in 2019.

“[I was] determined and knew that ‘no’ is not an OK answer,” Rodriguez said. “A door may close but you may need to kick down another door.”

Rodriguez then applied for conventional loans only to be led to more closed doors. Less than 10 minutes after applying for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan, she received notice that her poor credit score resulted in her application being denied.

Rodriguez used the dead end with the SBA to create a new path for herself and Nuestra.

She not only learned how to improve her credit but wanted to ensure others didn’t have to follow her journey as an entrepreneur.

Rodriguez extended the “Nuestra” brand to include financial advising. She started Nuestra Financial in April of 2020.

“Now I’m helping others. I’ve been able to restore my credit,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve been able to help others restore their credit and be able to help them make a business themselves if they so choose. I’ve been able to survive.”

Without grants and other funding, Rodriguez managed to keep her restaurant open through funds generated from Nuestra Financial.

“I was very quiet about it in the beginning. I didn’t want people to be like, ‘Oh look at this girl, she just opened a restaurant in the middle of a pandemic,’ and talk smack,” Rodriguez said. “About a month or two later, a light bulb hit and I was like, nobody pays my bills but me. I needed to mind my own business and not worry about what other people thought.”

In creating Nuestra Financial, Rodriguez said she’s helped Worcester residents restore their credit and purchase new vehicles and homes.

Rodriguez said financial literacy is rarely taught to children in school and wasn’t something she learned. When a situation arises like a rejection notice for an economic disaster loan, many don’t know how to respond or where to find answers.

Rodriguez said she’s helped young and old people, along with those who have bad credit or no credit.

“We lack the confidence, including myself, because we weren’t taught,” Rodriguez said. “So if you don’t know something, you weren’t taught, you’re not going to be confident about it.”

Coming out of the pandemic, Rodriguez remains confident about both her businesses. Nuestra, the restaurant, while closed for daily service continues to provide catering services. Rodriguez is still preparing what the future holds for the restaurant but plans to announce an update soon.

As masks start to become less a part of daily routines, Rodriguez, as a small business owner, doesn’t envision many differences from this year to last.

So many aspects of life remain uncertain from rising food costs to a potential third booster for vaccines and whether the country will ever reach herd immunity for COVID-19.

The pandemic arrived with Rodriguez immediately pivoting. As it approaches its potential end, Rodriguez will continue to do what helped her to navigate it.

“I feel like there is no new normal just yet,” Rodriguez said. “I think we’re all just trying to adjust and pivot at the same time and getting creative. I think it’s where we all are.”

Related Content:

Owner of Worcester’s Nuestra restaurant, closing due to COVID impact, has something she’d like to say to Gov. Baker

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Columbus Mattress Wholesale moves to newer, larger Gahanna store



More than four years back, Cathryn Clark’s boyfriend, Christopher Robbins, was on the hunt for a new mattress. He just couldn’t find one at an affordable  price. 

Clark, 29, and Robbins, 34, who are now engaged, were living in Franklinton, where they still live today.

They had no experience owning or operating a small business; Robbins worked as a retail assistant for SAS Retail Services while Clark worked as the communications director for two Methodist churches. 

But in 2017, Robbins, with Clark at his side, took the leap and opened Columbus Mattress Wholesale on the West Side, with the goal of  helping low-income consumers secure mattresses and other bedtime products.  

“We really wanted to bring a store to people that, you know, they weren’t paying an arm and leg, but they still could get a good night’s sleep,” Clark said.

Customers at Columbus Mattress Wholesale can pay cash or credit, for example, but the business also works with financing companies that serve people without credit scores, with bad credit or who are lower income. 

Last month, the business made a big move. It expanded from its original location on Harrisburg Pike to a store double the size at 435 Agler Road in Gahanna.

Clark said she and Robbins saw a need in the broader area, with many of their customers coming from outside the Hilltop, such as Linden.

Nestled between Dollar Tree and the Ohio BMV in Gahanna, the new storefront opened Memorial Day weekend and sells mattresses, bed bases, bed frames and pillows. Mattress prices range from under $100 to more than $1,000, depending on the size and brand, which includes some well-known names such as Serta, Beautyrest and Casper.

Clark said while she and Robbins originally sold solely Ohio-based brands, they’ve branched out to national brands as business has grown.

Columbus Mattress Wholesale also offers free same-day delivery on most orders from customers living in Columbus. 

Clark does a little bit of everything for the business, from running communications, to working on the sales floor, to managing the sales team, to ordering what they sell. 

She said a big mission for herself and Robbins, beyond doing business, is aiding the community.

“We’ve seen a lot of people struggle,” Clark said.

Clark said she and Robbins work to mentor other people who are hoping to open or currently own a small business. She added that the store starts employees at $17 per hour.

She and Robbins haven’t decided yet what they will do with the original location — which is currently closed — but said they might shift it into an accessory store.

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