Homebuyer Experience: Hear Our Graduates’ Stories
When Oscar Mendoza first arrived from El Salvador in 1990 he set up his new home in Cambridge, but just two years later he and his wife Laura, and children David and Ruth, moved to Allston Brighton. This neighborhood has now been their home for 17 years. This is a story of how Oscar chose a community, set and attained personal goals, and put down roots, by working with the Allston Brighton CDC.
At first, Oscar’s limited English gave him few employment options, but he was able to secure a position cleaning electronic parts in a company where his strong work ethic was deeply valued. Yet Oscar wanted more for himself and for his family. He enrolled in ESL classes then pursued a degree in Electronic Engineering. With a bachelor’s degree in hand, he worked his way up the ranks at his company. Today he is a supervisor.
As Oscar toiled in work and school he observed that his rent increasing from year to year. He set two convictions regarding his family’s housing: to buy a home and to stay in Allston Brighton, a community where he and his family feel comfortable and at ease. The problem was that he did not know how to go about buying a home – until one day Oscar saw a flyer about a homebuying class, in Spanish, at the Allston Brighton CDC.
Oscar took his first step towards homeownership and called the Allston Brighton CDC in 2007. In Homebuying 101, he learned about the importance of credit in obtaining financing and about the types of mortgages available for first-time homebuyers. He met professionals with high ethical standards and explored the responsibilities of homeownership. “The class empowered me to make better decisions.” Oscar reflects. Upon graduation, he had an eagle’s-eye view of how to buy a home; from that viewpoint, he saw his family’s path.
Oscar started viewing properties with real estate agents, yet he sensed he was being misled as they steered him toward their own listings and to properties in Dorchester, not Allston Brighton. Oscar knew it was time to reconnect with Allston Brighton CDC. Together, he and Homeownership Specialist José Paulino created a new homeownership strategy, including referrals to high quality real estate professionals.
Oscar had learned at his homebuying class about Massachusetts Housing Partnership’s SoftSecond Loan program, a safe mortgage that would help him afford more home at a lower interest rate than most other loan options. When obtaining a pre-approval letter he made sure to connect with banks who offer the program. With the letter in hand Oscar was one step closer to his goal, but he still worried he would not be able to afford a home in his community.
Two years after taking the homebuying class, Oscar and Laura became the proud owners of a single-family home in Brighton. “I have been in Allston Brighton for a long time and now that I own a house I feel as if the neighborhood is mine, I belong to the community, I am part of it,” he explains. “Now I live in peace.”
My name is Bertha Mejia and I come from Nicaragua. I moved to Allston about 13 years ago. My family and I met again after being separated for about 6 years due to the political imbalance in Nicaragua. We rented in Allston Brighton for thirteen years and moved from apartment to apartment several times due to rent increases. Finally, it was time to look into buying our own home.
I came to know about ABCDC through an ad posted in the Allston/Brighton TAB where it was announced that they will be offering homebuying classes in Spanish. The homebuying class helped me in so many ways that I decided to become an advocate at my church, Saint Gabriel’s. The class helped me to work on my financial situation and to learn how to save money down payment of my dream house.
Finally, I met with a lender who helped me to put together what I had learned in the homebuying class. I could not have done it without the help of the CDC staff as they were for me every step of the way.
On July 31, 2000, my family and I bought a house in Allston. It was very difficult to find a house due to the way the market is at the moment, but I was determined to remain in the neighborhood. It then became a struggle between the stubbornness of the marked and my own stubbornness. I told the realtor who helped me to find the house that either I would have to give up or the market would have to give up. Since both of us could not be winners, I am so glad that I became the winner in this struggle.
What’s the difference between owning and renting? For Cesar Luna, it’s the difference between feeling like a part of the community and an outsider.
“I take great pride in owning a home,” says Cesar, sitting in his living room beside his daughter’s stuffed animal collection. “My children love it and my wife and I know that we will have something to leave to them in the future.”
When Cesar and Elsa first came to this country from Guatemala nearly two decades ago, they were too busy just surviving to think about home ownership. Cesar was living in Brookline and facing rising rents that forced him to relocate to Allston, while Elsa was doing much the same in Boston before moving to Allston along with her brothers.
After the two met and were married in 1992, other factors came into play – the birth of their son Andrès and daughter Edna; the need to seek better jobs and transportation to and from work; clothes for their growing children, doctors bills and schools. Most of all, however, was the need to make rent, a need that proved extremely challenging, as sometimes their landlords raised their rates overnight, forcing them to seek extra work or to move to new accommodations.
Eventually, Cesar, now a cook at an Italian restaurant in Watertown, and Elsa, a waitress at the same restaurant, realized they needed to become homeowners themselves. When Cesar saw a poster about the Allston Brighton CDC’s class for prospective homeowners – Homebuying 101 – he decided to give it a chance.
At Homebuying 101, Cesar and Elsa learned not how to build credit, to take out loans and to safely navigate the homebuying process. They also were referred to other classes at the Allston Brighton CDC on related subjects such as Tech Goes Home, which helped Elsa acquire computer skills helpful in managing a budget. Most importantly, when they had other questions that were not covered in the classes, Homeownership Program Director Elizabeth Palma-Diaz met with them personally to help understand their problems and find solutions.
In all, it took fewer than two years from the date Cesar went to his first Homebuying class to when he signed the contract that would allow him and his family to move into their first home.
“It’s a wonderful thing,” says Cesar. “I’ve talked to a few of my co-workers about the class, and they hope to take it very soon.”
After being a tenant for over twenty years, Susan Sinnott became a homeowner in 2001. Susan took Allston Brighton CDC’s Homebuying 101 class in 1997. According to Susan, the class helped her in every aspect of the homebuying process, from getting her credit in order to finding the right mortgage program for her personal needs. “The class gave me access to first-time buyer programs such as the Soft Second and the down payment and closing costs assistance” she explains.
Due to high real estate prices, it took her two years to find a property she could afford and liked. Finally, in July 2001, she bought a condominium in Brighton. When she is asked about what she likes the most about her new neighborhood she says “I like Brighton because it is multicultural, safe, and close to work.”
Susan recommends first time buyers to take Homebuying 101 and “to get pre-approved as early as possible, set housing priorities, walk around the neighborhood at different times and to get to know the neighborhood.” Lastly, she recommends buyers to be open to other communities, which can give them more buying options.
Brighton is the only American home Jaqueline Vidal has ever known. Now, at last, she and her family have a house to call their own.
A native of Guatemala, Jaqueline Vidal came to the United States twelve years ago. For over a decade, she and her family lived in a series of Brighton apartments. “The rents were always high and there was never enough space to live or play,” Jaqueline says. “We were always telling the children to keep their activities quiet so they wouldn’t disturb the neighbors or landlord.”
Then one day a friend told her about Homebuying 101 at the Allston Brighton CDC. For four Saturdays, Jaqueline attended a Spanish-language class during which she learned about the mortgage process, managing debt, and shopping for a home, among other important topics for prospective homeowners. “The seminar was very helpful,” Jaqueline says, “It prepared me to follow the complex buying process with ease. When the time came, I knew what our options were and what information to ask.”
But like many prospective homeowners, it took a while for Jaqueline’s family to realize their dream of homeownership. Over the next year, she and her husband Edwin Zepeda looked at several homes, keeping their eye out for those that were in their price range. All the while, they continued to save. After her class ended, ABCDC homebuying counselors continued to work with Jaqueline through one on one counseling. Then a year and a half after she took Homebuying 101, Jaqueline, Edwin and their children finally got the key to their own home: a two-family in Brighton.
Buying a house in Brighton was important to Jaqueline. It is where she has lived since arriving in the United States. It is the only place her children – Edwin, 9 and Jefferson, 6 – have ever lived. In short, for Jaqueline and her family, Brighton is home. And now, for the first time, they have the space they need. “Having our own home is definitely better, especially for the children,” Jaqueline says. “Now we even have a back yard.”
Lan Wong first moved to Allston when her oldest daughter was born more than 24 years ago. As a single mother of two, Lan worked hard to secure stable, affordable housing for her family. In the mid-1990s Lan moved into an affordable apartment in Brighton. There, she found a safe and stable home where she could care for her family. For some time, she felt she wouldn’t have to worry about housing again. Unfortunately, in 2005 Lan learned that the owner of the complex she had called home for the past ten years would be converting to condominiums. She was fortunate that condo conversion laws in Massachusetts require owners to provide tenants with provisions including a right of first refusal to buy their unit, protection from eviction for one to five years, and limited rent increases, access to relocation payments and possibly relocation assistance. Lan had time to figure out what her next course of action would be.
As Lan was starting to figure out what she would do to find a new, affordable place to live, the Allston Brighton CDC learned about the condo conversion and contacted all the tenants whose housing was now at risk, to provide information and access to resources. Upon receipt of the letter, Lan called ABCDC — she wanted to know what her options were. This was the beginning of her relationship with Allston Brighton CDC and the point at which she began to think about homeownership.
Lan decided to take ABCDC’s Homebuying 101 class after talking with staff member Michelle Meiser. Not only did Lan become more familiar with what it really took to obtain a mortgage and manage a home, she also learned about an affordable homeownership opportunity on Hano Street in Allston, where Allston Brighton CDC was in the process of developing its first affordable homeownership community.
For about two years, Lan looked at property and she continued to find herself priced out of the Allston Brighton housing market. But with a set of supports, Lan had the tools she needed to purchase her first home. This included homebuying counseling with staff of the Allston Brighton CDC, help from her children, and financial support from the Family Self Sufficiency savings program and with the City of Boston’s Cash to Close program, which provided additional down payment and closing cost assistance.
Lan entered the lottery to become a buyer at Hano Street in Allston, and she was successful in securing a townhouse there. In her new home, Lan remained in the community in which she had raised her family. She stayed close to grocery stores, restaurants, public transportation and more — and now she will no longer need to worry about rent increases and the possibility of losing her housing. She now knows she can call Allston Brighton her home for good.
With the purchase of a Two-family house in North Allston, Pikun and Mary Chheng recently joined the proud ranks of first-time homeowners. This marked the completion of the Chhengs’ 10 year plan to buy a home in their family’s neighborhood. The Chhengs’ story illustrates the power of setting long-term goals, making plans, and following them to completion. The Allston Brighton CDC provided the information and education to compliment Pikun and Mary’s determination.
It was an important quality of life issue for the Chhengs to live in North Allston. Pikun had lived there since 1994, his mother owned a house there, and his sister also lived nearby. Pikun and Mary wanted to have relatives nearby as they prepared to raise their own children, Tyler and Kyle. The Chhengs also wanted to live in Boston, where their professional and social lives are centered. Mary works at a hair salon downtown, and the Chhengs like Chinatown and the Asian grocery stores in the city. Moving to the suburbs would have meant distance from family, hour-long commutes, and less access to the stores and places they enjoy.
Buying a home in North Allston was difficult, with high property values, and increasingly stringent lending requirements. Pikun recalls his own mother laughing when he pointed to houses on her street that he wanted to buy; the idea seemed so far-fetched. There was pressure on Pikun and Mary to join the many young couples moving to the distant but less expensive suburbs.
But Pikun had set a goal to buy a house in North Allston and he formed a long-term plan to make it happen. Pikun and Mary began setting money aside as soon as they entered the work force. Their ability to focus on long-term goals and to stick to their plan was critical. As Pikun says, “you’ll get there, as long as you set your mind to it, stick with your plan and don’t stray from it. Don’t veer from the path.” By the time a home went on sale across the street from Pikun’s mother’s house, Pikun and Mary had been planning and saving for over 10 years. They were poised to take the opportunity.
As a first-time homebuyer, Pikun wanted information on the complicated homebuying process. He received an important tip from Tyler’s classmates’ parent at the bus-stop one day: Connect with the Allston Brighton CDC, and take their homebuying class. “The class showed me what to ask, what to look for,” says Pikun. Armed with his new knowledge, Pikun was able to ask the right questions of his real estate professionals as he moved through the purchase process. In particular, he found the presentation on how to inspect a home to be very useful.
Now, Pikun and Mary are the proud owners of a two-family house. Family members have chipped in to help fix up the house and they are now preparing to rent out the lower floor, which will bring them additional monthly income. Pikun also acknowledges the serious financial responsibility of homeownership. Again, the lessons of the ABCDC homebuying class were helpful. Pikun not only received support on how to get into the home safely but also gained valuable information about maintaining his home and finances over the long-term.
Not only were they able to stay in the neighborhood where Pikun has lived for over a decade, but the Chheng family now experiences the daily satisfaction of homeownership. As Pikun says, “it’s a different feeling to walk in here and know ‘this is my own house.’ And on top of that, you can do whatever you want here.” As Tyler ponders what he likes about living in his own home, Mary reminds him, “You have your own room. You are comfortable here.”
Every Sunday for three years, Ellen, Kevin and their daughter Moira McCrave-Carragee had the same schedule. They went to church, religious school and then headed out to open houses. Having lived in the neighborhood since 1990, they were sure they wanted to stay in Allston Brighton but they did not know how much longer they could support rising rents. As Moira grew, Ellen and Kevin became even more hesitant to leave the neighborhood. They did not want to sacrifice the independence their daughter was developing in Allston Brighton; she could walk home from the YMCA and the library, and spend time outside with friends in the neighborhood. The McCrave-Carragee family has been active in the Hobart Park Neighborhood Association, the Allston Brighton CDC, the Faneuil Branch Library “Friends” Group, and the Main Streets association. As Ellen and Kevin do not have family nearby, the community has become their family.
Ellen and Kevin’s long-term pursuit enabled them to recognize when it was time to become serious about homebuying. They noticed that single-family home prices appeared to have stabilized. In April, they attended an open house and made an offer the same day.
The McCrave-Carragee family is proud to have invested in a part of Brighton that is populated by diverse families and new, young residents. They are happy to contribute to the stability of Allston Brighton, and hope to have a greater impact on the neighborhood now that they are homeowners.
Three years after taking Homebuying 101, the McCrave-Carragee family now celebrates the stability they long sought. However, homebuying was not without its challenges. Ellen and Kevin advise current and future homebuyers to take advantage of the Allston Brighton CDC as an ongoing resource and to shop around meticulously! They were overwhelmed by the range of mortgage products and homeowners’ insurance options. As a member of the Boston Teachers’ Union, Ellen was able to take advantage of free legal advice from an attorney that guided her family through the entire process. Ellen and Kevin recommend getting to know available resources and taking advantage of any benefits through your municipality or work. Now that the rush of activity and difficult decisions are past, Ellen is excited to continue to access Boston’s rich resources and Kevin can continue riding his bike 14 miles to and from work.
In 2008, Carey Moffitt-Jenkins and her husband, John, decided that they wanted to buy a home. As they began to look for a home and investigate mortgage products, they found the home buying process to be quite overwhelming. Carey and John quickly realized how much time and effort they needed to invest in order to successfully buy their home. To better understand the process and to build their confidence they decided to sign up for the Homebuying 101 class offered at Allston Brighton CDC. The knowledge acquired from the class gave the couple steady ground to stand on as they trekked through the home buying process. Not only did the class provide lots of great information about the home buying process, Allston Brighton CDC was a resource to find trusted real estate professionals, including the mortgage lender.
After graduating from the Homebuying 101 class Carey and John felt much more equipped to pursue the purchase of their first home. They still had questions and they were worried they wouldn’t be able to buy a home in the neighborhood. With support from ABCDC staff and their peers at the bimonthly Homebuyer’s Club Carey and John were able to have their questions answered and further develop their home buying strategy. The Homebuying 101 class, the Homebuyer’s Club and one-on-one counseling from Michelle Meiser, the Director of the Homebuying Program, all helped them push through the most challenging parts of their home buying experience, all the way through to closing.
Carey and John had rented in Allston Brighton for years and were thrilled when they were able to buy a single family home in Allston. During their search for a home, they looked outside of the neighborhood as well, but they were unable to find an area that matched the diversity of people and access to public transportation that Allston Brighton possesses. Thanks to their hard work, help from the Allston Brighton CDC, and the work of several high quality real estate professionals, the Moffitt-Jenkins became successful homeowners in the town they had hoped to live.