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8-hour class gives lift to 1st-time homebuyers

In almost every metro area across the country, the number of people taking out new mortgages has fallen dramatically, but Southern California is a notable exception according to new data released Thursday by Irvine-based ATTOM Data Solutions.
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First-time homebuyers become eligible for loans on closing costs and down payments if they take an 8-hour class.

In a windowless room at Cal State Los Angeles, Emily Sharp diligently took notes with a couple dozen other people in a class for first-time homebuyers.

It was eight hours long, but worth it to Sharp, a school cafeteria manager from South L.A. Completion of the class would make her eligible for a number of home loan programs from city, state and federal agencies. And Sharp's eyes were on the prize.

"I want me a house, where I got a garage, I got a driveway," Sharp said. "And baby, if I got that, then I got it all."

The number of first-time homebuyers out shopping are at historical lows. And it’s particularly tough out there for low-to-middle income Angelenos in a pricey real estate market. But those willing to sit through a day-long class offered by a federally-approved housing counselor — in this case, Los Angeles Partners in Home Ownership — can significantly boost their buying power, said Matthew Callaghan, a mortgage broker with the non-profit.

Both the city and county, he said, offer loans of up to $60,000 on down payments to income-eligible home buyers who complete the program. The city's Low-Income Purchase Assistance Program, for example, is available to a household of four making under $66,400.

"So that it fills gap between what the low-income family can afford and the actual price of the home," Callaghan said.

Callaghan said these programs are little-known but can go a long way toward helping families generating wealth.

"It's a way for low-income people to transition to higher-income levels because home ownership is a path to building equity over time," Callaghan said.

Callaghan says these loans are helping long-time residents in gentrifying parts of the city. Like South LA where Felipe Ramirez, a food pantry manager, in December bought a $220,000 2 bedroom, 1-bathroom house with help from the city loan program.

"They don’t collect until you sell your home or pay it off," Ramirez said. "If it weren't for the program, I would have just saved up the old-fashioned way and waited to get a home."

Stories like Ramierez inspire Sharp, at age 56, to buy her first house.

"Everybody says why do you wait so late?," Sharp said. "But this is always something I've wanted. At least I can say I tried."