Q: Hi Alice, how are you? Could you tell us a little about yourself and your relationship with SCC?
A: My name is Alice. I currently live in Dracut, MA- that’s where I bought my first home. When I first became familiar with SCC, I was looking for a first home buyers class. They were one of the organizations that was listed, and they had a good schedule for me and my husband. Janine [Lotti, Asset Building Specialist] got right back to me and we were in the class that ran in December of 2019. We did the program and we ended up using basically the whole team from the first-time home-buyers class when we bought our first home.
Q: Can you tell me more about the team and how they helped you find the house you wanted?
A: First of all the class was amazing. Janine runs a great class, and she had great speakers come in. We took the class because she didn’t know how to buy a house because nobody teaches you how to buy a house. The class was super informative. We came out and were like “okay, we don’t have enough money right now, but we know how much money we need to buy the kind of house that we will be able to afford.” We did the work, we did the homework, we talked among ourselves. During the class Janine offered to meet with people privately, so we took her up on that. We met up with her after the class, and we went through our credit report with her, and talked about different things we could change or update. We talked about the plan that we put together which was basically to spend 2020 aggressively saving and hopefully by September or October have enough build up to have our down payment and closing costs ready to go. She ran some numbers with us, helped us figure out how many numbers we needed, and how were going to get the mortgage. My husband is a hairdresser so he doesn’t look great as far as employment history goes. He hasn’t worked very long, a lot of his stuff is tips, his W-2 wages aren’t that high so it’s a little bit complicated. Janine was running numbers with us and we came out of that meeting and we were like “cool, we know what we need to do, we know how much we need to save, awesome.” At the end of semester, we realized we had met our goal and we were ready to go. We called Ilene Cohen, the mortgage speaker from our class group and we had learned from the class that you have to get pre-approved first, take care of that business so we called her up and she got us pre-approved in about 24 hours. She also got us in touch with Ed and his partner Makala. Ed had been the real estate speaker. We spoke with Makala the next day and they took us out for house visits the next weekend. We put in an offer from one of the houses we saw that first weekend and our offer ended up getting accepted. By then, we were already using the mortgage lender, the lawyer, and the real estate agent Janine had recommended. Because we had already met them through the class, we felt really comfortable with them. We met them through the class, we trusted them, and they gave us great advice. That was the team that we ended up assembling from the class and they were all really amazing. One of the things the class says early on is that assembling a good team is the most important part of buying a house because you have to trust people and you don’t know what you’re doing but hopefully they do. That was definitely the situation. Whenever we had questions, we simply just reached out to someone, they gave us an answer. They really ran us over the finish line. It all worked out and it was a really great experience for us.
Q: Can you give us a run-through of how they helped you find the house perfect for you? How was your experience deciding what house you wanted?
A: The class really helped because we knew what we thought our budget was going to be, but we needed to confirm what our budget was actually. Another great tip that we got from the class was to delete Zillow until we were ready to look for a house. We both did that. We don’t have the money, looking at it was just going to give us heartbreak. It wasn’t until we started talking to Ilene again that we even started looking at houses. Then we were looking at houses that were available and that were within our budget. When there weren’t that many in the initial towns we were thinking, Makala and Ed advised us on which other towns we should think about. For example, [they said] if you are thinking about Lowell, are you thinking about Dracut? Because Dracut is just north of Lowell, but it’s a little bit more rural, the prices are lower, and you’re going to get a little bit more space. We expanded our search to a few more surrounding towns and identified a few that we were interested in. Honestly with this house, we just fell in love immediately as soon as we walked inside. We were just walking around being like “We can afford this place? Because if we can afford it, we would like it.” I think we’d only been there for 10 minutes or so when we met back up with our real estate agents outside and we were like “Do you think we can win this house? Do you think we can win a bid on this house?.” They asked: “You are in love with this house?” and we said “yes.” Fortunately, one of them knew the selling agent so he went back to talk to her, get information, and let her know that we were excited. We were outside with Makala and she said “Alright, this is what you are going to need to do. I want you to go around this house and I want you to find all the things that you loved about it so that you are ready to write a love letter.” We all went back into the house and did another look around to see if we had any questions or anything like that. By the time we left that house, she was like “I am going to make you guys see 3 more houses this weekend, but we are going to talk on Sunday, and you want to put in an offer for this house, we can do that.” That’s what we ended up doing. We saw a couple more houses, but we didn’t want to put in an offer on those houses. It all worked out, which was awesome.
Q: What would you say is the aspect of the class or person in the team that you are most appreciative of now? Whether it is because they helped a lot with the house or because they helped you with something that you weren’t as experienced on.
A: That’s a great question because everyone on the team was certainly excellent. I think a huge amount of credit goes to Janine for finding the speakers because that whole team is so great, and everybody presented to us was great. We didn’t end up using the inspector that she used but he was amazing as well. We felt like every speaker was super knowledgeable and Janine was there making sure everything worked. She always responded to e-mails really fast. When we met one-on-one, she really helped us know that the plan that we had was good, which is so reassuring. We could afford to buy a house. She would say “I know you feel like you can’t buy a house, but you can. I’m looking at your numbers.” She was very empowering. I’m super appreciative of Janine, and she sort of gets credit for everybody else because she put the team together, but everybody was awesome.
Q: In terms of SCC as a whole, what do you appreciate the most about this process and what types of people would you recommend take this course?
A: I have recommended the course to everyone I know who wants to buy a house. Everyone who lives in the greater Boston area, I say “SCC has a great class.” Actually, a couple of our friends had taken it and bought houses before we bought our house. I definitely recommend it. Anyone who is trying to buy a house for the first time should take that class. No matter what your age is, no matter how much money you have or where you are looking, knowledge is power. We did not know what the home-buying process was like until we took that class. We did not know about pre-approval or what order you do things in or anything like that. It cleared up so many questions that we didn’t even know we had. We went from “I’d love to buy a house someday and I don’t know how” to “We are going to buy a house and we do know how.” You’re definitely going to have a better idea of how to do it and have a better idea of how to buy a house. You are also going to meet people who will help you make that happen. I also really appreciated that the class took care to be very inclusive. They had speakers come in to talk about low-income programs. Almost all the speakers talked about non-discrimination rights that you have as a buyer. They were really there as advocates for buyers. It was a great program and I really liked it.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about the make up of the class?
A: It was very inclusive. In the beginning, every speaker would ask a couple of questions to see what the crowd was. Some questions were “Who lives in Boston? Who’s trying to live in Boston? Who lives outside of Boston? Who is trying to live outside of Boston?” They were tailoring it to the audience a little bit and it was always mixed. There were some people who lived in Somerville or other parts of the city. There were people who lived in the suburbs that were just coming in. They were very open and welcoming about that kind of thing.
Q: If there was one thing you would tell someone who was thinking about the class but wasn’t sure, what would you tell them?
A: I would tell them to find a time to do it when it fits in their schedule and they can focus on it. If they aren’t sure about doing it because they might buy a house in 5 years, it is not fun and games. It is a lot of financial conversations and conversations about the process and legal stuff. It is dense material, so you want to come in with that kind of motivation because it is going to be dry. If you want to buy a house, the material is going to be dry no matter what. Find a time where it feels important, when you are ready to buy a house. Find a time that works for you where that can be your real focus. Then you can make your plan and move on. Whether your plan is to go or whether your plan is to wait a year or 6 months and save money in the meantime, you are going to come out of it with a good plan of how to buy a house.