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Five Ways to Win at Homeownership

by Lynn Sanchez

In mid-December, Metropolitan Community College hosted a public screening of the documentary Priced Out; 15 Years of Gentrification in Oregon to an audience of about 30 viewers. The film was followed by a lively panel discussion with the audience and Amanda Brewer, CEO of Habitat for Humanity; Alexis Bromley Director of ONE Omaha; Teresa Coleman Hunter; CEO of Family Advisory Services; and Cydney Franklin, CEO of 75 North.

The ensuing discussion yielded some helpful tips about home ownership and ways the community can approach gentrification proactively.

1. Knowledge is Power

Finding a home and qualifying for a mortgage can be a roller coaster of excitement and stress, especially for inexperienced buyers. Without good information, unsuspecting home buyers could quickly find themselves victimized by predatory loans. Family Housing Advisory Services (FHAS) has been helping people make smart choices and get into stable, affordable housing for 50 years.

“What FHAS tries to do is make sure that people are prepared,” says CEO Teresa Coleman Hunter. “Because WHEN the development comes – and we know it’s coming, right? — people will have their finances in order. We are trying to educate people about what it really means to own a home, because if we’re not the owners, we have to abide by whatever somebody else is telling us as far as rent is concerned.”

FHAS’s free programs supply necessary information before, during and after a home purchase. FHAS offers Financial Education, Homebuyer Education, What To Do Post-Purchase, and one-on-one counseling services.

“We have a menu of services starting with homelessness prevention. The next is financial education and credit repair. We do matched savings. (Clients) can save money and we match it so they end up having enough money to make the downpayment or pay their closing costs. We do free tax preparation.”

Cydney Franklin of 75 North mentioned that the Highlander’s Accelerator building at 2112 N. 30th Street “partners with agencies like FHAS and Omaha Habitat For Humanity, Legal Aid of Nebraska so that we are providing resources to the community around housing access and affordability. Folks can come into the building visit the satellite campuses for Creighton University and MCC and receive either low cost or no cost training for the services that are offered in terms of career and college pipeline at MCC — the trades prep, ESL learning, Re-Entry. CU also has a satellite campus where people can get health and wellness tools to combat a lot of the lifestyle diseases and illnesses that afflict that community.”

FAMILY HOUSING ADVISORY SERVICES
  • Lake Point Center 2401 Lake Street, (402) 934-7921
  • South Omaha at 3605 Q Street, (402) 546-1013
  • Council Bluffs at 10 South 4th Street, (712) 322-4436
  • https://www.fhasinc.org/

Further information about Highlander programs is available at highlanderomaha.com.

2. Make Sure You Have a Clear Title

In real estate, “title” is proof of ownership of the property. Titles can be burdened by “involuntary liens,” to allow creditors to collect money owed to them by preventing the sale of the property until the liens are satisfied. Unpaid taxes are the most common type of liens, but court judgments, child support, or mechanic’s liens may also cloud a title. While government lien holders like the IRS typically send a release one to three months after payment, other lien holders may not be aware of their obligation to remove the lien or assume it will be done automatically by the bank. So even if you may have paid a lien, it may still be attached to your title.

Many homeowners hire a professional title company ($75 – $200) to make sure the title is clear. Amanda Brewer, CEO of Omaha’s Habitat for Humanity, said that their organization has recently begun helping anyone who needs assistance clearing titles. “It’s a big problem here (in Omaha), so it’s something we’re working on,” she said. “If people don’t have clear title to the property, then they lose their chance for that equity too.”

Habitat for Humanity of Omaha

1701 N. 24th St.
Omaha, NE 68110
e habitat@habitatomaha.org
p (402) 457-5657

Before hiring a title company, you can check whether there are liens on your property online or in person.

Douglas County Register of Deeds

Omaha/Douglas Civic Center, Suite H-09 (Harney Street Level),
1819 Farnam Street, Omaha, NE 68183 (402) 444-7159   www.dcregisterofdeeds.org.

3. Make a Will

If you own property and you want to pass it on to someone, don’t leave it to chance. Make a will.

“If someone passes away, the next generation may be living in the house or on a piece of land and it hasn’t transferred properly, it’s locked out,” says Omaha Habitat For Humanity’s Amanda Brewer. “Get a will if you own your property, make sure it goes to the next generation.”

A will can be typed up or written by hand. You don’t need to know any special legal jargon. A will can be a “Do It Yourself” project, created using a book, an online program with a flat, one-time fee, or will software. In Nebraska, wills must be signed by the decedent and also by two witnesses who physically watched the decedent’s signature. You should also name an executor in your will who will carry out the wishes you’ve put in writing. The executor should be a trusted person who is familiar with your life and the property you own.

If you are prone to procrastination or your situation is too complicated to do yourself, hire a lawyer. Each case is different, but will preparation could cost anywhere from $600 to $1,000. You can also blend the DIY and professional approaches by researching Nebraska inheritance law and writing a draft of your will before you speak to a lawyer. You’ll spend less time with the attorney and increase the likelihood that your will says exactly what you want it to.

Once finished, your will must be securely stored so that your executor can easily find the original document after you die. Because the executor will need the original will to handle your affairs efficiently, the executor should know exactly where it is kept. It may be kept in a safe deposit box at your bank, in a firesafe box in your home or in your lawyer’s possession. Update your will as needed after major life events like births, deaths and divorce.

You can search for area lawyers specializing in wills at www.nebar.com or www.superlawyers.com

4. Talk to the Seniors in Your Family

ONE Omaha’s Alexis Bromley recommended that younger family members consider homes that have been in their families for years. “I think having those conversations with your family members is where it starts. My grandma lives (in North Omaha) and she gets people who knock on her door probably monthly and say I can buy your house for cash. That’s very enticing to someone who’s lived in their house for 25 years and is probably upside down on their mortgage. I told my grandma, Never sell your house without talking to me first. At least let me have that opportunity so I can make that decision if I can do that or not.”

A 2019 research report on single family housing in Omaha by UNO’s College of Business Administration found “An astounding 47% of all homes sold over the 2016 -18 period in North Omaha were purchased for cash.” The reason is likely driven by “relatively low housing prices and/or high levels of investors and house ‘flipping.'” Many We Buy Houses companies are not reputable. There are some legitimate cash buyers, but in return for a quick sale, they pay well-below fair market value for homes. They want to turn it over and resell or rent for a profit, particularly if it needs extensive renovations.

Consider speaking to a professional real estate agent for advice on how to sell your home quickly and get a great price.

5. Pay Your Property Taxes

(This point was repeatedly emphasized during the discussion. The quotes from Senator Wayne and Treasurer Ewing were excerpted from previous articles in the series.)

Tax liens are the number one reason North Omaha residents lose their homes, according to Senator Justin Wayne. Of the over 200,000 tax bills sent out every year, Douglas County Treasurer John Ewing says between 3,000 – 4,000 people fail to pay any taxes at all by March 31st. After that deadline, Nebraska state statute requires 14% interest to be added to the total amount owed. For those that remain unpaid, every Nebraska county holds a public auction of tax lien certificates, selling these delinquent tax bills to the highest bidder, individuals or companies.

Douglas County Treasurer John Ewing says the worst thing a homeowner can do is ignore the paying delinquent property taxes out of embarrassment. “These things are not going away. It’s only going to continue to grow,” Ewing says.

Treasurer’s office does not offer programs for abatement, deferral or repayment. But Ewing recommends calling his office sooner than later.”We can give people advice that might help them figure out a way to get through the situation and get their taxes paid,” he says. The phone number for the Douglas County Treasurer is 402-444-7103.

Family Housing Advisory Services also provides intervention and one-on-one counseling services to those at risk of losing their home to foreclosure. Counselors are certified by the national organizations: LA RAZA and NeighborWorks America.