Home & Living

These Experts Say Buying a Home in Baltimore Isn’t as Brutal as it Seems

Agents, lenders, and other real estate officials share tips and resources for navigating the post-pandemic market.

Tammy Saul knows what it is like to pursue the American dream of homeownership. She came to the U.S. from Kyiv, Ukraine with her parents when she was three years old and often thinks how different her life would be if they hadn’t made that journey. Grateful for the education and opportunity she’s been afforded, Saul, the founder of Federal Hill Mortgage, is paying it forward by helping others reap the benefits of owning a home.

However, the aftermath of market hyperactivity during the pandemic is making the American dream more elusive than ever. Stagnant high interest rates coupled with fewer homes on the market is a recipe for disaster for homebuyers.

“Higher interest rates in combination with low inventory is just about the worst combination ever,” Saul says. “That dynamic has made it very challenging for people because typically, when rates are going up, prices are coming down—because fewer people are buying.” 

Despite these financially crippling economic conditions, and national headlines echoing how it is “impossible to buy a home” right now, we’re here to state otherwise. 

To begin, it is important to recognize who this housing market hurts the most, which includes first-time, inexperienced homebuyers and individuals possessing a low-to-moderate income. 

Approximately two months ago, First Home Mortgage, a residential lender based in Baltimore that specializes in assisting buyers with this background, introduced the First Home Dream Program

“For eligible buyers we’re contributing a $3,000 grant that they can use toward the loan process,” says James Baublitz, First Home’s vice president of capital markets. “So that’s been really popular and we’re seeing really great success with it.” 

In addition, there are also financial programs offered by the state. The Maryland Mortgage Program is one such initiative that offers homebuyers an array of home loan options, including a program that grants eligible first-time homebuyers the lowest 30-year-fixed interest rate available for a loan.  

More specific to Baltimore, numerous grants and assistance programs are available to homebuyers to incentivize living in the city. Among them are the Settlement Expense Loan Program (SELP) and Live Near Your Work Program. SELP is lending up to $10,000 to first-time homebuyers for closing costs when purchasing a home in the area. With average closing costs in Maryland running at two to five percent of the settlement price (from $8,000 to as much as $20,000) that ten grand goes a long way toward mitigating an expense that burdens buyers. Live Near Your Work is a partnership between Baltimore City and more than 100 local employers that allocates funds, up to $5,000, for homebuyers to assist with down payments and closing costs. 

Lindsay Dreyer, CEO of City Chic Real Estate, reiterates that there are many untapped resources out there for buyers, emphasizing the importance of being resourceful when choosing the right mortgage lender. 

“It’s really important that you talk to a mortgage lender who is familiar with all of the different grants and assistance programs that are out there, because they all have different qualifications,” Dreyer says, adding that she frequently plugs the resources listed on the Live Baltimore website. “Some really great ones can get three percent down payment assistance…the state of Maryland also has [a mortgage] that you can roll in your student loans—you can actually refinance your student loans along with your home purchase.

However, down payment assistance and student loan refinancing is not solely going to diminish the record number of cancellations this last year has seen. According to Federal Title and Escrow Company president Joe Gentile, this year has outmatched all previous years in this metric. 

“It’s been surprising this year to see how many times we’ve received the contract and had to cancel for various reasons,” Gentile says. “Whether it’s that buyers got cold feet, or the interest rates scared them off—cancellations have been higher this year than any previous year.” 

With nearly 25 years experience as both an attorney and title closer, Gentile offers some tips for people who may get anxious when nearing the closing stages of purchasing a home. 

“It’s actually worth time and effort to spend an hour researching the title company,” he says. “We’ve seen title company fees can differ as much as $1,000 from one place to another. Another tip for buyers is if they’re able to secure the seller’s title insurance policy, they can get what’s called a reissue rate discount on their title insurance when they buy it… and it’s based on the amount of the prior insurance policy, but it could save up to 40 percent on the insurance.”

But even with all the crossing of the T’s and dotting of the I’s, there is no real full-proof certainty that your strategy is the best or most efficient.

Saul, who has been in the industry for various market cycles, encourages homebuyers to think extensively through this process—without overthinking. 

“One of the biggest problems is, especially with first time homebuyers, they tend to overanalyze it sometimes,” she says. “They should analyze it to some degree, but they want certainty, and the bottom line is—you ain’t gonna have it.” 

Saul, who closed 550 transactions last year and over 950 the year before, recommends all her clients lean on an expert mortgage loan officer and real estate agent, do their research, and view the number of transactions the agent has closed—not solely the number of years they’ve been in the industry.

“If you’re going to get open heart surgery, you want the surgeon who has done the most surgeries in the last 24 months [rather] than the surgeon who has been around the longest and has done the least number,” she says. “You have to take a look at that kind of data when you’re selecting your lender and your real estate agent.” 

According to Saul, through getting creative and using these sorts of strategies, homebuyers can reach the seemingly improbable goal of homeownership and make the American Dream a reality, in Baltimore and beyond. 

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