Thursday, May 16, 2013

Homebuyer Education Critical, Especially in Rural Communities

This blog is reposted from CFED's website. Erica Bradley works with the NeighborWorks America Rural Initiative.

For years, community development professionals were advocates for financial education. Not many lenders, and certainly not customers, took financial education seriously, until the housing bubble burst in 2008. In rural markets, homebuyers typically do not have the same access to services, like homebuyer education. For many rural organizations, expanding their services to include online financial education courses has allowed them to reach more customers.

Tammy Hyman, homeownership program administrator at PathStone, always knew how important homeownership counseling is. PathStone, she said, had offered it since the late ‘90’s. “If they would have done (homeownership counseling) back then, we wouldn’t be having these issues now,” she said of the lenders.

PathStone, which is headquartered in Rochester, serves New York, Vermont, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, Ohio, Indiana and parts of Puerto Rico. Many of the markets they serve are rural, and homeownership counseling is offered in Indiana, New York and Pennsylvania.

Hyman said clients have the option of taking an in-person training, which consists of an eight-hour course, or they can take an online course from eHome America. eHome America is a certified provider of online homebuyer education.

For the in-person class, the requirement is an eight- to ten-hour day. Hyman said she tries to include guest speakers, such as real estate agents or lenders. The course is held every other month or sometimes quarterly, depending on the demand for it. Hyman estimates there are 8-18 students in each class.
If the client chooses to take the online course, Hyman said, a staff person schedules a one-on-one call to discuss the course material and answer any questions the client has. Hyman said the benefit to the eHome course is it allows people to take the course at a convenient time for them.
Like PathStone, Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS) of Richland County also offers an in-person homebuyer education course as well as the eHome course. NHS of Richland County covers several counties in Southwest Wisconsin, including an area where homebuyer education was not offered.

Linda Smith, NHS of Richland County homeownership center coordinator, said they offer in-person courses, and they attempted to offer distance learning classes. The distance courses were broadcast from the main Richland Center site to remote sites, typically high school classrooms, in neighboring counties. Smith said because broadcasting the course was too staff-intensive, and there were technology problems, the remote course was cancelled. They are now using eHome America for their customers who cannot attend the course in Richland Center, which has gotten a great response. “eHome, because we are rural, is a good fit. It fits the needs for many of our households, especially the younger households who cannot attend classes at night or on the weekends,” she said.

Like PathStone, NHS requires customers who have taken the eHome course to have a phone conference with a staff person.

Gary Throckmorton, eHome senior executive vice president, said eHome’s model is a network of local agencies. “We want the customer to be connected to a local agency. Follow-up is key,” he said. eHome has had steady growth, he said, and approximately 250 agencies are registered with over 36,000 clients served since 2009. Throckmorton expects growth to continue, especially since online education has become more accepted. eHome is currently offered in English and Spanish, but Throckmorton said adding additional languages would be considered if there was a demand.

eHome America was started in May 2009 by Community Ventures Corporation (CVC), a Kentucky-based non-profit. It is endorsed by NeighborWorks America.