In six months, 107 people have become first-time homeowners in Christian County with assistance from the Hardest Hit Fund Down Payment Assistance Program.

Commonly called HHF-DAP, the program is a forgivable, soft second mortgage worth up to $10,000 and is available to qualified first-time home buyers in Christian County at a 0% interest rate, said Cindy Bradley, Kentucky Housing Corporation mortgage production administrator.

Of the 120 counties in the commonwealth, Christian County is the only one that qualifies as "hardest hit." Kentucky Housing Corporation looks at the percent of the 90-plus delinquent loans in the area and the percent of foreclosure loans, negative equity loans, real-estate-owned sales and short-sales-to-loan count. Eligible counties must be above the state average in at least four out of the five categories to qualify for funds.

HHF-DAP is a Troubled Assets Relief Program funded by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, according to www.treasury.gov.

With so many homes now off the market, Christian County's housing market has become more limited, said Connie Lancaster, Homeplace Mortgage broker.

"Our inventory (of houses) is getting low. There are not a lot of houses out there," Lancaster said. "If someone is wanting to buy a house, they need to be qualified and ready when houses go on the market. They need to be ready to make an offer when something they are interested in becomes available."

Lancaster closed on more than half of the homes for the 107 new homeowners in Christian County, and there is still time for potential homeowners to take advantage of this opportunity. The program ends June 30, but buyers must act fast, she said.

Qualified applicants must be first-time homebuyers with a middle credit score of at least 620 and their annual household income must be less than $103,000.

Those interested in taking advantage of this opportunity must be prequalified and have a contract completed by the end of the program.

"The sooner they call us, the better," Lancaster said. "We can take an application from them and see if there is something they need to work on to make sure they qualify for (HHF-DAP)."

Once an applicant is qualified, they can begin looking for a house.

"Once they buy a house, write a contract and it is accepted … that can all be done in two or three days," she said. "It's possible, but the problem is finding the house."

Some homeowners can spend several months searching for the perfect new home, while others make the decision more quickly. Because options are becoming more limited, the process can take even longer, Lancaster said.

"When a house comes on the market, there are so many people out there who are prequalified that are ready … if you aren't ready, that house that was just listed could be gone in less than a day," she said.

In an already shrinking housing market, finding a house that meets the guidelines of the HHF-DAP loan can be even more difficult, said Kenny Walker, Realtor with Advantage Realtors.

Since the beginning of the year, Walker has helped three new homeowners using HHF-DAP find their new house.

"It is very challenging," Walker said. "(KHC) doesn't want to sell this person a home or make a loan on a home they are going to have problems with or wind up repossessing in six months because it's in bad shape."

Guidelines are part of most loans, he said. Under HHF-DAP's guidelines the property must have been previously occupied, meaning it cannot be a new construction property. The house also cannot be a "fixer upper," Walker said.

"They can't just go out there and buy a falling down home that doesn't meet the requirements of the (KHC) guidelines," he said. "It has to be a home that's in pretty good shape with no major repairs or anything like that needed."

Jon Richardson recently used HHF-DAP to purchase his first home at 27-years-old.

"It's essentially free money. I don't know why anyone wouldn't want to take the offer," Richardson said. "It really helped me with the down payment. It really sealed the deal for me on buying a home."

HHF-DAP can be used toward the down payment and the closing costs required when purchasing a new home. Most all loans require the borrower to contribute a down payment, which can be anywhere between 3% and 3.5% of the house, Lancaster said.

Closing costs are additional fees on top of the mortgage such as appraisal, lender and Kentucky housing underwriting fees. Closing costs also include one year of homeowner's insurance, property taxes and an escrow account. Closing costs can total up to $5,000, Lancaster said.

After he was qualified, Richardson viewed about 10 houses before settling on the home he owns today. From start to finish, the process took him about two months to complete.

"It was a little more difficult because I needed to pick a house in my budget that I felt comfortable I could afford," Richardson said. "That did dwindle it down a little bit, but as far as available houses in Christian County, there was a little bit of a struggle trying to find a decent enough home that I wanted to live in."

Lancaster said it has been rewarding to help so many families find new homes through HHF-DAP.

"(HHF-DAP) gives people a sense of ownership and a sense of belonging in owning their home and a sense of pride," she said. "It's just exciting to see families who thought they would never be able to own a home have their dreams fulfilled … and the only way it was possible was by having this assistance available to them."

For more information, visit www.kyhousing.org.

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