Condo-buying: a nine-month struggle

April 1, 2011
By

Betsy Cowan

Why is there a housing crisis? My nine-month struggle to buy a condo might provide the answer.

In November of 2009, I began the process to buy an affordable condo in the Creighton Commons building in the Blessed Sacrament project in Jamaica Plain’s Hyde Square. Over the next nine months, I:

  • Took a Homebuying 101 class, but I was not taught the most important requirement for buying a house: three lines of commercial credit. With only two lines of credit, I was practically unbankable.
  • Worked with a loan officer from a well-known bank who failed to provide accurate information (including the Truth In Lending documentation). She then illegally disclosed a denial letter to the developer, violating my privacy and violating her obligations as a loan officer.
  • Nearly lost the deposit on the property when my lawyer failed to extend the purchase and sale agreement. This lawyer taught a portion of the Homebuying 101 class.
  • Applied for a mortgage at seven different banks and was denied by six of them, despite nearly perfect credit scores.
  • Received a City subsidy (through the Cash-to-Close and Washington Beech HOPE programs) after spending countless hours on the phone and faxing documentation.
  • Repeatedly extended a month-to-month lease with my landlord at the time, who fortunately was able to have flexibility with my move-out date.
  • Asked many people for advice, support and recommendations.
  • Finally closed on the home on Aug. 3, 2010.

The majority of those employed to assist me in this process—homebuying counselors, loan officers, my lawyer and others—were ineffective, to say the least. But Bill Madsen Hardy at New Atlantic Development, the condo’s co-developer; numerous staff at the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC), another co-developer; Zaragoza Guerra at the Neighborhood of Affordable Housing; Carrie Carrisoza at Boston Private Bank; and Percy Stalworth, a friend and colleague with intimate knowledge of this crazy business, went above and beyond the call of duty to make this happen.

So, what does this say about the housing crisis? If I—a white, well-educated native English speaker with good contacts in this city— labored nine months to purchase an affordable condo, facing one obstacle after another, I can’t imagine what the process must be like for anyone else in a less privileged position.

In fact, I know I am not unique. After I moved into Creighton Commons, the residents had a barbecue and traded stories, and many had a very similar experience. However, we all agreed that living in a beautiful condo in a mixed-income housing development in the diverse neighborhood of Hyde Square was well worth it!

My experience shows that, although there are tremendous public and private resources available for first-time, low-income homebuyers, this flawed process needs to be greatly improved to ensure that everyone can enjoy the benefits of affordable homeownership.

Editor’s note: JPNDC spokesperson Sally Swenson confirmed that there are many new hurdles to getting a home loan: “It’s a pretty common ordeal these days, unless someone’s very well-off. We’re seeing the backlash from the predatory lending excesses. Banks are being very, very conservative.”