Homeownership & Housing

Is Homeownership in Your Future?

Homeownership can establish a secure financial future for you and your family. Choosing a home you can afford will allow you to build wealth as the home’s value increases over time. Purchasing a home will likely be the largest investement you will ever make, so it is important to have all the information to make wise decisions throughout the entire process.

Successful homeowners are those who are educated and informed about their finanaces and the homeownership process. Seeking the assistance of a homeownership counselor or other homebuyer education opportunities will help you make better choices as you move along the path to homeownership.

Step One: Prepare yourself financially for homeownership

Evaluate your finances thoroughly. If you choose to consult a homebuyer counseling organization, your counselor may recommend that you pay down consumer debt and collections or increase your credit score. You may also need to save money for the down payment or other up-front costs associated with a home purchase. In addition, you will need to establish a reserve savings account for use if a major emergency occurs.

A homebuyer counselor can help you determine what you can safely afford to purchase, and how much you are willing to spend on your home. A complete list of HUD-approved homeownership agencies can be found at www.hud.gov or by calling 1-800-569-4287; or scroll down for a list of local agencies. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau offers several tools and resources to help you understand the process and cost of a mortgage, such as interest rate comparisons, sample loan estimates, closing disclosures and a toolkit: www.consumerfinance.gov/owning-a-home

Step Two: Attend a Homebuyer Seminar

These seminars are offered throughout the community and are a valuable source of information for the future homeowner. They are designed to educate the future homeowner on the steps in the homeownership process as well as the reponsibilities of owning a home. Topics covered often include: home inspections, homeowner’s insurance policies, the real estate contract and your rights as a buyer.

Step Three: Obtain a pre-approval and purchase the home

Your homebuyer counselor or lender will work with you to gather the necessary documents to become pre-approved. A pre-approval is an official document which reflects the maximum mortgage loan amount and payment that you can afford, based on your current income. Take the pre-approval with you when you begin shopping for a home, and your real estate agent will help you locate homes within your price range.

Once you’ve found a property and signed a sales contract, you will need to furnish earnest money. Remember to have the home inspected. At this time, you will also need to contact your lender to apply for the mortgage loan. Your lender will have the home appraised and the title searched. Additionally, you will need to obtain homeowner’s insurance and arrange for your closing funds to be available.

Step Four: Become a Successful Homeowner

Protect your home by looking for ways to maintain or improve it – it is an investment in your financial future! Make your monthly mortgage payments on time, maintain your homeowner’s insurance, and pay your real estate taxes when they are due. Continue to establish your savings reserves, so that they are available for any major repair or emergency that may arise.

How To Keep Your Home: Protecting Your Greatest Investment

Successful homeownership means being able to enjoy the comfort and security that owning a home can provide. That’s why it’s so important to understand the responsibilities of homeownership.

Make Your Mortgage Payments on Time

You’ve worked hard to purchase your home – and you don’t want to jeopardize it. The single most important thing you can do to be a successful homeowner is to make your payment on or before the due date every month. Missing a mortgage payment can have serious consequences. If you are having trouble making your payment, seek help immediately (scroll down for local resources that can help).

Review your Mortgage Statements Monthly

Always check your loan documents and monthly mortgage statements for changes in your escrow amount or monthly payment amount, or for any errors or omissions. If you have any questions or find any errors, contact your lender immediately and don’t be afraid to ask for clarification on anything that you don’t understand.

Stay current on property taxes and maintain your homeowner’s insurance

Many home loans require you to pay your property taxes and homeowner’s insurance along with your monthly mortgage payment, which is then set aside in an escrow account. These amounts can fluctuate from year to year. If your mortgage is not set up with an escrow account, be sure to budget for them every month and make the payments when they are due. Contact your lender or loan servicer if you are unsure if your mortgage includes an escrow account.

Preserve Your Equity

Equity is your ownership in the home, or the difference between the market value of the home and what you owe on it. Always perform needed maintenance and repairs: a well-maintained home retains its value and should sell for more than one that is not. Avoid borrowing against the equity in your home to make lavish improvements or live a lifestyle that you cannot afford.

Keep An Emergency Fund Ready

If you have not already begun an “emergency savings account,” start to do this immediately. Most experts recommend saving at least six months’ worth of living expenses, including your mortgage, insurance, taxes and necessities like food, utilities and transportation costs.

Prevent Foreclosure for FREE

Sometimes an unexpected crisis or hardship can affect your finances. By knowing where to turn for help, you can possibly avoid foreclosure and protect your home.

  • Contact a HUD-approved counseling agency for FREE assistance to review your loan situation. Visit www.findaforeclosurecounselor.org, our Resource Directory or scroll down for a list of local agencies.
  • If you are facing property tax foreclosure contact one of the agencies listed below or Take Root Milwaukee for assistance. The City of Milwaukee also offers a list of resources at www.city.milwaukee.gov/Strong/Prevent.
  • DO NOT PAY anyone to help you prevent foreclosure! It is illegal for someone to charge you money up-front for assistance with getting a loan modification. If you think you have been the victim of a “rescue scam” contact the Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council at (414) 278-1240 for FREE assistance.

Information for Renters

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) created a user-friendly, frequently asked questions guide about landlord/tenant rights & responsibilities.  NOTE: The guide is not intended to be comprehensive or a substitute for legal advice.

Find the Landlord/Tenant Guide and fact sheets at www.datcp.wi.gov. (Click on “Consumers” and scroll down). Contact DATCP at (800) 422-7128 or via email at datcphotline@wi.gov with any questions.

FREE Mediation Services are available to landlords and tenants in Milwaukee County. Mediation is a free, private meeting with a trained professional who can help find solutions to common rental challenges such as missed, late or partial rent payments, maintenance/repairs, pests, breach of lease terms, communication issues, disruptive behavior, etc.

Mediation can occur before or after a filing, however, requesting mediation before an eviction action is filed can provide benefits that save time and money. Request mediation by calling 414-939-8800, emailing apply@mediatemilwaukee.com or visiting www.mediatewisconsin.com.

The Tenant Resource Center offers information and referrals, education about rental rights and responsibilities, and access to conflict resolution to empower the community to obtain and maintain quality affordable housing: www.tenantresourcecenter.org or call 877-238-RENT (7368).

The Wisconsin State Law Library has information on agencies that offer assistance to tenants, filing a complaint again a landlord, and guides on check-in/check-out, repair requests and sublet agreements: www.wilawlibrary.gov/topics/landlord.php