The Triangle’s red hot housing market is pricing many buyers out. A WRAL News investigation found that includes many of those who qualify for help as first-time buyers.
As a WRAL News photojournalist, Sean Braswell has helped tell many stories about the Triangle’s exploding housing market. Then he started looking. “I knew it was going to be a challenge,” he told us.
Braswell researched and found he was eligible for tens of thousands of dollars in government assistance – state, county and city-sponsored zero interest loans – because he was a first-time buyer making under 80% of the area’s median income.
“I was over the moon. I was like $60,000?” he said. Then, that excitement faded. He soon found that market forces had pushed that financial aid out of reach. “I went from being really confident I would find a home to the exact opposite, that there is no way I’ll be able to utilize these programs and get a home,” Braswell said.
The reason? Restrictions on the assistance. Homes must cost under around $300,000 and have newer roofs and air conditioners. Braswell was getting help from a local non-profit, DHIC, which warned him not to bid over asking price. With most homes in Wake County selling for well over what the buyers asked for, Braswell was limited again. “We got one more roadblock, one more hiccup, one more wall,” he said.
“I don’t want to shoot a somebody’s dreams down, but I’m also looking at this house saying this is going to have multiple offers, so you’re not going to be able to compete,” Braswell’s real estate agent Jamie Parlier told us. “I think these programs sound amazing, if the buyer could just get the money.”
DHIC records show 121 Wake County buyers benefited from the housing help in 2019, but as the market caught fire, the assistance cooled. Only 111 used it in 2020, 74 in 2021 and just 15 so far this year.
Homebuyers aren’t the only ones who are frustrated. Mark Perlman, the director of the Wake Equitable Housing and Community Development Division, said, “Absolutely, it’s extremely frustrating.”
Perlman’s agency pays out the loans, which are becoming much less frequent. “It just speaks to the difficulty that our potential borrowers are facing to get something under contract. They face a lot of hurdles simply getting to the closing table, and so it’s frustrating for us, it’s frustrating for them.”
Wake County is reacting to the hot housing market by making changes, including lifting the cap on the purchase price depending on the borrower, adjusting the required debt-to-income ratios and considering increasing the $20,000 loan limit.
Those changes won’t help Braswell, who eventually found a home that he said, “really ticked all my boxes both personally and with the program.”
After all the hurdles, Braswell thought he actually won out on the house, until a Raleigh loan requirement for a city inspection led to the seller’s rejection.
“Standing outside this home that I really wanted, I’m a little heartbroken,” he told us. Heartbroken and angry that housing assistance programs designed to help, didn’t. “I am who these programs are made for. So, I’m a little fired up honestly,” he said.
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