Launching a housing startup in 2008, in the shadow of the housing crisis, wasn’t for the faint of heart. Just ask me and Greg Robertson of Cloud CMA.
Ten years ago, our team pressed forward with the belief that there was a way to make it easier for homebuyers and professionals to access hard-to-find information about homeownership programs. Down Payment Resource (DPR) was born from that belief, and it became the first in the housing industry to aggregate and keep current data about programs nationwide.
Today, we integrate data about program benefits and eligibility criteria with multiple listing services (MLSs), lenders and agents.
Milestones like this give you an opportunity to look back and assess how far you’ve come and what you’ve learned. In fact, seven years ago DPR won the Inman Innovator award. This year we’re up for it again. The good news? We’re still innovating. The bad news? The more you do, the more there is to do.
Here are five things I’ve learned over the last 10 years about real estate and affordable housing:
1. Affordable housing isn’t a niche audience
Unfortunately, working with down payment programs still gets left to one “affordable” department, a nonprofit or a few hungry agents. But we all need to care; it’s crucial for the individual buyer, and it’s also important for building trust with our industry. Plus, it’s actually good for business.
Working in collaboration with the Urban Institute, our analysis of 2016 HMDA loan data showed that across just 20 major metros, 470,000 homebuyers were eligible for seven programs, each averaging approximately $15,000 in down payment assistance. That’s a lot of homebuyers who could’ve been helped by a homebuyer program.
Don’t let your buyers leave money on the table.
2. True service always pays dividends
There’s a reason many agents have historically avoided working with down payment programs: they don’t come with million dollar listings and record commissions.
Let’s think about Parker Principle 1 — transform our industry from a sales profession to a service business. This principle aims to “incentivize real estate agents to focus on quality and service over volume and sales by obsessing over the needs of the consumer to drive innovation and best practices.”
When I speak with agents who are using our tools to help their clients overcome the down payment hurdle — still the no. 1 obstacle to homeownership — they tell me that by simply starting a conversation about these options, they build trust with their clients. These entry level buyers quickly send over referrals, building a strong pipeline for future business.
What are the needs of your buyers? What service can you provide to help them overcome their biggest pain points?
Here’s what Bernice Ross, CEO of RealEstateCoach.com had to say:
“Over the past 10 years, consumers are increasingly doing more homebuying research before engaging with an agent. Agents need to be able to articulate how they can help their buyer save money on their real estate transaction — that includes opening a discussion about down payment programs. It’s a step that can help agents earn their clients’ gratitude and future referrals for years to come.”
3. Homebuyers value education
Agents are the guides and teachers of homebuying. They tell buyers what to care about, what to prioritize. But most buyers don’t even know to ask about down payment programs that can help them save on their home purchase.
Agents know the process and connect buyers to other experts. When those opportunities aren’t presented, it leaves buyers on the sidelines and stalls the industry.
Let’s look at Parker Principle 9: Fight for more available housing. If consumers don’t know about the help available to them, fewer housing options are available to them. As the principle notes, we “must bring key stakeholders to the table … to create more balance, affordable markets.”
We couldn’t agree more.
John Mosey, president and CEO at NorthstarMLS echoes this idea:
“Parker Principle no. 9 coming out of the Inman Disconnect conference earlier this year is for the industry to ‘Fight for more available housing.’ DPR is a step in the direction of achieving that goal while highlighting the role of the real estate professional as an invaluable and invested resource committed to helping every American become part of a homeownership success story.”
4. Agents don’t want to be finance experts
We get it. It’s a fair concern, but the good news is they don’t have to be the expert.
Agents who have partnerships with lenders who participate in down payment programs will have the most success. They can count on that lender to work with their buyers to make sure they meet deadlines and requirements and, most importantly, to ensure everything comes together at the closing table.
Make it easy on yourself by developing solid partnerships with lenders and the state and local housing finance agencies (HFAs) you know can deliver the best for your clients. HFAs want to work with agents and want to help you prepare your buyers for homeownership.
5. There’s always more to do
It’s easy to pat yourself on the back and say, “Good enough — we’re done.” I admire this industry for never doing that, and the Inman Parker Principles are a reflection of the belief that we can do better.
Over these past 10 years, I learned that simply solving the problem of tracking and aggregating data about down payment programs into one spot isn’t enough. We must all empower buyers by sharing this information and connecting them to resources.
Affordable housing is everyone’s responsibility, and we’re here to help.
Rob Chrane is a former Realtor and broker with more than three decades of experience in real estate and mortgage finance. He is the CEO of Down Payment Resource.