Joseph and Jessica Bembry had plenty of reasons to give thanks this past Thanksgivingâ€”two days earlier they had closed on their first home. Despite the financial crisis, the couple was able to purchase a single-family home in Clinton, Maryland, for $385,000, bidding farewell to their apartment in Washington, D.C.
The Bembrys were chosen as the winners of Black Enterpriseâ€™s Fourth Annual Homeownership Contest from more than 400 qualified applicants. (The pool was shallower because of harsh economic times.) They received a cash prize of $10,000 toward the principal on their mortgage along with home furnishings valued up to $5,000 provided by At Home With B. Smith.
Working with a real estate agent and pre-approved for nearly $400,000, the newly wedded coupleâ€”married last Julyâ€”took three months to find their way to solid ground. â€śIt was a matter of what we wanted, what we were finding, and what we could afford in terms of the search and the home buying process,â€ť says Jessica. For instance, the couple asked their agent to steer clear of homes more than 10 years old because they felt an older home would require a lot of upgrades.
â€śWe even thought about moving to West Virginia because houses comparable to what we wanted cost less there,â€ť adds Jessica, â€śbut the commute to work would have been more than an hour.â€ť Jessica works as a staff assistant at the District Department of Transportation; Joseph is a plan review coordinator for the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.
Owning a home is essential to the American dream. But that dream has turned into a nightmare for many families. Last year, foreclosures (default notices, auction sales, and bank repossessions) were filed for some 2.3 million properties, up 81% from 2007 and up 225% since 2006, according to RealtyTrac.com. Escalating matters: Home values are being wiped out. In 2008, $3.3 trillion in home equity disappeared, with 17.6% of all U.S. homes worth less than the mortgages owed on them, reports real estate Website Zillow.com.