Joseph and Jessica Bembry had plenty of reasons to give thanks this past Thanksgiving–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 Enterprise’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 couple–married last July–took three months to find their way to solid ground. “It 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€ 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.
“We even thought about moving to West Virginia because houses comparable to what we wanted cost less there,â€ adds Jessica, “but the commute to work would have been more than an hour.â€ 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.