Potential buyers do their homework

Angela Huerta and Gilbert Alvarado, looking to buy a home for themselves and their three children, studied hard Sunday morning.

They spent four hours in a training session for potential buyers, part of the Homeownership Modesto event.

"Being a first-time home buyer, I've found that it's very scary," Huerta said. "All the questions you have were pretty much answered in this meeting."

About 350 people took part in the morning session, part of the requirements for several government home-buying programs. A few hundred other people came by in the afternoon for information booths and seminars.

The free event, put on by the city and The Bee at Modesto Centre Plaza, aimed to boost a real estate market that has imploded over the past three years.

Many of the participants had sat on the sidelines as Stanislaus County's median home price peaked at $396,000 in late 2005. The median since has fallen to $135,000, and foreclosures have soared as home loans went bad.

People at Homeownership Modesto could talk with real estate agents, lenders, government representatives and others involved in housing.

"People that come to these things are a little more motivated than the guy who sits around and watches things," said Michael Campbell of Great Valley Realtors in Modesto, which had a booth.

Buyers should act quickly to get in on the bargains, he added.

"Anything under about $200,000, if it's move-in-ready, is virtually disappearing," Campbell said. "It's not uncommon to have three or four offers, and I've seen up to 11 or 12 on some properties that are really nice."

Huerta, 30, and Alvarado, 36, live in Modesto and work as surgical assistants. They said prequalifying for a loan was easier than they expected, but the competition in their price range -- up to $135,000 -- is something else.

"You drive up to a house, and there are already five people standing in line," Huerta said.

What about renovations?

Roger and Jessica DeSousa of Turlock, both 28 and the parents of a 1-year-old boy, own a house but are looking for an investment property. Roger, who has a contractor's license along with working at Valley Distributors, said they hope to tap a public program for renovations.

"I'm just trying to find another way to make some extra money," he said. "I would probably rent it out and wait for the market to turn and sell it."

The seminars ranged from basic information, such as estimating how much a family can handle in mortgage payments, to the details on new tax credits and other incentives.

Although plenty of help is out there, buyers need to meet the income standards and other requirements, said Rollie Smith, director of the San Joaquin Valley field office for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

"Not everybody can be a homeowner," he said, "and we made a big mistake thinking that they could."

California Mortgage Associates of Modesto, which had a booth at the event, has started its own seminars for first-time buyers, said Brenda Olson, vice president for production.

"It shouldn't be a high-pressure kind of thing," she said. "You should be well-educated before you make a choice on your loan type and your agent, and make sure that what you buy today is going to work for you in the future."

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at or 578-2385.

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