By: Charles Bowen

‘Homebuyer’s kit’ provides keystone for real-estate rookies

To get started, visit the site at

Home ownership is part of the American Dream, so what could be a
better addition to a newspaper’s mission than helping readers
make this dream come true?

A noble goal, but let’s be frank. Many of our young reporters,
fresh out of college, have never given a moment’s thought to
shopping for mortgage rates, choosing a real-estate agent,
setting up appraisals, or curling up with brochures to study
home-owners’ insurance options.

How, then, do we educate reporters about home-buying issues so
they can then inform our readers? The Web has a way. Hooking up
with a site operated by the federal Department of Housing and
Urban Development, they can jack into a thorough, detailed
“homebuyer’s kit” that provides tips on home financing,
calculators for determining how big a mortgage a family can
afford, and consumer information on everything from loans to
manufactured homes.

A newspaper could use the site to provide background to beginning
business reporters and to alert readers to the resource so they
can do their own online research.

To check it out, visit the site at,
where a detailed introductory page has links to information on an
assortment of topics, under headings such as:

o Know Your Rights as a Homebuyer, covering consumer laws, common
scams, and how to avoid unnecessary expenses and housing
o Mortgages and Homebuying Programs, with background on the
different kinds of mortgages, the pros and cons of each, and how
to shop for them.
o Shopping for a Home, with advice on dealing with real estate
agents, classified ads, community maps, and online data with
neighborhood statistics, schools, and so on.
o Building a Home, Manufactured Homes, and Rehab a Home. These
sections cover issues such as federal construction standards,
mobile home parks, energy-efficient mortgages, property
improvement loan insurance, and related subjects.
o Appraisals, with information on property evaluations required
by mortgage lenders to make sure the house and land are worth the
money being borrowed. The section covers how you can select an
appraiser or have one recommended by a real-estate agent.
o Home Inspections, providing tips on hiring an independent
authorized inspector to determine what repairs and improvements
might be needed with a prospective home.
o Homeowners Insurance, covering subjects such as “12 Ways to
Lower Your Homeowners Insurance Costs.”
o Settlement or Closing, with information on settlement costs and
related information.

Of particular value to writers is a section called “How Much
Mortgage Can You Afford?” It goes beyond the general guideline
(of no more than 29% of a family’s gross monthly income), showing
that one must factor in loan interest rates, among other

Looking for examples to top a story with? Use the section’s links
to mortgage calculators to figure out “case study” specifics. A
resulting screen offers ways to determine true costs and compare
the expenses of different types of mortgages. You also can figure
out what monthly payments are needed for a house with a specific
sales price, how much you can afford on a specific household
budget, and how to know when it is time to refinance a current

Other considerations in using the site for your reporting and

o You can search the entire HUD Web site. Click the
“Search/Index” button at the top of the introductory screen to
research an elaborate search section that provides not only
assorted query boxes but also a hyperlinked site index that
offers direct jumps to areas including HUD news, information
about homelessness, and information about housing.
o Use the FAQ button at the top of the site pages to reach
answers to frequently asked questions, which can be starting
points for feature stories. For instance, a question about a
senior wanting help in keeping his home leads to information
about HUD housing counseling agencies and a question about
concerns over lead-based paints hooks you up with a “Healthy
Homes” section of information.
o Because this is a data-rich Web site, you might want to advise
readers to use the “Site Tour” link at the top of the display to
get an overview of what’s available online.

Bowen writes columns, articles and books from West Virginia, and is host of the daily Internet News syndicated radio show (

Copyright 2001, Editor & Publisher

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