COVID-19 has created a housing insecurity crisis. Families across the country are struggling with newfound uncertainty and increasing fragility surrounding their living situations. Unfortunately, scammers use crisis situations like these to prey on people’s fears and insecurities. That’s why it’s so important to pay attention to and learn more about housing scams.

Luckily, our friends at NeighborWorks America are partnering with the Wells Fargo Foundation, National Fair Housing Alliance and National Foundation for Credit Counseling to create a public education initiative aimed at helping consumers take action to protect themselves and their homes from scammers. They have already offered helpful tips to identify and avoid scams:

Do not pay anyone who is not your mortgage lender.

If someone contacts you and asks about home payment, do not pay them. The only entities that should be dealing with your mortgage payments are you, your lender and your certified housing counselor if you’re working with one. Additionally, if anyone gets in contact with you to tell you to stop paying your monthly mortgage payments, do not listen to them. Trying to get someone to halt their payments is a sure sign of a scam.

Do not give any personal or financial information to someone you do not know.

A great general rule is to not give any personal information to anyone who is not a licensed professional or personal friend, especially over the phone. That being said, if someone calls requesting information regarding your personal finances or housing situation, do not answer their questions until you can credibly verify who they are. If you cannot, there is no reason to move forward with any further conversation.

Do not listen to promises.

Someone might try to contact you and tell you that they can fix whatever housing insecurity you might be facing. For example, the person might promise to prevent your home being foreclosed on, or might promise to give you money for your next monthly payment. All payment plans should be arranged directly with your mortgage lender and your housing counselor – and neither will EVER promise you they can stop foreclosure or eviction. They will only provide the best options and counseling with the goal of preventing home loss. Promises of “free” money without certified counseling and expert intervention are a sure sign of a scam, as nobody can guarantee you will not be foreclosed upon or evicted. Also, if someone promises to provide a housing-related service for you, such as lawn care, do NOT pay them before the service has been completed, no matter how sincere their “promise” to get it done is.

Find out what your options are

One of the best ways that you can fight against scams is by becoming informed and arming yourself with knowledge as early in the process as possible. Talk to one of United Housing’s HUD-certified housing counselors, or any one of our team members. We want to help you find housing stability and give you real, practical ways to help you with whatever obstacles you may be facing. Regardless of moratorium deadlines, we can help you get on the path to foreclosure prevention now. The earlier you start the process, the better. Visit https://www.uhinc.org/education/foreclosure-counseling to get started with one of our counselors.

If you are suspicious that someone has tried to scam you or a neighbor, whether they were successful or not, please report the situation to the appropriate authorities such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. For more resources on stopping scams, visit https://www.stophomescams.org/.

If you’re facing foreclosure in Memphis because of hardships caused by COVID-19, there is help out there for you. By connecting with United Housing, you’ve come to the right place. 

No one expects you to know what to do on your own when you’re facing foreclosure. Our team of educated housing counselors can help you better understand the options you have that could help you keep your house. They will also walk you through the process – you do not have to go through this alone. You can start the housing counseling process by filling out this online form. If you’re facing foreclosure, we encourage you to sign up as soon as possible.

Before you start housing counseling, there are a few things you can do on your own. By taking these steps, you’re gathering information that will help your housing counselor and could help you keep your home. 

To help you create a plan, our housing counselors need to know who owns your loan. If you’re not sure, you can use this free online tool to find out. Why is this important? Different lenders handle foreclosure support differently. Knowing who owns your loan will help us create the best repayment plan for your family.

Government support can be confusing, especially when it comes to homeownership. Even if you read or watch the news and try to keep up with the most recent changes, it’s easy to misunderstand what help is available. This online tool from Freddie Mac explains important topics you should understand before you attend your counseling session: forbearance and CARES Act support. Read through this guide and click on the “+” icons to expand specific topics. Reading through this page a few times can help you better understand these topics and how they apply to your situation.

  • Prepare questions for your counselor.

You don’t have to come to your housing counseling session knowing everything about the CARES Act and forbearance. But reading about these topics ahead of time can help you prepare questions. As you read through the interactive online guide from Freddie Mac, write down questions for your housing counselor. They will be able to answer your questions and explain topics in more detail.

  • Continue to follow United Housing for more help.

United Housing is here to help. When you follow us on Facebook, you can learn about upcoming workshops or classes from United Housing and other trustworthy organizations in Memphis. These classes and workshops are a great way to learn more about housing, homeownership and specific topics like foreclosure. 


If you live in Memphis and need help to keep your home, reach out to United Housing today. You can visit our website or call 901-272-1122.

Finances are highly personal, and it can feel overwhelming when you’re trying to buy a home and you suddenly have to share a lot of personal financial information. You might even feel judged or embarrassed to share your debt information with a potential lender. The average American is about $38,000 in debt, so you are certainly not alone if you enter the homebuying process with outstanding debt. But it’s important to understand your personal financial information in relation to your debt and how that will impact your homebuying process. 

How does debt impact my ability to buy a home?

Debt is one of the largest factors mortgage lenders consider when you apply for a home loan. Specifically, mortgage lenders will look at your debt-to-income ratio – or how much of your monthly income immediately goes toward paying down your existing debt. If you think about it, you consider your debt-to-income ratio every month when you make purchasing decisions. In your budget, you likely subtract your expenses (like debt repayment) from your income to determine how much money you can spend in a month. Your mortgage lender is doing this same process. 

 

The specific debt-to-income ratio your mortgage lender is looking for will vary. But generally, most lenders look for a debt to income ratio below 43%. Of course, a lower debt-to-income ratio is favorable to lenders because it means you are more likely to be able to cover the cost of your mortgage on a monthly basis without overextending yourself financially. 

 

Another way debt might impact your ability to buy a home is through your credit score. Your credit score is an easy way for financial institutions to see how reliable you are as a lender. Your credit score is built using a number of factors, but many of them are linked to debt. You can build your credit score by making your debt repayments on time every month, limiting outstanding debt on credit cards and reducing the number of debt accounts you have at one time. 

Is all debt the same to my mortgage lender?

Most common types of debt are considered equal to mortgage lenders. Things like autopayments, student loans, personal loans and credit cards are all factored into your debt-to-income ratio. But, it’s important to talk with your lender, as some debts might be treated differently depending upon your mortgage options. For example some lenders subtract alimony payments from your monthly income but don’t include it in your debt-to-income ratio. This can sometimes make it easier for you to qualify for a loan. 

 

There are a few things that you might consider debt that aren’t by your mortgage lender. Things like your monthly phone plan, gym memberships, or other subscription services are not counted as debt. It is still important to factor those costs into your monthly budget, though. 

How can I use information about my personal debt to make a smart homebuying choice?

Understanding your personal financial situation, including your outstanding debt, is important to help you make the best homebuying decision for your family. When you work with one of United Housing’s homebuying counselors, they can help walk you through that process. Some families might need to work on paying off debt and raising their credit for a year before starting the homebuying process. Other families need to closely monitor their budget to determine how large of a mortgage payment they can comfortably afford. Regardless of your situation, our team of well-trained experts will help you understand your financial situation and will guide you toward the decision and home that is right for you.

At United Housing, we promote homeownership by giving people the information and agency they need to pursue the homebuying process with confidence. Dee joined the team at UHI and was inspired to make an investment in herself and in her son’s future. After a year of saving, she was able to purchase her dream home. But buying a house is only the first step in the homeownership process, and like anything, adjusting to homeownership can have its highs and lows.

Dee has now been a homeowner for a little longer than three months. She says that she is slowly but surely coming to feel settled in her home. Doing things like decorating the house’s common areas has made the space feel more like her own. 

“It’s really starting to set in,” she explained, “I can’t believe all of this is mine.”

In her new life as a homeowner, Dee has started to see firsthand the value of tips she learned through UHI’s Homebuyer Education Courses. She performs regular home maintenance to save time and money in the long run and she prioritizes her bills to stay timely and consistent with home and utility payments. Additionally, Dee learned about the importance of home security through UHI, but didn’t anticipate appreciating it as much as she has. 

“I thought home security was just changing the locks,” said Dee. “However, I learned that there was more to it than that, and got a home security system set up – which has given me so much peace.”

As far as homeownership’s challenges, Dee happily reports there have been little to no issues. There was a neighboring property owned by the city that had weeds growing out of control. Thanks to her education with UHI, she knew to call Memphis 311 to start the process of weed removal and yard maintenance. 

Since moving in, Dee has tackled many DIY projects both inside and outside her home, all while adhering to a strict budget. Dee plans to weatherize her home for winter and is using these chilly, fall nights as test runs to see which cracks and crevices might be letting the cold air in, helping her decide which areas need caulking and weatherization strips. 

When asked what most excites her about being a homeowner, Dee says it’s just the fact that she has a great place to call home. 

“I ride up to my yard and just stare at it before pulling into my carport,” said Dee. “I’m definitely in the ‘honeymoon phase of homeownership – I love it!” 

We’ll continue to follow Dee’s journey as a homeowner throughout the first year in her home. Keep up with Untied Housing on our website and social media for more about Dee! 

Community banking

As you drive through your town, you’ve likely noticed community banks without even realizing you’re passing them. A community bank is exactly what it sounds like – a smaller, locally owned and operated bank that serves those in a particular area or community. 

There are a few major differences between community banks when compared to regional and national banks. Community banks cannot serve customers out of state and instead focus on serving a specific set of customers in their area. For this reason, community bankers tend to understand the economic conditions of the area as well as the people who live there. This understanding makes community banks more likely to loan to borrowers in their community based on familiarity and family history rather than credit scores or traditional financial metrics. Additionally, community banks are small businesses themselves, making them more small business friendly. Community banks are a critical part of a healthy financial community because they are able to use traditional banking activities to pour back into their respective communities without some of the barriers that come with regional and national banks.

Banking and systemic discrimination

Most importantly, community banks are often located in underbanked communities in rural areas or inner cities. In urban, inner-city areas, community banks often serve a large Black population, which is significant as the Black community has been historically discriminated against financially, largely by regional and national banks. In an interview with NPR, Black bank owner Sidney King points out that many Black communities often feel big, national banks aren’t for them, as their parents and grandparents didn’t have banking relationships due to this systemic bias. Community banks that serve Black individuals are often also minority or Black-owned and can be vital to rebuilding trust between financial institutions and the Black community. 

What now?

Unfortunately, race-based discrimination in banking still exists. Last year in Memphis, 13% of Black shoppers were denied a mortgage, while only 5% of white shoppers faced the same rejection, and predatory mortgage lenders are still more likely to target people of color. 

United Housing has always worked to break down barriers that traditionally underserved Memphians face in the homeownership industry. Through loan programs like our new Build Bold Fund, we hope to raise money and forge partnerships with community banks to support individuals who cannot get approved for a loan through a regional or national bank. Another great way to combat financial inequity in your community is by supporting and investing in your local community bank. By opening a checking account or taking out a loan through a community bank, you are pouring your resources back into your neighborhood and the people who call it home. 

Community banks give Memphians of all backgrounds the opportunity to be approved for loans and less likely to turn to potentially predatory lenders for financial help. To learn more about being approved for a loan, contact United Housing today at 901-272-1122. 

Preparing to list your home can be a time-consuming process. Many families spend weeks organizing closets, touching up paint and cleaning all the nooks and crannies to make sure their home is ready for potential buyers to visit. Preparing to list your home, especially if you have big plans to move, can be an exciting process! In all of that excitement, a few important steps might fall through the cracks. Here are three things to add to your to-do list that will help you get the most money out of your home as you prepare to sell:

 

    1. Hold your own inspection to identify any issues you might need to fix.

When you purchased your home, you likely enlisted a home inspector to examine the house before you closed. Traditionally, buyers hire home inspectors to ensure the home they’re purchasing doesn’t have any outstanding issues or problems that should be considered in the sale process. It is common for buyers to request sellers to make repairs to problems as part of their contract. Unfortunately, many sellers enter the process without knowing these problems exist. When sellers have to make repairs or lower their selling price, they ultimately cut into the money they take home after they sell.

Before you list your home, hire an inspector to come out and thoroughly review your home. This inspector should be able to identify issues that you should repair before your home goes on the market, giving you time to make updates before you list. Even if you don’t choose to make the repairs recommended by the inspector, you will go into the selling process with a better understanding of what a potential buyer might ask you to repair or fund as part of the sale. This can help you determine a fair asking price and set your expectations for profit.

 

      2. Research comparable home prices in your neighborhood.

A large part of the homebuying and selling process is setting personal expectations. You can save yourself a lot of heartache and struggle during the negotiating process if you base your asking price on research. In the months leading up to listing your home, track home prices in your neighborhood. You can do this online or using resources in the local newspaper. See how much money people are paying for homes comparable in size to your own within your zip code. Consider not only homes that have the same square footage as you, but also take into account how many bedrooms and bathrooms your home has compared to homes you’re watching. A house with more bedrooms or bathrooms than yours might sell for a higher price even if the square footage is comparable. If you use online sites like Zillow, Redfin or Trulia, you can also see the condition of homes in your neighborhood. Understanding how your home compares in terms of updates and renovations can give you a better understanding of your future asking price.

 

     3. Enlist the help of a reliable Realtor.

A lot of sellers are tempted to list their homes themselves because of the commission fees that Realtors take after the sale. But partnering with a Realtor can save you a lot of time and money, so we always recommend working with an agent you trust. A Realtor can help you make decisions that will impact your sale – like the time you list and whether or not you should have an open house. When they walk through your home, they can identify your home’s best assets based on market trends and can tout those in your listing language. They often have access to professional photographers who will make your home look exceptional in online listings. Though you should do your research in step two, after walking through your home and surveying your neighborhood, your Realtor can help you set a realistic asking price. All of these factors will ultimately help you get the most money out of your home when you finally sell.

Whether your child is learning at home or in the classroom, cooler weather brought on by fall and winter will mean more time spent indoors. Winter is already known as a time when sickness – like the flu – is more common. But did you know that household products and practices can contribute to illness, especially among children? In Memphis, our older housing stock, in addition to substandard housing, contribute to increased rates of child respiratory illnesses like asthma. 

 

Many parents don’t realize that simply being at home can contribute to childhood chronic illnesses. But, armed with knowledge, you can make your home a healthier place to live. A few simple and affordable changes can transform your home into a safe haven for your children! Here are recommendations from our friends at the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative:

 

Know the triggers. 

Do you know the common triggers of asthma in the home? Mold, dust mites, smoke, pests, gasses and even cleaning chemicals can cause asthma flare ups, especially in children. If you know what to look out for, you can better create a plan to help remove these elements from your home. 

 

Kick mold to the curb. 

Mold is a pesky and sometimes dangerous organism that lives in damp places within the house. If you’re wondering where to look to see if you have mold in your home, start with your water sources! You’re most likely to find it in the bathroom, kitchen or laundry room. You can remove mold by gently using a scrub brush, water and soap to clean the affected area. Don’t use chemicals like bleach – as we mentioned before, they can be irritants. Then, focus on ventilating wet areas. Consider opening windows and running vent fans while you shower to keep water from building up. Dry and caulk areas around sinks where water might pool from leaks. Ultimately, keeping your home dry will help prevent mold growth. 

 

Take care of pests. 

No one is happy to find a bug in their house, but in Memphis, it’s inevitable that they’ll cross the threshold from time to time. It’s important that you look carefully for signs of infestation or a growing number of bugs in the house. Check baskets of blankets and areas where you store food for rat or mouse droppings. Insects and small rodents can carry dangerous diseases, and their droppings can send particles into the air that trigger sickness in people. If you ever see signs of pests in your home, connect with a local pest control company. Many businesses now offer green or low-chemical options that can help get rid of the problem without bringing harsh chemicals into your home. From there, carefully clean surfaces with soap and water, and plug any holes where pests might come through. 

 

Check for lead-based paint. 

If you live in a home built before 1978, you should have your home inspected for lead-based paint. If lead-based paint is present, have children under six tested for lead levels in their blood. Then, speak with a lead abatement specialist to create a plan to remedy the issues. United Housing’s Home Repair Loan can help you pay for this process.

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Memphis, TN 38118

 

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