Empowered for Homeownership

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Empowerment.

Norberto Santana Jr. uses the word often when he talks about his experience buying a home through NeighborWorks Orange County.

He felt empowered, he said, through the mortgage and home-buying coaching he received before purchasing his family’s tri-level condo in Ladera Ranch. He feels empowered to make improvements and repairs on their 1,559-square-foot home as he sees fit, without having to rely on a landlord.

And he says that communities will ultimately become more empowered as a result of homeowners, through NeighborWorks, taking responsibility for their investments.  “I can see how their process works,” he said. “They get people into homes where they are empowered. They are creating more empowered communities.”

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Santana Jr, 48, and his wife Amanda, 45, had purchased a home in Orange County before. But the Great Recession struck at a time when they needed to refinance and with credit markets frozen, they sold the property through a short sale. 

The family was renting a home in Laguna Niguel when Santana, the publisher of a nonprofit investigative news agency, began looking for a new place to rent. Fortunately, he found a property in Ladera Ranch that NeighborWorks OC had listed for sale, and it appeared to be affordable. 

The Santanas closed on their two-bedroom, 2.5-bath home in 2015. With their down payment savings, other down payment programs, and a conventional 30-year mortgage.

“There wasn’t a hard sell,” Santana said of his work with NeighborWorks “Friendly Experts.” “It was more like, ‘How can help we you? How can we facilitate the best situation for you and your family? Let’s make sure this is a good fit for you.’"

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The Santana family went through the NeighborWorks OC homeownership process, taking an eight-hour home-buying class and a series of mortgage coaching sessions. 

“It was more of a life skills workshop in a lot of ways than just buying a home. That is in a part their business mission. They sit down with you and help you go through your budget. They are not trying to push anything. That to me was an amazing experience.”

From the beginning, staff at NeighborWorks helped to dispel the Santana family’s concerns by providing clear and helpful information, but never pressuring them one way or another. Working with NeighborWorks Orange County, they learned about the ins and outs of credit scores, of different loans they qualified for, even how to spot mold.

“I called them guardian angels,” Santana said. “They are engineered to look out for your best interests.”

Santana said he was impressed by the knowledge and experience that NeighborWorks staff shared with him, down to details like being sure to change garage-door codes, and paying attention to his homeowners association.

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“Home ownership can be a dangerous experience,” Santana said. “NeighborWorks pays a lot of attention to not just getting you into the house but to ensuring that you are able to stay in the house, that you know the responsibility that you’re taking on, that you understand maintenance costs. And that you understand the empowering aspects of owning a home.”

The benefits of being in their condo are many, Santana said. Son Maximo has been able to remain within the Capistrano Unified School District at a nearby Spanish dual-immersion elementary school. Amanda’s allergies and asthma have improved, Santana believes, due to the condo’s improved windows, newer air-conditioning system and his ability as owner to install more efficient filters.

“While there is a lot of responsibility, and that makes you gulp,” he said, “there’s a lot of freedom and opportunity.”

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Father and son, out for a walk, saw holiday lights going up at a community park, Santana recalled.

“It was uplifting, looking at my boy, watching as they put up lights at the community park,” Santana said. “He realized they will be part of his life, and will probably be a lasting memory long beyond when I’m gone.”

Santana said he feels “incredibly blessed” to have worked with NeighborWorks staff, and to have witnessed their passion for community, family unity and quality of life

“Every neighborhood in America should benefit from this kind of a program.”

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