When Amanda Nadel looks back over the past year, she can't believe how far she's come. Crunched for time as a working single mom and part-time college student, she knew he was moving forward, but her progress was slow and, at times, uncertain. She was paying rent, tuition and child care and felt as if she was treading water financially.
Then she heard about the help offered to aspiring homeowners by Origin SC, a NeighborWorks America network member in Charleston, South Carolina.
"The idea of homeownership seemed daunting for me in the beginning," Nadel says. "I truly thought homeownership would be many years down the road for me, if ever."
In many ways, Nadel is no different than most of her fellow millennials. Research commissioned by NeighborWorks America
found that only 20 percent of millennials are aware of where to get information about home buying, but more than 70 percent of them list being a homeowner as an important element of their American dream.
The leadership team at Origin knew these facts and developed a web-based and mobile outreach strategy to reach potential homebuyers such as Nadel.
"We've completely revamped how we reach potential customers like Amanda," says Debbie Kidd, Origin's director of homeownership programs. "We're using technology in ways that reach millennials on the media and technology they use, such as Facebook and mobile devices. No matter how we bring a homeownership customer in the door, once they're in we give them the time and attention they deserve to make their homeownership dream possible."
Nadel quickly realized the benefits of the program.
"Having all of the services available in-house was incredibly helpful for me," Nadel says. "I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. I worked with Debbie and she helped me understand every step of the process. I have watched friends go through the process on their own and it seems to be way more stressful that way. I appreciated being able to rely on Origin to not only help me through the process, but also to explain everything to me as it happened. Debbie conducted a class that I think every potential homeowner should attend. At this point in my life, I wouldn't have been able to handle the stress of buying my first home if I didn't go through Origin SC."
Mortgage rates have hovered near historically low levels for several years. And while home prices nationally have been climbing steadily, in South Carolina and many other parts of the country, there are ownership opportunities that cost less than paying rent.
That's what happened with Nadel, dramatically improving her financial stability. As a renter, she says, she was barely keeping ahead of her bills. That's changed now.
"My mortgage is cheaper than my rent was and (the home is) mine," she sums up. "It's money back into my pocket. It's the best decision I've ever made when it comes to spending my money."
Part of the affordable homeownership equation for Nadel and other customers of Origin SC is the nonprofit's access to very low or even zero down payment-assistance programs, something that's not known by a majority of millennials or consumers in general. In fact, fewer than 40 percent of millennials are aware of such programs, according to the NeighborWorks America survey cited earlier. Down payment assistance of even a few thousand dollars can determine whether homeownership can be achieved. Nadel was able to take advantage of $18,000 in down payment assistance through Origin and the state housing finance agency.
"Becoming a homeowner has changed the course of my life, and my little girl's," she says.