Buying a home is a giant step for most people. We don’t always know where to start, and we are riddled with weighty questions. “Is my credit good enough?” “Do I have enough savings?” “How can I tell if I’m buying a lemon?” “Where can I afford to buy?”


Throughout Habitat Chicago's history working with homeownership hopefuls, we’ve not only heard many such hesitations, but we’ve also seen trends in lack of savings, credit health, and even document management that prevent applicants from finding success in a homeownership application. In evaluating these questions and trends, we knew that none of them are insurmountable. If hopefuls had better visibility into and preparedness for the homebuying process, we could significantly increase both their confidence to apply and their chances for success.


So began Habitat Chicago’s Homebuyer University, a public (open to anyone!) series of eight classes covering the ins and outs of homebuying with the explicit goal of giving more people in Chicago access to the benefits of homeownership. And just last month, we graduated our inaugural cohort from the program!


We worked closely with this intrepid pilot group of six to test our curriculum, monitor learning progress and further understand areas of need. By the end of the course series, the students averaged a 90% mastery of the course content and each established plans to buy within 2-5 years. We are very proud of the individuals in this group and wouldn’t bet against their determination to become homeowners for a second.


Curious about what they learned? Here’s a highlight reel of some of what’s included in the course:

>> Understanding a lender’s perspective: From credit and financial history to applicable fair lending guidelines, students understand what goes into a lending decision, what questions they always need to ask, and what actions they can take to be a better applicant.

>> Getting ready financially: After personal assessments, students use budget and financial tools to set up a savings plan. If credit is a concern, students receive referrals to specialists to set up a personal credit plan.

>> Neighborhood and home shopping: Using comparative tools, students learn how to see both the obvious and the hidden highs and lows when they are considering where and what to purchase.

>> Home protection and maintenance: From home insurance to estate planning to setting up maintenance budgets, students walk away with a clear understanding of the ongoing needs and costs they’ll face after buying.

>> Action Plans: Who doesn’t love a good action plan? All students develop a personal action plan with a target homebuying timeline that includes savings and credit goals to help them progress towards homeownership after finishing the course. This may be with Habitat Chicago, another nonprofit lender or a conventional lender, depending on the best fit for each student.


A not-to-be-overlooked component of the course is our partnership with volunteer instructors who are experts in their fields. The first-hand knowledge and enthusiasm that these instructors bring adds depth to student learning that simply can’t be mimicked. We are grateful to these volunteers for their time and dedication to the success of the students. Of course, we also hope that they get something out of it in return – and we may have evidence of that in one volunteer’s feedback:

“It was exhilarating to share and honestly discuss real life stories and how lives are impacted. I could see the students thinking and applying what they were learning into their present lives for their future lives.” – Millie Reyes-Williams, BMO Harris Bank, Homebuyer University volunteer instructor


As we wish our departing students luck, and anxiously await to see their successes in their homeownership pursuits, we are also excited to look to the future. Taking our key learnings from this pilot, we plan to run two Homebuyer University course series with larger class sizes in the spring and the fall of 2020. If you or someone you know may be interested in Homebuyer University, take these two steps to get started:

>> Read more about Homebuyer University

>> Sign up on our interest list. We will notify you when we have opened enrollment for the 2020 cohorts.



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