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If you're buying or selling a home, check out a program called Homes for Heroes, which offers discounts on real estate agent commissions, home inspections, and lender and closing fees.
The program, which started in Minnesota after Sept. 11, 2001, is available to military personnel, firefighters, public safety officers, teachers and health care workers.
Some 600 companies — agents and lenders — are affiliated with the program across 44 states, said Sandy Carlson, a director of affiliates for Homes for Heroes.
More than 4,000 people logged on last year to request a referral to a local affiliate.
All agents in the program offer at least a 25 percent discount on their gross commissions. For example, if the real estate agent makes a 3 percent commission for selling a $200,000 house, that's $6,000. The discount would be $1,500, applied as a credit at closing.
Beyond that, agents put together their own local programs with home inspection companies and title companies to offer savings that go beyond real estate agent and lender, Carlson said.
"We don't saturate a market, and we're very careful about the people we bring on board," Carlson said. Many of the affiliates are veterans or have worked in the other fields eligible for the program.
Army Sgt. Chad Yancey is buying a house in Stafford, Va., through Homes for Heroes affiliate Reality Realty Professionals, owned by former Marine Gunnery Sgt. Samuel Cachola.
"If it weren't for Sam Cachola, I probably wouldn't be able to buy a house," said Yancey, who is being medically retired by the Army. "We were living in on-post housing and had just over two months to do this."
It's more than the discounts, Yancey said. "His whole team went to work for me, explained how the process worked and helped me get my credit organized and fixed."
Cachola said his first goal is to educate the service member on issues related to buying a house.
"We sit down with them and make sure it makes sense to buy a house," Cachola said.
He's seen the effect on service members who bought houses, received orders to move and faced big financial losses because of the downturn in the market.
Cachola gives an additional 5 percent discount on his commission — for a total of 30 percent — to troops who have received an award for heroism.
Everyone should use due diligence in choosing their agents and lenders, and this is another tool that can help point you to companies that want to work with, and give back to, service members.
To contact an affiliate, go to www.homesforheroes.com, click on "Sign up for Hero Savings," answer the questions and an affiliate will contact you within 24 hours. If you don't hear from someone within that time, call 866-443-7637.
CitiMortgage and PCS relief
If your first mortgage is owned by CitiMortgage and you must relocate on permanent change-of-station or other military orders, you may be eligible for a six-month reduction in mortgage payments.
You don't have to provide proof of financial hardship to use the program, said Rob Cushman, senior director of customer management for CitiMortgage. Loans can be current or delinquent.
Monthly payments on escrowed loans will be reduced to the escrow payment only. (Escrowed loans use part of the payment collected each month for such things as property taxes and insurance.) For nonescrowed loans, payments will be reduced to $250.
Cushman said those six months of principal and interest payments are deferred to the back end of the loan. During the six-month period, CitiMortgage's military homeowner assistance team will work with borrowers on an ongoing basis on solutions, such as whether a loan modification makes the best sense, Cushman said.
If the borrower no longer wants to own the home, Citi will work on solutions, such as a short sale.
To enroll in the Citi Military PCS Transfer Assistance Program, call 866-915-9417 and hit option 4.
VA, FHA, Rural Development and private investor loans are not eligible for the program.
"For someone who receives these orders, this is our way of making it easier," Cushman said.
Citi also offers another program that allows disabled veterans to reduce their interest rate by 2.5 percentage points for two years.
For example, a mortgage interest rate of 5 percent would be reduced to 2.5 percent. Again, veterans don't have to be delinquent to qualify for the reduction.