HomeStreet Inc., the Seattle-based residential lender with three Spokane-area offices, says it has seen strong growth in its employer-assisted mortgage lending program since the bank entered the Spokane market three years ago.
The Hometown Home Loan program, which is administered by the Affinity division of HomeStreet Bank, offers fee-free loans, homebuyer education, and other incentives to assist employees in buying homes, says Andy Slipper, the bank’s Spokane-based vice president and Affinity relationship manager.
The Affinity division has originated about 150 mortgages through the program locally since it expanded here in 2012.
The division office here is located at HomeStreet’s Spokane River mortgage center on the sixth floor of the Red Lion Hotels Corp. building, at 201 W. North River Drive.
The Hometown Home Loan program is unique among employer-assisted homeownership programs in that there’s no direct cost to employers, Slipper says.
“In the last three years, 35 employers have come into the fold here in the Spokane area,” he says. “Another four or five employers are in North Idaho.”
Slipper’s main responsibility with the Affinity division is to establish and maintain relationships with employers for the Hometown Home Loan program.
Two other Affinity employees based at the Spokane office originate loans. They work on salary rather than commission.
“Employers like that and recognize we’re there to provide a service,” Slipper says. “We constantly get feedback from employers who say they’ve never seen anything like this.”
As part of a participation agreement, employers agree to help distribute information about the program. Some employers include the program information in their employee-benefit literature.
“Most employers want employees to have success,” he says. “If the employee has homeownership status and good credit, that’s good for the employer.”
Some employers provide space and opportunities for educational events, such as lunch-and-learn presentations, which are put on by the Better Business Bureau of Eastern Washington, North Idaho & Montana, a Spokane-based nonprofit consumer advocacy group.
Lunch-and-learn presentations cover more than a dozen topics, several of which are related to the goal of homeownership. Other courses include identity protection, understanding credit, and home budgeting.
“It’s not always about buying a house,” Slipper says. “Sometimes it’s more basic, like improving their credit score so they can buy a car.”
Another nonprofit, American Financial Solutions, which is a division of the North Seattle Community College Foundation, also offers prepurchase housing counseling and other credit and budget counseling by phone or through online courses.
“They are well-vetted and good at what they do,” Slipper says of AFS.
Affinity also sponsors a five-hour homebuyer education class, which is accredited with the Washington State Housing Finance Commission. People who attend the class can earn a certificate that qualifies them to participate in the commission’s down-payment assistance program.
Affinity also has established relationships with some real estate agents who discount their commissions for Hometown Home Loan program participants, Slipper says.
The program isn’t just for first-time homebuyers, Slipper says, noting that half or more of the Hometown Home Loan program participants have already been homeowners.
“It’s of substantial benefit to even seasoned homeowners,” he says.
One benefit of the program is that Affinity doesn’t charge a loan origination fee, he says. Participants also receive a credit of 0.5 percent of the loan amount, for a potential savings of about 1.5 percent of the loan amount.
Additional savings also can come though down-payment assistance programs, and partnerships with certain real estate agents.
In one recent example, a couple sold a home for $190,000 and upgraded to a home in the $260,000 range.
By using Affinity and all savings offered through the program, and using the same real estate agent to represent them on the sale of their old home and finding the new home, the couple realized savings of more than $8,500 compared with a conventional loan process with no discounts, Slipper says.
Affinity also extends the Hometown Home Loan benefits to immediate family of participating employees.
“In a lot of work places, it might not be the employees that need the benefits, but the program would extend benefits to their adult children,” Slipper says.
The Hometown Home Loan program doesn’t set home price or annual income limits, although some related incentives are limited, he says.
“For someone wanting down-payment assistance, the combined household income limit is $97,000,” Slipper says.
The program has always been strong among nonprofit, community health, education, and public employers, Slipper says.
Albert Tripp, Airway Heights city manager, says the city has participated as an employer in the program for close to two years, during which time two or three employees have bought homes using program resources.
“It comes with a robust offering of services,” Tripp says of the program. “Part of the offering extends beyond the purchase of homes to include a suite of other services. Employees could get access to information and counseling, from budgeting to debt management.”
Tripp says he recommends the program to other employers.
“We routinely encourage other private and public employers interested in providing resources to employees to offer it as well,” he says. “It’s a very nice benefit.”
Tripp says the education component of the program extends beyond city employees and into the community, where HomeStreet has joined Airway Heights, Fairchild Air Force Base, and Spokane County to assist with a project that seeks affordable housing for hundreds of people who live in the base’s accident potential zone.
“We reached out to HomeStreet see what services could be provided to the community in general,” Tripp says. “They were helpful in securing grant funds to provide affordable housing classes.”
Slipper says the Hometown Home Loan program also is gaining traction among manufacturing employers.
A promotional poster for the program shows, for example, Spokane Valley-based aluminum castings manufacturer Wagstaff Inc. and Post Falls-based knife maker Buck Knives Inc. as participating employers.
Slipper also is working to expand Affinity’s Hometown Home Loan program to the Tri-Cities and Yakima, in central Washington, where some health care and education employers have committed to participate in the program.
HomeStreet also has a retail mortgage division that handles the bulk of the bank’s conventional mortgages. Slipper says the Affinity division carries its own weight, despite the discount nature of the Hometown Home Loan Program.
“For the amount of salaried staff we have, we’re doing enough business to pay for it,” he says.
Slipper says at least 15 percent of HomeStreet’s mortgages are handled by its Affinity division’s Hometown Home Loan program.
HomeStreet’s other Spokane-area conventional home-loan centers are located at 16114 E. Indiana, in Spokane Valley, and at 1900 Northwest Boulevard, in Coeur d’Alene.
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