Following the old real-estate maxim that, even in a bad housing market, it's always a good time to own a house, nonprofit groups, homeowners and the state are partnering for a campaign to improve homebuyer education.

A new Housing Education Coalition of Utah, underwritten by the state Division of Housing and Community Development, is expanding its network of counselors who advise potential and existing homeowners on how to shop for loans and avoid mortgage fraud and foreclosure.

The division also has added funding to the Utah Individual Development Account Network, which offers a t3-to-1 match on bank deposits for Utahns saving toward a first home, small business or higher education.

"Home ownership creates a higher sense of community; it holds neighborhoods together," said division director Gordon D. Walker, noting that the programs protect Utah homebuyers and Olene Walker Housing Loan Fund dollars from being lost to predatory lending practices and poor money management.

Home ownership has drifted out of reach for many families, as the median price for a single-family home approaches $243,000 in many Utah communities, Walker said. Families with incomes below $65,000 to $70,000 often can't qualify for mortgage loans, and others are facing big jumps in their variable rate mortgages and the compounding financial risk factors of rising prices for gasoline, food and utilities.

Rather than be daunted by the circumstances, homeowners should keep in mind that they have rights and options, Walker said.

"Lenders are willing to work with borrowers," said coalition president Kim Datwyler, "but people need to be wary of scams."

For a complete directory of home-buyer counseling agencies in Utah, visit www.hecutah.org/.


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