Buying a House in the United States for African Immigrants

A house can be just a building you inhabit that gives you sanctuary from the elements and gives relief from all the trials of life. However, a home is a sanctuary where you find solace and comfort every time you walk through the door. A home is a place where you stack you dreams, the dreams of you children and your family and a place where you can spend a peaceful retirement in future. When life seems impossible, a place where a family is built and individuals find safety and encouragement. A home is where families gather and share memorable moments that we carry through a lifetime. African Immigrant families are often torn from their families or relations and often seek a place where they can be accepted, loved and establish new families and relational ties. Given the close knit fabric of African societies, a desire to find a place where we are cherished and where we feel at ‘home’ always comes as second nature. Therefore, for many Africans in the Diaspora, the desire to own a house in their adopted counties is a dream come true because it gives them a chance to rebuild their lives and have new successful familial ties with their kin. It also offers a sense of comfort and security for the uncertain future.

Owning a home is a core component in establishing and living the American dream. It drives the ambition of African immigrants and it is an important goal that greatly influences how they organize their finances, conduct their business and their personal lives. To many immigrants in a new country, the modalities of buying a house are complex and unknown. The laws, processes and rules are often difficult and many African immigrants find it to be a daunting task and a farfetched dream when they think of buying a house and transforming it into a home for their families. Although buying property or a house in the United States is common, it comes with more red tape than renting especially to African immigrants. According to a 2010 census, only 40% of foreign born US citizens are homeowners (Simons, 2019). This is because of structural discrimination against immigrants because their financial profiles are viewed as high risk by loan services.  Moreover, the language and legal requirements make it difficult for African expatriates to deal with the huge amount of paperwork. This article will tackle the steps through which an African immigrant in the United States can follow to own a home.

Before you begin your quest to purchase your suitable home, firstly, prospective homeowners should consider their finances, the size of their family, their suitable neighborhood and the features of their future home. This process involves a lot of planning and budgeting that will guide the house hunting process in future. For some families, finding the right neighborhood with familiar surroundings, certain social amenities like schools and security is very important. Then, it is vital to assess your current assets, the kind of home you can afford and what compromises you are willing to make. Moreover, find the price estimates of different areas, crime statistics and school information of the area to help you decide on the perfect area for you and your family to live in.

Then, consider saving up for a down payment for your potential home. Mortgage loan lenders and other financiers usually require some security before lending you money. Furthermore, most real estate agents require 20% down payment for your new home. Banks on the other hand need to assess your Front-End Ratio which requires that your monthly expenses should not exceed 30% of your gross income before you qualify for a loan. Moreover, most lenders prefer to give loans to people who have a Back-End Ratio or Debt-to-Income Ratio (DTI) below 36% of your gross income for you to be able to pay off your debts. Your credit rating is also important since it determines the risk of lending you money.  Most fresh immigrants have low credit scores and therefore rarely qualify for a mortgage.  It is advisable to start building your credit as soon as you arrive in the United States. The amount you save will definitely determine the amount of mortgage you qualify for and thereby the kind of home you will buy.

All factors above considered, it is advisable to save long-term before settling to buy a home. It should be part of your long-term planning and devise it as an investment that will bear fruits if carefully planned and divested to the future. Weave your saving plan for buying a home in your career path and if you have a family, talk to your spouse and family members in order to pool resources together and set a goal for your home ownership savings plan.  In essence, planning and saving is a crucial ingredient in buying your house in the United States.

After you have attained your saving goal, you may still need more money to buy your dream house. The government and specialized financial institutions can help immigrants buy a house. There are several organizations in the United States that can aid you in securing low cost loans to buy a house. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) offers 3.5% down payment mortgages to participating lenders. On the other hand, if you choose to live in a rural or suburban town, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) offers low financing rates and 100% financing for home loans. Fixed mortgage rates are usually 15-39 years long and interest does not change despite market rate changes. Mortgage providers will usually ask for your bank statements for all your asset accounts, W-2 forms for the last two years and your last two years, tax returns. Pay stubs for employees, profit and loss accounts for employers, driving license and a copy of your social security number will also come in handy before you get approved for financing.

After securing financing, shop for a piece of property in the area you like depending on your initial assessment of your ideal home. Sites like Zillow.com offer numerous listings of homes for sale all over America to choose from. After finding your potential home, make an offer and negotiate the listed price of the home with the seller and agree on a price you can afford. Thereafter, get a home inspection to evaluate whether the house has any issues. Next, it is time to find homeowners insurance to secure your new home in case something unexpected like fire or burglary happens to your home. Insurance pays for damages to your home in case of calamities and it is a good way to secure your hard earned investment. Finally, close the deal and sign the required papers.

In conclusion, it is worth noting that African immigrants need to carefully plan your finances, career, savings, and devise a long-term strategy in order to finally own a home in the United States.  Improve your credit score and keep good financial records to qualify for financing and then shop for a suitable house in an ideal location. Every step of the way, do not be afraid to answer questions and always have a trusted advisor to assist you along the way. You can meet Veteran African immigrants on the Afrikagora platform, a resource that can aid you attain your dream of owning a house in America. Be sure to sign up for Afrikagora magazine, events, forums and newsletter to gain tips and tricks that will help you settle in the United States as an African expatriate with ease.

 

Dickson Soire

Afrikagora Magazine

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