If you’re looking to buy a house in Kansas City, the folks at City Hall are ready to deal.
They’re slashing prices and offering unheard-of-before incentives to move nearly four dozen new or newly rehabbed houses scattered across town.
Can’t get financing from a regular lender? The city is willing to make other arrangements.
No down payment? The city will front you the down payment — a whopping 30 percent that you never have to pay back, assuming you occupy your cozy cottage for the next 10 years.
On Thursday, the City Council approved what amounts to a fire sale of up to 45 houses that were built or renovated with millions of federal dollars, but for one reason or another have been hard to sell.
And if what they’ve dubbed the Housing Occupancy Initiative doesn’t produce sales contracts on every house by September, the city will rent out the others.
It’s that, or return some of the millions of federal housing dollars Kansas City has received in recent years under the federal stimulus and three other housing programs. In each case, City Hall had nonprofit community development corporations do the work.
“The last thing we want to see are vacant houses that a lot of tax money has been used to renovate,” Councilman Ed Ford said as the program was unveiled at last week’s Planning, Zoning and Economic Development Committee meeting.
Also fueling the city’s urgency is an impending flood of other properties rushing into the pipeline from three sources:
• The same community development corporations that have had difficulty selling those 45 houses continue building and rehabbing houses in an effort to provide affordable housing and stem blight.
• Then there are 75 foreclosed homes that Bank of America has promised to donate for resale or demolition.
• Thousands of derelict houses and vacant lots now titled to Jackson County Land Trust will come under city ownership when a newly authorized land bank starts up.
Which is why aggressive marketing of the 45 unsold properties is imperative, said Stuart Bullington, assistant director of the city housing and human services division.
“We are kind of in a continuing cycle to deal with an increasing number of foreclosure homes across the city,” he said.Luring buyers
Four new but never occupied homes will be donated to domestic violence shelters. To spark interest from buyers for the rest of the inventory, the council shifted nearly half a million dollars from a rental assistance program into the KC Dream Home Buyer Assistance program.
Normally, KC Dream provides 20 percent forgivable loans up front to qualifying first-time homebuyers, which they can use as a down payment. However, for houses in this summer’s fire sale, that’s being upped to 30 percent. And the limitation to first-time buyers is being waived.
Also, the city is open to financing home purchases to buyers who, for some reason, can’t get a mortgage from an outside lender.
“That’s an excellent option,” said real estate agent Helen Bryant, who’s struggled to find buyers for some of the homes.
The upper income limit to qualify for most of the new homes on the list of 45 is $58,650 for a family of four, or 80 percent of the median family income in Jackson County. The income limit for the renovated houses is 120 percent of the median, or $87,950 for a family of four.
Yet even some buyers who do qualify have bad credit scores and can’t get bank financing. Or they’d find it hard making the house payments on some of the higher-priced properties.
Both were factors in trying to sell five houses that Blue Hills Community Services built in the 4900 block of Olive Street and initially priced at $156,000. People who could afford the mortgage didn’t meet the income limits. And those who did qualify couldn’t afford the house payments, even after the 20 percent down-payment giveback was figured in.
“They were priced out,” said Joanne Bussinger, Blue Hills Community Services executive director, but she also blamed the economy. The Olive Street houses came on the market right as the housing slump began in 2008.
Since then, one house sold in 2010 for $112,000, according to property records, and the current asking price is $99,900 for the rest.
She thinks increasing the KC Dream program to a 30 percent down payment will put the houses within reach of more buyers.Stimulus rehabs
About half of the houses the city is trying to sell this summer were rehabbed through a federal economic stimulus effort known as the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP). Kansas City was awarded more than $8 million in the program’s first phase. That was far too little to have much of an impact in a city where there are an estimated 13,000 vacant houses.
The money went for building 10 new homes and rehabilitating 55 others, mostly bank foreclosures, according to Daniel Schmelzinger, manager of the city’s housing development and management division.
And many of the rehabs were hard sells because lenders were only interested in parting with foreclosure properties in the least desirable neighborhoods.
“We didn’t get a chance to buy the best properties,” said Bill Jones at Swope Community Builders, one of the community development corporations that fixed up the houses under contract with the city.
Swope has 13 NSP properties in the fire sale. Jones said they are in neighborhoods that were first to be affected by the foreclosure crisis and will probably be the last to recover. Some surely will become rentals, he said.
But priced between $49,900 and $69,950, “there are buyers out there who want to buy these homes,” he said.
Since the list of 45 was compiled a few weeks ago, sale contracts have been written on one of the Olive Street houses, two of the four that were on the books of the Land Clearance Redevelopment Authority, as well as one or two on Swope’s list.
Price is one thing, but in all real estate deals, everything comes down to three things: location, location, location.
One of the harder sells has been the 11/2-story house at 2909 Holly St. that the Westside Housing Organization built a year ago.
Maybe because the sales pitch touting the “great view” of downtown neglects to mention the house sits within a few hundred feet of the interstate, or that every other house on the block is worth far less than the $129,000 asking price.
“What I’m finding on that particular house,” real estate agent Jane Fournier said, “is that people object to the highway noise, or for some reason they don’t like the neighborhood.”
It’s not a bad area, residents say, despite the roar of traffic on I-35. People know their neighbors and they get along.
“It’s funky and it’s safe,” homeowner Kim Papineau said.
The woman next door agreed and knows people who might be interested in buying. Three bedrooms. Two baths. If only the price were a little lower.
“It’s a shame because I’ve heard it’s really nice inside,” Isela Vega said.