Through program, community heroes save when buying, selling or refinancing
Terry and Lisa Matlock are committed to helping others. Lisa, a nurse, visits elderly and disabled patients in their homes, helping them maintain their independence. Terry, a federal inspector, spent over a month in New York with the Federal Emergency Management Agency after Hurricane Sandy, helping residents get back on their feet.
Thanks to the goodwill of local realtors and real estate-related professionals, the Matlocks and other community servants like them are receiving a thank you for their efforts. Home for Heroes is a national program that offers discounts to firefighters, emergency workers, military service members, veterans, police officers, teachers and health care workers when they buy, sell or refinance a home. Affiliates of the program offer 25 percent off of their commission, plus discounted lending fees and closing fees. In Nebraska, 11 affiliates are connected to the program.
Homes for Heroes supported the Matlocks in February when the family moved from Wisconsin to Omaha. Terry and Lisa were eager to settle into a home with their two children. But as Terry transitioned to a new position after a job disruption, financial support was welcome. Through the work of Homes for Heroes affiliates like loan officer Pete Coen at The Private Mortgage Group, their transition to Omaha became easier.
“It was wonderful to hear we had a little help on this end to get here,” Lisa said.
Making a difference
The Homes for Heroes program started among a group of Minnesota real estate professionals who, moved by the events of Sept. 11, 2001, sought a way to show their gratitude toward firefighters and emergency personnel.
The concept they came up with was simple: Offer their services at a discount to eligible individuals, with no red tape, hidden fees or fine print. As the idea spread, the program expanded to include military service members, veterans, teachers and health care workers. The program is now in 48 states with 1,300 affiliates, said Homes for Heroes co-founder and vice president Helen Johnson.
Johnson said the organization receives about 1,400 inquiries a month, and its database of heroes served tops 50,000. Inquiries are referred to local affiliates, who often are moved to join the program because of a personal tie to a community hero. In addition to giving back, real estate professionals have an opportunity to attract more clients.
“They grow their business, and it’s a win-win for everybody,” she said.
Omaha realtors and lenders said their connection with Homes for Heroes grew from a desire to give to the community. Neither Mamie Jackson, a realtor with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Ambassador Real Estate, nor lender Pete Coen have family in the military or other eligible professions. But both thought the program was an important way to show their appreciation for these selfless individuals.
“It’s a way to say, ‘Thanks for putting your life on the line, or for being away on Christmas to take care of my relative in the hospital,’” Coen said.
For Jackson, business and giving are intertwined. “I think a lot of the agents involved in it are blessed that we do enough business that we can (give back),” she said.
The savings through the program can be significant. Realtor Michelle Gustafson with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Ambassador Real Estate estimates that on average, families save about $1,700 on a $150,000 home through the program. Through the Friends of Homes for Heroes program, families are connected to additional savings through other companies. “It’s paying it forward,” Gustafson said.
Mortgage lender Brad Flanagan’s connection to the program is more personal. An Army veteran who served in Afghanistan, Flanagan knows firsthand some of the sacrifices service members make, and works hard to let them know they are in good hands through the program. At The Private Mortgage Group, Flanagan goes out of his way to accommodate the heroes’ hectic schedules. He’ll pick up a firefighter’s documents at the fire station, or make sure to call a night shift nurse during her hours awake. For service members facing deployment while in the mortgage process, he works to ease their anxiety. “I want them to know they won’t have additional stress,” he said.
Eligible military personnel may also take advantage of VA loans that offer additional benefits, including no down payment. Combined with Homes for Heroes savings that offset closing costs, families may be able to close on a home without putting any money on the table. “I love being able to tell them that they are able to (close on) a house for really no money, and be helped by professionals that are very experienced,” Coen said.
When newlyweds Scott and Kristin Petty first read about the program in a magazine, they figured it was too good to be true. Scott, an ISO dock chief at Offutt Air Force Base, and Kristin, a financial marketer, were cautious about buying a home for the first time. Gustafson and Coen guided them through the process step by step. With their help, the couple moved into their first home in November — with significant savings. “What they were able to do for us was amazing,” Kristin said.
Given Omaha’s proximity to a military base, programs that reach out to active duty personnel, veterans and their families matter in the community. JR Richardson, director of the Military-Veteran Services Center at Bellevue University, notes that housing is an important issue for military and veteran families.
“These families are yearning for the ability to put their roots down and become part of a community after giving so much,” he said. “To be a homeowner and part of the community helps that family grow.”
The Military-Veteran Services Center offers information and resources to college students as well as to the public. Working with Homes for Heroes affiliates, the center has helped to get the word out about the program among eligible families.
Programs like Homes for Heroes also boost Omaha’s reputation as a giving community. “We always seem to step up and give more,” said Jim Ristow, president and CEO of the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce. “It’s speaks highly of the community.”
For the heroes themselves, their service to others is simply part of the job.
“We like to help people,” said Terry Matlock of himself and his wife. “It’s just in our nature. We’re not doing it for any kind of recognition. We’re just glad we’re in a position to help people.”
Homes for heroes
Homes for Heroes offers discounts to eligible workforce heroes, including:
Public safety officers
Health care workers
Others who provide services to the public
For more information,