Searching for a Home ... and a Mortgage

ABC News’ Alice Gomstyn reports: In an era of plummeting home values and skyrocketing foreclosure rates, it’s a scary time to be a homeowner.

But Nancy Nichols still wants to be one.

Nichols, a single mother of two who rents a home in Cheyenne, Wyo., has been waiting for three years to buy a house. A math teacher at a community college, Nichols says her wait might be ending.

“With the housing market being down, I know I could get a lot more house now for my money than I could have two or three years ago,” she said.

If there’s a silver lining to today’s housing crisis, it’s for people like Nichols. Home prices saw their biggest drop in nine years recently -- the median price for a single family home in the U.S. in August was $203,100, down more than 9 percent from the year before.

The lower prices make it easier for Nichols and others to find the homes that meet their needs. For Nichols, 42, that includes staying in Cheyenne --  where her kids are in school  --  and finding more space.   

“There’s not even enough room in the bathroom for more than one person to even stand there,” she said. “Since it’s a rental unit, it’s not like I can hire somebody to put another bathroom in the basement.”

Not that would-be homebuyers like Nichols, pictured below, have it easy. Borrowers have fewer options than before

because some lenders have gone out of business since the start of the housing slump. Those who are offering loans have tightened their lending standards –- they often require higher down payments and borrowers typically must have credit scores of 720 or higher to qualify for the lowest interest rates on a home loan.

Nichols, who earns about $50,000 a year through her community college job and other teaching work, said her credit suffered after her divorce  --  it was tough to pay some bills on time.

“That’s one reason that I’ve waited this long  --  I was trying to rebuild my credit,” she said.

Her score today, she said, is at 700. She said she expects it to rise soon, but she’s still nervous.

“I’ve heard such bad stories ... people were talked into taking out loans that they really couldn’t afford,” she said. “That’s one of my big fears.”

For now, Nichols is on the hunt for a mortgage broker. She hopes to find a real estate agent soon too.   

“I was thinking I’ll probably wait till the economy calms down a little bit -- I think right now everybody’s so panicked, I’m not sure right now is a good time to do it,” she said of her real estate agent  search. “Maybe in another month or so.”

We’ll check in with Nichols in a few weeks to see how she’s doing. Stay tuned.

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