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Banking Exec Joel Gardner on What Buyers Should Know About the Housing Market

Joel Gardner, senior vice president and Birmingham Mortgage Production Manager for SouthState Bank. (PROVIDED)
By Keisa Sharpe-Jefferson
The Birmingham Times

While higher interest rates may have kept some homeowners from making one of the largest purchases in their lifetime, Joel Gardner, senior vice president and Birmingham Mortgage Production Manager for SouthState Bank, said a turnaround in the housing market may be happening sooner than what we think.

In order to entice homebuyers to make a purchase, the federal government can drop interest rates which would ideally give buyers more home for less.

But, make no mistake, those in the housing market say people are buying homes regardless of the economy.

“Even though the market has shifted, people who are purchasing now, are people who have to purchase – those who are first time homebuyers, those starting a family, those who unfortunately are divorcing or even relocating,” said Gardner.

However those whose home “purchase is a want, are normally on hold,” he said.

But Gardner encourages all to look at the whole picture and avoid housing “predictions” and evaluate your personal finances.

“This is a great time to purchase,” he said. “If someone has a 600 credit score, they could potentially get a loan where they don’t have a down payment or PMI (Private Mortgage Insurance which may be required if a buyer takes out a conventional loan with a down payment of less than 20-percent of the purchase price.

Higher rates can actually help some homeowners, he said.

“When interest rates go down, a lot more buyers will enter the market on top of the people who need to purchase,” he said. “In this market, yes they have a higher interest rate, but, with less buyers there is room for potential negotiation of sales prices and incentives with the seller.”

Hometown Helper

Gardner, 34, who has been in the banking industry for 12 years, said his knack for understanding business was cultivated at a young age.

He used to sell candy in school” and said he always wanted to be in business and work with numbers and help people.

The Birmingham native has been married for 7 years and graduated from Minor High School. He attended Hampton University Business Administration School (with an accounting concentration) in Hampton, Virginia.

Growing up, Gardner said he couldn’t get a job at a fast food restaurant so me and my friends started a business and used to cut grass. “We would push the lawnmower down the street and get business and would cut grass and trim bushes (for money back) in high school.”

After graduating college, Gardner spent a year in accounting and then moved into banking, on the mortgage side. And he hasn’t looked back.

A Homebuyers Guide to Purchase

When it comes to purchasing a home, Gardner said he walks buyers through a simplified process. “We look at their budget and their goals, and we look at how we are able to accomplish that up front.”

Here are some tips he gives when purchasing a home.

First, fill out an application to know where you stand. “We review credit, your debt-to-income ratio and we measure where buyers are now versus where they need to be,” said Gardner, who suggests homeowners gather their own documents — paystubs, W-2 statements, bank statements and tax returns – to help in the process.

“We can help move you to the next step by gathering your documents up front. What a lot of people don’t realize is that if you get those items up front, we can get you to the underwriter right off,” he said.

Bankers look at a two-year employment history for some loan programs, and there may not be a minimum time at a job. But, for commission or bonus income to be counted, typically two years’ history must be shown, he said.

And while he gives tips to help ensure approval for a home loan, they could be some hindrances.

“The biggest thing I see is with assets,” said Gardner. “If you’re wanting to purchase a home and you have cash at home or in a safe, you need to put that in a bank ASAP.

Also, if you have multiple accounts, you don’t have to transfer everything into one account.”

And homeowners need priorities, he said. If you plan on purchasing your home within the next year, buy the house before you buy a car. It’s a lot easier than trying to do it in reverse – literally,” he said.

Plus, “pay your bills on time – regardless of how large or small – because if you’re late on your credit report, it hurts your score. But being cognizant about credit is really important.”

When it comes to purchasing a home, every real estate professional knows location is a key factor in the sell or purchase of a home. To get the best mortgage loan product, Gardner said location is also important.

“When you are looking to purchase and finance, it is always best to use a local lender because local lenders have many loan products,” he said. “Because of the Community Reinvestment Act, if a bank is in your area, they have to lend to all people in that community, so they may have a special product to help them do that.”

The Community Reinvestment Act requires the Federal Reserve and other banks to encourage financial institutions to help meet the credit needs of the communities in which they do business, including low-income areas.

Local lenders will give you much stronger products than a national lender who’s not in your area and national banks won’t have specialized products that help that local community, he said.