Real estate agents help local ‘heroes’ buy homes

May 16, 2012

Anyone who has bought a house knows that securing a permanent corner of the world costs far more than the price listed on a glossy brochure.

There are appraisals, closing costs, real estate broker commissions an intimidating litany of “to-dos” with dollar signs attached.

With that in mind, Cheryl Spangler and Bernadette Cole, co-owners of Exit Gridiron Realty in Manassas Park, have teamed up with others in the housing business who have given up part of their commissions to help community “heroes” be able to afford to buy homes. Those heroes include military members, nurses, teachers, firefighters, law enforcement officers and people who make it their life’s work to give back.

They are part of a program that is affiliated with the Minnesota-based Homes for Heroes, a national model that is now in 42 states, including Virginia and Maryland. It’s the first affiliate in Prince William County.

“This is another way to help give back something that’s small compared to what they do,” Cole said of the program and the people it serves.

Ruth Johnson, president of Homes for Heroes, said in a telephone interview that the program began in 2002. The events of Sept. 11, 2001, had inspired her family to look for ways to help local heroes, including those in the military. Finding none, they started Homes for Heroes.

Johnson said companies have given back more than $1.5 million in commission since the program began expanding across the country in 2009.

The program has grown in part because of the 2008 housing crash when suddenly, almost 2 million real estate agents nationwide were vying for a diminishing number of home buyers, Johnson said.

“Everybody wants to do business with somebody who supports their community,” Johnson said. “Once they decide to join, the passion just takes over for them.”

Exit Gridiron will mainly focus on Prince William but also might include parts of western Fairfax County. Cole and Spangler hope to recruit “partner” organizations and other real estate agents who can reduce costs for heroes.

Under the program, realty companies give back 25 percent of the company’s commission, which can equal thousands of dollars and thus make owning a home possible. Discounted closing costs and other fees also make the process more affordable.

At a kickoff event recently, local firefighters and police officers in attendance were reluctant to claim “hero” status. But they were glad about the program.

Manassas Park Fire Department Capt. Joel Oberlin, 33, said the program is a great show of support “especially for the military,” whose members are too often under-appreciated, he said.

He expressed thanks for what the real estate agents were trying to accomplish and said he might use the program.

“If I could save $10,000 or $12,000, that’s a fair amount of money,” he said. Oberlin said he rents in Arlington County but might eventually want to live closer to his job.

Jason Andrzejewski of Fairway Independent Mortgage, which is participating in the program, said it offers a “win-win.”

“They should be getting paid triple,” he said of those in uniform at the event.

The key to the program, Cole said, is to spread the word to other agents, get them to sign on and tell clients about the program. “We want them to be able to own a home,” she said.

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