Submitted by the Mon Valley Initiative
Finding the perfect home is a challenge for most newly married couples.
And lining up the proper financing package can be difficult at any stage of life. But thanks to the help of the Mon Valley Initiative and the Economic Development Corporation, a former Marine officer and his bride of one-and-a-half years are proud owners of a freshly renovated, three-story home in Swissvale.
Andrew Bartle and Amiena Mahsoob began settling in after purchasing their house three days after Valentine’s Day. The young couple’s newly-renovated house on Park Avenue features a spacious front porch that opens into a small park. Large main entry doors lead into an inviting well-lit foyer, and a pocket door to the right gives admittance to a parlor that is accented by rich dark wood floors and a high ceiling.
Ascending the large staircase from the main floor to the second story finds another foyer that leads to bedrooms, a full bath, and a laundry room. The home’s master bedroom suite is a living space all to its own, equipped with electrical fixtures for television and internet service, his and her dressing areas, as well as a sitting area and its own bathroom.
In all, Bartle and Mahsoob’s home has four bedrooms and two-and-a-half baths. An enormous kitchen and dining area accented in dark wood has widows that face toward a rear patio and parking pad. Craftsmanship throughout the home gives a strong feel of the previous century, while updates—including Energy Star designation—offer all the conveniences of a modern lifestyle.
According to Mahsoob, a key reason for selecting the house wasn’t only its design and charm, but the prime rule of any real estate purchase—location.
"When we decided recently to stay in Pittsburgh, we decided to stay not only because of family and friends, but also because Pittsburgh is affordable and we can have a comfortable lifestyle here,” Mahsoob said. “Schools are good, people are friendly, and moreover, we can afford a house here."
Mahsoob added that the Pittsburgh region’s affordability enabled her to purchase a home that would be completely out of reach in other parts of the country, such as around New York City or Washington D.C. Once the couple had decided on Pittsburgh, they—like other young professional couples—opted for a one of the area’s conveniently located, community-centered neighborhoods.
As they continued their search, Bartle and Mahsoob began leaning toward the Swissvale area. Both had participated in last year’s 5K race in Regent Square, and knew a number of the neighborhood streets from a runners’ perspective. Having an appreciation for the borough’s amenities, they began centering their search in Swissvale.
"We have a few friends who live in Swissvale and love it, and when a colleague purchased a through MVI down the street, we knew the neighborhood would be a good fit for us."
With their mind set on Swissvale, the pace of house hunting accelerated to a sprint. Knowing exactly what they were looking for, the couple was able to quickly find a house that met not only all of their requirements, but also was within their price range.
"Once we started looking for houses, we had two rules: we needed to be within walking distance of public transportation and Frick Park,” said Ms. Mahsoob. “Within a day of looking, we spotted the Park Avenue house, and immediately fell in love."
The large house on Park Avenue is one of several in a neighborhood stabilization program in Swissvale that is being led through the efforts of SEDCO, MVI, Swissvale Borough, Allegheny County Economic Development, the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency and the PA Department of Community and Economic Development. Called the Kopp Glass Gateway Redevelopment, the first phase of this project includes five rehabilitated homes and one new infill. The effort is designed to spruce up the entrance from Rankin to Swissvale, and give that residential neighborhood a stronger curb appeal.
Helping ease the young couple into their first home on Park Avenue was $20,000 in ‘soft second’ mortgage funding from the Allegheny County Department of Economic Development. These types of mortgages – common in many reputable community development programs like the Kopp Glass Gateway project—do not need to be repaid provided buyers remain in their homes for a set period of time.
Along with the first mortgage loan secured through the Veterans Administration made possible by Bartle’s military service, the couple was guaranteed a low fixed interest rate as well as the subsidy that helped reduce their monthly payments.
Monitoring and providing guidance through the couple’s mortgage process was MVI’s housing counselor, Mike Mauer. Certified and funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, MVI’s Housing Counseling Program has assisted hundreds of area families into their first homes over the last eight years.
As housing counselor, Mauer reviews each client’s credit report as well as their income and ratios—much in the same way a mortgage banker does. He also educates clients about the best mortgage products that are available to them.
According to Mauer, who holds a NeighborWorks® certification in housing counseling, VA funding for Bartle and Mahsoob was the obvious choice, although some lenders they approached were initially reluctant to structure the couple’s first mortgage with the community development ‘soft second’.
“Sometimes these financing packages seem a little too exotic to mortgage lenders, especially when the VA or other direct government lender is involved,” said Mauer, who is also a military veteran. “It helps to have a second set of experienced eyes reviewing all of the options so that there is a clear understanding of what can be done to secure a home purchase and what can’t.”
"We were incredibly grateful for MVI's Housing Counseling Program, who helped us to identify mortgages that we might not have considered otherwise,” said Mahsoob. "Additionally, they helped us through each step of the mortgage process, making it considerably less stressful than if we had done it on our own."
Additionally, the young couple also has a one year home warranty, which eases the stress of any mishaps that can happen for new homeowners.
In addition to the Kopp Glass Gateway project, the MVI is presently rehabilitating and building homes throughout the Mon Valley. There is no requirement for any potential homeowner to purchase an MVI home to participate in the MVI Housing Counseling Program. For more information about MVI’s real estate development and housing counseling programs, visit www.monvalleyinitiative.com.