HUGS opens to first-time buyers

First-time homebuyers who can no longer take advantage of the federal Nehemiah down-payment assistance program now have an alternative: HUGS.

HUGS (Help Us Give to Our Schools) began Jan. 1 as a down-payment assistance program for Clark County School District employees. It became available to all first-time homebuyers in Nevada in September.

HUGS provides between $2,000 and $12,000 toward a new homebuyers’ down payment or closing costs.

To be eligible, a homeowner must use a HUGS foundation mortgage agent or Realtor. His or her combined income cannot exceed $82,500 for families or $41,000 for singles, and liquid assets cannot exceed $15,000. The buyer must invest a minimum of 1 percent of his or her own funds and occupy the home for at least three years.

HUGS Executive Director Pamela Thilavanh said the program differs from the Nehemiah program because prospective homebuyers must provide at least 1 percent of the down payment and are required to attend one of HUGS’ homeowner’s seminars.

“It provides for a more stable platform for home ownership than Nehemiah did,” Thilavanh said. “We’re not seller-funded. We require 1 percent of their own funds. If you don’t have skin in the game you will default.”

Nehemiah, the country’s largest “seller assistance” program, gifted mortgage down payments to buyers from sellers. The program was eliminated as part of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 that was signed into law by President Bush on July 30.

The bill contains a provision that forbids the Federal Housing Administration from insuring mortgages in which the borrower’s down payment comes from the seller. The provision went into effect Oct. 1.

HUGS opened up its program to first-time homebuyers Sept. 22. For information, visit

The program is funded by donations, and sponsor, partnership and membership fees. Realtors, for example, pay $495 a year to belong. Business partners currently include Amstar, Countrywide Bank and American West Homes.

Bonnie Hernandez, director of marketing for American West Homes, said her company recently joined the organization because some of their home communities are now affordable enough to fit into the first-time homebuyer’s inventory.

“The benefit of HUGS is that at least it has them put down 1 percent,” said Hernandez. “That’s what the government found was wrong with Nehemiah. They didn’t have a stake in the home.”

Thilavanh said HUGS did more than 100 transactions for school district employees, and is now processing between 80 to 90 per month since opening the program up to first-time homebuyers.

“I never though it would be as big as it is.”

Thilavanh started the program to help bring qualified teachers to the area, but once the seller-assisted financing was eliminated, she decided to expand it to all first-time buyers.

She said the program’s restrictions ensure that only those who could not otherwise provide the down payment or closing costs on a home qualify. “Our program is for the people who really need it,” she said

HUGS also donates supplies to schools and gives Clark County teachers who qualify for the program an additional appliance allowance of between $1,500 and $3,000.

Wayne Wasano, president of Residential Mortgage Services, one of HUGS preferred mortgage companies, attends all of the homebuyer seminars and answers prospective applicants’ questions.

“We support them with donations and also our time,” he said.

Wasano encourages realtors and lenders to participate in the HUGS program.

“They are missing free money if they don’t.”

The next HUGS homeowners seminar is scheduled for Nov. 22 at a location still to be announced. It is open to the public and refreshments will be served. Businesses can sponsor a table at the event for $500.

For more information call 677-2100 or visit

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