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After a five-year hiatus, a recent "Spring Into Your First Home Affordable Housing Fair" in the twin cities of Bloomington and Normal, IL, population about 225,000, drew 500 people looking to learn how they can afford to buy a home.

Educational sessions at the recent Saturday event drew standing-room-only crowds. Real estate agents, mortgage brokers, lenders and public, private and non-profit community and housing agencies who contributed time all agreed -- too many people believe home ownership is out of reach.

For many, the opposite is true.

"They think they don't have enough for a down payment or that credit issues will get in the way," Steve Westerdahl, community development director for the Town of Normal, told a local reporter.

Spring this year is likely to usher in a host of home fairs around the nation as real estate professionals seek to get the word out. Many real estate markets throughout the nation continue to enjoy home price appreciation well beyond the rate of inflation and other investments, but it's not impossible to buy a home. Waiting, however, can make it less possible.

The National Association of Realtors said in February the median existing-home price in the Northeast was up 15.4 percent from a year ago; in the West, up 9.6 percent; in the South, up 2.8 percent and in the Midwest, up 2.3 percent.

In the fourth quarter last year, the national median was 6.6 percent higher than a year earlier and 33 metropolitan areas posted double-digit price gains, while 74 metro areas posted better price gains than the national average.

For potential home buyers, swift home price appreciation can be scary, but home fairs go a long way toward taking the fear out of home buying by presenting home buyers with alternatives and assistance, special home loan programs and financial tips.

"I think a lot of people are dissuaded, thinking houses are too expensive, but this is an opportunity for everyone to come forward and hear from experts who know how to get people into houses," said Mike Donohoe, broker owner of Silver Creek Financial in San Jose, CA, the capital of Silicon Valley and one of the nation's most expensive housing markets. The median price of single-family homes in the region is poised to break the $600,000 barrier.

Donohoe is one of about three dozen real estate professionals slated to offer home buying information from 30 seminars and 60 exhibits at the Affordable Housing Fair 2004 offered by the Santa Clara County Association of Realtors (SCCAOR) on April 3.

Information will be available on first-time home buying programs, housing assistance programs, finding a loan, steps to purchasing a home, and on other topics. Seminars will be conducted in English, Spanish, Vietnamese and Chinese to teach attendees how to go from being a renter to becoming a home owner, the basics of getting a loan, the process to purchasing a home, and how to find and utilize a variety of down payment and closing cost assistance grants and loans.

Keynote speaker at a real estate round table, Janet Houde, president of SCCAOR and an independent real estate broker, will discuss "Myths That Keep You From Buying A Home," a topic central to the reason for most home fairs.

"It's about the cost of waiting," Houde says.

Potential home buyers who moan "I don't have enough money for a down payment," "My credit is bad," "Prices will be going down," and other self-deprecating refrains, have not spent time with experienced real estate professionals who can often find them the key to home ownership.

Fairs offer an opportunity to meet and talk with a host of professionals who can change your outlook.

Fairs reveal there are low- and zero-down home loans; there are home loans for those with no-credit, spotty credit records, even bankruptcies; prices almost never fall as far as they've risen and other myth busting facts about buying a home.

The key is to get to a fair where a host of professionals are available to take the time to reveal all the options and in most cases, more people have more options than they believe.

At the very least, no one who doesn't own a home won't be any worse off by seeking home buying help and information.

"I knew the spring market was going to be hot, but not on fire and I knew with the drop in interest rates, that more people were getting into the market, so I thought the time was right to do the fair," said Julie Ziemelis, communications director for SCCAOR and fair program manager.

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