2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This isn’t surprising, considering Maine’s rental market is among the least affordable in the nation, according to a 2018 study from the National Low-Income Housing Coalition. Mainers understand that homeownership is not only an important step to achieving financial security, but is an opportunity to lay local roots that can last for generations.
The “buy local” movement has made shopping close to home second nature on things like groceries, but we don’t often think about “buying local” when it comes to the home buying process. And that, experts say, is one of the most important “buy local” decisions a person can make.
“We are one of the few credit unions in Maine to service our mortgages in-house, including Rural Housing loans, meaning your loan stays local,” said April Gleason, vice president of lending for University Credit Union. “I’ve heard stories from first-time buyers who didn’t think about what could happen to their loan after they closed, or why it mattered. Then, the servicing is sold and buyers must make payments to different lenders or servicers, which can be confusing and frustrating when payment and escrow questions occur. We strongly encourage prospective buyers to take a first-time homebuyer education course to get familiar with the entire mortgage process. Being a successful homeowner starts with education.
Gleason says, it’s not just buying a house that matters – it’s how you buy it. As member-owned financial institutions, credit unions operate on a different model than traditional banks, one focused on delivering better value and service for members, not investors. While membership sounds like a barrier, “there’s a credit union for everyone,” adds Gleason.
This is especially true at University Credit Union (or UCU for short), where anyone with an affiliation to the University of Maine System can join. This is just one reason UCU is one of the largest credit unions in Maine, with 28,000 members, 175 shared branching locations and eight UCU branches around the state, including Forest Avenue in Portland and on the USM campus in nearby Gorham. Founded in 1967 on the University of Maine campus in Orono, UCU is Maine’s only full-service financial institution created to serve University of Maine System students, alumni, employees and their families.
“One of the things that makes UCU unique is how multi-generational our membership is,” explains Gleason. “We just celebrated our 50th anniversary, and we have members in retirement who have been with us since college, and whose children and grandchildren are UCU members. Our products and services reflect this broad range of financial needs, from the first savings account to the first retirement account, from the first car to the first home, which often surprises folks who think credit unions are too small to help. In fact, we can usually do just as much, and in some cases more, for you than larger banks, especially on mortgages.”
Being a financial institution rooted in Maine’s public university system, UCU believes educating members is just as important as serving them and regularly partners with Maine hoMEworks, a nonprofit dedicated to educating Mainers about the home-buying process, to offer low-to-no-cost education courses around the state.
Gleason, who serves on the board of Maine hoMEworks and is a frequent presenter, believes these courses are one of the best ways to clear up the mystery around homebuying and avoid costly mistakes in terms of time and money, both of which are essential to navigate Maine’s hot real estate market.
For at least one local resident, the homebuying experience with UCU was very positive.
“I can’t stress enough how important attending the First-Time Home Buyers class was in preparing me for this endeavor,” says Vinnie, a UCU member from Casco who recently closed on his first home (pictured above). “All the information provided, from types of loans, home inspections, insurance and much more helped lay the groundwork for me to purchase this new home. On top of the information learned, the $3,500 from the Maine State Housing Program was an amazing addition to an already awesome learning experience.”
To learn more about membership eligibility and how UCU can help you meet your financial goals, visit ucu.maine.edu or call 800-696-8628. Federally Insured by NCUA. Equal Housing Lender. NMLS 407658.