New Habitat house with blue siding and a red door.

Steps to homeownership

Every day, families partner with Habitat for Humanity to build homes and, as a result, better lives. Over the course of their journey, each family invests hard work and dedication on an intensive path to homeownership. From attending homeowner courses to completing sweat equity hours, each step empowers future homeowners and helps create the access and foster the skills they need to succeed. 

Come along!

Step 1: Inquire

Local Habitat affiliates often host information sessions where potential homeowners can learn about their homeownership program. This gives potential future homeowners time to ask questions and make connections. In light of COVID-19, many affiliates made their homebuying process digital. In California, for example, Habitat San Diego is hosting initial orientations over video conferences that are offered in both English and Spanish. The digital format makes it easier and safer for families to get the information they need to determine if partnering with Habitat is right for them.

Parents with three kids, including one child in a wheelchair, in front of their home.

Maximino, Evergreen Habitat homeowner 

“After seeing how cramped we were in our rental apartment, my daughter’s occupational therapist told us about Evergreen Habitat for Humanity. She said they had an orientation that coming weekend and encouraged us to check it out. At the orientation, I heard everything from how to apply to how the process works. They explained everything to us and answered all our questions. I decided to apply after that. A month or two later, I received a letter saying that my family was accepted into the homeownership program. After receiving that letter, everything changed for us.”  

Step 2: Apply

If Habitat’s homeownership program is the right fit for a family, they can apply locally during an open enrollment period. Local Habitat staff consider a family’s eligibility. They review each application carefully while focusing on the following main criteria:

  • Need for housing: Prospective Habitat homeowners must demonstrate a need for safe, affordable housing.
  • Willingness to partner: Once selected, Habitat homeowners must partner with Habitat through the process, including performing sweat equity.
  • Ability to pay: Homeowners must also be able and willing to pay an affordable mortgage. Habitat mortgage payments are cycled back into the community to help build additional Habitat houses.
Portrait photo of Janet smiling.

Janet, Habitat New York City homeowner 

“I tried to back out three times. I was nervous because I had never done anything like this before,” admits Janet, a lifelong New Yorker about applying to become a Habitat New York City homeowner. “But it was simple enough. I sent in the paperwork. I filed it. I went in for the meetings. Everything gets laid out when you’re applying. All the rules are there. There’s nothing you’re getting into that you’re not aware of.” Janet’s nervousness transformed into confidence as she moved through the process and, eventually, into her Habitat home. Now, Janet doesn’t hesitate when reflecting on her partnership with Habitat — or when encouraging others to take the same leap. “Do it,” she says. “It was the best decision for me.”  

Step 3: Interview

The next step is an in-person interview. Habitat staff and/or volunteers make a home visit to hear more about a potential future homeowner’s desire to partner with Habitat, to get to know the family, and to learn about their current housing status and future housing needs.

Two women holding drills and smiling on a build site.

Jessica, Habitat Collier County homeowner 

“From the second that I walked into the Habitat Collier County office, I knew that not only did I want to help my family find a home, but that I would love to help Habitat in whatever way I could,” says Jessica, a widowed mother of three from Naples, Florida. After building her own Habitat home, Jessica returned to Habitat Collier County as an AmeriCorps member within the affiliate’s family services department. “I wanted to give back to the organization that had given me so much,” she explains. Her firsthand knowledge allowed her to improve the homebuying experience during her interviews with hundreds of applicants and strengthen the affiliate’s relationships with current homeowners through surveys after they moved in. “Homeownership and our connection to Habitat and our community has allowed my family to thrive,” says Jessica. “That’s why carrying on this work is so important — and why I love it so much.” 

Step 4: Approve

After careful review of each family’s full application packet, Habitat staff and/or volunteers present their recommendations to the local board of directors. At most Habitat affiliates, the board makes the final determination.

Claudia with her two young sons standing on their porch.

Claudia, Habitat Omaha homeowner 

Purchasing a house was always a dream goal for Claudia. Determined to achieve it, she searched online and came across Habitat Omaha’s homeownership program. After meeting program requirements, her application was approved. Her family’s new house is a place where her children can comfortably complete schoolwork and spend quality time together. “I want to invest in something that is for my family and me,” Claudia said. “Having our own place means more liberty. I’m happy there’s an organization that helps families throughout this journey.” 

Step 5: Participate

Once selected, a family is officially on their way to becoming a homeowner. Early on in the process, Habitat provides a mix of hands-on and classroom learning through homebuyer education classes. From budgeting to small home repairs, landscaping to retirement planning, each course is aimed to help homeowners achieve success in their new homes, all while developing connections with their fellow future Habitat homeowners.

Each family who partners with Habitat completes a certain number of hours of sweat equity — typically between 200 and 400 — before move-in day. Often, any adult member of the immediate or extended family can contribute to this total; sometimes volunteers, co-workers and friends also help out. Hours can be accrued in a variety of ways, including working on a Habitat build site (their own or someone else’s), helping out in the Habitat ReStore, and assisting with administrative tasks in the Habitat office. Many Habitat affiliates also offer creative solutions so that children can be a part of the process by accruing sweat equity hours. For example, Chipola Area Habitat in Florida awards one hour of sweat equity for every “A” that a child earns in school.

Man in green shirt and hard hat smiling while working on build site.

Benito, Habitat St. Joseph County homeowner  

“All of the Habitat homeowners have been taking classes together for months, learning about home maintenance, budgeting, credit, etc., side by side. It’s been an amazing learning experience, but an ever better bonding experience. We know each other; we know each other’s children. We talked in those classes about struggles we each came from. We’ve been able to connect, make friendships and gain a sense of security knowing our neighbors before we move in.”  

Step 6: Close

Next, homeowners complete the paperwork for a mortgage. Habitat offers homebuyers an affordable mortgage with monthly payments taking into account household income. Mortgage payments made by Habitat homeowners help build more affordable homes.

Man in hard hat smiling on build site.

Bizimana, Habitat Greater Nashville homeowner 

“My wife and I live in a one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment with our children. There are five of us total. It’s all we can afford because Nashville is expensive. It’s too hard to save for the future. But with our Habitat home, I’ll be paying into a mortgage instead of the high cost of rent. The mortgage on our own home will be less than our rent now. With the extra savings, life will be easier. We can own our home faster. I can spend more time with my family. It will be a relief.”  

Step 7: Move in

Once all of the forms are signed and all of the construction is complete, it’s time to celebrate! Friends and family, as well as the Habitat staff and volunteers who worked alongside the family on this journey, come together to dedicate the home. It’s the first of many joyous occasions to be celebrated in the new home.

Now, with the stability of a home they helped build, families have the foundation they need to climb higher. They can invest more in their family’s health and education. Others continue to find ways to give back to the community that welcomed them home. Many Habitat homeowners go on to pursue secondary degrees and career goals. But no matter where their journey takes them, they’ll achieve their dreams through the opportunities that homeownership helps create.

Amy with her three sons posing and smiling by their front door.

Amy, Greater Fox Cities Area Habitat homeowner 

“I don’t know that it was real to my kids until it was done and we were ready for the dedication. And that moment of pride — I still well up with tears because of that moment of pride and satisfaction and the excitement on their faces.” 

What is sweat equity?

At Habitat, sweat equity is a new homeowner investing in their home or one for another family. It’s not a form of payment, but an opportunity to work alongside volunteers to bring to life a family’s dream of owning a home.

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