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Find out whether it's time to buy a home

Homes are bargain-priced. Mortgage interest rates are low. Thousands of houses are for sale. Realtors insist now is a great opportunity for first-time buyers.

But is it the right time for you to buy?

Several workshops and classes offered this month will help potential buyers determine whether to buy now and how to prepare for such a big financial commitment.

Many of the seminars are funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which requires counselors to complete extensive training programs and to offer unbiased advice.

Here are some September education options, most of them free, for those considering a home purchase:

ByDesign Financial Solutions, funded by HUD, will offer free first-time home buyer workshops Saturday in Stockton and Sept. 27 in Fresno.

The seminars will educate potential homeowners about saving for a down payment, the importance of credit reports, selecting a real estate agent, prequalifying and shopping for a mortgage, finding the best loan, understanding escrow and title, and avoiding delinquency.

Those who attend may qualify for various down payment assistance and first-time home buyer programs.

The Stockton workshop will be from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday at West Lane Oaks Family Resource Center, 7908 N. West Lane, Suite 201.

The Fresno workshop will begin at 8 a.m. at 4969 E. McKinley Ave., Suite 107.

Seating is limited. Preregistration is required by going to www.ByDesignSolutions.org (under "Personal Finance Education" section) or calling 800-750-2227.

Modesto Junior College offers a noncredit community education class called "Home Buying 101." It's taught by Carol Williamson, who retired after 23 years in the real estate and mortgage lending industry.

The Saturday class covers what to look for when buying a home and how to compare types of mortgages to determine which best fits a buyer's needs.

The class will be from 9 a.m. to noon Sept. 27 in Room 212 in Founders Hall. To register, contact MJC's Community Education office at 575-6063 or www.mjc.edu. The cost is $25, plus $39 for materials.

Visionary Home Builders, funded by HUD, will offer a free first-time home buyer class Sept. 27 in Stockton.

The eight-hour Saturday course will introduce the basics of budgeting, shopping for a home, obtaining a mortgage and property maintenance. It will provide an overview of the types of loans available and their qualifying criteria.

Housing industry professionals will speak and answer questions about buying a home.

The 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. class will be in Danner Hall at San Joaquin Delta College. To register, call Visionary Home Builders at 466-6811.

Project Sentinel, which is funded by HUD, offers free individualized counseling by phone to those living in Stanislaus County or thinking about buying a home in the county. To make an appointment, call 888-331-3332.

HUD's Web site offers extensive free written advice, resources and links for those interested in homeownership.

That includes "100 Questions and Answers About Buying a New Home" and "Common Questions from First-time Home Buyers." The site also offers calculators that can help determine how much families can reasonably afford to pay for housing and whether families would be better off buying or renting.

Go to www.HUD.gov/buying.

The California Housing Finance Agency Web site offers free information about state-sponsored loan programs and advice such as "Ten Tips for Home Buyers."

Go to www.CalHFA.ca.gov/homebuyer.

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