Home Ownership Is Key

Real Estate Is Part of Our Heritage

If you own your house, let’s make sure you keep it.  Becoming a homeowner is more than just owning a home, it is laying a foundation for building generational wealth and family & financial security.  You can touch it, see it, build on it, enhance it and manage it as a business.  It is an investment that will increase in value, thus building wealth for the owner and generations to come.  In fact, renters can potentially provide you with immediate return on your ownership, help you cover expenses, etc.

There are ways to manage so that you can continue to own and maintain it.  But first things first:

Check The Title of the Property:

  • Make sure that YOUR name is on the title and that the Philadelphia Office of Property Assessment has the correct address for contacting you.  (check phila.gov).  All correspondence, tax bills, sheriff notices, go to the address on file.  Too often, people have lost their properties purely for lack of notification because the wrong address was being used for official mailings.
  • The Register of Wills, working with PhillyVIP, has a Tangled Title Fund to assist low income with getting tangled titles cleared
  • For additional legal help with a homeownership issue, please contact Philadelphia Legal Assistance at (215) 981-3800 or Community Legal Services at (215) 227-2400.

If You Inherited A House – Do Your Due Diligence:

  • Handle the probate process.  The property is not automatically yours unless you do all the proper steps to put the property in the name of who legally inherited it. Check the will or the probate process will determine the actual legal heirs.  Change the title to someone.  Don’t leave it in the deceased persons’ name.  Legal actions: loans, renegotiating debt, some repairs, etc, can’t be done for the property, if it is not in your name.  A tangled title must be addressed immediately.  Contact the Register of Wills office (even if there was no Will).
  • Any existing mortgages, taxes, water bills, liens go with the property.  So, decide how to pay these.  If there is no insurance to cover these, you have these debts to manage so that you do not lose the property.
  • A Reverse Mortgage is a lien that goes with the property.  It becomes due in full at the time of death.  Thus, you must pay it back or lose the property.  Find out if your senior family member has a reverse mortgage before they pass away.

Home Ownership Is Hard – Handling Mortgages and Preventing Foreclosure

How to Pay Your Mortgage

  • I know this is obvious but try not to purchase “too” much home for your money.  Your mortgage payment should be the first thing you pay, but it shouldn’t be so big that your other bills are too hard to manage.  But circumstances are not always in our control, so, if so, these are options that you may have already considered, but they can help you manage this important payment
    • Refinance when the rates get lower, after checking to ensure it is worth doing it
    • If zoning allows, bring in someone to help pay (i.e, a tenant)
    • Earn extra income – either from another job, gigs or start a business
    • Reduce your other expenses, barter or find discounts, where possible
    • During temporary hardships, seek assistance from local nonprofits, consider crowd-funding, or sell items that you can easily part with

How To Avoid Foreclosure:

  • Pay your mortgages, equity loans or any debts that have your property as collateral.  If not paid, these could lead to foreclosure or impact applications for refinancing or other credit.  Do not ignore letters from your lenders.  Always check with them to see if there are options like deferred payments, modified mortgages, etc.
    • The City has help for people facing foreclosure
      • Contact the Save Your Home Philly Hotline – 215-334-4663
      • http://www.phila.gov/departments/department-of-revenue
      • There is a Foreclosure Prevention Grant Program – contact a housing counselor
      • If you are having a hardship, taxing authorities, utilities and lenders/creditors have programs that you may quality for to better manage your payments.
  • Housing counselors funded by the Office of Housing and Community Development are located at senior centers and other organizations across the city. These counselors can aid on foreclosures as well as other housing inquiries.
  • The Making Home Affordable Program –  www,makinghomeaffordable.gov/pages/default.aspx or call 888-995-HOPE
  • PHFA Foreclosure Prevention Information – a list of resources at http://www.phfa.org/homeowers/foreclosure.aspx
  • Fannie Mae Foreclosure Assistance Resources – www.knowyouroptions.com
  • Urban Affairs Coalition Resources – htttp://ced-philly.org/foreclosure-prevention
  • Community Legal Services (clsphila.org) can assist or advise you with numerous housing issues.
  • Philadelphia Legal Assistance – http://www.philalegal.org

Expenses are Hard to Manage – How To Pay Your Taxes and Water Bills

Taxes and Water Bills. If not paid, it could lead to City liens and sheriff sales.

  • If real estate taxes are not paid as part of a mortgage payment, you must pay them yourselves each year.  The City of Philadelphia has several programs that can reduce your taxes or provide assistance:
    • Tax abatements – ANYONE doing upgrades requiring a permit is eligible for this
    • Homestead exemption
    • Active duty tax credit
    • Tax deferral program
    • Tax installment payment plan
    • Low-income senior tax freeze
    • Owner-occupied payment agreement
    • Nonprofit tax exemption
    • Tax adjustment after catastrophic loss
  • Water is a city service.  As such, if the water bill is not paid it could lead to City liens and sheriff sales.  The Water Revenue Bureau has a few programs to assist you:
    • A one-time grant for up to $5000 for unpaid water bills.
    • Low-income discounts
    • Senior discounts
    • Payment plans


Maintaining Your Property Is Hard

Homeowner Resource Information Repairs, Modifications & Maintenance

There are 206,000 older (age 60+) persons in Philadelphia who own their homes. Many of these homes were built more than 50 years ago and are in need of both minor and major repairs. Many are also inaccessible for those with limited or impaired mobility. Here are some ideas and resources to help:

Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA)

PCA repairs and modifies homes for qualified people 60 and older, or with disabilities. PCA’s housing department conducts minor and major home repairs and carries out modifications to make homes more accessible to older adults and those with disabilities. Many of these repairs are carried out at no cost to consumers through PCA’s premiere Senior Housing Assistance Repair Program (SHARP). With over 30 years’ experience, PCA’s home repair and modification program offers value-based pricing for services including:


  • Installing grab bars and hand-held showers
  • Adapting bathroom fixtures
  • Installing hand railings and intercoms
  • Repairing, installing or widening exterior doors
  • Installing dead-bolt locks
  • Repairing leaky faucets and toilets
  • Installing smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms


  • Building first-floor full or half-bathrooms
  • Installing interior and exterior stair glides
  • Installing exterior wheelchair lifts

For more information, call the PCA Helpline at 215-765-9040.

In addition to PCA, there are other non-profits and City Agencies that can assist you, regardless of age, with repairs and modifications, perhaps covering the costs entirely or at a discount. Most of these are income-based. Research or ask around.  Some are listed here:

  • City programs:
    • The Basic Systems Repair Program (BSRP) provides free repairs to correct electrical, plumbing, heating, structural and roofing emergencies in eligible owner-occupied homes in Philadelphia.
    • The Adaptive Modifications Program (AMP) is designed to help low-income individuals with permanent physical disabilities live more independently in their homes. It provides free adaptations to a house or an apartment, allowing easier access to and mobility within the home.
    • Restore, Repair, Renew is an initiative of the City of Philadelphia to help Philadelphia homeowners access low-interest loans to invest in their properties. Lenders participating in the program are offering 10-year, 3% fixed Annual Percentage Rate loans that range from $2,500 to $24,999 to eligible homeowners. Restore, Repair, Renew loans can fund a range of home repairs that focus on health, safety, weatherization, accessibility, and quality of life.
    • PA Energy Services, funded by Philadelphia’s DHCD. ECA provides heating system repair services and also weatherization assistance.

  • Other programs:
    • Habitat for Humanity – http://www.habitatphiladelphia.org215-765-6000Habitat offers home repair services to homeowners so they can continue to live in safe, decent homes for years to come. Some of their home repair work includes painting, landscaping, weatherization and minor repair services to preserve home exteriors and revitalize neighborhoods.
    • Rebuilding Together – http://www.rebuildingphilly.org, 215-965-0777.  Through critical home repairs and home modifications in underserved communities, they address the connection between health and housing, while preserving the existing affordable housing landscape across the US.
    • Urban Resources Development Corporation (URDC), http://buildgermantown.org, 267-289-2159.  URDC is a Philadelphia-based 501c(3) non-profit organization whose mission is to stabilize communities in Germantown, Mt. Airy, and northwest Philadelphia through home repair and rehabilitation.
    • The Home Depot Foundation works to improve the homes and lives of U.S. veterans, train skilled tradespeople to fill the labor gap and support communities impacted by natural disasters.


Get FREE energy-saving upgrades if you qualify (income based

You can’t control everything. But with a FREE Energy Checkup, you can control your energy costs. PECO can help make your home more energy efficient and comfortable year round. For a qualifying PECO customer.

Here’s what you can get with a FREE Energy Checkup:

  • A PECO energy advisor will visit your home and show you ways to save energy and money. The visit usually takes 1-2.5 hours, depending on the type of home and heating system, and appointments are available between 8 am and 6 pm.
  • FREE energy-saving items that may include:
    • LED light bulbs
    • Smart power strips
    • Water saving showerhead(s)*
    • Kitchen and bathroom aerator(s)*
  • personalized report with recommendations for improving your home’s energy efficiency.
  • Evaluation of your refrigerator and other major appliances. If the appliance qualifies, it can be replaced with an energy-efficient model, free of charge.
  • Have electric heat? You might be eligible for FREE insulation and air sealing. The PECO energy advisor will need to perform advanced diagnostic testing, including a blower door test and thermal imaging, to pinpoint air leaks and identify energy-saving opportunities.

Call 1-888-5-PECO-SAVE (1-888-573-2672) between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday to confirm your eligibility and to schedule your PECO in-home energy checkup. If you do not meet the household income requirement. For those not income eligible, a PECO Energy Assessment will cost $49.00

Utility Rebates & Discounts

There are rebates offered on the purchase of appliances, heaters, water heaters, etc.  Check with PECO and PGW.

There are discounts on lighting purchases.  Look for PECO Instant Discount sticker on products at the stores.

Self-financed repairs:

  • Get a Home warranty.  These programs have an annual cost but cover many products in the home.  The PGW program will repair gas appliances.  There are also companies that real estate agents offer for new home buyers, but these same companies offer their warranty program to existing home owners.  The terms, conditions and appliances vary, but worth looking into to save on future repairs.
  • Do it yourself.  There are instructions everywhere online, TV shows or in books.  There are also tool libraries (places to rent tools).
  • Seek out a handyman or small contractor
  • Check business lists for local companies (ibuyblack, Beech Interplex Black Business Guide, Black Yellow Pages, Christian Business Guide, etc)
  • There are small non-profits that might do the work at less cost:  Trades For A Difference, Youthbuild, etc.
  • There are trade schools that might need training locations.

Find products:

  • Free – use items already in your house
  • Find things for free – online buy-nothing groups, Free section of craigslists, etc)
  • Scrap/Giveaways – Someone’s trash is another’s treasure.
  • Thrift stores and flea markets
  • Architectural salvage stores.  Several in the City and the region.  However, some non-profit stores might have the best prices.  They are:
    • Habitat Restores – many stores around the region.  Philadelphia store at 2318 Washington Ave
    • Philly Reclaim Store – 5200 Unruh Ave
    • Metal scrap yards, etc

Don’t Sell Your Property or Ugly House – Keep It In the Family

Being a homeowner is more than just owning a home. It is laying a foundation for building generational wealth and family & financial security.  You can touch it, see it, build on it, enhance it and manage it as a business. Also maintaining ownership is a strong counter to fight the latest threats of “gentrification” or displacement.

Before you decide to sell, consider ways to keep it in the family. Transfer ownership, sell it to a family member or add a family member to the title. If you can’t keep it in the family, consider ways to find another African American owner. Word of mouth among trusted friends and confidents can potentially find a buyer. Maintaining wealth for the African American community is vital and also keeps your community stronger when there are common goals and interest.

  • Seek out financial programs to save your house if it is a financial issue that is causing your decision to sell.  But don’t wait too late.
  • Don’t bow to the pressure of people contacting you to buy your house.  These buyers will ALWAYS offer you a price that is below what you should get for it.  No matter your personal financial status, you can always get more.  In fact, if someone wants your house, that means it has value to them – so, it also has value to YOU.
  • Be an educated seller.  Even if you use a realtor, have some realistic idea of the range your property could sell for.  Some neighborhoods and blocks are in demand.  If you don’t know that, you will list your house with a realtor for too low of a price (note: this makes it easy for them to sell but does not benefit you) and you will take less than what you could really get.
  • Check your tax-assessed value.  You should receive a statement every year with your tax bill but you can also go online – phila.gov to find out your assessed value.  Note: This Is Not Market Value.  In most cases, it is lower than your actual market value, but at a least you would know not to sell below your assessed value.
  • Go online and see what other properties have sold for, or are listed for, with similar conditions.  Most listings have pictures.  You will easily find a comparable with or without updates to help you determine a value for your house. Check websites such as: Zillow.com, Redfin.com, Realtor.com, etc.  These sites also show estimated or actual sale and rent values for your property and other neighboring properties.
  • Although the condition of your property does matter, what the buyer intends to do with the property is not your concern.  Don’t let their plan affect your sales price.
  • Cash deals are not always the better deal.  Someone getting a mortgage, that has been pre-qualified for that purchase price, is just as good as a cash deal. Don’t settle for a lower offer, just because it is a cash offer.