Local Wausau Insights and Home Buyer Programs with Chris Schock

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Hey everybody! It’s Austin Solomon and today I’m joined by Chris Schock from the City of Wausau on this episode of The Real, Wausau Real Estate Show.

Today’s episode is #9 already! We’re just chatting here in the studio that after this we are going to have more episodes than Star Wars, so very exciting!

Chris! Welcome to the show!

Chris: Thank you Austin. I think that means Disney will buy you now haha.

Austin: Yeah, that would be awesome! You know just some, maybe some sponsorship from Disney. That would be great. So today, Chris is going to be talking to us a little bit about some of Wausau’s grant programs for home buyers and Live It Up Wausau. Just talk to us a little bit about what those look like and what those are. So, Chris tell us a little bit about yourself.

Chris: Oh sure! Well, I’ve been in Wausau 5 years and I live on East Hill in a historic home that we renovated and it’s great!

Austin: Nice, nice!

Chris: Obviously housing is a big part of the city’s development strategy. I think folks can see a lot of different projects going on throughout the city to diversify housing typology. That’s kind of our stated goal and we’ve been working toward that goal. You see new row houses on 3rd Street, you see new duplexes on Thomas Street, you see high end apartments, that are unlike any other rental units we’ve had before, at Urban West up on Highway U and the River Life apartments down on the river obviously. And just now we are reviewing proposals for more duplexes and townhomes, especially on the North riverfront area where the old Great Lakes Cheese Factory was. So yeah, lots of different diversity.

Austin: That’s awesome! Now that you bring that out and point out those individual things. For me, that kind of clicks in my head, so that’s awesome. Sweet, so tell us a little bit about Live It Up Wausau!

Chris: Sure, so the city has a variety of programs for real estate shoppers, you know folks looking to buy a home in the city. And we have a variety of programs to help homeowners renovate homes. There’s some different tools. Some of the tools we have are income restricted, meaning that they’re for folks for qualifying incomes, lower incomes and they’re using federal funds or some different pot of money. But we have programs that are not income restricted as well that are focused on giving folks the resources they need to buy homes or renovate homes. One of those is our Live It Up Wausau program.

Austin: Sweet!

Chris: So, we just closed on our 60th loan in our Live It Up Wausau program, which constitutes about $750,000 worth of home lending that the city has backed. We’ve received donations from our partner businesses and we have 53 partner businesses. Just yesterday we acknowledged Associated Bank as our 53rd partner business. Lots of big manufacturers and small ones too are a part of that when they make a donation to the loan pool. Then that loan pool money is lent out to their employees, to employees of those partner businesses to buy homes in the city.

Austin: Nice, nice! Can you or are you able to tell us on the show some of those general… maybe not the specifics, but if someone is thinking, “Hey, I make $30,000 or $40,000 a year, is this something I could qualify for?”

Chris: Oh yeah, sure! We have a chart on our website at https://www.wausaudevelopment.com/ you can find that. So it moves by their household size, so depending on how many people are in your household, your income moves within that range. But the Live It Up Wausau program for example is not income restricted. You really just have to be an employee of a partner business and you have to buy a home in the city and then you qualify for a $10,000 zero-interest loan or $15,000 if you buy a historic home over 75 years old.

Like I said, we’ve done 60 of those loans already so there are lots of folks in the city already that have already benefited from those loan resources and the final year of your loan payment can be forgiven if you’ve made physical improvements to the property. So from the city’s perspective, we want to encourage you to make improvements to properties, especially older homes in the city, and we want to welcome employees into the city and connect them into the community. We know lots of people talk about talent attraction and workforce development is important for regions, including Wausau, but lots of communities talk about that.

One real tangible way we can help address it is by literally connecting someone to their neighborhood. Because if they’re vested in their neighborhood, if they feel like they’re connected, then they’ll stay. They’ll be better connected in the Wausau community as a whole if they’re homeowners and they’re really connected. That’s why I think the program is great for employees and employers trying to attract folks especially outside the area. They can say, “look we have this program that will help you buy your home with essentially free money, which is always nice.”

The mortgage lenders always like it because it reduces the risk. The city does take a second position on those properties but it’s second to the primary lender so it reduces the risk for the banks that are involved. Obviously it helps the Realtors as well in marketing their properties. Especially a home that might need some work, they can offer some resources to help do that.

Austin: Right! I’ve been involved in a handful, either one or two, a few. I’ve helped, well there is one buyer specifically I remember helping and they got a great house that needed a little bit of work but that was really beneficial for them. On the listing side, I know there’s been some buyers on my listings that have taken advantage of the program, so that’s been good. Can you just restate that… so it’s no interest on that $10,000 or $15,000, so there is no interest on that?

Chris: Correct and it can be amortized over 5, 10, 12, 15 years so that final payment can be more if you pay it faster and that final payments forgiven or a little less if you take it out longer, but we’ll work with your primary lender to figure out what is the best payment that matches your needs. Because you’ll be making your payments to the city as well as the bank but it is no interest.

Austin: And just to put that into perspective. The first thing that pops into my mind is it’s kind of like a car payment, where it’s $10,000 or $15,000 with no interest. Traditionally if you have a car loan like that the interest is probably around $1,000 to $1,500.

Chris: Yeah, that’s a great way to look at it.

Austin: Yeah, it’s probably about $1,000 to $1,500 over the course of 5 years plus in that fifth year…

Chris: Yes, if you paid and made improvements that fifth year could be forgiven.

Austin: Yes, so it could be pretty a couple thousand dollars people are saving.

Chris: Yeah it can! Could be up to about $3,000 depending on the amount of that loan.

Austin: Yes, so it’s definitely something to think about if someone is looking for a home in Wausau. It’s got to be in the city.

Chris: Yes, it has to be within the city limits obviously because it’s a partnership with our city and they’d have to be a part of a partnership business and that list is on our website at: https://www.wausaudevelopment.com/LiveItUpWausau.aspx. So you can go there and look at the partner businesses and if your business isn’t on there, we’d love the opportunity to talk with you, your HR department or your leadership at the business because we can explain the program and word of mouth is one of the best ways the program has grown.

Austin: Right, right. Absolutely!

Chris: It is on a first come, first serve basis. So, we have loan funds available as we receive repayments or as we receive donations or as the city adds money to the loan pool. As I’ve said, we’ve done $750,000 in lending already, so that’s great! And we occasionally add more money to the loan pool. But it is on a first come first serve basis, so sometimes we’re able to help folks and maybe not, depending on the time of the year and what the resources are. But like I said, we do have other programs which help with downpayment assistance if you are income qualified or something like that. We always encourage folks if you’re in the market and looking at a house and you’re thinking, “How could I make that work?”, give us a ring at the city or go to our website at https://www.wausaudevelopment.com/ or https://www.wausaudevelopment.com/LiveItUpWausau.aspx and see all of our contacts. Feel free to reach out to us because we’re glad to answer questions and glad to talk through ways in which the city might be able to help do some projects or take on a property.

Austin: Right, exactly. And one of the things too is note, as I know this has come up in the past, is the time to look is before you don’t get too far involved. You don’t want to lock down a house and then contact the city. Right?

Chris: Yes, we do like folks to make your application to the city before you make an offer. Really it’s best at the time of your pre-approval or when you’re thinking about getting your financing together. Kind of before you extensively start shopping and making offers on properties. Then we can reserve those resources for you basically and you can go out and shop and then the city will bring that check to closing.

Austin: Nice, nice. As we’re talking here I just realized that I have one other person that I’m working with now actually that is securing funds with the city, so I was just sending the offer documents to the city yesterday, over to you guys.

Chris: That’s great! Well the real estate professionals have been great advocates for the program. We really appreciate the different organizations and different Realtors who’ve been great evangelists who’ve advertised the program, who talk about it, and help their customers access these different programs. I can’t stress enough, we can be very creative in helping folks take on a project. We even have resources for, for example, rental rehab programs and things like that. Even if it’s not your primary home but you’re looking to buy a rental property but it needs a lot of work, we have certain pots of money to help as well. Because we know those are big issues and we’re glad to help in that regard.

Austin: Great and like you’ve said earlier on, the goal is we want someone that’s out of the area to drive through Wausau and say this is a well maintained area, it’s a good spot to be and it really is a cool spot. We have a lot going on for us here and we want to make it as appealing as we can for people that live here as well.

Chris: Sure and obviously like code enforcement and zoning, that’s more of a stick approach to keeping neighborhoods in good shape. Telling folks, “hey, you have to follow the rules in maintaining your property.” And we do that too at the city, but it’s great to talk about the “carrots” as well on the other side. And we have a lot of “carrots” that can help folks you know, renovate properties, or purchase properties that a lot of cities do, but I think Wausau has taken it a step further. Especially with our Live It Up Program which has been a model across the state. We actually modeled and helped start similar programs, which we call homesteading programs, because we’re welcoming employees into the community, we helped start a similar program in Menominee, which is in the West part of the state. A similar partnership modeled exactly after our program, so that’s pretty cool!

Austin: That’s awesome! Expand the… take other good ideas to good areas. Right on. Well as we wrap up Chris any other things going on in the city that our viewers might be of benefit for them to know? Anything about the river project? Anything you might think would be of benefit to have on the show here?

Chris: Yeah, sure! Last year was another very high year for construction across the city. Near record all time high year and housing starts were also strong, so we’re always looking for ways to expand subdivisions in the city because there aren’t a lots left in a lot of cases. We’ve been working with the few developers which will likely come to fruition likely in the next couple of months. Which will be really great to see that. I think you’ll continue to see a lot of opportunities for urban infill, you know, where you see interest in old area or old industrial areas along the river, you’ll see a lot more interest, especially in housing and especially in different types of housing. Whether it’s rental or for purchase or whatever.

We’re trying to diversify the housing type across all income spectrums. We’ve done affordable units, we are looking to do affordable units, for example, at the old Ponderosa Hotel on Grand Avenue. We renovated Supply which was an old warehouse on 1st Street over there into affordable apartments and we’re providing a loan for the big renovation of the Landmark Apartments, the old Wausau Hotel, likely in 2021. But those units will be, a portion of those units will be held affordable to ensure that they’re accessible to those folks who need them. We’re trying to diversify housing types across the spectrum. Adding more high-end properties, adding more high-end rentals, adding more for sale urban options, because we hear all the time from folks they may be interested in downsizing from a larger house, but they’d still like to be a homeowner and they’d like to be in the urban area so it’s walkable and such. So they need to find the right property and so that’s what will continue driving some of that townhome development that you’ll see in the city as well as all these new types of housing which help us diversify our competitiveness within attracting workforce and investment across the state.

Austin: Sweet, sweet! Thanks again Chris for taking the time and being on the show. If people need to contact you, probably the best way is to go to https://www.wausaudevelopment.com/LiveItUpWausau.aspx.

Chris: Yeah for sure. Just visit our website and contact our staff. We’re really glad to help. https://www.wausaudevelopment.com/LiveItUpWausau.aspx has links to everything, including the other programs as well. Sometimes folks will hear about it, the Live It Up program because it has a cool name and it’s well branded, and they contact us and maybe they don’t necessarily fit with that program but we might have another program. So we’re glad to have that dialogue and see what fits.

Austin: Awesome, awesome! Well Chris is here to help. Thanks again for being on the show and we’ll catch you around town!

Chris: Thanks Austin for your awesome championship of Wausau!

Austin: Right on.

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Austin Solomon | The Solomon Group – Coldwell Banker Action – (715) 212-4693


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