The process of buying a home can be daunting for those born and raised in the United States, so imagine being new to this country eager to pursue the American dream, but not knowing where to start.
That was the case with Pradeep Ramamurthy who moved from Bangalore, India to California’s Bay Area with his wife, Priya Vijayendra, in 2011 for a new career as a project manager for an IT company.
Pradeep and Priya turned to Bela Singh, a mortgage loan officer for PNC Bank in Pleasanton, Calif. who spends a majority of her time working with new American residents with green cards and permanent work visas needing guidance through the mortgage loan process.
“In my work, I relish finding solutions,” said Singh.
That’s why I enjoy the mortgage business. I can really find ways to help and make things work for the customer.
Singh, who immigrated to the Bay Area from New Delhi, India 18 years ago and became a U.S. citizen eight years later, says every loan customer has different challenges, but she frequently sees credit issues with international clients.
Many people who are new to the country do not have detailed credit or employment histories, which makes it challenging to establish creditworthiness and secure preapproval for a mortgage.
“Newer entrants sometimes struggle with breaking through cultural differences, especially in that they do not like to carry debt,” said Singh. “Many foreign-born individuals have large networks of friends and family within their own communities here, so borrowing within that grid is common. However, to help establish credit, they occasionally need to focus on debt that can be documented.”
Another common hurdle for non-citizens in securing a mortgage is verifying legal residency. Singh has extensive knowledge of the wide range of visas customers may use to prove legal residency.
In Ramamurthy’s case, he and his wife owned a home in Bangalore and said the loan process was surprisingly similar in the U.S., but they hit a snag with visa requirements.
However, Singh’s experience allowed her to help her clients navigate through that unforeseen bend in the road.
“Right from the pre-approval stage until the closing, Bela was with us at every step,” said Ramamurthy.
When we hit roadblocks, talking to her was therapeutic. She would calmly assess the situation and suggest the best alternative. Because of her, we got through it.
Ramamurthy said he and his wife had to clear two more unplanned hurdles.
“The first was to show the trail for the foreign funds we had from India to pay for part of the down payment. We went through established banking channels, so getting the documentation was not difficult, but the challenge was to get it in time for the closing,” he said. “The other was to establish that I had enough income and savings of my own, excluding my wife's income and savings, to afford the home we wanted to buy.”
Singh said that the two most important requirements for foreign-born applicants are a visa, even if it has expired, as well as proof of continued legal presence and the right to work in the U.S. PNC’s guidelines state that applicants must show a legal entry into the country and continued renewals that allow them to work.
Outside of those, the applicants need the standard documents that all mortgage applicants are asked to provide. These include copies of pay stubs reflecting a minimum of 30 days of income for each applicant, names and addresses of employers for two years, W-2s for two years and one or two years of tax returns.
“My advice to others is, if you have any questions, or even the slightest doubt, don't make any assumptions,” said Ramamurthy, who is awaiting permanent residency status. “Get your questions clarified right away. It's always better to have more information than less.”
Singh agrees with Ramamurthy, noting, “The key is to focus on the customer and keep in constant communication with both the customer and other partners.”
With the help of Singh’s focus, the Ramamurthys moved into their new home in July 2017.
“We are delighted to explore the area with our 5-year old son, Prateek. It has great trails, parks and a new downtown is coming up shortly. We are all excited about it,” he said.
Home sweet home. Indeed.
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In 2016, half of foreign-born U.S. residents were home owners.
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