Tag Archives: buyer

Homes for Heroes

June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When mortgage loan officer Michael Petrovich with The Private Mortgage Group in Omaha was offered the chance to work with the national Homes for Heroes program, he says it seemed like a perfect opportunity to show his thanks to those we depend on.

The program—which uses the tagline ‘Service Deserves Its Rewards’—offers discounts on real estate-related services to active and retired military, police officers, firefighters, teachers, and other civil servants that serve our communities and our country.

“My dad was a fireman for years with the Omaha Fire Department, and a good friend of mine’s dad is a retired Omaha police officer,” Petrovich says. “I also have a lot of friends in the military. [The program] sounded like an opportunity to help out a lot of friends and family, and this was an area I felt I could really make a difference…saving them some money when buying a home.”

Petrovich says as a Homes for Heroes affiliate member, he offers “hero” homebuyers free home appraisals, which are often required for home purchases and refinances handled by his firm. Waiving the fee saves the homebuyer $400. Fellow Private Mortgage Group employees Pete Coen and Jeremy Wilhelm are also affiliate members.

“[The program] sounded like an opportunity to help out a lot of friends and family, and this was an area I felt I could really make a difference.” – Michael Petrovich, The Private Mortgage Group

“We can offer the discounts to any qualifying client in the Omaha/Fremont territory we cover. All they need to do is sign up on the Homes for Heroes website, and it directs them to all the affiliates in the area,” Petrovich explains.

Real estate agents make up a large number of HFH affliliate members nationally. Locally, Prudential Ambassador Real Estate agents Michelle Gustafson, Gary Gernhart, Mamie Jackson, and Matt Anderson are affiliates. “We know the agents [at Prudential], and we’ve worked together to offer clients the HFH discounts. It’s been a team effort,” Petrovich adds.

The Homes for Heroes program was first created in 2002 by a group of lenders and Realtors in Minneapolis in response to the tragic events of 9/11. Petrovich was among the first Homes for Heroes affiliate members in Nebraska, joining in November 2012 when the program first launched in Omaha. The 501(c)(3) nonprofit, comprised of Realtors, lenders, and other real estate-related service providers, now has approximately 750 affiliates nationwide serving homeowners in 44 states.

Steve Minino, a Realtor with NP Dodge Real Estate, is another Homes for Heroes affliate in Omaha. Along with Realtors Deb and Mark Hopkins (all part of the Hopkins Home Team), Minino got involved when he learned about the program on the local news.

“We saw the advantages right away and jumped on board…being able to help our local heroes while getting some great exposure for us,” he says. “It was definitely a win-win situation.

“My family also has a long tradition of members serving in the Marine Corps. We liked the idea of helping out family and friends who serve and who could really benefit.”

“We saw the advantages right away and jumped on board…being able to help our local heroes while getting some great exposure for us. It was definitely a win-win situation.” – Steve Minino, NP Dodge Real Estate

As an affiliate, Minino says he offers 25 percent of his sales commission back toward the purchase process for Homes for Heroes clients. “This money is typically applied toward the closing costs being paid by the homebuyer,” he says. “If the buyer is not responsible for closing costs, then the money is donated to a charity of their choice.”

Minino also donates another five percent of his commission directly back to the Homes for Heroes organization, which they use to fund other projects, including the rehabing of homes to accommodate injured veterans.

“We’re currently working with several Heroes clients, and we hope to grow that number in the next six months or so.”

Millard Public Schools teacher Stephanie Poltack and her fiancé, Aaron Mackel, recently purchased a home together in West Omaha and took advantage of discounts offered by several local Homes for Heroes affliliates. “My Realtor, Judy Kramer with Prudential, told me about [Homes for Heroes] and referred me,” Poltack says. “Through the program, we received closing-cost assistance and got a discounted home inspection, and The Private Mortgage Group gave us a free home appraisal. I believe we saved $1,325 in all.

“Being a first-year teacher and a first-time homeowner, I’m very appreciative of all the help we received…It meant everything to us,” Poltack adds. “We were able to use the money saved to go out and buy a washer and dryer. It’s a great program, and I think if more people were aware of it, more would take advantage of it.”

“Being a first-year teacher and a first-time homeowner, I’m very appreciative of all the help we received…It meant everything to [my fiancé and me].” – Stephanie Poltack, teacher

Nationally, several media outlets and Hollywood celebrities have helped publicize the good works being done by Homes for Heroes’ affiliates nationwide, including Sean Hannity with Fox News, actor Gary Sinise, and the Orlando Magic basketball franchise. However, the nonprofit has grown primarily through word of mouth via the internet and news media.

Petrovich says one of the goals of the Omaha-area affiliates is to raise awareness of the Homes for Heroes program in Nebraska and encourage participation by our local heroes.

“We’re getting together to discuss ways to advertise,” he said. “We’ve placed ads in the Fremont paper, hung posters in firehouses and around town…We want our civil servants and military to know we support them and say thank you for serving our country and our community.”

Gesu and Brother Mike

April 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Jesuit brother Mike Wilmot prefers his actions to speak for him more than his words. Lately, those actions have helped put several first-time homebuyers in new houses.

After years of coaching and teaching at Omaha Creighton Prep, then doing humanitarian missionary work in Sudan, he’s made North Omaha his ministry base. He helped build Jesuit Middle School and for more than a decade, he’s directed Gesu Housing, a nonprofit he founded that builds affordable new homes in high-poverty northeast Omaha.

Gesu helps him fulfill a Jesuit credo of finding God in all things. He gravitated to the Society of Jesus as a youth in his native Milwaukee.

“I got to know many Jesuits who were very influential in my life,” he says. “They were friendly, they were happy, I admired them, and then I kind of said, ‘Well, maybe that’s what I should do.’ In anything that any of us do, we want to make the world a better place to live in by spreading the kingdom of God and bringing that to all people, and housing-shelter is one of the ways you can do that.”

“Everybody should have a decent place to live.” – Brother Mike Wilmot

Wilmot’s work in Sudan impressed upon him the difference a suitable dwelling can make in people’s lives. Back in America, he realized many urban residents lack a home of their own.

“Everybody should have a decent place to live,” he says, “but it’s not the case, at least for a lot of people it isn’t. It’s proven that kids that grow up in a house [that] their family owns are much better off.” He says kids and families benefit from the stability home ownership provides.

Enter Gesu (Italian for Jesus) as a provider of quality, affordable houses in a working-poor area beset by distressed homes and vacant lots. Gesu mostly does in-fill on empty lots, thus turning neighborhood eyesores into assets. Wilmot lives with fellow Jesuits in the Clifton Hills neighborhood Gesu builds in.

He’s recruited former Prep students as key team members. Dale Barr, Jr., grew up in Clifton Hills and has gone from volunteer painter to board member to board president to paid general manager. Dan Hall, whose Hallmarq Homes is the general contractor for Gesu, played ball for Wilmot.

“It’s rewarding work,” says Barr, whose duties include promoting Gesu and raising funds. A recent direct-mail brochure he sent out netted new supporters. “It’s nice to find people who buy into Brother’s vision,” he says.

“It’s a great thing we’re doing down here,” says Hall. “We’re changing the neighborhood one house at a time.”

Gesu works closely with the city to tap HUD dollars that subsidize half the purchase price of each home and make it possible for low-income buyers to obtain low-interest loans and to assume small mortgage payments. Omaha 100 helps buyers qualify and educates homeowners in maintaining their places.20130114_bs_0907_Web

Both the Peter Kiewit and Sherwood Foundations have supplied major matching grants. Kiewit recently awarded a second $250,000 grant, but that means new funds must be found to match it. A fundraiser is in the works.

Barr says Gesu isn’t as well-known as older nonprofit players in the field, but what it offers is hard to beat. He says Gesu homes represent “a tremendous deal,” adding, “If you’ve got good credit, you’ve got a job, and you qualify for a $70,000 loan, you’re going to get into a brand-new, three-bedroom, energy-efficient house for $600 per month.” It’s why he hopes more people discover Gesu and support it.

“It’s not just people getting houses…It’s improving neighborhoods, it’s diverse people living together,” says Wilmot. “It’s been proven the best neighborhoods are diverse economically, culturally, ethnically. That’s the mission of Gesu Housing—to put people into houses and to make the neighborhoods better neighborhoods. “We’ve got to rebuild the city from the inside out.”

Gesu’s doing its part with 17 homes completed and occupied, five underway, and five new ones scheduled for construction this spring. More support can help build more homes and assist more families to live the ‘American Dream’.

“It’s a great thing we’re doing down here. We’re changing the neighborhood one house at a time.” – Dan Hall, contractor with Hallmarq Homes

“We’ve gone from two houses a year to four, and now our cycle’s five,” says Barr. “That’s gotten us in good graces with the city and HUD because we’re doing it…we’re building them and selling them. We don’t have inventory sitting around.

“We’re making our own footprint with these new houses. We try to be a part of the neighborhood. We ask neighbors what we can do better. We give away hams and turkeys to our homeowners and their neighbors at Christmas.”

Hall says the collective neighborhood is protective about Gesu homes because residents appreciate the investment they represent on their block.

“Neighbors that watch houses for me, I give a gift card. It goes a long way, you know, in establishing a relationship. You get some security out of it. Once you get people involved, if somebody isn’t supposed to be here, they’ll run them off or they’ll call me.”

It’s all about building a community, says Wilmot. “We started on Grant Street, then we went to Burdette, and now we’re going over to Erskine. Little by little…”

One house at a time.

For details about how to support Gesu, visit gesuhousing.com.

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.wordpress.com.

Elle Lien Lynch

February 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“If this were a movie set,” says Elle Lien Lynch, gesturing to the coffee shop, “everything that you see would be something that the set dec buyer would have to find and buy. The one thing I wouldn’t have been responsible for would have been the things you and I, the actors, touch.” Suddenly, the ceramic mug on the table seems glamorous. A prop.

Last December, Lien finished her work as set-decorating buyer for Alexander Payne’s film Nebraska. The movie, estimated for a late 2013 release, follows “an aging, booze-addled father [as he] makes the trip from Montana to Nebraska with his estranged son in order to claim a million-dollar Publisher’s Clearing House sweepstakes prize,” according to IMDb.

Though Lien had no prior experience in the industry (she’s the former owner of closed downtown restaurant Daily Grub), Deidre Backs, a friend who had worked with Payne in film, suggested she submit her resume for the set-decorating buyer position. “Being a local is a huge plus as a buyer,” Backs says of the reasons she encouraged Lien, “because locals know where all the bodies are buried. And with her history of running a restaurant, I knew that handling the accounting side of the job would be no sweat.”

Though Lien says she knows Payne from around town, he had no idea she had applied for a job on Nebraska. “My resume got tossed into a pile with a bunch of other people,” she says. Still, something about it obviously caught the eye of set decorator Beauchamp Fontaine. “I am a hunter,” Lien says, referring to her experience in interior design and buying vintage furniture. “I put that on my resume. I’m a hunter-gatherer. I find old things and breathe new life into them.”

She started work in Norfolk, Neb., last September for a month of preproduction before filming began in October. Lien says she went into the experience without knowing much about the film besides the fact that Payne was directing. “Everything’s very vague,” she says. She read the script on her first day at work. When Payne noticed her in the film’s office one day, he told her, “Welcome to the circus.”

“I’m a hunter-gatherer. I find old things and breathe new life into them.”

“I think he was surprised to see me there,” she recalls.

While Lien says that Fontaine determined the look and feel of a set, she would occasionally defer to Lien’s Midwest background. “These are my people,” Lien says with a laugh. That familiarity with small-town Nebraska culture was probably helpful considering that much of what Lien found to decorate the sets (oh, and every item had to shoot well in both color and black-and-white, thanks to the look of the film) was in people’s garages or thrift stores. “If it had been ordering curtains or buying new things, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much,” she adds. “I would have been fine, but I loved this job.” She delightfully describes her responsibilities as speed shopping with someone else’s money.

Of course, she came from running her own restaurant where “you have your finger on absolutely every aspect of everything.” Working on Nebraska, Lien says she was more like a piece of a puzzle. “It’s very structured,” she says, describing how within the set decorating department, there’s the set decorator (Fontaine); the set decorating buyer (Lien); the lead man, who’s in charge of getting the stuff to the set, returning it, and storing it; and the set dressers, who place and install the various pieces in the set.

But wait, there’s more. Set decorating is a department within the art department. And, surprise, the art department is also a department within the art department. Then there’s scenic and prop. “You all feel like you’re doing your part,” Lien says, “but it’s just so big and decentralized.” When asked if she’d like to work on a film again, she says, “I would love to be a lead man. But it all appeals to me. It was the absolute perfect place for me to land for my first film.”

Though she and husband Joey Lynch had been seriously contemplating a move to New Orleans to be closer to more film industry opportunities, Lien credits Nebraska with gently changing her mind. “I felt like maybe it was why we didn’t move,” she says. “I felt a real sense of pride in this place.”