BRADENTON, Fla. – As a real estate professional, Tony Barrett knows what it’s like for buyers who have trouble affording a home, especially military veterans. “Closing costs and downpayments are two obstacles that are frustrating for veteran homebuyers,” says Barrett, broker-owner of Barrett Realty in Bradenton.
So, Barrett is doing something about it with Heroes Welcome Home, a non-profit that helps veterans get closing cost and downpayment assistance as well as help with rent and utilities.
The idea came after working with a Marine who was looking for a home.
“In 2012, I met a kid named Mike McGowan. He came back from active duty as a Marine. He was looking for a home, and, through a city of Bradenton bond program, was given $10,000 for downpayment assistance. We went through the process, got him prequalified, and found a home. Everything was going well with financing until they told him he had an insufficient work history to qualify,” he says.
Barrett, who is also a veteran – an Army combat medic and a member of the Army Reserves – made several phone calls that were dead ends. “I was trying to educate the banks about veterans and their needs. I figured it was easier to start something on my own,” he says.
Unfortunately, McGowen lost around $1,000 in the cost of inspections and appraisals over that home. Soured on the experience, McGowen still hasn’t bought a home, says Barrett.
That experience prompted Barrett to take action. “I was devastated after Mike lost his money, and I didn’t know how else to help. When I was in the military, credit was easy. You could buy cars and furniture,” he says.
Barrett, his wife Kelly and a firefighter friend, Rob Riganati, started Heroes Welcome Home in 2013. It’s now officially a 501c3 organization,” Barrett notes. The program helps with closing cost assistance up to $3,000 for veterans who qualify.
“It’s a hand up, not a handout. Not everyone qualifies. There are limitations on the price of the home. We also recently expanded into different assistance programs, including helping World War II veterans on home repairs, and working with homeless vets to get help with rent and utilities,” says Barrett.
The very first veteran the program helped needed $2,500 to close on his home. “We issued him a check. He told me now he could afford a washer and dryer,” he says.
Heroes Welcome Home has helped about 20 veterans to date. The program now raises money through golf tournaments and other community events. Many of the veterans who received help now volunteer to staff events.
And, in 2017, The Realtor® Association of Sarasota and Manatee chose Heroes Welcome Home as its giving partner. “They raised over $5,000 for us and volunteered at our events,” Barrett recalls.
However, it’s often difficult to give away money to vets, he says, noting “they don’t want to take the money as they are proud.”
Regardless, Barrett is available to get them credit counseling and other services if they are willing to accept the help. “We reach out to vet-owned companies and ask them to help with the work on the homes in disrepair or volunteer for our events,” he says.
“I want to do anything I can do to thank these men and women for serving our country,” says Barrett.
To learn more about Heroes Welcome Home, go to https://www.heroeswelcomehomefl.com/