Despite national trend, credit still available locally

ESSEX COUNTY As many places in the United States are left reeling from an over-inflated housing market, local financiers and business owners say that most folks in the North Country will see few changes in the way loans are handled. While the availability of credit in the North Country has been impacted, it is nowhere near the extent that has been reported nationally, said Jon Cooper, CEO of Champlain National Bank, based in Willsboro. Unlike other areas where lending has all but come to a halt, most local banks, said Cooper, have money to lend and are willing to do so. Nearby car dealerships are echoing those sentiments. I dont think its affected the local economy much, said Wayne Clark, president of Key Chevrolet in Keeseville, noting that the majority of his customers, most of whom use local banks, have been able to get the loans they need. He said theres been very little change in interest rates or in the credit scores needed to get a loan for a car. Peter Allen, general manager of Egglefield Ford in Elizabethtown, said that while lending to people with lower credit scores has tightened somewhat, people traditionally in the market for a new vehicle havent been affected much. There has not been any real problem getting credit for people, Allen said. We have been less affected because our area did not see the radical moves in growth that other areas saw, said Cooper. As a result, the downturn is a lot less. Speculative home-buying and loose lending in states like Florida, California, and Arizona led to a wave of foreclosures, but those practices were much less prevalent here, Cooper said. George Barnett, broker-owner of Century 21 Foote-Ryan in Plattsburgh, agreed, saying, We were seeing an increase [in home buying], but not necessarily to the same degree as in other places. Because of that, were not seeing the same kind of decreases now. Still, not everyone has remained so sheltered from the financial crunch. Some lenders are requiring more money down, and higher credit scores are, in many instances, now being required by lenders to qualify borrowers, said Cooper. I think all lenders have become a bit more cautious in light of what has recently happened throughout our country. Cooper said that large loans for speculative projects and mortgages have been the ones most affected. Marginal or poor credit is no longer being tolerated by the secondary market, making it more difficult for people in this situation to find mortgages at reasonable costs, explained Cooper. Sandra Goodroe, broker-owner of Bradamant Real Estate in Westport, confirmed that, saying mortgage lenders are requiring credit scores in the high 700s in many cases. To get a sellers concession now is almost impossible, she said. Thats hurt a lot of our first-time home buyers. Barnett said the extra scrutiny will be helpful in the long run. All the things were seeing might be limiting some people from getting mortgages, he said, but its putting people in houses who can truly afford it. Still, both Barnett and Goodroe say that the demand for homes has been low compared to past years. On the bright side, Barnett said, home prices have decreased somewhat making this an excellent time to buy a home. I think youre going to find that our market is going to recover a lot faster, he said.

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