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Credit available locally despite national trends

Most of the United States has been left reeling from an over-inflated housing market. Local financiers and business owners, however, 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 have money to lend and are willing to do so. Nearby car dealerships are echoing those sentiments. To be honest, we havent seen much of an affect, said Tom Hesseltine of Upstate Auto in Saranac Lake. The banks have tightened up a little bit on someone who may have been approved a few months ago, but if someone has decent to good credit, we haven't seen much of a change. Hesseltine noted that several months ago, a bank might have been willing to give out a loan of $16,000 on a vehicle worth 18 grand, whereas now they might only shell out 14. With everything youve seen on the news, he added. Youd think it would be impossible to get a loan. But really, its just harder to get a loan for customers who were already difficult in the first place. 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. Denton Publications news editor Chris Morris contributed to this report.

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