By LAURA SCHREIER, Hartford Business Journal Staff Writer
December 24, 2007
It’s a dark time for homeownership across the country. But bad news for the housing market is a boon to a Hartford-based magazine.
The First-Time Homebuyer, which offers practical advice for prospective homebuyers, has seen its readership leap upward after the summer’s headlines turned a big, scorching spotlight on the many Americans struggling to keep their newly bought homes — and on the need to make educated decisions about home buying.
“Believe it or not, we’ve become red hot because of it,” said Siobhan Becker, editor in chief of the publication, which launched in May 2006.
The magazine, which estimates its readership levels at 180,000, has announced plans to expand into Western Massachusetts’ Hamden and Hampshire counties, and Becker said The First-Time Homebuyer will eventually launch individualized versions of the magazine around New Haven, Fairfield County and New London.
Many real estate guides and magazines list where to look for homes, but The First-Time Homebuyer focuses on the ‘how to’ issues that can befuddle first timers: how to shore up credit, how to shop for a mortgage, how to figure out what kind of property is affordable. With the housing market decline, Becker said the magazine has arrived at just the right time when more people are realizing they need a guide.
Still, the rough housing market stalled any cheering from the publication during its first anniversary issue in May.
“We were going to do a celebration issue,” Becker said, “But with the state of the market, there was really nothing to celebrate.”
Instead, Becker’s letter from the editor mourned those struggling homeowners and offered a pep talk to those out looking to buy.
“Let’s not waste their despair by walking into the same traps of bad loans and not listening to our inner voice telling us, ‘Watch out’ or ‘This just does not seem right,” she said.
But Becker and publishing company founder Marlin Lindsay have long been watching prospective homebuyers struggle with the basics. Becker ran homebuyer education seminars for mortgage company Prospect Financial Services.
“The people coming in through the door didn’t have the education they needed … They could just walk in really green and be completely taken advantage of,” she said.
And if these were the people who had come in to get help, what about the thousands thrashing around without any guidance at all? Initially Lindsay and Becker planned to put out a how-to publication as part of Prospect Financial Services, but they eventually developed it into a separate concern. Seeing a market opportunity, Lindsay launched a publishing company, EOTO Publishing, in 2005.
The First-Time Homebuyer is distributed six times a year at gas stations, grocery stores, some big-box retailers and housing nonprofits around central Connecticut and Massachusetts. One of the magazine’s biggest partners early on was the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority, which buys advertising and writes a monthly column in the magazine.
Rose Holbrook, CHFA marketing and customer service coordinator, said the magazine is a good complement to homebuyer education programs such as those the CHFA sponsors.
“We have people come in off the street to get the magazine because they know we have it here,” she said.
Joyce Mason, a prospective homebuyer who works in Rocky Hill, said she’s been picking up the magazine since early this year. After four and a half years living in the area, she said she thought it was time to buy but didn’t want to rush into anything.
So she’s taken her time, collecting other real estate publication and taking the seminar at CHFA. And she keeps a few issues of The First Time Homebuyer at work, for reference. The magazine has answered financial and ownership questions she didn’t even know she should be asking, Mason said.