Expanding program between NECAC, Mercantile Bank helps Hannibal resident achieve dream of owning home

First-time homeowner Michael Groff settled into his favorite chair on Thursday after reflecting on the steps that led to his new home through a partnership between North East Community Action Corporation (NECAC) and Mercantile Bank.

Mercantile Bank is the first financial institution to partner with NECAC for the Homeownership Counseling program. NECAC Public Relations Officer Brent Engel said NECAC plans to join 50 banks throughout their 12-county service area in Northeast Missouri. The counseling program provides education and assistance with home ownership-related topics like credit issues, home maintenance, budgeting and completing necessary paperwork.

Vice President, Mortgage Loans at Mercantile Bank's Palmyra branch Joel Swisher agreed with NECAC Deputy Director of Housing Carla Potts that the purchase of a home is one of the largest purchases people make, yet they often receive little information about the process.

Groff said he received help with all the paperwork and prepared him for timeframes and the steps he had to take. He started paperwork in May or June, and he was packing up at his Shelbyville apartment a few months later — moving into his new Oakwood home with his 10-year-old pug-beagle Cosmo on Sept. 10. He smiled when he remembered the feeling of receiving the keys at Wells Abstract Company.

“It's like 'is it real?' I've got the keys to a house — that's mine,” he said with a chuckle. “I just have to remember to write that check every month.”

“I always say, it's not just becoming a homeowner — it's becoming a successful homeowner,” she said.

The Homeownership counseling program continues to grow, and Mercantile Bank officials work alongside NECAC officials to help participants qualify and ultimately move into a new home. Swisher said officials can help a prospective homeowner if they need to take steps like improving their credit to receive a home loan.

“We're excited to partner with NECAC,” he said. “This is a great opportunity for our customers to get this counseling free of cost.”

Potts said the program helps homeowners “stay successful” by saving money for repair or maintenance issues that could crop in the future. She thanked Swisher and Mercantile Bank for joining NECAC as their first partner in efforts to help more people move into their own homes.

“When you partner together, the more things you can do — the stronger we are,” she said. “That partnership is wonderful, and we are grateful.” Groff and Cosmo are grateful, too.

“I can come and go however and whenever I wish,” he said.

trevor.mcdonald@courierpost.com