Mortgage lenders in the New York City area can take comfort in the results of-a survey, released Tuesday, showing that the region's real estate market is showing signs of growth.

The Dime Savings Bank of New York released a study showing, among other things, that 79% of the people surveyed, agreed that "now is a good time to buy a home".

The outlook on the economy and home values is also on the uptick, according to the survey.

Some 23% of respondents thought the U.S. economy would improve over the next 12 months and 15% thought the New York area's economy would also improve.

Immigrant Role Gains

"This shows that would-be homebuyers arc optimistic and willing to make Significant sacrifices to own a home," said Jenne Britell, general manager of mortgage banking for Dime.

Immigrants now comprise 25% of recent homebuyers, while only representing 15% of the area's population. The success of immigrants was also reported in a recent study by the Federal National Mortgage Association, which pointed to the increasing importance of foreign-born residents to the growth of the mortgage industry.

"It confirms the historic role of New York as a melting pot," said David J. Totaro, chief marketing officer at Dime.

Other significant trends uncovered in the research were that more than 30% of home purchases were made by unmarried households, up from one in five in 1992.

And although the area's housing market is still dominated by first-time homebuyers, repeat buyers account for a greater proportion of recent home purchases than they did in 1992.

Those prospective buyers today are more inclined to buy single-family homes, with three out of four saying they prefer a house to a condo or co-op.

Ms. Britell said consumers are more knowledgeable about the mortgage process, making it easier on both the bank and the borrower.

But to take advantage of the shifting preferences and demographics she suggests that mortgage lenders make some changes.

"Lenders are going to have to take a look at their [property] rehabilitation efforts in order to give customers what they want," said Ms. Britell.

Casting a Wider Net

She also suggested that lenders take on staff that reflects the ethnic makeup of the community and have available information in a number of languages.

"We east the net wider to get more people in the process," Ms. Brittel said. "And it worked in 1993."

The bank made 25% more loans to blacks and 18% more to hispanics than it did a year ago, according to Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data.

The survey covered New York City plus Westchester, Rockland, Nassau and Suffolk counties in New York, Fairfield County in Connecticut, and eight counties in northern New Jersey.

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