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The highest state banking official is hitting the road and urging anyone who wants to buy a home to do it now.

"There is no better time to buy a home in New York State," said Superintendent of Banks Elizabeth McCaul.

Mortgage rates have dipped below 7 percent and are close to historic lows.

"There's no crystal-ball forecast, but we haven't seen rates like this in quite a while," McCaul said.

This isn't news to the financially savvy who read the business pages or play online with mortgage and refinancing calculators. McCaul is on a road trip to reach those who don't know the difference between an APR and ARM.

Her first stop on her road trip was Wednesday at Buffalo's Kensington-Bailey Neighborhood Housing Services. The nonprofit corporation buys and renovates run-down homes and then sells them to low- to middle-income buyers, said Executive Director Ivy Diggs-Washington. McCaul is also working through faith-based groups to spread her message to people who may not even have a checking account.

The Kensington-Bailey Neighborhood Housing Services recently renovated a Dorris Avenue home. The agency bought the four-bedroom, two-bath for a few thousand dollars at a foreclosure sale and spent $70,000 on repairs.

Before work began, the walls were crumbling or non-existent. Windows were broken. There was no electricity because someone stole the meter, said Robert A. Kreutinger, loan portfolio manager.

Now, just about everything, including the roof, floors and walls, is new. The home even comes with a security system and an empty lot next door that would be perfect for a garage, pool or swing set.

But the street is a hard sell. In another neighborhood, the Dorris Avenue home could easily fetch $85,000 to $100,000. But on this street, with many properties in poor repair, the agency is asking $58,900.

There are several neighborhood housing services throughout the city, and programs in the suburbs renovating and reselling homes.

The Town of Tonawanda used federal grants to transform the Kenilworth neighborhood from mail-order cottages from the 1920s into new, three-bedroom colonials and capes. A similar transformation has taken place by demolishing barracks-like homes in the Sheridan-Parkside area and replacing them with single-family homes with garages and grassy yards.

Amherst has done the same with a handful of homes in its older sections that border the city.

But many people mistakenly believe they could never afford such nice homes.

"They can get some help with the most daunting financial transactions in their life," McCaul explained.

In addition to federal programs and neighborhood housing services, there is the State of New York Mortgage Agency. It recently reduced the interest rate on its low-interest mortgage program from 6.5 percent to 5.75 percent. It also dropped the points charged to borrowers from 2 percent of the total loan to 1.75 percent.

SONYMA provides financing for first-time, low- and middle-income home buyers who meet income limits and other criteria.

There's also the Affordable Home Show, with houses selling for under $100,000, at the Erie Community College downtown campus March 31.

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