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March/April 2019, Volume 7 Issue 08

From the Field: HUD-Certified Housing Counselors Share Keys to Success

When Harford County Housing Agency director Len Parrish was hiring for a new housing counselor, there was only one clear-cut choice – Steve Gasparovic. Gasparovic had passed the ominous HUD Certified Housing Counselor exam and was the only applicant who had even attempted to take the test.

Everyone at the Harford County Housing Agency was aware of HUD’s new rule requiring housing counselors to pass a certification exam by August 2020 for the agency, which is located in Maryland, to remain HUD-certified. However, no one there had ever met anyone who had taken and passed the exam. When Gasparovic began his new position at the housing agency, the rest of the housing counseling staff grilled him about the test. Was it hard? How much did you study? What was your score? “Relax,” Gasparovic told the counselors. “Everything you need to pass is in the HUD study materials. Pay attention, and you’ll pass the exam.”

Program Supervisor Barbara Richardson, while aware of best practices, had no formal housing counseling training. She assumed if she could pass the exam, everyone could pass it. Richardson downloaded the study materials, reviewed them thoroughly, took the test and passed. Housing Counselor Keith Kimmel, not to be outdone, took the exam the following month and passed as well.

How did they all pass?  When asked about their test-taking strategies, all three counselors indicated that the study materials provided on the HUD exchange were the key to passing the exam. “I learned a great deal watching the training videos,” said Richardson. “Afterwards, I read and highlighted the corresponding written materials.” Richardson said she did not face any challenges but was disappointed that the exam does not provide the taker with a score. “All I saw was that I passed – I would love to have known what my score was.”

Keith Kimmel took a different approach. “I must have taken the practice exam ten times.” Kimmel, an experienced homeownership housing counselor, had little experience with foreclosure counseling. “The materials were great – I feel like I get the whole foreclosure counseling piece now, and I’m looking forward to more extensive training in the foreclosure field.” When asked what the most challenging part of the process was, Kimmel replied, “Trying to fit in study time between appointments. It’s very hard to study in a large office with clients coming in and out – our offices aren’t the quietest place to study.” But Kimmel made it work, and he became the third counselor on staff to pass the exam.

Gasparovic, one of the very first housing counselors to take and pass the exam in the country, says that studying is the key to success. “It’s not an easy test. You really need to study the materials and read the test questions very closely. The questions are worded very differently than the practice exam questions and you need to pay attention.” Gasparovic, who has worked as a housing counselor for less than two years (although he does have an extensive background in lending), reiterated the need to review the study guides.

Each of the three counselors from the Harford County Housing Agency took the test and studied independently of each other, relying only on the training materials provided on the HUD Exchange. None of the three attended any review courses – of which there are many currently available through NeighborWorks Training Institute, National Community Reinvestment Coalition’s National Training Academy and others – yet all three passed the exam on their first try.

“There’s no substitute for studying,” said Gasparovic. “You just need to learn the material and commit it to memory.” Richardson agreed, “There isn’t any secret study tip. All the answers are in the training materials. I can remember reading a test question and thinking to myself – Oh, I just read that!” Kimmel concurred, “Study and don’t be scared by the practice test results – if you study, you’ll do fine.”

The Harford County Housing Agency staff agree: HUD’s videos, study materials, and practice tests, coupled with a commitment to study, make passing the exam possible for everyone. With a fully certified staff, their housing agency is well prepared and confident of their ability to provide excellent counseling to local citizens, resulting in better credit, more savings, and fewer foreclosures.

Harford County Housing Agency is a division of the Harford County Office of Community & Economic Development and has been a HUD-certified housing counseling agency since 1977.

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