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Homes for Heros

Katie and Brent Skelton stand in front of their former home, which the Homes for Heroes program helped finance for the couple. He is a former Marine, while she’s a nurse at Billings Clinic.

Billings Realtor Jeff Wilson believes that removing a financial barrier to home ownership for people working in helping professions is a good way to show appreciation for their sacrifice.

Nearly four years ago, Wilson helped initiate Billings’ version of Homes for Heroes. Under the program, Wilson foregoes 25 percent of his sales commission for military personnel and veterans as well as teachers, health care providers, firefighters and police. While Wilson figures Homes for Heroes has helped 30-40 families in the Billings area to date, participation had fallen off in recent months.

Wilson, who works for Keller Williams-Premier Brokers, said he’d like to revitalize the program to help people who walk the path he used to.

As a now-retired 23-year volunteer firefighter in Red Lodge, Wilson said Homes for Heroes “kind of rang home with us. It’s a reward for doing what they do.”

Brent Skelton and his wife, Katie, have both purchased and sold a house under the program. In a way, the Skeltons are doubly qualified: He’s a former Marine, she’s a nurse at Billings Clinic.

“It made it a lot more affordable for us, since (the Realtor’s commission) is cash you have to come up with,” Brent Skelton said. “It definitely got us into a nicer house.”

The Skeltons said they had only to visit the program’s website, www.homesforheroes.com and fill out a form to qualify. They said that Wilson’s willingness to take a smaller commission saved them about $1,500 on each of the two transactions.

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On average, the gesture saves about $2,000, according to the Homes for Heroes website. Since the program began nationally shortly after the 9/11 attacks, qualifying buyers and sellers have saved nearly $10 million.

Here’s how Homes for Heroes works: People who believe they qualify visit the Homes for Heroes website and register. They’re then directed to a Realtor in their community who’s agreed to participate.

In Billings, Wilson is the sole Realtor.

Homes for Heroes can also be reached by telephone at 866-443-7637.

“I would absolutely recommend the program,” Brent Skelton said. “There was almost nothing we had to do. Most of the work was on Jeff’s end.”

Wilson said he has some allies helping to make the Homes for Heroes program work in Billings. A loan originator with First Interstate Bank offers discounts for people enrolled in the program, as do a handful of area home inspectors.

“There was an initial push when the program first came out, but it has stalled (in Billings) a little bit,” Wilson said. “We are trying to revitalize it by letting people know it’s out there and it’s something they can use.”

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City Government Reporter

City reporter for The Billings Gazette.