Even with sterling credit and after diligently saving for years, first-time homebuyers often have a hard time amassing enough money for a down payment or qualifying for a loan on a starter home. Fortunately, Florida has several programs that can help pave the way for buyers to purchase their first home.
Statewide Mortgage Programs
Low fixed-rate 30-year mortgage programs are available through Florida Housing’s First Time Homebuyer Program. The program, dubbed Florida First, is offered through a network of participating lenders. Even buyers who aren't purchasing their first homes may be eligible if the house is located in a federally designated target area or if they are qualified veterans. Buyers must meet income and purchase price criteria to be eligible. They must also complete a six- to eight-hour homebuyer education class. Buyers must have a FICO credit score of at least 640, and pay at least $1,000 of their own funds toward the house.
Statewide Down Payment Programs
In addition to loan programs, Florida offers several down payment assistance programs. Florida Assist provides up to $7,500 to help with both down payment and closing costs. The assistance is in the form of a deferred second mortgage with no interest, and homebuyers do not have to repay it until they sell or refinance their home, or come to the end of the original mortgage. The Homeownership Assistance for Moderate Income Loan gives borrowers up to $5,000 for the down payment and closing costs. Like Florida Assist, this is a second mortgage, but it has a low fixed rate and must be repaid over 10 years.
Local Loan Programs
County and local jurisdiction programs for first-time Florida buyers also offer a leg up in buying a home. For example, first-time buyers in Broward County can access below-market mortgage rates. Borrowers must make a 3-percent down payment, where 1 percent must come from the borrower's savings and cannot be a gift. Buyers must occupy the house and pay a $750 transaction fee to the Housing Finance Authority of Broward County.
Local Down Payment Programs
Local down payment assistance programs are also available. For example, Pinellas County has a down payment assistance program that offers up to $8,000. Those earning $59,000 or less with a one- to two-person household or up to $63,000 with three or more people in the household can obtain a second mortgage for no interest, and repayment is deferred until the property is sold or refinanced. Those earning $59,001 to $68,160 with one or two people in the household may qualify for an interest rate of 4.5 percent repayable over 30 years. This same rate is available for larger households earning $63,001—$79,520.
Barbara Ruben has been a journalist for over 25 years. She has written extensively for the "Washington Post" and served as editor for an international health-care magazine and a group of newspapers for older adults. She earned a master's degree in journalism from Indiana University.