Florida First-Time Homebuyer Programs – Forbes Advisor

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If you’re a first-time homebuyer in Florida, you don’t have to bear all the financial burden on your own. With the help of a few choice mortgage programs, there are ways you can ease the stress and costs of buying a home.

First-time Homebuyer Programs for Florida Residents

There are a few different types of programs for first-time homebuyers, from down payment assistance to help for public service workers. There are also local and regional programs as well as state-run initiatives.

Related: Best Mortgage Lenders First-Time Homebuyers

The Florida Assist (FL Assist)

This program offers up to $10,000 in down payment assistance. The assistance can be applied to loans including through the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), Veterans Affairs (VA) office, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) or a conventional loan. It has 0% interest and the loan is deferred until you sell your home, refinance it or pay off your first mortgage.

The Florida Homeownership Loan Program (FL HLP) Second Mortgage

This program also offers up to $10,000, but comes with a 3% interest rate and you’ll make monthly payments in addition to your monthly mortgage payment. You’ll need to pay it off within 15 years. Because of this, it counts towards your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio as you’re going through the home underwriting process.

Housing Finance Agencies (HFA) Programs

Through HFA Preferred and HFA Advantage PLUS, you can receive 3%, 4% or 5% of the purchase price which comes in the form of a second mortgage. You can use it to assist with your down payment or closing costs. The balance of the second mortgage is forgiven over the course of the five-year term.

Hometown Heroes Housing Program

This program offers up to 5%—and maxing out at $25,000—in down payment and closing cost assistance for eligible public service workers including:

  • Firefighters
  • Educators
  • Healthcare workers
  • Childcare workers
  • Active military
  • Veterans
  • Law enforcement officers

Those who qualify can expect lower interest rates for all eligible loans including FHA, VA, rural development, and those offered by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. You might skip out on some upfront fees. Income and purchase price limits vary by county, and you’ll need to meet specific eligibility requirements to qualify.

State Housing Initiatives Partnership (SHIP)

The SHIP provides funds to local governments for low- to moderate-income earners in the state. All counties in the state receive funding from SHIP but the amount varies by county. It provides down payment and purchase assistance as a 0% interest loan.

Local Programs

Aside from state offerings, there are additional programs offered at the city, county and regional levels. The following are just a few examples.

  • Broward County: In Broward County, you can receive up to $40,000 as a deferred second mortgage. It comes with 0% interest and must be repaid within 15 years. There are limits based on city, home sale prices and income. It can take up to six weeks to complete the funding and approval process.
  • Fort Lauderdale: Fort Lauderdale—a city within Broward County—isn’t available in the county offering but has its own purchase assistance program. It offers down payment assistance of up to $75,000 and the loan must be repaid within 15 years. Maximum income limits determine eligibility.
  • Orlando: Orlando in Central Florida also has a program based on income eligibility and you’ll need to qualify for a fixed-rate mortgage before applying. If you meet the specific requirements during the lien period, the loan is forgiven.

Make sure to search for local programs based on where you’re moving to see if you’re eligible for local first-time homebuyer programs.

First-time Homebuyer Grants for Florida Residents

Some programs offer assistance that requires money to be repaid, but grants are gifts that you don’t need to pay back. You might see zero-interest or deferred-payment loans, which usually require repayment only if you sell the home or refinance. Otherwise, the money is essentially a grant.

Many cities, counties and municipalities offer grants at the local level and even regionally including:

  • Pensacola: Get up to $30,000 in down payment and closing cost assistance if you live in the City of Pensacola. There are income and credit requirements to qualify and you’ll need to make the property your primary residence. You might also qualify for a grant from the city and Escambia County for assistance up to $12,500 through a separate HOME homebuyer program.
  • Miami-Dade: The Miami-Dade County Economic Advocacy Trust (MDEAT) offers up to $12,250, although you might be eligible for up to $95,000 from other down payment assistance programs in the county. The loan is forgiven after 10 years as long as you stay in the home and don’t refinance. There are income and property restrictions you must meet, and the program is geared toward first-time low- and moderate-income homebuyers.

Some of these programs are funded via local budget or in conjunction with state programs. It’s important to see what’s offered in cities and counties where you plan to buy a home since programs vary widely by location.

How to Buy a House in Florida

Florida has one of the hottest housing markets in the country. According to home sale site Redfin, the median sale price in the state is up more than 17% year-over-year as of July 2022, and is now averaging $410,900. The median sale price for homes in the U.S. was $402,400 as of late July, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

Even with high housing costs, you can still prepare yourself now for buying a home. Here are some key steps:

  1. Prepare your documentation. You’ll need some specific documentation and forms, including recent tax documents, bank statements, and more. It can help to save a folder on your computer with everything you need, especially since most mortgage applications start online. You might also consider saving documents on the cloud so you have quick access if a mortgage underwriter asks for an important document when you’re not at your personal computer.
  2. Review your credit score and history. Pull your free credit report from the major credit bureaus at AnnualCreditReport.com. See if there are any errors you can fix. If you have outstanding debt, pay it off as soon as you can. And don’t apply for any new debt while applying for a mortgage as it can hurt your score.
  3. Get pre-approved. Work with a trusted lender or broker to get pre-approved for a mortgage. A pre-approval tells you how much house you can afford and reassures the seller that you have financial backing. Also, just because you’re approved for the maximum amount doesn’t mean you need to buy a home at the top of your budget. You can get pre-approved through many lenders within a short time frame without it triggering multiple hard credit checks each time.
  4. Find a real estate agent. Ask friends and family members to give you recommendations on agents in your area. Find one that’s specifically worked in the neighborhoods you’re considering. Have set criteria in mind, like if you need an updated kitchen or places without a homeowners association, as those come with additional monthly fees.
  5. Search for your home. Try to avoid getting attached to any one place and instead, find many that meet your wants and needs. Keep in mind that sellers like to see a pre-approval letter because it means you’re serious about buying the property, not just browsing around.

If you’re struggling to afford a home in Florida, consider taking advantage of these different programs. Keep in mind that some programs might delay the homebuying process, so only do this if you have the time to apply and wait for approval. If you need a home right away, these first-time homebuyer programs might not be right for you.

Related: Mortgage Payoff Calculator

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