New Opportunities Open Up for First-Time Homebuyers
In the coming year, more than 1.5 million consumers will purchase their first home. How do they do it -- and how can you be one of them?
"First-timers now represent nearly 30 percent of all existing home purchasers," said Ray Brousseau, executive vice president of a nationwide lender. "That's a big percentage, but it could be a lot higher because there are many ways first-time purchasers can finance with little down and little hassle."
Many of these buyers are able to afford a new home because they know that the mortgage marketplace has two separate ways to help them: First, there are traditional loan options. Second, there are more than 1,500 mortgage assistance plans for buyers purchasing a first home.
No Need For 20 Percent Down
The big barrier for many first-time buyers is cash. It takes cash for a down payment, and it takes cash to close. Lenders are generally looking for buyers with 20 percent down, but given that the typical home sells for more than $200,000, there are a lot of first-time homebuyers who have not accumulated the $40,000 or more that lenders prefer.
The good news: There are many ways around the 20 percent requirement with traditional loan options.
"It doesn't take a lot of up-front cash to buy a home today," said Brousseau. "FHA and conventional financing are all available with little down, while VA borrowers can qualify for mortgages that require no down payment."
The way such programs work is that they substitute insurance for the 20 percent down that lenders would otherwise want:
• Conventional loans are available with as little as 3 percent down plus what is called "private mortgage insurance" or PMI.
• FHA mortgages require an up-front mortgage insurance premium (MIP), plus an annual MIP based on the outstanding loan balance. Mortgages backed by the FHA are available nationwide and typically require just 3.5 percent down.
• VA financing is available for those with qualifying service, such as military personnel, as well as officers in the Public Health Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). VA loans are available with nothing down. There is an up-front "guarantee" fee, but no annual insurance cost.
"Instead of $40,000 for a down payment, many borrowers can get a $200,000 loan with $6,000 or $7,000 down, or even nothing down if VA-qualified," Brousseau said. "That means qualified first-time homebuyers can buy a house today instead of waiting years to save 20 percent down."
Mortgage Assistance Plans
According to DownPaymentResource.com, there are more than 1,500 assistance plans administered by more than 1,000 agencies nationwide for would-be buyers, many aimed specifically at first-time purchasers.
In looking at these programs it's important to understand what the term "first-time buyer" means. It typically does not mean someone who has never owned a home; instead the usual definition for program qualification purposes is someone who has not had title to a home during the past three years.
This definition is important because it provides a way for people to re-enter the housing marketplace. For instance, suppose the Smiths owned a home and sold it to move to a job in a new community. Three years later they are "first-time" purchasers under the guidelines used by most assistance plans.
"Another important point about mortgage assistance programs is that many are specifically designed to encourage local home purchases by public-sector employees such as teachers, police, firefighters, nurses, and corrections workers," said Brousseau. "There are millions of people who qualify for such assistance."
The benefits available through mortgage assistance plans vary. For instance, borrowers may be able to get financing at below-market interest rates. Down payment grants may be available, essentially meaning that little or nothing down will be required. Another approach includes programs that offer tax credits.
Mortgage interest is generally deductible, but a "tax credit" is arguably more valuable. With what are called "mortgage credit certificates" or MCCs, borrowers can deduct directly from their actual tax bill. For instance, if you have $8,000 in mortgage interest you might be able to directly reduce your taxes by $1,600 while the remaining $6,400 can be treated as an itemized deduction.
"Given low interest rates and a firming housing sector, this is a terrific time to consider entering the real estate market," said Brousseau. "With today's financing choices, many buyers can own their own home a lot quicker than they might have thought."