Florida First-Time Home Buyer: 2021 Programs & Grants

Peter Warden
The Mortgage Reports editor

What to know about buying a house in Florida

Buying your first home can seem like scary business at the outset. But there are plenty of helpful programs available if you’re a first-time home buyer in Florida.

Better yet, you may be able to get a loan or even a grant to top up your down payment savings. Florida home buyer assistance is available statewide and in major cities.

If you know which programs to look for, you could be settled in your new home much faster than you thought possible.

Verify your home buying eligibility (Jun 13th, 2021)

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Florida home buyer overview

Every first-time home buyer is a little different. The right home price and down payment for you will depend on your personal finances and where you want to buy.

However, it helps to know what to expect. So here’s a broad overview of the Florida real estate market right now:

Florida Home Buyer Overview
Average Home Sale Price $317,500 (Q1 2021)
Minimum Down Payment in Florida (3%) $9,525
20% Down Payment in Florida $63,500
Average Credit Score in Florida1 701
Maximum Florida Home Buyer Grant2 $40,000 (City of North Miami)

Down payment amounts are based on the state’s most recently available average home sale price. “Minimum” down payment assumes 3% down on a conventional mortgage with a minimum credit score of 620.

If you’re eligible for a VA loan (backed by the Department of Veterans Affairs) or a USDA loan (backed by the US Department of Agriculture), you may not need any down payment at all.

Verify your home buying eligibility (Jun 13th, 2021)

First-time home buyer loans in Florida

If you’re a first-time buyer in Florida with a 20% down payment, you can get a conventional loan with a low interest rate. And you never have to pay for private mortgage insurance (PMI). The same goes for buyers anywhere in the nation.

Of course, few first-time buyers have saved a 20% down payment. But the good news is, you don’t need one.

Florida home buyers can often get into a new home with as little as 3% or even 0% down using one of these mortgage programs:

  • Conventional 97 — From Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae. 3% down payment and 620 minimum credit score. You can usually stop paying mortgage insurance after a few years
  • FHA loan — Backed by the Federal Housing Administration. 3.5% down and a 580 minimum credit score. But you’re on the hook for mortgage insurance until you refinance to a different type of mortgage, move home, or pay off your loan
  • VA loan — Only for veterans and service members. Zero down payment is required. Minimum credit score varies by lender but often 620. No ongoing mortgage insurance after closing. These are arguably the best mortgages available, so apply if you’re eligible
  • USDA loan — For those on low-to-moderate incomes buying in designated rural areas. Zero down payment required. Credit score requirements vary by lender but often 640. Low mortgage insurance rates

Depending on the loan program you choose, you could potentially get into a home with very little cash out of pocket.

These programs even let you use gifted money or down payment assistance to cover the down payment and closing costs.

If you’re not sure which program to choose for your first mortgage, your loan officer can help you find the right match based on your finances and home buying goals.

Find the best first-time home buyer loan for you (Jun 13th, 2021)

Florida first-time home buyer programs

There are loads of sources of help for a first-time home buyer in Florida. But maybe you should start with the Florida Housing Finance Corporation (FHFC).

The FHFC operates statewide and will help you find an approved lender who should hold your hand throughout the entire purchase process. And it will hook you up with a home buyer education program.

You’ll have to take a Florida home buyer education class to get help from the FHFC. But why wouldn’t you want to? These programs offer seriously valuable information, and they can often be done in a few hours online.

You must also use one of the lenders on the corporation’s approved list in order to get maximum help — including down payment assistance — from the FHFC.

How to qualify for home buying help in Florida

You’ll need a credit score of 640 or higher to be in line for help from the Florida Housing Finance Corporation.

In addition, your home purchase price and your income must be below caps set for each county.

How can you know tell if yours are below? Well, there’s a simple tool on the FHFC website. Tell it the number of people in your household and the county in which you wish to purchase, and it will tell you what the caps are.

The FHFC seems to be the only statewide organization offering help to first-time home buyers in Florida. But we provide links below to others that operate on a city or county level.

Be sure to check out all the assistance program for which you might be eligible. And pick the one that meets your needs best.

Florida first-time home buyer grants

FHFC offers a range of loans and grants that can help first-time home buyers in Florida meet their down payment requirement.

Eligibility for these programs is based on your FICO score (you’ll need 640 or higher) as well as local income limits and purchase price limits.

For qualifying borrowers, Florida first-time home buyer assistance includes:

  1. Florida Assist — A loan of up to $7,500 at 0% interest and with no monthly payments. You have to repay the full $7,500 when you refinance or cease to occupy the property
  2. HFA second mortgages — Borrow up to 3%, 4%, or 5% of the loan amount as a second mortgage with a 0% interest rate and no monthly payments. The loan is forgiven at a rate of 20% each year, so after five years you owe nothing
  3. Florida Homeownership Loan Program — Borrow up to $10,000 at a 3% interest rate repayable in monthly installments over 15 years. If you refinance, pay off the loan early, sell, or otherwise transfer the deed, you’ll have to repay the remaining balance in full

The second of those sounds the most attractive. You never have to repay the loan, provided you remain in residence for at least five years.

Verify your home buying eligibility (Jun 13th, 2021)

Buying a home in Florida’s major cities

Buying a home in one of Florida’s big cities can be more challenging than buying in a rural area. Home prices might be steeper, and competition hotter.

But that doesn’t mean first-time home buyer can’t get into the market. It just means you need to be strategic.

Here’s what you should know about buyinga house in Florida’s biggest cities: Jacksonville, Miami, and Tampa.

Jacksonville first-time home buyers

The median home listing price in Jacksonville was $235,900 in April 2021, according to Realtor.com. That was up 11% year-over-year.

At today’s home prices, making a down payment in Jacksonville, FL might cost:

  • $7,080 — Minimum down payment of 3%
  • $47,180 — Maximum down payment of 20%

The City of Jacksonville and Duval County Government usually has the Head Start to HOME Ownership Program (H2H). But it wasn’t accepting new applications at the time we accessed the website. Still, it might be accepting them again by the time you read this. So check.

The H2H webpage says “Any single-family housing unit newly built or existing (including patio homes, town homes and condominiums) located within the consolidated City of Jacksonville is eligible except mobile homes or manufactured housing.”

This sounds like a loan that’s forgiven if you remain in residence for five years. But the details on the webpage are scanty. So call for information at (904) 255-8231 if you want to know more.

Miami first-time home buyers

The median home listing price in Miami was $425,000 in April 2021, according to Realtor.com. That was up by 12% year-over-year.

Based on Miami’s current home prices, a down payment in the city might cost:

  • $12,750 — Minimum down payment of 3%
  • $85,000 — Maximum down payment of 20%

Miami has several potential sources of down payment assistance. For example, the City of North Miami has one, as does Miami Dade county. The former says you can borrow up to $40,000 through its HOME program, but funding is limited.

Tampa first-time home buyers

The median home listing price in Tampa was $329,900 in April 2021, according to Realtor.com. That was up by 12% year-over-year.

That means a down payment in Tampa, FL at today’s home prices might cost:

  • $9,900 — Minimum down payment of 3%
  • $65,980 — Maximum down payment of 20%

For down payment assistance, the City of Tampa has its Dare to Own the Dream program. This has income limits based on citywide median incomes. And it provides a loan with a 0% interest rate and no monthly payments.

Just note, you have to pay back the amount you borrowed when the home stops being your primary residence or you refinance it, sell it or pay off the loan.

Where to find home buying help in Florida

All the organizations we’ve listed above should provide advice freely to any first-time home buyer in the state of Florida.

If you’re using a home buyer assistance program, you’ll choose from a list of participating lenders. Your mortgage lender will then assign a loan officer who will help you through the rest of the transaction.

Just because you initially choose an approved lender, that doesn’t mean you must stick with it. You should still shop around for your best mortgage rate and overall deal. Because doing so could save you thousands.

If you’re not using a down payment assistance program, you’re free to pick from any mortgage lender you want. Compare at least 3-5 lenders’ quotes to find the best deal.

In addition to our selection, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides a list of city- and county-specific programs across Florida. These are as follows:

FL first-time home buyer resources by county

Alachua
Baker
Bay
Bradford
Brevard
Broward
Calhoun
Charlotte
Citrus
Clay
Collier
Columbia
De Soto
Dixie
Duval
Escambia
Flagler
Franklin
Gadsden
Gilchrist
Glades
Gulf
Hamilton
Hardee
Hendry
Hernando
Highlands
Hillsborough
Holmes
Indian River
Jackson
Jefferson
Lafayette
Lake
Lee
Leon
Levy
Liberty
Madison
Manatee
Marion
Martin
Miami-Dade
Monroe
Nassau
Okaloosa
Okeechobee
Orange
Osceola
Palm Beach
Pasco
Pinellas
Polk
Putnam
Santa Rosa
Sarasota
Seminole
St. Johns
St. Lucie
Sumter
Suwannee
Taylor
Union
Volusia
Wakulla
Walton
Washington

What are today’s mortgage rates in Florida?

You can check today’s average mortgage rates in Florida here. Or, you can use the link below to get a custom rate quote for your new loan.

Remember, interest rates vary by borrower. Your own mortgage interest rate depends on factors like your credit score, loan program, down payment, and more.

Compare mortgage loan quotes from at least three different lenders to make sure you’re getting the lowest rate and upfront fees possible.

Borrowers who do this often save thousands of dollars on their home loans.

And don’t forget to ask your lender about down payment and closing cost assistance. These programs could seriously lower the barrier to buying your first house.

Verify your new rate (Jun 13th, 2021)

1 Source: Experian.com 2021 study of 2020 data

2Based on a review of the state’s available DPA grants at the time this was written