What to know about buying a house in Florida
Buying your first home can seem like a 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.
In this article (Skip to...)
- Florida home buyer overview
- Home loan options
- FL home buyer programs
- First-time buyer grants
- Buying in Florida’s cities
- FL mortgage rates
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 stats
|Average Home Sale Price in FL1||$381,481 (Feb. 2022)|
|Minimum Down Payment in FL (3%)||$11,440|
|20% Down Payment in FL||$76,300|
|Average Credit Score in FL2||706 (2021)|
|Maximum FL Home Buyer Grant3||$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.
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 buyers have access to mortgage programs that require as little as 3% down or even no money down:
- 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, or pay off your loan
- VA loan: Only for veterans and active-duty 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.
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.
Florida first-time home buyer programs
Buyers in Florida have access to a lineup of first-time home buyer loan programs. But a popular place to start is with the Florida Housing Finance Corporation (FHFC), commonly referred to as “Florida Housing.”
The FHFC operates statewide and will help you find an approved lender who can guide you through the entire purchase process. And it will connect you 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 qualify for assistance from the Florida Housing Finance Corporation.
In addition, your home purchase price and your income must be below the limits set for each county.
How can you 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 limits are.
Explore all your options
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 review the benefits and requirements for the assistance programs for which you might be eligible. And pick the one that meets your needs best.
Additionally, all FHFC first-time home buyer loan programs are for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages. So the type of loan you apply for must conform to this guideline.
Florida first-time home buyer grants
Florida Housing offers a range of loans and grants that can help first-time home buyers in Florida meet their down payment requirements.
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:
- Florida Assist: A loan of up to $7,500 at 0% interest and with no monthly payments. This is a deferred loan, and the full $7,500 is due when refinancing or selling the property, or if you otherwise cease to occupy the property
- HFA Preferred and HFA Advantage 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
- Florida Homeownership Loan Program: Borrow up to $10,000 at a 3% interest rate repayable in monthly installments over 15 years. However, should a homeowner refinance, pay off the loan early, sell, or otherwise transfer the deed, the remaining balance must be paid in full
- Florida First Mortgage Loan: This is among the more popular down payment and closing cost assistance programs. It offers government-insured FHA, VA, and USDA 30-year fixed-rate mortgages to buyers who conform to purchase price and income limits. Florida First Mortgage Loan can also be paired with Florida Assist
Depending on the program you qualify for, you may never have to repay the loan, provided you remain in residence for at least five years.
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 buyers can’t get into the market. It just means you need to be strategic.
Here’s what you should know about buying a house in Florida’s biggest cities: Jacksonville, Miami, and Tampa.
Jacksonville first-time home buyers
The median home listing price in Jacksonville was $279,000 in February 2022, 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:
- $8,370 for 3% down payment
- $55,800 for 20% down payment
The City of Jacksonville and Duval County Government usually has the Head Start to HOME Ownership Program (H2H).
The H2H webpage says “Any single-family housing unit newly built or existing (including patio homes, townhomes 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 $498,000 in February 2022, according to Realtor.com. That was up by 20% year-over-year.
Based on Miami’s current home prices, a down payment in the city might cost:
- $14,940 for 3% down payment
- $99,600 for 20% down payment
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 $375,000 in February 2022, according to Realtor.com. That was up by 17.6% year-over-year.
That means a down payment in Tampa, FL at today’s home prices might cost:
- $11,200 for 3% down payment
- $75,000 for 20% down payment
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 of 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
What are today’s mortgage rates in Florida?
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.