What to know about buying a house in Florida
Buying your first house can seem intimidating at the outset. But there are plenty of helpful programs available if you’re a first-time home buyer in Florida.
Best of all, you may be able to get a loan or even a grant to help with your down payment. Florida home buyer assistance is available statewide and also 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
The median sale price for homes in Florida was $401,990 in October 2022. That was a 12% increase year-over-year, according to Florida Realtors.
High home prices can be challenging for first-time buyers. But, luckily, the Sunshine State offers plenty of assistance programs to you along your path to homeownership.
Florida home buyer stats
|Average Home Sale Price in FL1||$401,990|
|Minimum Down Payment in FL (3%)||$12,060|
|20% Down Payment in FL||$80,400|
|Average Credit Score in FL2||706|
|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 U.S. 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 competitive 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 that you don’t need to.
Florida buyers can access mortgage programs that require as little as 3% or even 0% down using one of these low-down-payment loans:
- 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 premiums (MIP) 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
Note that government loan programs (including FHA, VA, and USDA home loans) require you to buy a primary residence. That means you can’t use these loans for a vacation home or investment property.
In addition, most programs let you use gifted money or down payment assistance (DPA) to cover your down payment and closing costs. Depending on the mortgage loan you choose, you could potentially get into your new house with minimal cash out of pocket.
If you’re unsure which program to choose for your first mortgage, your lender or real estate agent can help you find the right match based on your finances and home buying goals.
Florida first-time home buyer programs
If you’re looking for home buyer assistance programs in Florida, a good place to start is with the Florida Housing Finance Corporation (FHFC), commonly referred to as “Florida Housing.” Florida Housing operates statewide and will help you find an approved lender who can guide you through the entire purchase process. It will also connect you with a home buyer education program.
Florida Housing First Mortgage Loan Program
Florida Housing’s first-time home buyer program provides a 30-year fixed-rate loan through participating lenders across the state of Florida. In addition to an HFA conventional loan program, it also offers government-insured FHA, VA, and USDA loans to home buyers.
The FHFC website provides a brochure with more detailed information, but borrowers can generally expect to meet these eligibility requirements:
- Must be a first-time home buyer
- Minimum credit score of 640
- Use an approved lender
- Complete a home buyer education course
- Must meet purchase price limits for your county
- Must be below income limits for your county
FHFC defines a “first-time home buyer” as someone who has not owned and occupied their primary residence for the last three years prior to purchase. It also provides an eligibility tool to determine whether or not you’ll meet the income limits for the county in which you wish to purchase.
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 also offers a range of down payment and closing cost assistance programs that can help first-time home buyers with their upfront costs.
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. Keep in mind that this housing assistance is only available to those who finance a home using a Florida Housing First Mortgage loan.
Florida Assist (FL Assist)
FL Assist is a loan of up to $10,000 at 0% interest and with no monthly payments. It is a second mortgage that is not forgivable. Although repayment is deferred, the full loan amount is due when refinancing or selling the property, or if you otherwise cease to occupy the home.
Florida Homeownership Loan Program (FL HLP)
The FL HLP allows you to 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.
HFA Preferred and HFA Advantage PLUS Second Mortgage
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.
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 $314,000 in November 2022. That was up 12.1% year-over-year, according to Realtor.com.
At today’s home prices, making a down payment in Jacksonville, FL might cost:
- $9,420 for 3% down payment
- $62,800 for 20% down payment
The City of Jacksonville and Duval County Government offer the Headstart to HOME Ownership Program (H2H). This program can provide up to $50,000 in down payment and closing cost assistance to eligible households.
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 loan is a second mortgage at 0% interest for 15 years. The website says that the principal balance “reduces annually,” but there are no details about how much is forgiven. 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 $589,000 in November 2022. That was up by 24% year-over-year, according to Realtor.com.
Based on Miami’s current home prices, a down payment in the city might cost:
- $17,670 for 3% down payment
- $117,800 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 $420,000 in November 2022. That was up by 20% year-over-year, according to Realtor.com.
That means a down payment in Tampa, FL at today’s home prices might cost:
- $12,600 for 3% down payment
- $84,000 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
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, as 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.
All of the organizations we’ve listed above should provide advice freely to any first-time home buyer in the state of Florida. In addition to our selection, the U.S. 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?
You can check today’s average mortgage rates in Florida here. 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.
2 Source: Experian.con 2022 study of 2021 and 2020 data
3 Based on a review of the state's available DPA grants at the time this was written