What to know about buying a house in Maine
Maine offers a range of help tailored to first-time home buyers. That can include special mortgage options and home buyer education courses.
If you’re eligible, you might also be able to get down payment assistance from the state. That can top up your savings so you can afford to buy a home more quickly than you thought possible.
In this article (Skip to ...)
- ME home buyer overview
- Home loan options
- ME home buyer programs
- First-time buyer grants
- Buying in Maine’s cities
- ME mortgage rates
Maine home buyer overview
The good news for any Maine first-time home buyer is that median home prices and home price inflation in the state are well below the national average.
However, at $299,000, the median price in Maine can still pose problems for some first-time buyers. And many homes in sought-after areas will cost above average.
Luckily, the Pine Wood state offers plenty of help to those wanting to buy their first home. Read on for more information.
|Maine Home Buyer Overview|
|Average Home Sale Price in ME||$299,000|
|Minimum Down Payment in ME (3%)||$8,970|
|20% Down Payment in ME||$59,800|
|Average Credit Score in ME1||721|
|Maximum ME Home Buyer Grant2||"Little or no down payment required" with MSHA mortgages statewide|
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 Maine
If you’re a first–time buyer in Maine 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.
Maine home buyers can often get into a new home with as little as 3% or even 0% down using one of these low–down–payment 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, 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
- MSHA mortgage — You might be able to get one of those with “little or no down payment” plus help with your closing costs. More information below
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.
Maine first-time home buyer programs
MSHA says, “There are options with little or no down payment required, and if you still need help with the cash for closing costs, we also offer a down payment and closing cost assistance option called Advantage.” We’ll get into the details of that soon.
The MaineHousing program can be used in conjunction with a government-backed FHA, VA, or USDA mortgage, and with conforming loans in some areas.
As is usual with state first-time home buyer programs, you have to choose a lender from a list of more than 40 approved by the MSHA.
To qualify, there are caps on household income. These vary by household size and your county or city, though the website says that “most Maine households are income-eligible for the program.”
You’ll also need to have a credit score of 640 or higher and be able to show that you can comfortably afford the monthly payments.
If you’re a veteran or service member wishing to buy your first home in the state, check out the MSHA’s Salute ME program. This provides an additional discount on your mortgage rate.
And those wishing to finance a mobile home may be able to take advantage of the authority’s mobile home self-insured option.
For home buyer education courses approved by the MSHA, visit Maine HoMEworks’ website.
Maine first-time home buyer grants
MSHA says it can offer down payment assistance to home buyers using its MaineHousing loan program, though it doesn’t specify how much borrowers are likely to receive.
The only sum mentioned is $3,500 in its Advantage program, but other forms of assistance may be available. The Authority’s website is sparse on details.
To learn more, contact the MSHA on (800) 452-4668 or (207) 626-4600. Alternatively, you could contact one of the lenders on the authority’s approved list and ask an agent.
Keep in mind that MSHA’s down payment assistance program may not be the only one operating in your area. Many cities, counties, and nonprofit organizations offer their own DPA options for first-time buyers.
You can ask your loan officer or real estate agent for recommendations, or do an internet search for "[your city or county] down payment assistance.”
Buying a home in Maine’s major cities
It’s a mixed picture for first-time home buyers in Maine’s three biggest cities. Portland is expensive. Lewiston is more affordable but has seen home prices shoot higher. And Bangor is the most affordable and had the lowest home price inflation in 2021.
Whichever of those you wish to buy in, be sure to check out the city’s down payment assistance program(s). Because that could make a big difference to your homeownership timeline.
Portland first-time home buyers
The median home listing price in Portland, ME was $429,300 in November 2021, according to Realtor.com. That was up 14.5% year over year.
At those home prices, making a down payment in Portland might cost:
- $12,880 — Minimum down payment of 3%
- $85,860 — Maximum down payment of 20%
As far as we can tell, the only down payment assistance offered by the Portland Housing Authority (PHA) is a voucher program to help existing tenants of the authority transition to homeownership. To qualify, you must have been a PHA tenant for at least one year and meet other eligibility criteria.
If that’s not you, you should turn to the statewide MSHA program or look for other options in the area.
Lewiston first-time home buyers
The median home listing price in Lewiston, ME was $235,000 in November 2021, according to Realtor.com. That was up an astonishing 31.5% year over year.
At those home prices, making a down payment in Lewiston might cost:
- $7,050 — Minimum down payment of 3%
- $47,000 — Maximum down payment of 20%
The City of Lewiston has teamed up with Auburn to create a Homebuyer Loan Program. Click the link for full details.
Briefly, here’s how it works: You open a savings account with the city and pay in at least $25 each month for a minimum of six months and a maximum of three years. The more and longer you save, the more you benefit — because when you’re ready to buy, the city will add to your savings, contributing $2 for every $1 you’ve saved. Obviously, all the money has to go toward your down payment.
Half the city’s contribution is an outright grant that you never have to repay no matter what. The other half is a forgivable loan with no monthly payments and a 0% interest rate. Providing you continue to own and occupy the home, that will be forgiven after:
- 5 years if the city’s contributed less than $15,000
- 10 years for city contributions between $15,000 and $40,000
- 15 years if it’s contributed more than $40,000
If you’re a good saver, that’s an attractive deal.
Keep in mind, you must have a low or moderate income no higher than 80% of the area median income to qualify.
Bangor first-time home buyers
The median home listing price in Bangor, ME was $205,000 in November 2021, according to Realtor.com. That was up 14% year over year.
At those home prices, making a down payment in Bangor might cost:
- $6,150 — Minimum down payment of 3%
- $41,000 — Maximum down payment of 20%
The City of Bangor’s Community and Economic Development Department runs both a down payment assistance program and a closing costs assistance program. If you are eligible, the former can provide up to 50% of your minimum down payment but is capped at $5,000. The latter offers up to $3,000 in closing costs.
Those details were gleaned from the department’s application form for the programs. But there is little other information that we could find on the website. So call (207) 992-4280 to discover whether you’re eligible and what form the help takes: a grant, loan, or forgivable loan.
Where to find home buying help in Maine
All the organizations we’ve listed above should provide advice freely to any first–time home buyer in the state of Maine or the area they serve.
In addition to our selection, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides a list of city– and county-specific programs across Maine. These are as follows:
Statewide and regional first-time home buyer programs in Maine
- MaineHousing — Homebuyer programs, including down payment and closing cost assistance
- hoMEworks — Find a center nearest you that offers homebuyer classes
- Habitat for Humanity — Through volunteer labor, builds and rehabilitates houses for families in need
- U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Housing — Homebuyer programs in rural communities
First-time buyer programs by city and county
What are today’s mortgage rates in Maine?
You can check today’s average mortgage rates in Maine 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.
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