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A Guide To First-Time Home Buyer Programs, Loans & Grants

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There’s a lot to think about when buying a house – and it’s normal to have questions, especially if it’s your first time. You might be wondering about some general first-time homebuyer tips, or the best way to get down payment assistance or help with your closing costs.

Here, we’ll cover some of the most advantageous programs for first-time homebuyers, so you know what options are available.

Types Of First-Time Homebuyer Programs

First-time homebuyer costs can seem overwhelming. But, luckily, there are several options for assistance with your down payment and closing costs, including charitable and government-sponsored programs. Local and federal tax credits can lessen the bite, and there are also educational programs that can offer help at every step.

Down Payment Assistance

A down payment is a large initial expense when you buy a home. A down payment is required for most types of mortgages. Though many first-time homebuyers believe that they need a 20% down payment to get a mortgage, many lenders issue loans to first-time buyers with as little as 3% down.

DPA Loans

Not sure you can cover a down payment on your own? You may also be able to get down payment assistance (DPA) through a few specific types of loans to reduce the amount you have to put down.

A few options include second mortgages, deferred payment loans and forgiven loans.

Loans structured as a second mortgage must be paid off at the same time as your main mortgage.

 Deferred payment loans must be paid in full when you move, sell, refinance or pay off your main mortgage.

Loans can also be forgiven over a set number of years – but will need to be repaid when you move, sell, refinance or pay off your main mortgage if you move before that set number of years expires or you otherwise violate the terms of forgiveness.

DPA Grants

You may be able to get DPA through grants, which don’t have to be repaid. Program requirements for loans and grants may vary, so it’s best to check with your local or state government for details on any first-time buyer down payment assistance programs.

Government-Backed Loans

A loan backed by the federal government can also help qualified first-time homebuyers purchase with no down payment – we’ll cover these types of loans in more detail below.

Tax Credits

Unfortunately, you can no longer take advantage of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act’s $7,500 credit for first-time homebuyers. The program ended in 2010.

However, you can still save money on your taxes through various deductions. Federal and state deductions can lower your taxable income.

For example, you can deduct your mortgage insurance costs from your federal taxes if your mortgage is worth less than $750,000. This includes private mortgage insurance (PMI) and mortgage insurance premiums (MIP) associated with FHA loans, as well as the guarantee fees for USDA loans. Additional deductions and credits may be available through your state or local government.

Closing Assistance

Like down payment assistance, there are government-sponsored and private programs that can help you pay closing costs. Closing costs are additional fees you pay at the end of the mortgage process. Closing costs are typically 3% – 6% of the total cost of your home loan. Like down payment assistance, closing cost assistance can come through a grant or loan.

You can also look to your seller for help with closing costs, with seller concessions. The seller may be able to help with attorney fees, real estate tax services and title insurance. They can also help pay for points up front to lower your interest rate and contribute to property taxes.

Homebuyer Education

You can take advantage of online educational programs and resources if you aren’t sure how to start your home search. A good first-time homebuying class can be free or low-priced and can teach you about loan options, the buying process and how to apply for a mortgage. Browse real estate courses online and look for ones aimed at first-time homebuyers.

Not sure where to start? Zing University is a free online course from the mortgage experts at Rocket Mortgage®. Zing University takes you through the steps to buy a home, teaches you about mortgage types and can even put you in contact with a local agent to help you become a more confident buyer.

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7 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers In Calgary

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Buying a house for the first time can be overwhelming to say the least. If you’re wondering what neighbourhood to go with, what you can afford, or even how to just get started on the process, let us take some stress off your hands! We’ve teamed up with Hopewell Residential to give you 7 tips to ensure the home you end up with is everything you dreamed of.

Hopewell Residential is a five-time Developer of the Year award winner, so their expertise is second-to-none in Calgary and beyond. Who better to learn home-buying tips from than the homebuilders themselves?

Create a checklist of needs & wants

This is a biggie. When you’re buying your very first home, you’ll want to weigh your needs vs. your wants. Ensuring you have what you love in your first home is a big, big deal.

What should you do? Easy. Set up a list of needs and a list of wants, but be pretty strict with yourself, and make sure you take your lifestyle into consideration. With the increase in remote work over the past year, it’s important to keep in mind that a home office or flex room might just be the key to maximizing at home happiness. Especially if you’re thinking you might be expanding your family later on, spare rooms and extra space is key (but more on that later!).

Or for instance, you might need a home in an area with a high walkability score, but you want to be close to certain amenities. Set yourself up with the right level of compromise and the number of homes that actually fit your ‘perfect’ idea will skyrocket.

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‘Don’t give up’: Ottawa Valley realtors share statistics, tips for homebuyers in ‘extreme’ sellers market

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The real estate market in the Ottawa Valley can be summed up this way: people from far and wide are in a buying frenzy, but there’s hardly anything to buy at the “store,” and the limited inventory is overpriced.

This “stampede” — as one realtor described it — will affect rural towns as residents grapple with finding affordable housing and agonize over their inability to purchase homes in their price range.

“We are seeing a lack of inventory in all price ranges,” said Laura Keller, a real estate agent from Carleton Place.

Helen Vincent, a Renfrew realtor, said she’s never seen a market like this in her 36 years of practice. “We postpone offers for four to five days in order to get all the buyers,” she said.

Multiple offers — between seven and 10 — became the norm, with cash offers and no conditions, as buyers faced bidding wars. “In Ottawa, they have up to 50 (offers),” she added.

“It’s very stressful. You’re going to get nine (people) ticked off, and one happy. So many people are disappointed,” Vincent said.

Terry Stavenow, an Arnprior realtor for 40 years, said that “the pent-up need took over with inventory going low. It made a stampede on everything that was available.“

“Brand new housing — it’s very much gone. Several building developers are rushing to get inventory. They usually don’t do construction in the winter months,” said Stavenow.

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Real Estate

10 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers

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Buying a home for the first time is exciting and a commitment to the future. It’s often challenging, too, and the process requires a lot of steps, many of which can be tricky to navigate as a first-time home buyer.

What are some things you should keep in mind as a first-time home buyer?

First-Time Home Buyer Tips

Here are 10 tips to keep in mind as you begin your journey toward homeownership.

1. Have Your Finances in Order

It’s wise to begin saving as early as possible once you’ve made the decision to purchase a house. You’ll need to consider the down payment, closing costs (which often range from 2% to 5% of the down payment), as well as move-in expenses.

You also need to understand the other costs of homeownership, such as mortgage insurance. property taxes, utilities, homeowner’s insurance, and more.

2. How Much Can You Afford?

Knowing how much you can realistically afford in a home is another important financial consideration. Look for the home of your dreams that fits your budget.

One way to avoid future financial stress is to set a price range for your home that fits your budget, and then staying within that range. Going through the preapproval process will help you understand what price range is realistic for your budget.

3. Make Sure Your Credit is Good

Another thing to keep in mind as a first-time home buyer is your credit score because it determines whether you qualify for a mortgage and affects the interest rate that lenders offer. 

You can check your credit score from the three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.

This is another good reason for getting preapproved before you start your search. Learn more about the preapproval process and your credit score.

4. Choose The Right Real Estate Agent

A good real estate agent guides you through the process every step of the way. He or she will help you find a home that fits your needs, help you through the financial processes, and help ease any first-time buyer anxiety you may have.

Interview several agents and request references.

5. Research Mortgage Options

A variety of mortgages are available, including conventional mortgages – which are guaranteed by the government – FHA loans, USDA loans, and VA loans (for veterans).

You’ll also have options regarding the mortgage term. A 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is popular among many homebuyers and has an interest rate that doesn’t change over the course of the loan. A 15-year loan usually has a lower interest rate but monthly payments are larger.

6. Talk to Multiple Lenders

It’s worth your time to talk to several lenders and banks before you accept a mortgage offer. The more you shop around, the better deal you’re liable to get – and it may save you thousands of dollars.

7. Get Preapproved First

Getting a mortgage preapproval (in the form of a letter) before you begin hunting for homes is something else to put on your checklist. A lender’s preapproval letter states exactly how much loan money you can get.

Learn more about the preapproval process and how preapproval provides you with a significant competitive advantage in our article How Preapproval Gives You Home Buying Power.

8. Pick the Right House and Neighborhood

Make sure to weigh the pros and cons of the different types of homes based on your budget, lifestyle, etc. Would a condominium or townhome fit your needs better than a house? What type of neighborhood appeals to you?

9. List Your Needs and Must-Haves

The home you purchase should have as many of the features you prefer as possible. List your needs in order of priority; some things may be non-negotiable to you personally.

10. Hire an Inspector

Hiring an inspector is another crucial step in the home buying process. An inspector will tell you about existing or potential problems with the home, and also what’s in good order. You can learn more about home inspections and how to find a home inspector through the American Society of Home Inspectors website.

Buying a home for the first time is a challenge, but it’s one you can handle with the right planning and preparation.

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