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New York is one of the costliest states to buy a residence in the U.S., driven by the high prices in New York City, Westchester and Long Island. But even the Empire State has programs to address affordability challenges for would be homeowners, including first-time homebuyers. Here’s an overview.
New York first-time homebuyer programs
The State of New York Mortgage Agency (SONYMA) offers several types of assistance programs for first-time homebuyers — everyone from college grads to DIYers who need support restoring a home can find help. SONYMA defines first-time homebuyers as those who haven’t owned a primary residence in three years and who don’t currently own second homes here or abroad.
SONYMA Achieving the Dream
For low-income first-time homebuyers, the Achieving the Dream program provides access to low-cost, low down-payment mortgage financing. Borrowers must meet certain credit, employment history, income and savings requirements to qualify. There is a 3 percent down payment requirement (with 1 percent of that required to be contributed by the borrower). Notably, this program comes with a 120-day rate-lock if you’re buying an existing home, or a 240-day lock for a home under construction.
SONYMA Low Interest
SONYMA’s Low Interest program offers a lower interest rate on a fixed-rate mortgage for first-time homebuyers in New York State. The program is very similar to the Achieving the Dream program, with many of the same requirements and benefits. The major difference between the two programs is that SONYMA’s Low Interest program has higher household income limits. These range from $103,700 to $215,460, depending on the size of the household and the home’s location.
SONYMA Homes for Veterans
SONYMA can also help U.S. military veterans and active personnel buy a home through low-cost financing with the Homes for Veterans program. This program is open to active-duty service members, veterans and their spouses or co-borrowers, as well as members of the National Guard and reservists. There are no points or origination fees, but you must be able to make at least a 3 percent down payment (just 1 percent from your own contributions; you can use a gift or other assistance source for the remaining 2 percent).
SONYMA Remodel NY
If the idea of buying a fixer-upper is exciting to you, you’re in luck. Remodel NY provides financing to first-time homebuyers who purchase homes that need some TLC. Borrowers can receive financing for both the renovation and the purchase of the home.
Although you won’t be able to pay for luxury upgrades under this program, it does cover a wide range of repairs. These repairs include everything from structural reconstruction, updates that improve the home’s functionality and eliminating safety hazards to fixing in-ground pools and landscaping.
- Borrowers can get financing of up to 97 percent of the “after improved” appraised value or purchase price plus eligible repairs.
- Financing includes $1,000 minimum eligible repairs with no maximum repair amount.
SONYMA Neighborhood Revitalization
The Neighborhood Revitalization program packs a big punch: Borrowers who qualify the Achieving the Dream program can apply for additional financing to buy or renovate a primary home in a designated area. With this program, buyers can get up to $20,000 for renovation costs.
SONYMA Graduate to Homeownership
Upstate New York college graduates can get help securing an affordable mortgage with their diploma thanks to the Graduate to Homeownership program. If you’re a first-time homebuyer in New York who graduated within the last 48 months with an associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s or doctorate degree and make under the maximum income allowance, you might be eligible for this program.
Buyers must also occupy the home they purchase with these funds, and the home must be in one of the following communities:
- Capital Region (Albany, Glens Falls, Hudson)
- Central New York (Auburn, Cortland, Fulton, Oswego)
- Finger Lakes (Batavia, Geneva, Penn Yan)
- Mid-Hudson (Kingston, Middletown, New Rochelle, Peekskill)
- Mohawk Valley (Amsterdam, Oneonta, Rome)
- North Country (Plattsburgh, Saranac Lake, Watertown)
- Southern Tier (Elmira, Watkins Glen)
- Western New York (Jamestown, Lockport, Niagara Falls Bridge District, Olean)
New York down payment assistance
If you get a loan through the NYS housing authority, you may be able to qualify for help with the down payment too.
SONYMA Down Payment Assistance Loan (DPAL)
The DPAL program offers eligible borrowers down-payment assistance via a second mortgage, provided you use it in conjunction with a current SONYMA program. Borrowers can also use these funds to pay for any applicable mortgage insurance premiums. The minimum assistance given is $1,000; the maximum is 3 percent of the purchase price up to $15,000, or $3,000, whichever is higher.
DPAL borrowers pay no interest or monthly payments. The main attraction is that the loan is forgiven after 10 years if the borrower keeps SONYMA funding in place and lives in the home.
SONYMA Conventional Plus
SONYMA’s Conventional Plus Program is practically a one-stop shop for mortgage options. It combines Fannie Mae’s HomeReady mortgage with down payment assistance in just one application. Additionally, existing homeowners can use this program to refinance their house.
Eligible borrowers could get a lower mortgage interest rate and no loan-level price adjustments. Loan-level price adjustments are extra fees lenders include on mortgages to offset risk factors like a low credit score and loan-to-value (LTV) ratio. Conventional Plus is available for both first-time homebuyers and previous homeowners. To qualify, your annual household income must be below 80 percent of the area median income (AMI).
SONYMA FHA Plus
Both first-time and previous homebuyers in New York can take advantage of FHA plus, which allows borrowers to combine down payment assistance with an FHA loan for a primary residence priced up to $647,200.
Other New York homebuyer assistance programs
Beyond the state’s offerings, there could be homebuying assistance available in the city or county you plan to live in. Here are some examples.
New York City HomeFirst Down Payment Assistance Program
Owning a home in New York City is a dream for many — but it can be an elusive one, because Big Apple real estate is costly. The HomeFirst Down Payment Assistance Program can help that dream become reality, though. The program provides eligible first-time homebuyers up to 20 percent of the purchase price of a home — be it a house, a condo or a co-op — up to $100,000, toward a down payment or closing costs.
INSIGHTS BOX: Closed to new applicants starting Dec. 7, 2023, the program expects to reopen in Spring 2024, as of this writing.
City of Buffalo Down Payment and Closing Cost Assistance Program (DPCC)
The city of Buffalo offers down payment assistance of up to $10,000 for qualifying first-time buyers. This assistance comes in the form of a zero-interest, forgivable loan. If you retain the home as your primary residence for five years, the loan is forgiven. Otherwise, you must repay the loan in full. To qualify, you must:
- Buy a one- to two-family home in Buffalo city limits
- Be a first-time homebuyer and use the home as your primary residence
- Complete a free homebuyer education course
- Have income between 50 percent to 80 percent of the HUD Income Guidelines
Other New York first-time homebuyer loans
On a national level, there are loans geared toward first-time homebuyers that New Yorkers can take advantage of. Some of the loans you can explore include:
- FHA loans: Loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) have more lenient financial requirements than other loans. You can get an FHA loan with 3.5 percent down and a credit score as low as 580.
- VA loans: For active-duty military, veterans and surviving spouses, a loan guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is a great option. These loans typically come with lower interest rates and don’t require a down payment.
- USDA loans: Loans guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) also require no down payment, but you’ll need to buy in a designated rural area and meet area-specific requirements.
- HomeReady and Home Possible loans: HomeReady and Home Possible are loan programs created by government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. They’re specifically for first-time homebuyers, requiring only 3 percent down and having more flexible income requirements.
If you’re buying a home in New York, it’s good to know all of your options. The housing market in NYC is a different animal than the rest of the state, for example.Along with knowing state- and city-specific programs, it’s smart to read up on first-time homebuyers loans and assistance available on a national level. The more you know about the homebuying process and the assistance available to you, the better off you’ll be.
After researching real estate, look into lenders. SONYMA doesn’t issue loans or make application decisions. However, it has vetted a list of approved lenders you can reach out to. Generally, lenders have their own borrowing requirements, and interest rates vary. Shop around with a few different companies to ensure you’re getting the best deal.