The Los Angeles housing market is not a hospitable one for first-time buyers.
Less than 30 percent of all LA residents can afford a median-priced home, according the California Association of Realtors. It can be even harder for first-time buyers, who don’t have a property they can sell to cover the cost of a down payment.
But plenty of programs exist at the local, state, and federal level to help buyers purchase their first homes—and many of them provide borrowers with help to make those costly down payments.
But those aren’t the only options. Below is breakdown of five options available specifically to buyers in the LA area.
To take advantage these programs, buyers must also obtain loans from private lenders, so credit limits or other financial restrictions may come into play. But it’s worth investigating these options if homeownership seems just out of reach.
The California Housing Finance Agency’s first mortgage program is available to most first-time buyers in California who meet the income limits where they live. In Los Angeles County, borrowers must make under $116,280 (for a one or two-person household) to qualify.
Through the CalPlus and MyHome programs, which are generally paired, buyers who receive conventional home loans from qualified private lenders can then obtain smaller loans from the state agency. These are available to cover closing costs and up to 3.5 percent of a home’s price in down payment assistance.
The smaller loans aren’t factored into monthly mortgage payments; instead, buyers repay them in a lump sum when selling or refinancing their home—or after paying off the entire mortgage.
The maximum price for properties purchased using these loans is $705,000, meaning buyers can get up to $24,675 in down payment assistance.
Administered through the Southern California Home Financing Authority, a partnership between Los Angeles and Orange counties, this program is somewhat similar to those offered by the state’s Housing Finance Agency in that borrowers can get financial assistance that goes toward the cost of a down payment.
It’s available to buyers in nearly every part of both counties, with one major exception: the entire city of Los Angeles. That’s bound to be frustrating for many prospective buyers, but hey, there are plenty of nice areas to explore outside the city limits.
What to know about condos
Most loan programs for first-time buyers can be used when purchasing condos, as well as single-family homes. But units in buildings that haven’t been approved by the Federal Housing Administration are typically off-limits.
That means you may have to do a bit more research when trying to use these loan programs to buy a condo. Use this database to check whether a complex has FHA approval.
To qualify for the program, participants must earn under $116,280 for a one or two-person household, or under $135,660 for a three-person household.Purchases are also capped at $625,764, except in targeted areas where at least 70 percent of residents are considered low-income earners by statewide standards. In these areas, buyers can pay up to $764,823.
The first-time buyer requirement is also lifted in targeted areas, meaning that homeowners in those regions could take advantage of the program to trade up for a larger or more amenity-rich property.
Program participants work with participating lenders to obtain a home loan, which comes with a grant that can be used for down payment and closing costs. The grant, which buyers do not have to pay back, can be up to 4 percent of the total value of the loan.
This program also provides financial assistance for down payment and closing costs, but the money comes out of a pool of grant funding from the federal government. That means there’s a limit to how many people can participate in the program. The county is accepting just 39 applications between now and March 2019.
Participants, who must earn under $62,000 per year (for a two-person household), can obtain loans up to $75,000 through the program. Interest isn’t charged on those loans and they don’t need to be repaid until after the buyer sells the home or pays off the mortgage.
This program also excludes the city of Los Angeles, along with many of the county’s other large cities. A list of places where participating homebuyers should focus their searches can be found here.
The city of Los Angeles has two very similar programs for first-time buyers. One is for low-income buyers making under $62,000 per year (for a two-person household). The other is for moderate-income buyers earning under $116,300 (also for a two-person household).
Both programs offer loans up to $60,000 that can be used to cover down payment and closing costs. The low-income loans can only be used on purchases up to $498,750 for single-family homes and $404,700 for condos. There isn’t a maximum purchase price for the moderate income program.
The loans don’t have to be paid off until buyers sell the home or pay off the mortgage, at which time the city will also collect a percentage of the home’s appreciated value, which varies depending on the size of the loan (if the loan amounts to 10 percent of the purchase price, you’ll have to pay back 10 percent of the home’s appreciated value).
The bad news is that loans are only being offered right now to low-income buyers, as the moderate income program is out of funds. Fortunately, the City Council approved an additional $2.3 million for the program in August, which is not yet available but is expected to fund an additional 33 loans to middle-income buyers.
The city of Inglewood has also set aside a limited amount of money to help first-time buyers. In August, the city approved $2 million in funding for a program that will provide borrowers with up to $350,000 in financial assistance.
Not only will loans from the city cover a buyer’s down payment, they’ll also significantly lower monthly mortgage costs, making homes significantly more affordable to participating residents (to qualify for the program, participants must have lived in Inglewood for three of the last five years).
The program’s benefits are enticing, but get in line soon—the city estimates that only five or six buyers will be able to get assistance through the program.
Know of other options for first-time buyers in Southern California? Let us know in the comments.