Buying a home for the first time is an exciting step, though it can quickly become overwhelming
South Florida residents who are purchasing their first home have many important decisions to make during the process. Considerations include state and local regulations and legal procedures on top of budgeting and searching for the perfect property. While it's an exciting time, the process can be overwhelming.
Working with an attorney isn't a requirement in Florida, but it's always a wise choice, especially for first-time homebuyers. Here's what you need to know as a first-time homebuyer in southern Florida.
Assistance for first-time homebuyers
Florida State offers assistance programs for first-time homebuyers since it's such a big financial commitment that is, often, wrought with stress.
Florida's First Time Homebuyer (FTHB) program offers new homeowners significant assistance for those who qualify. The three programs are:
- Florida First: Low, 30-year fixed-rate mortgage to qualified borrowers
- Florida Advantage: For rural self-help buyers or households that include someone with a disability.
- Community Heroes: 30-year first mortgage program to assist veterans and active duty military personnel, in addition to full-time school system employees, police department, firefighter, and health care workers. These loans often have lower interest rates.
In addition, if you have trouble coming up with a down payment on a new home, Florida has assistance programs: Florida Assist and Homeownership Assistance for Moderate Income Loan (HAMI).
Florida Assist offers borrowers up to $7,500 to help with a down payment or closing costs, which is a deferred second mortgage with no payments and 0%t interest that is repaid when the home is sold or refinanced or after the first mortgage term has ended.
HAMI is another down payment assistance program that gives borrowers $5,000 in assistance, which is a low, fixed rated second mortgage that is repaid over 10 years.
There are other grant programs available to first-time Florida homebuyers throughout the state. Generally, eligibility requirements for grants include:
- Have never purchased a home before
- Must take a homebuyer education course
- Be within certain income limits of a given program
- Be within the home purchase price limits
- Be within approved location boundaries
- Use the home as your primary residence
For South Florida specifically, Miami-Dade County offers a homeownership assistance program, helping residents afford their first home purchase by offering a 0% interest deferred loan to help fund down payment and closing costs.
This makes it easier for homebuyers to get approved for a loan. The maximum assistance provided by this program is $7,250 for households that are at or below 80% of the adjusted gross median income (ADMI) and $4,750 for households above 80% of the ADMI of the sales price of the home.
The Hallandale Beach Community Redevelopment Agency (HBCRA) offers first-time homebuyer assistance with a maximum of $80,000 in down payment help in the CRA district. Income restrictions apply.
Other southern Florida communities offer similar assistance programs, so be sure to check what's available in your area, or work with a professional who has experience in your location.
Florida is one of the only a few states that has a homestead exemption. The homestead tax exemption gives property owners $25,000 in reduction from the property's value, reducing property taxes by about $650 annually. The owner must be the permanent resident of the property as of December 31 of the previous year and must apply for the exemption at the property appraiser's office on or before March 1 of the following year.
The Florida homestead exemption for asset protection gives property owners security from non-lien creditors, as long as the property is their primary residence.
Tips for first-time homebuyers
Aside from financial assistance, there are many important considerations to make when you begin the researching, viewing, and homebuying process.
1. Work with a real estate agent
You may think you can save big by going through the process on your own, but working with a real estate agent has many benefits. These professionals know the area and the market, and they can point you in the direction of properties that are within your price point. It's also helpful to have assistance with negotiations.
2. Stick to your budget
When you start looking at homes, it's easy to get swept up by an expensive property that you fall in love with. While negotiating is something you should always do, don't fall prey to buying a home that's outside your budget. Even with state and local assistance programs, you'll be in a huge financial mess in the future when you can no longer afford your mortgage payments.
3. Be flexible
We all have our lists must-haves when making a big purchase like a home or a car. But buying a home within your budget that also meets everything on your list is no easy task. Make sure you're approaching the process with an open mind about your top priorities. Discuss with your spouse or family what features would be deal-breakers and which you could give up if necessary.
4. Work with an attorney
A big part of the home buying process is reviewing documents, including contracts, the bill of sale, the deed, and mortgage documents. These documents contain many small details with significant impacts that you may not have the time to take on. Working with an experienced real estate attorney is always a good idea for this reason. While it's not a requirement in Florida to do so, you'll save a lot of time and headaches by letting a lawyer handle much of the process.
To get started with a real estate attorney in South Florida, contact our team of experienced attorneys at PeytonBolin. We help you through the homebuying process, from start to closing.