New York State First-Time Home Buyer Programs of 2021

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The State of New York Mortgage Agency, or SONYMA, offers special programs to qualified first-time home buyers who want to purchase property in-state. If you haven’t owned a primary residence during the past three years, SONYMA considers you a first-time home buyer.

National first-time home buyer programs

You don't have to be an Empire State resident to access these national programs. They are a good first step before you drill down to state-sanctioned initiatives.

Conventional mortgage

Best for:

Low down payments, limited mortgage insurance premiums

What you need to know:

A conventional mortgage is a home loan that isn’t guaranteed or insured by the federal government. Conventional mortgages that conform to the requirements set forth by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac allow down payments as low as 3% for first-time buyers or lower-income home buyers. Unlike FHA loans, conventional loans allow borrowers to eventually cancel their mortgage insurance or avoid mortgage insurance altogether if they put at least 20% down.

VA loans

Best for:

Military, low down payments

What you need to know:

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs helps service members, veterans and surviving spouses buy homes. VA loans are especially generous, providing competitive interest rates, often requiring no down payment or mortgage insurance. Although there is no official minimum credit score, most VA-approved lenders require scores of at least 640.

FHA loans

Best for:

Low credit score, low down payments

What you need to know:

This is the go-to program for many first-time home buyers with lower credit scores. The Federal Housing Administration allows down payments as low as 3.5% for those with credit scores of 580 or higher. The FHA will insure loans for borrowers with scores as low as 500 but requires a 10% down payment for a score that low. Mortgage insurance is required for the life of an FHA loan and cannot be canceled.

USDA loans

Best for:

Low down payments, rural

What you need to know:

A USDA home loan is a zero-down-payment mortgage for eligible rural and suburban home buyers. USDA loans are issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture through the USDA Rural Development Guaranteed Housing Loan Program. There are income limitations, which vary by region. Applicants with credit scores of 640 or higher receive streamlined processing. Those with scores below that must meet more stringent underwriting standards.

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SONYMA highlights and eligibility requirements

These SONYMA programs are offered to New York state first-time home buyers and some repeat buyers.

Highlights

  • Down payment assistance is offered.

  • Additional funds may be available for repairs and remodeling.

  • Single-family and multi-unit properties may be eligible, including condos and co-ops.

Eligibility

  • Must meet county limits on household income and purchase price.

  • Good credit and stable employment required.

  • Borrower cash contribution of 1%-3% of purchase price.

  • Attend a home buyer education course.

New York state first-time home buyer programs

Achieving the Dream

Best for:

Low-income borrowers, low down payment, low mortgage rates

What you need to know:

The Achieving the Dream program is offered to lower-income, first-time home buyer applicants. Borrowers will receive reduced interest rates and a lower down payment requirement on a 30-year loan. The mortgage can finance the purchase and renovation of a one- or two-unit home, and there are also incentives for buyers of energy-efficient, new-construction homes.

Conventional Plus Program

Best for:

Down payment assistance, closing cost assistance

What you need to know:

This loan wraps a lot of features into one program. It’s the Swiss army knife of mortgage assistance: Take a 30-year loan for purchase or refinance, throw in down payment assistance, and offer it to first-time home buyers or existing homeowners. And that’s just the start. The Conventional Plus Program can use the down payment assistance for closing costs — and that can help a borrower avoid mortgage insurance. All that, and relaxed loan approval standards.

Low Interest Rate Program

Best for:

Low-income borrowers, low mortgage rates

What you need to know:

Low-to-moderate-income home buyers get a favorable interest rate in SONYMA’s Low Interest Rate Program — though published rates for the Achieving the Dream Program are even lower.

Down Payment Assistance Loans

Best for:

Down payment assistance

What you need to know:

A down payment assistance loan can be combined with any SONYMA mortgage program. It’s structured as a second mortgage, but there are no monthly payments required, and interest is not charged. In fact, the loans are forgiven after 10 years if borrowers maintain their primary SONYMA financing, and continue living in the home. Minimum down payment assistance loans are $1,000; the maximum is $3,000 or 3% of the home’s purchase price — whichever is higher, up to a $15,000 limit. And as mentioned above, a down payment assistance loan may be used for closing costs. Your interest rate on a SONYMA loan may be a little higher with a down payment assistance loan, though some programs are excluded from the bump in rate. Some lenders may not offer down payment assistance loans.

Homes for Veterans Program

Best for:

Military

What you need to know:

This program aims to help veterans and active-duty U.S. military personnel buy a home, even if it’s not their first. The loans offer favorable terms, and down payment assistance is available. Military-affiliated borrowers don’t have to meet first-time buyer requirements and generally get a break on interest rates.

RemodelNY

Best for:

Home improvements

What you need to know:

RemodelNY is a purchase and renovation mortgage rolled into one. Whether you have your eye on a fixer-upper or a home that simply needs a few upgrades, this SONYMA 30-year loan may be just what you need to enhance that home’s curb — and family — appeal.

Energy Star Labeled Homes Program

Best for:

Energy-efficient improvements

What you need to know:

If you’re buying new construction or building a home, this program allows you to install energy-efficient upgrades. This can include windows, insulation, appliances, lighting, and heating and cooling systems.

FHA Plus Program

Best for:

Low mortgage insurance, government-backed loans

What you need to know:

Available for new home buyers or existing homeowners, the FHA Plus Program incorporates SONYMA’s down payment assistance with an FHA-backed mortgage. This can help you reduce the mortgage insurance premium you pay on an FHA loan.

Graduate to Homeownership Program

Best for:

Recent college graduates

What you need to know:

An innovative program geared to recent college graduates, SONYMA provides down payment assistance, favorable interest-rate loans and homebuying education to prospective borrowers. A unique qualifier: Applicants must be looking to buy their first home in specified New York communities slated for downtown revitalization. The cities include Elmira, Geneva, Glens Falls, Jamestown, Middletown, Oneonta, Oswego and Plattsburgh.

Neighborhood Revitalization Program

Best for:

Home improvements

What you need to know:

A major priority for New York state’s home buyer initiatives is to improve neighborhoods and revitalize communities. The Neighborhood Revitalization Program offers cash and financing assistance for prospective homeowners to buy and renovate vacant homes. The properties can include one- to four-family homes, and county purchase price limits do not apply. There are eligible communities in Buffalo, the Bronx, Long Island, Queens and Staten Island, among others.

Summary: 2021 SONYMA first-time home buyer programs

  • Achieving the Dream offers a low down payment and a discounted interest rate to lower-income borrowers.

  • The Conventional Plus Program offers cash assistance with relaxed loan qualifications.

  • The Low Interest Rate Program has favorable interest rates on loans for low- to moderate-income borrowers.

  • Down Payment Assistance Loans provide up to $15,000 in assistance.

  • The Homes for Veterans Program helps military borrowers buy a home, whether or not it's their first.

  • RemodelNY combines purchase and renovation loans.

  • The Energy Star Labeled Homes Program encourages energy-efficient upgrades.

  • The FHA Plus Program allows down payment assistance on an already low-down-payment FHA home loan.

  • The Graduate to Homeownership Program offers down payment assistance to recent college graduates buying in certain New York State communities.

  • The Neighborhood Revitalization Program provides cash and financing assistance to buy and renovate vacant homes.

Remember, the lender you work with may have additional borrower requirements than those stated in any SONYMA assistance program. They may include credit score minimums or other credit qualifications. So, dig into the programs you’re interested in, learn all you can, then talk to a few lenders about the possibilities.

For full details on any SONYMA program, visit the SONYMA website.

To find participating lenders, search the SONYMA lender list.

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