Scraping up a down payment to buy a house isn't easy, so Freddie Mac wants to help.
The federal mortgage giant recently launched DPA One, a website that connects buyers with dozens of down payment assistance programs offered by state housing finance agencies in 48 states.
There's a bonus for Minnesota buyers trying to navigate higher rates and waning affordability: a much more comprehensive list of such programs from state, local and municipal programs. That provides about three dozen options for cash-strapped borrowers and makes the state one of just a few with an even more extensive list of choices.
"DPA One delivers a one-stop shop at no cost that brings lenders and their borrowers greater detail and visibility into these programs," said Sonu Mittal, senior vice president of single-family acquisitions for Freddie Mac, "while seamlessly connecting the right assistance program with the lender, housing counselors and borrowers who need this assistance the most."
The timing of such a tool is apt, as next year, $100 million in down payment assistance will start flowing through Minnesota's First-Generation Homebuyers Community Down Payment Assistance Fund, which the state Legislature approved in May.
The fund provides up to 10% of the home's purchase price (capped at $32,000) in down payment assistance to eligible homebuyers across the state by way of a zero-interest loan forgiven through five years, so long as the buyer lives in the home as a primary residence.
Erin Green Wilson, a Department of Housing and Urban Development-certified homeownership adviser with Twin Cities-based PRG Inc., said higher mortgage rates — and home prices — have made it all the more difficult for entry-level buyers to break into homeownership. She said a growing number of people are "mortgage ready," but unable to buy because they haven't saved enough for a down payment or can't find a house they can afford.
To bridge the difference between what houses cost and what they can afford to pay every month, many buyers are trying to come up with larger down payments, she said.
"We saw people lose $70,000 to $90,000 in affordability," she said. "Down payment assistance is so critical."
PRG is one of several homeownership counseling centers in the Twin Cities area that helps buyers navigate the challenges of homeownership, from qualifying for a mortgage to finding down payment assistance. Such groups, including the Minnesota Homeownership Center and NeighborWorks Home Partners, have teams of counselors who are able to help buyers tap into a variety of down payment and mortgage programs.
The impact of higher mortgage rates, which are now at their highest in more than 20 years but back to historical averages, has been significant. The Minneapolis Area Realtors said its monthly Housing Affordability Index reached its lowest level since at least 2004. The monthly payment on a median-priced home stands at $2,650 so far this year, more than $1,000 higher than three years ago when rates were at record lows.
Mittal said while Freddie Mac designed the free, no-obligation DPA program primarily for counselors and loan officers to use, it's accessible to homebuyers who want to start the search for assistance on their own.
The database isn't limited to programs available only to low-income borrowers. Many down payment programs target buyers in specific communities, so DPA lets buyers do geographic searches based on their financial needs.
"We looked at what existed and saw a gap in marketplace for someone to do this," Mittal said.
DPA One enables users to enter a variety of eligibility parameters and then quickly receive and compare appropriately matched programs. Users can download those results and compare up to three programs side by side to decide which program is best.
At last count, there were 35 such programs in the Minnesota database, but Freddie Mac will add more as they become available.
For homebuyers and even many mortgage professionals, comparing so many programs can be difficult. Freddie's goal is to standardize the information — enabling users to quickly evaluate various programs — to reduce submission errors and program requirement questions from lenders. Users can manage, edit and update their search results in real-time.
Mittal said, in Minnesota, 96% of those who purchase a home with down payment assistance wouldn't have qualified without it. Roughly half of those recipients received up to $9,000 in assistance. Another quarter received even more. On average, he said, recipients used assistance from three different programs.
"Time and again, research reveals that the down payment is the single largest hurdle first-time homebuyers need to overcome to attain homeownership," he said. "But finding and comparing the many programs and their guidelines is challenging."