From bustling cities like Atlanta to the picturesque communities of Savannah, Athens and Canton, Georgia is a charming state to call home. Are you a first-time homebuyer shopping for a new house in the Peach State?
It’s a lot to prepare for but there is plenty of help available for homebuyers across Georgia. Between statewide and locally-run programs, shoppers can take advantage of homeownership assistance programs that can help with everything from down payment and closing cost assistance, to tax credits and other perks.
Read on to learn more about these programs, their eligibility requirements, and how to apply.
Who Qualifies as a First-Time Homebuyer in Georgia?
The definition for a first-time homeowner in Georgia is as straightforward as it gets: Any family or individual who has never owned a home.
However, you’re also considered a first-time homebuyer if you haven’t owned a home in the last three years, according to some programs. If you’re close to the three-year mark, it may be worth waiting so you can take advantage of these programs to help you with your home purchase.
As always, when doing your research, read the fine print and refer to limitations listed below.
Statewide Homeownership Assistance Programs
The Georgia Department of Community Affairs offers a series of statewide assistance programs that are worth exploring for first-time homeowners.
The programs differ but there are overarching requirements, specifically being from a low- to moderate income household and purchasing a home within price limits. Additionally, the property must be your principal residence.
These programs are available across all Georgia counties. Individuals must complete a homebuyer’s education course or individual counseling sessions for approval.
Georgia Dream Homeownership Program
The Georgia Dream Homeownership Program is the flagship program offered by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. In a nutshell, it provides first-time homebuyers with affordable mortgage rates and down payment assistance options.
Via the program, you can get help securing 30-year fixed rate mortgages at low interest rates, and up to $5,000 in down payment assistance. The down payment help is a 0% interest loan in the form of a second mortgage. You are not required to pay it back until you sell or refinance your home.
Keep in mind, the average Georgia Dream process takes about 60 days from application to closing. Read more about the Georgia Dream Homeownership Program.
Georgia Dream Homeownership Program – Protectors, Educators and Nurses Loan (PEN)
While the Georgia Dream Homeownership Program is the standard program, the PEN Loan provides help to homebuyers in specific occupations. This program is offered to public protectors, including military servicemen, policemen and firefighters; educators, like teachers and childcare providers; and health care personnel from nurses to doctors. A bonus: You don’t have to be a first-time homebuyer to apply.
In this case, homebuyers may qualify for up to $7,500 in down payment assistance in a 0% interest second mortgage loan. You won’t have to pay this funding back until you sell or finance your property.
Check out more about the Georgia Dream PEN Program.
Georgia Dream Homeownership Program – Consumer Homeownership and Independence Choices for Everyone (CHOICE) Loan
The CHOICE Loan is another offshoot of the Georgia Dream Homeownership Program. It’s available for homebuyers who have a disability or have a disabled dependent living with them.
The CHOICE Loan provides up to $7,500 for down payment assistance in a 0% interest second mortgage. Just like the others, the repayment is deferred until you sell your home or refinance.
To be eligible, you must secure your first mortgage with a Georgia Dream Homeownership loan and provide proof that you or a family member are living with a disability.
To apply, check out the CHOICE Loan program contact details.
Georgia Dream Hardest Hit Fund Down Payment Assistance Program (DPA)
To help revive homeownership in key areas in the wake of the 2008 financial crash, the Georgia Department of Community Affairs launched the Hardest Hit Fund DPA Program.
Homebuyers can receive $15,000 in a 0% interest deferred loan to apply towards their down payment and closing costs. But this funding is earmarked for Georgia’s hardest hit counties: Fulton, DeKalb, Clayton, Muscogee, Douglas, Chatham, and Bibb.
The program is funded through federal cash and operates on a first-come, first-served basis.
Check out the Hardest Hit Fund DPA program’s full details on the official website.
Homebuyer Programs by Location in Georgia
While statewide programs can give you a leg up as you get onto the property ladder, there are plenty of local homebuyer assistance programs across Georgia that are worth researching.
The programs are a mixed bag – the majority are exclusively for first-time homebuyers or anyone who hasn’t owned a home in the past three years, while a few shift the focus to any homebuyers who are from a lower-income bracket. Read more for our full rundown of local programs.
Are you house-hunting in Athens? The university town, nestled in the northeastern reaches of Georgia, is a vibrant city steeped in culture from museums to theatres and local breweries.
The Athens Housing Authority runs the ACT I Homes program geared towards helping homebuyers so long as they earn 60% to 80% of the area’s median income (AMI).
The program emphasizes that it’s helping “working families earning a modest annual income,” who are renters trying to reach the milestone of homeownership. Instead of paying rent, these homebuyers can secure an ACT I home, built, renovated and sold through the AHA. Monthly mortgage payments, including principal, interest, taxes and insurance, are often lower than their current rent.
The program comes with a specific set of requirements.
The Housing Authority also operates a Down Payment Assistance (DPA) Program with a 0% interest loan.
Read more about the Athens DPA and ACT I program.
If you need financial advice as you navigate your housing purchase, Athens-Clarke County provides free general housing counseling, credit counseling for prospective homebuyers, mortgage counseling and homebuyer delinquency counseling.
Check out the Athens-Clarke County official website for details.
Are you shopping for a new home in Atlanta? Georgia’s capital city has the state’s largest real estate market with over 900 new home communities. It also has a string of organizations offering homebuyers help with securing their first home.
The Atlanta Housing Authority runs a Homeownership Down Payment Assistance Program, which helps low- to moderate-income first-time homebuyers with a subsidy of up to $20,000. You can apply for up to $25,000 if you’re a first-time homebuyer working in public health, public safety, education, or if you’re in the military or a veteran.
The loan is forgivable after 10 years so if you keep your home as your primary residence for a decade, you’re off the hook for repaying this lump sum down payment.
There are some caveats though: your home must be purchased within city boundaries, it can’t exceed $250,000 in price, and your home must meet certain criteria (manufactured homes are excluded). You must complete a homebuyer’s education course and foreclosure prevention classes, too.
Check out the AHA’s Homeownership DPA Program.
Invest Atlanta, which is an organization dedicated to boosting the city’s economy, operates a handful of programs to help homebuyers purchase a home.
HOME Atlanta 4.0, for example, offers qualifying homebuyers a Federal Housing Authority (FHA) and Veterans Affairs (VA) home loan with a 3.5% grant to help with their down payment and closing costs. The grant is fully forgiven at closing.
The Atlanta Affordable Homeownership Program (AAHOP) gives eligible homebuyers up to $14,000 in a loan that’s fully forgiven after five years.
The catch? You must qualify for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage via one of Invest Atlanta’s participating lenders, you must not exceed $10,000 in liquid assets, and you must have a credit score of 580.
The Intown Mortgage Assistance Program (IMAP) was set up to help low- and moderate-income homebuyers who plan on staying in their home for at least a decade. IMAP assists these homebuyers secure a mortgage and provides $10,000 towards down payment and closing cost expenses.
In this case, homebuyers need to pay a $1,000 fee, and they must have a minimum credit score of 660 with a maximum debt-to-income ratio of 45%.
Invest Atlanta also runs regional programs in Perry Bolton and Vine City.
Read more about Invest Atlanta’s homeownership programs, their requirements and how to apply on the official website.
Looking for a new home in Augusta-Richmond County? The region offers a down payment assistance program providing first-time homebuyers with a $5,000 deferred loan that’s forgiven at the five-year mark.
To take advantage of this program, you need to have good credit history, a steady income and full-time employment. You’ll also need to complete a homebuyer’s education course.
If your heart is set on buying a home in Cobb County, the city runs the HOME Investment Partnerships program that helps with everything from repairing existing homes to helping renters and homebuyers gain access to affordable housing.
The program provides down payment assistance to all homebuyers – first-time or repeat buyers. The key is not exceeding 80% of the city’s median income and purchasing a home within Cobb County limits.
Check out the income limits and other eligibility criteria on the Cobb County official website.
Homebuyers in Columbus should look into the NeighborWorks Columbus Employer Assisted Housing (EAH) Program. If your employer is a NeighborWorks partner and you’re a first-time homebuyer, you may be eligible for grants to use towards your home purchase. If you’re buying a home in a targeted area within Columbus, you can unlock additional grant money, increasing to $5,000.
Read more about the NeighborWorks Columbus EAH Program, and its list of current partners.
Columbus City’s Community Reinvestment Department also offers a homebuyer assistance down payment program, providing low-income homebuyers with a 0% interest loan of up to $10,000. Check out the full details and how to contact on the city’s official website.
If you’re shopping for a home in DeKalb, next door to Atlanta, you may qualify for the city’s Workforce Enhancement (WE) down payment grant program. It provides a down payment grant worth between 3% and 5% of your home’s price tag to applicants interested in purchasing, or refinancing, a home. The program is fair game for repeat homebuyers.
WE was introduced to encourage homeownership in DeKalb to Atlantans. It’s geared towards people who can’t apply for affordable housing subsidies due to their income but still need a hand with saving up for a hefty down payment and the closing costs.
Homebuyers looking for a home in Hall County can apply for down payment assistance via the Homestretch program. Eligible homebuyers will receive up to $7,500 in a 0% interest five-year deferred payment loan.
Hall County is focused on helping low-income households so your earnings are what come into play. You need to be a first-time homebuyer earning below 80% of the county’s median income, and you must have a credit score above 640.
Your home purchase must be a single-family detached or town home within Hall County. If you qualify, the county will issue your funding within 30 days to apply towards your down payment.
Read more about Hall County’s Homestretch program.
If you want to live closer to the Gulf Coast, you should explore communities in Savannah. Savannah is the oldest city in Georgia and its charm extends to history buffs, fashionistas and foodies alike – it has a little bit of everything to make any homeowner happy.
Savannah runs a trio of Dream Maker Homebuyer Assistance Programs, each with different levels of financial assistance depending on the location and construction type of your home.
Dream Maker 1, for example, provides up to $5,000 in a deferred loan that’s repaid when you sell or refinance your property. This program is available city-wide, including homes outside of target neighborhoods. You’ll need to invest at least $1,000 into your home’s purchase.
Dream Maker 2 increases funding to $7,500 but your home purchase needs to be within a targeted area.
Finally, Dream Maker 3 provides up to $60,000 in a deferred loan to help you buy a two-story home in key redevelopment areas and new construction sites.
You don’t need to be a first-time homebuyer to qualify for any of these programs.
Ready to Buy a Home in Georgia?
Whether you’re shopping for a home in Atlanta or scoping out properties in Macon, there is no shortage of housing options in the sunny Peach State. Georgia’s real estate market is thriving with every kind of housing option you can think of – from manufactured homes to waterfront houses, golf course communities, new condos and family-friendly townhomes.
And wherever you decide to put down roots in Georgia, there are multiple programs to help you secure your home purchase.
The links on this site were researched by NewHomeSource. This is as cohesive a list as possible. Individual homebuyers should contact entities to fully understand requirements and processes.
Carmen Chai is an award-winning Canadian journalist who has lived and reported from major cities such as Vancouver, Toronto, London and Paris. For NewHomeSource, Carmen covers a variety of topics, including insurance, mortgages, and more.