What to know about buying a house in Texas
Buying your first home is always daunting. But first-time home buyers in Texas have plenty of places to turn for help.
The Lone Star State is home to a range of first-time home buyer programs — from advice and homebuyer education courses to grants and loans that can help you cover your down payment and closing costs.
Some of these down payment assistance programs are statewide, but others are just for particular cities, towns, and counties. So make sure you explore your local options.
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Texas home buyer overview
Home buyers in Texas have a head start over buyers in some other areas.
The average home price in the state is lower than the rest of the nation: just $283,200 in April 2021 compared to over $340,000 nationwide.
However, home prices and down payments vary a lot depending on where you want to buy and what your personal finances look like.
|Texas Home Buyer Overview|
|Average Home Sale Price||$283,200|
|Minimum Down Payment in Texas (3%)||$8,496|
|20% Down Payment in Texas||$56,640|
|Average Credit Score in Texas1||688|
|Maximum Texas Home Buyer Grant2||$40,000+ in Dallas / 5% of the loan amount statewide|
Down payment amounts are based on the state’s most recently available average home sale price. “Minimum” down payment assumes 3% down on a conventional mortgage with a minimum credit score of 620.
If you’re eligible for a VA loan (backed by the Department of Veterans Affairs) or a USDA loan (backed by the US Department of Agriculture), you may not need any down payment at all.
First-time home buyer loans in Texas
If you’re a first-time buyer in Texas with a 20% down payment, you can get a conventional loan — likely with a low interest rate and no private mortgage insurance (PMI).
Putting 20% down will keep your monthly mortgage payments low. It might also give you an edge in competitive housing markets like Austin or Dallas.
However, few first-time borrowers have saved that much.
The good news is, there’s a wide range of mortgage loans that can help buyers get into a new house with low or even no down payment:
- Conventional 97 — Backed by Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae. 3% down payment and 620 minimum credit score. You can usually stop paying mortgage insurance after a few years
- FHA loan — Backed by the Federal Housing Administration. 3.5% down and a 580 minimum credit score. You’re on the hook for mortgage insurance until you refinance to a different type of mortgage, move home, or pay off your loan
- VA loan — Only for veterans and service members. Zero down payment is required. Minimum credit score varies by lender but often 620. No ongoing mortgage insurance after closing. These are arguably the best mortgages available, so check your eligibility if you have a military service history
- USDA loan — For those on low-to-moderate incomes buying in designated rural areas. Zero down payment required. Credit score requirements vary by lender but often 640. Low mortgage insurance rates
- Texas State Affordable Housing Corporation loans — Special home loans for public servants and low-income buyers. More info below
Remember, your down payment isn’t the only upfront cost when buying a house. You also need to cover closing costs, which often total 2-5% of the home loan amount.
Down payment and closing cost assistance programs — discussed below — can help first-time buyers cover their upfront fees.
Also keep in mind that your mortgage payments will include property taxes and homeowners insurance on top of loan principal and interest. So factor these homeownership costs in when estimating your home buying budget.
Texas first-time home buyer programs
There are numerous sources of help for a first-time home buyer in Texas. But a good place to start is with the Texas State Affordable Housing Corporation (TSAHC).
The TSAHC is a public body that operates statewide. It can help you set up a loan and provide advice and first-time buyer education courses.
The corporation has two major home buyer assistance programs:
- Homes for Texas Heroes Home Loan Program: Fixed-rate mortgage program for teachers, firefighters, EMS personnel, police officers, correctional officers, and veterans
- Homes Sweet Texas Home Loan Program: Fixed-rate mortgage program for Texas home buyers with low and moderate incomes for the area or county where they live.
Income limits for both programs vary by county. But there’s an online eligibility test (click the applicable link above) that will tell you whether your application might succeed.
Once you’ve gone through the form (it’s only four questions), you’re directed to a list of local participating lenders. You have to choose one of those to get TSAHC assistance.
Borrowers need a credit score of at least 620 to qualify for either program. And there are home purchase price limits, though those seem fairly generous.
Home buying help for veterans
If you’re a veteran or service member, visit the Veterans Land Board Housing Assistance Program website, which says it might provide you with low-interest loans to buy a home or land.
Texas first-time home buyer grants
If you’re approved for a home loan through the Texas State Affordable Housing Corporation, you stand to receive a mortgage credit certificate worth up to $2,000 a year off your taxes (20% to 25% of the yearly interest you pay on your mortgage).
You could also receive down payment assistance of up to 5% of the loan amount as an outright grant (never needs to be repaid) or a forgivable second mortgage.
At the end of this article, you’ll find a list of more than 40 programs that provide help for first-time home buyers in Texas. But these are specific to counties, cities, and towns. The TSAHC program is statewide.
Each down payment assistance program (DPA) can set its own rules and offer its own benefits. You may find the one serving your area is better or worse than TSAHC’s.
Be sure to compare all the programs for which you’re eligible and see which offers the best deal.
Of course, if you’re able to put 20% down and have good credit, you might not need home buyer assistance at all. In this case a standard, conventional loan is likely your best and most affordable option.
Buying a home in Texas’s big cities
Buying a home in a major city is often more expensive than in rural areas or small towns. The competition might be hotter in metro real estate markets, too.
If you’re planning to buy in one of Texas’ biggest cities, you’ll want to know what to expect. Here’s an overview.
Houston first-time home buyers
The median listing price for homes in Houston was $320,000 in April 2021. That was up 14.3% year-over-year, according to Realtor.com.
At today’s home prices, making a down payment in Houston, Texas might cost:
- $9,600 — Minimum down payment of 3%
- $64,000 — Maximum down payment of 20%
The City of Houston Housing and Community Development department offers two programs that can help first-time home buyers in Texas.
One DPA program is available to those with a household income at or below 80% of the area’s median income, and offers up to $30,000.
Its website says: “Our assistance is a no-interest, forgivable loan secured by a lien. The loan is fulfilled if the buyer lives in the home for five years. If the buyer sells or moves out of the home before the end of five years, they will pay back the City for a portion of the original loan amount.”
The other program is similar, but may specifically help home buyers who haven’t owned real estate in the last three years or who “are replacing a home that was damaged by Hurricane Harvey.”
San Antonio first-time home buyers
The median listing price for homes in San Antonio was $250,000 in April 2021. That was up from 7.8% year-over-year, according to Realtor.com.
At today’s home prices in San Antonio, a down payment would cost around:
- $7,500 — Minimum down payment of 3%
- $50,000 — Maximum down payment of 20%
The Neighborhood & Housing Services Department (NHSD) has a Homeownership Incentive Program (HIP 80), which lends between $1,000 and $15,000 to help first-time home buyers with their upfront housing costs.
In the words of the NHSD website, assistance is in the form of a “0% interest / no payments second loan which can be used for the down-payment required by your lender and some of the additional costs associated with purchasing a home. 100% of the loan will be forgiven over a 5-year period.”
San Antonio has two other down payment assistance programs, too; one for first responders and another for employees.
Dallas first-time home buyers
The median listing price for homes in Dallas was $418,700 in April 2021. That was up 11.7% year-over-year, according to Realtor.com.
At today’s home prices, a down payment in Dallas might cost:
- $12,560 — Minimum down payment of 3%
- $83,740 — Maximum down payment of 20%
The City of Dallas has three down payment assistance programs. The amount you get depends on your needs and in most areas is capped at $40,000.
To qualify for home buyer aid in Dallas, you must have a household income that’s no higher than 80% of the area’s median income.
The website says, “The assistance is a second lien as a forgivable deferred loan. Loan terms are interest-free with no monthly payments, prorated annually based on the affordability period (residency term of the loan). Partial repayment is due upon sale, lease, transfer or other disposition of the property.”
That’s more vague than Austin and San Antonio’s offerings, but you can call (214) 670-3644 to get a clearer idea of what’s offered. Or, talk to your loan officer about what local aid you might qualify for.
Where to find home buying help in Texas
All the organizations we’ve listed above should provide advice freely to any first-time home buyer in Texas.
In addition to our selection, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides a list of city- and county-specific programs across Texas. The list is as follows:
TX first-time home buyer resources by city/town
TX first-time home buyer resources by county
What are today’s mortgage rates in Texas?
You can check current mortgage interest rates in Texas here.
Or, you can talk check directly with a lender to get rates tailored to your situation.
If you decide to use one of the assistance programs listed above, you’ll get to pick an approved lender from that agency’s list. That lender will assign a loan officer to help you through the rest of the home buying process.
If you’re going the traditional route — without home buyer assistance — you’re free choose from any nationwide or local mortgage lender.
In either case, it’s recommended you apply with at least 3-5 lenders to make sure you’re getting the lowest mortgage rate available.
Rate quotes can sometimes vary by as much as 0.50% between lenders, so shopping around for rates could save you a bundle on your new home.
1 Source: Experian.com 2021 study of 2020 data
2Based on a review of the state’s available DPA grants at the time this was written