Andrew Doepping used a program at a local lender to help him make a down payment on his first condo. (Teddy Wolff/For Express)

When Andrew Doepping, 28, was looking to buy his first home this year, he had some help in the down payment department.

Through a program at Lafayette Federal Credit Union (where he also works), Doepping and his wife, Caroline, were able to snag a two-bedroom condo in Silver Spring in April with a 10 percent down payment, no private mortgage insurance, and $1,500 to help with closing costs.

In the pricey D.C. area housing market, saving enough money to make the usual 20 percent down payment is tough. Add closing costs, which are thousands of dollars, and many would-be buyers think they’re out of luck. But there are many programs available to help first-time homebuyers with down payments, closing costs or both.

Get advice
The first step to getting a good loan is to find a Realtor and lender with whom you’re comfortable, Doepping says. They can help walk you through what assistance may be available. “Trust is huge,” he says.

He relied on Realtor Katie Wethman of the Wethman Group at Keller Williams Realty (703-655-7672).

For her clients, if a 20 percent down payment is out of reach, Wethman says, she points them in the direction of down payment assistance programs.

“Almost none of my first-time homebuyers have 20 percent down,” she says. “The most common is 5 percent or 10 percent down.”

Typically buyers who put down less than 20 percent pay private mortgage insurance — which protects lenders in case a buyer defaults on a mortgage loan — but there are ways around that, which lenders can discuss.

Do your research
Homebuyer assistance programs come from an array of sources, including lender- or government-sponsored programs.

For starters, check your bank. Doepping, for example, used LaFayette Federal’s first-time homebuyer loan, which is available to any member of the credit union.

Look at your options in the city, state or county where you want to buy, too. D.C.’s homebuyer assistance program, DC Opens Doors, helps qualified buyers get low-interest home loans or down payment assistance to purchase a primary residence in the city. The program was expanded in 2013, meaning it is no longer limited to first-time homebuyers, and income restrictions are less stringent.

“This gives people who would not ordinarily have the opportunity to live in the city an affordable option,” says Maria Day-Marshall, interim executive director of D.C.’s Housing Finance Agency.

For buyers in Maryland, the Maryland Mortgage Program has a down payment assistance program as well as similar “partner match” programs, which are backed by employers, developers and community organizations.

State funding can be combined with funding from local programs, like the Housing Opportunities Commission of Montgomery County’s down payment/closing cost assistance program for qualified buyers looking to live in Montgomery County (hocmc.org). Some cities, including Gaithersburg, have programs, too.

In Virginia, the Down Payment Assistance program provides down payment assistance of up to 10 percent of the purchase price of the house and up to $2,500 in closing cost aid. Virginia’s program is geared toward low- and moderate-income first-time buyers.

Be proactive
Since many assistance programs require a homeowner education class to qualify, research them early. Of course, these programs may not be for everyone.

Sheena Burton Saydam, a Realtor with Keller Williams Capital Properties (202-243-7700), tells her clients about assistance programs, but the income caps can be limiting and buyers using these programs may take longer to close, she says. That may hurt their potential to win a bid.

“This market is really competitive,” Saydam says. “If a seller has a lot of options and one will close in 30 days versus 90 days, they’ll go with the 30 days.”

But Dan Caplan, a lender with Monument Bank, says participating in these programs doesn’t have to mean delays in closing. “There’s a lot of [prep] you can do before you make the offer,” he says. “Then when you have the contract, we can move quickly.”

The bottom line: Prospective condo buyers shouldn’t let the specter of down payments deter them.
“Owning a home does not need to be terrifying,” Doepping says.

Local homebuyer aid programs at a glance

Looking for a little boost to buy a condo? Local governments and other entities offer an array of down payment assistance for qualified buyers. Here’s a look at three big programs.

DC Opens Doors
Loan/grant type amount: 3.5 percent of home price for Federal Housing Administration loans;
3 percent for conventional loans
Repayment: The loan is forgiven after five years, but you’ll repay it if you refinance or sell before then.
Income restriction: The max household income is $123,395.
Education: Class required for conventional loans

Maryland Mortgage Program’s Down Payment Assistance program
Loan/grant type amount: Up to $8,500
Repayment: There is no interest, so the principal is repaid after the main MMP mortgage is paid or if the home is refinanced or sold.
Income restriction: One- to two-person households making less than $88,400 are eligible; one- to two-person households making $88,400 to $128,760 may be eligible. Income limit is higher for larger households.
Education: Class required

Virginia’s Down Payment Assistance program
Loan/grant type amount: Up to 10 percent of the purchase price, based on need (may be up to
20 percent in certain communities); up to $2,500 of closing costs
Repayment: If the homeowner stays in the home for a designated “affordability period” of either five, 10 or 15 years, the grant is forgiven. Refinance or sell and you repay it.
Income restriction: Limited to homebuyers at or below 80 percent of the area median income as defined by HUD.
Education: Class and buyer counseling required