First Time Buying a Home?

Adam L. Brinklow | October 28, 2014 | Story Real Estate

This is part of "Live Large, Spend Less," a comprehensive guide to surviving (and even flourishing) in America's most expensive city. See all of the stories here.

Pity the middle-class San Franciscan (that is, the majority of us)—too poor to buy a first home, too rich to qualify for most subsidies. For city dwellers such as these, the real estate market is a particularly harsh mistress. But help exists. You too can win a generously termed loan or grant from the city, so long as you happen to be a first-time home buyer who is also:

1. Making less than 120 percent of the city median income. If you’re single, that’s $81.5K. For a family of three, it’s $104.9K, and for a family of four, it’s $116.5K. (“Our chart goes up to seven kids,” says Maria Benjamin, the city’s director of homeownership. You can still get assistance if you have octuplets—they’ll just have to make a bigger chart.) If you qualify, the city will advance you up to $200K as a silent down payment loan on a residence; you don’t have to pay it back until you move, when the cash is taken out of your resale boon. The exact sum is determined by your need, but in this market the loan rarely dips below the maximum.

2. A teacher. Accredited K–12 teachers employed in San Francisco can get a $20K grant on a home. It starts as a loan, but the amount that must be repaid goes down $2K every year that you stay in the house. Stay for 10 years, and you’re square. Sadly, this fund is almost out of cash (“We have enough left for about two more teachers,” says Benjamin), but the city is ready to work with the school board and outside parties to re-up.

3. A cop, a firefighter, or a sheriff’s deputy. Emergency responders can qualify for a $100K silent loan on a home if they make under 200 percent of the median income ($194K for a family of four). The city says that it would like to see that loan sum get bigger.

4. A cop, again. On top of the emergency responders’ loan, SFPD officers can qualify for a $20K grant on the same terms as those offered by the teachers’ program. That’s what comes of having a good union.

5. Buying a home in North Beach, SoMa, the Bayview, Visitacion Valley, or the Western Addition. Anybody can get a tax break on a mortgage, but if you buy in certain neighborhoods (go to for a full list), you can obtain a mortgage credit certificate that will let you write off an extra 15 percent of your mortgage value at tax time.

Check for details on applying for the above programs and a list of preferred lenders.

Originally published in the November issue of San Francisco

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