Georgia offers a number of programs to first-time home buyers to make owning a home more attainable. These state-supported programs are designed to:
- Ease the financial burdens of closing costs
- Ease the financial burdens of a down payment
- Offer mortgage assistance
The benefits of being a first-time buyer include assistance with down payments and closing costs and potentially lower lending requirements (like lower minimum credit score or income requirements).
To receive a loan through the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA), such as a Georgia Dream loan, borrowers must complete free homeowner education.
🏡 Housing market in Georgia
What are first-time home buyer requirements in Georgia?
To be a qualified first-time buyer in Georgia, you must either:
- Not have owned a home in the past three years
- Be purchasing a home in areas targeted for development
Meeting either of the above criteria is required to qualify for a Georgia Dream loan.
Tools lenders use to evaluate home buyers
Lenders use a credit score to determine a borrower's trustworthiness.
Debt-to-income ratio (DTI)
Lenders evaluate a borrower's debt-to-income ratio to prevent the borrower from taking on too much debt and defaulting on their loans. Typically, lenders want your DTI to be 36–43% of your gross income.
To calculate your DTI, add all of your recurring monthly debt payments, plus your estimated mortgage payment, and divide it by your gross monthly income (before taxes).
Loan-to-value ratio (LTV)
Lenders use a loan-to-value ratio to ensure they provide ONLY the absolutely necessary amount of money to a borrower.
To determine your LTV, lenders divide your home loan amount by your property's value.
An LTV of more than 80% is considered risky, since it means the lender will lend more money to their customers. However, that doesn’t mean a lender won't offer a loan to a borrower with a high LTV.
Private mortgage insurance (PMI)
Lenders use private mortgage insurance to protect their investment in case a borrower defaults on their loan. PMI usually equals 0.3–1.15% of the loan amount.
Lenders typically require PMI on conventional mortgages where the borrower's down payment is smaller than 20%.
Lenders will cancel PMI automatically once a mortgage's LTV reaches 78%.
Price-to-income ratio (PTI)
Lenders use a price-to-income ratio to calculate housing affordability.
To calculate PTI, lenders divide median home prices by median household income.
If the PTI of a location is over 2.6, it usually means home prices exceed what people can afford based on the local median household income.
Most popular loan types have pretty standardized qualification requirements across lenders.
|Loan type||Minimum down payment||Credit score||Debt-to-income ratio (DTI)||Best for…|
|Conventional fixed-rate loans||20% or
3% + PMI
|620+||45%||Average credit buyers who want a consistent loan payment|
|Georgia Dream Program||None||640||Varies by lender||First-time buyers with fair or good credit but relatively low income and assets|
|Federal Housing Administration (FHA)||3.5%
|43%||First-time buyers who may have a lower credit score or want smaller down payments|
|U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)||None||Varies by lender||41%||Low- or moderate-income borrowers located in an eligible rural area|
|U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)||None||580+||41%||Veterans and active duty service members|
Lenders will also consider the following when evaluating loan applications:
- Work history (such as how long you've worked at your current job)
- Income level
- Total liquid assets (cash on hand)
For conventional loans, having more assets means less risk for the lender, which increases your chances of being approved for a loan.
Conversely, you must have NO MORE than $20,000 or 20% of the property sale price (whichever is greater) to qualify for a Georgia Dream loan. These loans are designed to help borrowers who would otherwise have difficulty being approved for conventional financing.
All first-time buyer programs described here apply only to primary residences — that is, homes you actually live in.
Additionally, all programs in this article require the home to be located in the state of Georgia, and city-specific programs require you to buy a home in those metro areas. For example:
- HOME Atlanta 4.0
- Savannah Dream Maker
- Augusta Down Payment Assistance
What are first-time buyer programs in Georgia?
The Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA) and local governments offer assistance with:
- Down payments and closing costs
- Low income
- People with disabilities
The DCA does NOT offer assistance with tax credits.
Down payment and closing cost assistance programs
Because down payments are often one of the hardest barriers to homeownership to overcome, Georgia offers a number of options for down payment assistance to first-time home buyers. Many of these can be combined with FHA or VA loans.
❗Most of these programs are grants, which means they do NOT need to be paid back.
|Down payment and closing costs programs||Assistance amount||Repaid, grant, or forgivable?|
|Georgia Dream Standard Down Payment Assistance||$7,500||Repaid|
|HOME Atlanta 4.0||3.5% of purchase price||Grant|
|Vine City Renaissance||$10,000||Forgivable after 5 years|
|Atlanta Affordable Homeownership||$14,000||Forgivable after 5 years|
|Intown Mortgage Assistance||$10,000||Forgivable after 10 years|
|Savannah Dream Maker||$5,000–60,000||Repaid|
|Augusta Assistance||$500–5,000||Forgivable after 5 years|
It requires you to contribute at least $1,000 of your own funds and doesn't apply to buyers with more than $20,000 in liquid assets or 20% of the home purchase price, whichever is greater.
Georgia Dream also has a subprogram available for buyers with disabilities.
City and county programs
- Dream Maker 1 gives buyers across the city of Savannah up to $5,000.
- Dream Maker 2 gives buyers in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) neighborhoods up to $7,500.
- Dream Maker 3 gives buyers in Savannah Gardens up to $60,000, in certain redevelopment areas up to $30,000, and in CDBG neighborhoods up to $20,000.
Each program includes no-interest loans deferred for 30 years (or until you move or sell) and requires buyers to take a course and contribute a minimum of $1,000 to the purchase.
Mortgage assistance programs
Georgia has a robust offering of local and statewide mortgage-assistance programs to encourage homeownership among individual families and their communities.
Georgia does NOT offer a mortgage tax credit certificate (MCC).
Georgia Dream Homeownership Program connects first-time home buyers with approved conventional, FHA, VA, or USDA lenders to provide 30-year, fixed-rate loans and is intended to help buyers with lower incomes or liquid assets.
- Have a 640 minimum credit score; a score of at least 700 might allow for a higher DTI
- Be purchasing a single-family home, condominium, or townhome — no mobile homes
- Contribute at least $1,000 out of pocket
- Have no more than $20,000 or 20% of the home's purchase price (whichever is greater)
- Complete a home-buyer education workshop or individual housing counseling sessions
Additionally, you must meet the county income limits. In the Atlanta metro area, for example, the limits are $84,000 for a two-person household and $96,000 for a three-person or larger household. In other areas, the limits could be $72,000 for a two-person household and $83,000 for a three-person or larger household.
Application requirements vary if you apply for federal or conventional loans outside of the Georgia Dream Program. See loan types.
Through Good Neighbor Next Door, law enforcement officers, primary and secondary school teachers, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians can receive a 50% discount on their home if they:
- Purchase a home in an area targeted for revitalization
- Live in the home for three years
Good Neighbor Next Door exclusively lists homes in revitalization areas. However, you only have seven days to view and submit an offer on an eligible single-family home. If there are multiple offers, the buyer is selected by lottery.
What assistance is available for first-time home buyers in Georgia with low income?
The following programs are designed to assist low-income households, particularly in Atlanta.
|Program (location)||Maximum income||Assistance available||Maximum purchase price||Forgivable loan term or grant|
|Georgia Dream (Atlanta only)||$84,000–93,000||$7,500 or $10,000||$325,000||Repaid upon sale or refinance|
|Georgia Dream (outside Atlanta)||$72,000–83,000||$7,500 or $10,000||$275,000 or $325,000||Repaid upon sale or refinance|
|HOME Atlanta 4.0||$81,060–125,160||3.5% of home price||$358,800||Grant|
|Atlanta Affordable Homeownership||$46,350–71,450||$14,000||$223,000 or $238,000||Forgivable after 5 years|
|Intown Mortgage Assistance||$69,480–107,280||$10,000||$358,800 or $424,100||Forgivable after 10 years|
Habitat for Humanity affiliates bring homeownership to low-income families, based on household size and local incomes. In Atlanta, for example, the maximum income allowed ranges from $25,800 per year for one person to $91,080 for eight people.
To qualify, Habitat homeowners must demonstrate a need for safe, affordable housing and be active participants in the program. This can mean they:
- Help build their own home or others
- Take homeownership classes
- Volunteer in a Habitat ReStore
What assistance is available for first-time home buyers in Georgia with disabilities?
In addition to offering down payment and mortgage assistance to borrowers with financial difficulties, Georgia also offers assistance to households that include a person with a disability.
What's the process of buying a house for the first time?
Although it may seem intimidating, home buying can actually be broken down into a simple step-by-step guide.
Step 1: Evaluate your financial situation
Determine your household income, credit score, total cash assets, and debt. All of these will be relevant information for creating a complete picture of your financial health.
Step 2: Choose the right neighborhood
To determine which neighborhood is right for you, consider your priorities and price range to locate the best options for your situation.
Step 3: Find a great real estate agent in Georgia
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Step 4: Get pre-approved for a mortgage
This will require compiling various kinds of information for your lender to evaluate. You'll likely need:
- Your previous year's tax returns
- Two recent pay stubs
- To give the lender permission to run your credit report
Step 5: Start house hunting in Georgia
Once you're approved for a loan, you can keep an eye on available properties in your desired neighborhood. Have multiple options in mind so you don't overcommit to one too soon.
» LEARN: 30 Mistakes First-time Buyers Make
Step 6: Make offers
Once you find a home you want, your agent will help you put together a formal offer.
You'll need an earnest money deposit as well as any stipulations you wish to make.
» LEARN: What is earnest money?
Step 7: Inspections and appraisals
Step 8: Final walkthrough and closing
Once your offer has been accepted and a closing date has been set, you’ll usually have one final chance to walk through and see the property before signing the contract and formally purchasing the property. And then you’ll be a homeowner!
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FAQs for first-time home buyers in Georgia?
What is the best first-time home buyer program in Georgia?
The best program for you will depend on your individual circumstances.
Applying for a Georgia Dream Loan and completing the required home-buyer education is a good way to determine which option is best for you, but it largely depends on how much money you make, how much you want to spend, and what your qualifications are.
What credit score is needed to buy a house in Georgia?
Different loan types and lenders have different standards. For example, you’ll need a credit score of at least 640 to qualify for a Georgia Dream loan. Some FHA lenders will go as low as 580 with a 3% down payment or as low as 500 with a 10% down payment.
How much are closing costs in Georgia?
Typically, closing costs range from 3–6% of a property's sale price. In Georgia, the median home price is $320,082, which would amount to $9,602-19,205 in closing costs. Buyers can sometimes negotiate for sellers to cover these closing costs, but this is more difficult in a seller’s market.
What are the benefits of first-time home buyer programs?
First-time buyer programs can make it easier for someone to buy a house. This usually involves down payment assistance, closing cost assistance, softer qualification requirements, and free home-buyer education.
Sometimes, various types of assistance can be combined to create an economically viable situation for first-time buyers.