Lively university towns, incredible forests, hillsides and lakes for those who love the great outdoors, and some of the nation’s most affordable housing and cities – welcome to Wisconsin. Are you a first-time homebuyer ready to set down roots in the Badger State?
Wisconsin has a lot to offer homebuyers: it borders both Lake Michigan and Lake Superior along with the Mississippi River, treating locals to stunning coastlines and state parks. It has a booming economy and start-up culture, and let’s not forget it’s home to award-winning cheese and breweries.
If you’re homebuyer with your sights set on this Midwestern state, Wisconsin has a series of statewide and local assistance programs to help you on your journey to homeownership. These initiatives help with all of the financial heavy-lifting involved in buying your first home, from securing a low-interest, fixed-rate mortgage to covering a portion of your down payment and closing costs. If you’re strategic and qualify for a combination of these programs, you could end up saving tens of thousands of dollars on your home purchase.
Whether you’re homebuying in Madison to Green Bay and anywhere in between, read on to learn more about these programs, their eligibility requirements and how to apply.
Who Qualifies as a First-Time Homebuyer in Wisconsin?
For a quick clarification, a first-time homebuyer in Wisconsin is defined as any family or individual who has never owned a home, or in the past three years depending on the region. Some of the local programs, for example, suggest residents are still eligible if they haven’t owned a home in the past three years. It’s worth waiting it out if you’re nearing the three-year mark because these programs provide a significant financial boost.
Wisconsin’s statewide programs are available to repeat homebuyers and first-time homebuyers alike.
As always, when you’re doing your research, read the fine print and any limitations we list below.
Statewide Homeownership Assistance Programs
Every state has its official housing authority that runs a series of homebuyer programs to help residents buy a home. Here, it’s the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority – or WHEDA.
WHEDA’s programs are tailored to help first-time and repeat homebuyers who fall within income and home purchase price limits. Across the board, homebuyers need to complete a homebuyers’ education course, which is a standard prerequisite for these programs.
Here’s a closer look at each program’s details, how to apply as well as the fine print.
WHEDA Advantage Conventional Loan
WHEDA’s Advantage program is the organization’s flagship resource, providing 30-year fixed-interest rate home loans with reduced mortgage insurance premiums to save you some extra cash.
The program is available to first-time homebuyers and repeat homebuyers alike, as long as you use the property as your primary residence for the duration of your home loan. The Advantage Conventional loan can be used to refinance your home, too.
To qualify, you’ll need to have a credit score of at least 620, and your household must stick to income and purchase price limits. You’ll need to complete a homeownership education program, which is a common prerequisite for state-provided assistance programs for first-time homebuyers.
All single-family homes, condominiums, 2-4 units and double-wide manufactured homes are eligible too.
You don’t even have to commit to a set percentage for your down payment, unless you’re buying a 2-4 unit, which requires you to put down three percent of your home’s purchase price.
You can pair an Advantage Conventional loan with any of WHEDA’s down payment assistance programs, which you can read more about below.
WHEDA Advantage FHA Loan
The Advantage FHA Loan is an offshoot to the Conventional Loan program. Nearly identical benefits apply: eligible homebuyers can get a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage with reduced mortgage insurance premiums. The program is available to first-time and repeat homebuyers as long as you’re buying a home to use as your primary residence.
This program doesn’t apply for homeowners looking to refinance. Manufactured homes are excluded, too.
You’ll need a minimum credit score of 640 to be eligible, along with staying below income and purchase price limits. You are also required to have a down payment of at least 3.5 percent of your home’s purchase price, regardless of the property type. A WHEDA down payment assistance program can cover this requirement for you.
You must also complete a homebuyers’ education course.
You can check out the Advantage FHA Loan’s full details and apply.
WHEDA Easy Close Down Payment Assistance Program
One of the biggest roadblocks on the path to buying a home is saving enough money for a down payment. Between rent, bills and other expenses, for some families, setting aside cash for your dream home can be tricky.
WHEDA’s down payment assistance program helps homeowners with this common problem. The DPA provides up to six percent of your home’s purchase price in a 10-year fixed rate second mortgage with the same interest rate as your first mortgage. Instead of trying to save up cash for a down payment, you’d simply repay this loan over the course of a decade alongside your first mortgage.
To qualify for this program, you’ll need to have secured a WHEDA Advantage home loan first. Once you’ve qualified, there is no additional application for the DPA.
Check out WHEDA’S Easy Close Down Payment Assistance Program.
WHEDA Capital Access Down Payment Assistance Program
The Capital Access DPA Program is a bit more generous than the Easy Close Program, providing eligible homebuyers with a 30-year fixed rate second mortgage set at zero percent interest and no monthly payments. In this case, you can receive either $3,050 or three percent of your home’s purchase price, whichever is greater.
To qualify, you’ll need to have first secured a WHEDA Advantage home loan. Because this program is aimed at helping low-income households, you must be at or below specific income and purchase price limits for the Capital Access Program. They have lower income thresholds than the limits listed for the programs above.
Read more about the Capital Access Down Payment Assistance Program and how to apply.
WHEDA Advantage Conventional HomeStyle Renovation Loan
Some families end up moving into a fixer-upper, but need the funds to pay for major renovations. If this sounds like you, WHEDA has its Advantage Conventional Homestyle Renovation Loan. It acts as an extension of the Advantage Conventional program, helping new homeowners spruce up their home to make it “move-in ready.”
In this case, you can add onto your initial mortgage, tacking on all eligible costs associated with your renovation. You can even include up to six months of mortgage payments in your financing if you’re unable to occupy your home during renovations.
Instead of worrying about saving for these upgrades, you can finance 100 percent of your renovation costs with repayments lumped in with your mortgage.
Read more about the Advantage Conventional HomeStyle Renovation loan on the WHEDA website.
Homebuyer Programs by Location in Wisconsin
While WHEDA’s series of statewide programs listed above can give you a leg up on your journey to homeownership with a home loan and down payment assistance, there are local homebuyer programs across Wisconsin worth doing your research on, too. In some cases, you can double dip, putting WHEDA’s programs to use alongside local resources.
Read more for our list of local programs.
The Appleton Housing Authority runs a First-Time Homebuyer Program, helping any families moving to Outagamie and Calumet counties. Like most of these local programs, the financial assistance is given out to help cover off down payment and closing cost expenses for homebuyers who are low-income households.
You’ll need to be a first-time homebuyer with income at or below 80 percent of your county’s Area Median Income (AMI).
Home rehabilitation funds are also available for making essential improvements to single-family homes. These upgrades include energy efficiency and weatherization improvements.
If you’re interested in the First-Time Homebuyer Program, check out the Appleton Housing Authority website.
If you’re looking for a new home in Eau Claire, the city runs a few programs to help families buy their first property.
The city’s Housing Division purchases, renovates and resells single family homes via its Homeownership Program. It’s worth checking out because it provides first-time homeownership opportunities to low-income families. It even helps homebuyers secure a home loan to purchase one of these rehabilitated properties.
The city works with local realtors to market and sell these updated homes. Then all proceeds from their sales are funnelled back into the Homeownership program.
If you’re a low-income household with an interest in this program, you can check out the full details, including who to contact to look at listings, on the Eau Claire Homeownership Program website.
If you’re a homebuyer moving to Green Bay, it’s worth checking in with the local NeighborWorks chapter. NeighborWorks is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping residents via homeownership preparation services.
For starters, you can take advantage of online or in-person free homebuyers’ education courses. Once you’ve completed that, you may be eligible for the organization’s Down Payment Assistance Program, which provides $5,000 in zero percent interest deferred loans with no monthly payments until you sell or refinance your home. You may qualify for up to $7,500 if you’re buying a home in Brown County.
You don’t need to be a first-time homebuyer to qualify for this program. Instead, the emphasis is on household income limits and purchase price limits. Your home purchase must be capped at $172,000, and your income must be at 80 percent or less of your region’s AMI.
Families moving to Janesville should also check in with the city and the local NeighborWorks Blackhawk Region chapter.
While NeighborWorks runs homebuyers’ education workshops, the city provides down payment and closing costs assistance of up to $6,000 to help eligible homebuyers with their big purchase.
To be eligible, you must be a first-time homebuyer at or below 80 percent of your county’s AMI. Your loan is forgiven at the five-year mark.
Janesville also runs a Home Improvement Program, providing up to $50,000 in a zero percent interest deferred loan that’s only repayable when you sell your home. If you’re worried about lead, there’s also the Lead Grant program, providing up to $25,000 in financial assistance to help make your home lead safe.
Read through the slate of programs on offer and download program brochures and applications on the City of Janesville website.
With the highly-ranked University of Wisconsin, 10 state parks and loads of culture, you can enjoy a beautiful life in Madison, the capital city of Wisconsin.
If you’re shopping for a new home in Madison, you’re in luck. The vibrant city runs its own Home – Buy the American Dream Program, providing down payment and closing cost assistance for first-time homebuyers.
The city provides up to $20,000 in a second mortgage that’s deferred until you sell or refinance your home. That means you don’t have to pay back a penny until it’s time for you to move. You can use the funds to cover your down payment and closing costs.
To qualify, you must contribute at least one percent of your home’s purchase price as a down payment. You must also adhere to income limits based on the size of your household. A City of Madison official will inspect the home you’re buying.
You must be a first-time homebuyer or someone who hasn’t owned a home in the past three years to be eligible. Single parents with dependent children can also apply even if they’ve owned a home in the past three years.
Madison also has a Housing Rehabilitation Services Program, providing homebuyers and homeowners with deferred payment loans of up to $25,000 to cover the cost of renovating and upgrading existing homes. When you sell the property, you need to repay the loan along with a one-time charge of 10 percent.
Eligibility is based on income. Read the details on the Housing Rehabilitation Services Program, including income limits and how to apply.
Between live music and Oktoberfest and with a nickname like the City of Festivals, count on never being bored in Milwaukee.
If you’re house hunting in Milwaukee, the city runs a generous Homebuyer Assistance Program, providing forgivable second mortgage loans of up to $20,000.
The program is earmarked for prospective homebuyers who are rehabilitating city-owned foreclosed homes they plan to use as their primary residence. Both financial and technical help are provided as part of this program.
The city works with participating lenders who can provide first mortgage loans to homebuyers who are eligible for this program. You must contribute at least one percent of your home’s purchase price in a down payment. You’ll also need to complete a homebuyers’ education course, either in person or online.
Once you’ve closed on your home, you can work with city rehabilitation specialists who will help you source contractors to make major renovations.
Ultimately, your loan is forgiven after the five-year mark of using your property as your primary residence. Check out the Milwaukee Homebuyer Assistance Program’s full details.
Milwaukee also has a STRONG Homes Loan Program, providing up to $20,000 in a deferred loan to homeowners who need emergency funds to repair their homes. You must be current on your property taxes, mortgage and utility payments to qualify. Income limits are also applicable.
If you need some cash to help with landscaping around your new front yard, Milwaukee even has a $500 ROOTS Landscaping Incentive Program.
Shopping for a home in Racine? If so, you’ll be treated to beautiful homes on the shores of the Great Lakes, along with some financial assistance from the city.
The city offers homebuyer assistance programs to low- and moderate-income families that need the financial boost to help them buy their new home. Assistance comes in the form of down payment and closing costs help, and in some cases, no closing costs at all.
Most of these programs are set up as forgivable loans, as long as you live in your home for a set period of time. Others match a portion of your savings to be used for a down payment.
Racine also has a Homeowner Repair Loans Program, which provides loans of up to $50,000 to make renovations to your property. The loans are set at one, two or three percent interest for a term of up to 20 years.
You can check out the complete slate of programs on the city of Racine website.
First-time homebuyers zeroing in on Southwest Wisconsin should connect with the Western Dairyland Economic Opportunity Council. You’ll learn about a First-Time Homebuyer Loans Program, which provides up to 10 percent of your home’s purchase price in a zero percent interest loan with payments that are deferred until you sell or refinance your property.
Eligible regions include: Trempealeau, Monroe, Richland, Lafayette, Jackson, Vernon, Grant, Green, La Crosse, Crawford, and Iowa county.
You must be a first-time homebuyer and contribute at least $1,000 towards your home purchase. Your household must be at or less than 80 percent of your county’s AMI. You are also required to complete a homebuyers’ education course and qualify for a conventional home loan.
Ready to Buy a Home in Wisconsin?
If you’re ready to call Wisconsin home, get ready for a cornucopia of tasty local dairy products, diehard sports fans, and an all-around friendly Midwestern vibe.
You’ll be treated to a variety of housing options in the state’s real estate market, too. Wisconsin has a huge market with nearly 2,300 new homes for sale across 500 neighborhoods. You can shop around for waterfront houses, condos and townhomes, priced from as low as $99,900.
Whether you’re thinking of settling down in the busy and bustling Madison or you prefer a quieter life in the scenic Washington-Fond du Lac, there is no shortage of housing options in the Badger State.
And wherever you decide to hunker down, 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.