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Buying a home is often one of the most expensive endeavors one will take throughout their life, so it’s not surprising that saving for a down payment remains a major hurdle for many Americans on their path to homeownership. But although a 20 percent down payment is considered ideal, it’s not actually as common as you might think, nor is it a necessity to buying a home.

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Nevertheless, scraping together a down payment is a tall order, especially for first-time homebuyers in expensive coastal markets. According to CoreLogic, the average home price in California’s Bay Area topped $700,000 in 2016 – and that figure includes relatively inexpensive bungalows in East Bay suburbs, as well as ultra-pricey row houses in San Francisco proper.
What’s even better than recurring savings account deposits? Automated savings account deposits that you don’t have to remember to execute each month. Most banks allow recurring savings transfers from internal or external checking accounts. Examine your budget and determine how much you can afford to save each pay period or month, and then make it happen, preferably on the same date (or the day after) you receive your paycheck or direct deposit. Again, consider a separate savings account just for your down payment fund. If you’re looking to open a new account, go with one of these bank account promotions so you can make the most of the opportunity.
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Let the serious shopping begin! By now you’ve talked things over with your agent and you both know what you really want and need in a home. Armed with this, your price range and knowledge of the local area, look at listings online and with your agent, who will come up with properties for you to tour. Chances are you’ll discover some new things to love or hate about homes and refine your search.
Your state and perhaps local governments may offer down payment assistance programs as well. For instance, in my native Minneapolis, the Minnesota Homeownership Center has a handy Down Payment Assistance finder that tells prospective homeowners about down payment financing and non-financial assistance resources available in their areas. In California, Golden State Finance Authority provides direct, need-based grants (with some strings attached) worth up to 5% of the loan amount – not an insignificant sum in pricey California metro areas like San Francisco and Los Angeles.
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"Down payment": It's amazing that these two little words have such a profound influence on your homeownership process—and your life! Ask most people what is an acceptable down payment on a house, and nine times out 10 they'll tell you it's 20% of your home's selling price. So you do the math, figure you'd have to put down $50,000 on a $250,000 house, and break out in hives when you realize that the chances of your getting out of that tiny one-bedroom apartment are slim.
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