Zillow’s move into the down payment assistance space will be a boon to buyers struggling to save for a house. The benefits assistance can bring to homeowners are huge. The question is whether you will you seize this opportunity to grow your business.

While recent headlines have been inundated with news about Zillow abandoning its iBuyer program due to its Zestimate’s inability to predict future prices, Zillow just announced a game-changing partnership with DownPaymentResource.com that will allow it to display how much down payment assistance is available for every listing on its website that qualifies.

For savvy agents, Zillow’s new offering represents a major opportunity to capture large amounts of both listing and buyer business. 

Lack of a down payment is the No. 1 obstacle blocking first-time buyers from purchasing a home: 62 percent of Americans mistakenly believe they must put a minimum of 20 percent down to purchase a home, and 37 percent of buyers report that “not having enough money saved for a down payment” is blocking them from purchasing now.

What is down payment assistance?

According to Rob Chrane, the CEO and founder of DownPaymentResource.com (DPR), down payment assistance may be defined as: 

Money to help homebuyers get into a home by helping them accumulate their down payment and closing costs. Down payment assistance programs are administered by Federal, state, and local housing finance agencies, nonprofits, as well as some employers. 

DPR aggregates all the down payment assistance programs in the country (currently about 2,000). It then matches each program to property addresses eligible for that program. Both agents and consumers can access this information directly by visiting the DPR website.  

According to Chrane, the average amount of down payment assistance that users of the DPR site obtained in 2021 was $17,000!

Imagine how your buyers who are struggling to save for a down payment would feel if you were able to help them purchase now and obtain an extra $17,000 toward the purchase of their next home.

How Zillow is now displaying down payment information 

The screenshot below illustrates how this information will appear on Zillow property searches.

As you can see, this particular property has four different programs that can provide up to $21,245 to a qualified buyer. Moreover, the buyer may be able to purchase with as little as 3.5 percent down.

Why haven’t I heard of this before?

Since DPR first launched in 2011, every time I have mentioned down payment assistance when I speak, the agent and broker response has been the same: “Why haven’t I heard about this before?”

According Chrane, approximately 366,000 agents currently have access to DPR programs through either their multiple listing service or their company.

What makes Zillow’s move such a game changer is down payment assistance information will now be prominently displayed any time one of Zillow’s 36 million unique monthly visitors views a home that qualifies.

How the DPR tool works on Zillow and multiple listing services

When a consumer conducts a search on Zillow or on a participating MLS, the DPR software pulls up all the local, state or federal down payment assistance programs for which a specific home will be eligible.

Buyers who enter their information on the DPR site can then see which programs they qualify for including how much assistance they will be eligible to obtain.

How to put DPA to work in your business

Zillow’s massive reach means consumers will soon be asking their agents about down payment assistance programs, what they are, how they work and what it takes to access this money. Chrane shared the following statistics from the Homeownership Program Index:

  • There are currently 2008 total down payment assistance programs.
  • 84 percent of all down payment assistance programs are currently active and funded.
  • Of the 73 percent of the programs that provide down payment or closing cost assistance, 63 percent are deferred and over 43 percent are forgivable (i.e., they don’t have to be paid back provided the borrower meets certain criteria.)
  • 62 percent require the homeowner to be a first-time buyer and 38 percent are available for repeat buyers.
  • 74 percent of programs are offered through city, county or neighborhood funding, while 26 percent are funded through state housing finance agencies.
  • Most programs require a minimum FICO score of approximately 660, and in some cases, 700.
  • There are a wide variety of programs available for active military, veterans, surviving spouses, as well as educators, law enforcement, fire fighters and healthcare workers.

Types of down payment assistance available

1. Money for the down payment or closing costs

As noted above, 73 percent of the available programs provide money towards the down payment or closing costs. The amount typically ranges between 3 to 7 percent of the mortgage amount and is secured with a second mortgage.

The loan is not due until the buyer sells or refinances the property. In the case of deferred payment down payment assistance, the interest rate is usually zero with no monthly payments.

2. ‘Forgivable’ down payment assistance

Forgivable DPAs are available for both first-time buyers and current homeowners. Programs generally range from 4 to 7 percent of the first mortgage amount. The amount is forgivable (i.e., doesn’t have to be paid back) after three to five years.

On a $300,000 loan, that would range from $12,000 to $21,000. Some of these programs have no income limits so they can be used on higher-priced properties.

3. Grants (free money, really)

According to Chrane, grants account for only about 5 percent of the down payment assistance programs. When my brother listed his home earlier this year, I was surprised to find there were five different grant programs available for his property.

4. Mortgage Credit Certificates (if you can find one, these are golden)

In order to offer a mortgage certificate, a state or local finance agency must obtain bonding authorization. Mortgage certificates are available in approximately 40 states. As Chrane explained:

These are a tax credit as opposed to a tax deduction. Assume that the borrower has taken out a $200,000 loan at a 4 percent interest rate. The finance agency can offer up to 25 percent of the interest amount the borrower paid as a tax credit. In this case, the borrower would pay $8,000 in interest the first year. The borrower could deduct up to $2,000 (25 percent) as a credit against their total tax due and still take the remaining $6,000 they paid in interest as a tax deduction. The program stays in place for the life of the loan.  

5. Lease-to-own matching programs

The Federal Home Bank (FHLB) offers two different lease-to-own programs: the Individual Development and Empowerment Act (IDEA) and the Workforce Initiative Subsidy for Homeownership (WISH). These programs are available across the country and help renters transition to becoming homeowners through a lease-to-own program.

Both WISH and IDEA programs offer eligible low- to moderate-income households 4-to-1 matching grants of up to $22,000. Grants can be used for the down payment and closing costs. There are two options:

  • Borrowers can elect to save as much as possible for up to 10 months. The program would pay them $4 for every $1 they saved.
  • The second option is a lease-to-own program that lasts for up to three years, again matching the borrower’s contributions up to $22,000 on a 4-to-1 matching grant.

Layering — how to get even more money!

Many down payment assistance programs can be “layered,” i.e., combined with other programs. For example, one borrower may qualify for assistance as a teacher and the other borrower could qualify for a forgivable second mortgage with the deferred payment program mentioned above. These programs could then be combined with a mortgage certificate.

One very creative agent in Seattle has layered as many as six programs to help her buyers purchase in that very competitive market.

Why down payment assistance matters to sellers

While it’s easy to see how down payment assistance programs apply to buyers, according to the 2021 NAR Profile of Buyers and Sellers, 51 percent of buyers were living in a property they owned prior to the time they purchased their next home.

Helping sellers determine whether they are eligible for down payment assistance on their next purchase pretty much guarantees you’ll be the agent who lists their current home.

Your advantage over Zillow or any other portal

The primary advantage you have over any portal or algorithm is your ability to meet face to face and secure the business. The 2021 NAR Profile of Buyers and Sellers reports that 73 percent of the buyers and 82 percent of the sellers interviewed only one agent that they hired.

Consequently, your highest priority in 2022 must be meeting face-to-face with any lead you generate as soon as possible. Remember, half those buyer leads are living in a property they own!

Your second advantage is Zillow only displays down payment assistance information for active listings that qualify. Based upon NAR’s prediction of about 6.35 million sales in 2021, Chrane says up to 80 percent (five million) would have qualified for at least one type of down payment assistance in 2021. 

5 ways to convert more leads using down payment assistance programs

Here are five ways to use down payment assistance programs either through the DPR website or by checking on Zillow to discover how much assistance may be available for your clients.

1. Print and digital marketing campaigns

Here’s your ad:

Want to become a homeowner now? Down payment assistance is available! Contact Sally Agent at 800-555-1234 to learn more.

2. Persuade buyers to work with you exclusively

Remember, about one-third of the down payment assistance programs are available for repeat buyers. When a buyer inquires about a specific property, pull up the assistance information from Zillow and/or the DPR website if the property is not on the market.

Show the buyers how much is available — it’s one of the most powerful ways to make sure that buyer works with you exclusively!

3. First-time buyer seminars

Have a lender who works with down payment assistance programs speak at your next first-time buyer seminar. Have them illustrate the types of assistance available for first-time buyers in your local area.

4. Convert renters into homeowners

Many renters struggle with coming up with a down payment. Share information about the assistance 4-to-1 matching programs that provide an additional $4 for every $1 they save.

5. As part of your Unique Selling Proposition (USP) on listing appointments

As part of the services you provide that differentiate you from the competition (your USP), show the sellers how much down payment assistance is available on their home. Even if they expect to sell over asking price with multiple offers, remind them that the more exposure and the more offers they generate, the higher their price will be.

The bottom line

Zillow’s move into the down payment assistance space will be a boon to buyers struggling to save a down payment. The benefits assistance can bring, especially in terms of affordability and helping more people become homeowners are huge. The question is whether you will you seize this opportunity to grow your business.

Editor’s note: Bernice Ross hosts the Awesome Females in Real Estate Leadership Conference annual, which Zillow was a sponsor of close to six years ago. 

Bernice Ross, president and CEO of BrokerageUP and RealEstateCoach.com, is a national speaker, author and trainer with over 1,000 published articles. Learn about her broker/manager training programs designed for women, by women, at BrokerageUp.com and her new agent sales training at RealEstateCoach.com/newagent.

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