Utah lawmakers eye changes to first-time homebuyer program

Feb 7, 2024, 5:44 PM | Updated: Feb 8, 2024, 8:29 am

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s new first-time homebuyer program could soon be changing.

That program gives buyers up to $20,000 for a down payment, closing costs or paying down their interest rate.

Lawmakers took the first step Wednesday to adjust some of the rules, which they hope will put more people into homes of their own.

“It’s just really designed to get more money out the door faster to people who need it,” said Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan.

Lincoln Fillmore

Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan wants the first-time homebuyer program to be more flexible. His changes advanced in a Senate committee Wednesday. (KSL TV)

The program is currently limited to new homes costing $450,000 or less. But Fillmore wants to add some flexibility. SB168, which passed unanimously out of a Senate committee, would allow the state to adjust the maximum purchase price based on the type of housing and location.

“We recognize that just one price limit of $450,000 doesn’t work in all cities and all counties,” said David Damschen, president and CEO of Utah Housing Corporation, which administers the program.

Damschen said if the Legislature passes the bill, he anticipates the max price changing “fairly soon.” But he declined to say what it might eventually look like. For townhomes and condos in certain places, Damschen said, the threshold may need to be lower.

“And of course, in places like Salt Lake City, we need something north of $450,000,” Damschen said. “What that might be – $500,000, I don’t know – but we’re having those discussions now.”

David Damschen

David Damschen is president and CEO of Utah Housing Corporation which manages Utah’s first-time homebuyer program.

Utah’s current statewide median home price for all housing types sits at $485,000, according to the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.

The first-time homebuyer program also currently requires buyers to immediately pay back any assistance if they refinance early. But SB168 would change that for future buyers – if they use a lender participating with the state.

“We’re not penalizing as rates are coming down. It’s a great thing for homeownership that rates come down,” Fillmore said, “And we hope that they continue to fall.”

According to new Utah Housing Corporation data, the first-time homebuyer program has served more than 600 families so far. Their homes on average cost $381,115. Much of the homebuying activity has occurred in Saratoga Springs, Spanish Fork, Magna, Eagle Mountain and Riverton.

“Homeownership is so important. It’s a part of our well-functioning society. It still is the American dream,” Fillmore said. “We just want to make sure that remains affordable to people.”

You can find more information on the first-time homebuyer program by clicking here.

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Utah lawmakers eye changes to first-time homebuyer program