Welcome to the Diary of a First Time DC Home Buyer. I am happy to share my story with you.  I hope that this guide will inspire you. If you are a current renter or a person who is sharing someone else’s home, these tips will give you the confidence to take the first step toward your dream of homeownership.

The Diary of a First Time DC Home Buyer

Jennell Alexander

I loved my first house.  It was a pretty brick-front townhouse in Washington, DC with three bedrooms and a garage.  I had many great times there and it was a blessing to me as my family grew.

What I didn’t love was the process of purchasing it.

From the time I signed the sales contract, it was well over a YEAR before the house was finished and I could move in.  That time was filled with anxiety over when or even if my move would ever take place. 

townhouses in dc

There were construction delays, problems with the builder, and the bank that I used for the mortgage was very slow in processing my paperwork. And of course, I had to keep paying rent for my apartment. My landlord might have retired off my rent payments alone! 

My real estate agent was sweet, but she wasn’t very good at guiding me through the process.  No one in my immediate family had bought a home in years, so I couldn’t lean on them for advice.  I bought a book about buying real estate, but I needed an expert who knew the ins and out of the local DC area marketplace.

That was one of the most stressful times of my life.

My Mission is to Help First Time Home Buyers

Realtor JennellMany years and few home purchases later, I am now a licensed Realtor® in Washington, DC and Maryland.  I don’t want anyone to go through what I experienced.  Though the market is different today, it is still extremely challenging for first timers.  That is why I work almost exclusively with first time DC home buyers. The experience and industry knowledge of your real estate agent might be the difference between you living your dream now or having that dream deferred.

Is Homeownership Still the American Dream?

There are many hurdles that can knock you off your path to homeownership in DC. Finding an affordable home, saving for the down payment, and clearing up your credit can be challenges these days.  A recent study of aspiring home buyers by the National Association of Realtors reported that current renters cited affordability as the main roadblock to home ownership.

However, that same study showed that an amazing 82% of renters desire to own a home in the future.  The main reasons they would buy a home include changes in lifestyle such as getting married, or starting a family, improvement in financial or employment situation or simply the desire to settle down in one location.

NAR Survey

Which of these categories do you fall into?

The Expertise to get You to the Closing Table

If you are one of the many who consider homeownership to be a part of your American Dream, I am here to help. With the right guidance, you can do it, just like many of the clients that I have helped recently.

Review from First-time Homebuyer Megan R:

Jennell was open, honest, and professional as she helped me (a first-time homebuyer) forage my way through the home buying process. I have people all the time tell me how stressful and painful buying a home is but with Jennell I never had that experience. She was quick to get paperwork back to me and worked with my lender to get everything that I wanted at the price I needed. She listened to my needs and brought up questions I didn’t think to ask. I’m super happy with my experience and my new house!

Review from First-time Homebuyer Tasheema P

As a first-time homebuyer, I was very lucky to have worked with Jennell as my realtor. From the very beginning, she went above and beyond, exceeding my expectations every step of the way. From explaining every piece of paper I was signing, to helping me work through different scenarios, I felt very confident in the decisions I made throughout the entire process, from strategizing on any offers I made to helping me envision myself and “feeling out” a property. In the end, Jennell became more than a realtor and I will be calling her when I’m ready to purchase again!!!

Steps to Buying a House in DC

There are many stages in the home buying process, but we can boil them down to the following nine steps.

Tools to Assist in the Homebuying Process

Fortunately, there is a wealth of programs available in the DC area that can make your homebuying experience easier. Every first-time home buyer’s situation is unique, but here is a sample of the many programs that I can use to help get you into your first home. These programs fall into two categories: Down Payment Assistance and Credits.

Down Payment Assistance

Saving money for a down payment is often the most challenging step in preparing to purchase your first home. Overcoming student loans and credit card debt can be tough. However, I find that the biggest hurdle for buyers is overcoming the myth that you need a 10 to 20% down payment.  Most of my buyers, and in fact, most buyers across the country, finance their purchase using a 6% or less down payment.

The following assistance programs are available for DC homebuyers with various levels of income and credit history:

DC Opens Doors

DC Open Doors is an amazing Down Payment assistance program that helps buyers overcome the obstacle of saving to purchase a home.  The program provides fully-forgivable loans which are used to cover the down payment cost.  These zero-interest rate loans require no monthly payment and do not have to be paid back if you don’t sell the home within five years.

Check out this video which describes one resident’s experience with the DC Open Doors program:

Learn more about this incredible opportunity at my blog post about DC Open Doors.

Home Purchase Assistance Program (HPAP)

The Home Purchase Assistance Program, is commonly known by its initials, HPAP. This program provides interest-free loans and closing cost assistance to qualified applicants looking to purchase a home. Up to $84,000 is available for your first home purchase here in the District! That’s incredible!

This program is targeted at moderate-income and low-income families in the city. To find out if you might be eligible and to learn more, check out my blog post about the Home Purchase Assistance Program here.

Depending on the borrower’s income, payments are deferred for five years or longer.

Here is another user testimonial about this program:

Employer-Assisted Housing Program (EAHP)

DC Workers

The Employer-Assisted Housing Program (EAHP) provides financial assistance with down payment and closing costs for District government employees looking to purchase a home in the city. The aid comes in the form of a zero-interest, deferred loan and a matching grant. The total benefits can be up to $45,00 in value for some employees.

Check out my latest blog post on the EHAP program to get the full details.

Credits and Tax Reductions

Down Payment Assistance programs aren’t the only tool in the tool box.  Washington, DC also offers an assortment of Credit programs to help put cash back into your pocket.

First Time DC Homebuyer Tax Credit

The old stalwart on this list is the First-Time Homebuyer Individual Income Tax Credit.  This is a simple $5,000 credit that is applied to your IRS Form 1040 by your tax preparer or tax software.  This is applicable when your purchase a primary residence in the District of Columbia during the tax year. You (and your spouse) must not have owned a home in DC during the past year. 

This easy to claim credit is like getting free money for making a good decision.

Mortgage Credit Certificate

The Mortgage Credit Certificate (MCC) is a terrific program that allows qualified DC borrowers to claim a Federal Tax Credit of 20% of the mortgage interest paid during each calendar year. This tool help families with low and moderate income afford the cost of home ownership.

For just about any homebuyer in the District, and MCC would be worth thousands of dollars per year.  And the best thing about it is the MCC is effective for the life of your mortgage.  The savings really add up! Mortgage Credit Certificate

Visit my recent blog post on the DC Mortgage Credit Certificate to learn more.

First-Time Homebuyer Reduced Recordation Tax Reduction

Started in October 2017, the First-Time Homebuyer Reduced Recordation Tax Reduction significantly reduces the recordation tax for qualified DC Homebuyers, from 1.45% to .725%.  This will save you thousands of dollars at the closing table. For example, on a $600,000 home purchase, you would normally pay around $8,700 in recordation tax to the city.  With this provision, that tax is reduced to a much friendlier $4,350!


  • Buyers must be DC residents or intend to become DC residents with their new home purchase.
  • Buyers must earn no more than 180% of the Area Median Income (around $210,000 household income for a family of four)
  • The home price must not be higher than $625,000 (adjusted annually for inflation)

A key point to remember is that the application for the reduced rate must be made at the time the deed is offered for recordation.  The reduced rate cannot be applied retroactively.

Are You Ready?

There are so many tools available to help get you into your first home.  There is a lot to think about. I hope that this guide was a helpful starting point for you.  Your next step is to call me at (202) 717-2276 today.  Let’s chat about your ideas, your current situation and explore which of these programs might be best for you.

Be sure to leave your email or phone number on this page. I will be sure to reach out so that we can craft a plan just for you. I am ready to put my experience and knowledge to work for you. Let’s get started! 

Jennell Alexander

2019 Update:

One of my lenders is offering a fantastic grant where you can receive a FREE $20,000 grant for your down payment.  The funding is limited, so call me TODAY!