Homebuying hurdle: How can you afford a down payment?

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Ask a lot of people and they will tell you it isn't a high monthly mortgage payment that is keeping them renting. It isn't the high sales price either. It is the down payment.

Over in Hayes Valley, 7 On Your Side's Michael Finney speaks with Travis Beauvais. Michael asks him, "What is the hardest part about buying a new home?"

Without hesitation, he answers, "Having a down payment."

The numbers tell the story. The California Association of Realtors says the average San Francisco home sells for $1.63 million. So a 20% down payment would be $326,000. That's a big hurdle, even for someone like Travis Beauvais.

"Who has that kind of money," he asks. "Not me and I work in tech and make a good salary. My partner works in tech and makes a good salary and we don't have that kind of money, so I don't know who does."

Those with well-to-do moms and dads might have the cash, as might those who have been saving a long, long time.

Michael also spoke with Brett Theodos, senior fellow at the Urban Institute. He says the down payment bar is high, but there are ways to get over it.

"There is more help for people than they are aware of in accessing a down payment," he tells me. "So in some ways, it's almost as much as a psychological barrier as it is an actual finical barrier."

There's a lot of truth to that. Down Payment Resource keeps track of 2500 government and non-profit programs.

The company's Sean Moss agrees with Theodos.

"I think one of the most surprising things in California is that there are 300-plus down payment assistance programs," he tells me. "We are constantly shocked by the volume of programs available at any given time, the creative efforts on the part of cities, counties, non-profits all over the state, the state housing finance agency themselves to bring a diverse array of opportunities to buyers."

It isn't just government programs either; equity sharing is taking off. That's where an investor chips in for your down payment. A big player in this space is San Francisco-based Unison.

"We will help you by giving you funds to get to that 20%, which will help you get into a home. And in exchange for that we take a share of the future appreciation of your home," says Cari Jacobs, Unison's Chief Marketing Officer.

She tells me it isn't borrowing money so there is no monthly payment. No money is due until the home is sold.

"If you win, we win," she tells me. "But also if you lose, we take that hit alongside you. So we really are considering this an investment partnership - much like a rich uncle, only you don't have to deal with the family part."

When the home is sold, Unison takes about a third of the appreciation. If there is a loss, then Unison takes a loss too. The only exception is if the house is sold too quickly after the purchase.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

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