BISMARCK-First-time buyers pushed North Dakota Housing Finance Agency's homeownership program to a record breaking level this spring.

According to Jolene Kline, NDHFA executive director, NDHFA's FirstHome loan reservations total in May was 185 percent higher than last year.

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The state agency's program provides first-time home buyers with low-cost financing and, if desired, down payment and closing cost assistance.

The agency received 262 loan reservations in May for $44 million in financing, the highest non-special event month on record. During the same time period in 2017, NDHFA recorded 141 reservations. The agency's staff attributes some of the demand to the interest rates it is currently offering.

The greatest uptick in program activity is in Grand Forks County, almost double last year's. In Williams County, where a limited number of entry-level homes are reportedly available, NDHFA's loan production is down 25 percent. The greatest overall program use, as is the norm, is in Cass and Burleigh/Morton counties.

Private-sector lenders originate loans on NDHFA's behalf and sell them to the agency when the loans are closed. Year-to-day, the average loan purchased by the agency is just under $167,000. The limit for single-family homes purchased is $271,164 to $303,882, depending on household size and the county in which the property is located.

NDHFA's program is available to state residents earning up to $98,900 who have not owned a home in the last three years. In 2017, the average borrower's household income was $56,000.

"Homeownership rates in North Dakota declined during the energy boom with many incoming households choosing to rent," said Kline. "If our purchase activity is indicative of more households becoming homeowners, that is a good thing for North Dakota because homeowners are more invested in their community."

In 2010, the U.S. Department of Census reported that 65.4 percent of North Dakotans owned a home. It is now estimated at 63.5 percent.