Buying a first home is a real financial stretch for a lot of people. If you play your cards right, however, you can get tens of thousands of dollars of assistance from government and other schemes.

The best known assistance for first-home buyers is KiwiSaver's HomeStart grants and first home withdrawals.

If you've been saving for at least three years you can get $1000 a year for each buyer under the HomeStart scheme as a grant. That's $2000 a year for a couple or double if you're buying a qualifying new home. The maximum is $10,000 for a couple for a second-hand home and $20,000 for a new one.

There are maximum income levels for HomeStart and also caps on the price of the house.

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KiwiSavers can also withdraw their savings and their employer's contributions in most cases to contribute towards their first home providing they leave $1000 in the account.

Make sure you understand the rules for the first-home withdrawal and HomeStart. Some buyers have found at the last minute that they don't qualify because they have already bought the land, or settled on the house before doing the KiwiSaver paperwork. A mortgage broker and your lawyer can help.

The Welcome Home Loan scheme has been very "welcome" for first-time buyers since the Reserve Bank of New Zealand restricted banks from lending more than 80 per cent of a property's purchase price to home buyers.

With a Welcome Home Loan you need only a 10 per cent deposit. These loans are offered through regular lenders such as Kiwibank and some credit unions.

As with KiwiSaver HomeStart grants, there are maximum income and price caps for the Welcome Home Loan. The maximum annual income is $80,000 for a single and $120,000 for a couple, and the house price caps range from $350,000 to $550,000 depending on where you want to buy.

Buyers can use both KiwiSaver and the Welcome Home Loan scheme to buy. It's not limited to one or the other.

Another way around the 20 per cent minimum deposit offered by banks is to go to a non-bank lender such as a finance company. The interest rate may not be much higher than a bank's rate, and should your equity in the property grow, it's possible to refinance on to a bank loan.

If you still can't afford to buy, then it may be possible to buy part of a home through a housing association. Shared ownership is available through organisations such as the New Zealand Housing Foundation's Affordable Equity Programme. The foundation is developing housing projects in the Waimahia Inlet in Auckland and Hornby Christchurch.

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Clients buy 75 per cent of the home, with the foundation retaining a 25 per cent passive ownership. Over time the owner can buy out the foundation's share.

Housing New Zealand tenants can sometimes buy the homes they rent through the Tenant home ownership scheme. The downside of this is that the home may not be in a good state of repair. The tenants' homes are sold at market price, not at a discount as they have been in countries such as the UK. However, these homes are mostly reasonably priced.

It's a great way for low earners to get on the housing ladder and it means they can often stay in what has become "the family home". Combined with KiwiSaver withdrawals and grants, and a Welcome Home Loan, some state homes can be affordable for their tenants.

Housing New Zealand has another scheme called FirstHome, which allows eligible first-home buyers to buy ex state houses -- most of which are in regional areas, not Auckland.

The properties are surplus vacant houses in centres such as Otorohanga, Blenheim and Invercargill and the first batch of homes had an average market valuation of $120,000.

Ex state house buyers using the FirstHome scheme are entitled to receive a grant of 10 per cent of the purchase price of the property, capped at $20,000. That means in effect that you're buying the property at a discount to the market rate.

Buyers do not need to be Housing New Zealand tenants to qualify, but there are rules including the combined gross annual income of the buyers not exceeding $53,000 for a single buyer and $80,000 for a couple.

Previous home owners may also qualify if their realisable assets such as shares, money in the bank, boats or caravans and other vehicles are worth less than $40,000 in total.

For Maori only there is the Kainga Whenua Loan Scheme, which helps Maori achieve home ownership on multiple owned land. The loans are provided by Kiwibank. If you're lucky enough to be Ngai Tahu then there's a matched savings scheme called Whai Rawa, from which funds can be withdrawn to buy a first home.