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A Guide to Understanding Bridge Loans

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Getting a bridge loan
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Buying a new home before you can sell your old one can present quite the financial conundrum. This is mostly because you have to come up with the cash for a new property when you don’t have access to the home equity you have already built up in your existing property. That’s where a bridge loan comes in.

What is a bridge loan?

Bridge loans promise to fill the gap or “provide a bridge” between your old residence and the one you hope to buy. They accomplish this by providing temporary financial assistance through short-term lending.

Unfortunately, bridge loans come with pitfalls, some of which can be costly or have long-term financial consequences. This guide will explain the good and the bad about bridge loans, how they work, and some alternative strategies.

How does a bridge loan work?

While bridge loans can come in different amounts and last for varying lengths of time, they are meant to be short-term tools. Generally speaking, bridge loans are temporary financing options intended to help real estate buyers secure initial funding that helps them transition from one property to the next.

Let’s say you found your dream home and need to buy it quickly, yet you haven’t had the time to prepare your current residence for sale, let alone sell it. A bridge loan would provide the short-term funding required to purchase the new home quickly, buying you time to get your current home ready for sale. Ideally, you would move into your new home, sell your old property, then pay off the loan.

Here are some additional details to consider with bridge loans:

  • Your current residence is used as collateral for the loan.
  • These loans may only be set up to last for a period of six to 12 months.
  • Interest rates are higher than those you can get for a traditional mortgage.
  • You need equity in your current home to qualify, usually at least 20 percent.

Also keep in mind that there are several ways to repay a bridge loan. You may be required to start making payments right away, or you may be able to wait several months. Make sure to read the terms and conditions of your loan so you know where your financial obligations begin and end.

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Risks of taking out a bridge loan

Taking out a temporary loan so you can purchase a new home may sound ideal, but as with most financial products, the devil is in the details. While these loans can help in a pinch if you aren’t able to purchase a property through other means, there are notable disadvantages.

They can cost more than alternatives

David Reiss, a professor at Brooklyn Law School and the academic program director at the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship, says the biggest downside of these loans is the price tag. Because bridge loans are meant to work for the short term, lenders have a much shorter timeline for turning a profit. As a result, “they typically charge a few percentage points higher than what you would pay with home equity loans,” says Reiss. Not only that, but they come with closing costs that may be expensive, and can vary from loan to loan.

So, even if the loan is short-term, it will likely cost you more than borrowing the money through a traditional mortgage by selling your existing home first, or through other means.

You’re taking on more debt

Another inherent risk with bridge loans: You’re simply borrowing more money. “The loan is secured by your home, so you have another mortgage,” Reiss says. “If you don’t make payments, then you could face late fees and financial turmoil.”

You can’t predict when you’ll sell your home

And if you’re unable to sell your home and your new or old monthly mortgage payments are taking a big chunk of your income, you could have trouble meeting all your financial obligations.

Reiss offers one other scenario in which a bridge loan could spell financial trouble: if the real estate market sours.

“You might assume you’ll sell your home easily, but that isn’t always the case,” says Reiss. “Unexpected events can screw up your plans to sell your home, so if you end up carrying multiple mortgages, you could potentially end up in trouble.”

According to Reiss, taking out a bridge loan could easily leave you with three home loans — your old mortgage, your loan, and your new mortgage — if the housing market slumps inexplicably and you can’t sell.

“This may not be a problem temporarily, but it can cause financial havoc in the long run,” he says. “You’ll be stuck with the unexpected expense of carrying all these mortgages.”

Falling behind on payments can lead to foreclosure on your old home, your new property, or both.

Advantages of a bridge loan

Applicants who are well aware of the risks of this financial product may still benefit from choosing this option. There are notable advantages, Reiss says, especially for certain types of buyers.

They can give you an edge in competitive markets

Bridge loans are “the kind of loan you get when you need to move forward and you can’t do it any other way,” says Reiss. If you are absolutely dead-set on purchasing a property and struggling to make the financials work, then a bridge loan could truly save the day.

This is especially true in housing markets where homes are moving quickly, Reiss notes, since a bridge loan allows you to buy a new home without a sales contingency in the new contract. What this means is, you’re able to write an offer on a new property without requiring the sale of your old home before you can buy.

This can be quite advantageous “in a hot market where sellers are getting lots of offers and you’re competing against other buyers who are paying in cash or making offers without a contingency,” Reiss says.

Bridge loans may be more convenient than the alternatives

Reiss also says that, while there are other loan options to consider for buying a new home, they aren’t always feasible in the heat of the moment. If you wanted to purchase a new home before selling your old home and needed cash, you could consider borrowing against your 401(k) or taking out a home equity loan, for example.

Yes, these options may be cheaper than getting a bridge loan, Reiss acknowledges. The problem is, they both take time. Borrowing money from your 401(k) may take several weeks and plenty of back and forth with your employer or human resources department, and home equity loans can take months. Not only that, but it might be difficult to qualify for a home equity loan if your home is for sale, Reiss says.

“A home equity lender who catches wind of your intent to sell your home may not even loan you the money since it’s fairly likely you’ll pay off the home equity loan quickly, meaning they won’t turn a profit,” he says.

Bridge loans, on the other hand, could be more convenient and timely because you may be able to get one through your new mortgage lender.

Four good reasons to take out a bridge loan

With the listed advantages and disadvantages above in mind, there are plenty of reasons buyers will take on the risk of a bridge loan and use it to transition into a new home. Reasons consumers commonly take out bridge loans include:

1. You want to make an offer on a new home without a sales contingency to improve your chances of securing a deal.

The most important reason to get a bridge loan is if you want to buy a property so much that you don’t mind the added costs or risk. These loans let you make an offer without promising to sell your old home first.

2. You need cash for a down payment without accessing your home equity right away.

A bridge loan can help you borrow the money you need for a down payment. Once you sell your old home, you can use the equity and profit from the sale to pay off your loan.

3. You want to avoid PMI, or private mortgage insurance.

If most of your cash is locked up as equity in your current home, you may not have enough money to put down 20 percent on your new home and avoid PMI, or private mortgage insurance. A bridge loan may help you put down 20 percent and avoid the need for this costly insurance product.

“But you would need to net out the costs of the bridge loan against the PMI savings to see if it is worth it,” says Reiss. “And remember, once you have sold the first home, you could use the equity from that home to pay down the mortgage on your new home and get out of paying PMI.”

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), you may have to order an appraisal to show you have at least 20 percent equity to get PMI taken off your new loan, and even then, it can take several months.

“So, we might be talking about six to 12 months of avoided PMI payments if you were planning on using the equity from your old home to pay down the mortgage on your new home,” says Reiss.

4. You’re building a new home.

A bridge loan can help you pay the upfront costs of building a new home when you aren’t yet prepared to sell your old one because you still need a place to live.

How to qualify for a bridge mortgage loan

Because bridge loans are offered through mortgage lenders, typically in conjunction with a new mortgage, the requirements to qualify are similar to getting a new home loan.
While requirements can vary from lender to lender, you commonly need to meet the following criteria for a bridge loan:

  • Excellent credit
  • A low debt-to-income ratio
  • Significant home equity of 20 percent or more

Typically, lenders will approve bridge loans at the value of 80 percent of both the borrower’s current mortgage and the proposed mortgage they are aiming to attain. Let’s say you’re selling a home worth $300,000 with the goal of buying a new property worth $500,000. In this example, across both loans, you could only borrow 80 percent of the combined property values, or $640,000.

If you don’t have enough equity or cash to meet these requirements — or if your credit isn’t good enough — you may not qualify for a bridge loan, even if you want one.

Fees and other fine print

Before you take out a bridge loan, it’s important to understand all the costs involved. Here are some fees and fine print you should look for and understand:

Fees

Since bridge loans vary widely from lender to lender, the fees involved — and the costs of those fees — can vary significantly as well. Common fees to look for include an origination fee that can be equal to 1 percent or more of your loan value. You will also likely be on the hook for closing costs for your loan, although the amount of those costs can be all over the map based on the terms and conditions included in your loan’s fine print. As example, Third Federal Savings and Loan out of Cleveland, Ohio, offers a bridge loan product with no prepayment penalties or appraisal fees, but with a $595 fee for closing costs. Borrowers may also be on the hook for documentary stamp taxes or state taxes, if applicable. Make sure to check your loan’s terms and conditions.

Prepayment penalties

While it’s unlikely your loan will include any prepayment penalties, you should read the terms and conditions to make sure.

Payoff terms and conditions

Because all bridge loans work differently, you need to be sure when your loan comes due, or when you need to start making payments. You may need to make payments right away, or you might have a few months of wiggle room. Because there are no set guidelines, these terms can vary dramatically among different lenders.

Tips to sell your home quickly and avoid a bridge loan

If you’re on the fence about getting a bridge loan because you’re worried about short-term costs or the added layer of risk, try to sell your home quickly instead. If you’re able to sell, you may be able to access your home’s equity and avoid a bridge loan altogether, while also eliminating the possibility of getting “stuck” with more than one home.

We spoke to several real estate professionals to get their tips for selling your home quickly. Here are their best tips for getting your home ready to sell in a short amount of time:

Tip #1: Do some quick outdoor cleanup and landscaping work, then try to make your home as neutral as possible.

“To get people inside, they need to like the outside of your house,” says Nancy Brook, a Realtor who sells properties with RE/MAX of Billings, Mont. “Trim trees and shrubs, treat weeds, and mow and trim lawns.”

You should also make sure that there’s no chipped or peeling paint, she recommends. “And if your home is anything but a neutral color, you should seriously consider painting it.”

Tip #2: Get rid of half your stuff (or more).

As Brooks notes, most real estate agents suggest that sellers pack up most of their personal items and remove them from the house when they’re trying to sell. This helps people declutter while also making their property more appealing to people who might be turned off by someone else’s personal photos and items.

“Pack up or get rid of rid of paperwork, knick-knacks, personal photos and collections,” says Brooks. “Any furniture that obstructs a walkway should be eliminated. Get rid of any unnecessary dishes, pots, pans and small appliances in your kitchen. All the excess gives a junky appearance.”

Tip #3: Deep-clean from top to bottom.

While cleaning seems like an obvious first step, it is often neglected, notes Trina Larson, RE/MAX Realtor and selling specialist from Potomac, Md.

“You would never purchase a dirty car or a dirty new jacket,” she says. “Get everything as clean as possible, and try to make your house look brand-new.”

Items on your to-clean list should include corners, edges of baseboards, light fixtures, windows inside and out, your home’s siding and anything that isn’t in pristine condition.

Tip #4: Get rid of off-putting smells.

If you want to sell quickly, your house should smell clean and inviting, Larson suggests. “Your first step is to remove every offensive odor,” she says.

Go through each room and take inventory of what you smell. “Pet urine is especially heinous, and there is only way to remove it,” she says. “You have to go in and replace the carpet where the accident happened. Although it might seem like an expensive task, it is worth every penny. No cooking or animal odors.”

Basic cleaning can also help remove smells. The cleaner your home, the fresher it will seem to potential buyers.

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Bottom line: Is a bridge loan worth considering?

If you want to buy a home quickly and don’t have time to sell your home, a bridge loan could help. Likewise, bridge loans can be a good option for people who are moving or building a new home and need the capital to make the sale go through regardless of cost.

On the other hand, such loans may not be the best choice for consumers who don’t want to risk getting stuck with two homes and multiple payments. They’re also a poor choice for buyers who don’t want to pay any additional closing costs or interest payments to get in the home they want.

In the end, only you can decide if the risk of getting a bridge loan for your new home is an acceptable one.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Holly Johnson
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Holly Johnson is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Holly here

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How to Rebuild Equity on an Underwater Mortgage

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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There are some things you can’t control as a homeowner, such as natural disasters, neighbors or the direction of home values. If these happen to take a nosedive, you could watch the equity you’ve built in your home disappear.

In fact, more than 5 million homeowners are “seriously underwater” on their mortgages — meaning the amount of debt attached to their home is at least 25% higher than the home’s value, according to the latest data from ATTOM Data Solutions, a property research firm. If you’re one of these homeowners, don’t despair. There are ways to rebuild the equity on an underwater mortgage. In this guide, we’ll explain what it means to have a mortgage underwater and how to rebuild the equity you’ve lost.

What is an underwater mortgage?

An underwater mortgage is a loan with an outstanding balance that exceeds the value of the home it secures. This is also referred to as having negative equity or being upside down on your mortgage.
There are a few ways that a mortgage can become underwater:

  • Significant drop in home values
  • Multiple loans taken out against a home, and the total balance is higher than the home’s value
  • Monthly payments not covering the interest due on a mortgage (negative amortization), and the balance owed grows instead of shrinks

If you tried to sell your home while it’s underwater, the sales proceeds likely wouldn’t be enough to pay off your mortgage, which would leave you on the hook for the remaining balance. You’d also have a hard time refinancing your mortgage, since you need to have some equity available for a refinance in many cases.

How to tell when my mortgage is underwater

If your current mortgage balance is higher than your home’s current market value, then your mortgage is underwater.

For example, let’s say your home was worth $250,000 when you first bought it, and you took out a $200,000 mortgage with a 4% interest rate. Five years later, the economy takes an unfortunate tumble and home values drop by an average 40%, giving your home an approximate $150,000 value.

Based on your loan’s amortization schedule, the outstanding balance you’d owe in year five would be about $180,000. That leaves you with $30,000 in negative equity.

Negative Equity in Your Home

Estimated Home Value in Year 5

$150,000

Estimated Mortgage Balance in Year 5

$180,000

Available Equity

-$30,000

If you find yourself in a situation similar to the one described above, there are options available to help you rebuild your home equity, which we’ll discuss in the next section.

How do I rebuild equity?

Just because your mortgage is underwater doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. There are ways to start rebuilding the equity you might need to fund other financial goals.

Pay down your mortgage as usual

The most straightforward option is to continue to pay down your mortgage as you normally would. Perhaps the housing market will recover, leading to an eventual rise in home prices. Either way, as long as you’re submitting your mortgage payments in full and on time, you’ll pay it off on schedule.

You can help speed things along by paying extra toward your principal balance. There are several ways to tackle this, which might include adding a couple hundred dollars — or whatever amount is comfortable for you — to your mortgage payment each month.

Another option is to make biweekly payments instead of monthly payments. This can add up to one extra payment each year. That’s because there are 52 weeks in a year and you’d make 26 half payments, which equals 13 full payments.

Be sure to ask your mortgage lender or servicer to direct any extra money you pay on your loan toward your principal balance (not interest).

Modify your mortgage

If you’re experiencing a temporary hardship on top of your underwater mortgage and are struggling to keep up with your mortgage payments, you could benefit from a mortgage modification.

A modification is when your lender changes the original terms of your mortgage to make it more affordable for you. Changes might include:

  • Extending the number of years you have left to repay your mortgage
  • Lowering your mortgage interest rate
  • Reducing your outstanding principal balance
  • Switching your mortgage rate type from adjustable to fixed

Eligibility requirements vary, so it’s best to contact your lender for more information about how to modify your loan.

Recast your mortgage

Another way your lender can make tweaks to your existing mortgage is by recasting your mortgage — especially if you’ve recently come into a financial windfall.

A mortgage recast involves paying a lump sum of money toward your outstanding principal balance. Your lender then recalculates your monthly mortgage payments based on the lower principal balance, but your mortgage rate and term length stay the same.

You’ll need to pay at least $5,000 — sometimes more — to recast your mortgage, and you might also be charged a recasting fee, up to $500. Check with your lender for more details and requirements.
Conventional loans typically qualify for mortgage recasting, but not government-backed loans, such as those insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA loans) or Department of Veterans Affairs (VA loans).

Refinance your mortgage

Although the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) — a government-sponsored initiative that helped nearly 3.5 million homeowners refinance their mortgages — has expired, there are other programs available that provide similar assistance.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two major agencies that buy and sell mortgages to and from lenders that follow their guidelines, created new initiatives as HARP was ending to address those homeowners who were underwater on their conventional mortgages or have high loan-to-value (LTV) ratios. An LTV ratio is calculated by dividing your loan amount by your home’s value. Revisiting the underwater mortgage example above of a home worth $150,000 with a $180,000 mortgage balance, the LTV ratio is 120%.

Fannie Mae’s high LTV refinance option offers homeowners with an LTV ratio above 97% the opportunity to refinance their mortgage. Homeowners must be current on their mortgage payments and benefit from at least one of these options:

  • A reduction in the principal and interest portion of their monthly payment
  • A lower interest rate
  • A shorter loan term
  • A more stable mortgage, such as a switch from an adjustable-rate to a fixed-rate loan

There is no maximum LTV ratio for fixed-rate mortgages, but adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) have a 105% LTV maximum. The existing mortgage must be Fannie Mae-owned.

The Enhanced Relief Refinance mortgage offered by Freddie Mac also requires homeowners to be current on their mortgage payments and have an LTV ratio that is higher than allowed for a standard refinance. The maximum LTV ratio allowed for ARMs is 105%; there’s no maximum for fixed-rate loans.

Homeowners must benefit from a shorter loan term, lower principal and interest payment, lower mortgage rate and/or a move from an ARM to a fixed-rate mortgage.

If you have a government-insured mortgage — FHA, USDA or VA loan — you may be able to take advantage of a streamlined refinance, which typically has a limited credit documentation and underwriting process. Additionally, you may not need an appraisal to verify your home’s value.

  • FHA: FHA borrowers applying for a streamlined refinance must be current on their mortgage payments and benefit from at least a 5% reduction in their monthly payment amount. You may also qualify if you’re switching from an ARM to a fixed-rate mortgage or shortening your loan term.
  • USDA: Borrowers with USDA loans may qualify for the streamlined assist refinance option if they have little to no equity and are current on their payments. The benefit must come from a monthly mortgage payment that’s at least $50 lower than the existing amount.
  • VA IRRRL: The VA Interest Rate Reduction Refinance Loan program helps homeowners with VA loans by lowering their mortgage payment through a reduced interest rate. Guidelines require a minimum 0.5% rate reduction.

Other options for underwater homeowners

If you’re ready to walk away from your home or simply can’t afford it anymore, consider one of the avenues below:

Home sale

You could attempt to sell your home, with the understanding that you likely won’t make enough profit to pay off your mortgage. If you have a hefty savings account, you can use some of those funds to pay the difference between the amount your home sale covers and your outstanding loan balance.

Short sale

Another option is a short sale, which allows you to sell your home for a price that is less than the outstanding balance on your mortgage. Additionally, your mortgage lender may forgive your remaining mortgage debt. Keep in mind that your credit score will take a hit with this option — it could drop by 100 points, according to FICO.

Deed in lieu of foreclosure

A deed in lieu of foreclosure, also known as a mortgage release, is the process of voluntarily transferring the ownership of your home to your lender. In exchange, you may be released from your mortgage payments and debt. This option also prevents you from going into foreclosure.

Similar to short sales, a deed in lieu of foreclosure negatively impacts credit scores.

The bottom line

You may feel helpless if you’re dealing with an underwater mortgage, but you have options. If you’re able to manage your monthly payments as they are, it may be best to continue paying down your loan as usual, making extra payments whenever possible. But if you’re struggling or simply want to reduce your payment amount, consider a loan modification or a refinance.

Be sure to discuss your available options with your mortgage lender or servicer, and remember that maintaining on-time payments will help your case.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Crissinda Ponder
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Crissinda Ponder is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Crissinda here

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Life Events, Mortgage

The Risks and Rewards of Out-of-State Investment Properties

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Mortgage

They say real estate is all about “location, location, location.” That’s especially true when it comes to investing in rental properties. Where you choose to buy can have a significant impact on your return on investment.

For example, in a state like New York, where the median mortgage exceeds the median rent by nearly $250, buying a property to rent out doesn’t make much financial sense. If you consider buying rental property in a different state, such as North Carolina where rents in the city of Charlotte top mortgages by $84 per month, you’ll net a profit instead of a loss every month your tenant pays rent.

Before you start the interstate home search process, you should know the risks and rewards of out-of-state investment properties.

Potential rewards of buying an out-of-state investment property

Very often, the primary reason to buy an out-of-state rental property is investment properties where you live are too expensive. There are some other more strategic reasons that we’ll cover next.

Diversify your real estate assets

Real estate markets rise and fall. During the housing boom of 2003 to 2007, many of the “sand” states, such as California, Arizona, Florida and Nevada, experienced home price appreciation at rates well above historic levels.

Investors learned a painful lesson in the danger of not diversifying when the housing markets in those states crashed during the housing crisis. Investors who had investment real estate concentrated only in these states lost big, while those who spread their portfolios out to other states fared better.

Purchase future vacation or retirement residences

If prices and rents are competitive in a state you’ve always wanted to vacation in, you may want to purchase the property first as a rental and allow tenants to build some equity for you while you generate income. After a few years, you may decide you want to spend a few months a year vacationing in the home and rent it out seasonally with a rental plan from a service such as Airbnb or VRBO.

Alternatively, you may live in a cold-weather state, such as Massachusetts, and want to retire to the warm winters of Arizona. You could put the wheels in motion on your retirement plans by buying a rental property there first that has the amenities you would want in a home for retirement.

Once you’ve pocketed some rental income and equity from renters, you can pack up for the cross-country move into the rental, throw out the snow shovel and enjoy wearing shorts instead of parkas during the holiday season.

Buy where the laws suit your rental strategy

Short-term rentals have become very popular for real estate investors, but they face legal challenges in some places. For example, New York City subways are covered with signs warning riders to avoid short-term rentals.

If you are interested in renting out your property through a service like Airbnb, buying in a state that has more flexible laws about short-term tenants is your best bet.

Net more income monthly with lower property taxes

According to a recent LendingTree study, homeowners in San Jose, California, paid on average $9,626 in property taxes each year. In Salt Lake City, homeowners pay only $2,765 per year — which means you’d have to get an additional $567 per month in rent in California just to cover the property tax expense before you could make any profit.

Risks of buying an out-of-state investment property

Like any investment, there are risks associated with buying out-of-state rental properties. We’ll discuss those next.

Long-distance property management problems

If you have a rental in the city you live in, you can deal with an unexpected tenant move-out or a late-night plumbing problem by driving over to the property and taking care of the issue yourself. But you’ll need to make some decisions about how to manage an out-of-state rental.

If you hire a property management company, they’ll take 8% to 12% of your monthly rent as a fee, eating into your monthly rent profit. If you self-manage, you’ll need to make sure you build relationships with local handymen, roofers, plumbers and pest control professionals so you have their numbers handy if a tenant emergency comes up.

State laws that restrict how you rent your property

Short-term rentals, such as Airbnb, may be a great way to generate a higher monthly income than you would get with a 12-month lease, but some cities and neighborhoods aren’t too keen on having a lot of different people coming and going through a nearby house. If the laws prohibit short-term rentals in an area you’re interested in, you’ll have to crunch the numbers to see if market rents for long-term leases provide you with a good return on your rental investment.

What to look for when considering an out-of-state rental property

When you’re buying in another state, take extra precautions to make sure you understand everything about the local housing market, building standards and how the local economy is doing before you start making offers. The last thing you want to do is end up with an out-of-state money pit.

Get a thorough home inspection

No matter how nice the home may look in pictures or at an open house, there can always be problems beyond the smell of new paint and carpet. Building standards and practices may vary from state to state and city to city, and you don’t want to be caught by surprise because you didn’t know polybutylene pipes behind the walls of homes built in Tucson, Arizona, have been known to burst without warning.

A good local home inspector will also help you understand whether a property has been built and maintained according to local building standards and identify any issues, such as an unpermitted room addition, that could cause you trouble with local housing inspectors down the road.

Interview several property management companies

Depending on the town, you may find very high-tech, organized property management shops with decades of experience or small mom-and-pop shops that offer real estate property management services. Either way, you want to know what they do for their fee. The graphic below provides a list of questions you should ask to make sure the property manager is a good fit for your out-of-state rental.

  • How many rental units do you manage? Ideally, you want a manager who has between 200 and 600 rental units. This indicates that the management company has a solid enough client base to understand the local market but not so extensive that they won’t be able to handle managing yours.
  • What experience does your company owner have managing rentals? When the long-distance plumbing hits the fan you don’t want to be dealing with a company that’s never managed rentals. There is no college of rental property management, and you don’t want to have your rental managed by someone who’s still learning the ropes.
  • Are you actively investing in real estate in your market? If you are buying in a housing market you’ve never purchased in, you may want to have a property manager who understands the nuances of the local rental market. This is especially important intel when you’re dealing with an out-of-state investment property in a neighborhood that may be going through changes that only an experienced local investor would know about.
  • How do you collect rent? In order to track cash-flow of a rental property, you should be able to easily track payments. The best method is through an online payment system that gives you real-time information about any late payments. If you took out a mortgage to purchase the rental property, you want to know as early as possible if a tenant is going to miss rent, so you can move money to cover the mortgage payment.
  • What is your average vacancy time on rentals? The correct answer should be two to four weeks. An experienced property management company should have the marketing and rental pricing know-how to make sure your property is not vacant for more than a month. It’s bad enough having a rental vacant, but when it’s out-of-state, you want to know the company managing the property has a track record of getting renters quickly to minimize the expenses you incur when a rental is without a renter.On the other hand, a property manager that rents out your place in less than two weeks may be pricing it too low.
  • How do you handle maintenance and repairs? It’s not uncommon for a property manager to have “preferred” vendors to help with the inevitable issues that come up with maintaining and repairing a rental. You’ll want to get a list of these preferred providers and keep track of their expenses.Also be sure to put a cap on the cost of repairs that can be done without your authorization. You should trust the company to handle a $100 fee, but you may want to cap them on anything more than $200 so you can have a chance to see if you need a second opinion with a different vendor.

Track property tax trends in the neighborhood

Property taxes are a fixed expense you can’t get around paying, so be sure to track the last five years of property taxes to see what the average increase has been. If you’re seeing an acceleration in the tax rate, figure that into your return-on-investment analysis, so you don’t end up in a situation where your monthly expenses are more than the rent you’re taking in.

Make sure you understand the rental market in the area

Rental markets ebb and flow as new homes are built, new employers set up shop nearby or new schools are built in the area. A good property manager or experienced real estate agent should be able to give you a good idea of where the market is headed with a comparable rental analysis.

When you bought your first home, you may have gotten a comparable market analysis (CMA), which analyzes what homes are selling for in the area you’re thinking of buying. A comparable rental analysis looks at rentals nearby to give you an idea of what your monthly income is going to be.

If you finance the property with a mortgage, you’ll likely need a rental analysis form 1007, which is an additional report in a residential home appraisal that provides an opinion of the market rent for the home you’re buying. In some cases, the appraiser’s projected market rent can be used to help you qualify for the new mortgage, even if you don’t have a lease on the property you’re buying.

Special mortgage considerations for out-of-state rental property

If you’ve been buying investment property in your hometown, you already know financing a rental property comes with higher down payments and interest rates. There are a few more factors to consider.

Are transfer taxes due and who pays them?

Depending on what state you are buying property, transfer taxes may be charged for you to take ownership of the property you are buying. Unlike property taxes, these are a set lump sum percentage of your sales price, added to your closing costs.

Transfer taxes are often paid by the seller, but in some cases they may be payable when buying a home, adding to your total closing costs. It’s also good to at least know how much they are so they don’t end up being one of those hidden costs of selling a home. In places like New York City, that could mean an extra 1% to 2.625% of your sales price subtracted from your profit, in addition to real estate fees that usually run between 5% and 6%.

Are you buying in an attorney or escrow state?

Depending on where you purchase your rental property, you may need an attorney to handle your contract negotiations. That means higher costs than you’ll find in an escrow state, where an escrow offer can handle the signing usually at a much lower cost.

Are you buying in a community property state?

If you’re currently married or have a domestic partner, the community property laws could affect what happens to the property in the event of a divorce. Community property states require a split of equity down the middle, whereas the equity can be split up in negotiable amounts in a non-community-property state.

Final considerations

A little due diligence and research will help you avoid unpleasant surprises if you’re considering buying an out-of-state investment property. While many real estate companies offer “virtual tours” of homes, there’s nothing like an in-person tour to soak up the light, views, smells and feel of a home before you buy it.

If you can, budget enough time to take a trip to the state you’re considering buying in to inspect the top contenders before you start making offers on an out-of-state investment property.

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Denny Ceizyk
Denny Ceizyk |

Denny Ceizyk is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Denny here

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