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Guide to Home Appraisals for Mortgages

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.

There are many factors that can lead to a mortgage denial when you’re trying to buy a home. One of the most common things that can stand between you and an approval is an issue with the property’s appraisal.

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But what is an appraisal? And why do home appraisals matter so much during the home buying process? This guide answers those questions and more.

What is a home appraisal?

An appraisal is a written estimate that details a professional appraiser’s opinion of a home’s value. When you buy a home, your mortgage lender will more than likely require a home appraisal before approving the loan.

“Appraisers are reporters of the market,” said Stephen Wagner, 2019 president of the Appraisal Institute in Chicago. “They interpret the actions of buyers and sellers in the marketplace.”

All 50 states require appraisers to be certified or licensed to provide appraisals to mortgage lenders who are federally regulated, according to the Appraisal Institute. Appraisers receive their credentials after passing an examination administered by their state’s appraisal board.

When choosing an appraiser, government-sponsored enterprise Fannie Mae has specific requirements for mortgage lenders. They need to select from professionals who not only meet the certification or licensing requirements, but also have experience in and knowledge of the local real estate market and the specific property type being appraised.

Many appraisers use the Uniform Residential Appraisal Report, the most common form used in real estate appraisals.

What do appraisers look for?

Before visiting a property, an appraiser gathers upfront information related to the property. Once they begin the appraisal assignment, they typically review the property’s:

  • Amenities
  • Condition
  • Interior
  • Structure
  • Upgrades

But not all appraisal assignments look the same, said John Brenan, vice president of appraisal issues with The Appraisal Foundation in Washington, D.C.: “Some require an appraiser to personally inspect the interior of a home. Some only require an appraiser to personally inspect the exterior of the home.”

The homebuyer doesn’t have to be present for the appraisal. In many cases, a real estate agent will provide access to the home if necessary, he added.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires appraisals for FHA loans to be more in-depth than those for conventional loans. Appraisers hired by FHA lenders must establish an unbiased opinion of a home’s value and determine whether it meets the FHA’s minimum property standards — by inspecting the home’s foundation and major systems, for example.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs follows a similar process for VA home appraisals. The appraiser must determine the value of the home and review the property’s condition to assess whether it meets the VA’s minimum property requirements.

Appraisers typically determine a home’s value by using one of three common methods:

  • The sales comparison approach, which involves reviewing recent home sales and homes currently for sale that are similar to the property being appraised. The appraiser makes adjustments to the home’s value based on its condition, features and quality.
  • The cost approach, which involves calculating what it would cost to build that same house on a similar lot, minus depreciation. This method can be helpful for appraisals on relatively newer homes, according to Brenan.
  • The income approach, which involves taking the rental income of the property being appraised, or a comparable property, to determine a value that would provide the rate of return that the typical investor would require for a similar home. As Brenan noted, this approach is typically used for commercial property appraisals.

The most commonly used method for real estate transactions is the sales comparison approach. When using this approach, appraisers consider several factors, according to the Appraisal Institute, which include:

  • Conditions of the sale
  • Economic characteristics
  • Expenditures made immediately after the purchase
  • Financing terms
  • Location
  • Market conditions
  • Non-property components of value
  • Physical characteristics
  • Property rights being transferred
  • Use and zoning

Homebuyers usually pay for an appraisal as part of their closing costs. An appraisal fee can run about $300 to $400, but it can vary depending on the state, property type, loan type and the complexity of the appraisal assignment. For example, the VA has a state-by-state fee schedule for home appraisals. The appraisal fee is $450 in Georgia and $525 in New York.

There isn’t a “shelf life” on appraisals, Brenan said. However, each lender has guidelines it follows that dictate how old an appraisal report can be for mortgage lending purposes.

Why appraisals matter to the homebuying process

An appraisal establishes a home’s value. This number is important to your mortgage lender because it affects the loan you need to purchase the home.

Lenders rely on a house appraisal to determine whether the sales price makes sense and to calculate the homebuyer’s loan-to-value ratio.

[An appraisal], as described by Wagner, “is a risk mitigation tool at that point, to make sure that somebody’s not paying too much for a property or that the lender isn’t going to lend too much against the property.

Put another way, a home appraisal is designed to ensure that the collateral for a mortgage — the house — is adequate enough to justify the loan amount, Brenan said. The appraisal also helps establish value in the event of a foreclosure sale, should the lender need to take the property back because the borrower defaulted on the mortgage.

Aside from mortgage approval, other reasons you might need an appraisal include:

Can you skip a home appraisal?

In certain circumstances, you may be able to sidestep the home appraisal requirement when getting a mortgage to purchase a home.

Conventional mortgage borrowers may be able to get what’s called a property inspection waiver (PIW) mortgage, which is a loan that goes through the underwriting process without an appraisal. It’s also known as an appraisal waiver mortgage.

With a PIW mortgage, the lender can use existing information about the property’s estimated value to originate a loan, rather than ordering a new appraisal. However, the homebuyer would need to supply a 20% down payment in most cases.

How to dispute a home appraisal

An appraiser’s opinion of value isn’t necessarily the end of the line, Brenan said.

If you’re not happy with your appraisal — for example, the home value comes in lower than expected — you have the option to dispute the appraiser’s findings.

Let’s say you’re looking to buy a home priced at $300,000 but the appraisal comes in at $250,000. After your lender has given you a copy of the appraisal report to review, you can request another appraisal if you’re not satisfied with the results. It’s helpful to provide any evidence you may have that disputes the appraiser’s findings, such as a recent comparable sale or missing square footage.

Keep in mind that your lender isn’t obligated to honor your request. But if it does, you’ll be responsible for the additional appraisal fee.

“If the borrower or a real estate agent or whoever wants the appraiser to consider additional information, go through the lender, share that information,” Brenan said. “The appraiser will review it and notify the lender if it warrants any type of change.”

If your lender decides to stick with the original appraisal or no changes occur after it’s reviewed, a few things can happen. Using the example above of an appraisal coming in lower than the sales price, you would either need to come up with the difference in cash or renegotiate with the seller on a lower price. Otherwise, the loan could be denied.

It’s also important to remember that although a house appraisal is part of your homebuying process and you’re responsible for paying the fee, you aren’t the appraiser’s client. In terms of a home purchase or refinance, the lender is required to order the appraisal and can’t accept an appraisal ordered by a borrower — “that is to avoid any possible bias or undue influence,” Brenan said.

Home appraisal vs. home inspection

While they both involve taking a critical look at a home, an appraisal and inspection aren’t the same.

An appraisal examines the elements and features that help determine the value of a home. But an inspection evaluates the home’s structure, interior and exterior to assess its condition and recommend any necessary repairs. Unlike appraisals in most cases, home inspections can be optional. Inspection fees range from about $300 to $500, though it can change based on a number of factors, such as the size and age of the home.

An appraiser is generally looking for things that impact value, such as the quality, design and floor plan, Wagner said.

“Appraisers do not inspect properties to the depth and level that a home inspector might, wherein as a home inspector is … testing plumbing and electrical and kind of almost seeing behind the walls, if you will,” he explained.

The bottom line

A home appraisal provides benefits for both homebuyers and mortgage lenders, Wagner said.

“In addition to valuation issues, they may find out things about the property that they might not have otherwise been particularly aware of,” he said.

For example, a home could be advertised as a certain size, but the appraisal showed that it’s actually smaller or larger than marketed.

“There’s a number of aspects of the physical characteristics of a property that may come to light that were not obvious to the buyer at the outset,” he said.

Lastly, since an appraiser is analyzing market information to arrive at a home’s value, there’s not much of a need to worry about bias.

“The appraiser is the independent, impartial, objective party in the entire transaction,” Brenan said. “The appraiser is the only one whose compensation does not depend on whether the deal goes through or not.”

The information in this article is accurate as of the date of publishing. 

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Mortgage

Getting Preapproved for a Mortgage: A Crucial First Step

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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Getting a mortgage preapproval is a crucial stepping stone on your way to becoming a homeowner, but it doesn’t mean you’re in the clear to borrow from a lender just yet. A preapproval does give you a leg up over the competition, though.

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What is a mortgage preapproval?

A mortgage preapproval means a lender has vetted your credit and finances and has made an initial loan offer based on its findings. Lenders share this information in writing, so you may hear it referred to as a preapproval letter.

Getting prequalified for a home loan is not the same as a preapproval. Mortgage prequalification provides a rough estimate of how much you might qualify for, based on a surface-level review of your financial information.

A preapproval, however, is a more thorough vetting of your finances and provides a more accurate idea of what a lender may offer in terms of a loan amount and interest rate. You provide financial documentation and agree to a review of your credit profile, which means the lender will pull your credit reports and scores. With a prequalification, you typically self-report your financial information and lenders don’t check your credit.

5 steps to getting preapproved for a mortgage

It’s not worth falling in love with a house until you know the sales price matches up with a mortgage amount you can realistically afford. Here’s how to get preapproved for a mortgage.

  1. Determine your homebuying timeline. The best time to apply for a mortgage preapproval is before you start house hunting. You may want to hold off on a preapproval if you’re not quite ready to begin the homebuying process. Even if you’re not yet prepared, you can get started by pulling your free credit reports from each bureau at AnnualCreditReport.com and reviewing minimum mortgage requirements.
  2. Review and improve your credit profile. With your credit reports in hand, it’s time to look for areas of improvement. The minimum credit score you need for a mortgage varies by program type, but you’ll need at least a 620 credit score in many cases. Dispute any inaccurate information you find, keep your credit card balances low and consistently pay your bills on time. Refrain from applying for new credit and closing any of your existing accounts, too.
  3. Pay down your debt. Pay down your debt. Aside from your credit scores, lenders care about how you manage your debt now and how you’ll fare if you get a mortgage. Your debt-to-income ratio, or the percentage of your gross monthly income used to repay debt, should stay at or below 43%. The less debt you have, the less risky you appear to lenders.
  4. Gather your documents. Lenders will request several documents from you for a preapproval, including:
    • Government-issued photo ID
    • Social Security number
    • Bank statements from the last 60 days
    • Pay stubs from the last 30 days
    • Two years of W-2s or 1099 tax forms
    • Credit reports and scores from all three bureaus
  5. Apply with multiple lenders. Consider banks, credit unions, mortgage brokers and nonbank lenders when applying for a mortgage preapproval, and shop around with three to five lenders to get the best rates. Additionally, keep your shopping period within 14 to 45 days to minimize the impact of those credit inquiries against your credit scores.

How long does a mortgage preapproval last?

A mortgage preapproval typically lasts for 30 to 60 days. The average time to close on a house is 48 days, according to Ellie Mae’s latest Origination Insight Report, so there’s a chance you can get through the full homebuying process before time runs out.

If your preapproval letter expires before you close, you’ll need to go through the process again, submit documentation and have your credit reports and scores pulled, which creates a new credit inquiry and affects your score.

Pros and cons of mortgage preapproval

The mortgage preapproval process includes several benefits, but there are also drawbacks to consider.

Pros:

  • You’ll get a better idea of how much house you could afford, which helps narrow down your price range.
  • Home sellers take you more seriously because you’ll have proof that a lender is willing to back you when you submit an offer.
  • You can comparison shop before committing to a lender.
  • Even if your preapproval is denied, you may walk away with an analysis of where you stand financially and how you can improve.

Cons:

  • A preapproval is not a full approval. It doesn’t guarantee you’ll qualify for a mortgage.
  • Preapprovals typically last for 30 to 60 days. If you don’t buy a home within this time frame, you’ll need a new mortgage preapproval letter.
  • Making changes that affect your credit, such as applying for a new credit line or racking up debt, can prevent you from getting a full mortgage approval.

What happens after you get preapproved for a mortgage?

Once you’ve been preapproved and have chosen a mortgage lender, it’s time to find your home and submit an offer to buy it. You’ll also continue working your way through the mortgage approval process, which includes:

  • Providing your lender with any additional documents needed to finalize your loan.
  • Getting a home appraisal and home inspection.
  • Preparing for your walk-through and closing day.

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Bridge Loans: What They Are and How They Work

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If you’re shopping for a home in a hot real estate market, you might find that sellers aren’t willing to wait for you to sell your home before you buy. In that case, a bridge loan can help you purchase your next home without the pressure of selling yours first.

Before you take the plunge into the bridge lending world, learn the ins and outs with this guide to understanding bridge loans.

What is a bridge loan?

A bridge loan is a short-term mortgage you can use to access equity in a home you are selling in order to purchase a new home. Bridge loans are commonly used in tight housing markets where bidding wars demand competitive purchase offers without any contingencies.

How does a bridge loan work?

Bridge loans work in two different ways — as a first mortgage to pay off your current loan and fund the down payment of a new house, or as a second mortgage, with the money applied to the down payment of a new home. Let’s explore how each of these work.

First mortgage bridge loan: One large loan is taken out for up to 80% of your home’s value. The funds are initially used to pay off the current mortgage balance. Any extra money leftover is used toward the down payment for your new home.

Second mortgage bridge loan: This option involves borrowing the difference between your current loan balance and up to 80% of your home’s value. The mortgage on your current loan is left alone, and the second mortgage bridge funds are applied to the down payment on the home you’re buying.

Here’s an example of how each option would look if your current home is worth $350,000 with an outstanding loan balance of $200,000, assuming you borrow 80% of your current home’s value.

Bridge loan optionMaximum loan amountHow funds are applied
First mortgage bridge loan$280,000$200,000 to current loan payoff

$80,000 to down payment new home
Second mortgage bridge loan$80,000$80,000 to down payment new home

Pros and cons of buying a home with a bridge loan

Pros

Tap home equity while your home is for sale. A bridge loan lets you tap the equity you’ve built in your current home while it’s for sale to buy a new home. Standard lending guidelines for conventional loans don’t allow cash-out refinancing on a property listed for sale.

Avoid making an extra move. A bridge loan allows you to move while your current home is still being sold so you’re not stuck finding a temporary place to live if you can’t time both sales perfectly.

Pay off the balance of your current loan and get extra cash. If you have a significant amount of equity in your home, you may be able to pay off your current mortgage while you wait for your home to sell. You can then use any extra cash toward a bigger down payment on your new home. This prevents you from paying two mortgage payments until your old home is sold.

Use bridge funds as a second mortgage to buy your new home. If your current mortgage rate is low, paying the entire balance off with a bridge loan doesn’t make sense. If you borrow the equity you have you in your current home as a second mortgage, you’ll have a lower bridge loan balance and payment.

Buy a new home without waiting for your current home to sell. A bridge loan eliminates the need for a home sale contingency, making your offer more competitive in a tight housing market.

Make interest-only payments until your home sells. Some bridge loan programs offer an interest-only option, which means you pay only the interest charges accruing each month. The interest rate may be slightly higher, but it will soften the impact of having two monthly mortgage payments.

Cons

You’ll make two or three mortgage payments. Once you borrow against your equity and buy your new home, you’ll be carrying at least two, possibly three monthly mortgage payments, depending on how you use the bridge loan. This can add up fast and become unsustainable.

Higher interest rates and closing costs. Like most short-term lending options, bridge loans come with higher interest rates and closing costs. Lenders charge higher rates and fees to make it worth their while because you are borrowing only for a short time. You might have trouble making the payments on both mortgages if you have a hard time selling your current home.

Increases the risk of defaulting on two mortgages. Bridge lenders expect you will be able to pay off the loan within a year. If the balance isn’t paid by then, they can foreclose on your home. As a result, your credit and finances will take a massive hit, and you might be unable to repay the mortgages on both homes.

Need substantial equity to qualify. Bridge loans are not a viable choice if you don’t have a good chunk of equity in your home. You can borrow up to 80% of the value of your home, so if you’re in an area where neighborhood values have dropped, you’ll want to come up with alternative financing.

Not as regulated as traditional mortgages. When regulatory reform was passed, it was intended to focus on long-term loan commitments to protect borrowers from taking out loans they couldn’t repay. The new rules don’t apply to temporary or bridge loans with terms of 12 months or less, meaning you’ll have less protection.

How to qualify for a bridge loan

Bridge loans are specialty mortgage loans, and they aren’t approved based on the same standards as a regular mortgage. Lenders that offer these loans have a few extra qualifying hoops for you to jump through, and rates and fees vary depending on property type, too.

Here are some key qualifying requirements unique to bridge loans:

Enough income to cover multiple mortgage payments

Bridge lending guidelines are often set by private investors or are specialized programs offered by institutional banks. That means they can create their own guidelines. Some bridge lenders may not count your current mortgage payment against you because they approve the loan knowing your intent is to pay it off quickly.

Other lenders will require you to qualify with both loans, which could mean you can’t tap into the full amount of your equity unless you have enough income.

At least 20% equity in your current home

Bridge loans work best if you have more than 20% equity, but the bare minimum requirement is 20%. If you don’t, it’s unlikely you’ll qualify for a bridge loan.

A commitment to paying off the loan quickly

Bridge lenders will scrutinize the home you are selling more than the home you are buying to make sure it’s priced to sell within bridge loan’s term period, usually 6 to 12 months. An appraisal will be required on your current home, and if the value comes in significantly lower than what your asking price is, your loan amount will be reduced.

Average closing costs for a bridge loan

Bridge loan closing costs typically range from 1.5% to 3% of the loan amount, and rates can be as high as 8% and 10% depending on your credit profile and how much you are borrowing. Beware of any lender that asks for an upfront deposit to approve a bridge loan; they probably aren’t a legitimate lending source and you should steer clear.

How to find a bridge loan lender

Bridge lending is a niche product, so not every lender will offer the option. You’ll need to shop around with mortgage brokers and institutional banks. Also, ask your current mortgage broker or loan officer whether they have experience closing bridge loans.

Work with a legitimate, licensed loan officer. You can check licensing requirements for all 50 states with the Nationwide Multistate Licensing System Consumer Access link. Type in your loan officer’s name or company information. Here are examples of lenders who may offer bridge loans:

Institutional lenders

Start with your local bank to discuss their bridge loan programs. If you have a substantial amount of deposits with a bank, the bridge loan terms might be more flexible and approval might go more smoothly.

Alternative lenders

Mortgage brokers and mortgage bankers often have relationships with alternative lenders. They can often find a bridge loan source if your current bank doesn’t offer them.

Hard money lenders

A hard money loan may be a good fit for bridge financing to purchase fix-and-flip investment property. Hard money lenders are often private investors, or groups of private investors, looking for high returns on short-term real estate loans. Interest rates can run into the double digits, and you can expect a prepayment penalty and fees range between 2% to 10%, depending on how risky your credit profile is.

Alternatives to using a bridge loan

You can do some advance planning to avoid needing a bridge loan, or at least limit how much bridge financing you need to purchase a home. Here are some other options to consider:

Use an existing home equity line of credit (HELOC)

If you already have a HELOC on your home before you start searching for a new home, you can use the HELOC toward a down payment on your new home. Typically there are no limitations on how you can use HELOC funds. A few drawbacks: You might have to pay a close-out fee when your home sells and the HELOC is paid off and closed, and you won’t get a mortgage interest tax deduction on the extra borrowed equity. You also risk losing your home if you can’t repay the loan because your home is serving as collateral for the loan.

Take out a 401(k) loan

Your retirement savings account can be another tool to bridge the gap in financing, and the rates and payment may be significantly less than what you’ll pay for a bridge loan. Check with your plan provider for any restrictions on loans for home purchases. It may be more cost-effective to take out a 401(k) loan to avoid the closing costs and high interest rates that come with a bridge loan.

The drawback to a 401(k) loan is that the borrowed money is taken from your retirement savings and won’t be working for you in the market. Consider this option only if you plan to repay the loan immediately after your current home sells.

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.

By clicking “See Rates”, you will be directed to LendingTree. Based on your creditworthiness, you may be matched with up to five different lenders in our partner network.