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U.S. Mortgage Market Statistics: 2018

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

Homeownership rates in the United States have increased steadily since the height of the 2007-2010 housing crisis. Despite this, increasing interest rates and high home prices have kept the homeownership rate much lower throughout 2018 than it was during the era before the crisis.

Housing prices have recently begun to cool, however, which may create opportunities for some would-be buyers to be able to afford a home. But this does not mean that the homeownership rate will approach its previous peak levels anytime soon. Nonetheless, the overall housing market is in a healthy state, with very low levels of distressed loans.

Throughout this piece, we dig into a broad range of housing metrics to help paint a picture of the current state of the housing market, explain who gets home financing, how mortgages are structured and how Americans are managing our debt.

Summary:

  • Total mortgage debt: $10.3 trillion1
  • Average mortgage balance: $148,0602
  • Average new mortgage balance: $260,3863
  • Homeownership rate (share of owner-occupied homes): 64.4%4
  • Homeowners with a mortgage: 63%5
  • Median credit score for a new mortgage: 7586
  • Average down payment required: $28,9327
  • Mortgages originated in 2017: $1.75 trillion8
  • Share of mortgages originated by banks: 40%9
  • Share of mortgages originated by credit unions: 9%9
  • Share of mortgages originated by nonbank lenders: 51%9
  • Share of mortgages with a delinquency rate of 30 days or more: 3%20

Key insights:

  • While credit score requirements are still more lax than they were in 2012, the median credit score for a new mortgage in 2017 was 758, four points higher than it was in 20166
  • 3% of mortgages on single family homes are in delinquency, or at least 30 days past due. In 2010, mortgage delinquency reached 11.54%20

Homeownership and equity levels

In the second quarter of 2017, real estate values in the United States surpassed their pre-housing-crisis levels. As of the third quarter of 2018, the total value of real estate owned by individuals in the United States is nearly $25.6 trillion19, and total mortgages clock in at $10.3 trillion.1 This means that Americans have $15.2 trillion in home equity.12 This is the highest value of home equity Americans have ever seen.

However, real estate wealth is becoming increasingly concentrated as overall homeownership rates fall. In 2004, 69% of all Americans owned homes. Today, that number is down to 64.4%.4 While home affordability remains a question for many Americans, the downward trend in homeownership also corresponds to banks’ tighter credit standards following the Great Recession.

New mortgage originations

Mortgage origination levels have recovered from their housing crisis lows. In 2008, financial institutions issued just $1.4 trillion of new mortgages. In 2016, new first lien mortgages topped $2 trillion for the first time since the end of the housing crisis, but mortgage originations were still 25% lower than their pre-recession average.8 New first lien mortgages fell to $1.8 trillion in 2017. Through the second quarter of 2018, banks originated just $820 billion in new mortgages, which is $20 billion lower than it was at the same point in 2017.

As recently as 2010, three banks (Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Chase) originated 56% of all mortgages.13 But in 2017, Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Chase and all banks put together originated just 40% of all loans.9

“Nonbank” lending, both credit unions and nondepository lenders have continued to cut into banks’ share of the mortgage market. In 2017, credit unions issued 9% of all mortgages. Additionally, 51% of all mortgages in 2017 came from non-depository lending institutions like Quicken Loans and PennyMac. Behind Wells Fargo ($212 billion) and Chase ($108 billion), Quicken ($86 billion) was the third-largest mortgage issuer in 2017. In the fourth quarter of 2017, PennyMac issued $17 billion in loans and was the fifth largest lender overall.9

Government vs. private securitization

Banks tend to be more willing to issue new mortgages if a third party will buy the mortgage in the secondary market. This is a process called loan securitization. Consumers can’t directly influence which entity buys their mortgage, but mortgage securitization influences who gets mortgages and their rates.

Government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) have traditionally played an important role in ensuring banks will issue new mortgages. Through the second quarter of 2018, GSEs Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac purchased 44% of all newly issued mortgages, down from 46% in the second quarter of 2017.8

Through the second quarter of 2018, private securitization companies purchased only 2% of all loans, notably higher than the .6% purchased in 2017.8 Prior to 2007, private securitization companies held $1.6 trillion in subprime and Alt-A (near prime) mortgages. In 2005 alone, private securitization companies purchased $1.1 trillion worth of mortgages. Today, private securitization companies hold just $438 billion in total assets, including $361 billion in subprime and Alt-A loans.14

As private securitization firms exited the mortgage landscape, programs from the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) have filled in some of the gap. The FHA and VA are designed to help borrowers get loans despite having smaller down payments or lower incomes. FHA and VA loans accounted for 23% of all loans issued in 2017, and 22% in the first half of 2018.8. These loan programs are the only mortgages that grew in absolute terms from the pre-mortgage crisis. From 2001 through 2007, FHA and VA loans only accounted for an average $138 billion in loans per year. In 2017, FHA and VA loans accounted for $441 billion in loans issued.8 In 2017, 24% of all first lien mortgages were financed through FHA or VA programs.

Portfolio loans — mortgages held by banks — accounted for $524 billion in new mortgages in 2017. Despite tripling in volume from their 2009 low, portfolio loans remain down 29% from their pre-crisis average.8

Mortgage credit characteristics

As of 2017, banks have issued 31% fewer mortgages compared with a pre-crisis average between 2001 and 2007. This means that borrowers need better credit in order to get a mortgage. 8

The median FICO score for an originated mortgage rose from 707 in late 2006 to 758 in November 2018. 11

Despite the dramatic credit requirement increases from 2006 to today, banks are starting to relax lending standards somewhat. In the first quarter of 2012, the median borrower had a credit score of 781, 23 points higher than the median borrower in November 2018.11

From the third quarter of 2001 through the end of 2008, an average of 20% of all mortgages originated went to people with subprime credit scores (lower than 660). In the third quarter of 2018, subprime borrowers received just 9% of all mortgages.

Meanwhile, the share of mortgages issued to borrowers people with excellent credit (scores above 760) doubled. Between the third quarter of 2001 and the end 2008, just 28% of all mortgages went to people with excellent credit. In the third quarter of 2018, 57% of all mortgages went to people with excellent credit.6

Although banks tightened lending standards related to maximum debt-to-income (DTI) ratios for their mortgages in response to the market crash of 2008, they have recently begun to show signs of loosening those standards. For example, the average DTI ratio in 2017, 35.1%, was more than one point higher than the average DTI ratio in 2016, 34.0%. Nonetheless, the average DTI ratio is still lower than it was in 2007 where it was 38.4%.

LTV and delinquency trends

Banks continue to screen customers on the basis of credit score and income, but customers who take on mortgages are taking on bigger loans than ever before. Today, a new mortgage has an average unpaid balance of approximately $260,000 according to data from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.3

The primary drivers behind larger loans are higher home prices, but lower down payments also play a role. Prior to the housing crisis, more than half of all borrowers put down at least 20%. The average loan-to-value ratio at loan origination was 82%.10

In 2018, the average loan-to-value ratio at origination has fallen to 86% from 87% in 2017.10

As of November, 2018, the average loan-to-value ratio across all homes in the United States is an estimated 40%. The average LTV on mortgaged homes is 63%.16 This is substantially higher than the pre-recession LTV ratio of approximately 60%. Between 2009 and 2011, more than a quarter of all mortgaged homes had negative equity. Today, just 4.2% of mortgaged homes have negative equity.17

Americans continue to manage mortgage debt well. Current homeowners have mortgage payments that make up an average of just 15.1% of their annual household income.18

In quarter three of 2018, mortgage delinquency rates were 3.0%. This low delinquency rate is well below the 2010 high of 11.5% delinquency.20

Today, delinquency rates on mortgages fully returned to their pre-crisis lows, and can be expected to stay low until the next economic recession.

Mortgage debt service payments as a percentage of disposable personal income have fallen to their lowest levels since 1980, when the data was first recorded.

Sources:

  1. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.), Households and Nonprofit Organizations; Home Mortgages; Liability, Level [HHMSDODNS], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/HHMSDODNS Dec. 18, 2018.
  2. Survey of Consumer Expectations Housing Survey – 2018,” Credit Quality and Inclusion, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Accessed Nov. 28, 2018.
  3. Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, “ Average Loan Amount, 1-4 family dwelling, 2017.” Accessed Nov. 19, 2018.
  4. U.S. Census, Homeownership Rate for the United States [USHOWN], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/RHORUSQ156N, Nov. 19, 2018. (Calculated as percentage of all housing units occupied by an owner occupant.)
  5. “U.S. Census Bureau, 2017 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates,” Mortgage Status, Owner-Occupied Housing Units. Accessed Nov. 19, 2018.
  6. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit August 2017.” Credit Score at Origination: Mortgages, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed Nov.19, 2018.
  7. Calculated metric:
    1. Down Payment Value = Home Price* Average Down Payment Amount (Average Unpaid Balance on a New Mortgageb / Median LTV on a New Loanc) * (1 – Median LTV on a New Loanc)
    2. Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, “ Average Loan Amount, 1-4 family dwelling, 2017.” Accessed Nov. 19, 2018. Gives an average unpaid principal balance on a new loan = $260,386
    3. Housing Finance at a Glance: A Monthly Chartbook, October 2018.” Page 17, Median Combined LTV at Origination from the Urban Institute, Urban Institute, calculated from: Corelogic, eMBS, HMDA, SIFMA, and Urban Institute. Data provided by Urban Institute Housing Finance Policy Center Staff.
  8. Housing Finance at a Glance: A Monthly Chartbook, October 2018.” Page 8, First Lien Origination Volume from the Urban Institute. Source: Inside Mortgage Finance and the Urban Institute. Data provided by Urban Institute Housing Finance Policy Center Staff.
  9. Mortgage Daily. 2018. “Mortgage Daily 2017 Biggest Lender Ranking” [Press Release] Retrieved from https://globenewswire.com/news-release/2018/03/26/1453033/0/en/Mortgage-Daily-2017-Biggest-Lender-Ranking.html.
  10. Housing Finance at a Glance: A Monthly Chartbook, October 2018.” Combined LTV at Origination from the Urban Institute, Urban Institute, calculated from: Corelogic, eMBS, HMDA, SIFMA, and Urban Institute. Data provided by Urban Institute Housing Finance Policy Center Staff. Accessed Nov. 26, 2018.
  11. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit November 2018.” Mortgage Delinquency Rates, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed Nov. 28, 2018. A breakdown of data can be found here: https://www.newyorkfed.org/microeconomics/hhdc/background.html
  12. Calculated metric: Value of U.S. Real Estate – Mortgage Debt Held by Individuals
    1. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.), Households; Owner-Occupied Real Estate including Vacant Land and Mobile Homes at Market Value [HOOREVLMHMV], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/HOOREVLMHMV, Nov 28, 2018.
  13. Mortgage Daily, 2017. “3 Biggest Lenders Close over Half of U.S. Mortgages” [Press Release]. Retrieved from http://www.mortgagedaily.com/PressRelease021511.asp?spcode=chronicle.
  14. Housing Finance at a Glance: A Monthly Chartbook, October 2018” Size of the US Residential Mortgage Market, Page 6 and Private Label Securities by Product Type, Page 7, from the Urban Institute Private Label Securities by Product Type, Urban Institute, calculated from: Corelogic and the Urban Institute. Data provided by Urban Institute Housing Finance Policy Center Staff. Accessed Nov. 28, 2018
  15. ““Fannie Mae Statistical Summary Tables: October 2018” from Fannie Mae. Accessed Nov. 29, 2018; and “ Single Family Loan-Level Dataset Summary Statistics” from Freddie Mac. Accessed Nov. 28, 2018. Combined debt-to-income ratios weighted using original unpaid balance from both datasets.
  16. Calculated metrics:
    1. Mortgages Houses LTV = Value of All Mortgages / (Value of All Homes – Value of Homes with No Mortgagee)
    2. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.), Households; Owner-Occupied Real Estate including Vacant Land and Mobile Homes at Market Value [HOOREVLMHMV], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/HOOREVLMHMV, Nov. 28, 2018.
    3. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.), Households and Nonprofit Organizations; Home Mortgages; Liability, Level [HHMSDODNS], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/HHMSDODNS, Nov. 28, 2018.
    4. U.S. Census Bureau, 2011-2015 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, Aggregate Value (Dollars) by Mortgage Status, Nov. 28, 2018.
  17. Housing Finance at a Glance: A Monthly Chartbook, October 2018.” Negative Equity Share, Page 22. Source: CoreLogic and the Urban Institute. Data provided by Urban Institute Housing Finance Policy Center Staff. Accessed Nov. 28, 2018
  18. Survey of Consumer Expectations Housing Survey – 2018,” Credit Quality and Inclusion, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Accessed Nov. 28, 2018.
  19. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.), Households; Owner-Occupied Real Estate including Vacant Land and Mobile Homes at Market Value [HOOREVLMHMV], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/HHMSDODNS Dec. 12, 2018.
  20. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.), Delinquency Rate on Single-Family Residential Mortgages, Booked in Domestic Offices, All Commercial Banks [DRSFRMACBS], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/DRSFRMACBS Dec. 12, 2018.

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Tendayi Kapfidze
Tendayi Kapfidze |

Tendayi Kapfidze is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Tendayi here

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Commercial Mortgage Refinancing: How Does It Work?

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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In business, there are many reasons why you may want — or need — to look into commercial mortgage refinancing. Maybe your credit score has vastly improved over the last few years and you’re hoping to score a better interest rate, or maybe you’re trying to avoid making a large balloon payment at the end of your current loan term. Regardless of your reasons for wanting to consider a new loan, the process can seem daunting. However, it doesn’t have to be. This guide will walk you through the ins and outs of refinancing a commercial mortgage so that you can make the financing decisions that will work best for you and your business.

Why refinance a commercial loan?

Lower interest rates

The first reason why you may want to refinance a commercial mortgage is to take advantage of lower interest rates. Interest rates are still at relative lows, historically, and if your financial situation has improved since the last time you were approved for a loan, you could be a candidate to take advantage of those lower rates.

Increased cash flow

The main benefit of those lower interest rates is that you’ll have a decreased monthly payment. That lower payment means increased savings, which can be a source of greater cash flow.

On the other hand, you also have the option of doing a cash-out refinance, in which you borrow more money than you currently owe. The excess comes to you as tax-free funds to be used however you wish. Usually, people use this method to undertake big projects like making improvements to the property or funding an expansion.

Better loan terms

Another reason why someone might consider refinancing is to create an opportunity to negotiate more favorable loan terms. This could mean moving from an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) to a more stable fixed-rate option or simply tailoring the length of the loan to meet your current needs.

Avoiding balloon payments

Additionally, refinancing your loan could be a way to avoid having to make a sizable balloon payment — a larger-than-usual one-time payment at the end of the loan’s term. Mortgages with balloon payments generally come with lower, sometimes interest-only, payments over the life of the loan. However, when the balance of the loan becomes due, it could amount to thousands of dollars. If you don’t have that amount of cash on hand, refinancing will allow you to extend your repayment window.

What are the borrower requirements to refinance?

In order to get approved for a commercial mortgage, you’ll need to meet certain borrower requirements. Though the exact specifications will vary by lending institution, here’s a general overview of what you can expect:

Repayment ability

First and foremost, lenders want see that you have the ability to actually repay the loan. Typically, this is determined by something called a Debt Service Coverage Ratio (DSCR). It’s found by dividing your business’s net operating income by annual loan payments. In this case, it’s best to shoot for a ratio of 1.2 or more.

Management

Ideally, your business will have a strong management history in order to prove its longevity. For this reason, most lenders limit themselves to businesses that have been operating for two years or more. You may also be asked to show a resume or business plan detailing your experience and future projections.

Equity

In this case, equity refers to the stake that the owner has in the property. In some instances in which the property generates enough income on its own, it can serve as its own collateral. In others, the borrower must put up personal collateral of his or her own.

Credit history

Finally, lenders want to be sure that you have a history of paying off existing debts, so they’ll check your credit score. Be aware that both your business and personal scores may be evaluated.

How does a commercial refinance differ from a home loan refinance?

“Lenders look at this type of loan differently,” said James Hoopes, a senior vice president at NorthMarq Capital in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

“With home loans, your personal credit decides whether or not you get the loan. Here, the amount of income the property produces from its tenants is just as — if not more — important than your credit score.”

In addition to differences in qualifying requirements, Hoopes pointed out that there are huge differences in the way residential and commercial loans get paid off.

“Residential loans tend to amortize over the life of the loan,” he explained, “meaning that the homeowners will have usually paid off the loan in full by the end of the term.”

“Commercial loans, on the other hand, tend to have an amortization period that’s longer than the loan term, which means that borrowers can find themselves facing a large payment when the loan comes due.”

Above all, Hoopes cautions borrowers to think carefully before refinancing their commercial loans. These types of loans come with high penalties that aren’t seen when refinancing traditional home loans.

Types of commercial loans

These days, there are a few distinct types of commercial loans that you can choose from. Be sure to research each one before applying so that you know which type of financing is best for your business.

SBA 7(a) loans

The SBA 7(a) loan is the most common type of small-business loan. The loan is popular because it’s backed by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and is geared toward serving businesses that might otherwise be turned down by banks. These loans come with a limit of $5 million, and the SBA agrees to back up to 85% of loans up to $150,000 and 75% of those above that amount.

CDC/SBA 504 loans

Another government-backed loan, the CDC/SBA 504 loan is different from the SBA 7(a) loan in the way it’s structured. For this, the SBA will provide 40% of the total project costs, while a Certified Development Company (CDC) will provide an additional 50%, and your down payment will account for the final 10%. Due to its structure, there is no limit on how much you can borrow for CDC/SBA 504 loans; however, the maximum amount that the SBA will provide is $5 million.

Private loans

Private loans are offered by a bank or mortgage company. Traditionally, these loans offer competitively low interest rates. In exchange, however, they typically come with higher qualifying standards in terms of acceptable credit scores and operating histories.

How can you find a lender?

Ideally, you’ll already have a lender in place from the last time you applied for a mortgage. However, if that’s not the case, don’t hesitate to do your own research. Ask your industry contacts who they use for financing, use the SBA website’s free lender match service and read online reviews.

The commercial loan refinancing process

“The first step to refinancing a commercial loan is figuring out what kind of loan you need,” advised Hoopes of NorthMarq Capital. This means taking a close look at why you want to refinance, whether it’s to secure a lower interest rate or to fund renovations via a cash-out option.

The next step is to shop around. “Talk to different lenders in your area to get a sense of what they can offer you. Ask about interest rates, fees and other terms until you find the best proposal for you,” he continued.

From there, it’s all about gathering the right documentation and filling out an application. Every lending institution will have different application requirements. However, in general, you should expect to need the following: a property description, a rent roll, proof of income (profit/loss or revenue/expense statements showing several years of operating history) and the borrower’s resume and financial statements.

“After that, you can enter what’s known as the underwriting period,” Hoopes said. “During this time, the lender will order an appraisal and other third-party reports to determine if you’re eligible to receive the loan.”

“Once the loan has been approved, the lender will issue a loan commitment and, at that point, it’s just a matter of preparing the legal documents for closing,” he concluded.

Fees and closing costs

Not surprisingly, fees can vary from lender to lender, as well; however, two common fees that you should watch out for are prepayment penalties and and a guaranty fee. Prepayment penalties can be hefty and result from paying off your existing mortgage early with your new loan.

For their part, only SBA loans are subject to the guaranty fee. This fee is charged to the lender but is passed along to you for the security of having a government-backed loan. Only the amount of the loan that’s backed by the SBA is taxed, rather than the loan’s face value.

Luckily, closing costs are a bit more predictable. “As a rule of thumb, for loans under $10 million, I would estimate 2% of the loan amount for both closing costs and lender fees, not including legal fees,” Hoopes said. “But they can move up from there.”

The bottom line

At first glance, commercial mortgage refinancing can seem like an overwhelming process, but it doesn’t have to be. With a little bit of research, planning and forethought, you should be able to find a commercial loan that serves your and your business’s needs.

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.

Tara Mastroeni
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Tara Mastroeni is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Tara here

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What You Should Know About VA Construction Loans

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Ready to build your dream home? If you’re an active-duty service member or veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces, you may not realize that the Veterans Administration (VA) backs construction loans to help offset the costs of turning that house in your head into a reality.

Jesse Gonzalez, broker of record at North Bay Capital in Santa Rosa, California, and member of the Veterans Association of Real Estate Professionals (VAREP), said these loans are relatively new and not well-known, even among active-duty service members. “There are not a lot of mortgage professionals doing these,” Gonzalez said. “My competition is sparse in this area because most mortgage professionals simply don’t understand it.”

But experts like Gonzalez say a VA construction loan is a fantastic resource for folks who want to build a home. Unlike conventional construction loans, VA construction loans offer a host of special benefits — from the possibility of 100% financing without a down payment to locked-in interest rates that won’t change over the years of the loan.

So, what do you need to know to take advantage of this resource? Do you need a special credit score or an approved contractor to build your new home? Let’s take a look at what you might need to do to get some help from the VA to build that house.

Qualifications for a VA construction loan

Much like VA loans designed to purchase an existing home, VA construction loans carry a number of eligibility criteria that lenders will look for before offering you this special type of mortgage.

Before you call a private lender (more on that later), take a look at some of the qualifications you’ll likely need to get one of these loans:

  • Loans are open to veterans, active-duty military or eligible surviving spouses of members of the Armed Forces. You can check your eligibility on the VA’s website.
  • Lenders require a Certificate of Eligibility (COE), a special form issued by the government to prove you’re eligible for a VA-backed loan.
    Homes must be built by a licensed contractor (building it yourself or with relatives is typically not allowed).
  • Homes must be built as a primary residence and occupied within 60 days of completion (exceptions are made for business units built on properties primarily intended for residential use).
  • A minimum credit score of 620 is typically required, although some exceptions can be made.

Minimum property requirements for VA construction loans

Even if you and your home plans fit the bill for a VA construction loan, you should be prepared to jump through a number of hoops once you actually start construction.

Although the VA doesn’t put restrictions on the overall design of the house — whether you build a cute bungalow or a sprawling McMansion is up to you — if you’re going to build with a VA-backed loan footing the bill, your property will have to meet several requirements regarding usage, utilities and the like.

Some of the major things to be aware of include

  • Usage — VA loans are intended to help people with housing, so it’s no surprise the VA construction loan requires the primary use be residential. Up to four units are allowed on certain properties, depending on size. Business units are allowed, provided they don’t “impair the residential character of the property,” according to VA rules, or exceed 25% of the gross floor area.
  • Living space — The size of the living space must accommodate living, sleeping, cooking and dining space.
  • Utilities — Water, sewer, gas and electricity must be available for the unit (or units, if there are multiple). Homes must have a means for safe sewage disposal, and connection to public sewerage is required, if it’s feasible.

Steps to getting a VA construction loan

If you’re interested in applying for a VA construction loan, a private lender may be able to help you, and some of the process will be similar to that of a conventional loan application.

  1. Certificate of Eligibility. This step is required only for VA-backed loans, not conventional loans, but it’s a must! To apply, you can fill out an online application, send in your documents by mail, or ask a lender for help.
  2. Prequalification. This is the first step of any loan process, and it will include a credit check as well as the need to provide the COE, income documents, and possibly proof of other assets. You may also be asked to undergo the following:
    1. Builder registration. This is a review of your chosen contractor to ensure it’s reputable and up to the task.
    2. Deal calculation. This number crunching will be done by the lender as he or she figures out a total loan amount that includes any closing costs, seller or building concessions, interest and more.
  3. Underwriting. This is step two of the process. Your lender will submit the loan for review. As with conventional loans, the underwriter will look at your income, credit, assets and construction plans. Information to verify your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio may also be requested by some lenders. In the case of a VA construction loan, the underwriter also will look to see that your builder is approved by the VA.
  4. Closing. VA construction loans allow for something called a “one-time close.” While traditional building loans usually require the borrower take out and refinance a construction loan as a permanent home loan once construction is complete, VA borrowers get to skip that second step. Instead, there’s a single closing, at which time the borrower and lender sign all necessary paperwork and money is handed over so that construction can begin. The builder will use the money to build, but payback of the loan won’t begin until construction is complete.

Pros of a VA construction loan

Why would you want to get a VA construction loan, if you’re eligible, when you could just buy an existing home?

According to Evan Wade, co-founder and partner of Philadelphia Mortgage Brokers in Philadelphia and member of the Association of Independent Mortgage Experts (AIME), VA construction loans are especially popular in areas with limited housing inventory.

“The VA does not wish to restrict the type of homes a veteran is able to buy,” Wade explained. “If a veteran wishes to construct a brand new house while still being able to utilize their hard-earned benefits, they should definitely be able to do so.”

The benefits don’t stop there. A construction loan could allow the freedom to design a home that truly suits your and your family’s needs, instead of making do with a home that’s simply “almost right.” Here are some other benefits for which you might qualify with a VA construction loan:

  • Lower interest rates
  • Skipping a down payment
  • Avoiding Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI), which typically is not required

Cons of a VA construction loan

There are, of course, some aspects of a VA construction loan that might not make it a perfect fit. Before you approach a lender, you might want to take the following into consideration:

  • VA construction loans require builders be approved by the VA. That means you can’t build your home yourself or use friends and family helpers to cut construction costs.
  • Some building styles are banned under this construction loan, such as a tiny house.
  • Not all lenders, even lenders who offer VA loans, provide VA construction loans.

Where can you find a VA construction loan?

It can be tough to find a lender who is versed in VA construction loans; however, they are out there. Asking friends or family who are also in the military world for word-of-mouth recommendations can be a great way to find the perfect lender who can walk you through the process.

VAREP also offers a “find a member” option on its website to assist in locating military-friendly mortgage professionals located around the U.S.

Before you borrow

When it comes to building a home, the VA construction loan is a valuable option for would-be homeowners who qualify. If you’re not sure one is right for you, you might also want to consider a traditional construction loan.

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Jeanne Sager
Jeanne Sager |

Jeanne Sager is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Jeanne here

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