Choose the FHA 203(k) loan for larger projects -- buying a fixer-upper or refinancing your home while also funding major renovations. Another option is FHA's "Title 1" loan, which allows you to finance your smaller project and isn't tied to a refinance or home purchase. For either of these loans, you need to shop for an FHA-approved mortgage lender.
FHA 203(k) Loan
The FHA 203(k) home loan allows you to buy a home or refinance a mortgage while incorporating home improvement into the project. To be eligible, you must:
- Meet FHA's credit, income and other underwriting guidelines;
- Finance a house that is at least one year old;
- Borrow a total amount that is less than the FHA's maximum loan limit for your area; and
- Have at least $5,000 for rehabilitation or renovation costs.
Luxury items and improvements that do not become a permanent part of the property are not eligible as a cost of rehabilitation, but many upgrades are. Here are just some of the repair and remodeling projects that can be financed with an FHA 203(k) loan:
- Making structural changes or reconstructing
- Modernizing and improving your home's function
- Eliminating health and safety hazards
- Improving your home's appearance and eliminating obsolescence
- Reconditioning or replacing your home's plumbing
- Installing a well and/or septic system
- Adding or replacing roofing, downspouts, or gutters
- Adding or replacing flooring
- Making site improvements or adding landscaping
- Making the home handicap accessible
- Undertaking green renovations or energy conservation projects
These projects are especially useful for bringing an old home up to code.
Your maximum refinance loan amount (subject to FHA loan limits) is the lowest of these three calculations:
- Your current mortgage(s) on the property plus rehabilitation and certain closing costs.
- The current property value plus rehabilitation costs.
- 110% of the improved value multiplied by FHA's 96.5% maximum loan-to-value ratio.
If the property was owned for less than one year, the acquisition cost plus the documented rehabilitation costs must be used to get your maximum loan amount. Two appraisals are performed -- one to determine the "as-is" or current property value, and the other to get an "improved value." If, for example, you owe $200,000 on a property worth $205,000, you need $50,000 for improvements, your closing costs are $5,000, and the improved value of the property would be $250,000, your loan amount would be the lowest of:
- $200,000 + $50,000 + $5,000 = $255,000
- $205,000 + $50,000 = $255,000
- $250,000 x 1.10 x 0.965 = $265,375
So in this case, your maximum loan amount is $255,000. Your current mortgage is paid off and replaced with an FHA mortgage.
Buying a Fixer-upper with an FHA Loan
- Find a lender approved to do 203(k) loans. Get several mortgage quotes so you can be confident that you’re getting a good deal. Apply for your home loan and get a pre-approval letter.
- Find a property. Make sure that your offer contains language indicating that you need a 203(k) loan in order to complete the purchase.
- Find a contractor to write an estimate of work needed and materials required. You aren't allowed to do the work yourself unless you are a professional builder.
- Get your home and improvements appraised. There may be two appraisals required, because the value of the unimproved and improved property will need to be determined.
- Your loan funds. When the loan closes, the seller is paid and the remaining money is held in escrow for the contractor. The lender (or its agent) releases escrowed funds as work is completed.
- Complete the repairs.
You now own a renovated house that may already be worth more than you paid. In exchange for a little extra effort, you could make a superb investment and get a home customized to your liking.
Don't Want to Refinance Your Mortgage? FHA Title 1 Home Loan
If you like your current mortgage (perhaps because you have a low interest rate or are not subject to mortgage insurance premiums), and you don't need a huge loan for your home improvement, an FHA Title 1 loan may be your best bet. You can't finance luxuries like swimming pools with the loan, but you can borrow as much as $25,000 for up to 20 years on approved improvements. Some of the advantages of Title 1 Loans are:
- Low closing costs, as you aren't refinancing your first mortgage;
- Easy processing. If your loan is less than $7,500, all you need is a signature--there is no lien recorded against your home;
- You can do the work yourself if you are qualified;
- Manufactured homes are eligible for Title 1 loans (a max of $17,500 for 15 years).
Keep in mind that these loans are funded by lenders, not by HUD, and that the interest rates and loan fees are determined by the current market. So, compare quotes from several competing FHA lenders to find the best mortgage rates, just as you would for any other home loan.