How Can I Lower The Down Payment Requirements So I Can Buy Real Estate?

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With a few lenders starting to loosen their requirements slightly in San Diego, it's becoming increasingly obvious that the bottom is behind us. However, the issue has now become, "I don't have much of a down payment. How do I buy now so I can get into something before the market goes crazy again?"

There are several programs that exist that enable buyers to lower their down payment requirements. All of them have their limitations, but if you can jump through their hoops, they remove the need to save for a huge down payment.

The first of these are VA Loans. Right now, VA loans are the magic bullet. No down payment requirement, and you can even finance closing costs up to 3% on top of the purchase price right into the loan. Furthermore, there is not only no PMI, but the VA only charges a half point to fund the loan, and that's waived with 10% or larger disability. Additionally, the conforming limit with VA loans is no longer applicable - I've had wholesalers tell me they would accept VA loans up to (potentially) $1.5 million dollars. There are no income limits, either, but you do have to qualify full documentation. However, because there's no PMI, no need to split loans, and no ongoing charges for the loan, by debt to income ratiopeople with VA loan eligibility can afford almost ten percent larger loans than people applying for FHA loans, and about twenty percent larger loans than high loan to value conventional conforming loans (Below 80% loan to value ratio, conventional loans will most likely have a lower tradeoff between rate and cost). The biggest drawback is that you have to have served in the military or be serving, something comparatively few people do as opposed to former times. San Diego is a military town, and I've only dealt with one VA loan in the last year or so. It was formerly true that FICO credit score was not considered in VA loan qualification, but this has changed in the last year or so. How low a credit score they will work with is up to individual lender policy. Some lenders want a minimum of 580, others won't talk to you unless you've got a 680. The higher their qualification standards, of course, the lower the rate/cost tradeoff they offer will typically be.

Best of all from a longer term standpoint, because there is no seller participation needed in the VA loan program, it doesn't matter whether the seller is willing to do extra things in order to get the property sold. This means you aren't constricted in which property you choose, and it does enable you to end up with a better bargain on the property of your choice.

Many locally based first time buyer programs take the form of loaning you a down payment. If you're buying a $300,000 property and the city you're buying in will loan you $60,000 for the down payment (usually in the form of a silent second), then you only need a $240,000 regular loan, which leaves you with an 80% loan to value ratio, and you are then able to qualify for a classic conforming A paper loan on your property. The drawbacks of these programs are two. First, budgetary constraints. As of a couple weeks ago, all the local municipalities were out of money for these until the new allocation comes in (usually in the fall and spring). If there's no money left in the budget when you want to apply, you're not going to get one. Second, income limits. These all have income limits, which vary with the program and municipality. Since like all other government programs you have to qualify for these via full documentation of income and proving you make enough for the payments via income tax forms, this can disqualify you or severely constrict what you qualify for, and the various municipal governments do put other strings on these programs. Nonetheless, the Cities of San Diego, El Cajon, and Santee have these programs in place, as does the County of San Diego for unincorporated areas, as well as administering the same program for Lemon Grove, Imperial Beach, Poway, and many other cities. Like VA loans, because there's no need for sellers to contribute to these financially, buyers who use these don't end up paying for it in the purchase price of their property, or by a limited selection of sellers with the wherewithal.

FHA Loans are not, in their basic form, a zero down payment program. They will only allow up to 97% of the purchase price. Furthermore, they charge a point and a half upfront and half a percent annualized per year for financing insurance. The good news is that you're still getting a very low down payment loan with comparatively low cost financing insurance. This is a government program, so you have to qualify via full documentation of income, and many properties are not eligible for FHA financing. The FHA also keeps what is functionally a blacklist, so you can find out that because your real estate agent, loan officer, etcetera contributed to fraud some time back, this particular transaction is not going to fly FHA. The FHA does allow seller paid closing costs of up to six percent, but if you think you're not going to pay for this via increased sales price, I've got some beachfront land in Florida. That means higher cost of interest, higher property taxes, and less equity if you sell or refinance. Furthermore, not every seller is going to be willing or able to work with people who want seller contribution for closing costs.

Down payment assistance programs are targeted at FHA loans, providing the 3% down payment via a reciprocal loan paid back by the seller at close of escrow, although FHA is not the only loan type they work with. Once again, not every property owner is going to be willing or able to work with these programs, and if you think the money that sellers furnish for these programs doesn't result in a higher sales price, I own a bridge in Brooklyn I'm willing to sell on very reasonable terms. More than the amount of the loan you get, because they're offering something not everyone can. You have to be careful to disclose everything to everybody in these situations, and the purchase offer and subsequent counters have to be written very carefully.

Seller carrybacks are comparatively rare right now, as few sellers have significant equity. The ones who do and want to sell are likely to be able to wait until things get better, and so most of them are. Asking for a carryback is a major request on a purchase contract, because if that seller loans you $X, those dollars are not available for them to use purchasing their next property, or whatever investment they wanted to put the money into - they're still tied up in this one. Sellers willing and able to offer a carryback can command premium pricing, even in this sort of market, because many buyers will have exactly two choices: buy this property, or don't buy anything. They are also assuming a significant risk of non-payment and ending up in second position on a non-performing debt, which can cause them to lose every dollar they have invested.

Finally, as of a few days ago, some lenders are once again willing to go 95% loan to value ratio for conventional conforming A paper loans, where before that the down payment requirements were ten to fifteen percent. There will be PMI, you are required to qualify full documentation, and the limit is the "regular" conforming limit of $417,000 as opposed to the "jumbo conforming" or "temporary" limits ($697,500 in San Diego). But once again, you can do this with basically any residential property that's not too expensive, and the seller needn't be willing and able to financially contribute to the loan. There are a lot of properties out there that FHA will not touch, no matter how helpful the seller is willing to be. As long as it's an inhabitable residential structure meeting requirements, conforming loans will potentially work - if you've got 5% down. Nor do they require that the seller be willing and able to help out. 5% down is not usually a huge amount. For example, a couple each borrowing $10,000 from retirement accounts (as allowed by the rules) has a downpayment of 5% of $400,000, which buys a pretty decent place nowadays.

As you can see, there are drawbacks to all of these, as well as advantages. You would be well advised to consider an agent who is also a loan officer, because everything from the initial offer onwards has to be carefully written to remain within the limits of what lenders will work with and will fund. More than once I've had people come to me forty-five days into a thirty day escrow where the only way to make it happen was start by renegotiating the contract. Since the sellers were completely frustrated at this point and just wanted out, needless to say it didn't happen. So there is a limit to the ability to repair incorrectly written purchase contracts. Nonetheless, these options are there, are available, and I have funded loans on them in the past. Given the current state of the market and its likely state a year or two from now, making use of them can mean that you're going to end up much better off than waiting to save that down payment. If the market appreciates in value ten to fifteen percent between now and whenever you have enough for a "normal" down payment, you definitely didn't help your cause by waiting.

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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on June 17, 2008 7:00 AM.

Agents "Buying" Listings: Promising the Undeliverable and Hurting Their Clients was the previous entry in this blog.

Real Loans for Real People June 17th, 2008 is the next entry in this blog.

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