MONEY mortgages

Good Luck Getting a Mortgage on a Condo. Here’s What You Need to Know

There's a reason why most condo sales are in cash. It's harder to get a mortgage for a condo than a home. Even if you do, you'll pay more.

Home buyers are paying with cash more than ever. In the first quarter, 43% of home sales used cash, according to RealtyTrac, the highest level since the data firm began tracking this three years ago.

Single-family homes get most of the spotlight, perfectly appropriate given the role that well-funded investors converting foreclosed homes into rentals played in rescuing the housing market.

Related: When Wall Street Becomes a Landlord

But cash really rules when it comes to condos. More than half – 56% – of all condo sales were for cash in the first quarter versus 38% for homes, RealtyTrac says.

In Florida and Nevada, that percentage leaps to over 80%, according to analyst Thomas Vitlo of CoreLogic. Other states with high shares of condo cash sales, says CoreLogic:

State Condo Cash Sales
Florida 81.2%
Nevada 80.5%
New York 79.5%
Alabama 75.7%
Arizona 65.7%

 

Those high figures surely reflect investor interest in condos as good rental properties (and investors pay cash): Generally lower-priced than homes, they also require less maintenance. And, condos often are the home of choice for downsizing Baby Boomers who are able to pay cash out of the sale proceeds of their last home.

Related: I Have $1 Million and I Couldn’t Get a Mortgage

The biggest factor, though, is availability of credit. As Vitlo explains, before the recession getting a mortgage to buy a condo was not a problem. You can see that in the numbers: Between 2000 and 2007, the average percentage of condos bought with cash in Florida and Nevada was 22.9% and 35.4%.

Tighter lending standards have made getting a condo loan incredibly difficult and not just because fewer people make enough money to qualify. The condo development itself might not qualify, under Federal Housing Administration rules put in place after the recession.

For borrowers to obtain FHA mortgages, the community has to pass an approval process documenting healthy finances, insurance, among other things. As of late May, 10,020 condo developments had received approval – a fraction of the roughly 158,000 communities around the U.S.

Condos are a “special hell,” says Keith Gumbinger of HSH Mortgage, because the buyer isn’t the only person responsible for property’s future condition—so is the association and even other tenants.

Find out whether your condo is approved here.

FHA mortgages generally allow lower down payments than conventional loans (as low as 3.5%) with lower credit score requirements. So these rules are particularly problematic for first-time buyers, for whom condos provide a reasonably priced housing option, says Tim Lucas, editor of My Mortgage Insider.

What you need to know:

Cash, alas, is actually king. If you can cough up the cash, you may be able to negotiate a better deal because sellers don’t have to worry about financing falling through, either because you don’t qualify for the mortgage or the unit doesn’t appraise. Cash also means a faster closing time.

You’ll pay more. Because condos have historically higher default rates than homes, lenders will charge extra, Lucas says. That may be in the form of a fee – typically .75% of the loan amount – or a higher interest rate, say, 4.375% instead of 4.25%. You may avoid the charge if you can make a big down payment, above 25%.

Where you live matters too. No wonder everyone’s paying cash in Florida and Nevada. Many lenders charge extra for condos in those states. Plaza Home Mortgage, for example, charges a fee of 0.375% of the loan amount there; American Financial Resources charges 0.15% in nine states, including Georgia, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Utah.

There’s even more documents required. In addition to all that paperwork you have to fill out, the condo association will have to fill out a questionnaire asking for info such as “are there lawsuits pending?” The association also will have to supply a budget.

If you’re military, go VA. The Veterans Administration offers a zero down loan even on a condo. The condo developments also have to be approved in advance, though there’s a longer list than the FHA, Lucas says.

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