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Is an FHA 203k loan for you?

Whether you're looking to make some modest updates in the bathroom, or a major overhaul of a kitchen in severe need of modernization, home renovation allows you to put your own personal stamp on your home. In a way, the assembly process is akin to Play-doh - you can shape it, mold it and recreate it in any number of ways, all guided by creativity, imagination and skilled handiwork.

If only the cost of a home makeover was in the same range. Depending on the material used and the magnitude of the restoration project, home renovations can cost tens of thousands of dollars, an amount that few families have readily available.

That's where an FHA 203k loan can make sense. You may have heard of this mortgage offering before and wondered what it was all about. Well, wonder no more. Here are more details about this loan product and how you can use it to design your new house into the dream home you've always wanted.

What is an FHA 203k loan?

When you're in the market to purchase a home but would like to also do some rehab work in the process, an FHA 203k mortgage may be just the product that can help. Backed by the Federal Housing Administration, this loan variety has been around for well over 30 years, but has received renewed interest recently - since the early 2000s - due to the popularity of television programs like "Fixer Upper," "Flip or Flop" and "Property Brothers." In these shows, the hosts may participate in the physical labor portion of rehabbing an existing home or document what the process is like with a different couple in each episode. Viewers get to witness just how beautiful a home can be when you have the resources to make the desired adjustments and seek to replicate what they've seen on TV.

What these home improvement shows don't typically detail, however, is how the projects are actually paid for. While there are a variety of mortgage products that can make sense for home renovation, an FHA 203k loan is among the most popular, particularly among new buyers by allowing them to buy and restore a house with a mortgage that's rolled into one.

What are the qualifications needed for an FHA 203k loan?

Applying for such a mortgage is a fairly straightforward process and requires the type of documents that you would need for most other home loans, These include two years' worth of tax documents, Social Security information, pay stubs from your employer that corroborate how much you earn, a copy of your credit report and a bank statement that details the funds you have available. This paperwork is needed, of course, to ensure you have the financial capability to borrow money that will pay for the home and accompanying renovation work.

Those who are new to the housing hunt often assume that they need to come up with a large down payment in order to buy their house. Given that FHA 203k loans are often more extensive than a standard VA mortgage or USDA-RD mortgage, you may think a 20% down payment is mandatory. It isn't. In fact, you can pay as little as 3.5% down and still be approved.

It's difficult to say with precision the kinds of qualifications you will need in order to get the go-ahead, largely because each applicant is different, as are the plans in place for renovating a property. Generally speaking, though, your credit score should be higher than 500 and you'll need to be current with your other major expenses. For instance, if you're delinquent on any federal tax debt, this could complicate your eligibility. You also need to be a U.S. citizen or an eligible non-citizen and not experienced foreclosure on any loans within the past three years.

Are there any other requirements?

Just as your financial standing entails a formal review process, the same can be said for the project you'd like to have completed. For example, FHA 203k mortgages break down into two categories: limited and standard. The latter of these - standard - requires that the renovation cost no less than $5,000 and that it be overseen by a consultant who's affiliated with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. A limited loan is typically used for larger projects and provides for financing up to $35,000.

There are also general rules that serve as guidelines for what FHA 203(k) loans can be used to pay for aside from the property itself. Here are a few bullet point examples of what the funds can go toward, as detailed by NerdWallet:

  • Install or replace flooring, be it hardwood or wall-to-wall carpeting.

  • Repair, restore or overhaul ceiling or the roof.

  • Introduce new plumbing, electrical or sewer systems.

  • Enhance aesthetic appeal to improve physical features and resale value.

  • Increase energy-efficiency with green-friendly installations and appliances.

  • Most exterior modifications involving landscaping.

However, some major renovation projects may be outside of an FHA 203k loan's purview. For example, if you want to install an in-ground pool, this mortgage product typically doesn't allow for such a project. Similarly, outdoor kitchens usually aren't eligible. It never hurts to ask, though, so speaking to your lender is the best way to know for sure.

What is the maximum amount you can borrow?

FHA 203k loans vary when it comes to how much the mortgage will actually pay for in order to purchase and restore a property. That will depend on where you live as well as your financial capabilities and where your would-be property is. For example, in some counties, the maximum loan amount is cut off at $314,827, but in others, it may be as high as $726,525. Again, you'll want to talk to your loan officer to find out for sure.

Things to keep in mind

There are many working parts to an FHA 203k loan. In addition to your mortgage provider and the party you're actually buying the property from, you're also dealing with the company that will be in charge of the renovation project itself. It can get confusing. Here are a few key elements to remember to keep everything straight.

Need to hire licensed contractor - Generally speaking, you can't be the one who is making the home improvements. A trained and officially licensed contractor needs to do the labor. It's always best to leave fixes to the experts, especially since the updates are designed to make the home more valuable.

Project must be finished within a prescribed period - Another advantage to hiring a professional is timeliness. Your lender will work out a schedule for when the project will begin and conclude, but most require it to be finished within six months. 

Must use property as a primary residence - FHA 203k mortgages are designed exclusively for those who are upgrading a house that they will live in, so flippers and other real estate investors may have to seek a different loan product. It also usually is for rehabbing a single-family residence as opposed to a condominium or townhouse. 

If this sounds like a mortgage that is in keeping with your homeownership goals, Residential Mortgage Services can help you get there. Contact us to find out more about this and other renovation mortgages.