Whether you’re an adventurous person, a DIY expert or simply a persnickety home buyer, the thought of building your own home might be a thrilling prospect. After all, when you choose to build your own abode, you get to call all the shots. That means you can determine the precise layout, dictate the exact number and type of rooms, handpick all the finishes and even add an indoor pool, an aquarium wall or a stairway slide, for that matter.
(For more information on buying a home, see: A Guide to Buying a House in the U.S.)
While building a one-of-a-kind home from the ground up may sound exciting, financing such a major undertaking is an entirely different story. Obviously, the majority of home buyers don’t have enough money tucked away to cover the construction costs of their custom home – which means they’re going to need a loan. Unfortunately, landing a loan for a self-build project is easier said than done.
If you’re considering building your own home, here are a few things to keep in mind as you search for a loan. (To learn more, read Should You Buy Or Build A Home?)
For buyers purchasing an existing home, it’s relatively easy to get approved for a conventional mortgage, as long as they have good credit and reliable income. On the other hand, it’s virtually impossible to score traditional financing when you’re building your own home. Why? Think of it this way: you’re basically asking the lender to shell out money for something that doesn’t exist yet. To make matters worse, construction is a risky process, and lenders don’t like risk.
If you plan to self-build, you’ll need to pursue more specialized financing avenues. Enter the construction loan. Sometimes called a self-build loan, a construction loan is typically a short-term loan (usually one-year maximum) used to cover the cost of building your home.
These loans generally have variable rates that are higher than traditional mortgage loan rates. Once construction on your house is completed, you can either refinance the construction loan into a permanent mortgage or get a new loan to pay off the construction loan (sometimes called the “end loan.”)
As you gear up to apply for a construction loan, you should probably do some serious stretching. These loans require a ton of legwork on the borrower’s part. You’ll need to jump through numerous hoops to prove your home-building project is real, viable and relatively low-risk for the lender.
For most construction loan applications, you’ll need to provide the lender with a project timetable and a realistic budget. You’ll also need to supply a comprehensive list of construction details, including everything from floor plans and the type of building materials to insulation and ceiling heights. (Experienced builders typically create a “blue book” that includes all of these details for a home-building project.)
At a minimum, most lenders require a 20% down payment on a construction loan, and some require as much as 25%. Why are the down payment requirements so high? Because construction loans are viewed as “higher risk” than a traditional mortgage loan, and the lender wants to ensure you don’t walk away from the project.
If you don’t already own the lot where you plan to build, the cost of the land will need to be included in the overall amount of the construction loan. If it’s financially possible, try to pay for the land upfront. Otherwise, you’re going to have make a much larger down payment to qualify for the construction loan.
To gain approval for a construction loan, you’ll need to prove you have a qualified builder involved in the project. A qualified builder is usually defined as a licensed general contractor with an established home-building reputation.
If you intend to act as your own general contractor or build the home yourself, this presents a unique challenge – and you likely will not be approved for a standard construction loan. In this scenario, you may want to turn your search to owner-builder construction loans. In today’s housing market, it can be tough to qualify for these type of loans; but it is possible if you provide a well-researched construction plan that demonstrates your home-building knowledge and abilities. Don't forget a contingency fund for unexpected surprises. (See also: New Construction's Hidden Costs Can Burn Buyers.)
While building your own home from the ground up can be an extremely rewarding process, landing a construction loan is no walk in the park. To increase your chances for approval, put together a detailed project plan, get a qualified home builder involved and save up enough money for a large down payment before you apply.