What Is a Construction Loan?

A construction loan (also known as a “self-build loan") is a short-term loan used to finance the building of a home or another real estate project. The builder or home buyer takes out a construction loan to cover the costs of the project before obtaining long-term funding. Because they are considered fairly risky, construction loans usually have higher interest rates than traditional mortgage loans.

1:48

Mortgage Basics

How a Construction Loan Works

Construction loans are usually taken out by builders or home buyers who are custom-building their own home. They are typically short-term loans, usually for a period of only one year. After construction on the house is complete, the borrower 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”). The borrower might only be required to make interest payments on a construction loan while the project is still underway. Some construction loans may require the balance to be paid off entirely by the time the project is complete.

If a construction loan is taken out by a borrower who wants a home built, the lender might pay the funds directly to the contractor rather than to the borrower. The payments may come in installments as the project completes new stages of development. Construction loans might be taken out to finance rehabilitation and restoration projects, as well as to build new homes.

[Important: Construction loans can allow you to build the home of your dreams, but—due to the risk involved—they have higher interest rates and larger down payments than traditional mortgages.]

Special Considerations for Construction Loans

Most lenders require a 20% minimum down payment on a construction loan, and some require as much as 25%. Borrowers may face difficulty securing a construction loan, especially if they have limited credit history. The lack of collateral due to the home not yet being built can also pose a challenge in seeking approval from a lender. To gain approval for a construction loan, the borrower will need to give the lender a comprehensive list of construction details (also known as a “blue book”). The borrower will also have to prove that a qualified builder is involved in the project.

Construction loans are usually offered by local credit unions or regional banks. Local banks tend to be familiar with the housing market in their area and are generally more comfortable making home construction loans to borrowers in their community.

Construction Loans vs. Owner-Builder Construction Loans

Borrowers who intend to act as their own general contractor or build the home with their own resources will likely be unable to get a construction loan and will have to take out a variant called an owner-builder construction loan. Such loans are generally difficult to qualify for, but it can be done. You need to offer a well-researched construction plan that convincingly lays out your home-building knowledge and abilities, and you should include a contingency fund for unexpected surprises.

Example of a Construction Loan

Jane Doe decides that she can build her new house for a total of $500,000 and secures a one-year construction loan from her local bank for that amount. They agree on a draw down schedule for the loan. In the first month only $50,000 is needed to cover costs, so Jane only takes that amount and only pays interest on that amount, saving money. Jane continues to take funds as they are needed, as guided by the draw down schedule, again only paying interest on the total of what she has taken rather than paying it on the whole $500,000 for the entire term of the loan. At the end of the year, she refinances with her local bank the total amount of funds she has taken into a mortgage on her dream home.