The Mortgage Loan Process Step-by-Step

The Mortgage Loan Process Explained in 9 Steps

Before most house hunters can close the deal, they need to qualify for a mortgage. Learning how to apply for a mortgage in advance — and breaking the process down into digestible steps — can help applicants feel better prepared and avoid any unpleasant surprises during the process. (Good news: The mortgage application process is one of those things that is more complicated to explain than to experience!)

Ready to learn how to apply for a home loan? Here are the nine steps in the mortgage process, including moves you can make that may expedite your approval.

1. Estimate Your Budget

Before any mortgage application, your first step should be figuring out how much house you can afford. Being realistic about your budget — factoring in income, debts, monthly spending, down payment savings, and more — can keep you from shopping outside your budget.

Certain budgeting guidelines can help you determine what kind of monthly mortgage payment you can afford. You’ll also want to figure in homeowners insurance, property taxes, and (possibly) private mortgage insurance, or PMI. Some popular methods for calculating your mortgage budget include:

•   The 28% rule: No more than 28% of your gross monthly income should go to a mortgage payment.

•   The 35% / 45% guideline: Your total monthly debt should be no more than 35% of your pre-tax income or 45% of your post-tax income.

First-time homebuyers can
prequalify for a SoFi mortgage loan,
with as little as 3% down.

When calculating your budget, don’t forget the down payment. A higher down payment can yield a lower monthly payment — and putting down 20% or more could help you avoid PMI — but don’t drain your savings for a down payment. You want to have savings on hand should you need to cover emergency home repair costs down the line.

💡 Quick Tip: SoFi Home Loans are available with flexible term options and down payments as low as 3%.*

2. Choose a Mortgage Type and Term

There are many different mortgage types, and choosing one will depend on your income, down payment, location, financial approach, and lifestyle.

Some choices you’ll need to make at this stage of the mortgage process are:

•   A conventional home loan or government-insured loan (FHA loan, USDA loan, or VA loan)

•   A fixed-rate or adjustable-rate mortgage

•   Your repayment term: typically 15, 20, or 30 years

•   A conforming or nonconforming loan (such as a jumbo loan)

•   If you should opt for an interest-only mortgage

A good lender will walk you through your options, whether it’s a HUD home requiring an FHA mortgage or a high-priced home with a jumbo loan.

3. Get Preapproved

At this stage in the mortgage application process, you can shop around for multiple mortgage lenders and even get prequalified. Look for lenders that not only offer you a great rate but that are also willing to help you navigate the mortgage process. Here are a few questions to ask a lender to narrow down your list.

Found the perfect lender? Then it’s time to get preapproved. During the mortgage preapproval process, you’ll complete a full mortgage application. The lender will perform a hard credit inquiry and issue a letter confirming your ability to borrow a certain amount of money.

In general, the better your credit score, the better the mortgage rate you’ll be approved for. If your score is above 740, you’ll qualify for the best rates. But in general, you’ll need a minimum 620 credit score to buy a house.

A preapproval letter, usually good for up to 90 days, can improve your odds of winning over a seller in a bidding war. In competitive markets, having a preapproval letter may even be a requirement.

Getting preapproved requires some work on your part. You’ll need to furnish the lender with proof that you can afford the mortgage, which typically includes the following documents:

•   Bank statements

•   Paystubs

•   Tax returns

•   W-2s

•   Retirement account statements

•   Gift letter (if you received help from a family member to fund your down payment)

•   Identification

Mortgage lenders prefer borrowers who have stable, predictable incomes. A steady employment history signals to the lender that you have regular income coming in to make the monthly payments of a mortgage. That’s why it’s easier to get approval as a W-2 employee than as a self-employed worker.

In general, lenders like to see two years of employment on a loan application. Self-employed individuals will submit two years of tax returns.

Recommended: What’s the Difference Between a Hard and Soft Credit Inquiry?

4.Find a Property and Make an Offer

Your real estate agent will guide you through the process of finding a property and making an offer on a house. The offer is typically written by the buyer’s agent on a standardized form.

Only make offers on properties that fall within the amount you’ve been preapproved for. Otherwise, the lender will need to re-process your full application again. If you don’t qualify for the new, larger amount, you may not be able to secure any loan on the property.

Your offer will typically include earnest money — a good-faith deposit you’re making on the house. It’s usually 1% to 3% of the offer price, and it’s meant to make your offer more attractive to the buyer.

If your offer is accepted, you’ll send the signed paperwork to your lender.

5. Submit a Mortgage Application

Lenders are required to do a second credit check before final mortgage loan approval and will likely ask for further documentation. If you’ve opened a new account, changed jobs, or made a major purchase since preapproval, those actions will have to be vetted.

Responding quickly to your lender’s requests for documentation can help keep your application on track. Your lender likely has most of the required forms from your preapproval application, but in general, you’ll need:

•   Documentation of income: W-2s or 1099s, profit-and-loss statements if self-employed, paystubs, Social Security and retirement account info, information on alimony and child support, etc.

•   Documentation of assets: Bank accounts, real estate, investment accounts, gifted funds, etc.

•   Documentation of debts: Any current mortgage if you own a home, car loans, credit cards, student loans, etc.

•   Information on property: Street address, sale price, property size, property taxes, etc.

•   Employment documentation: Current employer information, salary information, position/title, length of time at employer, etc.

💡 Quick Tip: Your parents or grandparents probably got mortgages for 30 years. But these days, you can get them for 20, 15, or 10 years — and pay less interest over the life of the loan.

6. Be Patient and Avoid New Debt

The average time between submitting a mortgage application and closing is 50 days. During this period, it’s wise to observe a self-imposed “credit freeze.” That is, don’t run up your credit cards beyond what you usually spend each month. Put off major purchases. Don’t apply for new credit cards, auto loans, or take on any other new debt. And, of course, make sure to pay all your bills on time.

If there’s any significant change in your credit history, your closing may be delayed or even derailed. Should something major come up (like an expensive medical emergency), call your lender to let them know.

It can be tough feeling like your life is on hold while you’re waiting for your mortgage application to be processed. Try to be patient and just let the process play out. Now is a good time to reach out to friends and family who have been through the mortgage loan process before and commiserate. Consider this your orientation into the homeownership club.

Recommended: What’s a Mortgage Commitment Letter?

7. Get a Home Inspection

Home inspections may not be required — but they’re a crucial part of the mortgage loan process. Hire an inspector (your real estate agent may have recommendations, but you can shop around) to thoroughly check the property inside and out for undisclosed problems. If the inspector uncovers expensive issues, you may negotiate for a price reduction or back out of the deal without penalty.

Inspectors will look for a wide range of issues, but some inspectors are more thorough than others. Review this home inspection checklist to make sure your inspector will cover all the bases. In some cases, a general home inspector may find an issue that requires a more specific expert to take a look (and yes, that’ll cost more money — but it may be worth the cost).

Don’t let the infatuation with your dream home blind you. If there are serious issues that come up during the inspection and the sellers won’t budge on price (or agree to fix them before closing), seriously consider walking away. You won’t recoup the money you paid for the inspection — a home inspection costs between $300 and $500 — but if it keeps you from investing in a money pit, it’s money well spent.

8. Go Through the Mortgage Underwriting Process

A major part of mortgage loan processing is the underwriting process. But what is underwriting? The underwriting process begins after you complete your mortgage application and ends after all the documentation has been completed and includes the appraisal. During this process, the underwriter examines the borrower’s financials, as well as the appraisal, title search, and proof of homeowners insurance.

An appraisal is an independent property evaluation of a home’s value. It will describe the home and what makes it valuable. Factors that affect the appraisal value include the location, condition, amenities and features, and market conditions in the area.

A lender requires a home appraisal to ensure that it isn’t lending more than the property is worth. If the appraisal comes in too low, the lender won’t lend extra money to cover the gap. Buyers will need to cover the difference with their own money or renegotiate the price with the seller to match the appraisal.

Once the appraisal is complete and all documentation has been reviewed and verified, the underwriter will recommend approval, denial, or pending. A pending decision is given when information is incomplete. You may still be able to get the loan by providing the documentation asked for.

After underwriting approval with a “clear to close,” you’re set to close on your loan.

Recommended: Local Housing Market Trends

9. Close on Your New Home

Closing day is when all parties sign the final documents, and ownership is legally transferred from the sellers.

In the days prior to your close, the lender should provide a final list of closing costs. Closing costs are typically 3% to 6% of the mortgage principal and consist of:

•   Lender fees

•   Appraisal and survey fees

•   Title service

•   Recording fees

•   Home warranty costs

•   First year’s premium of PMI

You can pay closing costs by wire transfer a day or two before, or by cashier’s check or certified check the day of closing.

Before arriving at closing, however, you’ll want to do a final walk-through of the property. During this walk-through, confirm that the sellers have made all the repairs agreed to — and that the buyers haven’t removed anything, like appliances, that were meant to be left, per the purchase agreement.

In the past, buyers and sellers, their agents, and lawyers would gather in the same room to sign the paperwork at closing. In recent years, remote online closings have become more common.

The Takeaway

Applying for and securing a home mortgage loan follows a simple process that can seem complicated the first time you do it. But if you reply to questions promptly and are organized with your documents, it’s actually pretty simple — even if it does involve a little waiting time.

Looking for an affordable option for a home mortgage loan? SoFi can help: We offer low down payments (as little as 3% - 5%*) with our competitive and flexible home mortgage loans. Plus, applying is extra convenient: It's online, with access to one-on-one help.

SoFi Mortgages: simple, smart, and so affordable.


What are the first steps of applying for a mortgage?

The first step when applying for a mortgage is estimating how much house you can actually afford. Once you have an idea of your budget, you can research mortgage types and lenders and get preapproved for a loan.

What are the steps of mortgage loan processing?

During mortgage loan processing, an underwriter will first review your personal information and information about the sale property to determine approval. The potential lender will request an appraisal of the home, and also request additional documents from you as needed. Finally, the underwriter will recommend approval or denial of the loan.

How long is a mortgage loan in processing?

It takes a little under two months from the date you submit your mortgage application and close on the house — the average timeline is 50 days. In some scenarios, you may be able to close in as little as 30 days.

How do you know when your mortgage loan is approved?

Your mortgage loan officer will contact you when your loan is approved. They may call you to give you the good news, but you’ll want to see it in writing so watch for an email as well.

What should I avoid after applying for a mortgage?

You want to keep your financial situation as stable as possible during the mortgage application process. That means don’t open new credit accounts, and keep your credit utilization down (no extra swipes on those credit cards). Don’t fall behind on any bill, either.

Photo credit: iStock/MicroStockHub

*SoFi requires Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) for conforming home loans with a loan-to-value (LTV) ratio greater than 80%. As little as 3% down payments are for qualifying first-time homebuyers only. 5% minimum applies to other borrowers. Other loan types may require different fees or insurance (e.g., VA funding fee, FHA Mortgage Insurance Premiums, etc.). Loan requirements may vary depending on your down payment amount, and minimum down payment varies by loan type.

SoFi Mortgages
Terms and conditions apply. Not all products are offered in all states. See for more information.

SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see Equal Housing Lender.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.


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Cheapest Places to Live: US Cities Edition

Researching the most affordable places to live might be on your to-do list if you’re hoping to move to an area with a lower cost of living. Reducing household expenses can be one of the best ways to start building wealth, or at the very least, create some financial breathing room.

We’ve put together a list of the most affordable places to live in the U.S., based on things like housing costs and overall value for the money. Keep reading to learn which cities are rated as the most budget-friendly places to call home.

Most Affordable Cities in the US

If you’re considering how to move to another state and are interested in finding the most affordable places to live in the U.S., it helps to know what makes one city better than another. Things like housing costs, the cost of utilities, and what you’ll spend on food, transportation, and entertainment can all factor into your decision if you’re planning a move.

Keep in mind that the cost of living is not static, which can affect how affordable a city is at any given time. Additionally, the cost of living by state can vary dramatically based on factors like the size of the population, demand for housing, availability of jobs, tax laws, and average household incomes.

💡 Quick Tip: We love a good spreadsheet, but not everyone feels the same. An online budget planner can give you the same insight into your budgeting and spending at a glance, without the extra effort.

Check your score with SoFi Insights

Track your credit score for free. Sign up and get $10.*

How We Found the Cheapest Places to Live

We compiled our list of the most affordable places to live in the U.S. based on the cost of living as it relates to housing. Specifically, we considered median rents for a one-bedroom apartment and median home sale prices for individual metro areas across the country. The cities that had the lowest cost of living in the U.S. overall, based on those criteria, are the ones that made the list.

What are some characteristics of the most affordable places to live? In general, the list includes:

•   An accessible housing market that isn’t pushing homeowners or renters to the limits of their budgets

•   Utility prices that are at or below the national average

•   Lower tax rates, including income tax, sales tax, and property tax

•   Pricing for groceries and fuel, as well as other goods and services, that align with the typical household income

Do the cheapest places to live always check all of these boxes? Not necessarily. But the most affordable places to live typically offer a cost of living that’s below the national average.

With that in mind, here are 10 of the cheapest places to live in the U.S.

1. Hickory, North Carolina

Median home price: $288,000

Median rent: $879

Hickory may be an ideal place to live if you love the outdoors. There’s plenty of access to hiking and biking trails and mild temperatures are perfect for kayaking or tubing down the Catawba River. In terms of affordability, Hickory offers housing and rental prices that are well below the national average. Plus, the city offers the additional advantage of being close to both Asheville and Charlotte.

2. Brownsville, Texas

Median home price: $225,500

Median rent: $700

Brownsville offers the dual advantages of moderately priced housing and being located in a state with no income tax. Home prices rise the closer you get to the Gulf of Mexico, but there are still plenty of budget-friendly options to choose from. Cold weather is a rarity here, which is a plus if you’re looking to move to a warmer climate. Keep in mind, however, that hurricanes and tropical storms occasionally pay visits to the Texas coastline.

3. Fort Wayne, Indiana

Median home price: $230,300

Median rent: $1,149

Fort Wayne could be ideal for home buyers looking for affordable housing. Renters don’t fare quite as well, as median rental prices are higher than some of the other cities included in our rankings. Overall, however, Fort Wayne has a low cost of living, and it offers a quiet place to call home while still having plenty of the amenities you’d expect to find in a bigger city.

4. Dayton, Ohio

Median home price: $207,600

Median rent: $736

Dayton is one of the most affordable places to live for both homeowners and renters alike, with home prices and rents that are well below the national average. The city of Dayton could be a good fit for families who are looking for access to a strong public school system, or for single people and childless couples who desire a relaxed pace. There are plenty of outdoor spaces to enjoy, as well as numerous options for dining and entertainment.

5. Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Median home price: $354,500

Median rent: $815

If you’re looking for an area with a low cost of living that experiences all four seasons of weather, Sioux Falls might be on your list. Housing is a little more expensive here compared to some of the other cities in our rankings, but rent prices may be appealing if you’re not quite ready to buy. There’s a thriving job market, and Sioux Falls offers plenty to do, including aquariums, museums, and parks.

6. Knoxville, Tennessee

Median home price: $395,000

Median rent: $1,256

The city of Knoxville attracts a diverse mix of people who are looking for an affordable place to live, including families, young professionals, college students, and retirees. Housing prices are on the higher side here, but the overall cost of living remains low. Knoxville offers plenty to do and see, which is great for people who are hoping to maintain a more active lifestyle. It’s also just over an hour away from the Great Smoky Mountains in case you want to get away from the bustle of city life for the weekend.

7. Erie, Pennsylvania

Median home price: $177,500

Median rent: $750

Erie boasts affordable housing for both renters and homeowners, along with lakefront views and access to good schools. Erie has low levels of crime and rates well for livability. Its population isn’t growing as quickly as other comparable cities, though whether that’s a pro or a con for you might depend on whether you prefer a larger city or a smaller one. Keep in mind that slower job growth can be a side effect of lower population growth, which is something to consider if you’re moving to Erie to explore career opportunities.

8. Huntsville, Alabama

Median home price: $350,000

Median rent: $975

Huntsville has a burgeoning economy, with plenty of opportunities for job-seekers. The cost of living is low overall, though a home may cost you a little more here compared to other cheapest cities on the list. Huntsville has a number of attractions to take in, including the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, along with some eye-catching natural scenery. One thing to note about the weather is that northern Alabama is often prone to seeing tornadic activity during the spring months.

9. Peoria, Illinois

Median home price: $120,000

Median rent: $695

Peoria might make your shortlist of possible candidates for a new place to live if you’re looking for affordability, good schools, and access to housing. There are plenty of young professionals and families living here, though the population isn’t so large that you’ll feel like you’re getting lost in the crowd. If there’s one potential downside to consider it’s crime. Property and violent crime rates are both above the national average.

10. Kalamazoo, Michigan

Median home price: $195,000

Median rent: $895

Kalamazoo is something of a cultural hotspot, with plenty of theaters, museums, and live music venues. The city hosts numerous community events year-round that always draw a crowd. From a cost perspective, Kalamazoo is highly affordable, and it attracts a lot of young people who are looking to start a career. There are a few downsides, however, including harsh winters and high poverty rates.

Recommended: 10 Most Affordable Cities Based on Cost Per Square Foot of Homes

Other Factors to Consider Before Deciding Where to Live

Cost can be a major concern when planning a move. For example, you might be debating the merits of renting vs. buying, or what you might pay for things like childcare if you’re a parent or health care if you don’t have insurance.

While the financial side of things is important, there are some other things to weigh when deciding where to move. That can include things like:

•   Job opportunities if you’re moving without a job lined up

•   Access to daycare and quality schools if you have kids

•   Crime rates and overall safety

•   Access to public transportation if you’re not taking a vehicle with you

•   Climate and whether the area is vulnerable to things like tornadoes, hurricanes, or wildfires

•   Population size and seasonality (for example, a beach town could get crowded once summer rolls around)

•   Recreation and entertainment

Last but not least, consider how much money you might need for the move itself. If you don’t have cash on hand to cover a moving van, security deposits, or other expenses, you might need to look into financing options. For example, getting a relocation loan for moving could make it easier to get settled in your new place.

💡 Quick Tip: Income, expenses, and life circumstances can change. Consider reviewing your budget a few times a year and making any adjustments if needed.

The Takeaway

Keeping your budget in check — whether you’re relocating across the country or across town — is important when a move is in the works. For example, if you’re planning to buy a home in your new city, using an online home affordability calculator can help you pinpoint what price range you should be looking in for properties.

Take control of your finances with the SoFi Insights money tracker app. Connect all of your accounts in one convenient dashboard. From there, you can see your various balances, spending breakdowns, and credit score. Plus you can easily set up budgets and discover valuable financial insights — all at no cost.

See exactly how your money comes and goes at a glance.


What determines cost of living for a city?

Cost living is influenced by several factors, including how affordable housing is in a given location, what people pay for transportation and food, and the cost of entertainment and recreation. Areas that have a higher cost of living may also offer a higher median household income, though the two don’t always go hand in hand.

How can I lower my cost of living?

Cutting expenses is a good way to reduce your cost of living. That might include making smaller cuts to your budget, or larger ones, like downsizing your home or moving to a cheaper city. Making a move might seem impractical, but it could yield significant savings if your cost of living in your new city is much lower than it was in your previous location.

Can I borrow money to move?

Moving loans can put cash in your hands that you can use to cover the expenses of relocating. For example, you might use a moving loan to hire professional movers, rent a moving truck, pay for shipping costs, or fund deposits if you’re renting a new place. You could also use a moving loan to help cover your expenses as you get settled in until you find a job.

Photo credit: iStock/Ridofranz

SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see Equal Housing Lender.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

*Terms and conditions apply. (Must click on the link to be eligible.) This offer is only available to new SoFi users without existing SoFi accounts. It is non-transferable. One offer per person. To receive the Rewards points offer, you must successfully complete setting up Credit Score Monitoring. Rewards points may only be redeemed into SoFi accounts such as cash in SoFi Checking and Savings, SoFi credit cards or loan balances, and fractional shares subject to program terms that may be found here: SoFi Member Rewards Terms and Conditions. SoFi reserves the right to modify or discontinue this offer at any time without notice.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.


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A Guide to Townhouses: Key Characteristics, Pros and Cons

What is a Townhouse House: Pros and Cons

Looking for a relatively affordable property? Let’s hit the town. For many buyers, a townhouse is the sweet spot in real estate.

But what is a townhouse? It’s not quite a condo or a detached single-family home. Let’s see how townhomes stack up.

What is a Townhouse

The townhouse meaning can be traced back to England. The rich and royalty would have a large manor in the country but also a home “in town.”

The townhouse definition has evolved over the years. A townhome doesn’t need to be a second home, and it doesn’t even need to be in the city.

A townhouse, or townhome, is defined as a single-family unit that has:

•   Two or more floors

•   A shared wall with at least one other home

•   Ownership that differs from a condo: You own the inside and outside of your unit and the land it sits on, whereas a condo owner owns the interior of the condo

Townhomes are similar to row homes but can have varying configurations, making them slightly different.

First-time homebuyers can
prequalify for a SoFi mortgage loan,
with as little as 3% down.

Pros and Cons of a Townhouse

Townhouses come with a fair share of benefits, but like any home, it’s not one size fits all. Consider these pros and cons of buying a townhouse.


•   Makes the most of space. As townhomes share a wall or two with neighbors, and are often in densely populated areas, they make good use of space.

•   Affordability. Because of their shared walls and space-efficient layout, townhomes are often more affordable than single-family homes in the area.

•   Independence, with less maintenance. Townhouses usually have less upkeep than single-family homes. There might be a small yard, and your own roof, to maintain.

•   Lower property taxes. A townhome owner will usually pay less in property taxes than the owner of a standalone home.

•   HOA perks. Some townhomes are part of homeowners associations. If amenities like a pool, gym, and maintenance of common areas and possibly your own little yard are a priority, a townhome with an HOA could be a good fit.

•   Looser rules. The HOA rules may not be as strict as those for a condo.


•   Limited landscape options. Townhouse lots are small. If a buyer wants space for landscaping, it’s unlikely they’ll find much with a townhouse.

•   Uncreative exteriors. If the townhome is part of an HOA, the ability to decorate the exterior of the unit could be limited. Townhomes typically look very similar to their neighboring units as well, so standing out could be a no-no.

•   Stairs, stairs, and more stairs. Townhomes have an efficient build for spaces where land is at a premium. That means building up, not out. A townhome may have three floors, meaning climbing stairs repeatedly.

•   Less privacy. While townhouses don’t share floors up and down like a duplex or condo might, they have at least one “party wall,” or wall shared with another property. That could be a problem for buyers who prioritize peace and quiet if the neighbors are loud.

•   Less appreciation. As a rule of thumb, townhomes don’t gain as much value as single-family homes do.

•   HOA fees. If the community has an HOA, it will charge a monthly or quarterly fee to cover communal perks. The fees usually rise over time, and can be high at a complex full of amenities.

Finding a Townhouse

Finding a townhouse will depend on where a buyer is looking. Most commonly, they’re encountered in densely populated areas where the cost of land might be high and scarce.

The search may be more restricted if a buyer wants to purchase a townhome in an HOA community.

One place buyers typically won’t find townhomes is in rural or secluded areas. Land may be more affordable and plentiful, which means properties don’t need to be condensed.

Who Should Get a Townhouse?

A townhome might be the right option if the buyer:

•   Isn’t interested in much maintenance. Maintaining your unit and your parcel of land will almost always be less intensive than maintaining a detached single-family home and yard. If there are HOA fees, they might include landscaping services.

•   Is a first-time buyer. The lower cost and maintenance of a townhouse might be the right fit as a first-time homebuyer learns the ropes of homeownership and looks into homeowner resources.

•   Is an investor or buyer of a second home: Both may see the benefits of a townhouse.

•   Is on a budget. Generally, a townhouse will cost less than a single-family home in the same area. Buyers could live in a desirable area without paying top dollar. (A calculator for mortgage payments helps buyers see the effect of different down payments.)

•   Wants to live in an urban or suburban area. Because townhomes are built in areas where space is at a premium and the cost of living is high, a townhouse could be the right fit.

Considering a Townhouse? SoFi Home Loans Can Help

With a lower price tag and less maintenance than a detached single-family home, a townhome can be a great opportunity for buyers, who may benefit from this home loan help center as they review mortgage basics.

Townhomes qualify for the same kind of mortgages that detached single-family homes do, and that’s where home loans with SoFi come in.

SoFi offers mortgages for primary homes, second homes, and investment properties.

Qualified first-time homebuyers may put just 3% down. And getting pre-qualified takes just minutes.


How is a townhouse different from a house?

The biggest difference between a townhouse and a detached single-family house is the shared walls. A townhome may have one or more “party walls” with the properties adjacent to it.

Do townhouses have backyards?

Some townhomes may have a small backyard or patio, but that’s not a requirement for a home to be considered a townhouse.

Can you get a loan to buy a townhouse?

Yes. Similar to purchasing a traditional single-family home, townhouse buyers can use a home loan to purchase the property.

Photo credit: iStock/JARAMA

SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see Equal Housing Lender.

SoFi Mortgages
Terms and conditions apply. Not all products are offered in all states. See for more information.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.


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What Is a Single-Family Home? Should You Consider Owning One?

What Is a Single-Family Home? Should You Consider Owning One?

The single-family residence, by some definitions, includes more than the traditional house with a yard that comes to mind. Disputing the phrase may be expected, but what’s important is that the single-family classification positively affects financing.

Here’s a look at the defining characteristics of a single-family home and some of the benefits of owning one.

What Is a Single-Family Home

Generally speaking, when considering a single-family vs. multi-family home, a single-family home is one designed, built, and maintained for one person or household. A multi-family home, on the other hand, is one building set up for multiple occupants to live in separately.

That said, definitions of a single-family residence may vary according to real estate experts and government sources.

For example, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, which tracks residential construction, single-family structures include fully detached and semi-detached homes, row houses, duplexes, quadruplexes, and townhouses.

Attached units are only considered a single-family home if each unit is separated by a wall that runs from the ground to the roof, has a separate heating system, is individually metered for public utilities, and has no units above or below, the Census Bureau says.

Each attached unit must meet these conditions. If not, the building is considered to be a multi-family residential structure.

According to other definitions of a single-family home, there can be no shared walls; the building or single dwelling unit must stand alone on its own parcel of land and have its own entrance to the street.

In some places, a single-family home is defined in part by how many kitchens it has. Depending on zoning laws, adding a second kitchen to an in-laws apartment, for example, can cause a house to be redefined as a multi-family building. If you’re planning on doing this type of renovation, be sure to check local zoning laws beforehand.

Why is it important to know how a home is classified? It can have an impact on the types of mortgages you qualify for and how much money you will be able to borrow.

Like detached single-family homes, financing for two- to four-unit properties falls under residential lending guidelines. (A property with five or more units is considered commercial property.)

In low-cost areas, the conventional loan limit for one-unit properties in 2022 rose to $647,200. Conventional loan limits on two- to four-unit properties also saw increases.

In 2022, you can get an FHA loan of $420,680 for a single unit in a low-cost area and up to $970,800 in a high-cost area. If you were purchasing a two-unit building, you could get an FHA loan worth $538,650 in a low-cost area or $1,243,050 in a high-cost area.

First-time homebuyers can
prequalify for a SoFi mortgage loan,
with as little as 3% down.

Pros and Cons of a Single-Family Home

As you shop for homes, it’s important to consider the various advantages and disadvantages of a single-family residence.

Some of the advantages are:

•   More space: Single-family homes tend to offer more space than other types of housing, and it belongs to you alone. They may have large yards in which children and dogs can play or where you can plant a vegetable garden. They may also have storage in attics, garages, or basements, which aren’t shared between multiple units.

•   Privacy: Single-family units that don’t share walls with neighbors offer more privacy. You are less likely to hear neighbors’ activities, and they are less likely to be bothered by yours.

•   More design features: Single-family homes may be available in a broader range of designs and layouts, from Cape Cods or colonials to ranch homes and contemporary designs. You can also make changes to the building or landscape design without input from neighbors with a shared interest in the space.

•   Room to grow: Single-family homes may offer you more options for additions if you have a growing family or if aging parents may come to live with you. For example, single family detached homes with larger plots of land may allow additions that wouldn’t be possible in condo units.

•   May offer higher appreciation: Single-family homes tend to appreciate in value more than condos and townhouses.

•   Option to rent: As the sole owner of a single-family unit, you have direct access to greater opportunities to rent out the house if you decide to move and wish to hang on to the property.

While these factors are attractive, it’s important to weigh potential disadvantages as well.

•   More expensive: Single-family homes tend to be more expensive than other types of houses. That means a larger down payment and higher closing costs, and your mortgage payments may be higher.

•   More maintenance: With no shared spaces, you’ll be in charge of all home maintenance like lawn mowing and roof repairs. You’ll either have to take the time to do it yourself or hire others.

•   Possible HOA fees: Planned developments usually require HOA fees to cover the upkeep of common areas and shared structures.

Finding a Single-Family Home

Before you start looking for a single-family home, first determine how much home you can afford. You may want to start calculating mortgage costs and getting prequalified for a home loan, which takes minutes and provides an estimate of how much you might be able to borrow and at what rate.

A help center for home loans could prove valuable, as could a look at housing market trends in many U.S. hot spots. You’re probably already searching real estate listings online and noting the property types.

You may also want to engage a real estate agent. They have expertise in local housing and zoning laws, know whether a list price is fair or above or below average, and can help you negotiate the price of a home you’re interested in buying.

If there’s any question about how a house is zoned, you can often look up zoning information through a particular city’s website.

Check out these homeowner resources for more about what you’ll need to know to find the home that’s right for you.

Who Should Get a Single-Family Home?

Single-family homes are a good fit for people who can cover the higher price tag, want privacy and flexibility, and are willing to take on a lot of responsibility.

If you qualify as a first-time homebuyer, there may be help available to buy a single-family home in the form of down payment assistance and low- or no-interest loans.

This guide to first-time home buying features lots of tips to make that big first purchase.

If You’re Thinking of Purchasing a Single-Family Home, SoFi Home Loans Can Help

Whether you’re a seasoned homebuyer or a first-timer, purchasing a single-family home is an exciting step.

If you’re looking for options for getting an online mortgage, it’s easy to get a quick rate quote from SoFi.

SoFi offers home loans for primary residences, second homes, and investment properties. Single-family homes, townhomes, and properties of two to four units are included. And rates are competitive.


How much does a single-family home cost?

The average price of a new single-family home as of December 2021 was $457,300, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The average sales price of existing single-family homes that month was $378,800, the National Association of Realtors® noted.

Clearly, the price of a single-family home will vary widely depending on factors like size and location.

How much do I need to build a single-family home? put the price of building a 2,600-square-foot home at about $332,500, including a pandemic-related hike in the cost of materials. Building a home on your own may cost less than buying an existing home.

Can you get a loan to build a single-family home?

If you’re planning to build a single-family home from scratch, you can apply for a construction loan. Another option is a personal loan of up to $100,000, for at least some of the build.

Photo credit: iStock/Dean Mitchell

SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see Equal Housing Lender.

SoFi Mortgages
Terms and conditions apply. Not all products are offered in all states. See for more information.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.


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How to Buy a House for Sale by Owner

A home for sale by owner opens the door for you to buy the property without a middleman—though you may choose to use your own real estate agent to facilitate the transaction.

Here’s a look at how the homebuying process with a for-sale-by-owner deal can differ from a typical real estate transaction.

Buying a House for Sale by Owner

When homeowners choose the FSBO (“fizz-bo”) route, they take on all of the responsibilities real estate agents would typically shoulder, from listing the house and showing it to negotiating and closing the deal.

The main motivation for doing so is often cash. Sellers who go it alone can save money on the commission that real estate agents would normally earn. If neither side uses an agent, the deal sidesteps the typical 5% to 6% for the real estate agent in commissions.

On the buyer’s side there can be a number of benefits of buying a house for sale by owner. First of all, the lack of a listing agent means you have more direct contact with the seller, which might give you more negotiating power.

The seller will also likely have detailed knowledge of the house and neighborhood, which can be a bonus as you decide whether or not you want the property.

However, you may run into some pitfalls with FSBO properties. A seller may love her home and overprice it, potentially complicating matters when you get an appraisal.

Recommended: How to Buy a House Without a Realtor

First-time homebuyers can
prequalify for a SoFi mortgage loan,
with as little as 3% down.

Using a Buyer’s Real Estate Agent

Just because a home’s seller doesn’t want to use a listing agent doesn’t mean you can’t engage the services of a buyer’s agent.

You may already be working with an agent who can contact a FSBO seller for you. Or you may need to look for an agent who is willing to take on the job.

In some cases, buyer’s agents may be hesitant to work on a FSBO property. They may be wary of taking on extra liability, or extra work for which they will not necessarily be compensated.

That said, a buyer’s agent can negotiate the sale on your behalf and walk you through the complicated paperwork. If the seller is putting the contract together, your agent can also check the work to make sure you don’t run into any problems.

Sellers typically pay the agent commission. Just be sure the seller agrees to pay the buyer’s agent commission in the purchase agreement.

Here’s what to expect in the buying process when using a buyer’s agent.

Shopping for a Mortgage

Before making an offer on a home, it’s a good idea to shop for a mortgage to get an idea of the terms different lenders offer and how much you are likely to pay each month.

A mortgage calculator can help you understand how down payments of various sizes will affect the numbers. And you may consider getting preapproved for a mortgage to see exactly how much you can afford to spend.

In an FSBO situation, homeowners may have no experience with the home financing process, and getting prequalified or preapproved for a home loan may remove some roadblocks on your path to making a purchase.

Viewing the Home

Your agent can contact the seller and set up an appointment to view the home.

Be on the lookout for sagging floors or cracks in walls that might indicate structural issues. Test windows. Look for water damage on ceilings or walls that may indicate a leaky roof.

Since the seller will most likely be showing the house, take this opportunity to get as much detail about the home’s history as possible. What repairs have been made recently, and which ones haven’t been made in a while? It’s smart to ask about any warranties, and to be sure they will remain after a sale.

Recommended: What to Look for When Buying a House

Getting an Inspection

When buying a home for sale by owner, it’s not in your best interests to skip an inspection. Home inspectors go over the house with a fine-toothed comb, looking at structure, plumbing, electricity, and appliances to see whether they need repair now or in the near future.

If the inspector finds any problems, you can ask the seller to fix them, credit you the cost of repairs, or reduce the sales price. If you’ve already signed a purchase agreement, severe problems found during an inspection can be a reason to pull out of the contract.

Recommended: The Ultimate Home Inspection Checklist

Negotiating a Sale Yourself

If you decide not to use a buyer’s agent, you and the seller will have to negotiate the sale and write up the purchase contract yourself.

You may also choose to hire a transactional agent or attorney who can help you write the contract and ensure it is done legally and in a way that protects your rights.

If you do decide to go it alone, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Recommended: Guide to Buying, Selling, and Updating Your Home

Making an Offer

Before making an offer on a house, check comparable properties in the neighborhood and see if the listing price is reasonable. Doing so can help you pin down what a reasonable offer is.

Consider offering less than the listing price. The seller may ask you to come up in the asking price, but if you start too high, it’s difficult to negotiate down again. You can use the neighborhood comps you’ve researched as a negotiating tool.

Including Contingencies

Contingencies are certain conditions that must be met in order to close the deal. Some common contingencies are a satisfactory home inspection and appraisal.

If a home is appraised at less than the agreed-upon price, a lender may be unwilling to loan the buyer the money. In that case, the appraisal contingency can be an opportunity to negotiate the sales price.

A clear title is another common contingency. The title is a document that shows who has owned and now owns the home. The title company will make sure there are no liens or disputes associated with the property. If there are unresolvable issues, the clear-title contingency gives the buyer a way out of the contract.

Negotiating Fees

It can’t hurt to ask for seller concessions, closing costs that the seller agrees to pay. A seller may agree to help pay for property taxes, attorney fees, appraisal inspections, and the like.

Even in a seller’s market, if the property has been sitting, possibly because the price was too high, a seller may offer a financial incentive to move the home.

Putting Earnest Money in Escrow

Your earnest money deposit is the money you submit with your offer to demonstrate your serious intent to buy.

The listing agent would usually put this money into escrow. But if you’re going it alone, it’s a good idea to engage a title company or escrow company to hold the money for you until the sale goes through.

If you give the money directly to the seller, they may refuse to give it back to you if a contingency causes the deal to fall through, which could mean suing to retrieve your cash.

Determining When You’ll Get Possession

It’s a good idea to be sure your purchase agreement specifies when you will take possession of the new house and receive the keys. Possession may take place immediately after closing, or the contract may give the seller time to move.

The Takeaway

Buying a house for sale by owner can come with challenges and opportunities. It may make sense to engage a professional real estate attorney to help you negotiate, safeguard your interests, and deal with the documents.

If you’re in the market for a mortgage, check out SoFi’s line of fixed-rate mortgage loans that may allow you to put less than 10% down.

SoFi also offers investment property loans.

SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see Equal Housing Lender.

SoFi Mortgages
Terms and conditions apply. Not all products are offered in all states. See for more information.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.


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