What Is a Bridge Loan?

Bridge Loan: What It Is and How It Works

A short-term bridge loan allows homeowners to use the equity in their existing home to help pay for the home they’re ready to purchase.

But there are pros and cons to using this type of financing. A bridge loan can prove expensive.

Is a bridge loan easy to get? Not necessarily. You’ll need sufficient equity in your current home and stable finances.

Read on to learn how to bridge the gap between addresses with a bridge loan or alternatives.

What Is a Bridge Loan?

A bridge loan, also known as a swing loan or gap financing, is a temporary loan that can help if you’re buying and selling a house at the same time.

Just like a mortgage, home equity loan, or home equity line of credit (HELOC), a bridge loan is secured by the borrower’s current home (meaning a lender could force the sale of the home if the borrower were to default).

Most bridge loans are set up to be repaid within a year.

How Does a Bridge Loan Work?

Typically lenders only issue bridge loans to borrowers who will be using the same financial institution to finance the mortgage on their new home.

Even if you prequalified for a new mortgage with that lender, you may not automatically get a bridge loan.

What are the criteria for a bridge loan? You can expect your financial institution to scrutinize several factors — including your credit history and debt-to-income ratio — to determine if you’re a good risk to carry that additional debt.

You’ll also have to have enough home equity (usually 20%, but some lenders might require at least 50%) in your current home to qualify for this type of interim financing.
Lenders typically issue bridge loans in one of these two ways:

•   One large loan. Borrowers get enough to pay off their current mortgage plus a down payment for the new home. When they sell their home, they can pay off the bridge loan.

•   Second mortgage. Borrowers obtain a second mortgage to make the down payment on the new home. They keep the first mortgage on their old home in place until they sell it and can pay off both loans.

It’s important to have an exit strategy. Buyers usually use the money from the sale of their current home to pay off the bridge loan. But if the old home doesn’t sell within the designated bridge loan term, they could end up having to make payments on multiple loans.

Bridge Loan Costs

A bridge loan may seem like a good option for people who need to buy and sell a house at the same time, but the convenience can be costly.

Because these are short-term loans, lenders tend to charge more upfront to make bridge lending worth their while. You can expect to pay:

•   1.5% to 3% of the loan amount in closing costs

•   An origination fee, which can be as much as 3% of the loan value

Interest rates for bridge loans are generally higher than conventional loan rates.

Repaying a Bridge Loan

Many bridge loans require interest-only monthly payments and a balloon payment at the end, when the full amount is due.

Others call for a lump-sum interest payment that is taken from the total loan amount at closing.

A fully amortized bridge loan requires monthly payments that include both principal and interest.

How Long Does It Take to Get Approved for a Bridge Loan?

Bridge loans from conventional lenders can be approved within a few days, and loans can often close within three weeks.

A bridge loan for investment property from a hard money lender can be approved and funded within a few days.

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

Examples of When to Use a Bridge Loan

Most homebuyers probably would prefer to quickly sell the home they’re in, pay off their current mortgage, and bank the down payment for their next purchase long before they reach their new home’s closing date.

Unfortunately, the buying and selling process doesn’t always go as planned, and it sometimes becomes necessary to obtain interim funding.

Common scenarios when homebuyers might consider a bridge loan include the following.

You’re Moving for a New Job, or Downsizing

You can’t always wait for your home to sell before you relocate for work. If the move has to go quickly, you might end up buying a new home before you tie up all the loose ends on the old home.

Or maybe you’ve fallen in love with a smaller home that just hit the market, decided that downsizing your home is the way to go, and you must act quickly.

Your Closing Dates Don’t Line Up as Hoped

Even if you’ve sold your current home, the new-home closing might be scheduled days, weeks, or even months afterward. To avoid losing the contract on the new home, you might decide to get interim funding.

You Need Money for a Down Payment

If you need the money you’ll get from selling your current home to make a down payment on your next home, a bridge loan may make that possible.

Bridge Loan Benefits and Disadvantages

As with any financial transaction, there are advantages and disadvantages to taking out a bridge loan. Here are some pros and cons borrowers might want to consider.


The main benefit of a bridge loan is the ability to buy a new home without having to wait until you sell your current home. This added flexibility could be a game-changer if you’re in a time crunch.

Another bonus for buyers in a hurry: The application and closing process for a bridge loan is usually faster than for some other types of loans.


Bridge loans aren’t always easy to get. The standards for qualifying tend to be high because the lender is taking on more risk.

Borrowers can expect to pay a higher interest rate, as well as several fees.

Borrowers who don’t have enough equity in their current home may not be eligible for a bridge loan.

If you buy a new home and then are unable to sell your old home, you could end up having to make payments on more than one loan.

Worst-case scenario, if you can’t make the payments, your lender might be able to foreclose on the home you used to secure the bridge loan.

Alternatives to Bridge Loans

If the downsides of taking out a bridge loan make you uneasy, there are options that might suit your needs.


Rather than the lump sum of a home equity loan, a home equity line of credit lets you borrow, as needed, up to an approved limit, from the equity you have in your house.

The monthly payments are based on how much you actually withdraw. The interest rate is usually variable.

You can expect to pay a lower rate on a HELOC than a bridge loan, but there still will be closing costs. And there may be a prepayment fee, which could cut into your profits if your home sells quickly. (Because your old home will serve as collateral, you’ll be expected to pay off your HELOC when you sell that home.)

Many lenders won’t open a HELOC for a home that is on the market, so it may require advance planning to use this strategy.

Home Equity Loan

A home equity loan is another way to tap your equity to cover the down payment on your future home.

Because home equity loans are typically long term (up to 20 years), the interest rates available, usually fixed, may be lower than they are for a bridge loan. And you’ll have a little more breathing room if it takes a while to sell the old home.

You can expect to pay some closing costs on a home equity loan, though, and there could be a prepayment penalty.

Keep in mind, too, that you’ll be using your home as collateral to get a home equity loan. And until you sell your original home, unless it’s owned free and clear, you’ll be carrying more than one loan.

401(k) Loan or Withdrawal

If you’re a first-time homebuyer and your employer plan allows it, you can use your 401(k) to help purchase a house. But most financial experts advise against withdrawing or borrowing money from your 401(k).

Besides missing out on the potential investment growth, there can be other drawbacks to tapping those retirement funds.

Personal Loan

If you have a decent credit history and a solid income, typical personal loan requirements, you may be able to find a personal loan with a competitive fixed interest rate and other terms that are a good fit for your needs.

Other benefits:

•   You can sometimes find a personal loan without the origination fees and other costs of a bridge loan.

•   A personal loan might be suitable rather than a home equity loan or HELOC if you don’t have much equity built up in your home.

•   You may be able to avoid a prepayment penalty, so if your home sells quickly, you can pay off the loan without losing any of your profit.

•   Personal loans are usually unsecured, so you wouldn’t have to use your home as collateral.

The Takeaway

A bridge loan can help homebuyers when they haven’t yet sold their current home. But a bridge loan can be expensive. Is a bridge loan easy to get? Not all that easy. Only buyers with sufficient equity and strong financials are candidates.

If you find yourself looking to bridge the gap between homes, you might also consider a personal loan or a HELOC.

A personal loan is an alternative worth considering. SoFi offers fixed-rate personal loanss of $5,000 to $100,000 with no prepayment penalty.

And SoFi brokers a home equity line of credit. Access up to 95%, or $500,000, of your home’s equity.

Finally, once you’ve moved into your new home and sold the previous one, you’ll usually want a more traditional mortgage. SoFi can help there, too. Check out SoFi’s mortgage loan offerings.

And then find your rate in just a few clicks.

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 SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.

SoFi Mortgages
Terms, conditions, and state restrictions apply. Not all products are available in all states. See SoFi.com/eligibility 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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How Soon Can You Refinance a Mortgage?

Are you ruminating about a refi? How long you must wait to refinance depends on the kind of mortgage you have and whether you want cash out.

You can typically refinance a conventional loan as soon as you want to, but you’ll have to wait six months to apply for a cash-out refinance.

The wait to refinance an FHA, VA, or USDA loan ranges from six to 12 months.

Before any mortgage refinance, homeowners will want to ask themselves: What will the monthly and lifetime savings be? What are the closing costs, and how long will it take to recover them? If I’m pulling cash out, is the refinance worth it?

Refinance Wait Time Based on Mortgage Type

How soon can you refinance? The rules differ by loan type and whether you’re aiming for a rate-and-term refinance or a cash-out refinance.

A rate-and-term refi will change your current mortgage’s interest rate, repayment term, or both. Cash-out refinancing replaces your current mortgage with a larger home loan, allowing you to take advantage of the equity you’ve built up in your home through your monthly principal payments and appreciation.

Conventional Loan Refinance Rules

If you have a conventional loan, a mortgage that is not insured by the federal government, you may refinance right after a home purchase or a previous refinance — but likely with a different lender.

Many lenders have a six-month “seasoning” period before a borrower can refinance with them. So you’ll probably have to wait if you want to refi with your current lender.

Cash-Out Refinance Rules

If you’re aiming for a cash-out refinance, you normally have to wait six months before refinancing, regardless of the type of mortgage you have.

FHA Loan Refinance Rules

An FHA Streamline Refinance reduces the time and documentation associated with a refinance, so you can get a lower rate faster.

But you will have to wait 210 days before using a Streamline Refinance to replace your current mortgage.

VA Loan Refinance Rules

When it comes to VA loans, the Department of Veterans Affairs offers an interest rate reduction refinance loan (IRRRL), also known as a VA Streamline Refinance.

It also offers a cash-out refinance for up to a 100% loan-to-value ratio.

The VA requires you to wait 210 days between each refinance. Some lenders that issue VA loans have their own waiting period of up to 12 months. If so, another lender might let you refinance earlier.

USDA Loan Refinance Rules

The streamlined assist refinance program provides USDA direct and guaranteed home loan borrowers with low or no equity the opportunity to refinance for more affordable payment terms.

Borrowers of USDA loans typically need to have had the loan for at least a year before refinancing. But a refinance of a USDA loan to a conventional loan may happen sooner.

Jumbo Loan Refinance Rules

For a jumbo loan, even a rate change of 0.5% may result in significant savings and a shorter time to break even.

How soon can you refinance a jumbo loan? A borrower can refinance their jumbo mortgage at any time if they find a lender willing to do so.

Check out mortgage refinancing with SoFi and get
competitive rates and help when you need it.

Top Reasons People Refinance a Mortgage

If you have sufficient equity in your home, typically at least 20%, you may apply for a refinance of your mortgage. Lenders will also look at your credit score, debt-to-income ratio, and employment.

If you have less than 20% equity but good credit — a minimum FICO® score of 670 — you may be able to refinance by accepting a higher interest rate or mortgage insurance.

Here are the main reasons borrowers look to refinance.

•   Reduce the interest rate. Refinancing to a loan with a lower rate is the point of refinancing for most homeowners. Just calculate your break-even point, when the closing costs will have been recouped: Divide the closing costs by the amount to be saved every month. If closing costs will be $5,000 and you’ll save $100 a month, it will take 50 months to break even and begin reaping the benefits of a refi.

•   Shorten the loan term. Refinancing from a 30-year mortgage to a 15-year loan usually results in a substantial amount of loan interest saved, as this mortgage calculator shows. Or you may refi to a 20-year term. If you’re years into your mortgage, resetting to a new 30-year term may not pay off.

•   Tap home equity. Here’s how cash-out refinancing works: You apply for a new mortgage that will pay off your existing mortgage and give you a lump sum. A lower interest rate may be available at the same time.

•   Shed FHA mortgage insurance. In many cases, the only way to get rid of mortgage insurance premiums on an FHA loan is to sell your home or refinance the mortgage to a conventional loan when you have 20% equity in the home — in other words, when your new loan balance would be at least 20% less than your current home value.

•   Switch to an adjustable-rate mortgage or from an ARM to a fixed-rate loan. Depending on the rate environment and how long you expect to keep the mortgage or home, refinancing a fixed-rate mortgage to an ARM that has a low introductory rate, or an ARM to a fixed-rate loan, may make sense.

Mortgage rates are no longer at record lows. But they’re still pretty low by historical mortgage rate standards.

And rates are not the be-all, end-all. Home equity increased for many homeowners as home values rose. That’s attractive if you want to tap your equity with a cash-out refinance.

Closing costs can often be rolled into the loan or exchanged for an increased interest rate with a no closing cost refinance.

Refinance Your Mortgage With SoFi

How soon can you refinance? If it’s a conventional loan, whenever you want to, although probably not with the same lender within six months. Otherwise, if you must bide your time before refinancing or you’re waiting for rates to abate, that gives you a lull to decide whether a traditional refinance or cash-out refi might suit your needs.

SoFi offers both at competitive rates. And SoFi refinances jumbo loans.

Whenever you’re ready to refi, SoFi is here to help.

SoFi Mortgages
Terms, conditions, and state restrictions apply. Not all products are available in all states. See SoFi.com/eligibility 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 SoFi.com/legal. 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.

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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How Are Primary and Secondary Mortgage Markets Different?

The U.S. mortgage market is massive, so it’s no surprise that it’s actually composed of a primary and a secondary market.

The primary market serves the home-buying public. The secondary serves investors but plays a big role in a borrower’s ability to get a mortgage and how much that home loan costs.

Primary vs Secondary Mortgage Market

The primary mortgage market links borrowers to home mortgage lenders.

The secondary mortgage market allows investors to invest in existing mortgage loans in hopes of earning a return.

What Is the Primary Mortgage Market?

Any time a homebuyer takes out a mortgage from a reputable lender, that is the primary mortgage market in action.

Homebuyers and mortgage refinancers can work with a mortgage broker or direct lender to find the right home loan.

Direct lenders include banks, credit unions, and online mortgage companies. They originate loans with their own money or borrowed funding. Many of them originate mortgages only to sell them to investors, though the lenders may retain the servicing rights.

What Is the Secondary Mortgage Market?

With the secondary mortgage market, investors such as pension funds, banks, and insurance companies buy mortgage-backed securities and try to earn a profit on them.

Why would lenders sell some of their home loans? Because they’re able to replenish their supply of mortgage funding and remove the risk they took on by making the loans.

The mortgages that Fannie Mae (the Federal National Mortgage Association) and Freddie Mac (the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp.), the country’s biggest residential mortgage buyers, purchase are conforming loans. That means they conform to certain lending guidelines and loan limits. In 2022 the conforming loan limit for a single-family home was $647,200 in most housing markets.

Then there’s Ginnie Mae (the Government National Mortgage Association), which buys government-backed FHA, VA, and USDA loans and bundles them into securities to be sold on the bond market.

Recommended: Try This Mortgage Calculator

Example of Both Markets in Action

Betty Borrower decides she wants to buy a home and needs help financing the purchase. She shops for a mortgage with a good interest rate and low costs. She finds a good fit, applies for the loan, and is approved.

She moves in; her loan moves on. Betty gets a letter from her lender saying that her mortgage has been sold to another financial entity.

The mortgage buyer, which may be an investor or mortgage loan aggregator like Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, can repackage home loans as mortgage-backed securities or hold them and collect the interest from borrowers.

Any investor who engages with the secondary mortgage market is buying Betty’s mortgage debt and many others’ and counts on the borrowers to pay the debt, with the investor pocketing a percentage of the profit.

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

Why Are There Two Mortgage Markets?

They work hand in hand.

Congress created the secondary mortgage market in the 1930s to give lenders a larger, steadier stream of mortgage funding to stabilize the country’s residential mortgage markets and expand opportunities for homeownership.

Pros and Cons of the Primary Mortgage Market

The primary mortgage market has its upsides and downsides.

Advantages of the Primary Mortgage Market

Mortgage loans are plentiful: Homebuyers can choose from an array of different types of mortgage loans from banks, credit unions, savings and loans, mortgage brokers, and online financial institutions.

Borrowers have options: The most popular choice is a fixed-term loan of 30 years, but some borrowers may opt for an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM), in which the introductory rate is fixed for a specified period of time. The 5/1 ARM has a five-year fixed rate.

Rates are reasonable: The demand for conforming loans helps rein in interest rates for borrowers who meet the lending criteria, which include down payment and credit requirements in addition to conforming loan limits. (Nonconforming loans — loans that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac cannot buy — include government-backed loans and jumbo loans. The rates may be even lower than conforming loan rates.)

Down Payment Can Be Low: A 3% down payment for a conventional loan may suffice.

Disadvantages of the Primary Mortgage Loan Market

Borrowers have to be vetted credit-wise: Mortgage lenders will review a potential borrower’s credit score in order to determine their eligibility for a loan. Applicants with a bad credit score may find it challenging to secure a mortgage other than an FHA loan.

Missed mortgage payments can have negative effects: Borrowers who miss payments may face a plummeting credit score or even foreclosure (but mortgage forbearance is an option).

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

Pros and Cons of the Secondary Mortgage Market

Here are two ways to view the secondary loan market.

Advantages of the Secondary Mortgage Market

Replenishes lender funding: The secondary market keeps money flowing through the mortgage system in good economic times and bad.

Fuels lower mortgage costs: The secondary market can lead to lower costs for borrowers.

May be good for investors: Most mortgage-backed securities are issued or guaranteed by a government agency such as Ginnie Mae or by government-sponsored enterprises like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The securities carry the guarantee of the issuing organization to pay interest and principal payments on their mortgage-backed securities.

Disadvantages of the Secondary Mortgage Loan Market

Not for the average investor: Common buyers of mortgage-backed securities include deep-pocketed financial organizations like insurance companies, banks, and pension funds. Because of the complexity of mortgage-backed securities and the difficulty that can accompany assessing the creditworthiness of an issuer, individual investors should use caution.

Investors won’t see the properties attached to the mortgages: Secondary mortgage loan buyers usually won’t physically see and assess the properties attached to the mortgages they’re buying.

The Takeaway

The primary mortgage market and secondary mortgage market have a symbiotic relationship. Most mortgage seekers will only be interested in the primary market: getting a home loan that suits their needs.

If you’re in the market for a new mortgage or maybe a cash-out refinance, check out SoFi’s mortgage loan offerings and deals. The rates are competitive.

Get a no-obligation rate quote in minutes.

SoFi Mortgages
Terms, conditions, and state restrictions apply. Not all products are available in all states. See SoFi.com/eligibility 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 SoFi.com/legal. 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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What Is Escrow & How Does It Work?

Escrow isn’t the most euphonious word, but it’s important when you’re a homebuyer or homeowner.

With a home sale, escrow refers to a neutral third party that handles money and other assets being transferred between two parties. The escrow agent ensures that the terms of the deal are met by both sides.

What Is Escrow?

There are a couple of types of escrow. The first takes place throughout the homebuying process until the sale is finalized.

The second type of escrow applies when you are making mortgage payments that include taxes and insurance. An escrow account set up by the lender or mortgage servicer will accrue bits of your payments and pay the bills when they’re due.

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

How Does Escrow Work During the Homebuying Process?

After a seller accepts an offer on a home, the buyer’s or seller’s agent opens escrow with an escrow provider, typically a title company.

Money and the purchase agreement, seller’s deed, and other documents will be held in escrow until the sale is final.

This includes the homebuyer’s earnest money, or good-faith, deposit, which shows the seller that the buyer is earnest — committed to the deal.

The earnest money deposit, typically 1% to 2% of the purchase price, though it can be more in a hot market, is verified by the escrow agent, and evidence is sent to the lender in writing. The deposit is held for use toward the down payment and closing costs.

Buyers who minimize contingencies risk losing their earnest money deposit.

Common contingencies include the mortgage contingency, which allows either party to walk away from the deal if the buyers are unable to secure financing by the agreed-upon deadline, and sale of current home contingency, when buyers need the proceeds from the sale of their existing home to afford the new home.

Others are appraisal and home inspection contingencies.

As the process moves forward, the escrow agent is responsible for ordering a title search, and tracking and verifying the items laid out in the escrow instructions for the home sale.

What’s the Benefit of Escrow?

Escrow is designed to protect the buyer, seller, and lender until the transaction is complete. Having a neutral third party handle the paperwork and transfer of funds can benefit all parties in a real estate sale.

Escrow is required when you obtain financing, but it is used in cash sales as well. As a buyer, it can be comforting to know that all the transaction details are being handled by the appropriate parties.

For example, if the seller is unable to fix certain items before the buyer needs to move in, the lender may choose to set up an escrow holdback: The lender approves holding some of the money in escrow that the seller should have received until the specified repairs have been completed within a certain period of time.

As a seller, escrow provides a safeguard if anything goes wrong with the sale. For example, if the borrower backs out of the sale and breaks terms of the contract, the earnest money deposit may be forfeited by the buyer.

Recommended: Selling a House With a Mortgage

How Much Does Escrow Cost?

Escrow companies usually charge a base fee plus a percentage of the purchase price. That typically comes to 1% to 2% of a home’s sale price, but the cost varies by state and county.

For a $400,000 house, an escrow charge of 2% would be $8,000.

You may want to ask your real estate agent to recommend a title company with low rates.

In many states, the buyer and seller split escrow fees or negotiate how they will be divided. The market temperature — buyer’s or seller’s market? — can affect the negotiation.

Escrow After the Sale of the House

If you put less than 20% down on a conventional loan or take out a government-backed loan, your lender will typically establish an escrow account at closing with money to pay homeowner’s insurance, property taxes, and, if necessary, private mortgage insurance (commonly called PMI) and flood insurance.

Once established, the account is maintained by monthly contributions from your mortgage payment. When taxes and insurance are due, the lender or servicer pays them.

The escrow amount will be reflected on your mortgage statements.

Recommended: What Is PMI and How to Avoid It?

The Takeaway

What is escrow? It’s the holding of money and documents by an impartial third party during a home sale, after which a homebuyer escrow account usually is set up. Escrow during a sale protects the buyer, seller, and lender.

If you’re in the market for a home and financing, check out SoFi’s menu of mortgage loans and deals being offered.

Qualifying first-time homebuyers can put as little as 3% down. Rates are competitive.

Get your own rate quote in minutes.


What is an escrow balance?

The escrow balance is the money that is held in a mortgagor’s escrow account to pay taxes, insurance, and, if applicable, private mortgage insurance and flood insurance.

What is an escrow agreement?

An escrow agreement is a contract that outlines the terms and conditions of a transaction for something of value, which a third party holds until all conditions have been met.

What does it mean to be in escrow?

It means that an escrow agent is holding the earnest money, loan funds, and property deed until an appraisal and title search are done and financing has been approved. The earnest money typically will be applied to the down payment or closing costs.

SoFi Mortgages
Terms, conditions, and state restrictions apply. Not all products are available in all states. See SoFi.com/eligibility 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 SoFi.com/legal. 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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How to Buy a House From a Family Member

Sometimes, home sweet home is right under our noses. Buying a house from a relative may be the perfect solution, but everyone should be aware of how to negotiate and seal the deal.

An adult child may have her heart set on buying her parents’ home because of the memories it holds. Another might want to purchase Grandma’s home so he can retire in Florida. Others may have a relative who wants to give them a good deal.

Whatever the case, if you’re buying a house from family, you’ll want a harmonious handoff.

Buying a House From a Relative

It’s important to understand the home buying process before making any real estate purchase.

And knowing what is needed to buy a home is useful before, erm, buying a home.

Buying a house from family, though, is a bit different than a deal between strangers. First of all, whether you’re a first-time homebuyer or not, it’s important to consider how crafting the deal can affect familial relationships.

Not hiring real estate agents might keep negotiations and planning all in the … family. If that’s the case, it’s a good idea to have regular check-ins to ensure that both parties feel good about the next steps and are ready to move forward.

It can be helpful to take notes about the arrangement after an initial meeting and make a copy for everyone involved so that all important details are in writing and available for review. That way, everyone is clear on what is expected of them.

Do We Need Real Estate Agents and Other Pros?

Even though buying a house from family is a personal affair, it can be helpful to bring in professionals to make sure the process goes smoothly, everything is done legally, and both parties walk away feeling satisfied and respected.

A lawyer or real estate agent can help make sure the purchase contract is done properly, state-required property disclosures are made, and the house sells for fair market value — what the property would sell for on the open market.

A title company can protect the buyer from any liens and ensure that no one else has a claim on the home. Even with a high level of trust between family members, this can be a smart step to take to protect the buyer.

And it can be helpful to consult a tax professional in order to be aware of any tax implications of the agreement.

Determine the Purchase Price

Deciding on the fair market value can be done by reviewing comps or hiring an appraiser to conduct an objective property valuation. Keep in mind that lenders usually require an appraisal.

Once both parties have an idea of the market value, they can decide how much the buyer will pay. In some cases, this will be the fair market value. In other scenarios, a family member may offer to pay closing costs, or provide a cash gift or gift of equity (described below).

Draw Up the Purchase Agreement

When both parties are ready to move forward, it’s time to draw up a purchase agreement. The legally binding real estate purchase contract will outline the price and payment terms.

Buyers who need a home loan can send the contract to their lender when applying for a mortgage.

Prepare for Scrutiny

There are two main types of real estate transactions: arm’s length and non-arm’s length.

In an arm’s-length transaction, the buyer and seller do not have a relationship and are acting in their own self-interest.

When someone buys a home from a family member, it’s a non-arm’s-length transaction. These deals may be subject to more scrutiny because the chance of mortgage fraud increases.

The sale price of the home must equate to what it would be between strangers unless a gift of equity is on the table.

A heads-up for anyone whose elder family member needs to go to an assisted living facility or nursing home and plans to fund their stay with Medicaid: To prevent Medicaid applicants from simply giving away a home or other resources to qualify for the low-income medical program, the federal government has a “look-back period” of five years (the exception is California, which has a 2.5-year look-back period). A Medicaid applicant is penalized if assets were gifted or sold for less than fair market value during that time.

Know How the Gift of Equity Works

One thing sellers may want to consider is giving the relative a gift of equity, or selling for less than fair market value.

The maximum amount of the discount without reporting it as a gift to the IRS is $16,000 per recipient in 2022.

Spouses “splitting” gifts may contribute $32,000 a year. Spouses splitting gifts must always report the gift.

That doesn’t mean sellers have to pay a gift tax; they can apply it to their lifetime gift exclusion. The lifetime gift and estate tax exemption is $12.06 million, or $24.12 million for a couple, in 2022.

So for the vast majority of people, the gift and estate tax exemption allows for the tax-free transfer of wealth from one generation to the next. Homeownership in general helps build generational wealth.

Here’s another plus for buyers: Most lenders allow the gift to count as a down payment.

A lender will require a gift letter signed by the sellers for a cash gift or a gift of equity sale. The letter will confirm that the gift is not a loan.

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

Know How to Finance the Home

When buying a home from a family member, many buyers will still need to take out a home loan. Even with a discount or a special offer from a family member, it can be hard to purchase a home outright.

Go with a mortgage broker or direct lender? Each has pluses and minuses.

Any mortgage loan officer or broker should be willing to answer your mortgage questions, including those about fees, points, and mortgage insurance.

Weighing different types of mortgage loans (including conventional conforming mortgages, jumbo loans, and government-backed loans) and loan terms (usually 30 years) can help you make a more informed decision.

After applying for mortgages, you’ll receive loan estimates. It’s important to compare mortgage APRs, fees, and closing costs.

After you choose a mortgage and close on the home, your mortgage servicing outfit will handle your payments.

The Takeaway

How to buy a house from a family member? For starters, consider calling in professionals and understand the gift of equity. Buying a house from a relative can be seamless.

As you shop for a mortgage, see what SoFi offers. Why SoFi? Because the terms are flexible, the down payments are low, the closing time is guaranteed, and the rates are competitive.

Get a rate quote in just minutes.

SoFi Mortgages
Terms, conditions, and state restrictions apply. Not all products are available in all states. See SoFi.com/eligibility 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 SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.

Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.

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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