10 Step Guide to Building Your Own Home

10-Step Guide to Building Your Own Home

Most people in the market for a new dwelling will buy an existing home that more or less fits their needs.
Condo. Townhouse. Single-family home. Modular or manufactured home. Cabin or even houseboat. A house hunter has all of those types of homes to choose from.

But new homes don’t come with the problems that old homes might, from lead paint to a kitchen crying out for remodeling. And building a house may seem attractive because you can construct it to fit your specifications, from the number of bathrooms to building an outdoor kitchen.

If you’re ready to build your own house, here are the steps to take.

10 Steps to Building Your Own Home

1. Find a Location

The first thing you’ll need to do is find a site that’s zoned for a residential property. Look into local building regulations to see how much of the site you are allowed to build on and how far from property lines the building must be set back. Check ordinances that might limit size or height. Is there an HOA? Scour the rules.

It’s generally suggested that you not spend more than 20% of your total budget on the building site. When you purchase the land, you will acquire a property deed, which will also act as the house deed.

2. Obtain Permits

Before a shovelful of earth is turned, the local building department must OK the plans and provide permits for the whole shebang: grading, zoning, construction, electrical work, plumbing, and more. When the permits are in hand, construction can start.

On a related note, at various points during construction, the home will need to be inspected for code compliance. Your lender may also send an inspector to keep track of construction status before releasing payments from a construction loan.

3. Prep the Site and Your Finances

Site Prep

Before you start building, you’ll need to prepare the building site. You’ll want to be sure that soil conditions are stable. You may want to engage a civil engineer to give the site a look.

A site surveyor can stake the property boundaries. Then you’ll need to clear brush and debris at least to 25 feet around the planned perimeter of the house.

Size and Cost

The cost of building a house averaged $280,580 in mid-2022, according to HomeAdvisor, the directory of service pros, but the site gave a typical range of $112,500 to $449,000. Obviously location, materials, and level of detail affect the bottom line.

But size is the biggie. The larger the build, the more labor and material costs you should expect. The average new home in the country has about 2,200 square feet at $150 per square foot, HomeAdvisor noted.

After the peak of the pandemic, months long delays to receive materials, from appliances to garage doors, had raised construction costs. Oil prices had significantly increased transportation expense. Rising inflation and interest rates were making their mark. All of which is to say the numbers are a moving target.

Finance Options

When you build a home, you may need a loan that covers the purchase of land, buying materials, and hiring labor. In this case, you may want to look into a construction loan. Unlike mortgages, construction loans are not secured by an existing home, so approval might be tricky and take a bit longer.

The money is paid to your builder in installments. You’ll often only pay interest on the portion of the loan that has been withdrawn. After the typical 12 to 18 months of a construction-only loan, the usual route is to take out a mortgage and pay off the construction loan.

Other financing options are a home equity loan, if you already own a home.

A personal loan of up to $100,000 can pay for part of the construction (or maybe all, for a modest build).

If you’re buying the land, FHA one-time close loans cover the lot purchase, construction, and permanent mortgage. But the loans can be hard to find and are tougher to qualify for than traditional FHA loans.

Check out these additional resources for homeowners.

Choosing Materials

Only an experienced and highly organized person may want to act as their own general contractor for a new house build. Most people will put the job in a contractor’s hands, and add 20% to 30% for the cost of materials and labor.

General contractors already have priced and sourced many of the materials when making a bid. They usually have relationships with wholesale distributors, lumberyards, and retailers.

That said, you may have some skills that you could apply to cut costs. For example, you could look into how much it costs to paint a house and determine if painting the home’s interior could help you save.

Building a Work Team

If you choose to fly solo, you’ll be on the hook for finding subcontractors yourself.

A general contractor will hire all of the team members needed to complete the project and charge 20% to 30% of the overall cost of the home. However, they also typically have regular relationships with subcontractors, who may charge them less than they would a person who hires them on a one-off basis.

As a result, you may not end up saving much or any money by finding subcontractors yourself.

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


4. Pour the Foundation

Once the building site is cleared, construction can begin, starting with the foundation. Some houses are built on level slabs of concrete that are poured on the ground, leaving space in which to run utilities, like plumbing and electrical.

A home with a full basement requires that a hole is dug and that footings and foundation walls are formed and poured.
The concrete will need time to cure, and no construction will take place until it has set properly.

5. Set Up Plumbing

Once the concrete has set, crews install drains, water taps, the sewer system, and any plumbing going into the first-floor slab or basement floor, and then backfill dirt into the gap around the foundation wall.

6. Assemble the Frame, Walls, and Roof

With the foundation complete, framing carpenters will build out the shell of the house, including floors, walls, and the roof. Windows and exterior doors are installed, and the house is wrapped in a plastic sheathing that protects the interior from outside moisture while allowing water vapor from inside the home to escape.

7. Install Insulation, Complete Electric and Plumbing Installs

Now plumbers can install water supply lines and pipes to carry water through the floors and walls. Bathtubs and showers may be added at this time.

Electricians will wire the house for outlets, light fixtures, and major appliances. Ductwork and HVAC systems can be installed.

8. Hang Drywall and Install Interior Fixtures and Trim

With plumbing and electrical complete, the house can be insulated and drywall can be hung. A primary coat of paint goes on, and the house will start to look relatively finished.

Light fixtures and outlets can be installed, as can bathroom and kitchen fixtures, like sinks and toilets.
Interior doors, baseboards, door casings, windowsills, cabinets, built-ins, and decorative trim go in. The final coat of paint is applied.

9. Install Exterior Fixtures

Crews begin exterior finishes like brick, stone, stucco or siding.
Some builders pour the driveway when the foundation is completed, but many opt to do so toward home completion, along with walkways and patios.

10. Install the Flooring

Wood, ceramic tile, or vinyl floors and/or carpet can be installed at this point.

Is It Cheaper to Buy or Build a New House?

There are so many variables that it’s hard to say.

The median sales price for new construction in May 2022 was $449,000, according to FRED, or Federal Reserve Economic Data.

Can you beat that price with a DIY build? Maybe, if you act as the general contractor and choose cheaper materials.

Keep in mind that HomeAdvisor’s average of $280,580 to build a house does not include the land.

Ultimately, the price of your dream home hinges on location, the cost of labor and materials, and your taste.

3 Home Loan Tips

1.   Since lenders will do what’s called a hard pull on an applicant’s credit, and too many hard pulls in a short period can affect your application, it’s a good idea to know what interest rate a lender will offer you before applying for a personal loan. Viewing your rate with SoFi involves only a soft pull on your credit — and takes one minute.

2.   Before agreeing to take out a personal loan from a lender, you should know if there are origination, prepayment, or other kinds of fees. If you get a personal loan from SoFi, there are no fees required.

3.   Traditionally, mortgage lenders like to see a 20% down payment. But some lenders, such as SoFi, allow home mortgage loans with as little as 3% down for qualifying first-time homebuyers.

FAQ

How long can you expect to live in a self-built home?

If a home is well built and maintained properly, you can expect it to last a lifetime.

How long will it take to build a home?

The average time it takes to build a home from start to finish is 9.4 months for a contractor build and 12 for an owner build, according to data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Is it dangerous to build a home yourself?

If the question means completely DIY — clearing a lot, pouring a foundation, framing, installing electrical, and so on — the answer is “it sure could be.”

Are there safe financing options for self-build projects?

DIY builders and remodelers may use a construction loan, personal loan, home equity loan, or FHA one-time close loan. If you do use a construction-only loan, shop for a mortgage that makes sense once you stand there admiring the finished product.


Photo credit: iStock/Giselleflissak

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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Mortgage Commitment Letter: Overview, Types, and If You Need One

A mortgage commitment letter is a step beyond pre-qualification and pre-approval and could give a homebuyer an edge in a competitive market. It lays out the loan details and indicates that a buyer has an agreement for a mortgage.

But who should obtain a mortgage commitment letter and when? Read on for the answers.

What Is a Mortgage Commitment Letter?

A mortgage commitment letter — conditional or final — is a step close to finalizing a mortgage but short of “clear to close.” The letter signals to the seller that the buyer and a chosen financial institution have forged an agreement.

Buyers may seek a conditional mortgage commitment letter when they’re house hunting, and a final commitment letter when they’re ready to make an offer on a specific home.

In both types of loan commitments, the lender outlines the terms of the mortgage.

Recommended: Buying in a Seller’s Market With a Low Down Payment

Types of Mortgage Loan Approvals

In the mortgage process, buyers will hear “approval” thrown around a lot. But not all approvals are built equally, and each type signifies a different part of the process.

Pre-qualification

Getting pre-qualified is often an early step for buyers in the home search. It’s quick, can be done online, and doesn’t require a hard credit inquiry.

To get pre-qualified, buyers provide financial details, including income, debt, and assets, but no documentation, so this step serves as an estimate of how much home they can afford.

Pre-qualification can help buyers create a realistic budget, but the amount, interest rate, and loan program might change as the lender gets more information.

Pre-approval

Pre-approval is slightly more complicated, requiring a hard credit inquiry and documentation from the buyer.
Lenders may ask for the following:

•   Identification

•   Recent pay stubs

•   W-2 statements

•   Tax returns

•   Activity from checking, savings, and investment accounts

•   Residential history

Armed with this information, a lender will give buyers a specific amount they’ll likely qualify for.
Pre-approval also shows sellers that a buyer is serious about a home, as it means a lender is willing to approve them for a mortgage.

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


Conditional vs Final Commitment

Pre-qualification and pre-approval can be important steps during the home search. But especially in a seller’s market and in certain cities, the mortgage commitment letter can become an important tool.

While a mortgage loan commitment letter can show a seller that the buyer is serious, not all letters are the same.

A conditional mortgage approval letter, the most common type, means that the lender will approve buyers as long as they meet certain conditions.

Conditions could include:

•   No change to the buyer’s finances before the closing date

•   Proof of funds to cover the down payment and closing costs

•   Passing of a home inspection

•   An appraisal

•   Proof of homeowners insurance

•   No liens or other problems with the property title

A final commitment letter means the lender has unconditionally approved the buyer for a loan to purchase a home. However, this doesn’t mean the buyer is guaranteed a loan; it just means the lender is ready to approve the mortgage.

Having a mortgage commitment letter in hand is a good way to ensure that nothing will go wrong during underwriting.

Recommended: See Local Housing Market Trends by City

How to Know If You Need a Mortgage Commitment Letter

Buyers don’t need to provide a mortgage commitment letter to a seller. Still, that extra step beyond pre-approval indicates how serious they are about a property.

Since it may require a little extra work, it shows sellers that a buyer is less likely to back out, especially due to financing issues.

A mortgage commitment letter could convince a seller to take a buyer more seriously in a seller’s market. And it could calm the nerves of buyers who face home-buying angst, including the challenge of covering a down payment and closing costs (even if they plan to roll closing costs into the loan).

How to Get a Mortgage Commitment Letter

Getting a mortgage commitment letter might sound like a hassle during an already stressful home-buying process, but doing so could save buyers time and provide a sense of relief as they creep closer to closing.

First off, buyers will need to be pre-approved. If they have chosen a home, once under contract, their lender or underwriter will want more information, which may include:

•   A gift letter if another party is helping with the down payment

•   Employment verification

•   Explanation of any late payments

•   Proof of debts paid and settled

From there, it could be a back-and-forth between the lender and buyer, with the lender asking for clarification or additional documentation. Common issues that arise include:

•   Tax returns with errors or inconsistencies

•   Unexplained deposits into buyer bank accounts

•   Multiple late payments or collections on a credit report

•   Unclear pay stubs

At this point, the lender may grant a conditional commitment letter, with the caveat of additional information and an appraisal. If the buyer has an appraisal and meets lender expectations with documentation, they’re likely to get a final commitment.

Contents of a Commitment Letter

A commitment letter will vary from lender to lender but generally include the following details:

•   Loan amount

•   Loan number

•   What the loan is for

•   Mortgage loan term

•   Type of loan (FHA, conventional, etc.)

•   Lender information

•   Expiration date of the commitment letter

What happens after the commitment letter? The lender and underwriter will continue to iron out the mortgage details, aiming for clear-to-close status before the closing date on the property.

The Takeaway

A mortgage commitment letter is like a short engagement before the wedding: It signals an agreement before the real deal. Buyers in an active seller’s market might find a mortgage commitment letter advantageous.

Shopping for a mortgage? SoFi can help.

With mortgage tools and resources, SoFi is an online mortgage lender designed to guide buyers through the process, and qualifying first-time homebuyers can put just 3% down.

Getting pre-qualified is a snap.

FAQ

How long does it take to get a mortgage commitment letter?

It typically takes 20 to 45 days to get a mortgage commitment letter. The average closing process takes 50 days.

Does a mortgage commitment letter expire?

Yes.

How long is a mortgage commitment letter valid?

Timing can vary by lender, but the length of commitment is typically 30 days.


Photo credit: iStock/MartinPrescott

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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Guide to Buying a Townhouse

Guide to Buying a Townhouse

If you’re shopping for a new home and traditional single-family houses are out of your price range or the mere idea of lawn mowing and tree trimming makes you sweat, a townhouse could be the answer.

Many but not all buyers will find that townhouses rise to the occasion.

What Is a Townhouse?

Among the different home types, from condos to modular homes, are townhouses.

But what is a townhouse specifically? It’s a multifloor home with its own entrance that shares at least one wall (not floors or ceilings) with an adjacent townhouse. Townhomes may be part of a community of units with a uniform appearance, but that isn’t always the case.

Why Buy a Townhouse?

There are pros and cons of buying a townhouse, with benefits including the following:

•   Ownership

•   Affordability

•   Low maintenance

Here’s more about each benefit.

Ownership

It’s a bit tricky because some townhouses are sold as condos. If you buy a townhome as a condo, you will own just the inside of your unit. If you buy it as a townhouse, you’ll own the interior and exterior of the structure and the land under and sometimes around your property.

This means fewer restrictions on how you’d use your yard compared with a condo owner. Townhouse owners could, as just one example, have the right to grill in their private outdoor space.

Ownership of the structure and land also means that financing a townhouse is much less complicated than financing a condo. It’s basically the same as getting a mortgage for a detached single-family house.

Affordability

Townhouses are typically less expensive than detached single-family homes, which can be especially important in expensive cities and for first-time homebuyers. Townhouses can serve as space-efficient choices, too, in places where land is scarce.

Note that townhouses may be more expensive than a condo in the same community.

Low Maintenance

Yards are likely smaller and, if the townhouse is part of a homeowners association (HOA), you may benefit from its security protocols and maintenance of shared areas. In some cases, you can enjoy amenities like pools because of HOA membership.

Some home downsizers may appreciate the lack of interior and exterior sprawl to maintain.

Recommended: First-Time Home Buying Guide

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


Disadvantages of Buying a Townhouse

Buying a townhome can also come with disadvantages, including:

•   HOA fees and restrictions

•   Lack of privacy

•   Stairs

Here’s more about each potential disadvantage.

HOA

If the townhouse is part of an HOA, there will be fees to cover shared services and spaces. Plus, HOA rules may limit how you can decorate your townhouse. Who is responsible for roof repair costs can cause confusion.

So be sure to find out the specifics of a townhome you’re interested in buying.

Lack of Privacy

Shared walls automatically mean less privacy than with a detached home, which can be especially problematic for families with young children. This can also be a consideration for young couples who may want to start a family or for other people for whom privacy is a plus.

Stairs

Because townhouses are multistory dwellings, residents will need to climb stairs, which can be challenging for those with temporary or permanent mobility issues. Plus, if someone is used to a larger yard, having a small lot with neighbors nearby can feel constraining.

How to Buy a Townhouse

When buying a townhome, there are several steps to take.

Find a Real Estate Agent

Very few buyers go it alone, so finding a real estate agent who is experienced in your geographical location can help you to make savvy choices. This agent can guide you through the process of finding the right townhouse and help negotiate the best deal for you.

Know the Market

An experienced real estate agent can look into comps, or recently sold townhomes in the area that are similar in size, condition, and features, and you can also use a real estate website to find asking prices of similar townhouses and other real estate in the area.

If more than one buyer is interested in the same townhouse, you’ll need to be clear in your mind about how much you’re willing to pay for the property and strategically make an offer without busting your budget.

Investigate the HOA Fees

If the townhouse is part of an HOA, you’ll want to know what the monthly fees will be and what they’ll cover.

You might ask when the HOA last raised the fee, by how much, and when any new increase might happen. Looking at the HOA’s budget and reserve study could also be a good idea. If the reserves are low, the community is at risk of needing a special assessment.

Shop for a Mortgage and Get Pre-approved

If you’re shopping for a mortgage, you’ll benefit from looking at more than advertised interest rates. You can apply with more than one lender and then compare loan estimates.

You may want to compare the APRs on Page 3: The annual percentage rate reflects the interest rate, lender fees, discount points, and the loan term. If comparing, realize that escrow fees and mortgage insurance can skew the APR.

The loan estimate will also give a monthly payment. To get a sense of what a payment might be with different down payments, you can also use an online mortgage calculator.

By getting mortgage pre-approval, you’ll know exactly how much of a townhouse you can afford to buy, which can give you the ability to bid on a property with confidence and compete with other buyers for a property of choice.

Order a Home Inspection

It’s a good idea to get the townhouse inspected inside and out. Also pay attention to how well neighbors are maintaining their properties.

The Takeaway

Buying a townhouse could be a good choice for first-time homebuyers, lawn-mower phobics, downsizers, and people priced out of the larger market. If you decide that buying a townhome is the right choice for you, you’ll probably need to apply for a mortgage.

SoFi is here to answer all of your mortgage questions. And SoFi offers competitive mortgage rates and flexible terms.

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

It takes just minutes to view your rate.

FAQ

Is it worth buying a townhouse?

Townhouses, in general, don’t appreciate in value as quickly as detached single-family homes. But the purchase price is often lower.

Is a townhome a good first home?

A townhouse can be a good first home because of the low maintenance, and amenities may be included. Plus, the price is right for many first-time homebuyers.

Why shouldn’t you buy a townhouse?

Disadvantages can include a lack of privacy and usually a small yard. If an HOA is in place, ongoing fees and rules are involved. Plus, the stairs that come with townhomes may be challenging for some people to navigate.

How do I choose a good townhouse?

When buying a townhome, make sure that it has the features you want and need in a neighborhood where you’d like to live at a price within your budget. If it’s part of an HOA, ensure that the fees are palatable and cover what you expect them to.


Photo credit: iStock/cmart7327

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 a Wrap-Around Mortgage and How Does It Work?

What Is a Wrap-Around Mortgage and How Does It Work?

A wrap-around mortgage is a form of seller financing that benefits the seller financially and helps buyers who can’t qualify for a traditional mortgage.

There are risks associated with this kind of creative financing, and alternatives to consider.

What Is a Wrap-Around Mortgage?

Traditionally, a buyer weighs the different mortgage types and obtains a mortgage loan to pay the seller for the home. The seller’s existing mortgage gets paid off, with any extra money going to the seller.

With a wrap-around mortgage, a form of owner financing, the original mortgage is kept intact, and the funds a buyer needs to purchase the home are “wrapped around” the current balance.

How Does a Wrap-Around Mortgage Work?

First, the seller must have an assumable mortgage and lender permission to wrap the mortgage. The seller and buyer agree on a price and down payment.

The buyer signs a promissory note, vowing to make agreed-upon payments to the seller. The seller might transfer the home title to the buyer at that time or when the loan is repaid.

The seller continues to make regular mortgage payments to their lender, keeping any monetary overage.

To make this feasible and worthwhile to the seller, the buyer typically pays a higher interest rate than what’s being charged on the original loan (on which the seller is still making payments).

Let’s say you want to sell your home for $200,000, and you still owe $75,000 on your mortgage at 5%. You find a buyer who is willing to pay your price but who can’t get a conventional mortgage approved.

Your buyer can give you $20,000 for a down payment. The two of you will then sign a promissory note for $180,000, at, say, 7%. You’ll make a profit on the spread between the two interest rates and the difference between the sale price and original mortgage balance.

If you’re crunching numbers, a mortgage payment calculator can help.

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


What Are the Advantages of a Wrap-Around Mortgage?

Here are ways that a wrap-around mortgage can benefit the buyer as well as the seller.

Benefits for the buyer:

•   A carry-back loan allows you to buy a house that you might not otherwise qualify for, perhaps because of low credit scores.

•   As long as a seller is willing to sell to you under this arrangement, your financing is essentially approved without your needing to do anything else.

•   You’ll pay no closing costs on the loan.

•   If you are self-employed, you likely won’t need to provide statements from past income. The seller may only be interested in your ability to pay now.

Benefits for the seller:

•   You don’t need to wait for a buyer to be approved for financing.

•   You can charge a higher interest rate than what you’re paying, allowing you the opportunity to create steady cash flow and make a profit.

•   In a buyer’s market, where the supply of homes for sale is greater than demand, your willingness to offer a wrap-around mortgage can make you stand out.

Are There Risks With Wrap-Around Mortgages?

Yes. Wrap-around mortgages come with risks for both buyers and sellers.

Risks for the buyer:

•   You’ll likely want to pay an attorney to review the agreement. If you don’t, then you’re assuming more of the risks as described in the next two bullet points.

•   You are putting your trust in the seller. If they don’t keep up the mortgage payments on the original loan, the home could go into foreclosure. (You could ask to make payments directly to the lender, which the seller may or may not agree to.)

•   If the seller has not told their lender about the arrangement, this could lead to problems. If the original mortgage has a due-on-sale clause, the financial institution could demand payment in full from the seller.

Risks for the seller:

•   The buyer may not make payments on time — or could stop making them altogether. If this happens, you still owe mortgage payments to your lender.

•   Any lag in making your payments can have a significant negative impact on your credit scores, making it more challenging to get good interest rates on loans.

•   Suing the buyer for past-due funds can get expensive, and if the buyer doesn’t have the money to pay you, this may not provide you with any real mortgage relief.

If you’re shopping for a mortgage, it can make sense to explore alternatives.

Alternatives to Wrap-Around Mortgages

Alternatives can include the following:

•   FHA loans

•   VA loans

•   USDA loans

Here’s an overview of each.

FHA Loans

With loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration, FHA-approved lenders can offer low down payments while easing up on credit scores required to qualify.

VA Loans

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers low-interest-rate VA loans directly to qualifying borrowers (based on service history and duty status) and backs loans made by participating lenders.

USDA Loans

The U.S. Department of Agriculture guarantees USDA loans for qualifying rural Americans who have low to moderate levels of income. The USDA also offers funding to improve homes to safe and sanitary standards.

Fund Your Property Purchase With a SoFi Home Loan

A wrap-around mortgage could sound enticing, but buyer beware. Taking time to repair damaged credit or looking into other types of loans might make more sense.

Questions about getting a mortgage? Find answers in the SoFi mortgage help center.

When you’re ready to apply for a mortgage, check out what SoFi offers. Fixed-rate mortgages with a variety of terms? Check. A down payment of just 3% for qualifying first-time homebuyers? Check. A simple online application? Check.

You can find your rate in just minutes.

FAQ

Is a wrap-around mortgage a good idea?

This type of mortgage has benefits and risks for both the buyer and the seller.

What is an example of a wrap-around mortgage?

Let’s say a buyer can’t get traditional financing but agrees to purchase a $250,000 house from the seller, with some down payment. The seller still owes $50,000. The buyer agrees to make payments to the seller on the purchase price, and the seller uses a portion of that money to make the usual mortgage payments. The seller profits from charging a higher interest rate than that of the original mortgage.

Who is responsible for a wrap-around loan?

The buyer will be responsible for making payments to the seller according to the agreement signed by the two parties. The seller will be responsible for continuing to make payments on the original mortgage until it is paid off. So both parties have responsibilities to fulfill.

Can wrap-around loans help a buyer purchase a home?

Yes. The key benefit for buyers is that seller financing helps them purchase a home that they otherwise may not have been able to do.


Photo credit: iStock/Tatiana Buzmakova

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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What Is an Apartment? Should You Consider Owning One?

What Is an Apartment? Should You Consider Owning One?

If you’re thinking about buying an apartment, you’ll probably look at co-ops and condos rather than single-family homes.

Read on to understand the difference between condos and co-ops, the forms an apartment might take, and who might be best suited to buy one.

What Is an Apartment?

An apartment is a property within a larger building, and especially in big cities, it’s not uncommon to hear that someone is buying an apartment.

When a buyer is considering different types of homes, the price of an apartment often beats that of a single-family home with land.

Both co-ops and condos allow residents to use the common areas, including pools, gyms, and courtyards. If you buy a condo, you’ll own everything within your unit and have an interest in the common elements. If you “buy a co-op apartment,” that really means you’ll hold shares in the residents’ housing cooperative, a nonprofit corporation that owns the property, and will have the right to live in one of the co-op units. Shares are based on the market value of each unit.

Getting a mortgage for a co-op might be harder than for a condo. You aren’t actually buying real estate with the former.

And monthly fees tend to be higher at a co-op than for a condo.

Then again, the co-op fee may cover more, co-op units tend to cost less per square foot, and the closing costs of a co-op deal are often lower.

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


What Are the Types of Apartments?

Diving further into the definition, the apartment shape-shifts. While they may all technically be apartments, each comes with its own quirks and defining characteristics.

Layouts or terminology may vary by building or region.

Studio

The ultimate open-concept space, a studio is a one-room apartment with a bathroom. The bedroom, living room, dining room, and kitchen are all in a single room.

Alcove Studio

An alcove studio, if L shaped, has a built-in nook to signify where a bed and small dresser could go. Older units might put the alcove in the middle of the room. If an average studio is 550 square feet, the alcove might add 40 — not much, but a big dose of privacy.

Alcove studio apartments are often more expensive than studios but cheaper than true one-bedroom units.

Convertible Apartment

A step up, size-wise, from a traditional studio, a convertible apartment may have a bedroom or a flex space that could be used as an office. The space might have a sliding glass door or partial wall that has an opening instead of a door.

By some definitions, a convertible apartment is bigger than a typical studio but doesn’t quite have the square footage of a one-bedroom unit. A bedroom, according to New York City regulations, must be at least 80 square feet and have space for at least one window of 12 square feet or larger.

Micro-Apartment

The micro-apartment might be the perfect fit for a minimalist. Usually micro-apartments are even smaller than studios, at about 350 square feet, and are popular in densely populated, high-cost cities. Micro-apartments offer enough space for a bed, sitting area, kitchenette, and tiny bathroom.

A micro-apartment might have a Murphy bed or a futon that folds into a bed at night.

Loft

Lofts are typically retrofitted from a factory or other commercial building. In one open space (except the bathroom), lofts have high ceilings, large windows, and perhaps an overall industrial feel.

Garden Apartment

A garden apartment can refer to two distinct types of units, so buyers should pay attention. A garden apartment can be a unit in the basement or on the ground floor of a small apartment building.

A garden apartment can also mean apartment buildings surrounded by greenery in either an urban or suburban area. These buildings are typically no higher than three stories and have access to green space, such as a park or trail.

High-Rise

A high-rise apartment building has 12 floors or more. When apartment buildings enter high-rise territory, residents can expect one or more elevators.

Mid-Rise

A mid-rise apartment building is between five and 11 stories tall. Expect an elevator in the building.

Low-Rise

A low-rise apartment building is anything shorter than five stories. With a low-rise apartment, there’s no guarantee of an elevator.

Railroad Apartment

A railroad apartment is laid out like a train car, meaning one room leads to the next without a hallway. Railroad apartments are typically found in older buildings or converted properties.

Walk-Up

In a walk-up, residents should expect to, well, walk up to their apartment. The designation implies that the building doesn’t have an elevator.

Walk-up apartments are often more affordable than elevator-accessible units, as stairs may be inconvenient or unmanageable.

Should You Live In an Apartment? Who Are Apartments Best Suited for?

Apartment living isn’t for everyone. Those best suited to an apartment might want some or all of the following:

•   City living. Apartments are often in densely populated areas, meaning residents want to be near the hustle and bustle.

•   Limited space. Apartments typically have less space than traditional family homes, so they are often best suited for small families or singles.

•   Low maintenance. Exterior repairs and maintenance, and even some utilities, are up to the building at large, not the resident.

•   Relatively good price. Apartments are typically more affordable than nearby single-family homes, meaning they could be a good fit for the price-sensitive buyer.

•   Minimal lifestyle. Those who don’t need a lot of space may prefer a condo or co-op unit to a sprawling home.

Pros and Cons of Living in an Apartment

As with any type of home, living in an apartment comes with its benefits and drawbacks.

Pros

Cons

Outdoor space Residents aren’t responsible for maintaining exterior or green space. Limited or no private green outdoor space.
Maintenance Residents are typically responsible for their unit alone. The monthly fee can be high and on the rise.
Group living Neighborly vibe and shared amenities that could include a gym, pool, rooftop patio, and business center or community room. Close proximity to neighbors, often with one or more shared walls, floors, or ceilings.
Square footage Apartments are often smaller, which means less upkeep, from cleaning to repairs. Smaller spaces can mean less storage and room to spread out.
Affordability Apartments tend to be more affordable than single-family homes in the same area. Condos and co-op units don’t appreciate as quickly as single-family homes.

The Takeaway

If you’re interested in buying an apartment, you’re probably talking about a condo or co-op unit. Apartments come in all shapes and sizes and can be a little trickier to finance than traditional homes.

SoFi can help. Are you a first-time homebuyer? Check out the guide to first-time home buying.

Also head to the help center for home loans and learn more.

3 Home Loan Tips

  1. Traditionally, mortgage lenders like to see a 20% down payment. But some lenders, such as SoFi, allow fixed rate mortgages with as little as 3% down for qualifying first-time homebuyers.
  2. Generally, the lower your debt-to-income ratio, the better loan terms you’ll be offered. One way to improve your ratio is to increase your income (hello, side hustle!). Another way is to consolidate your debt and lower your monthly debt payments.
  3. Not to be confused with pre-qualification, pre-approval involves a longer application, documentation, and hard credit pulls. Ideally, you want to keep your applications for pre-approval to within the same 14- to 45-day period, since many hard credit pulls outside the given time period can adversely affect your credit score, which in turn affects the mortgage terms you’ll be offered.

FAQ

What are the costs of owning an apartment?

Apartments come with a monthly fee. Condo fees are usually lower than a co-op’s, because the latter fee can include payment for the building’s mortgage and property taxes, utilities, maintenance, and security.

Is it a good idea to buy an apartment?

For a buyer focused on less maintenance and typically limited square footage, an apartment may be the right fit.

What should I look for when renting an apartment?

One of the first things to ask when renting an apartment is what is included. Does rent include any utilities, laundry in the unit, or parking?

It’s a good idea to also ask about credit requirements, application fee, security deposit, and terms of the lease.

What credit score do you need to rent an apartment by yourself?

All landlords are different, but many look for a FICO® score above 600. Not all property managers look at credit scores, though.


Photo credit: iStock/hrabar

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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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