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How Long Is a Mortgage Preapproval Letter Good For?

A mortgage preapproval letter is usually good for 30 to 90 days, and some lenders will lock the rate for that time.

Having a letter of preapproval from a financial institution can help ensure that you’re ready to snap up a home you love.

What Is Mortgage Preapproval?

Mortgage preapproval has become an essential part of the home-buying process. Real estate agents often want to see a preapproval letter before showing houses.

And a letter shows sellers that you are serious about buying their home — even if you’re a first-time homebuyer — and that a mortgage lender is likely to give you a home loan of a specific amount quickly.

The lender will review your credit history, credit score, income, debts, and assets to determine the amount you tentatively qualify for.

Preapproval will help you focus on homes that are in your price range. Knowing how much of a mortgage you can afford is important when you can’t afford to waste time reviewing homes outside your range.

Mortgage Preapproval Process

The mortgage process starts informally for many would-be homebuyers.

Some buy into the 28% rule — spend no more than 28% of gross monthly income on a mortgage payment — and play with calculators like this home affordability calculator or the one later in this article.

Seeking mortgage preapproval means you’re getting serious. First, you’ll need to understand the different types of mortgage loans — fixed rate, adjustable rate, conventional, government insured (FHA, VA, USDA), jumbo — and what you can qualify for.

Then you’ll need to apply for a loan from one to several lenders and provide a good deal of documentation. Each lender will perform a hard credit inquiry, and you’ll receive a loan estimate within three business days.

If you’re shopping for a home loan, allowing multiple mortgage companies to check your credit within 14 or 45 days, depending on the credit scoring model being used, will minimize the hit to your credit scores.

How Long Does It Take to Get Preapproved?

It usually takes seven to 10 business days to receive a preapproval letter after submitting all the requested information.

Mortgage Preapproval Letter

Other than stating the specific amount you’re preapproved for, a mortgage preapproval letter may outline stipulations to gain the loan, such as maintaining your employment or not taking on any additional debt.

How Long Does Mortgage Preapproval Last?

Some lenders will make a commitment of 60 or 90 days. That time frame tends to work, since homebuyers typically shop for a home for eight weeks, according to the National Association of Realtors®.

Other lenders will issue preapproval for only 30 or 45 days.

Recommended: How Mortgage APR Works

Mortgage Prequalification vs. Mortgage Preapproval

Since they sound similar, it’s worth mapping out the difference between prequalification and preapproval.
Prequalification is a key first step, when borrowers tell lenders about their income, assets, and debts. Lenders use that unverified information, and usually a soft credit inquiry, to give a ballpark estimate of how much they might be willing to lend.

The response is quick: You can often get prequalified immediately or within a day or two. Just realize that prequalification does not mean that a lender is guaranteeing a loan.

The mortgage preapproval process is a deeper dive and requires documentation.

To gauge whether you qualify for a mortgage, lenders will scrutinize:

•   Income: Employees will need to provide pay stubs, W-2s, and tax returns from the past two years, as well as documentation of any additional income, such as work bonuses. Self-employed workers often need two years’ worth of records and a year-to-date profit and loss statement, although many lenders and loan programs are flexible.

•   Assets and liabilities: You’ll need to provide proof of savings, investment accounts, and any properties. Lenders view assets as proof that you can afford your down payment and closing costs and still have cash reserves.

Lenders also look at monthly debt obligations to calculate your debt-to-income ratio.

•   Credit score: Your credit score is a three-digit representation of your credit history.

Recommended: What Is Considered a Bad Credit Score?

Once your lender has reviewed the information, it may offer a preapproval letter. Importantly, receiving preapproval from a lender does not obligate you to use them.

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

Estimate Your Mortgage Payment

Before you seek prequalification or preapproval, you might want to get an idea of how much your monthly mortgage payment could be. Use the mortgage calculator below to quickly see the difference in mortgage payments based on down payment, interest rate, and a 15- or 30-year term.

What Should I Do If My Mortgage Preapproval Expires?

Lenders put an expiration date on preapproval letters because they need to have your most up-to-date financial information on hand. The credit, income, debt, and asset items they reviewed for your preapproval typically need to be updated after the letter expires, and your credit may be checked again.

You can minimize the effect of “hard pulls” on your credit score by avoiding seeking a renewal when you’re not actively shopping for a home.

If your finances have mostly stayed the same, your lender is likely to renew your preapproval.

Finalizing Your Mortgage

If you find a house while your mortgage preapproval is still valid, you can choose a lender and move on to finalizing your mortgage application. At this point, in many cases, the lender will check again to see if there have been any changes in your financial situation.

The mortgage underwriter will review all the information, order an appraisal of the chosen property and a title report, and consider your down payment. Then comes the verdict: approved, suspended (more documentation is needed), or denied.

Your mortgage is officially approved when you receive a final commitment letter. A closing date can be scheduled. It generally takes 48 days to close on a house, but it could happen in as little as 20 days.

Buyers may want to minimize changes, like applying for other loans or credit, when a home loan is in underwriting.

The Takeaway

How long is mortgage preapproval good for? Often 30 to 90 days. Getting prequalified is a good precursor to getting preapproved for a mortgage.

If you’re ready to start house hunting, check out the fixed-rate mortgages SoFi offers and the current deals.

Get prequalified for a SoFi Mortgage 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.

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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Budgeting for Buying a House

Buying a house is a major step, and planning to purchase a home can be a lot of fun. You get to figure out where you’d hang your favorite artwork, plant a vegetable garden, put the PlayStation — and maybe contemplate taking on some DIY projects yourself.

But there’s another, more nuts-and-bolts aspect to your pursuit of the American Dream: how to budget for a house. Most people in the U.S. are homeowners, with the latest Census data revealing that 65.8% had attained this status in the second quarter of 2022. So that’s a good indicator that buying your own home is within reach.

Doing so will likely require you to be smart about your finances, both as you save and then take on the responsibility of owning a home. To help you be successful in this pursuit, read on for the intel you need, such as:

•   How do I know how much house I can afford?

•   What are the costs/fees to consider?

•   What will my ongoing costs be?

•   How can I budget for a house?

Up-front Expenses

First, consider how much you would have to fork over if you find that perfect center-hall Colonial or loft-style condo. Once an offer on a new home is accepted, there are certain costs the buyer needs to pay right off the bat and, in most cases, out of their own pocket. These are called up-front expenses. Here are a few to prepare for as you consider how to budget for a house:

Down Payment

You may have heard of the traditional 20% down payment guideline, which helps you avoid paying private mortgage insurance (PMI) on applicable loan programs. Additionally, a higher down payment can sometimes result in better loan terms (such as a lower interest rate) which may translate into lower monthly mortgage payments.

Yep, it’s a lot of money to try to save, but if you can swing it, in the long run, applying a 20% down payment will likely save you from paying thousands of dollars in additional mortgage interest over the life of the loan.
Can’t pull together that big a chunk of change? Look into your options for a mortgage lender with lower or no down payment. Some options:

•   The minimum down payment for a first-time homebuyer on a conventional loan can be as low as 3%. You may also need a certain credit score of, say, 620, to qualify for this kind of mortgage.

•   An FHA government loan that is open to everyone typically requires a down payment of at least 3.5%.

•   Veteran VA loans or government USDA loans may allow eligible borrowers to finance up to 100% of their home’s cost. In other words, no down payment is required.

It’s worth noting that, regardless of the size of your down payment, buying may still significantly reduce your overall monthly expenses, compared to your current rent and real-estate market conditions. Given the current high rates of inflation and housing market shortages, buying can be a good option, depending on your specific circumstances.

2% to 5% Closing Costs

You can likely expect to pay an estimated 2% to 5% of your home price for closing costs, and save accordingly. For example, if you buy a home that costs $300,000, you may be required to pay between $6,000 and $15,000 in closing costs.

Worth noting: Some costs are fixed and not tied to the price. In these cases, the percentage can be higher for the lower range and lower for the higher purchase price range.

What exactly comprises closing costs? This can be bank charges like origination fees and any points you may have purchased to buy down your interest rate. There are also costs like the appraisal fee, a title search, and others.

Keep in mind that there are alternatives to paying the closing costs out-of-pocket, such as requesting a seller credit, requesting a lender credit, or tapping an applicable down payment/closing costs assistance loan program. These can help you minimize this expense.

Moving Costs

Don’t forget when budgeting for buying a house that you will need funds to actually move in. Unless you’re lucky enough to have a generous pal with a van, you are probably going to have to hire a moving company when it’s time to get settled in your new home. According to the American Moving and Storage Association, the average intrastate, or local, move is $2,300, and the average move between states is $4,890.

These costs can vary widely, of course. If you are moving with just a bedroom’s worth of furniture versus a whole house, your price tag will be lower. It’s wise to comparison-shop for moving companies and factor this expense into your own budgeting for a home move.

If you are moving for work reasons, check with your company to see if they offer a relocation package to help cover some or all of the moving costs.

New Furniture and Appliances

Your new house may not have the same dimensions and style of your old house. That could mean that you need to buy new furniture and appliances. When budgeting for buying a house, you might want to talk to friends or relatives who have moved recently and inquire about unexpected expenses as well. For example, it’s not uncommon when you move to have to purchase such items as new locks, shower rods, and window treatments. These can add up quickly.

You might want to start a savings account for these types of purchases — some of them may be unexpected and costlier than you imagined.

Recommended: First-Time Homebuyer Guide

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

Ongoing Expenses

Now that you’ve figured out the details related to the actual purchase, consider the expenses that will accrue once you are a homeowner. This is a very important step when budgeting for buying a house. These recurring charges are a vital part of the calculations of how much home you can afford.

Monthly Charges

First, consider how much you’ll be spending every month on your monthly mortgage payment and related costs. PITIA (principal, interest, property taxes, homeowners insurance, and other assessments) is an acronym describing all the components of a mortgage payment. Here’s how it breaks down:

•   P: The principal is the “meat” of the monthly payment amount — paying down the principal will reduce the loan balance.

•   I: Interest is what you are charged for borrowing the money.

•   T: Taxes refer to your property taxes.

•   I: This “I” refers to insurance. This includes both your homeowners and mortgage insurance, if applicable.

•   A: The other assessments refer to things that may be applicable to the home you purchase such as Homeowner Association Dues, Flood or Earthquake Insurance, and more.

HOA Dues

HOA stands for homeowners association. These dues usually apply to a condo, co-op, or property owned in a planned community.

The charge is usually monthly (but it could also be charged quarterly or annually), and it typically goes to maintaining the community (landscaping, garbage collection, repairs, and upgrades).

Before purchasing a property with HOA dues, it can be important to ask the Homeowners Association for a complete HOA questionnaire. With this in hand, you can view how healthy the association is, whether there is any outstanding litigation due to structural or other issues, etc. These could mean increased costs down the road.

Maintenance and Lawn Care

Your budgeting probably won’t stop once you’ve moved and settled into your new home. Expenses will likely continue to knock on your door — landscaping, roof repair, and water heater replacement are just a few items that might require ongoing financial consideration.

You may want to budget for 1% to 4% of the cost of your home in maintenance each year to pay for these expenses. However, deferred maintenance costs may require more funding, depending on the age, quality of construction, where you live, and more.

Pest Control, Security, Utilities

The cost of electricity, gas, water, and phones differ from market to market. This is also true with pest control, and services that help ensure your home is secure and safe. You could find yourself paying more (or even less) for these services in your new home.

How Much House Can You Afford Quiz

Planning Ahead

So now that you understand the costs associated with homeownership, whether they are one-time or ongoing, you can get to work on how to budget for a house.

Ideally, you want to cover the homebuying costs and then be able to afford your monthly carrying costs without racking up debt. The standard advice is that your monthly housing expenses should account for up to 28% of your monthly pre-tax income. Given the inflationary times we live in and how expensive some housing markets can be, it’s not uncommon to find people spending more than that right now.

Here, some advice on figuring out what you can afford.

Target Mortgage Costs

Do your research on the different types of mortgage loan programs. Determine what your price range is given the current interest rates, which have climbed considerably over the past year. Find the programs that may best suit you, so you’ll feel confident you can bid and afford a home once you have your down payment saved. Don’t forget to factor in those other PITIA expenses mentioned above as you think about your own monthly income and cash outflow when you’re a homeowner.

Build a Budget

Once you have these costs calculated, you can then start budgeting for buying a house. You’ll want to accumulate your down payment, while taking care of current bills and other financial obligations, of course.

•   Create a line item budget. You’ll want to note how much money you have coming in and how much goes out toward your needs (housing, food, medical expenses, debt repayment). Then you’ll see what’s left for your wants (think travel, dining out, clothes, entertainment) and start saving it, whether for your future home or retirement.

   Don’t skimp, though, on establishing an emergency fund. In a pinch, these funds can keep you from using your credit card and running up even more debt.

•   Assess where you can save more. To ramp up your savings for your house, look for ways to economize. Could you drop a subscription or two to streaming channels, or perhaps eat out less often?

   Also see what you can do to avoid high-interest credit card debt, which can take a bite out of anyone’s budget. You might want to take advantage of a zero-interest balance transfer credit card offer, or investigate whether a lower-interest personal loan could help you pay off your debt and save money.

•   Use automatic transfers. Help yourself hit your savings goals by automating payday transfers from checking to savings. That way, you won’t see the cash in your account and be tempted to spend more.

•   Bring in more moolah. If the numbers aren’t adding up to bring your homebuying plans within reach fast enough, consider using windfalls (a tax refund, a bonus at work, a birthday gift of cash from a relative) to plump up your savings. Also consider ways to bring in more income, like pursuing a part-time gig in your free time. Additional money is a key benefit of a side hustle.

Ready to Buy?

Once you have your savings set, you can begin to look for different mortgage loan options. SoFi, for example, offers competitive rates, and qualifying first-time homebuyers can put as little as 3% down. It takes just minutes to start your application online.

Ready to purchase your dream home? Find your rate with SoFi.

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.

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.

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.

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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couple looking out window at city

Beginner’s Guide to Homeowners Associations

Perhaps the idea of home ownership sounds appealing, but the thought of all the maintenance involved — inside and out — doesn’t sound so great. Dealing with snow removal or tending to your lawn might be the last thing you want to add to your already full plate.

If that resonates, buying a home that has a homeowners association, or HOA, might be the right move. Whether you’re shopping for a condo or a 3-bedroom house in a new development, an HOA could be a valuable thing. These organizations, funded by dues, take care of many of those maintenance responsibilities, run shared facilities (like a pool), and create guidelines (and enforce them) for the community of homeowners.

That said, interacting with an HOA and following their guidelines may not be for everyone. Read on to learn:

•   What is an HOA, or homeowners association

•   How do HOAs work

•   How much are HOA dues

•   What are the pros and cons of HOAs

•   How will HOA fees impact your costs as a homeowner

What Is an HOA (Homeowners Association)?

If you’re wondering what a homeowners association is, let’s start with a definition: An HOA is typically a non-profit volunteer group that manages aspects of homeownership in certain planned unit developments (PUDs), condos, and other housing communities. The HOA collects fees from each member of the community and uses them to handle maintenance duties and amenities. These may include:

•   Landscaping and maintenance of walkways and the like

•   Pest control

•   Maintenance and utilities of shared spaces, such as lounges and pool areas

•   Garbage pickup

•   Parking

•   Security

Another answer to “What is an HOA?” should mention that these associations typically make enforceable rules about the look and feel of the community. There may be guidelines about, say, the size of pets one may own, or the color schemes permissible for a townhome’s exterior.

Recommended: Condo vs. Townhouse: 9 Major Differences

How Does an HOA Work?

HOAs can be staffed in different ways. They can be run by people owning property within its boundaries, run by a board of directors, or through a similar arrangement, with board designees elected to oversee and enforce HOA rules.

Many HOAs are incorporated, which makes them subject to the laws of the state and may be required to file annual reports with the corporation commission, in order to remain in good standing.

People who purchase properties within an HOA jurisdiction become members of that organization, and they must abide by the rules contained within that organization’s bylaws and Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs).

HOA rules, fees and restrictions vary. Some bylaws and CC&Rs are strict, while others are looser, typically focusing on how residents must keep properties maintained according to stated specifications. In a planned unit subdivision of single-family homes, for example, rules may include what types of landscaping are permitted, or exterior colors of paint, what kinds of fencing is allowed, and more.

They can include usage rules for common property, such as a pool, and typically outline penalties for rule violations, ranging from forcing a homeowner to comply to fees and, sometimes, litigation.

How Common Are HOAs?

Here are some recent statistics that will help you get an idea of how common HOAs currently are in the U.S.:

•   Approximately 80 million Americans live in HOAs, cooperatives, or condominium units.

•   53% of all U.S. homeowners live in HOA communities.

•   40 million housing units in America are part of HOA communities.

As you see, HOAs are quite popular.

What Is an HOA Fee?

Now that you know a bit about what is a homeowners association, let’s look at those fees they charge. People who buy property in an HOA-governed condo or community usually must pay dues — also known as HOA fees — typically due monthly. These fees help to maintain common areas of buildings, such as lobbies and patios, and perhaps community clubhouses. These fees can cover maintenance on elevators or swimming pools, if applicable, or could be used for landscaping expenses, and so forth. Additional special assessments may be charged for major repairs, such as roof repairs.

Some studies suggest that average HOA fees range from $200 to $400 per month, although they can be as low as $50 and as high as $2,500 or more. It depends on the HOA complex, where it is, what amenities the project maintains, and sometimes on how the individual HOA is managed.

What’s most important when shopping for a new home is that you are clear about what fees would be assessed on your individual unit and whether that fits your budget.

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

When Considering an HOA Property

When considering whether or not to buy a property within a homeowners association, it makes sense to understand what you’d be committing to if you bought this property.

To get an understanding of how the organization operates, you can ask the board of directors if you could read minutes from meetings — if you have a real estate agent, they should also be able to help. This may give you a good overview of any challenges the organization is facing, and insights into how solutions are brainstormed and implemented.

Questions to investigate can include:

•   What are the HOA fees each month? What do they cover?

•   If the fees seem low, does it appear as though enough funds are collected to maintain general areas? What about meeting rooms, the gym, pool area, and so forth?

•   If the HOA fees are higher than expected, do they seem excessive for what you’d get in return?

•   Are homeowners also being charged special assessments to cover other costs? If so, what are they?

•   How many units are not paying their HOA fees? What are the consequences for that? Are these penalties being imposed?

•   If certain units don’t pay their HOA fees, can these unpaid costs be imposed upon other owners to make up the difference?

•   If desired, will you be allowed to sublet your unit, short term?

•   Are you allowed to have a pet? If so, what restrictions exist? Ask to read a copy of the CC&Rs which is recorded public information.

•   Does pending litigation exist against the HOA? If so, of what type? Does it involve, say, damage to one unit, or does it affect the entire organization?

If you have friends or family members who are part of this HOA, consider asking them what they like about living there, and what they don’t. If you have a friend or family member who owns housing under a different HOA, chat with them as well. Their insights can be valuable in regards to what questions to ask and issues to explore before buying.

You can also review the bylaws, which usually share voting rights of members, budget and assessment rules, meeting requirements, and so forth. Check to see what actions can be taken without a member vote — if they include raising assessments or creating rules, this could have an impact on your buying decision.

Recommended: Mortgage Servicing: Everything You Need to Know

Pros vs Cons of HOAs

There are several benefits of buying a property that’s part of an HOA. Consider these upsides:

•   Guidelines to help maintain the look of the community, settle issues, and create harmony among residents.

•   Enhanced quality of life and property values.

•   Maintenance services so homeowners don’t need to do the work themselves or hire freelance help.

That said, there are also possible drawbacks to being part of an HOA. These can include:

•   The cost of the HOAs fees can be prohibitively expensive, and the possibility of assessments can be financially challenging.

•   Potentially restrictive guidelines that inhibit your freedom over your property (that is, you may not be allowed to have a certain kind of pet or put in solar panels).

•   Those who run the HOA may be volunteers vs. skilled real estate professionals, which could lead to inefficiencies.

Can You Afford to Buy into an HOA?

When shopping for a new home or condo, one key consideration is how much you can afford for a house — with the true cost being more than just principal, interest, and homeowners insurance. If you are considering properties that have HOA charges, it’s vital to factor those in to make sure your budget is manageable.

There are also property taxes, insurance, closing costs (which can run from 3% to 5% of the home’s cost, paid by the buyer and/or seller according to the contract). And expenses other than closing costs such as moving expenses, furniture costs, and more that should be considered as you grapple with how much you can afford.

Plus, you might want to have an emergency fund established for unexpected expenses, whether unanticipated housing repairs, or medical expenses, or something else entirely.

To help you figure out that affordable house payment number, you could check out our mortgage calculator.

How much needs to be borrowed also depends upon how much of a down payment is required for the loan program of your choice. Traditionally, a down payment was considered to be 20% of the purchase price, but according to the National Association of Realtors, most first-time homebuyers put down 7% in 2021, and the figure was 17% for repeat homebuyers.

In general, it can be wise to put down as much as you can comfortably afford. The simple reason is that the more you put down, the less you’ll borrow — which in turn creates lower monthly payments (allowing you to “afford” more house) and provides greater equity in the home (subject to market fluctuations). Plus, with a lower mortgage amount, you’ll owe less interest over the loan’s life.

Note that different lenders require different amounts for a down payment. The down payment amount can vary depending upon the loan program and other factors.

Recommended: What Credit Score Is Needed to Buy a House?

What to Know About Mortgages and HOAs

There’s one more wrinkle to the topic of what is a homeowners association and should you buy into one: the impact it may have on securing your mortgage.

When you buy into an HOA, you may need additional documentation for your lender. If your bid is accepted, the lender will likely request a homeowners association certification, called HOA cert for short. This document provides your lender with a snapshot of how the HOA is being run, and may provide information such as:

•   How old the project is

•   Whether a condominium development was converted from an apartment building or specifically built as condo units

•   How many units exist in the project

•   How many units are occupied

•   How many occupied units are owner occupied and how many are rented to someone else

•   How much HOA fees are

•   The amount of insurance on the project

If this information is requested, it will likely be reviewed to confirm that this property meets the lender’s loan eligibility guidelines. Because guidelines can vary from lender to lender and loan program to loan program, it makes sense to check with your lender of choice as soon as possible to determine if this financial institution considers your condo to be eligible for financing.

The HOA cert may also be obtained by the escrow/title company and provided to your lender, along with the relevant CC&Rs. This provides insight into any property restrictions and other aspects that may affect a home’s lendability and marketability.

Recommended: Home Loan vs. Mortgage: What You Should Know

SoFi Mortgages

Buying a home or condo can be stressful. But at SoFi, we’re doing our part to make the online mortgage application process as easy and affordable as possible. You can make your dream purchase a reality with competitive rates and as little as 3% down for qualifying first-time homebuyers and loans of up to $3 million. Plus, you won’t have to pay any prepayment penalties.

Our Mortgage Loan Officers can guide you through the buying process, helping you have a smooth and simple home purchase.

See how smart SoFi Mortgages can be!

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.

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.


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What Are the Different Types of Homes?

Guide to Different Types of Homes

If someone asked you to describe your “dream home,” what picture would pop into your mind? A single-family home with a big backyard, or a high-rise condo with a view? Maybe you’ve always longed to live on a houseboat.

Only you can decide which of the many house types out there is best for you or your family. But this guide to the different types of homes available to buyers, and the pros and cons of each, could help narrow your search as you tally what you need to buy a house.

Common Types of Homes

1. Apartments

The definition of an apartment can get a bit complicated because it can change depending on where you live. When someone talks about how to buy an apartment in New York City, for example, they might be referring to a condo or co-op.

Generally, though, an apartment is one of several residential units in a building owned by one person or company, and the owner rents each unit to individual tenants.

There are some pluses to that arrangement, especially if you take advantage of amenities like a gym or swimming pool. And monthly costs for utilities and insurance may be low. But because it’s a rental, you can’t build any equity. Also, if you want to stay or go, or make some changes to the apartment, you’re typically tied to the terms of your lease.

Pros and Cons of Renting an Apartment



Don’t have to come up with a big down payment May have to come up with a large security deposit
Repairs usually aren’t the tenants’ responsibility Tenants don’t build equity (so there’s no return on investment)
Lower monthly bills (especially if rent includes utilities) Tenants can lose their deposit if they break their lease
Amenities Can’t make changes without permission

2. Condos

If you like some of the upsides of apartment living but you want a chance to build equity with each payment, you may enjoy owning a condo. Condo living isn’t for everyone — a house vs. condo quiz could help you decide between those types of homes — but a condo is a good choice for some.

You’ll share walls with other residents but will own your unit. That means you’ll be in charge of the repairs and upkeep on the interior, but you won’t have to worry about lawn maintenance, cleaning and fixing the pool, or exterior repairs. (You’ll likely pay a monthly or quarterly fee to cover those costs, though).

When you purchase a condo, you’ll have a chance to build equity over time, but if the HOA is poorly managed, your condo may not increase in value the way a home you care for yourself might.

Pros and Cons of Buying a Condo



Owners often can build equity Owners pay for interior maintenance
Mortgage may be less expensive than that of a single-family home Less privacy than a single-family home
Less maintenance than a single-family home Condo fees add to monthly payment
Shared amenities Single-family homes may increase in value faster

3. Co-Ops

When it comes to condos vs. co-ops, it’s important to understand the differences if you’re shopping for a home or plan to.

The main difference is the ownership arrangement: When you buy into a co-op, you aren’t purchasing your unit; you’re buying shares of the company that owns the property. The market value of your unit determines the number of shares you own. Your shares determine the weight of your vote in what happens in common areas, and you’ll also split maintenance costs and other fees with your fellow residents based on how many shares you own.

Because co-op residents don’t actually own the units they live in, it can be challenging to find financing. Instead of a mortgage, you may have to get a different type of loan, called a co-op loan or share loan. And because of co-op restrictions, it may be difficult to rent out your unit.

Still, buying into a co-op may be less expensive than a condo, and you may have more control over how the property is managed.

Pros and Cons of Buying into a Co-Op



Often less expensive than a similarly sized condo May be difficult to find financing
Shareholders have a voice in how the property is managed May require a larger down payment than a condo purchase
Partners may have a say in who can purchase shares Co-op restrictions can make it tougher to buy in, and to rent your unit

4. Single-Family Homes

When someone says “house,” this is the type of structure most people probably think of — with a backyard, a garage, maybe a patio or front porch. Even if the yard is small, the house sits by itself, and the neighbors are usually at a distance. That can mean more privacy and more control over your environment.

Of course, that autonomy can come with extra costs, including higher homeowner’s insurance, taxes, maintenance and repairs, and maybe HOA fees.

The down payment and monthly payments also can be challenging, but buyers usually can expect the value of their home to increase over time.

And if you need money down the road — for a child’s education or some other planned or unexpected expense — you may be able to tap into home equity. Or you might plan to pay off the mortgage in 20 or 30 years and live rent-free in retirement.

Pros and Cons of Buying a Single-Family Home



Privacy and control Single-family homes tend to cost more than condos
Build equity if housing prices increase Maintenance and repairs can get expensive
Change or update your house in any way you choose (following HOA rules, if they apply) Property taxes and HOA fees can add to homeownership costs
Rent out your house if you choose, or renovate and sell for a profit Putting in and maintaining a pool or gym may be up to the homeowner
Amenities as part of an HOA

5. Tiny Houses

Tiny homes, which usually have 400 square feet of living space or less, have a huge fan base. Some tiny houses are built to be easily moved, giving the owner physical freedom. Some are completely solar-powered and built to be eco-friendly. Many can be constructed from kits.

One downside is finding a place to legally park the tiny home. In most parts of the country, they are classified as recreational vehicles, not meant to be lived in full time, and usually only allowed in RV parks or campgrounds.

Another challenge is tiny house financing. A traditional mortgage is a nice thought, but just that, for a true tiny house. Options include a personal loan, builder financing, a chattel mortgage (a loan for a movable piece of personal property), and an RV loan if the tiny house meets the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association’s definition of an RV: “a vehicular-type unit primarily designed as temporary living quarters for recreational, camping, or seasonal use.”

A not-tiny consideration is making use of such a small space. Many people may not last long in a tiny home. Still, the tiny house movement just keeps growing.

Pros and Cons of Buying a Tiny House



Low costs all around Limited legal parking locations
Environmentally efficient Financing can be a challenge
Easy to relocate if on wheels It’s tiny!

6. Townhomes

A townhome or townhouse can look and feel a lot like a detached house, in that it has its own entrance and may have its own driveway, basement, patio or deck, and even a small backyard. But these row houses, which are often found in cities like New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., and usually have multiple stories, share at least one common wall with a neighboring home.

Those shared walls can make buying a townhouse more affordable than a comparable detached home. And owners who belong to an HOA with neighboring homes generally don’t have to worry about exterior upkeep, although owners of townhouses classified as fee simple are responsible for exterior maintenance of their structure and sometimes the surrounding yard.

The HOA also may offer some amenities. But that monthly or quarterly HOA fee will add to overall costs, and may rise over time.

And you may not have as much privacy as you’d like.

Pros and Cons of Buying a Townhome



May cost less than a similar single-family home HOA fees may be high
Little or no outdoor maintenance HOA restrictions
Shared amenities Multiple levels may be a problem for some
Several mortgage options Less privacy, more noise from neighbors

7. Modular Homes

It might be hard for the average person to answer “what is a modular home?” off the top of their head.

A modular home is made up of sections that are built in a factory, transported to a homesite, and assembled on a foundation there. This makes them different from traditional stick-built homes, which are constructed completely on-site. But both types of houses are held to the same local, state, and regional building codes.

Because the assembly-line part of the process is cost-effective, a modular home may be less expensive. Also, because weather isn’t a factor for part of the work, you can probably expect fewer delays.

Most modular homes are sold separately from the land. So if you already own a piece of property or like the idea of building outside a traditional neighborhood, a modular home might be a good choice.

Many people who choose a modular home use a construction loan for the build or a construction to permanent loan. A personal loan or use of home equity from an existing home are other options.

Pros and Cons of Buying a Modular Home



Can be less expensive than a similar stick-built home Land, site prep, and other costs are separate on new modular homes
May experience fewer construction delays Future buyers may prefer stick-built homes
Quality is as high or higher than a site-built home Financing can be tricky

8. Manufactured Homes

Manufactured homes, formerly known as mobile homes, are built completely off-site and then transported to the homesite and placed on a temporary or permanent foundation.

Manufactured homes are not held to the same local, state, and regional standards as stick-built or modular homes. Instead, they must conform to construction and installation standards set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and local land use and zoning regulations restrict where they can be placed.

Of course, there are plenty of communities that are designed just for manufactured homes, although the land in many of these “parks” is rented, not owned.

A growing number of lenders are providing conventional and government-insured mobile home financing. The loans backed by the FHA, VA, and USDA are offered by approved lenders. (VA and USDA loans may also be issued directly by those agencies.)

The most common method of financing is an installment contract through the retailer. Depending on your situation, a personal loan or chattel loan could provide a shorter-term path to financing a manufactured home, generally less expensive than other types of detached homes.

Pros and Cons of Buying a Manufactured Home



The entire home is built off-site, so no weather delays Financing may be more challenging
More affordable than other detached homes Lot fees may be high and rising
May be able to move the home from one site to another May have a reputation for shoddy construction based on older “mobile” homes

9. Cabins

Most people tend to think of a cabin as a cozy second home that’s made of logs or covered in cedar shakes. But there’s no reason a cabin can’t be your primary residence, especially if you don’t have to commute to work every day.

Just as with any other type of property, the price of a cabin can vary based on size, age, location, and amenities. If there’s an HOA, those fees can add to the cost.

The financing for buying a vacation home — aka a second home — and buying an investment property differ. Loans for second homes have the same rates as primary homes. A 20% down payment is typical.

Pros and Cons of Buying a Cabin



You’re buying your very own getaway A second home could mean two loan payments and two sets of bills
Or a rental property Might have to do repairs when you’re on vacation
Could become your primary home in the future, or a legacy for future generations Maintenance can get expensive

10. Multi-Family Homes

Investors know the difference between single-family vs. multi-family homes.

For owners, the big advantage of a multi-family home is that it offers flexibility. Homeowners can buy a home with multiple units and rent out the spaces for extra income. Or an adult child or parent might decide to move into that secondary space.

These properties can be a good investment.

Do accessory dwelling units constitute multi-family? It depends. Fannie Mae says a property may be classified as a two-unit property or single family with ADU based on the characteristics of the property.

Pros and Cons of Buying a Multi-family Home



Can share costs with others (renters or family members) May be more expensive than a single-family home
Keeps multigenerational family members close but gives them their own space Managing renters could be stressful
Can be a good investment Lack of privacy

11. Houseboat or Floating Home

Living in a home that’s actually on the water — not just near it — can be a dream come true … or a challenge.

Some “floating homes” are as big as a small house — and are built to be lived in the same way — only on a floating foundation. Houseboats or liveaboards are typically much smaller than floating homes and more mobile, and they may not have the amenities a larger home can offer.

There are also substantial differences in what it can cost to buy and maintain these water residences. A floating home may cost much more upfront than a houseboat, but the insurance, taxes, and day-to-day costs of keeping a houseboat operating can run higher. And there may be more loan options available, including traditional mortgages, for those buying a floating home.

Comparing House Types

Whether you’re thinking about buying a single-family home, condo, tiny home, houseboat, or townhome, it’s important to keep your priorities in mind. Here are a few things to consider:

Finding Your Fit

If privacy is a priority, you might consider a …

•   Single-family detached home

•   Tiny home (on a large lot)

•   Modular or manufactured home

•   Cabin

If space is a priority, you might consider a …

•   Single-family detached home with an open floor plan

•   Larger condo, townhome, or co-op

•   Larger floating home

If affordability is a priority, you might consider a …

•   Smaller single-family home

•   Condo, co-op, or townhome

•   Tiny house

•   Modular or manufactured home

•   Cabin

•   Houseboat

If a sense of community is a priority, you might consider a …

•   Single-family home with community amenities

•   Condo, co-op, or townhome

•   Floating home or houseboat

•   Multi-family home

If uniqueness is a priority, you might consider a …

•   Tiny home

•   Cabin

•   Floating home or houseboat

If schools are a priority, you might consider …

•   Any home in a neighborhood that’s conducive to families with young children

If public transportation is a priority, you might consider a …

•   Condo, co-op, townhome, multi-family home, or single-family home in a larger town or city

Compare Mortgage Rates

Besides choosing the type of home you want, you’ll also have to decide how to finance this important purchase if you’re not paying cash. A good way to start is to shop and compare rates.

SoFi’s mortgage rates are competitive, and you can apply for a mortgage online in just a few minutes.

And while you’re calculating mortgage rates, visit the SoFi home loan help center for mortgage and home buying information.

Look into SoFi home loans and find your rate in minutes.

Photo credit: iStock/CatLane

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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Home Appraisals 101: What You Need to Know

Your home is often your most valuable asset. It’s not only a place where you and your family can congregate and enjoy your time together; it’s also an investment.

But over the years, things change. Perhaps you want to either refinance your mortgage at a lower rate or sell your home to make a profit. Or maybe you’re not yet a homeowner and are trying to purchase a house.

Before applying for refinancing, listing your house on the market, or buying a house, you’ll need to get a home appraisal. This is an important assessment of a property’s value, which matters to all parties involved: you, your buyer (if you’re selling), and a lender.

Here, learn the ins and outs of home appraisals so you understand the process and can manage it successfully. You’ll find out:

•   What is a home appraisal?

•   How long does a home appraisal take?

•   How can you prepare for a home appraisal?

•   What can you do if a home appraisal comes in low?

What Is a Home Appraisal?

A home appraisal is an objective and professional analysis of a home’s value. An appraisal aggregates an array of information including details on the home itself (the floor plan, amenities, and how big it is), a visual inspection, real estate trends in your area, and how much nearby homes in your area sold for.

Generally, an appraisal will be completed when someone is buying, selling, or refinancing a home. It will tell a homeowner whether or not the price they’re putting on the home is fair based on the condition of the home, its amenities, and its location.

Home appraisals will let those buying a home know if a home is a good price. (This can be especially reassuring for first-time homebuyers, who are new to the whole process.)

If you think it’s time to refinance and are getting an appraisal done, it shows the home mortgage lender that you, the borrower, aren’t receiving more money from them than the home is actually worth. The lender wants to know that they are loaning funds to a property that is holding the stated value.

According to a National Association of Realtors study from January 2022, appraisal issues led to 20% of real estate contract delays, so it’s important to get the appraisal right the first time around. That’s an important step in selling your home fast.

How Much Does a Home Appraisal Cost?

The home appraisal cost is typically several hundred dollars, and the borrower will most likely be responsible for paying it. Most people can expect to pay between $300 to $610 for a home appraisal, but it could be higher depending on the specific property. Some examples:

•   If the property contains a pond or lake, you can expect the home appraisal cost to be more.

•   If the appraiser is inspecting a larger home and/or a bigger overall property, then the home appraisal cost will go up. The same applies to jumbo loans, which are usually given to borrowers purchasing big luxury homes.

It’s worth noting that there are a few cases in which the seller will cover the cost. These include the following situations:

•   If a homeowner wants to get an appraisal and see what modifications they can then make to increase their home value when they’re ready to sell it, they would pay for it.

•   If a homeowner is going to sell their home to a family member or friend, an appraisal can help ensure that the parties involved are getting a fair price.

The cost of a home appraisal covers things like the appraiser’s training, licensing, insurance, and expertise. It also covers the time it’ll take for the appraiser to assess nearby sales and market trends as well as conduct a visual inspection.

You’re paying for the appraisal report (more on that in a minute), which will show how the appraiser came to their conclusion on the price and information about your home.

At the end of the appraisal, if it comes up lower than the amount for which you want to refinance or sell it, then you may need to work out a new deal with your lender or purchasing party. That topic is explored in more detail below.

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

What Is the Home Appraisal Process?

The appraisal process may seem complicated, and you may wonder about how long a home appraisal will take and how deeply your home will be scrutinized. Fortunately, trained appraisers will be able to explain and guide you through every step. But it’s worthwhile to keep reading so you can be ready and prepare a bit. Some points to know:

•   Generally, if a home is being sold, the appraisal happens after an offer on a house is accepted and within a week after an inspector has toured the home. Sellers have the option, should they wish to pay for it, to do a pre-listing appraisal so they have more information and are better prepared for negotiations.

•   In most cases, the mortgage lender will seek out a third-party appraisal management company to come up with an objective analysis of the home and the appraisal estimate. The lender will determine the cost of the home appraisal, with the borrower usually being responsible for covering the expense.

Next, how long does a home appraisal take? The actual on-premises inspection appraisal can take between one and three hours, depending on how big and complex the home is. Here’s how it typically goes:

•   The appraiser will usually bring a form to collect information about the home including things like measurements, nearby housing trends, the demographics of the neighborhood, the condition of your home, and how it compares to other properties in your area. (Some of this is research the appraiser will do back at their desk.)

•   The appraiser will also review things like the home’s location, quality of construction, parking situation, exterior condition, its age, its structure, the quality of the siding and gutters, and the square footage.

•   They will also research the appliances and mechanical systems, health and safety factors, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, and the code compliance throughout.

•   The appraiser will usually take photos of the home as well as make notes. If you are the homeowner, try to avoid getting in the way when the appraiser is taking photos or interrupting them while they’re working.

•   The appraiser may ask questions about what has been done with the home to get a more accurate report. If the homeowner doesn’t want to be there for the appraisal, the real estate agent you’re working with can fill in to answer questions that may come up during the appraisal.

After the appraiser finishes, they’ll put together a report. This involves research into pricing and home values in your area, as well as prevailing market trends. The appraiser may need to check that you had permits to make upgrades, which could delay the process. Typically, however, the finished product is delivered within a week to 10 days.

The report is usually about 10 pages long, but it could be longer if a property is large or complex. It will show details about the home as well as local properties that are similar to it. Here’s how its content could impact your sale:

•   If the appraised value is around the same price as listed, then the sale could close shortly after that.

•   If it’s lower than expected, it may be necessary to get in touch with the lender to see if a mortgage will be approved. Keep reading for more details on this scenario.

What If an Appraisal Comes in Low?

If the appraisal comes in low versus what you think your home’s value is, you likely want to dispute that in some way. One option could be to print out a list of similar homes in the community and show that they were valued at a higher price than your home. You may have the option to appeal the appraisal, but note you’ll likely need to support your argument and the appraiser may not change their appraisal. If you are working with a Realtor, they may be able to provide examples of comparable homes being of higher value.

Each lender may have different criteria for formally disputing an appraisal, so should there be an issue, contact the lender to review their policies. In most cases, only the lender can request a second appraisal.

What if the appraisal is low but you don’t want to dispute it? In this case, if you might negotiate with the buyer, seller, or lender. They may be flexible on the price; all you have to do is ask.

💡 Recommended: Track the value of your home with this tool.

Home Appraisal Checklist

Before getting a home appraised, there are a few things you can do to help the process go smoothly.

1.    Declutter. While messiness shouldn’t impact the value of your home, if you get rid of clutter (perhaps donate to a local charity, Goodwill, or thrift shop), the appraiser can do their job more easily and quickly.

2.    Clean. Thoroughly clean the inside and outside of the home, including the yard. Break out the cleaning supplies or hire a professional cleaning team. It can improve the overall impression of a home’s condition.

3.    Make minor repairs. It’s also a good idea to repair any cracks in the wall, paint over paint that is peeling, and make any other visual repairs that may need attention.

💡 Recommended: What Are the Most Common Home Repair Costs?

4.    Check fixtures and appliances. Test the lights, faucets, ceiling fans, and security system, as well as confirming that the windows and doors open and close easily. Run appliances like the oven and dishwasher as well to guarantee there are no problems.

5.    Think curb appeal. The exterior of your home is among the factors that affect property value. Consider trimming hedges, getting rid of cobwebs, cleaning the gutters, pulling weeds, and mowing the lawn. Adding plants or flowers could help, too.

   Worth noting: Since the appraiser will be walking outside, avoid watering the grass on the day of the appraisal. This can help avoid mud or dirt being tracked through the house.

6.    Plan for pets. If you have pets, consider putting them in a designated room or taking them to a family member or friend’s home during the appraisal.

7.    Wrangle upgrade info. If possible, make a list of all the upgrades that have been completed on the home and attach permits and receipts detailing how much it all cost.

The Takeaway

Whether you’re buying, selling, or refinancing a home, a home appraisal is a key part of the process. Knowing what to expect can help ensure the process goes as smoothly as possible. It’s also a good idea to understand the factors that go into an appraisal so you can be prepared if the results are not in the range expected.

If you’re getting an appraisal because you’re ready to buy a new home or refinance your current home, take a look at SoFi. Our mortgage loans have competitive rates, and qualifying first-time homebuyers can put as little as 3% down. Plus, you can get pre-qualified online for a mortgage in just minutes.

SoFi: The smarter way to get a mortgage.


What will fail a home appraisal?

A variety of factors can cause a home appraisal to fail to come in at the desired value. Perhaps there were a number of deferred maintenance issues that led the appraiser to consider the house of lesser value due to its condition. Or it could be due to the local market: If home sales are declining in value in your area, that could cause your number to go down as well.

How should I prepare for a home appraisal?

If you’re hoping to buy the house, you simply sit back and let the appraiser do their job. If you are the seller, you can prepare for a home appraisal by cleaning up your property and making whatever repairs are required. These moves can both make the process go more smoothly and possibly enhance the home’s value.

Does messiness affect a home appraisal?

A messy or cluttered house should not impact a home appraisal. Licensed appraisers are trained to look past such issues and focus on the house, not its contents. That said, if your property is untended and in rough condition, that can take the home’s value down a notch because it means the property lacks the curb appeal that buyers seek.

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.

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.

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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