## How Much Can You Borrow From Your Home Equity?

Many homeowners are flush with equity, and tapping it can be tempting. Some lenders will let you borrow as much as 90% of your home equity — the home’s current value minus the mortgage balance — for any purpose. Your house, though, will be on the line.

Here are things to know before applying for a home equity loan, a home equity line of credit (HELOC), or a cash-out refinance.

## What’s the Most You Can Borrow With a Home Equity Loan?

To determine how much you can borrow with a home equity loan, lenders will calculate the combined loan-to-value ratio: your mortgage balance plus the amount you’d like to borrow compared with the appraised value of your home.

Most lenders will require your combined loan-to-value ratio (CLTV) to be 90% or less for a home equity loan or HELOC (although some will allow you to borrow 100% of your home’s value).

combined loan balance ÷ appraised home value = CLTV

Let’s say you have a mortgage balance of \$150,000 and you want to borrow \$50,000 of home equity. Your combined loan balance would be \$200,000. Your home appraises for \$300,000. (An appraiser from the lending institution determines your property value.) The math would look like this:

\$200,000 ÷ \$300,000 = 0.666

If a lender allowed you to borrow 90% of CLTV in this scenario, you would have a loan of \$120,000:

(\$150,000 + \$120,000) ÷ \$300,000 = 0.900

But just because you might qualify for a loan or line of credit of this amount doesn’t mean it’s a good idea for your personal situation. Consider what the payments, which include interest, would look like and whether your financial situation is secure enough for you to afford them if you suffer a setback.

## Three Ways to Tap Home Equity

You paid off a chunk of your mortgage or all of it, or your home value soared along with the market, but now a wedding, college, remodel, or something else has you wanting to put that home equity to use. Here are three ways to do that.

Remember that converting home equity to cash means you’ll be using your home as collateral.

### Home Equity Loan

Home equity loans come in a lump sum. They are often useful for big one-time expenses like a new car or swimming pool and for borrowers who know how much they need and who want fixed payments.

Some lenders waive or reduce closing costs of 2% to 5%, but if you pay off and close the loan within a certain period of time — often three years — you may have to repay some of those costs.

### HELOC

A HELOC may be helpful for long-term needs such as home renovations, college tuition, or medical bills.

Borrowers who want flexibility when dealing with, say, a home addition may favor a revolving line of credit over a lump-sum loan.

Again, some lenders waive the closing costs for a HELOC if you keep it open for a predetermined period.

### Cash-Out Refinance

A cash-out refinance might be a good choice if you want to borrow more than you’d qualify for with a home equity loan or HELOC. A cash-out refi replaces your existing mortgage with a new mortgage for more than the previous balance. You receive the difference in cash.

Homeowners will often need to have 20% equity left in the home after refinancing. Some lenders will let them dip below that minimum but pay for private mortgage insurance on the new loan.

Some HELOC borrowers refinance before the draw period ends. In that case, the cash can be used to pay off the HELOC.

You can change the mortgage term and aim for a reduced interest rate with a cash-out refi. Closing costs will be required; it’s a new loan.

💡 Recommended: Cash-Out Refinance vs HELOC

## What’s the Difference Between a Home Equity Loan and a HELOC?

A home equity loan, also known as a second mortgage, comes in a lump sum with a repayment term of 10 to 30 years. It typically has a fixed interest rate.

A HELOC is a revolving line of credit that lets a homeowner borrow money as needed, up to the approved credit limit. The credit line has two periods:

•   The draw period, when you can use the line of credit. It’s often 10 years. Minimum monthly payments usually will be interest only on the amount withdrawn.

•   The repayment period, often 20 years, when principal and interest payments are due.

Most HELOCs have a variable interest rate but cap how much the rate can rise at one time and over the loan term. (Some lenders, though, offer fixed-rate HELOCs or allow the borrower to fix the rate on a balance partway through the loan.)

Some HELOCs require you to draw a minimum amount upfront. Some have a balloon payment at the end of the draw period, when the loan principal and interest are due. Ensure that you understand your HELOC’s terms, and when the draw period ends and the credit line is closed.

## How Is a HELOC Calculated?

Qualified borrowers are often able to access as much as 90% of their equity with a HELOC.

Some HELOC lenders require that the homeowner retain at least 20% equity in the home, but a few are more generous.

## Is Taking Out Home Equity Right for You?

If you’re aware of the risk, you’ve read all the fine print, and you forecast no job or income loss, tapping home equity can be extremely useful.

HELOCs usually have lower interest rates than home equity loans, but some people prefer the fixed rate and payments of the latter. HELOC rates tend to be a tad higher than mortgage rates, but you only have to pay interest on what you borrow during the draw period.

Most cash-out refinances result in a new 30-year fixed-rate mortgage.

Approval for a home equity product and the rate you’re offered will depend on your credit score, debt-to-income ratio, home equity, and home value.

Shopping around can yield the best offer.

💡 Recommended: Home Improvement Cost Calculator.

## The Takeaway

How much equity can you borrow from your home? Homeowners who meet credit and income requirements are often able to tap up to 90% of equity and sometimes more with a home equity loan or HELOC. A cash-out refi is another way to make use of home equity.

SoFi now offers flexible HELOCs. Our HELOC options allow you to access up to 95% of your home’s value, or \$500,000, at competitively low rates. And the application process is quick and convenient.

Unlock your home’s value with a home equity line of credit brokered by SoFi.

## FAQ

### How can I increase my home equity?

Paying off your mortgage faster, refinancing to a shorter loan term, and making home improvements are some of the ways to boost home equity. In a competitive market, your home value may just naturally rise.

### How quickly can I get cash from my home equity?

It depends on the product, but closing can take place in as little as two to four weeks.

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

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

²To obtain a home equity loan, SoFi Bank (NMLS #696891) may assist you obtaining a loan from Spring EQ (NMLS #1464945).

All loan terms, fees, and rates may vary based upon individual financial and personal circumstances and state.

You may discuss with your loan officer whether a SoFi Mortgage or a home equity loan from Spring EQ is appropriate. Please note that the SoFi member discount does not apply to Home Equity Loans or Lines of Credit brokered through SoFi. Terms and conditions will apply. Before you apply for a SoFi Mortgage, please note that not all products are offered in all states, and all loans are subject to eligibility restrictions and limitations, including requirements related to loan applicant’s credit, income, property, and loan amount. Minimum loan amount is \$75,000. Lowest rates are reserved for the most creditworthy borrowers. Products, rates, benefits, terms, and conditions are subject to change without notice. Learn more at SoFi.com/eligibility-criteria.

SoFi Mortgages originated through SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC), (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org). Equal Housing Lender. SoFi Bank, N.A. is currently NOT able to accept applications for refinance loans in NY.

In the event SoFi serves as broker to Spring EQ for your loan, SoFi will be paid a fee.

SOHL-Q324-045

## 15 Questions to Ask When Interviewing Realtors

Working with a professional real estate agent can make buying or selling a home easier. After all, they are likely to be well versed in the ins and outs of your area, how to best negotiate in the current market, and how to access any other resources (say, a home inspector) that you may need.

Working with a professional real estate agent can make buying or selling a home easier. After all, they are likely to be well versed in the ins and outs of your area, how to best negotiate in the current market, and how to access any other resources (say, a home inspector) that you may need.

While there may be some agents you hit it off with personally, this isn’t a friendship you’re pursuing but an important business relationship. It’s a collaboration that could impact both your finances and your stress level.

No matter which side of a real estate transaction you’re on (buying or selling), it can be wise to have the right professional in your corner. Eighty-nine percent of homes sold in the U.S. involve an agent or a Realtor®, according to a 2023 report. (Realtors are agents who belong to the National Association of Realtors, or NAR.)

If you’re on the hunt for an agent, it’s important to know what to ask to identify the right match. Read on to learn questions to ask, whether you’re buying or selling a property — or doing both at once. (This is a lengthy list of interview questions for real estate, so pick and choose the questions that resonate the most.)

Key Points

•   Interviewing realtors requires asking targeted questions to assess their suitability for your real estate needs.

•   Experience, local market knowledge, and client load are critical factors to inquire about.

•   Understanding a realtor’s team structure and communication methods is essential for collaboration.

•   Specific questions about buying or selling processes help gauge a realtor’s expertise and alignment with your goals.

•   Discussing contract terms and fees upfront avoids future misunderstandings and ensures financial clarity.

## How to Interview a Realtor

First, a bit about terminology: Not all real estate agents are Realtors, but for the purposes of this article, we’ll sometimes use the two terms interchangeably.

There are different options for interviewing Realtors. You could schedule an interview:

•   Over the phone

•   In person

•   Virtually via Zoom or Skype.

You might aim to interview at least three agents for comparison’s sake, though you may choose to interview more or fewer.

Create a list of interview questions beforehand to help you stay on track, and begin researching a home loan so you will have a sense of your budget. By the time the interview process is over, you should understand:

•   What the agent’s personality and character are like: Is this person supportive and positive? Do they sound rushed and distracted?

•   What kind of services they offer and what experience they bring to the table.

•   How much you’ll pay for their help.

You’ll learn about how to do this in more depth as you read on.

Recommended: Tips When Shopping for a Mortgage

Any real estate agent you choose to work with should have the professional qualifications you’re looking for. But it’s also important to get a sense of who they are as an individual to avoid personality clashes. Here are some questions to ask as you evaluate an agent who might help you buy or sell a home.

### 1. How Long Have You Been a Realtor?

It helps to understand how long an agent you’re considering working with has been buying or selling homes. The median real estate experience of all Realtors is eight years, according to NAR.

Working with an agent who’s newer to the profession isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But one who’s more experienced may be more adept at handling any challenges that arise when buying or selling a home.

### 2. How Well Do You Know the Local Market?

A Realtor who knows a particular area and its local housing market trends can offer an advantage when buying or selling. Ideally, you should work with an agent who understands the local market and what trends drive it.

The more informed they are, the better equipped they are to do things like comparative market analysis, which can give you a sense of how home prices in the area are trending. They will also likely know details like, say, which parts of town are more prone to flooding than others.

Recommended: Local Housing Market Trends: Popular neighborhoods, home prices, and demographics

### 3. How Many Clients Do You Work With at One Time?

The answer can give you an idea of how much time an agent will be able to dedicate to working with you. Especially if you ask the follow-up question, “And how many clients do you currently have?”

### 4. Do You Work Alone or as Part of a Team?

Keep in mind that you may not be working with your Realtor alone to finalize the purchase or sale of a home. Agents may have a team of individuals they work with, including office managers, personal assistants, or marketing directors, who may reach out to you during the process.

Asking who else you may be connected with can help you avoid surprises if you decide to enter into a working relationship with a particular agent.

### 5. How Will We Communicate and How Often?

Being able to communicate with an agent is important to keep the process moving. Plenty of Realtors email and text to keep in touch with clients. If you’re the kind of person who prefers phone calls or in-person meetings, it’s good to identify communication styles up front and make sure they are in sync.

### 6. Do You Specialize in Buying or Selling?

Some real estate agents may choose to work exclusively with buyers, while others work only with sellers. And some can act as dual agents, representing both the buyer and seller in the same transaction. Dual agency is rare, and it’s illegal in several states. A dual agent can’t take sides or give advice.

The answer to this question will help you get a better idea of whether the agent is attuned to your side of a real estate transaction. Ideally, you want someone who is passionate about your deal, whether that’s finding the perfect house with a picket fence or selling the condo you’ve outgrown.

### 7. How Many Transactions Did You Close Last Year?

Asking this question can give you an idea of an agent’s overall success rate and the volume of transactions they handle.

The median number of residential transactions Realtors took part in per year in 2023 is 10. If you’re interviewing agents with closings well below that number, it could be a sign that they aren’t always successful in closing deals. If their number is much higher, it could mean they are super busy and you might not get as much attention as with another agent.

### 8. How Long Does It Normally Take You to Close a Deal?

Once the seller and the buyer of a property have signed their purchase agreement, closing on a home can take anywhere from a week (for an all-cash offer) to a couple of months (for those involving a mortgage) to close. As of mid-2024, the average closing time on a house was 43 days after an offer was accepted, reports ICE Mortgage Technology, Inc.

Asking a Realtor what their average closing time is can give you an idea of how efficiently and diligently they work to satisfy their clients.

If their average closing time is closer to four or six months, for example, that could be a red flag, though some deals do wind up being more complicated than others.

### 9. What Are the Terms of Your Contract?

Working with a Realtor means entering into a contract, and it’s important to know what that contract says. These documents may be more common when you work with a broker to sell a home, but there are also buyer’s agreements.

These ensure that if they invest the time scanning the market for you, scheduling walk-throughs, and negotiating on your behalf, you won’t then complete the deal with, say, a relative of yours who just got their real-estate license.

When you are selling a house, you’ll sign a document agreeing that the agent will handle the sale. Once you sign a contract you’re typically locked in to working with them unless they agree to release you.

The listing agreement will last for a set period, such as three or six months. From your perspective, shorter may be better so that you’re not trapped if you don’t like the agent’s services.

### 10. What Fees Do You Charge?

Closely connected to contracts is the topic of money. How does it change hands? What are you liable for? Historically, real estate agents worked on commission, and the fee was paid by the seller. Now, real estate commission fees are changing, and while sellers will still likely pay agents a commission, there is no guarantee that the seller will pay the buyer’s agent. If you’re buying, you’ll need to discuss a fee structure with an agent before you begin working together. It might be an hourly fee, or perhaps a flat rate. Some agents may request a percentage of the home price.

Recommended: Do You Still Need to Put a 20% Down Payment on a House?

## Questions to Ask a Realtor When You Are Selling

If you’re selling your home, here are some questions to ask to help ensure that you partner with the right agent.

### 11. What’s Your Typical Marketing Strategy?

A real estate agent should have a clear plan for listing and marketing your home in a way that produces the greatest odds of success in selling it quickly and at your desired price point. Let the agent you are interviewing tell you about their strategy and the results it yields.

For instance, does the Realtor believe in listing at a low price in the hopes of starting a bidding war? If so, what kinds of prices has this achieved? Where will your listing be posted? Will videos be created? Will there be an open house?

These kinds of questions can help you see if you are impressed by and aligned with how a Realtor likes to market homes.

### 12. Will You Handle Staging and Prep Work?

If you’re selling a home, staging it could help influence buyers’ perceptions of the property and potentially net you a higher sale price.

Staging is something you can do yourself, but your Realtor may have a staging company they work with to get the job done.

Asking about staging or small cosmetic updates, such as painting, can help you figure out what you’ll be responsible for to get your home ready for the market. There’s a price tag attached to all improvements, so you’ll want to know the numbers to be better prepared.

### 13. How Do You Handle Viewings?

The use of digital tools such as virtual tours have made properties more accessible to more buyers. One survey by Zillow found that almost 40% of Millenials would be comfortable buying a home online vs. in person.

See if your agent plans to create a virtual tour, but you also want to be prepared for the majority of buyers who want to visit in person. Ask Realtors how many viewings they typically schedule in a day or a week, how often open houses will be scheduled, and how they’ll be marketed.

Now you’ve learned the questions to ask a Realtor when selling. How about the other side of the deal? Whether you’re shopping for a starter home or trading up, here are a couple of important questions to ask a potential real estate agent when preparing to buy a house.

### 14. What Happens When I’m Ready to Make an Offer?

If you’re a buyer, agents should be able to walk you through how this process works, what to do if the seller makes a counteroffer, and what you’ll need to do next if your offer is accepted. You also want to check if they have experience with successfully navigating bidding wars, which can happen in hot markets and with well-priced properties.

Also check that they can advise you on how much earnest money you might need to pay and how to find a good, affordable home inspector, as these are important aspects of the homebuying process.

### 15. Will You Help Me With Getting a Mortgage?

This question will shed more light on a prospective agent’s network and experience. Agents may be able to offer recommendations for mortgage lenders. They may also be willing to communicate with your lender if there are questions about the property or the offer during underwriting.

You’re not obligated to use your Realtor’s recommended lender. In fact, it’s helpful to compare mortgage loan terms and interest rates from multiple lenders to find the option that best fits your needs.

## The Takeaway

Due diligence in the search for the right real estate agent may mean interviewing a few of them and not automatically going with a friend of a friend. It’s important to know how to interview a Realtor and which questions to ask, so you can pair up with the best possible professional as you navigate this major transaction.

If you’re a buyer, once you’ve found an agent, you can turn your attention to next steps: finding a home (and a home loan) that suits your needs.

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

SoFi Mortgages: simple, smart, and so affordable.

## FAQ

### What are the benefits of using a real estate agent to buy a house?

Having an agent to survey the available properties and recommend the ones that suit your needs could certainly save you time, and agents often have local market expertise and the inside scoop on properties that might be headed to market. An agent should also be well versed in the negotiation process (especially useful in a seller’s market) and able to help coordinate the many moving parts that lead to a closing.

### What should a homebuyer do before talking to a real estate agent?

It’s wise to have an idea of your budget before consulting a real estate agent. You can prequalify for a mortgage with a few lenders to get a sense of what you might be able to borrow. Also do research online about your desired town or neighborhood to get a sense of where you would like to live. And know your non-negotiables — minimum number of bedrooms, whether you prefer an old home or new construction, for example.

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

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

SOHL-Q324-054

## How to Buy a House Without a Realtor

Most people you know who have bought a home have probably done so with the help of a Realtor® or real estate agent. In fact, a 2023 report shows that 89% of home purchases involve a Realtor or broker. (Realtors, by the way, are real estate agents who belong to the National Association of Realtors, requiring them to adhere to a certain code of ethics; we’ll use the terms interchangeably here.)

But agents may charge a fee, so you might be asking yourself, “Do I need a Realtor or real estate agent to buy a house?” The answer is no — you aren’t required to go through a professional to complete the transaction.

That said, doing without an agent is not a decision to make lightly. Buying a house is likely the biggest investment you’ll ever make. So if you make a mistake in the home-buying process, there’s a lot of money and possibly other risks on the line. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of going solo as a home shopper.

## What Does a Real Estate Agent Do?

Before you decide whether or not to forgo a real estate agent, it can be a good idea to brush up on what they actually do.

Real estate agents are licensed to help clients buy and sell real estate. Realtors, as mentioned, have to follow an ethics code, which includes putting their clients’ interests first.

Among the work that real estate agents do for buyers is:

•   Look for property listings that fit their clients’ goals

•   Check out listings in person

•   Write offers and counteroffers

•   Be present for inspections

•   Help negotiate with the seller

•   Troubleshoot any roadblocks that come up

They can also often help with a variety of referrals, whether to a mortgage broker, a home stager, a real estate lawyer, or a contractor.

## How to Buy a House Without a Real Estate Agent

If you want to join the few buyers who forge ahead and buy a house without a Realtor, it’s important to prepare yourself to take on the tasks agents normally do.

Especially if you’re green, it’s essential to learn how you can prepare to buy a home. Here’s a rundown of some of the key responsibilities you will likely need to manage.

### Step 1. Consider Your Mortgage Options

Unless you are an all-cash buyer, you’ll need to explore the different types of mortgage loans. You could get prequalified for a mortgage with several lenders so you have a sense of what size mortgage loan you might qualify for.

### Step 2. Research Neighborhoods

As you zero in on neighborhoods that meet your criteria, then it’s a good idea to do your research and learn the price of recent sales. This will help you understand if the homes you tour are priced correctly — and if they fit within your budget.

### Step 3. Get Preapproved For a Home Loan

As your house search starts to heat up, you’ll probably want to get preapproved for a mortgage. Once your application is processed, you’ll have a preapproval letter to share with sellers to reassure them that you’re serious about buying. The lender will consider your income, your debt-to-income ratio, credit scores, and ability to make a down payment and meet closing costs.

### Step 4. Hire a Home Inspector

When you find a home you’re interested in, it’s recommended that you hire a home inspector. This professional will issue a report that lets you know the ins and outs of a home’s condition and may lead to further negotiation.

### Step 5. Request a Seller’s Disclosure

Ask for a seller’s disclosure, a document that can contain information about repairs and upgrades the seller did on the home as well as problems they’re aware of. You can ask them about any structural problems; condition of the HVAC, plumbing, and electrical systems; mold and mildew; termite damage; the presence of lead paint, radon, and asbestos, and so forth.

### Step 6. Make An Offer

The offer will include the amount you’re offering, what you’d like to stay in the home (such as appliances), and closing dates. Including an appraisal contingency in the offer means you can cancel the contract if something goes wrong without losing your deposit.

💡 Recommended: How to Make An Offer On a House

### Step 7. Hire a Real Estate Lawyer

It’s usually a good idea to hire a real estate lawyer to prepare documents and look over your contract before you sign it.

### Step 8. Negotiate

Sellers, meanwhile, will likely include a loan contingency. During this part of the process, there may be counteroffers and negotiations between you and the seller about the price of the home or repairs you might want the seller to make. The appraiser will also file a report on the home, so that you and your lender can feel confident the home’s value matches its price. Keep copies of all communications as negotiations progress.

### Step 9. Finalize Documentation and Close On Your Property

At the closing of the loan, you’ll need to sign documents and handle other aspects that a Realtor might typically help you with.

It is typically recommended that the buyer obtain owner’s title insurance, which protects the buyer against title defects such as mechanic’s liens and other after-closing problems. It usually costs about \$1,000, but will vary with the price of your home and from state to state.

💡 Recommended: How Long Does It Take to Close On a House?

## Benefits of Buying a House Without a Realtor

Buying a home without a real estate professional can have some upsides. Here’s a closer look at the benefits you might reap.

### 1. Saving Money

Historically, there wasn’t much incentive for a homebuyer to work without a real estate agent because the agent’s commission fees were paid by the seller. But starting in mid-2024, the landscape changed. Now real estate commission fees are changing, and there is no guarantee that the seller will pay the buyer’s agent. Instead, the buyer and agent need to discuss a fee structure before they begin working together. You might find that an agent is paid an hourly fee, or perhaps charges a flat rate. Some agents may request a percentage of the home price.

While working without an agent may save you money, how much is up in the air. The only thing you can be certain of is that if you don’t use an agent, you will work harder to find a home and close the deal.

### 2. Info Galore

If you’re planning on buying a house without a Realtor, you likely have access to some of the same information that the pros do. Historically, agents had lots of insider tidbits about listings.

Now, you can instantly find out about new properties and neighborhood demographics with the click of a button online. That means taking the buying process into one’s own hands is considered by some as increasingly feasible. Plus, there are an array of great tools to help you with calculations, like a home affordability calculator.

And since no one knows what you are looking for as well as you do, the search process can sometimes be more efficient.

### 3. A Familiar Real Estate Deal

One situation where it might make sense to eschew an agent is if a friend or family member is selling you the property.

Although risks may still be involved, the transaction may be more straightforward if you are buying a house from a relative or someone you know well. You still want to make sure you and the seller are clear on the price, closing date, what furniture or fixtures will be included, contingencies, and more.

It is typically recommended that a buyer review and approve home inspections and obtain full loan approval in writing before lifting certain contingencies.

If it is known that a contingency date cannot be met or another material change takes place after the contract is written, such as a seller credit for closing costs, a contract addendum executed by all parties outlining the change is usually obtained.

## Drawbacks of Buying Without a Realtor

Not hiring a real estate agent or Realtor to assist you with your home search comes with disadvantages and risks.

### 1. All the Work

You have to be constantly on the ball, keeping a lookout for properties and arranging a time with sellers to visit them.

The process can be exhausting and time consuming, and if you aren’t attentive, you could let great homes slip by or make the hunt longer than it might have been with a real estate agent.

You’ll also have to navigate the world of mortgages (from the mortgage basics to possibly buying points to bring down your rate) without an agent to serve as a sounding board or offer a second opinion.

### 2. All the Risk

You’ll be on the hook for all the details of the transaction. Without an agent, you’ll need to determine the correct bid price and terms, watch the contract contingency dates, and know the ins and outs of the purchase contract.

Agents are experienced in helping to point to hidden flaws in the property or transaction.

If you don’t have a real estate agent in your corner to help research the proper bid price, you may risk paying more than you need to on the home — which may work out to more money spent.

### 3. Your Pool of Knowledge May Not Be That Deep

Agents have access to information that’s not necessarily online, thanks to their connections with other real estate agents, inspectors, etc.

Then there’s the experience factor. Most agents operate under a seasoned broker who oversees and consults on various transactions.

It could take a lot of effort to figure out what a Realtor has learned through years on the job and ongoing education. That learning curve may not be worth your time.

## Factors to Consider When You Buy Without an Agent

So now that you have read about how to buy a home without a Realtor, as well as the pros and cons, perhaps you are still thinking that flying solo is right for you. If so, do one more check-in and consider these factors:

### Market Knowledge

You will not have in-depth, ongoing insight into housing prices in the area where you are searching. A Realtor can help you understand pricing history, potential upcoming property-tax hikes, local drainage or flood potential, and more. They are often skilled at pointing out distinctive features as well as potential problem areas with homes.

### Negotiation Strategy

Real estate agents typically have years of experience knowing when a home seller is negotiable and by how much. They can guide you through offers and counteroffers, as well as bidding wars. They also know next steps if a home inspection points out significant problem areas or if there are hitches as you work through your mortgage contingencies. This can save you time and stress, as well as keep your deal in play.

### Red Tape and Paperwork

Bidding on and purchasing a home involves all kinds of paperwork, including mortgage applications, offers, contracts, title searches, and more. For someone who is not familiar with the process (you, quite possibly), this can be a steep, time-consuming, and possibly frustrating learning curve. A Realtor can help alleviate a chunk of this burden.

### Professional Connections

As noted above, it can take a village of professionals to finalize a home sale. Some of the people who may be involved include mortgage brokers, home inspectors, roof inspectors, real estate lawyers, contractors, and more. Most real estate agents have an extensive network to quickly get you the connections you need to qualified professionals.

## The Takeaway

Do you need a real estate agent to buy a house? No, you don’t. It’s entirely possible to learn how to buy a home without a Realtor and perhaps avoid paying for the agent’s time and expertise. Just realize all of the work and risk involved in finding a home, making an offer, handling contingencies, and closing the deal.

## FAQ

### Can you make an offer on a house without a real estate agent?

A buyer is not required to be represented by a real estate agent in order to make an offer on a house, but unless the house is for sale by owner, you’ll need to work with the seller’s agent to communicate your offer to the owner.

### Does buying a house without a real estate agent reduce the price?

Not necessarily. Even if you, as the buyer, are not represented by a real estate agent, the seller may use an agent to list and show the home and process offers.

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

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

SOHL-Q324-048

## Buying a House When Unmarried? Tips for Unmarried Couples

Buying a home with a significant other is a big investment and commitment, but having two incomes can more easily open the door to homeownership.

If you’re buying a house with a lover (or with a friend, parent, or sibling), here are a few things to know.

## What You Should Know When Buying a House Unmarried

Before sharing a mortgage and house, a few heart-to-hearts about your purchase partner’s financial health and yours are in order. Being frank about debts, income, and projected job security is important. It’s a good idea to explore what-ifs as well.

Here’s a list of suggested questions to answer before sharing a deed or a home mortgage loan:

•   Is the down payment to be evenly divided?

•   Will mortgage payments, insurance, property taxes, any mortgage insurance and homeowners association dues, repairs, and utilities be split evenly? If not, how will they be divided up?

•   What will happen if one person is unable to make their portion of the mortgage payments for a while?

•   What will happen if one homeowner dies?

•   If one person leaves and the mortgage is refinanced to remove one of the signers, who pays for the refinancing?

Most lenders underwrite each individual on the home loan. The weaker link will most likely determine the rate at which you can borrow money as a duo — or whether you can get a loan at all. When lenders pull credit scores from the three main credit reporting agencies, they usually focus on the middle score. Let’s say your middle score is 720, and your co-borrower’s is 650. Lenders will use the lower of the two for the application. Even a small change in interest rate can result in significantly more money paid over time. (See for yourself with this online mortgage calculator.)

Loans underwritten by Fannie Mae do have one exception to this rule. To determine whether an unmarried couple is eligible for a loan underwritten by Fannie Mae, a lender will look at the average of their credit scores. As long as the average tops 620, the loan will be considered even if one borrower’s credit score is below 620 (in the past, if either borrower had a score below 620 they would not have been considered for the loan).

### Buying a Home Married vs Unmarried

Married couples often merge their finances and operate as a single unit. If spouses are pulling from the same pool of money, they don’t generally mind shortages from a partner when the mortgage payment is due.

Unmarried co-borrowers going in on a house together may need each party to pull its weight each and every month.

Then there’s this: What if a co-owner dies?

For the most part, a spouse has the legal right to inherit property from their partner whether or not the deceased spouse had a will. Domestic couples may have no automatic right to inheritance if a co-owner dies without a will in place (this is known as dying intestate).

Additionally, depending on the state and the way the married couple holds title, the surviving spouse will receive a partial or full step-up in basis upon the first title owner’s death, meaning the property’s cost basis will be reset to fair market value when one spouse dies. If the inheriting spouse decides to sell the property, the stepped-up basis will greatly minimize capital gains taxes owed or translate to none owed at all.

The step-up in basis is one way that some families harness generational wealth through homeownership. Unmarried co-owners should be clear about how they hold title and what that means in case one partner dies.

### How to Handle the Title

Two or more unmarried people can take title to a house. The main two forms are:

Tenancy in common. This arrangement allows equal or unequal ownership; that is, one person may own 60% of the property and the other person, 40%. If one owner dies, their share of the property passes to their heirs. It does not pass automatically to the surviving co-owner.

Tenancy in common allows one owner to transfer their interest to another buyer or use their share as collateral for financial transactions. And creditors may place liens on that person’s share of the property.

Joint tenancy with right of survivorship. Each person owns 50% of the house. Upon the death of one of the joint tenants, the property passes automatically to the surviving owner.

If you want to sell your share, you don’t have to ask for permission to do so. Any financing involving the property must be approved by both parties. Creditors trying to collect a debt from one of the homeowners may petition the court to force a sale in order to collect.

A third option is sole ownership, when only one person is on the title. The person left off the title risks walking away with nothing if the relationship sours.

## Preparing for the Mortgage Application

The mortgage process is mostly the same whether applying solo or with a co-borrower.

It begins by getting a feel for how much house both of you can afford. Getting prequalified and using a home affordability calculator are quick ways to estimate your maximum budget. Then talk about these questions:

Are you aware of each other’s credit scores, incomes, and debt burdens?

Is each of your debt-to-income ratios around 36%, max? If so, good, because this is a team effort.

Have you agreed on the type of loan that fits your needs? If not, a mortgage broker or direct lender can guide you.

Do you want the standard 30-year mortgage term, or is it in the budget to seek a shorter term, which will mean higher monthly payments but less interest paid?

Combining forces can make homeownership possible, especially for first-time homebuyers and anyone in a hot market. That’s exciting.

## How to Make the Property Purchase 50/50

When each co-owner has a 50% share of the property, the status is joint tenants with right of survivorship.

Your real estate agent or attorney will need to be careful about the wording in the deed. It should reflect the desire to create joint tenancy, not tenancy in common.

## What Happens If You Part Ways?

It’s a good idea to go into the deal with a written buyout agreement, just in case.

But if a pact is not in place, here are steps you could take to acquire the co-borrower’s share:

1.    Hire an independent appraiser to determine the property value.

2.    Find the difference between the mortgage balance and appraised value. That’s the equity in the house. If you each have a 50% share in the house, divide equity by two.

3.    Negotiate the buyout price. If you can’t come up with cash, take any refinancing costs into consideration and …

4.    Apply for a cash-out refinance. You’ll need to qualify on your own.

5.    Have a real estate agent create a detailed purchase agreement. You are the buyer, and the co-owner is the seller.

6.    If your refinance is approved, you will sign a deed transferring the seller’s interest in the property to you. The cash-out refi loan will pay off the original loan and, with luck, will provide the cash you need to pay your former co-borrower.

7.    The former co-owner signs a certificate of title, deed of sale, loan payoff, and statement of closing costs to make you the sole owner.

If that route is not viable, you may need to get the co-borrower to agree to sell the house. If yours is an assumable mortgage, good. They’re in demand.

## The Takeaway

Buying a house with someone you are not married to works similarly to purchasing a property when married, but there are some important conversations to have about how ownership is structured and what might happen if one of you dies or wants to sell. The more solid each buyer is financially, the better the chances of a good mortgage rate.

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

SoFi Mortgages: simple, smart, and so affordable.

## FAQ

### What happens if one of us is not on the mortgage?

If two people’s names are on the deed but just one is on the mortgage, both are owners of the home but only one is liable for repaying the mortgage loan.

### What needs to change if I get married?

If co-borrowers marry, the deed will need to be updated.

To add a spouse’s name to the deed, you must file a quitclaim deed. You can transfer the ownership rights from yourself to yourself as well as other people. Once a couple marries, they may want to hold title with rights of survivorship if they do not already.

### Can I add my partner’s name to the mortgage after buying the house?

No. You’ll need to refinance your mortgage.

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

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

SOHL-Q324-055

## 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 65.6% had attained this status in the second quarter of 2024. 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 mortgage 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.

### 3% to 5% Closing Costs

You can likely expect to pay an estimated 3% to 5% of your home price for closing costs, and should save accordingly. For example, if you buy a home that costs \$300,000, you may be required to pay between \$9,000 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 assistance 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. The average cost of moving the contents of a three-bedroom home 1,000 miles is \$4,800 according to research by U.S. News & World Report.

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 it offers 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.

## 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 homeowners 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 internet services 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

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 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. 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 think about ways to bring in more income, whether by asking for a raise or pursuing a side hustle.

## The Takeaway

Budgeting for buying a house requires thinking about both short-term costs, such as a down payment, closing costs, and moving expenses, as well as long-term costs such as homeowner’s insurance and maintenance expenses. It’s wise to look at both before you pursue a mortgage preapproval or make an offer on a home.

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

SoFi Mortgages: simple, smart, and so affordable.

## FAQ

### How much money should you save before buying a house?

If possible, you should save enough money for a down payment on a house in the price range you’re thinking about. But you don’t need to make a 20% down payment — many homebuyers put down less, and some government programs will allow you to buy with no down payment at all. You’ll also want to have closing costs on hand (3% to 6% of the home’s price). And it’s wise to always have an emergency fund in case of an unexpected setback.

### How much do I need to earn to afford a house?

How much you need to earn to afford a house depends on the housing market you’re looking in and the area’s overall cost of living. The national average salary is \$63,795 and at that salary you may be able to afford a home priced at \$180,000. Use a home affordability calculator to explore the numbers for your specific situation.

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

*SoFi requires Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) for conforming home loans with a loan-to-value (LTV) ratio greater than 80%. As little as 3% down payments are for qualifying first-time homebuyers only. 5% minimum applies to other borrowers. Other loan types may require different fees or insurance (e.g., VA funding fee, FHA Mortgage Insurance Premiums, etc.). Loan requirements may vary depending on your down payment amount, and minimum down payment varies by loan type.
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.
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.
¹FHA loans are subject to unique terms and conditions established by FHA and SoFi. Ask your SoFi loan officer for details about eligibility, documentation, and other requirements. FHA loans require an Upfront Mortgage Insurance Premium (UFMIP), which may be financed or paid at closing, in addition to monthly Mortgage Insurance Premiums (MIP). Maximum loan amounts vary by county. The minimum FHA mortgage down payment is 3.5% for those who qualify financially for a primary purchase. SoFi is not affiliated with any government agency. Veterans, Service members, and members of the National Guard or Reserve may be eligible for a loan guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. VA loans are subject to unique terms and conditions established by VA and SoFi. Ask your SoFi loan officer for details about eligibility, documentation, and other requirements. VA loans typically require a one-time funding fee except as may be exempted by VA guidelines. The fee may be financed or paid at closing. The amount of the fee depends on the type of loan, the total amount of the loan, and, depending on loan type, prior use of VA eligibility and down payment amount. The VA funding fee is typically non-refundable. SoFi is not affiliated with any government agency.

SOHL-Q324-053