Whether buying or refinancing, getting a loan on a condo is hard. Here's what you should know.
Borrowers run into two problems when getting a mortgage on a condominium: strict standards that make it hard to qualify for a condo loan and high costs.
These issues beset condo buyers who want to get mortgages as well as people who already own condos and want to refinance.
"Condos are like the canary in the coal mine, a leading indicator of the health of the real-estate market," says John McClellan, a branch manager with Supreme Lending in Austin, Texas. "Recently, lenders' biggest losses came from condos, so they are viewed as risky."
Some lenders reject condo loans altogether.
Condo loans have to jump through two hoops. First the borrower has to qualify. Then the condo association has to qualify, over which the borrower has little or no control.
"Condo financing is very situational because it depends not only on the borrower but also on the project itself," says Matt Ostrander, CEO of Parkside Lending LLC in San Francisco. "The guidelines have tightened because lenders want to see a financially healthy condo development. They want to see a higher concentration of owner-occupants, and they want to see that delinquency rates on condo fees are low."
Lenders follow guidelines from the Federal Housing Administration, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for condo mortgages.
Among Fannie Mae's requirements:
- More than half of the condo units must be owner-occupied.
- No owner may own more than 10% of the units.
- No more than 15% of owners can be delinquent on condo dues.
- All amenities must be completed if the development is more than 12 months old.
- Buyers who make a down payment of less than 25% will pay an additional 0.75% of the loan amount at closing or an interest rate that is about 0.25% higher.
The FHA has much friendlier down-payment requirements but has strict guidelines for condo associations.
"It's a misconception on the part of the public that you can't buy a condo without a big down payment," says Ed Wilburn, a mortgage banker with FEMBi Mortgage in Miami. "The rules are stricter now, but if you find a building that has already earned an FHA approval, you can get in with a down payment of 3.5%.
"FHA approval depends on the financial health of the condo, so the condo association needs to prove that they have adequate insurance, a budget with reserves, no pending lawsuits and no anticipated special assessments."
Where to begin
Wilburn says condo buyers should start by checking to see if a building is approved for FHA loans. If not, they can ask the lender to see if the building meets Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac guidelines. Buyers can ask condominium managers if they have recently completed a homeowner-association certification or questionnaire, which provides information on condo-fee delinquencies, insurance and other factors that affect eligibility for loans.
"Even if the condo meets the Fannie Mae guidelines, buyers may find that they must make a down payment of 20% or more because mortgage-insurance companies are less willing to provide mortgage insurance on condo loans, (because) they are considered riskier," Wilburn says. "In fact, most mortgage-insurance companies won't insure a Florida condo. It may be easier in other markets."