Mortgages & Creative Financing

The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Real Estate Financing

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You’ve found the perfect house. It meets all your criteria, in a terrific location, and makes your heart skip a beat just thinking of it. So you whip out your checkbook and write the check for the full purchase price, remembering of course to record the purchase in your check register.

Of course not.

Financing real estate is not usually as simple as that. Finding the funds to buy a piece of real estate is not as simple as buying milk, an ATV, or even a new car.  Whether the property is for your own future home, a flip, or a long term investment, this article is going to explore ten different ways to finance real estate.

Ten Ways to Finance Your Real Estate Investments

1.) All Cash

Yes, it is possible to pay all cash for an investment property. In fact, according to the recent joint study by BiggerPockets and Memphis Invest, 24% of US investors use all cash to finance their deals. However, even when investors use terms like “All Cash,” the reality is that no “cash” is actually traded. In most cases, the buyer brings a check (usually certified funds such as a bank cashier’s check) to the title company and the title company will write a check to the seller.  This is the easiest form of financing, but for the majority of investors (and probably VAST majority of new investors) all cash is not a viable option.

2.) Conventional Mortgage

Most investors (51% to be exact) choose to finance their investments with a down payment of up to 50% of the purchase price.  Most traditional conventional mortgages require a minimum of 20% down, but may extend to 25-30% for investment properties.  Conventional mortgages are the most common type of mortgage used by home buyers.

3.) FHA Loans

The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) is a United States government program that insures mortgages for banks. In other words, they are like health insurance but rather than pooling money to spread the risk for sick people, they pool their money to spread the risk of bad mortgages to the banks. FHA loans are designed for homeowners who plan to live in the property – but an investor can take advantage of the rule that allows the home to have up to four units. A homebuyer could effectively purchase a small multifamily with a low (currently 3.5%) down payment. On the down side, with small down payments the FHA does require an additional payment (known as PMI) and with small down payments your loan (and therefore your payment) can be rather high.

4.) 203K Loans

While really a sub-set of the FHA loan, the 203K loan is a product that allows an individual to buy a home that needs some work done and be able to finance those repairs or improvements into the loan itself (but still allow for the low down payment options allowed by the FHA.) I have been involved with several 203K loans, and while they are wonderful products in spirit, the paperwork and potential for problems can be huge, causing delayed closings. My best friend used a 203K loan to buy and renovate his home and the time it took from his initial offer to closing took over six months. While he doesn't regret using it – it was definitely a struggle.

5.) HomePath Mortgages

Another government backed loan, the HomePath Mortgage is a product offered by the government-owned morgage giant Fannie Mae. The program allows for smaller down payments, no mortgage insurance, and several other benefits. Additionally, the HomePath program is open for investors as well and even includes the ability to finance repairs into the purchase. The catch, however, is that these loans are only available on Bank Repos owned by Fannie Mae.

6.) Hard Money

“Hard money” is money that is obtained from private individuals or businesses for the purpose of real estate investments. While terms and styles change often, Hard Money has several defining characteristics :

  • Based primarily on the value of the property
  • Short Term (6 – 36 months)
  • High Interest (8-15%)
  • High loan "points" (cost to get the loan)
  • Often do not require income verification
  • Often do not require credit references
  • Quick ability to fund
  • O.K. with property in poor condition

Hard money can be highly beneficial for extremely short term loans, but many investors who have used hard money lenders have been placed in disastrous situations when the short term loan ran out. Use with caution.

7.) Private Money

Similar to “Hard Money,” private money is usually distinguishable because of the relationship between the lender and the borrower, as the lender is not a “professional” but rather an individual looking to achieve high returns on their investment.  Often times there is a closer relationship ahead of time and is often much less “business” oriented than hard money.  Private money usually has fewer fees and points and term length can be negotiated more easily to serve the best interest of both parties.

8.) Home Equity Loans and Lines of Credit –

Many investors choose to use the equity in their own primary residence to finance the purchase of their investment properties. Banks and other lending institutions have many different products to allow individuals to do this type of transaction. For example, my in-laws recently purchased a duplex but rather than going through the hassle of trying to finance the investment property they simply took out a mortgage on their own home to pay for the property.

9.) Partnerships –

Most of the lending options above can be done alone but also with a partner (except possibly the government-backed loans.) Partnerships can be structured numerous different ways, from using a partner’s cash to finance the entire property to using a partner to simply fund the down payment. There are no “rules” when it comes to partnerships but each scenario requires it’s own examination of how the deal will be structured, who makes the decisions, and how profits will be split.

10.) Commercial Loans –

While most of the above options focus primarily on the residential side of loans, the world of commercial lending is often a viable option as well. Generally speaking, commercial loans are used when a property has more than five units, but exceptions can be made. Commercial loans typically have higher interest rates, higher fees, and shorter terms. Additionally, commercial lenders can often extend a “business line of credit” to finance flips or other investments.

What do you think? Which have you used? What financing tools have I forgotten? What kind of questions do you have? Please leave me a comment below and let’s talk about it!

Photo: meddygarnet

Brandon Turner is an active real estate investor, entrepreneur, writer, and co-host of the BiggerPockets Podcast. He began buying rental properties and flipping houses at age 21, discovering he didn’t need to work 40 years at a corporate job to have “the good life.” Today, with nearly 100 rental units and dozens of rehabs under his belt, he continues to invest in real estate while also showing others the power, and impact, of financial freedom. His writings have been featured on,,, Money Magazine, and numerous other publications across the web and in print media. He is the author of The Book on Investing in Real Estate with No (and Low) Money Down, The Book on Rental Property Investing, and co-author of The Book on Managing Rental Properties, which he wrote alongside his wife, Heather, and How to Invest in Real Estate, which he wrote alongside Joshua Dorkin. A life-long adventurer, Brandon (along with Heather and daughter Rosie) splits his time between his home in Washington State and various destinations around the globe.

    Replied about 7 years ago
    Brandon, Thanks for writing this article. I have used a couple of them. Tracey
    Brandon Turner
    Replied about 7 years ago
    Awesome Tracey! Thanks!
    Tim Czarkowski
    Replied about 7 years ago
    I used an FHA loan to buy a four unit building and it was one of the best financial decisions I have made. Instead of having a mortgage payment all the money goes to savings to buy additional properties. I highly recommend this to anyone starting out. Presently I have mostly been paying cash but will get conventional financing next year, hopefully, for additional rentals.
    Replied about 7 years ago
    I’m wanting to do this but my primary home is already an FHA… We are looking to finance a 4-plex and live in it for a year or two while renting our current home. Having some trouble finding a lender to offer a conventional with 5% for owner occupy on a fourplex. Got a few more lenders to check with though so hopefully one of them works out. Last resort could be refi-ing our existing home into a conventional and then do FHA on a fourplex. We’ll see…
    Tim Czarkowski
    Replied about 7 years ago
    If you happen to be in Florida I can set you up with the mortgage broker I use. She works with something like 40 different banks.
    Replied about 7 years ago
    Thanks for the offer, I’m in Colorado. Read some folks have good experience with lendingtree, filled out an app and had a few local banks reach out to me that I’m in contact with today. We’ll see if something works out.
    Brandon Turner
    Replied about 7 years ago
    I am a big fan of FHA loans for fourplexes. It’s such a perfect combination. Thanks for the comment and good luck Tim!
    Philip Wade
    Replied about 7 years ago
    That’s a nice piece of information. It will definitely help a lot.
    Brandon Turner
    Replied about 7 years ago
    Thanks Philip!
    Brandon Turner
    Replied about 7 years ago
    Thanks Philip! Reply Report comment
    Karen Rittenhouse
    Replied about 7 years ago
    Starting out, we bought a ton of subject-to deals, but our attorney general is not looking favorably on them anymore….
    Brandon Turner
    Replied about 7 years ago
    Interesting Karen. How so? What do you think will happen?
    Karen Rittenhouse
    Replied about 7 years ago
    Our AG is actually searching for properties where the owner is not the mortgage holder. Beyond that, there is new federal legislation from the OCC (Office of the Comptroller of the Currency) requiring lenders to change the way they lend on non-owner occupied properties. All income producing properties are to be considered commercial real estate loans, not residential mortgages. This means that owners will not be able to rent out a mortgaged property but will be required to get commercial financing that will, no doubt, be less favorable. Much of this information is transferred by changes with insurance policies.
    Sharon Vornholt
    Replied about 7 years ago
    Great breakdown Brandon. You provided a lot of good information, especially for those just getting started.
    Brandon Turner
    Replied about 7 years ago
    Thanks Sharon, that is my goal. I like to write stuff that I wish was around when I started (well, it probably was but I didn’t find much!)
    Keith Schneider
    Replied over 6 years ago
    For commercial projects why not consider bringing in a private equity company. The benefits of doing so are pragmatic in that number one, the financing can be creative, on a whole or partial equity basis, with the capital equity partner sharing revenue. There are also potential beneficial terms which offer non or limited recourse loans against other assets. Private capital may allow your balance sheet to remain debt free, although there are accounting footnote requirements in financial statements. Financing through equity in an income producing property can also allow continued financial operation when there are previous lending institutions that restrict taking on new debt. If the funding company is interested it is also a good way to know that your investment is sound. Keith Schneider