What Newbies Should Know About Financing Investment Properties (Versus Homes)

What Newbies Should Know About Financing Investment Properties (Versus Homes)

5 min read
G. Brian Davis

G. Brian Davis is a landlord, personal finance expert, and financial independence retire early (FIRE) enthusiast, whose mission is to help everyday people create enough rental income to cover their living expenses.

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Through his company at SparkRental.com, he offers free rental tools such as a rental income calculator, free landlord software (including a free online rental application and tenant screening), and free masterclasses on rental investing and passive income.

He’s been obsessed with early retirement since the early 2000s (before it was “a thing”).

Besides owning dozens of properties over nearly two decades, Brian has written as a real estate and personal finance expert for publishers including Money Crashers, RETipster, Think Save Retire, 1500 Days, Lending Home, Coach Carson, and countless others.

Here’s to financial independence with real estate!

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Think getting a loan for an investment property will be as easy as your home mortgage? Think again.

Lenders are far more strict in their underwriting of investment properties and require more money down. Why? Simple: Borrowers will always default on their investment property loan before they default on their home mortgage.

With higher risk comes higher pricing, lower LTVs (loan-to-value ratios), and generally more runaround.

Here’s what new real estate investors need to know about how investment loans differ from homeowner mortgages.

Lower LTV

Plan on having to put down at least 20% of the purchase price if you’re buying an investment property.

There are exceptions, of course (most notably for house hacking, which we’ll delve into later on). By and large, however, plan on putting down 20-40% of the purchase price.

The good news is that you won’t have to worry about mortgage insurance—but that’s really the only good news.

Some conventional loan programs for investment properties allow for 80% LTV, although you should know going in that it’s a best-case scenario. You can also explore real estate crowdfunding websites, which tend to be more expensive than conventional loans, but may be more flexible.

Depending on the lender and loan program, you might also find that pricing goes down alongside LTV. In other words, if you’re willing to put down more money, you may secure a lower interest rate and lower fees.

As a final note, plan on needing at least three months’ payments as a liquid cash reserve.

BRRRR-strategy-deal

Related: The Comprehensive Guide for Financing Your Very First Real Estate Deal

Pricing

It will be higher. The end.

Alright, there’s a little more to know. Plan on both the interest rate being higher and the upfront lender fees being higher.

On paper, conventional lenders often quote that their investment property loans are only 0.25-0.5% more expensive than their homeowner loans. In my experience, it never turns out that way. Expect to add 1-3 percentage points more than an owner-occupied loan rate. That means that if a lender charges 4% interest for homeowner loans, you’ll likely pay 5-7% interest for investment loans.

And don’t forget points. Lenders charge up-front fees for mortgage loans, and one “point” is equal to one percent of the total loan amount. These obviously add up quickly.

It just gets more expensive from there, as you get away from conventional lenders and toward community banks or crowdfunding websites.

Credit

Credit matters, of course, although not as decisively as in homeowner lending.

If your credit score isn’t perfect, you’ll still have options; they’ll just cost you more. A score below 740 will spell higher interest rates, higher lender fees, and lower LTVs. The lower your credit score, the more you can expect to cough up at the table and in ongoing payments.

For borrowers with mediocre credit, conventional loans may not be an option.

Still, investment property financing is often based more on the collateral (the property) than you as a borrower. Remember, lenders know that investors are far more likely to default than homeowners, so they’ve already built some extra caution into the loan programs in the form of lower LTVs.

While a retail lender for homeowners asks themselves, “How likely is this borrower to default,” investment lenders also ask themselves, “Can we still recover our money if this borrower defaults?”

Limitations on Mortgages

Your options start dwindling, the more mortgages you have on your credit report.

Once you have four mortgages on your credit, many conventional lenders won’t touch you anymore. There is a program, however, introduced by Fannie Mae in 2009 to help spur investment that allows 5-10 mortgages to be on a borrower’s credit.

The program requires six months’ payments held as a liquid reserve at the time of settlement. It requires at least 25% down for single-family homes and 30% down for 2-4 unit properties. But with any late mortgage payments within the last year or any bankruptcies or foreclosures on your record, you’re persona non-grata.

There’s also a hard limit of a 720+ credit score for borrowers who already have six or more mortgages.

Own More Than 10 Properties?

Your options are limited.

Small community banks are an option because many keep their loans within their own portfolio. These are a good starting place for investors.

Commercial lenders sometimes lend “blanket” loans, secured against multiple properties. But if you go this route, be sure to ask what happens if you want to sell only one of the properties in the blanket or umbrella loan.

Seller financing is always an option if you can convince the seller to take on the headache (and risk). However, most sellers aren’t interested in becoming your bank.

Hard money lenders are great for flips but usually terrible for long-term rentals. They’re simply too expensive.

Look into crowdfunding websites—new ones pop up all the time and are often unafraid of lending to investors with multiple properties.

And, of course, you can great creative. Perhaps you can get a HELOC on your primary residence? Or maybe your friends and family want to invest money toward your next rental?

landlord-lessons

House Hacking

If all this borrowing talk is starting to get tedious, why not skip investment loans altogether?

You can borrow an owner-occupied mortgage for buildings with up to four units, with cheap interest rates and low (3-5%) down payments. You can even use FHA or VA financing to do it!

The idea is you move into one of the units, with your rents from neighboring units enough to cover your mortgage. In other words, you live for free. Pretty sweet deal, eh?

Related: How I Went From $0 Net Worth to Qualifying for $1M in Real Estate Financing in 2.5 Years

After living there for a year, you can go out and do it all over again, with another four-unit building!

You also score some great hands-on experience managing rental units. If you’re looking for a little inspiration, read this case study of how one newbie house hacked a duplex.

Cash Is King

No matter your real estate investing niche, more cash gives you more options. That means stockpiling cash should become a priority for you.

The less income that you can live on, the better. Some investors even live on half their income and save and invest the rest!

Between down payments, closing costs, cash reserves, renovation budgets and more, investors always need cash and lots of it. As you buy rental properties, set aside all the profits toward your next property.

Through house hacking, you can get away with buying your first property or two with minimum cash. But that will quickly change, so make cash planning a part of your real estate investing strategy.

Here’s a prefab plan for how to make the most of your initial savings, and remember to secure your financing before you actually need it for a deal!

We’re republishing this article to help out our newer readers.

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Have any questions or concerns about financing your first few deals? What about financing deals after conventional lenders won’t touch you anymore?

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