A Word of Caution about HUD 203(k) Mortgages

Not the most stimulating headline, I admit, but it’s a topic that deserves some bandwith. Let’s be honest: who out there even knows what a HUD 203(k) Mortgage is? Who’s first instinct (I’m guilty) was that it is an abstruse program that brings together 401K retirement accounts with mortgage financing?That’s what I thought.

Let’s get serious for a moment. A 203(k) is a HUD program that provides mortgage loans for the purchase of so-called “fixer-upper” properties. According to HUD,  203(k) mortgages serve a very important function because, “The purchase of a house that needs repair is often a catch-22 situation, because the bank won’t lend the money to buy the house until the repairs are complete, and the repairs can’t be done until the house has been purchased.”

Towards that end, the 203(k) allows the borrower to roll all of the costs of renovation into the mortgage. While these costs are theoretically uncapped, they must be estimated ahead of time. Further, it must be confirmed by an appraiser that the value of the home will increase at lease by these costs upon the work’s completion. In this way, those that might have otherwise been discouraged from buying dilapidated properties have an inexpensive source of financing (only 3.5% down, consistent with the FHA’s other mortgages).

There is also a new Streamlined 203(k) “Limited Repair Program, that permits homebuyers to finance an additional $35,000 into their mortgage to improve or upgrade their home before move-in. With this new product, homebuyers can quickly and easily tap into cash to pay for property repairs or improvements, such as those identified by a home inspector or FHA appraiser.”

The costs of these repairs, along with a “contingency reserve” of 10-20%, origination fees, and of course the purchase price of the property,

are all rolled into the mortgage. Since it’s assumed that many of these properties won’t be of inhabitable condition until after the repairs are completed, the borrower also has the option of rolling 6 months of pre-payments (PITI) into the mortgage as well. Upon closing of the mortgage, the repair costs are deposited into an escrow. Withdrawing these funds can be tricky, however.

While FHA loans are effectively guaranteed by the government, they are originated and administered by private lenders. As one couple’s story illustrates, dealing with one’s lender is not always straightforward when it comes to the 203(k):

“As the contractors were hungry for work, we got started improving the property right away,” she said. “We had been told by our mortgage broker that we could expect the first draw against our $35,000 escrow 15 days after closing.”

As time passed, however, “we heard nothing from Bank of America, other then where to send our first mortgage payment,” she said.

For three months, the couple paid their mortgage, yet received no check for the work done so the contractors could be paid.

To pay for the work, “we have had to empty our savings and run up our credit cards,” she said. “We finally asked them to stop until we can find resolution with Bank of America.”

Unfortunately, borrowers who get the run-around from their lenders unfortunately don’t have much recourse, and can’t expect any help from the government. The best advice, then, is to make sure that the escrow is available to you start shelling out money for repairs. In fact, the raison d’etre of the 203(k) is to prevent the borrower from having to pay for repairs out of his own pocket. In hindsight, this couple would have been wise to heed this advice.

Category: Bank loan

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