The Benefits and Limitations of Assumable Loans

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Every once in a while, the subject of assumable loans comes up. An assumable loan is one where the owner of a property has the ability to pass the loan along with the property in a sale. In other words, if they sell a property with a $200,000 assumable loan on it, by assuming the loan, the buyer only has to come up with the difference between that $200,000 and the purchase price. The $200,000 loan is a constant of the situation.

About the only loan that generally has an assumption feature is the VA loan. There are other loans out there that are assumable, but it's a matter of company policy of the lender funding the loan.

Just because a loan is assumable does not mean that any person is acceptable to assume such a loan. The lender has the right to approve or disapprove a loan assumption. The way to bet is that any prospective borrower is going to have to qualify under loan guidelines at least as stringent as the original loan. Mind you, if the rate is higher than the current market, the lender is likely to be somewhat forgiving, but if the rate is lower than current market, the lender has an incentive not to approve the assumption. They may approve it anyway, if the rate still beats the active return on the secondary market. But given the latitude to make their own decision, it's not exactly amazing how often everyone will usually follow their economic best interest.

Even after an assumption gets approved, the original borrower is not off the hook. I don't think I've ever heard of an assumption where there was no recourse to the original borrower. The VA loan has full recourse to the original borrower (and their VA guarantee) for a minimum of two years. This means that those original borrowers aren't going to be able to get another VA loan for at least two years, or at least that they're limited by the amount of their overall VA limit tied up in the assumed loan.

Other than VA loans, loans where there is an assumable option are generally a little higher than the non-assumable competition in terms of the tradeoff between loan rate and costs. This is because assumability is a feature with value. They're giving you something that has value the competition does not - they want some value in return. It's generally not a huge difference, but in the absence of someone asking for an assumable loan, I generally presume lower rate/cost tradeoff is more important to my clients, and I can't remember the last time a wholesaler with assumable loans won that battle.

There is a concrete value to having an assumable loan. Particularly in buyer's markets, they are one more way to get the property sold, and sold at a better price. After all, you have a feature that few other sellers have. The offer to allow someone to assume your loan can help certain kinds of buyers who may not be able to qualify otherwise, It's a narrow niche, but it does exist, and the ability to have any niche of potential buyers to yourself is valuable in a buyer's market. This doesn't say you can ask for way more than the property is worth, it says that you have a tool to lure certain types of buyer, and have a tool to move negotiations in the direction you'd like them to go once there is an offer.

Finally, I should mention that having an assumable loan on the property is in no way a magic wand for buyers. Buyers still need to qualify to make those payments with that lender. Furthermore, assumable loans require that you be in a position to essentially step into the seller's shoes, equity wise. If the property is selling for $350,000 and there's a $200,000 assumable loan on the property, the other $150,000 has to come from somewhere, and second trust deeds aren't currently going above 90% of value, period - not to mention second mortgages have a higher rate. The existing lender is not going to put more money to an existing loan. So even though the mortgage may be legally assumable, it doesn't mean it's necessarily going to work for your transaction.

Caveat Emptor

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on July 29, 2014 7:00 AM.

Why You Want To Price Your Property Correctly From Day One was the previous entry in this blog.

Ill-Considered Real Estate Offers and Contracts is the next entry in this blog.

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