Owner Financing

It's rare that you'll be able to buy a house which the seller will finance for you. If that explanation satisfies you, then you can skip this section and go on to the next one. If you happen to find an owner-financing opportunity, you can always return to this page later. There's a lot to know about buying a house and spending time learning things that don't apply to you may only confuse and overwhelm you, and distract you from the things you do need to know.

Next topic: Qualifying for a loan

Owner Financing

(aka "Seller Financing")

You might be thinking, "Hey, could I just make payments directly to the seller instead of getting a mortgage? Then I wouldn't have to qualify for the mortgage." That indeed could be a good deal, except that owner-financed deals like this are rare. Here's why.

The seller has to pay off their existing mortgage before they can sell.

Let's say the seller is selling the house for $150,000 house, and they've got $110,000 left on the mortgage. If they sell it the regular way, where you get your own loan from a bank, then $110,000 of the your new mortgage will pay off the seller's old mortgage, and the seller will wind up with $40,000 in cash.

But if the seller wants to owner-finance to you, then s/he'll have to pay off the existing mortgage first. Does the seller have a spare $110,000 lying around? Probably not. So in most cases, sellers can't owner-finance to you even if they wanted to, because they don't have the means to pay off their existing mortgage.

The seller wants all their cash up front.

With a regular sale, the seller gets all the cash up front. When they owner-finance, the money trickles in, month by month, for 30 years. So most sellers prefer a regular sale so they can get all their money up front. After all, what's the most common reason people sell a house? So they can buy another one. And they'll likely need the money from the sale of the old house to use as a down payment on the new house, or to fix it up, or both.

Another reason the seller might not want to owner-finance is that they don't expect to live another 30 years in order to collect all the payments. This is especially true if the seller is over 40.

So you see, sellers usually either can't seller-finance, or they don't want to. That's why you'll rarely find houses that are owner-financed.


Of course there are exceptions. Here are cases when owner-financing is a possibility.

  • Financing as an investment. If the seller doesn't need all the proceeds from the sale right away, then owner-financing a home can be a great investment. When you put money in the stock market, you might get 6%, or maybe a little more -- or you could lose 5, 10, or 20%, or all of it. By contrast, owner-financing gives the seller a guaranteed return of whatever the interest rate on the loan is. Further, sellers who owner-finance can charge a higher interest rate than banks because seller-financing often makes the deal attractive to the buyer, especially if the buyer couldn't qualify for a bank loan. The main risk to the seller is that the buyer will fail to make the monthly payments (known as "defaulting" on the loan), but in that case the seller can reclaim the house ("foreclose" on it) and sell it to get their money back. The seller is fine as long as they can sell the house for at least as much as is left on the loan.

  • You offer a higher interest rate. One way you might be able to convince an owner to seller-finance is to offer to pay a higher interest rate. Of course, you wouldn't make such an offer if you're able to qualify for a bank loan, but if you can't get a bank loan, then offering a higher rate directly to the seller might be what it takes to get you into the home you want. Also, once you've had the home for a year or two and your financial situation improves you might be able to move that loan to a bank.

  • The seller finances only part of the loan. Once I wanted to buy a home but I couldn't come up with the last $36,000. (I had no more cash left and couldn't get a bigger loan.) But I really wanted the house. So I asked the owner to owner-finance just that small part of the cost of the house, and I offered him twice the prevailing interest rate. He accepted. A year later I was able to easily move that loan to a bank at half the interest rate, so I only had to pay the higher interest for one year.

If you do find an FSBO deal, there's a good chance that neither side will be using a realtor. Whether you use a realtor, all the papers for the sale are handled by and signed at the office of a title company, which makes sure (among other things) that the home is really the seller's to sell, and that there aren't any outstanding claims against the property. If you want further protection, you can hire an attorney to check the paperwork, though most people don't opt for this. I've never done it.

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