For those looking to build their dream home, purchasing land is usually the first big step.
While building a house is far from easy, there are ways for first-time homeowners to make their dreams achievable. Land loans are a great resource, often used in conjunction with a traditional loan. Anyone choosing to build a house is likely to at least consider applying for a land loan.
A land or lot loan is a great financing option for those who have always dreamed of buying land and building their own home.
What are land loans?
Land loans are loan products designed to help individuals and businesses purchase land for development. A bank, credit union, or online lender can offer specific loans for those interested in buying land. Land loans are also known as ‘lot loans’.
Similar to a mortgage loan, land loans provide individuals and small businesses the opportunity to finance the purchase of land for many purposes, such as investment, agriculture, recreation, or development.
However, because these types of loan are considered riskier for lenders, they typically come with a higher interest rate compared to a mortgage loan. In addition, the conditions of the loan will depend on the type of land being purchased, as well as what the land will be used for.
Let’s take a closer look at the types of land that a land loan can help finance.
Types of Land Classification
Your chances of obtaining financing for land will depend partly on the type of land you want to purchase. In general, lenders who offer land loans will view developed land as less of a risk than undeveloped land.
When it comes to land loans, there are three primary types of land considered for financing.
‘Raw land’ is the first classification and refers to completely undeveloped, rural land. Think no buildings, electricity or drainage system. This is the most difficult land to obtain financing for because land loan lenders view it as the greatest risk of abandonment.
As a result, if you plan to apply for a land loan for raw land, you’ll need to demonstrate that you’ve got a detailed plan for development. Showing lenders that you’re competent and dedicated to the project will help you navigate the lending market.
Although the purchase price of raw land is often cheaper than land that is developed, a raw land loan will come with higher rates. You may also be required to put up a more substantial down payment.
‘Unimproved land’ is a step up from raw land, and covers a broad variety of possibilities. Unimproved land will often be land that was once developed, or has seen failed attempts at development in the past. In some cases unimproved land will have some limited access to utilities and amenities, but will need significant repair and refurbishing.
An unimproved land loan can also be difficult to get, even though it poses less risk compared to raw land. Again, having a detailed plan and being aware of the challenges at hand will be a huge help when negotiating with lenders. A large down payment and a strong credit score will also be helpful.
While lenders tend to view unimproved land loans as less risky than raw land, it is still common for rates to be a fair bit higher compared to traditional mortgage rates, for example.
Improved Land Loan
‘Improved land’ typically has decent or good access to utilities, roads and water. Because improved land is the most developed land type, it almost always comes with a higher price tag. On the other hand, this means that interest rates will be significantly lower compared to raw or unimproved land loans. You’ll also find more affordable down payments for developed lots.
For most aspiring homeowners, purchasing land that is already developed with access to basic amenities is the ideal. This allows them to immediately get to work building a house, whereas having to develop land first could add at least another year to their construction project.
11 Best Banks for Land Loans 2023
Because land loans typically carry higher interest rates than traditional mortgage loans, it pays to carefully consider the pros and cons of several lenders.
Below we’ve compiled a detailed list of the banks and credit unions offering the best land loans available today. Whatever lender you choose, be sure to check beforehand that they are fully licensed to provide mortgage loans.
The Nationwide Mortgage Licensing System (NMLS) is a centralized database of licensed lenders which you can use as a reference.
1. Atlantic Union Bank
Atlantic Union Bank offers land loans for both residential lots and undeveloped land. The bank is based in Virginia.
There are also separate construction loans available for those interested in financing the construction of a residence. Bear in mind that while Atlantic Union has a strong reputation as lenders, having been in business since 1902, they don’t have services like loan calculators, interest rate guidelines, or down payment information on their website.
For more information on a land loan with Atlantic, you’ll need to call them or visit a local branch to speak about a land loan.
2. Old National Bank
Old National Bank is headquartered in Indiana, and has been in operation since 1834. They offer lending products and services to residents of Indiana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Kentucky. Old National has two different types of financing for land on offer, depending on the size of the property you’re interested in:
- Lot Loans are designed to finance land purchases of no more than 5 acres, requiring a 20% down payment.
- Land Loans are for larger property, designed to finance land purchases between 5 and 25 acres. These loans come with a minimum down payment of 35%.
Both land and lot loans with Old National will carry various interest rates and repayment terms. You can get either of these loan types for both improved and unimproved land, and there is no obligation to immediately begin building once a loan is secured.
Old National Bank also has around 250 brick-and-mortar locations since merging with First Midwest Bank. If visiting a local branch to speak with a loan officer is your preference, you shouldn’t have to travel too far.
On the other hand, you also have the option of using Old National’s online loan calculator and online loan application service, if visiting a local branch isn’t convenient.
3. Mountain America Credit Union
Mountain America Credit Union is a federally chartered credit union regulated by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) and headquartered in Sandy, Utah. They locations across Arizona, Idaho, Utah, Montana, Nevada, and New Mexico.
Mountain America’s lot loans are available with 85% financing on approved credit, fully amortizing fixed-rate and balloon options, and an easy online application process. The loans are designed to be easily converted to a construction loan, ensuring that you can move forward with your home building plans when you’re ready.
4. WaFd Bank
WaFd, or Washington Federal, offers bank loans for improved land up to the value of $700,000, without any immediate obligations to build.
You can use their online loan calculator to receive an estimate of the interest rates you can expect for a land loan. These estimates are based on your credit score, development plans and the specifications of your desired property.
The minimum down payments and interest rates will vary depending on your ideal loan term, as well as all the other details of your application.
You can apply directly for loans through their online portal, as well as in person at a bank branch. Land loans are available from WaFd Bank only in the following states: Washington, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas and Utah.
5. Banner Bank
Banner Bank is active in the states of Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and California. They offer financing for purchasing both improved and unimproved land. Banner allows customers to borrow up to 75% of a property’s purchase price, and they also claim to bring competitive interest rates and fees.
All loans with Banner Bank are approved in-house, which means a streamlined credit score check and loan approval process.
If you do apply for a loan with Banner Bank, you also have the option of locking in a fixed interest rate or a flexible rate. Banner also offers financing for construction and personal loans.
6. California Bank & Trust
Customers with California Bank and Trust can potentially avail of both a land loan and a construction loan in one. The bank offers financing for up to 60% of the lot purchase value, along with several loan options.
The option to choose either a single or dual-purpose loan, which can cover both land purchase and construction of a home, makes California Bank & Trust an attractive lender. This is a great option for those looking to save both time and money.
You can apply for a loan online, over the phone, or in person at a local branch.
7. Randolph-Brooks Federal Credit Union
Randolph-Brooks Federal Credit Union is not your typical financial institution. As a financial cooperative, its sole mission is to help members save time, save money, and earn money. Over the years, the credit union has expanded its reach to over 1 million members in Texas and beyond, with a strong presence in Austin, Corpus Christi, Dallas-Fort Worth, and San Antonio.
With over 60 branches dedicated to serving members and the community, RBFCU offers a range of land loan benefits and features, including term options up to 15 years, free 60-day rate lock, and up to 90 percent financing.
And the best part? There are no building requirements from the lender, so you can have the freedom to build your dream home the way you want. Set up automatic payments and let RBFCU help you make your land ownership dreams a reality.
8. Citizens Bank & Trust
Citizens Bank & Trust is a North Alabama-based institution that’s committed to providing a hassle-free lending experience. What’s more, you can roll your loan into a permanent one, saving you on closing costs.
With local decision-making and processing, you’ll get the personalized attention you deserve, while a streamlined application process ensures you get your funds when you need them. You can experience a stress-free borrowing experience when you choose Citizens Bank & Trust for your land loan needs.
9. Alpine Bank
Alpine Bank is active in Colorado, offering financial services including land loans. Specifically, they offer loans for both lot and new constructions, with a maximum loan to value amount of 75% for land classified as improved.
Alpine Bank doesn’t offer lending details on their website. You can use their website to connect with lending experts in your county. You can also reach out for more loan information online, over the phone, or in person at one of their local bank branches.
10. First Bank & Trust
If you’re looking to buy land or a lot and build your dream home, First Bank and Trust Company can help. Headquartered in southwest Virginia, with additional locations in Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia, the bank is committed to helping you realize your homeownership goals.
With a range of lot and land loans, you can choose the financing option that’s right for you, while enjoying competitive rates and flexible terms. Whether you’re looking to build your dream home or invest in a piece of land, First Bank and Trust Company has the financing options you need to make it happen.
11. First Hawaiian Bank
First Hawaiian Bank offers land loan options designed for those who are ready to buy land but not quite ready to build. With 2- and 3-year terms available and no prepayment penalty, you can secure the land you want without worrying about costly fees. And with interim financing available to purchase a vacant lot at residential pricing, you can lock down the land you need to bring your vision to life.
Best of all, your FHB land loan can be refinanced into a construction-to-permanent loan with reduced fees, making it easier than ever to get the financing you need to build your dream home.
How to Apply for a Land Loan
If you want to buy land and build your dream home, you’ll probably want to apply for a land loan. Land loan applying isn’t complex, and land loans work the same as many other types of loan. Here are the steps involved:
Find a Plot
You should start by first identifying the plot of land you want to buy. It helps to have a few options chosen in advance. For example, in the event that you can’t afford to find a good lending option for your first choice, you can quickly move on to an alternative instead.
Draw up a Development Plan
The next step is to make a development plan for each plot that you have on your shortlist. You may need or want to hire professional help to create a solid plan. Try to include as much detail as possible, without overextending yourself or wasting too much time and money.
When it comes to development and construction plans, both an estimated timeframe and overall cost range are the most important details. A good plan will help you negotiate the best rates with a lender.
Find a Lender
Once your development plan is ready, it’s time to seek potential lenders. Depending on the type of development you’re proposing, as well as the type of land you want to buy, it may take some time to find willing lenders.
Be prepared to also take some time to consider more than one loan offer. Ideally, you can compare multiple lenders, and use a pre-approved quote from at least one lender to negotiate against others.
Complete the Application Process
Once you’ve chosen a lender and been approved for your loan, you’ll be guided through the lender’s application process. The majority of lenders will require information such as your development plan, a credit check, and personal information.
You might also need to provide details on things like zoning considerations, utilities access and land use restrictions, where relevant.
Alternative Land Financing Options
In addition to seeking a land or construction loan, there are several other types of loans and financing options available.
If you’re looking to own land and build a home in a rural area, you may be eligible for a USDA loan. The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers loans that may assist low and moderate income families in finding a new home. USDA Section 523 loans are for wanting to purchase land to develop, and Section 524 loans are for financing new constructions by contractors.
While it isn’t easy to qualify for a USDA loan, the benefit is they require no down payment and the interest rates are low. USDA loans must be settled within two years, however, so there are no long term options.
Another government-funded product, FHA loans are tailored towards those wanting to buy land and quickly build a home. The Federal Housing Administration insures these loans, protecting FHA-approved lenders from risk.
FHA loans are not available for land purchase alone, but for those intending to build a home on as well as land. FHA loans are sometimes granted in conjunction with construction loans, too. If you’re eligible for one of these loans, you’ll likely have a lower minimum down payment, but potentially higher interest rates.
Home Equity Loans
Home equity loans may be an appealing alternative to land loans for some homeowners. If you already own a property and have good credit standing, this kind of loan might be a good fit. A home equity loan acts as a second mortgage, and will essentially convert your equity into collateral for a new loan to fund your purchase.
Cash-out refinancing involves homeowners refinancing their homes to increase equity. This type of refinancing is essentially paying off your current mortgage to secure another mortgage, but with a lower interest rate and easier monthly payments.
Once the remortgaging is made official, your bank or financial institution will issue you a check based on the equity in your property. You can then use this payment to fund your land purchase.
The Small Business Administration (SBA) offers loans to small business owners from the 504 loan program.
These loans are best suited to the purchase of real estate for business reasons, so they are not ideal for regular homeowners. However, if you’re looking for land to purchase to grow your business, you might want to consider an SBA loan.
Generally, the Small Business Administration will cover 40% of the purchase value, with 10% from the borrower and another lender of choice providing the other half of the loan. The terms and rates on SBA loans vary depending on the lender you choose to fund 50% of the land purchase.
If you’re lucky, you may be able to obtain financing directly from the landowner you want to buy from. Also known as land contracts, these types of loans involve the buyer essentially taking out a loan directly from the seller, often with a substantial down payment.
Seller financing also tends to come with less than competitive interest rates. For those who struggle to qualify for a traditional mortgage or financing, seller financing can often be a great, but more costly, alternative.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best loan for buying land?
The best loan option for buying land depends on your circumstances. While improved land loans may seem ideal, the reality is there are multiple loan options to choose from.
Your credit score, debt-to-income ratio, and the condition of the land you wish to purchase are all factors that can influence which type of financing will suit you best.
Is it difficult to get a loan for land?
It’s true that obtaining loan financing for the purchase of land isn’t as easy as getting a regular personal loan. However, there are lenders out there with experience financing land purchases. As with any loan, the bottom line will be your credit score, as well as the size of your down payment. The nature of the land in question is also a primary factor.
If you can’t qualify for traditional financing options, there are alternatives such as USDA loans, FHA loans and more to consider.