How to Get a Home Construction Loan

Building your dream home from the ground up is a great way to make sure it meets all your expectations. Securing a home construction loan can assist you in realizing your plans, but you need to know the specifics that come with these types of loans.

couple looking at construction plans

Here’s an overview of what you should know when obtaining a construction loan.

What is a construction loan?

A construction loan is a type of loan specifically designed to finance the cost of building a new home or renovation of an existing property. It’s a short-term loan with a variable interest rate, and is typically used during the construction phase of a project.

Unlike a traditional mortgage, construction loans are disbursed in installments as the construction progresses, rather than as a lump sum. This helps to minimize the risk for both the lender and the borrower, as the loan amount is based on the actual costs of construction.

How do construction loans work?

Construction loans are typically offered by specialized lenders or banks and are often secured by the property being built. Borrowers are usually required to provide a detailed construction plan, as well as a budget and timeline for the project. The lender will then release funds as each construction milestone is completed and inspected.

At the end of the construction process, the construction loan will typically be converted into a permanent mortgage. This conversion process can occur automatically or require a separate application and approval process, depending on the lender’s requirements.

3 Types of Home Construction Loans

There are three main types of home construction loans: construction-to-permanent, construction-only, and renovation.

Construction-to-Permanent Loan

With this type of home construction loan, once the home is built, the loan converts to a permanent mortgage. You typically only have to pay closing costs once, which can save you money.

You can also choose to pay interest during the building phase. However, it’s typically a variable interest rate, so your payments will fluctuate. After the home is built, and your construction loan converts to a permanent mortgage, you might be able to choose whether you want a variable rate or a fixed rate.

You may want to consider this type of loan if you have a feasible plan for your house’s construction, and you want to pay it back over time with a reliable monthly payment.

Construction-Only Loan

This type of loan requires full repayment at the end of the construction phase, rather than automatic conversion to a mortgage. This means that you’ll incur two sets of closing costs and have to secure approval for two separate loans.

However, a construction-only loan may require a smaller down payment compared to a construction-to-permanent loan. If you already own a home, you may consider obtaining a construction-only loan initially and waiting to sell your current home to accumulate a larger down payment for a mortgage.

Construction-only loans can be a suitable option for individuals who currently have limited funds but expect to have more in the future. After completing construction, you can apply for a mortgage to pay off the loan.

One potential drawback of this type of loan is that if your financial or credit situation changes during construction, you may not qualify for a mortgage large enough to repay the loan. This can lead to new problems, including the possibility of losing your home before you even move in.

Renovation Construction Loan

Rather than helping you build something new, a renovation loan is designed to help you cover the costs of a major remodel. If you want to turn a fixer-upper into the home of your dreams, but aren’t sure if you have the money for renovations, this type of loan can help.

It’s important to note that these aren’t home improvement loans. A home improvement loan often deals with smaller remodels and is based on how much equity you currently have in the home. Renovation construction loans are about major overhauls.

Typically, you’ll get a loan big enough to cover the costs of renovations as a mortgage. You only apply for one loan, and it’s based on the likely value of the home after the remodel is finished. This can be a big help if you don’t want to try to finance the cost of upgrades after you buy the house.

Expenses Covered by Construction Loans

In general, you’ll find that most construction loans pay for various aspects of a project, including:

  • Obtaining the land (or the fixer-upper if you’re getting a renovation loan)
  • Getting the plans for the home
  • Applying for the permits
  • Paying the fees associated with construction
  • Contingency reserves for covering unexpected costs
  • Closing costs

You might also be able to have interest reserves built into your construction loan if you would rather not make interest payments while your home is being built or renovated.

The idea is that everything you need to complete your home, whether new-built or a renovation, is wrapped up in the loan.

Create a Plan for Your Custom Home

When building a home, you can’t just ask a lender for an appraisal or just get approved for a certain amount. Construction loan lenders expect to see a plan for the construction of the home.

When you apply for a home construction loan, you’ll need to let your lender know the following information:

  • Size of the home and the lot
  • Placement of the lot
  • Home plans (possibly include blueprints)
  • Materials used to build the home
  • Types of renovations you plan to make (for an applicable loan)
  • Timeline for completing the home
  • Contractors that will be hired

Lenders will dig into this information to decide if you’re a good risk. They want to know that the home, or the lot, will at least be worth something if you default on the loan. Part of the process is understanding that the home will at least be worth what you’re borrowing once it’s finished.

At each stage of construction, and before disbursement is made, the work will have to be inspected. If you choose a general contractor that’s experienced and respected, they can help you provide needed information to your lender, and you can be reasonably assured that they will do good work.

Qualifying for a Home Construction Loan

Now that you have a plan for your new home, it’s time to qualify for your construction loan. In many ways, the process is the same as qualifying for a traditional mortgage loan. The construction loan lender will review your financial situation and decide if you present a relatively low risk. Some of the things that a construction loan provider looks at include:

  • Credit score: This is the most important element of any home loan, and it’s no different with construction loans. In fact, because there might not be anything of tangible value before construction, you might need an even higher credit score. You typically need a minimum credit score of 680 to qualify, so you need to improve your credit score if you’re not there yet.
  • Debt-to-income (DTI) ratio: As with a regular mortgage, the lower your debt-to-income ratio, the better off you’ll be. Most lenders require that your DTI be no more than 45% of your gross monthly income.
  • Down payment: While you might be able to get by with 5% or less for a down payment with traditional mortgages (FHA, USDA, and VA loans famously come with much lower down payments), construction loans are a different story. You’ll likely have to put down at least 20% to make it happen. In some cases, though, as with a renovation loan, you might get away with a lower down payment.

By planning ahead and making sure your finances are in order, you have a better chance of qualifying for a construction loan.

Prepare for a Longer Closing Period

Realize that there are many moving parts to your home construction loan. It’s not just you and your lender involved. You’ve got a builder or contractor as part of the arrangement, and you’re not going to get a lump sum. Instead, the lender will evaluate you and the contractor you choose separately.

Additionally, a timeline for disbursements needs to be set up. Moreover, a lender might need to consider insurance related to the process. Plus, whether you choose a construction-to-permanent or construction-only loan matters a great deal as you negotiate with a lender about your terms.

As a result of these different aspects of construction loans, you might have to allow for a longer closing period. Additionally, you’re likely to see delays and additional costs during the building portion, so making sure you have adequate contingency reserves built into your new home is vital.

Bottom Line

With a construction loan, you can turn your dream home vision into a reality, whether building from the ground up or renovating a fixer-upper. Be aware, however, that a construction loan entails different terms and conditions.

Your lender will not simply grant you the entire loan amount without first ensuring your ability to use it responsibly. You must prove your financial capability and the viability of your construction project. Your lender will keep a close eye on the allocation of funds as the project progresses.

If you have a good understanding of how a construction loan operates, it can be a valuable tool in ensuring you achieve the home of your dreams.

See also: Is It Cheaper to Build or Buy a House?

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I qualify for a construction loan?

To qualify for a construction loan, you will typically need to have a good credit score and a sufficient amount of equity in your property (if you are building on land that you already own). You will also need to provide a detailed construction plan and budget, as well as proof of your ability to repay the loan.

How long does it take to get a construction loan?

The process of getting a construction loan can vary in length depending on the lender and the specifics of your situation. In general, it can take several weeks or even months to complete the application process and receive approval for a construction loan.

How much can I borrow with a construction loan?

The loan amount you can obtain through a construction loan is based on various factors including your credit score, the worth of the property, and your equity in the property. Usually, borrowers can expect to secure up to 80% of the property value. However, the loan amount can differ based on the lender’s policies.

How are funds from a construction loan distributed?

The distribution of funds from a construction loan is typically done in stages, based on the progress of the construction project. The lender will release funds as specific milestones are reached, such as the completion of the foundation, the rough framing, or the final inspection. This process helps to ensure that the funds are used for the intended purposes and that the construction project is proceeding as planned.

Before each release of funds, the lender may require an inspection to verify that the work has been completed to their satisfaction. The exact terms of the distribution of funds may vary based on the lender and the specifics of the loan agreement.

Are construction loans more expensive than other types of loans?

Construction loans can carry higher interest rates and fees due to the higher risk for the lender. However, the total cost of the loan will vary based on the lender, loan type, and loan terms.

Can I use a construction loan to remodel my existing home?

Yes, construction loans can be utilized for renovating an existing home too. Normally, those borrowing must present a comprehensive renovation plan, cost estimate, and demonstrate their repayment capability.

Miranda Marquit
Meet the author

Miranda has been covering personal finance topics for more than 10 years as a freelance writer and journalist. She has contributed to Forbes, NPR, MarketWatch, Yahoo! Finance, U.S. News and World Report, and many other media outlets. Miranda has an M.A. in Journalism and is currently working on an MBA. She lives in Idaho with her son, where she enjoys reading, travel, and the outdoors.