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VA Construction Loans: How to Build a Home with a VA Loan

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Building your dream home is a possibility with a VA home loan. But it isn’t always an easy road.

This no-down payment program allows qualified borrowers to use their VA loan entitlement to obtain a mortgage for new construction. But it can be challenging to find lenders willing to make a true $0 down VA construction loan.

The VA basically insures loans, but it’s up to individual VA-approved lenders to determine what kind of loans they’ll issue. There’s a level of risk in new construction that many mortgage lenders continue to shy away from.

Like many other lenders, Veterans United does not make VA construction loans to build new homes.

What’s increasingly common is that veterans secure a construction loan from a builder or a local lending institution. As the homebuilding process wraps up, qualified borrowers can basically turn that short-term construction loan into a permanent VA mortgage.

Let’s take a closer look.

Getting Construction & Land Loans

Getting a traditional construction loan often requires a down payment, although it may be possible to recoup that in some cases. We’ll talk more about that shortly.

When it comes to looking for a construction loan, it can pay to shop around. Talk with multiple builders and financial institutions and compare down payment requirements, closing cost estimates and more.

Some builders may have programs or deals especially for veterans and military families. Do your homework and make sure you’re working with a legitimate builder with a track record of success and satisfied homeowners.

There are also restrictions about using the VA loan to purchase land. Borrowers can’t use a VA loan to purchase unimproved land with the goal of one day building a home on the site. There are traditional land loans for this purpose, but they typically require a down payment, too.

Veterans and military members who own the land they want to build on may be able to use any equity they have toward down payment requirements for construction financing.

Veterans who don’t already own land can often include the purchase of it in their overall construction loan.

It’s important to understand that construction loans are short-term loans. That means it’s imperative for veterans and military members to start working on the permanent financing as early as possible.

Lenders can take a couple different approaches to turning that short-term construction loan into a permanent VA loan. One is to issue a VA purchase loan, the other is to make a VA Cash-Out refinance loan. Guidelines and policies on this can vary by lender.

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Permanent VA Financing for Construction Loans

Veterans and military members hoping to turn their construction loan into a permanent VA mortgage will need to meet the same underwriting guidelines as a veteran purchasing an existing home, from credit scores and debt-to-income ratio to residual income and more. From an underwriting perspective, there’s little difference between a VA purchase and a VA Cash-Out refinance.

The home will need to be constructed by a builder with a valid VA builder ID. These aren’t hard to get, and it’s even possible for veterans to build the home themselves. Builders will often need to provide a one-year warranty.

VA appraisals are required even for new construction, but the appraiser may be able to base the appraisal on the home’s plans and specifications, with a final inspection to follow once the home is actually built.

These are just a few reasons why it’s important to talk with a VA lender at the beginning of the process. Lining up a construction loan is a critical step, but you’ll need to be able to turn that short-term loan into a long-term mortgage once the home is built. That’s not something you want to wait to explore.

New Construction Purchase v. Refinance

The big difference between VA purchase and VA Cash-Out refinance loans is your ability to get cash back at closing.

With a VA purchase loan, lenders will lend whichever is less between the appraised value of the home and the total payoff for the home’s construction (and the land loan if that amount isn’t included in the construction loan).

On a Cash-Out refinance, qualified buyers may be able to borrow up to 100 percent of the home’s appraised value. That means veterans and military members may be able get cash back at closing from the home’s equity, which could help defray the upfront cost of a down payment or other cash outlays.

For example, let’s say you put down 10 percent to secure a $300,000 construction loan that covers acquisition of the land and construction of the new home. Subtract the down payment you’ve already forked over ($30,000) and you’re left needing to borrow $270,000 to repay the construction loan.

If the VA appraisal ultimately determines the home’s value is $300,000, you might be able to borrow that amount and get back in cash the difference between the appraised value and what you owe ($30,000 in this example).

Guidelines on loan-to-value ratio and other requirements can vary by lender.

Generally, at Veterans United, the borrower would need to hold title to the land on which the home is built in order to be eligible for a refinance. Otherwise, we would treat it as a purchase loan.

Some buyers may jump at this cash-back opportunity, while others would prefer to keep building equity and start with the smaller loan balance. Every buyer’s situation is different.

To sum up, it is absolutely possible to use your VA loan benefits for new construction. But the process isn’t always simple or straightforward, and some buyers may need money for a down payment to get things moving.

Talk with a Veterans United loan specialist at 855-870-8845 about turning a construction loan into a permanent VA mortgage. You can also fill out a VA loan application and get a call back.

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