Q: I experienced a hardship two years ago and had to sell my house via short sale. I am now ready to purchase a home but heard I would have to wait another year because of FHA rules. I have been paying my rent on time and my credit is in the 700s. What programs or other options do I have in terms of obtaining a loan? I want to purchase a house for $70,000. –T. Jordan
A: I’m glad to hear that your hardship has passed, and that you’ve been able to get your finances back in shape. Whoever you’ve spoken to is correct: There is a three-year waiting period after a short sale before you can qualify for an FHA loan on a new home. As I see it, though, you have three clear options:
1. Wait a year. The fact is, time flies — and you’re only 12 months away from the expiration of the FHA waiting period. Frankly, there are so many homes on the market right now, including an enormous percentage of distressed properties with condition problems and such, that between getting their own financial ducks in a row and house hunting, it is taking many homebuyers more than a year from the time they get started to get into contract, even without any waiting period.
Unless you have an uber-urgent reason to move or are very flush with cash (see No. 2, below), my advice is to wait the year. In the meantime, pay your bills on time — every time — and work with your mortgage and real estate brokers to make sure all your other financial ducks are in a row so there are no surprises when your waiting period is up.
2. Get a non-FHA loan. FHA is popular — especially among those who only have the cash to make the FHA minimum 3.5 percent down payment — but it’s not the only game in town. The vast majority of conventional (non-FHA) loans available from mainstream lenders are insured by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Both these agencies impose a shorter, two-year, post-short-sale waiting period, as long as the borrower is coming in with a 20 percent down payment. If you wait an additional two years, the minimum down payment requirement comes down to 10 percent, but by then you will qualify for the 3.5 percent FHA mortgage.
3. Plead the case of extenuating circumstances. FHA guidelines do make an exception for the three-year, post-short-sale waiting period for former homeowners/wannabe borrowers who can document that they were forced to do the short sale by extenuating circumstances. The most common fact scenarios that fit the bill are a job transfer to another area (not job loss) or a natural disaster that affected the property (e.g., fire, flood, etc.).
Beyond that, whether a "hardship," to use your terminology, rises to the level of an extenuating circumstance for purposes of qualifying for an FHA loan is up to the discretion of the lender, but things like a job loss, the adjustment of a mortgage or the decline of the home’s market value do not count.
If you had, say, an accident or illness that resulted in a temporary disability, it might be worth the effort to plead your case. Speak with your mortgage professional about whether you can make a credible argument in favor of shortening your waiting period.