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Lender accepting FICO scores down to 550 for rehab mortgages

New loan program aimed at extending credit to 'underserved' borrowers

Carrington Mortgage Services LLC is now offering mortgages that let buyers with a FICO score as low as 550 cover the cost of both buying and repairing a home.

The firm’s new loan program marks the latest push by a lender to extend credit to a swath of borrowers that have struggled to qualify for loans in the wake of the housing bust.

The loans will be particularly useful to borrowers interested in purchasing distressed or older properties in poor condition, and can benefit real estate professionals by expanding the types of properties within reach of their clients, according to Carrington.

“By enabling our customers to buy lower-priced homes, fix them up and apply the financing toward those improvements, we’re expanding the accessibility of homeownership to borrowers — especially those in the underserved market,” said Ray Brousseau, executive vice president of Carrington Mortgage Services LLC’s mortgage lending division.

By enrolling in Carrington’s “203k Full renovation loan program,” borrowers can take out a loan backed by the Federal Housing Administration’s 203 (k) Rehab Mortgage Insurance.

To qualify for a loan guaranteed by the insurance, a home’s rehabilitation costs must be at least $5,000 and the total value of a property must fall within the FHA mortgage limit for an area.

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The total amount of a full renovation loan is determined before repairs or renovations are made to a home, with a maximum eligible repair cost of 50 percent of the “subject-to” value, according to Carrington.

To make a full renovation loan, a lender must obtain a professional estimate of what the fair market value of a home will be after repairs are completed, Carrington said. Structural repairs qualify for the loan, including room additions, according to the lender.

Carrington’s new loan program builds on previous efforts by the lender to provide what it characterizes as “innovative products to underserved borrowers.” The firm turned heads last year when it announced that it would OK mortgages to borrowers with FICO scores as low as 550.

The company says the new loan program completes its 203(k) suite of offerings, which includes FHA 203(k) streamline loans for properties in need of minor repairs and upgrades.

The Housing Finance Policy Center at the Urban Institute recently estimated that more than 4 million loans were lost in the last five years due to lenders’ reluctance to extend mortgages to borrowers with less-than-stellar credit.

But lenders have been loosening requirements lately. The Mortgage Bankers Association’s Mortgage Credit Availability Index (MCAI) rose 2.3 percent in March.

Email Teke Wiggin.