WRITTEN BY BENNY L. KASS
Question: My mother wants to buy a condominium, now that she is living alone and no longer needs the old four-bedroom family home. She prefers to buy a condominium first, and make the move from the house to the condo over a period of time. After she has completely settled into the new condominium, she will then put the house on the market for sale. Assuming the condominium will cost less than what the house sell for, what is the least expensive way to bridge the two sales? In other words, is it possible to obtain a mortgage for only three to six months?
Answer: Your question has raised a number of issues, which I will try to explore in this column.
First, in my opinion — and if you can afford it — it is always better to move into a new home before you sell the old one. This gives you an opportunity to do whatever renovation is needed, without having to immediately move all the furniture into the new place.
But, obviously, not everyone can afford the luxury of owning two houses, and sometimes having to pay two separate monthly mortgage and duplicate real estate tax bills.
In your mother’s case, the family home is free and clear of any mortgage obligation. She should be able to obtain a “bridge” loan from a responsible lender, to enable her to have sufficient funds to purchase the condomimium. The loan will be secured by a first deed of trust (a mortgage) on the family home, and will be paid off in full when that house is ultimately sold.
Second, you ask whether short term loans are available. The answer is not simple, insofar as mortgage lenders do not want to spend a lot of time — and money — processing a loan application, only to have it paid off within a couple of months. Thus, while you might find such a short-term bridge loan from a mortgage lender, the interest rate may not be competitive.
On the other hand, your mother may be able to get a regular bank loan for the amount she needs, secured by a deed of trust on either or both the family home or the condominium unit. Much would depend on your mother’s financial situation at the time of loan application.
However, there is another way that, in my opinion, makes the most sense. Your mother may be successful in selling the home immediately; it may also be on the market for a long period of time. She does not want to commit herself to repay a loan in just a few months time, when there is uncertainty as to when her house will sell.
Thus, she should consider obtaining a regular mortgage loan on the family home. If necessary, you could co-sign and guarantee payment of the loan. She should obtain an Adjustable Rate Morgtgage (ARM) for one year, and make sure there is no prepayment penalty. If she is lucky and sells the house quickly, she can then use the sales proceeds to pay off the new loan. If, for any reason, the house does not sell quickly, she will have a low rate of interest for a period of one year.
More importantly, however, your mother should carefully review her financial situation. If she uses all (or most of) the cash from the sale to purchase the new property, will she end up “house rich and cash poor”? Perhaps she should consider obtaining a mortgage on the condominium unit (again your help may be required), and then keep the cash when the house is sold.
She should also review the tax situation before she sells. Will she have a large capital gain to pay? Is she eligible for the up-to-$500,000 (or $250,000) exclusion of profits? When did your dad die?
From a tax point of view, it makes no difference whether or not she uses any or all of the sales proceeds to purchase the condominium unit. She is either eligible for the exclusion or she is not.
There are two other alternatives which should be considered.
First, can she obtain a home equity loan on her current house and use these proceeds to purchase the condominium? Even under the new tax laws, so long as the money obtained from the loan is used to buy a new home or improve your present one, your mother will be able to deduct the interest she has to pay.
Second, are you in the financial position to lend her the money to purchase the condominium? If so, your mother can borrow directly from you, at a reasonable interest rate, and the loan will be secured by the new property. She can pay you interest only on a monthly basis, and you can decide at a later date if you want to gift her back a portion of the loan on a yearly basis, tax free.
Under no circumstances, however, should you consider going on title with her on the condominium unless you have fully explored all of the legal and tax ramification of such a move. There are significant negative aspects of putting your name on the deed, and obviously you want to maximize the tax benefits as much as possible.
Children often want to do right for their parents, and this of course is commendable. However, there are serious IRS repurcussions if the wrong steps are taken (even for the right reasons), and you must explore the situation with your own tax advisors before signing any legal papers. Also, we all have to carefully analyze the impact of the new tax law.
Bottom line: your mother should first talk with a financial advisor to explore all of the options.