January 23, 2015 in Mortgages

Buying a mobile home, also known as a manufactured home, can be one of the most affordable ways to own.

One decision can make a significant difference in monthly payments: whether to finance the mobile home with a personal property loan or a mortgage.

Personal property loans, known as chattel loans, have much higher interest rates than mortgages. To some owners of manufactured homes, refinancing chattel loans into mortgages could reduce monthly housing expenses.

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Refinancing a mobile home

To qualify for refinancing as a mortgage:

  • The home must be on a permanent foundation that meets standards set by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
  • The manufactured home must be titled as real estate rather than as personal property.
  • The homeowner has to own the land that the manufactured home is on. An important exception to this rule is explained below.

Big difference in interest rates

In 2012, about 68 percent of all manufactured-housing purchase loans were considered higher-priced mortgage loans, and many of them were chattel loans, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Interest rates on chattel loans range from 7 percent to 12.75 percent, says Ken Rishel, founder of Rishel Consulting Group in Chicago. The loans are usually for 15 or 20 years.

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In contrast, the average rate for a 30-year fixed-rate loan has been well below 5 percent for all of 2014.

Rishel, whose company makes chattel loans of at least $5,000, says the interest rates are risk-based, and chattel loans are often the only choice for borrowers with poor credit. Chattel loans are the main option for owners whose mobile homes are not permanent foundations.

Converting to a new title

Some states have eased the process of converting a personal property title into a real estate title, making refinancing possible, says Marc J. Lifset, an attorney with McGlinchey Stafford in Albany, New York.

Lifset helped financial institutions lobby for the approval of that legislation in Alaska, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Tennessee and Virginia.

“The legislation provides a clear definition of when the home is real estate and when it is not,” he says. “It makes the process more certain. In many states, the definition was murky.”

Getting a real estate title

A real estate attorney or title company can help with a title conversion as a first step to refinance. Owners of manufactured homes need to provide:

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  • A certificate of title to the home or a copy of the manufactured certificate of origin.
  • The deed to the land where the home with the permanent foundation is located.

Once the owner has the real estate title in hand, the next step is to find lenders that provide mortgages on manufactured homes. The rest of the process is similar to closing a mortgage on any residential property.

Borrowing on leased land

Under some circumstances, owners of manufactured homes leasing a lot at a mobile home community can get mortgages — even if they don’t own the land beneath their feet.

The Federal Housing Administration offers a program known as Title I, designed for owners whose mobile homes are on a permanent foundation but are within a manufactured housing community.

Among the requirements for a Title 1 mortgage:

  • The mobile home must be the borrower’s primary residence.
  • The home has to be on a rental site in a manufactured home park that conforms to FHA guidelines.
  • The lease agreement must meet FHA standards.

It’s not easy to find mobile home communities that meet the FHA’s strict guidelines, says Rishel, whose company makes chattel loans in land-lease communities. “Not many landlords participate on the Title I program.”

Few lenders offer Title I mortgages. One is 21st Mortgage, which is owned by Clayton Homes, one of the nation’s largest manufacturers of mobile homes.

Costs of switching title

When a mobile home is titled as personal property, the owner pays personal property taxes. When it’s titled as real estate, the owner pays real estate taxes. In many states, property taxes tend to be higher.

“The consumer has to do the math on how much they are going to save by lower interest rates, compared to how much more taxes they may be paying and what the closing costs are going to be” in a refinancing, Lifset says.

Another potential downside: If the owner has to build a permanent foundation to refinance a chattel loan, that expense has to be taken into account. Building a new foundation could cost $10,000 to $15,000, Rishel says.

“Refinancing is a valuable thing but for a limited number of people who live in manufactured homes,” he says.

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