Buyer Can’t Get a Mortgage, but I Need to Sell My House

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Selling a house can be pretty nerve racking. There are the open houses, the home inspections, the back and forth negotiations over repairs, etc.  The list goes on.  What most sellers don’t worry about is if their buyer will actually be able to get a loan.

During the Great Recession, I was selling a home to a first time homeowner.  Loan programs were constantly changing and with high unemployment, finding qualified home buyers was often a problem.  To add to the problem, the home was in a bad neighborhood.  I was sleeping in the home most nights just to keep the appliances from being stolen.  I desperately wanted to sell the house.

We were 30 days into the escrow process and we expected to close in just a few more days.  Then I got the call that you never want to hear.  “Your buyer couldn’t get their loan.  They can’t complete the purchase”.  When this happens, it can be very discouraging.

In a normal real estate transaction, buyers are usually asked to provide proof that they can actually buy your home – before you enter into contract.  This can be as simple as a copy of the buyer’s bank statement if they’re buying with cash.  Or, if they are obtaining a loan, provide a letter from their lender stating that the buyer has been pre qualified.  And usually, that’s the last thought the seller ever gives to it.Stressed because buyer cant get a mortgage

In some real estate markets, there might be some concern about the appraised price, or the buyer’s loan contingency removal.  However, it’s not something that keeps seller’s awake at night.

Buyer Can’t Get a Mortgage

Before you can decide what the best solution is for your situation, it’s helpful to identify the reason your buyers can’t get a loan. First, you want to make sure you understand so you don’t let it happen again.  Second, you need to know what you can do if you are in the middle of a collapsing escrow because your buyer couldn’t get a loan.

Buyer can’t get loan because they lost their job

During the initial wave of COVID 10, there is an increasing number of home sales that fell out of escrow due to buyers not being able to get a loan.  A buyer’s loan contingency is one of the last contingencies removed in a typical home purchase.  The California Association of Realtor’s standard purchase contract specifies that the loan contingency is to be removed by the twenty-first day, after the contract is signed.

During a normal escrow process, the borrower’s current employment is verified by the lender.  The lender will typically verify both with a phone call, and by requesting written verification from the employer.  This employment verification process all happens prior to the twenty-one day contingency removal. When day twenty-one comes, hopefully the lender says everything looks good to continue.  But that’s not the final verification.

Normally, the buyer has to sign a statement at the closing table stating that their financial situation has not changed.  Unfortunately, buyers can get laid off from work between day twenty-two and their close of escrow.  If the buyer lies and says their financial situation has not changed, they are committing bank fraud.  During the COVID 19 pandemic, lenders were calling employers twenty-four hours before the close of escrow.

But sometimes it has nothing to do with a buyer losing their job.

Buyer can’t get loan because they took out another loan

If you have ever applied for a home loan, your loan broker probably told you not to buy a car, order new furniture, or anything else that might impact your credit.

Lender’s look at how much debt a borrower has, and compare it to their income.  It’s called the debt to income ratio.  And of course, there are buyer’s who ignore their broker’s advice.  The want to buy furniture or appliances for their new house before closing escrow and they put it on their credit card.  The result, the buyer’s debt load increases, which changes their debt to income ratio.

The result is the buyer no longer qualifies for the loan, and the lender cancels the loan.  You’re left, holding the bag and having spent 30-45 days waiting for the sale of your home to close.  Now you have to start all over again.

Buyer can’t get loan because the bank changed their lending rules

Have you ever called your loan broker and ask them, “What kind of interest rate can I get to buy a home?”.  They probably asked you a few questions, and pulled a credit report.  Then, after they have all of their information, they called you back and said, “I’ve got great news for you.  You can borrow a million dollars for just 2.25%.  Do you want me to lock in your interest rate?”.

Wow, as a new home buyer you’re so excited.  You immediately make plans to go shopping for a new home this weekend.  You want to take advantage of the locked in interest rate.

But wait, what really happened behind the scenes?  Your loan officer took your loan application and shopped around with different lenders to see what kinds of loans you qualified for.  Just like a job application, they submitted your loan application to multiple lenders who make home loans.  Each lender can have their own rules and qualifications for the types of loans they are willing to make.

Most of the time, the qualifications don’t change between the time the job posting is published and an employee gets hired.  That’s also true of the banking industry.  Most of the time.  But when Wall Street and the financial markets are in upheaval, lenders change the rules; even if you have locked in your interest rate.

While locking in your rate normally means the lender won’t change the terms of your loan, it’s not impossible.  Your lender can change the amount of financial reserves you need to have and even increase the minimum credit score.

Buyer can’t get loan because the bank wants repairs made to home

Most retail home buyers pay for a home inspection prior to purchase.  Sometimes, Realtors® try to use the report as a basis for negotiating cash back for their buyers.  Most often this comes as a credit towards closing costs.

Normally, home inspection reports do not get sent to the lender.  The only thing the lender sees is the loan application and the home appraisal.  However, after a home inspection, inexperienced agents may ask the seller for a credit toward repairs.  This could be a credit a new roof, or new HVAC system, or some other repair.  But when an agent asks for a credit for repairs, it creates a red flag for the lender.

Unless you’re selling your home as is, most every home needs repairs.  However, when a buyer asks for a credit for repairs, it’s part of the contract, AND it has to be disclosed to the lender.  Upon finding that your home needs repairs, the buyer’s lender will almost always require the repairs to be made prior to funding the loan.  This can kill the deal if the seller doesn’t have time or the money to make repairs.

Buyer can’t get loan because they weren’t pre approved

When a borrower wants to qualify for a loan, a loan broker will walk them through a loan approval process.  There are two ways the borrower can be approved to buy a home.  One is they simply state their income, and provide the loan broker some basic financial information.  This is called a desktop approval.  Based on the information the borrower provides, the lender may write a “pre-qualification” letter for the buyer to show to prospective sellers. With pre-qualification, the lender is not making any commitment to funding the buyers loan.  It’s simply based on what the borrowers said was true.

The second method requires the lender to verify the borrowers’ sources of income, credit scores, and down payment source.  When this happens, the lender will write a “pre-approval” letter for the borrower.  With a pre-approval, the lender is making a commitment to fund the loan, based on the lender’s due diligence.  A pre-approval letter is a much better indicator of your buyer’s potential to close escrow because the information been verified.

“A pre-approval letter is a much better indicator of your buyer’s potential to close escrow.”

Four options to sell your home when your buyer can’t get a mortgage

If your buyer can’t get a loan, you need options that work quickly.  Each of the following options take time, ranging from a few more weeks, to a just a few days.

Try a different loan program

It may take another two or three weeks, but have your buyer’s broker shop for other loan products.  The buyer’s broker may have already done this, but it’s good to check.  The buyer’s loan broker has done a lot of work to get this far, and they want to get paid.

Most of your buyer’s loan application has already been completed.  The only thing keeping from completing the sale is someone willing to make a loan to your buyer.

Remember the house I was trying to sell when I found out my buyer couldn’t get a loan? My agent immediately called the broker to see what other loan options my buyer had. Assuming your buyer still wants to buy your house, your agent and their lender should be able to discuss other loan options for your buyer.

If their current loan broker can’t solve the problem, you can try a different loan broker.

Try a different loan broker

Loan brokers sell a limited range of products.  Every day, there are thousands of loan products being sold through loan brokers.  However, most loan brokers only offer a few of the many loan products available.  And of course, it makes sense for them to only offer the ones that make them the most money.  Sometimes, to get the best loan or best interest rate, you have to shop between several loan brokers.  Start by asking your own real estate agent if they have a preferred lender that they work with.  Then have your buyer contact your agent’s lender to see if their lender may have other loan products for your buyer.

Owner financing

Some properties are difficult to sell no matter what. It might be the location, condition or simply the type of property that it is. When this happens, you might want to consider selling your home and provide a loan to the buyer.

With owner financing, the seller agrees to sell the property to the buyer, for regular monthly payments until the property is paid off.  The buyer and seller agree to price, an interest rate or a monthly payment amount, and how long the buyer has to pay off the loan.  The terms of the loan are then written up in promissory note and signed by both parties.  To guarantee that the seller gets paid, the buyer also signs a mortgage or a deed of trust that gets recorded in the local county records.  The mortgage allows the seller to foreclose should the buyer not make the payments as agreed to in the promissory note.

There are two benefits of owner financing.  The first is you obviously are able to sell your home.  The second, is the loan payments along with their interest provide the seller with a steady stream of income for several years.  I know investors who will only sell homes with owner financing because of the monthly income they receive.

If you have a quality loan, and a buyer with a good payment history, you can even sell your note and mortgage to someone else.  Buying and selling notes is big business, and there are always people looking to buy promissory notes from other people.  How much you can sell your note for will depend upon several factors, including the interest rate, how long the buyers have been paying, and how many payments are left on the note.

Sell to a cash buyer

If your buyer just walked away from your contract, you could start the process all over again.  Or, you turn to a cash buyer.  Cash buyers can be a great option when you need to sell, and don’t want to go through the process process all over again.  These buyers are often contractors or investors looking for fixer properties that need repairs, or additional rental properties.  However, they will also buy houses that are in good condition.  The biggest advantage of a cash buyer is their ability to inspect, purchase and close quickly.

“The biggest benefit of a cash buyer is their ability to inspect, purchase and close quickly.  “

Legitimate cash buying companies are usually very experienced in doing their own home inspections.  As a result, they can make decisions quickly, and won’t drag your contract out.  Best of all, they will get the cash to buy your home into escrow within just a few days, and completely avoid dealing with banks and appraisals.  However, you need to be careful not to fall for these cash buyer scams.


It’s frustrating when the buyer for your home can’t get a loan.  If you don’t want to start the process all over again, consider having your buyer try different loan programs or even changing brokers.  If you’re comfortable with your buyer and don’t need the cash immediately, you might also think about carrying a loan secured by a mortgage for your buyer.  Lastly, if you just want a quick and easy sale, consider getting a cash offer from a local investor or cash buyer.