Buying on a land contract instead of a mortgage

A land contract may give you the option to purchase a home after foreclosure, bankruptcy, or low credit score.

Unable to qualify for a mortgage? If you have suffered through a foreclosure, bankruptcy, or other money crisis you may be struggling to qualify for a loan. With time and a plan, like those found on the Michigan State University Extension MI Money Health site, you may be able to build up your credit again, but what if you do not have time? What if you are unable to find an adequate rental home? One alternative may be to purchase a home using a land contract. However, you should know that a land contract is a legal document governed by general contract law with certain statutory requirements, e.g., to be in writing. As is the case with any legal transaction, you are encouraged to seek legal advice from a competent attorney before proceeding with a land contract.

Nevertheless, a land contract can be a legitimate alternative to conventional financing. The seller, often called the land contract vendor, agrees with the buyer - the land contract vendee, to sell the home according to mutually agreed terms and conditions. The parties to a typical land contract usually agree on a purchase price, down payment, monthly payments including interest, and a balloon payment of the balance due with interest (total amount due all “ballooned up” and due by a deadline) sometimes only a few years into the contract. The hope is that the purchaser will be able to receive conventional financing by the time the balloon payment is due. Although the actual title to the home does not transfer to the purchaser until the debt is paid off, equitable title or the purchaser’s right to obtain actual title along with typical landowner rights does pass with the execution of the contract.

There are risks and advantages to both the seller and the purchaser. The seller has the advantage of reclaiming possession of the home if the purchaser fails to perform or defaults on the deal. In addition, the seller earns interest, and since equitable title has passed to the purchaser, the seller is not responsible for repairs and maintenance normally inherent with being a landlord.

The purchaser has the responsibility of maintaining the home and has the risk of losing all payments made in the event of default and forfeiture of the land contract. However, since the financing is handled by the seller, the purchaser may be able to qualify even with bad credit if enough is saved for the down payment.

All of these details must be in writing, and there are potential scams to avoid. Again, seek competent legal counsel before proceeding with a land contract. While in the lawyer’s office, you may want to inquire about a lease with the option to purchase the property. This is an alternative to a land contract that may fit your circumstances even better. Michigan Legal Help has put together a good summary of land contracts as well.

MSU Extension released a toolkit for homeowners who are experiencing or have previously experienced foreclosure. This toolkit will equip these individuals and families with tools to help them recover their financial stability, in the case that a recovery of their home is not possible.  

Although very helpful, nothing in the post-foreclosure toolkit should be construed as legal advice. You can learn more about land contracts and get more help making financial decisions after suffering a foreclosure or learn about available classes by visiting MSU Extension MI Money Health.

Did you find this article useful?