Construction Loans & Financing

Small Business Owner’s Guide to Construction Loans

Introduction: Considering construction financing

The U.S. construction industry faced major declines during the Great Recession, but has been steadily returning. With over 650,000 employers and over 6 million employees, construction in the U.S. is a multi-billion dollar business. If you own a small construction or contracting business, you have probably experienced the excitement and volatility of the last several years firsthand.

If you're a business owner in the construction industry, it’s not really a question of “if” you’ll eventually want access to capital for financing your business, it’s a question of “when.” Construction business loans are one financing solution to keep on your radar.

In this guide, we’ll discuss how construction loans work, the types of construction loans available, common ways to use construction loans, and how to apply and qualify for a construction loan.

What are construction loans and how do they work?

A construction loan is a type of bank-issued short-term financing, created for the specific purpose of financing a new home or other real estate project.

The loan can be applied for by anyone who is investing their time and money in construction or related expenses. An individual homeowner, a contractor, or a small business owner can use construction loans to finance their construction project.

Not just for the actual building, a construction loan can also be used to pay for building equipment used in construction, building materials, or for hiring employees.

Here are some uses and things to know about construction loans:

  1. New construction: If you are an individual or small business owner who is looking for funding to build a new home for yourself or a client, then you can apply for a short-term construction loan. This type of loan can be used to pay for the construction of new buildings. Construction loans have high-interest rates owing to the risk involved.

    Builders or homeowners who want to build custom homes generally look to a construction loan. After completing the project, you can refinance the loan into a mortgage, or you can repay it by taking a new loan from another financial institution.

  2. Expect a big down payment: Construction loans generally require a large down payment of around 20-25% of the total cost of the project, usually the cost of construction and mortgage.

  3. Thorough application process: When you apply for a construction loan, you’ll be asked to provide the details of your construction project, including like the total amount of funding required, details about the builder, a detailed project timeline, the floorplans or construction drawings, the cost of materials, and the cost of labor.. (We’ll talk about applying for a construction loan in more detail later.)

  4. Look out for paperwork: Until recently, it was hard to find lenders offering construction loans online. If you know you want to apply for a construction loan, you might find it easiest to visit your local bank or regional credit unions and ask for information in person. These institutes will be aware of the local property and construction market, and should be able to help you create a plan for your application.

Types of construction loans

  1. Construction Mortgage Loans: This is a loan you can use to finance the purchase of land, or construction of a home on land you already own. These loans are usually structured so that the lender pays a percentage of the completion costs and you, the builder or developer, pay the rest.

    During construction, the lender will release your funds in a series of payments, called “draws.” Typically, the lender will require an inspection between draws to check that the project is proceeding as planned. As the borrower, you are responsible for paying interest on the amount of funds you use.

    This is different from a term loan, where you get a lump sum payment at once, and then pay back interest on the whole amount. Once your construction is complete and your interest paid, you’re responsible for repaying the entire loan amount by the due date. Generally, construction loans have short terms because they reflect the amount of time it would take to build the project; a year-long term is common.

  2. Construction-to-Permanent Loans: Also called the CPloan, construction-to-permanent loans are another option for financing the building of a new home. CPloans offer some extra convenience to borrowers by combining two types of loans in a single process.

    During construction, if you have a construction-to-permanent loan, you only pay interest on the outstanding balance, at an adjustable rate determined by the lender and pegged to the prime rate. The prime rate is a widely-used benchmark based on the federal funds rate, which is set by the Federal Reserve, meaning that if the Fed raises rates, then the interest rate on your construction-to-permanent loan will rise, too.

    When the construction phase is over, the C2P loan converts into a standard 15- or 30 year mortgage where you pay principal and interest.

    An advantage of construction-to-permanent loans for small business owners and homeowners is that instead of having to get a loan for the construction phase and then a second for financing the finished project, you can get two loans at once. In this scenario, you only close once and pay one set of closing costs.

  3. Commercial Construction Loans: If you’re thinking bigger and planning to construct a multi-family home or apartment building, high-rise, multi-unit retail center, commercial office building, or other type of larger project, then you should probably be looking for a commercial construction loan.

    Lenders for modern commercial construction loans for apartments and similar big projects are extremely risk-avoidant, and will expect a developer to shoulder most of the risk by covering up to 90% of the cost of the project. If you’re involved with this type of commercial project, you’ll need to be prepared with a lot of cash on hand to fund the construction yourself.

Why get a construction loan?

  1. Purchase Equipment and Materials: You can use a construction loan to buy material and equipment that will be used in the construction of the new home.
  2. Expanding a Company’s Facility: If you are a small business owner with a physical location and you need to build a new office or remodel an existing one, then you can use construction loans to finance your construction project.
  3. Hiring and Training Employees: You can use the funds from a construction loan to hire new employees for construction purposes. You can also finance education and training costs for those employees with your construction loan.
  4. Overcoming Damage or Disaster Expenses: If your office or commercial property is damaged by unforeseen circumstances like an earthquake or other disaster, you can use construction loans to make necessary repairs.

How can you to qualify for a construction loan?

Most lenders consider construction loans risky, so you’ll face some stiff requirements if you decide to apply. Here are things lenders require:

  1. Down payment: To get a construction loan, you’ll need to make a down payment of 20% or more of the cost of the total project. This means that you will need to be prepared to start the project with your own funds or assets before a lender will agree to loan more. If you already own the land, for example, it’s likely that you will be able to use that toward the down payment amount.

    Talk to your lender about this. The particular amount of your down payment will depend on the cost of your project, the land, and what you plan to do with the funds. Lenders require high down payments as a way of making sure you’re invested in the project and won’t vanish if things go wrong during construction.

  2. Strong personal credit: Anytime you apply for a construction loan, you’ll need to provide the lender with your personal credit history--even if you are applying as a small business. The lender will almost definitely want to see your personal FICO score and your business credit history, too.

  3. Financial documents: Typically, a prospective lender will analyze your current and past debt and payment history, as well as any other loans or liens you may have on your property. Whether this loan is for your own home, or for a small business construction project, you’ll be asked to provide financial statements, tax returns, and proof of other assets.

  4. Good reputation: Whether you are the builder, or you are working with a builder, know that the lender will scrutinize the builder’s reputation. Any public information is fair game for making this judgement call: vendor and subcontractor reviews, online reviews, and previous work history.

    If you are working with a builder, they should not hesitate to provide evidence of their good reputation, along with the detailed project plans and cost estimates you’ll also need. If you need help finding a qualified builder, check out one of the many National Association of Home Builders chapters closest to you. A trusted local builder with a solid history of successfully completed projects will have an easier time getting a vote of approval from a financial institution in the form of a construction loan.

  5. Specific plans: To qualify for a construction loan, you must have specific and detailed building plans, construction contracts, and cost estimates ready.

  6. Appraisal: It’s challenging to appraise something that does not exist yet! Of course, there are experts who do just that every day. Construction lenders work with appraisers to analyze your project when you apply for a loan. They review the specifications of your construction project and compare it with other existing constructions of similar specifications. They then draw conclusions regarding the possible worth of the construction in the future.

    It is very important to get a good appraisal to improve your chances of getting a construction loan approved. You can get an independent appraisal if you want, but your lender will most likely insist on conducting their own.

First steps toward construction financing

Before making decisions about your potential construction loan, we recommend that you consider a wide range of options. Banks, online lenders, brokers, and subcontractors can each help you through the difficult and stressful process of completing your construction project. On the other hand, if you choose the wrong partners, they can add delays and complexity.

Here are a few more recommendations for getting started:

  • Shop Around for the Right Lender:You can look around for a lender that will offer all the options that you need. Some lenders will not provide construction loans while some lenders will provide loans with limited options that you do not need. Check out your local banks and credit unions to learn what type of construction financing they offer, and which options are available to you.

    If you are still confused about what to do, you can seek a referral from your local Chamber of Commerce for a Construction Loan Broker.

    A broker is a professional and expert in construction loans, and an experienced one can save you a lot of hassle. They will understand your requirements, explain to you the best options that you have given your budget, and then shop around for the right lender. They may be able to get you better rates than you can negotiate yourself. Brokers understand the financial side of the construction loan as well as the construction side and both their limitations.

  • Confirm the Lender’s Experience: This might sound obvious, but make sure to choose a lender with experience in construction financing. If their past experience isn’t clear, you can ask them about past construction projects they’ve financed. You can also ask for references of other developers they have helped.

  • Tap your network and your local community: If you’re looking for help with a construction loan, look locally. Your personal network is always a good place to look for trustworthy recommendations. If you have a good relationship with a local banker or financial institution, that is also a great place to start.

Fundbox: A financing alternative to construction loans

If you’re a small business owner planning to build a home or commercial building, you should be aware of the many new alternatives to construction loans. If the different construction loans we’ve discussed here don’t sound like a good fit for you, then consider Fundbox as a potential source of funding.

Fundbox provides approved business owners access to financing, up to $100,000, in a simple, straightforward way. Listed as one of Forbes's Next Billion-Dollar Startups in 2017, Fundbox offers credit to businesses in need of construction funding. With over 70,000 small- and medium-size businesses already connected to Fundbox, it’s easy to see how we earned a TrustScore of 9.7 out of 10 and an overall rating of “Excellent” on TrustPilot.

Signing up and getting a credit decision is easy. To find out if you are eligible for credit through Fundbox, simply connect your business bank account or accounting software to the Fundbox platform. In just hours you can expect to receive a credit decision. If approved for credit, you can get access to funds in as soon as one business day.

Once approved for Fundbox, you’ll be able to use the funds the way you want, when you want, as long as you agree to repay them on a 12 or 24 week schedule. You choose the repayment term that works best for you. With Fundbox, you only pay fees on the amount you draw, and there are no fees for early repayment, meaning you can save a lot if you pay early.

Still wondering whether a construction loan, Fundbox, or another option is the best choice for your construction project and for your business? We’d be happy to help. Get in touch.

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