When a Relative’s Housing Depends on You

Sharing Is Caring…But Look After Yourself, Too.

In these days of sky-high home prices and abruptly rising interest rates, you might be thinking of giving a boost to a sibling, an adult child, or someone else close to you who could use some help.

Here, we look at some example scenarios. How would you approach these situations?

Should I Buy a Home and Rent It to My Relative?

You could buy a house and rent it out for a little more than the monthly mortgage payment. Expect to put 20% down to successfully apply for a mortgage for a rental home.

With this arrangement, your relative could get a decent deal without regular rent hikes, and you can have a rental property with a tenant you trust. But how much rent will you charge?

  • Fair-market rent is considered taxable income. It also allows the homeowner to claim tax deductions for renting out property.

You might ask: Why don’t I just take care of the down payment, rather than get onto the deed? That’s certainly an option. Yet you’ll find limits on how much a mortgage lender will allow as a no-strings gift. This is why some people give others funds long before the mortgage application. Lenders review at least two years of financial history. They expect to see an applicant’s clear ability to pay the mortgage independently, for years to come. If that’s not plausible, the lender will want you on the deed. 

Can I Personally Finance the Home for My Friend or Relative?

After purchasing a home for someone else, you can later sell it — maybe even to that friend or relative, through a rent-to-own arrangement.

This way, you can help another person avoid the mortgage application. You can help them avoid scraping together a large down payment. You can use a contract for deed

Also called rent-to-own or an installment sale, a contract for deed is a home purchase financed by the seller, not a bank.

With a contract for deed, you sell a home to another person, but get paid for it in monthly installments, not all at once. How much are the monthly installments? When should the loan come due? That’s controlled by an agreement you draft, signed by your buyer.

Without a contract for deed, you can buy a house, then rent it to the other person as long as needed. Later, you can sell it.

If you’re buying a house to help a friend, be ready to cover a lot: closing costs, applicable homeowner association fees, taxes, repairs, plus the routine maintenance.

How Can I Reduce Risk and Stress for Both of Us?  

When helping a friend or a relative, are you prepared for the possibility of not being repaid? Be sure to anticipate a scenario where finances get worse for the other person before they improve. What if the other person says they’ll have to be late with rent — this month, and next month too?

This possibility is, of course, the reason people warn against helping family or friends in this way. Can your relationship stand the stress?

One option you have is to build a property management company right into your signed agreement. You might buy a modest condo home and rent it to your friend cheaply, with the management company receiving the monthly payments on your behalf. After paying the company, will you be able to cover the mortgage and expenses? If so, you have lowered the risk of stress in your arrangement.

If things do fall apart, it’s you, the owner, who has to pick up the pieces. And while you have a legal contract, do you want to enforce it in court? In short, the only way to really help someone out without worrying is to consider it a gift. And even this must be done with readiness to take on the expenses and property taxes.

Note: Don’t forget to make the required gift declaration (Form 709) with your tax return. But if you live in the house indefinitely, the IRS is unlikely to deem the value (or partial value) of the home a gift.  

Can I Just Give My House Away?

If you’re in a position to give property away, you’re free to do so. A property owner simply needs to sign over the deed to the recipient, and declare the gift at tax time.

 Whether you want to leave your friend a home through your will, or add a friend onto the title today, there’s plenty to think about before signing the documents. Read all about it: Can I Give My House to a Friend?

If you do sign over the deed in your lifetime, the home will no longer belong to you in any way. Your recipient becomes the new owner. The new owner is responsible for taxation, maintenance, association fees, and debts recorded against the property. The new owner has the right to rent or sell the property.

Gifts have other consequences, too. These depend on the circumstances surrounding the gift. Before you make a gift deed, consult your mortgage servicer, your insurers, and your tax specialist. Legal questions? Call a reputable real estate attorney near you.

 Wherever the home you’re giving is located, get the right forms. Find gift deed forms on Deeds.com.

Is Shared Ownership (For Now) an Option?

Another option is to buy a home together — and you would not need to live there to do this. You could act as co-buyer, meaning both of your names will be on the new deed, and as co-borrowers on the mortgage.

You could split the ownership 50-50, or use another percentage, and you could quitclaim the deed to your relative or friend when they become ready to take on the mortgage alone. Ultimately, if you plan to quitclaim the deed to a friend who is not related to you, one or both of you has to pay transfer tax bill under state law. Be sure any homestead tax breaks are re-applied for, if necessary, after the title transfer from co-owners to the new sole owner.

 Know the rights and duties involved in sharing a house title! Learn about ways you could vest the deed, including as co-owners as tenants in common.

As the person you help pays off the mortgage, both of you benefit from the credit boosts. On the other side of the coin, the transaction will affect both parties’ credit in a negative way if surprise financial issues make the home loan impossible to pay.

So, is your aim is to co-borrow on a home and later release the deed? Have a written, signed agreement in place to set forth the timeline and every important aspect of your agreement. Lay out what happens if something doesn’t go according to plan.

As always, this blog is for general information, and is only a starting point for the reader’s own due diligence. It is not intended as legal advice. Thank you for making your deed decisions with care.

Supporting References

IRS Frequently Asked Questions: Gifts & Inheritances.

Deeds.comThe Gift of Real Estate: What You Need to Know (Jul. 11, 2019).

Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Select: What to Know Before Buying a Home for Someone Else (Jun. 30, 2020).

And as linked.

Photo credits: Anastasiya Gepp and Ekaterina Bolovtsova, via Pexels.