There is a too-often ignored field in the MLS for condos which is abbreviated in the system as POO – percent owner occupied. In the current environment this number has become critical for buyers seeking mortgages since lenders see a low number – less than 70% – as a sign of trouble. In other words, a building with lots of POO is a good thing.
Unfortunately, as I alluded at the beginning, this field is rarely filled in by the listing agent. So, what happens? Buyer and seller enter into a condo sales contract and when buyer tries to get a mortgage the mortgage company balks and the buyer has to get another mortgage – except now mortgage rates have risen and the buyer’s cost goes up. Worse yet, the deal falls through.
The implications are clear for both buyers and sellers of condos. If you are buying a condo you have to know if you have enough POO before you pick your lender because, given your down payment, not all lenders will be willing to lend. According to Tom Fishwick of Guaranteed Rate, you will certainly have an easier time getting a mortgage on a low POO building if your down payment is at least 20% because then some lenders only require a limited review of the condo building and don’t even ask how much POO you have. “The reason you would have trouble getting a loan approved without 20% down is because the Mortgage insurance companies may not insure the loan. Lenders are willing to lend up to 90% but they require mortgage insurance and it is those guidelines that have been changing.” Curiously, an FHA loan, with only 3.5% down, will allow up to 49% renters in a building. Of course, you pay a higher effective total rate for an FHA loan.
If you are selling a condo in a low POO building then you better line up a lender who will be willing to finance the purchase and make sure any potential buyer can qualify for their program. Alternatively, you can sell your condo 3 times before a deal actually takes.
Just to give you an idea of how serious this problem can be consider Millenium Centre at 33 W. Ontario in Chicago. This building has some $1 MM + condos/townhomes in it. It also has 63% renters or 37% POO. (As a side note, this is an American Invsco building and they often actually assisted investors in buying and renting units in their buildings.) You have to wonder if the low POO is contributing to all the problems in that building. Aside from the fact that many lenders wouldn’t touch that building, I would personally be afraid to put a buyer there. Of course, I would be extremely cautious about any building in the South Loop. Just walking through some of them you can tell that they don’t have a lot of POO. And as I recently learned, even nice buildings in the West Loop might have too many renters for some lenders.