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As of June 25, 2018, we’ve made some changes to the way our mortgage approvals work. You can read more about our Power Buyer ProcessTM.

Buying a home can be a tricky, expensive and stressful process. In some situations, you may consider buying a home from a family member or friend. After all, you’d likely get a lower price, go through a quicker process and potentially even have access to owner financing, and wouldn’t it be much easier to deal with someone you already have a great relationship with? You wouldn’t even need a real estate agent!

Whoa. Slow down there.

Buying a home from someone you know might be a great idea, but there are a number of things you need to know before you can sign on the dotted line. Before you’re ready to move into your new home, let’s go through the basics to help you prepare.

What Is an Arm’s Length Transaction?

Real estate transactions can be broken down into two broad categories: arm’s length transactions and non-arm’s-length transactions. An arm’s length transaction is a transaction between two parties who don’t have a relationship with one another – whether that’s a family tie, a business connection, etc. Each party is confidently able to act in their own self-interest. For example, when you buy a house from a stranger, it’s considered an arm’s length transaction.

What Is a Non-Arm’s-Length Transaction?

A non-arm’s-length transaction is a deal with someone you have a relationship with, whether that’s professional or personal. This can include family members, friends, business partners, etc. This type of relationship between buyers and sellers is known as an identity of interest.

When a relationship like this exists, there is a greater chance that one party could manipulate the other party in some way, or both parties could work together to try to cheat the fair market price of the home. This is an example of mortgage fraud.

Example of a Shady Non-Arm’s-Length Transaction

Let’s say that Mary wants to buy a house, and her uncle Sam says he’ll sell his house to her for $200,000. In reality, though, the house is only worth $150,000. Sam – who knows that Mary trusts him – is trying to use his relationship with his niece to inflate the price of the house and get more money. This behavior can be considered mortgage fraud.

Luckily for Mary, there are entire teams within mortgage companies and governmental organizations whose job it is to sift through these types of transactions looking for shady situations. One way they do this is by requiring an arm’s-length principle of transfer pricing. What is that? We’re glad you asked.

What Is an Arm’s-Length Principle of Transfer Pricing?

The arm’s-length principle of transfer pricing requires that the amount charged for a house is the same for transactions between strangers as it is for transactions between those with personal ties. This protects one or more parties from being manipulated by an inflated market value.

Are Non-Arm’s-Length Transactions Illegal?

Non-arm’s-length transactions are legal, but because of their potential for fraudulent situations, they are treated with a higher scrutiny than an arm’s-length transaction. There are more government and individual lender guidelines to follow when trying to get a mortgage for a home. There are a few things lenders want to guard against in family deals, and some of them are for your own benefit.

Because the water can be so easily muddied with family or friend transactions, lenders want to ensure both the buyer and seller are acting in their own self-interest (not under any duress), are agreeing on a price that is close to the market value and aren’t engaging in mortgage fraud, including misrepresentation, straw buyers, inflated prices, etc.

In a short sale, for example, an arm’s length affidavit must be signed to protect against a family member buying the home but allowing the original owner to stay in the home for a greatly reduced mortgage cost.

Should You Buy a House from Family or Friends?

There are a lot of potential benefits to buying a home from a friend or relative, but mixing home sales and family can be a sticky business. Here are a few other things to consider before purchasing a house from family or friends.

Added Restrictions

With a non-arm’s-length transaction, you’re going to risk running into more obstacles with getting a loan because of all the added restrictions, and you may be subject to extra taxes because the IRS will be watching closely to make sure a fair market value – and interest amount – is paid for the home. If you buy the home at a cheaper price and then sell it within a few years, you may be subject to capital gains taxes as well.


In some situations, other family members or friends who aren’t directly involved with the transaction can become jealous of the situation (for example, if you buy a house that’s been in the family for generations). While this doesn’t have a direct impact on the transaction, it can cause some kinks in your relationships. So be prepared and aware of the overall perception when purchasing a home from a family member or friend.

Shift in Financial Situation

The next potential pitfall is a sudden shift in the seller’s financial situation, which could move them to ask you for more money on the purchase, especially if they provided the loan for you instead of a mortgage lender. While you likely have a group of well-meaning people in your life, money is something that can make many people turn mean fast.

Pro Tips

These can be some touchy subjects, but if you’re buying a home, you have to know everything about it, whether you know and trust the seller or not. Use this checklist before moving forward with the purchase:

  • Make sure the family member is current with their mortgage payments, because it could impact your mortgage approval if they’re not.
  • Work with a title company to protect yourself from any other liens that might be on the property. Many title companies have for sale by owner (FSBO) teams that can help you a lot when you’re not using a real estate agent.
  • Get legal advice. This isn’t because you don’t trust your friend or relative, but because you aren’t well-versed in the legal aspects of purchasing a home. An attorney can help you with all the paperwork and make sure you don’t inadvertently commit mortgage fraud.

Buying a home from a friend or relative can seem like a great way to simplify moving into a new home – and it can be. But it’s important to understand how the process works and the potential risks involved. Our Home Loan Experts are ready to help you through the home buying process. If you have questions or comments about any of this, let us know in the comments!

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This Post Has 339 Comments

  1. I live in a house that my mother-in-law purchased for us about 5 years ago. The mortgage/title/deed, are only in her name. She now wants us to take over everything with her coming off all of it. The loan still has 170k balance but house value based on taxes is 320k but she does not want to profit off it since we have been paying her rent since we lived here and paying for all upkeep. What would be the best way to handle that (quit claim, add us, then refi with new mortgage in our name, or sell to us through FSBO method). If we do FSBO we thought based off 320k value that a sale price of 250k might be fair for tax reasons and then use at closing funds already paid to offset the difference in 250-170 and finance the 170k in our name to pay off the existing mortgage. Thoughts?

    1. Hi Tom:

      Either of those options would work. In terms of determining the best option for you, it’s probably best to speak with one of our Home Loan Experts who can dig deep on your financial situation and determine what might be the best way to go. You can get started online or give us a call at (888) 980-6716. Have a great day!

    1. Hi Julie:

      We thank your son for his service! We can certainly help him look into his options. If you would like to get started online he can do so through Rocket Mortgage or give one of our Home Loan Experts a call at (888) 980-6716. I hope this helps!

  2. My brother and sister, together with myself, co-inherited a home when our father passed last year. The appraisal on date of death gave a FMV of $1,125,000, so our share worked out to $375,000 apiece. My sister has lived in the home as her primary residence for many years although previously it had been a rental with significant “suspended” passive losses (my share = $30,213). She decided to buy out her 2 brothers for a sale price of $750,000 ($375,000 in cash to each of us), which was smoothly accomplished with the help of an estate attorney. After depreciation recapture, the capital gain (my share = $18,958) was completely offset by the passive losses which were then “unsuspended”. The question now is whether my remaining loss (over $17,000 when other sales-related costs are included) is considered a capital loss (problematic in non-arm’s length transactions between relatives) or a passive loss that can be carried forward to offset my other rental income (or $3000 of my ordinary income)?

    1. Hi Sam:

      This is a complex tax situation beyond what we can give advice on. I would recommend speaking with a tax professional about your options. Alternatively, you can get in touch with the IRS at (800) 829-1040. Good luck!

  3. Hi if I was to purchase my mother in-laws house which I live in for around 120,000 under the home’s value And she was still to live here would that be a problem

  4. Hello, I have a difficult situation. My older brother bought a home over 10 years ago and has been renting it. He now has around $80k on the mortgage but the house is valued at $350k. He wants to sale it to my younger brother for $80k (the amount that’s left on the mortgage). Can my older brother do this without tax penalty? That’s over $250k below fair market value. Will my older brother have a tax liability or penalty if this transaction occurs?

    1. Hi Mai:

      I would recommend speaking to a tax expert to get a definitive answer about the tax issues involved in transactions between family members. However, when it comes to capital gains tax, what matters is not whether he’s selling it below market value, but whether he made any money over when he originally bought it. That would depend on the original purchase price in comparison to the $80,000 sale price. I hope this helps!

  5. I currently own the house my brother lives in. He recently passed and I’d like to sell the house to his widow. The sell would be a straight pay off of the loan from insurance policy, no loan. What is the easiest and fastest way?


    1. Hi GB:

      I’m sorry to hear about your brother. If you would like to pay off the loan during the sale and then his widow would have no loan, the best thing to do would be to get the payoff statement from the lender. Once that’s done, then you can follow the instructions on the statement and use the insurance money to pay it off. Then you can do a quitclaim deed to transfer the house to her. I hope this helps!

  6. I lost my husband recently, I’d like to buy a condo and sell my house on a land contract to my grand-daughter, would I be hit with homestead tax on my home I’m selling on a land contract?

    1. Hi Darlene:

      We recommend speaking with a tax preparer in your area or your local taxing authority because it depends on how the tax law is written. However, because the home will no longer be your primary home and you’ll still own it during the term of the contract, it’s possible your taxes may go up due to not qualifying for an exemption.

  7. I am considering buying a house that belonged to my mother and my stepfather. Both are deceased. There are 6 heirs and I am one of them.
    Hypothetically: If the house sells for $200,000; the split among 6 heirs would be $33,333 each. If I buy the house would we first deduct my share from the $200,000 – leaving $166,667 for my cost to purchase the house? Or, would I lose my heirship share, and then divide $200,000 by 5 heirs giving them $40k each, and me nothing?
    Thank you, I appreciate your clear answers.

    1. Hi Brad:

      I think the easiest way to do this is to agree upon the value of the property and then subtract what you share would be. You would have them all quitclaim their shares to you. If you were to get rid of your share, you would have to quitclaim it to them, but in that process, you give up the right to purchase the property in the future. I don’t recommend that. If you want to look at your mortgage options, you can start online with Rocket Mortgage or give one of our Home Loan Experts a call at (888) 980-6716.

  8. I would like to buy a home from a family member. I believe the appraised value to be approximately $215,000. Would like to purchase for approximately $175,000 but don’t have a super strong credit score or big down payment. Is this something I could potentially get a mortgage on even with less than perfect credit or could I do a HELOC or something similar to pay my family member? Would that equity off the top amount to anything in the eyes of a lender or am I stuck spinning my wheels?

    1. Hi Miranda. Thank you for reaching out. Everyone’s situation is different and we would need more information from you to determine whether you are able to qualify for a loan. Typically, you need to have a minimum credit score of 620 and a debt-to-income ratio of no higher than 50%. However, this also depends on the type of loan you choose to get.

      Due to all of these various factors, I recommend calling our licensed experts at 800-785-4788. They’ll be able to determine if you qualify based on your specific information. They’ll also be able to better answer your questions based on your situation.

  9. My daughter is considering buying my Mom and Dads home. They both passed away last year. The house is paid off. She talked to a loan officer yesterday that told her she would have to put 15% down on the house due to a law that has to do with a relative selling to a relative. I have researched and have not found anything specific to a down payment. Can you help me understand?

    1. Hi Marla:

      I can’t speak knowledgeably as to whether or not this is an actual law on the books. The regulation you’re referring to does match guidelines that are specific to FHA loans. FHA is a government program, so it is possible that the regulation does stem from actual legislation. However, what I can tell you is that at least in terms of FHA loans, 15% down is a common mortgage investing regulation applying to non-arm’s-length FHA transactions in certain instances. There are exceptions to this, which I will outline below.

      Essentially, if your daughter were purchasing grandma and grandpa’s primary residence that they were currently living in, she would only have to put 3.5% down. Because they’ve unfortunately passed and the inheritance is now in someone else’s name, I’m guessing they aren’t living there, so there’s an assumption on the part of the FHA that you’re just looking to unload the property which makes them take a closer look at the person who is buying from you if it’s a family member. I can tell you that conventional, USDA and VA loans don’t have increased minimum down payments in a non-arm’s-length transaction scenario. I do think it would be good for your daughter to go over your options and see if there’s a better option she might be able to get. She can speak with one of our Home Loan Experts at (888) 980-6716. I hope this helps!

  10. My Father-in-law purchased a home in 2012 for $177k. We moved in and signed an agreement as a rent-to-own. Our rent was equal to his payments on the mortgage, so we basically paid the mortgage for 7 years. The home is now valued at $320k. The amount left on the original loan is around $60k. We are now wanting to purchase the home for an agreed upon price of $120k plus add another $30k for some improvements, so a total loan of $150k. Is this doable?

    1. Hi Chad:

      We don’t currently offer renovation loans that include both the cost of buying the home and the renovation. You would have to secure separate financing for the renovation portion. One of the options for this would be a personal loan through our friends at Rocket Loans®. If you’re interested in applying, we can certainly help you look at your mortgage options with Rocket Mortgage®. You can also give one of our Home Loan Experts a call at (888) 980-6716.

  11. Hi my mom and dad want 2 buy his moms home can they still own their other home still and i live in it and pay them the 700 hundred a month house pay ment 2 them thank u for your time i look forwarded 2 your reply

    1. Hi Matthew:

      That can happen. They should notify their mortgage lender though because at the point that they no longer occupy it, it becomes an investment property. The good news is that as long as they have lived in the home longer than a specified period in their mortgage contract, they should be able to make the conversion without the property being subject to a higher interest rate. Hope this helps!

  12. My son is renting our house. As I am not the primary residence of the home any longer I lost my homestead tax exemption and the property tax went fr $1900 up to $3600. If I were to put my son on the deed would the homestead exemption be reinstated since he is now the primary residence of the home???
    He wants to buy the home but w/student loans he doesn’t qualify. The home is in FL Anand I live in AZ.

    1. Hi Jackie:

      If you put him on the title, it would be his primary residence, but not yours, so it wouldn’t affect your tax bill. However, I’m not sure how the exemption works if you’re both on the title. I recommend speaking with a tax advisor as they would know how the statutes are worded in your locality. Thanks!

  13. Hi I inherited my childhood home along with my sisters when my father passed and now I’m trying to buy out their part to own the home. I House Is paid off. They offered to sell it to me for $190 which would be very affordable for me but I really don’t want to do the cash out refi because the rates are much higher. I also cannot wait 12 months per Fannie Mae to purchase nor do my sisters want to wait for their share that long. Is there any other option I can do to get off the title and buy the house out right with a 30 year conventional loan?. I just can’t believe they make it so hard for you to keep a family house in the family if all parties are in agreement. I’m afraid we’re going to lose it to some stranger. Please Help.

    1. Hi Ren:

      I’m sorry for your loss. I know this is a very confusing and stressful time, so my first advice is to take a deep breath. I’m going to try to break this down for you.

      First, because the house is completely paid off, any mortgage you take out will be a cash-out transaction. Although there is a small pricing adjustment for cash-out vs. rate/term transactions, it’s not like the difference is full percentage points. You would be taking out just enough in this situation to pay off your sisters’ shares, and this isn’t an unusual scenario at all. Also, the waiting period for a cash-out refinance doesn’t apply when you’ve inherited the property from someone else.

      Hopefully this has helped put your mind somewhere at ease. I do recommend speaking with one of our Home Loan Experts at (888) 980-6716. They would be able to give you further details on the process and you would have the opportunity to move forward if you wanted to. Good luck!

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