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How to Buy a Home as a Single Parent: Advice From People Who Have Been There

How to Buy a Home as a Single Parent: Advice From People Who Have Been There
Aja McClanahan headshot
Home.com Contributor

Like all parents, single moms and dads want to provide the very best for their children, including financial stability and generational wealth. One way to achieve these goals is through homeownership.

Owning a home can provide stability, community, and access to educational opportunities for single-parent families. It’s also a key metric for building wealth in the U.S. Single parents who buy homes may be able to give their kids a leg up financially, as the children of homeowners are more likely to become homeowners themselves.

But to buy a home as a single parent can feel out of reach, especially if money is tight or you’re already stretched thin between all your responsibilities at work and at home.

Fortunately, homeownership is likely closer than you think — and there are more resources available than you might expect. That’s why we’ve created this guide on how to buy a home as a single parent.

What's in this Article?

Where to start
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Home loan programs for single parents
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Down payment help for single parents
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Hurdles to homeownership
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Tips for choosing a home
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FAQs
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Buying a home as a single parent: Where to start

The prospect of buying a home seems stressful to most people before they start. Buying a home as a single mom or dad? The idea can seem downright daunting.

“I wasn’t sure if I would make it in this new situation of being the sole parent. I found a house that had everything on my list and bought it.”

Katherine Brown

But once you get started, the process becomes easier than you think, particularly if you’ve got friends and family in your corner.

Katherine Brown, a marketing consultant based in Spokane, Washington, said she felt inadequate when she started the homebuying process as a single mother. But her mindset changed once she met her goal.

“I wasn’t sure if I would make it in this new situation of being the sole parent,” she said. “My family and friends were supportive and helped with funds a lot. I found a house that had everything on my list and bought it.”

That outcome is possible for other single parents as well. Pursuing homeownership as a single parent comes with some additional obstacles, but the core elements are the same — beginning with getting your finances in the best shape possible before you apply.

Related reading: How to Buy a House in 11 Steps | 2021 Guide

Begin with a financial assessment

Get started by taking stock of your current financial situation. This assessment will help you create a budget, spot ways to save, and determine a comfortable housing payment.

Questions to ask during your assessment:

  • How much do you have in savings?
  • What is your credit score?
  • What are your monthly debt payments?
  • Are you paying for groceries, gas, bills, and other expenses outright or do you rely on credit?
  • Do you have an emergency fund?

“My best hack is to simply work on improving your financial situation.”

Rebecca Lake

Each of these elements comes into play when you’re buying a home. Your credit score and debt-to-income ratio (DTI) affect whether you qualify for a loan and the interest rate you’ll pay. Depending on the type of loan program you use, you may need a down payment, which will come from your savings.

And knowing whether you can afford your monthly expenses, or whether you’re living on credit, will help you determine if you’re ready to buy. If your budget can’t quite accommodate your current housing payment and your bills, look for ways to cut back.

High credit card balances can lower your credit score and raise your debt-to-income ratio — both of which hurt your chances of getting a loan.

Rebecca Lake is a financial writer who purchased a home as a single parent twice.

“My best hack is to simply work on improving your financial situation,” Lake said. “For me, that meant paying off debt, improving my credit score, and saving money so I could afford a down payment. I also had a strict budget that I wanted to spend and refused to go over to buy a home.”

Set your budget

A family budget can help you get a handle on your spending. But it also helps you figure out what a comfortable housing payment would look like.

If you’re easily meeting all your expenses on your income, then you may already have found the sweet spot. But if paying your current rent and utilities, plus groceries, gas, and other essentials, leaves you feeling strapped at the end of the month, you’ll want a smaller mortgage payment that takes the strain off your family.

What goes into a monthly budget?

  • Rent
  • Utilities
  • Groceries
  • Gas and other commuting expenses
  • Car payment
  • Student loan payments
  • Other debts
  • Medical expenses
  • Streaming services
  • Dining out
  • School fees
  • Tutoring
  • Kids’ activities fees

Track your expenses, and then review them at the end of the month. Were you able to meet all your needs? Was there money left over? Are there expenses you can cut so you can pay down debt or save up for your down payment faster?

Once you have some data from your budget, you can prepare your plan of attack. You may want to pay off a couple of credit cards or focus on raising your credit score before you apply.

Or you can get preapproved with a mortgage lender now and see what you qualify for. Preparing your finances before applying is great, but people are often ready to buy a home long before they realize it. Chances are, there’s a loan program out there that’s right for you and your family right now.

And if there’s not, your lender can tell you exactly what you need to do to get your finances to a place where you are likely to qualify.

But if you do qualify now, you may be able to get into a new home at a relatively low interest rate and begin building equity sooner rather than later.

Home loan programs for all homebuyers — single parents included

There are a number of loan programs out there. The right one for you will depend on your credit score, how much you have saved for a down payment, and where you live.

Loan typeWhat it is?Minimum credit score*Down payment required
ConventionalStandard mortgage offered by private lenders6203%
FHAMortgage backed by the Federal Housing Administration with low down payment, low closing costs, and easier credit requirements5003.5% if credit score is 580+; 10% if credit score is 500-579
VALoan for military servicemembers and surviving spouses580-6200%
USDAZero down payment mortgage for low- to moderate-income borrowers to buy homes in qualifying rural areas6200%
Lenders often set their own minimums

Maybe you’ve already got solid savings in the bank for your down payment. If so, that’s great! Having a down payment can help you qualify for a larger loan (which can mean more square footage for you and the kids) and save money over time.

But if your savings is limited, that’s OK, too. Each of the loan types we’re about to cover has low down payment options, so you may be able to buy a home for less money upfront than you expected.

Conventional

Conventional loans are the most common types of mortgages. There are several different types of conventional loans, including ones that allow you to buy a home with just 3% down:

  • Fanne Mae HomeReady: Borrowers’ income must be at or less than 80% of the area median income (AMI) where they live. Gift funds may be used to cover the down payment
  • Freddie Mac Home Possible: Income limits are the same as for the HomeReady program. Borrowers can use gift funds and sweat equity toward the down payment
  • Freddie Mac HomeOne: Geared toward first-time homebuyers, which includes borrowers who have never owned a home and those who have not owned a home in the past three years. There are no income limits for HomeOne loans

Related reading: Top 12 No Down Payment Mortgages for 2021

Generally speaking, you’ll need a credit score of 620 or higher for a conventional loan.

Homebuyers who put down less than 20% on a conventional loan are required to pay private mortgage insurance (PMI) until they reach 20% home equity. Once you reach the 20% mark, you can request to have PMI removed or refinance into another loan without PMI. Mortgage insurance falls off automatically at 22% home equity.

People are often ready to buy a home long before they realize it. Chances are, there’s a loan program out there that’s right for you and your family right now.

FHA loan

FHA loans are backed by the U.S. Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and enable borrowers with credit scores of 580 or higher to buy a home with 3.5% down.

Like all government-backed mortgages, FHA loans can only be used to purchase a primary residence, not a vacation home or investment property. But you can buy a multifamily home with up to four units, and live in one while renting out the others for extra income.

FHA loans have an upfront and annual mortgage insurance premium (MIP) requirement. The upfront fee, which is 1.75% of the loan, can be paid at closing or rolled into the mortgage.

Monthly mortgage insurance on most FHA loans is around $71 per $100,000 borrowed.

So for a $250,000 loan, your monthly mortgage insurance would cost around $177. It’s not cheap, but it allows you to buy a home with lenient guidelines on income, employment, and credit. An FHA loan might get you into a home years before you thought possible.

And, to stop paying MIP, you can refinance to a conventional loan when you have 20% equity in the home. 

Learn more: FHA Loans Requirements 2021 | Rates & Eligibility

USDA loan

USDA loans are 0% down payment mortgages that can be used to buy homes in less-densely populated suburban and rural areas.

To qualify, your income must be at or below 115% of the area’s median income. That’s $91,900 for a family of 1-4 in most areas of the country. But that limit goes up in more expensive locales.

You must also purchase a home in a USDA-eligible area. Surprisingly, many suburban neighborhoods outside of major cities are eligible.

USDA guidelines recommend that borrowers have a 620 or higher credit score and DTI of 41% or less. But the USDA allows lenders to approve creditworthy homebuyers who have lower credit or higher DTIs on a case by case basis.

These loans have competitive interest rates and may be used to purchase single-family properties including standalone homes, condos, and manufactured homes. You can also purchase land with a USDA loan, though most lenders don’t participate in that program.

There is a mortgage insurance requirement for USDA loans as well: 1% upfront (which can usually be financed into the mortgage) and 0.35% annually, equaling just $29 per month per $100,000 borrowed. As with FHA loans, you can stop paying USDA mortgage insurance by refinancing once you reach 20% home equity.

Learn more: USDA Loan Down Payment: How to Qualify for Zero Down

VA loan

VA loans, which are backed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), are available to eligible active-duty servicemembers, veterans, and surviving spouses.

If you qualify for a VA loan, it’s one of the best deals you can find: 0% down payment and no loan limits if you have full entitlement, the lowest mortgage rates in the market, and no monthly mortgage insurance.

VA loans have an upfront funding fee paid as a percentage of the loan. But veterans and active-duty servicemembers who have a service-related disability may be exempt from the funding fee. You can also roll it into the loan.

The VA guidelines do not mandate a minimum credit score for VA borrowers. Most lenders will look for at least a 580-620 score. But the VA encourages mortgage companies to give loans to qualified members of the military community even if they don’t meet those criteria, as long as they have compensating factors such as substantial savings or solid income.

Learn more: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know About the VA Home Loan in 2021

Down payment help for single parents

No and low down payment mortgage programs can make it easier for single parents to find affordable housing options for their families. But saving up for a down payment — plus closing costs, which can add up to 2-5% of the loan — is no small task.

A dad or mom who buys a $250,000 house with 3% down will need $7,500 for the down payment. Closing costs on the loan could be between $5,000-$7,000, depending on their lender and where they are buying the home.

Government down payment and closing cost assistance programs

Fortunately, there are down payment and closing cost assistance programs at the state, county, and city level.

“Those can help single [parents] tremendously when it comes to paying for closing costs and down payments,” Lake said.

The assistance often comes in the form of a grant or 0% interest forgivable second loan. Eligibility varies based on program and location, though many programs are income-based.

“Just remember to read the fine print, since some of those programs require you to pay the money back if you don’t live in the home for a certain number of years,” Lake cautioned.

Gifts

You can also receive a gift to cover any portion of a required down payment and closing costs on most loan types.

Eligible donors can be family members, a church, non-profit, employer, or even a long-standing friend whose relationship can be documented.

If you receive gift funds, let the donor know that the lender will need to see at least 30 days worth of bank statements to verify where the funds came from. This can be a sticking point for otherwise willing family members and other donors.

Hurdles to homeownership — and how to overcome them

Being a single parent can introduce unique challenges to homeownership, such as qualifying on a single income or having little-to-no support network. It’s tough to look at houses or coordinate with lenders if you don’t have friends or family nearby to watch the kids.

But one challenge single parents should not face is being stigmatized by lenders and real estate agents.

The Equal Credit Opportunity Act was enacted in 1974, prohibiting discrimination based on sex and marital status when applying for credit. The Fair Housing Act bars lenders, real estate agents, appraisers, and other real estate and financial services professionals from discriminating in all aspects of residential real-estate related transactions based on certain prohibited factors.

Lenders cannot refuse you credit because you’re a single mother or father.

The homebuying process for single parents is the same as for married couples. Lenders will use your income, credit score and credit history, debt-to-income ratio (DTI), and savings to determine whether you qualify for a loan.

But in reality, single parents can face steeper hurdles to homeownership.

A common misconception is that having less income than married couples is the main barrier to homeownership for parents who are buying on their own. And income challenges are real. Some single parents earn just as much or more than two-income households, though many earn much less.

Finding a home in a desirable neighborhood with the space needed to accommodate a family could be challenging for single parents with limited income, particularly if they do not receive child support or the other parent is not involved in the children’s lives.

Those who do receive child support can use that income to qualify for a loan. But even with that income, parents who have recently been through a divorce may have less savings or a low credit score due to legal proceedings or other reasons related to that change.

But there are a number of other obstacles to homeownership that don’t involve money.

Finding the time

One issue that could prevent a single parent from purchasing and owning a home is time — or lack thereof. If a single mom or dad has little to no support network, then the time commitment to buy a home could be daunting.

Between work and caring for their children, they may have little free time to find a good real estate agent and research the best neighborhoods for their family, let alone read up on loan types or figure out the documents they’ll need for the mortgage application.

In a perfect world, single parents would have the community support they need to focus on finding the right home for their families. But if you don’t have friends or family nearby to lend a hand, you still don’t have to go it alone.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offers homeownership counseling, and a government-approved counselor can help you organize your finances and get ready to apply. They can also refer you to local homebuying assistance programs, such as grants and loans you can use toward your down payment and closing costs.

A good mortgage lender will also provide guidance and support. Your loan officer will explain which loan programs you qualify for and walk you through all the documentation you’ll need to provide.

They can also prep you on the homebuying timeline, from preapproval to appraisal to closing, so you know what to expect in advance. That way, you can plan ahead for childcare or know in advance what documents you’ll have to submit or sign.

Going it alone: You can do it

Another challenge facing single parents could be the fear of owning a home without a partner — especially if they’re used to having two incomes.

The prospect of not only affording a home, but maintaining one, on your own may be overwhelming. That can be especially true if one partner had their ex-partner handle the finances and house issues in the past, such as dealing with contractors, handling unexpected expenses, or even thinking about security features and how to protect the home.

On the other hand, some partners are accustomed to their ex managing the day-to-day care of the home and kids may feel that taking on those responsibilities plus all the details that come with owning a house would be draining for them and their families.

Of course, with so many couples both working these days, these scenarios may also be flipped. But however couples chose to split up household and childcare duties when they were together, suddenly having to take them all on yourself is a major life adjustment. Adding homebuying and homeownership to the stack may not seem worth it.

Related reading: How to Buy a Home When You’re Single

After all, although renting has its drawbacks, such as the potential for rent increases and the fact that you’re not building equity, the upside is having a landlord to take care of day-to-day logistics. That can be a weight off your mind when you’re juggling so many other concerns.

That’s understandable, especially in the short-term. Parenting can be tough, single parenting all the more so. But homeownership pays dividends for years — and even generations — to come.

The benefits of homeownership

Habitat for Humanity reported that homeownership is vital to wealth-building because of the opportunities associated with home equity.

A single person who buys a home today may see their equity grow over time. Not only does having a permanent home provide stability for their kids, it also creates new options for them.

The property’s value will likely rise over time, and that person can sell the home for a profit, then purchase a higher-value property. They can also borrow against the home’s equity to pay for the kids’ college tuitions or help them access other opportunities.

That parent’s children also have a greater chance of becoming homeowners themselves, further building the family’s wealth. The Habitat report found a 25 percentage point increase in homeownership rates among kids whose parents owned their homes versus those whose parents rented.

Too little pay-off? Think long-term

Finally, the commitment of homeownership may not appeal to some single parents. To a single mother or father who’s endured a great deal of stress raising their children alone, buying a home may feel like too big and permanent a decision.

Single parents whose children are teens or older may be looking forward to a reprieve from the stress of single parenting when their children leave home to go to college or pursue their own interests.

With short-term leasing agreements becoming more popular (i.e., Airbnb), many people are finding reasons to think of “home” as more of a temporary commitment. This could certainly be the case for single parents who’d like to explore different locations and living arrangements once their children are adults.

Taking on a 30-year mortgage when their kids are nearly ready to leave the house may seem like too big a commitment for too little pay-off.

But here, too, there is a trade-off. A parent who purchases a home now, even knowing their kids will move out in a few years and that they may want to travel or live elsewhere, can still benefit from the decision.

Once they and their family are ready to move out, the parent can rent the property and use the income to pay the monthly mortgage payment or help finance the family’s travel and education plans. Their equity will continue to grow, and they can benefit from the home even while they’re not living there.

Why buy a home as a single parent?

Despite possible challenges of homeownership for single moms and dads, there are some valuable benefits.

  • Build general wealth: Homeowners can use home equity or home sale proceeds to finance their children’s educations, help them purchase a home, start a business, or invest in other wealth-creation strategies 
  • Hedge against rising prices: Landlords often raise rents year over year, which can make leasing untenable long-term. One way to avoid the impacts of increasing rent costs and unstable living situations is to buy and live in your own home
  • Stability and normalcy: Owning a home gives you more control over your living situation and can provide stability and security for your children

5 Tips to choose the right home for your family

Choosing the right home can make all the difference in your homeownership journey. The wrong home can impact you and your children’s lives adversely in many ways. But the right one can become a place of joy, security, and community for your family for years to come.

Here’s how to find the home where you and your family will make cherished memories: 

1) Know your numbers

Even if you receive approval for a particular loan amount, consider finding a home you can purchase for less. Make sure you are comfortable with the monthly payment and give yourself wiggle room in case of emergencies that could reduce your income and affect your ability to make payments.

You should also factor in all the costs of homeownership.

“I would advise single [parents] who are thinking of buying to carefully consider things like maintenance and upkeep, not just the monthly mortgage costs,” Lake said.

Although her current home is spacious with beautiful views, Lake confessed that mowing the lawn is a chore and that $16,000 in recent HVAC work her home required haven’t been ideal. Leaving yourself a financial buffer and opting for a lower-priced home so you can put more into emergency savings can help you cope with issues that inevitably crop up around the property.

And, perhaps most importantly, don’t feel pressured into making a large down payment. Keep as much cash on hand by making the smallest down payment possible. You’ll not regret that decision when unexpected costs come up.

2) Look for a good deal on a fixer-upper

As the old adage goes, “Buy the ugliest house in the best neighborhood!” That may not sound as exciting as buying a pristine, move-in ready house. But you could save thousands of dollars by purchasing a home with good bones that’s just in need of some cosmetic upgrades.

Besides, if you and your kids work on projects around the house together, it’ll feel even more like your home.

There are even mortgage programs that will let you finance the purchase and renovation costs into a single loan.

Learn more: Everything You Need to Know About the FHA 203k loan

3) Check out the surrounding community

When looking at homes, check out the neighborhood where your home will be located.

Look at things like crime rate, demographics, school district rating, and other metrics that are important to you. Scope out other features as well to get a sense of the local community: walkability, access to public transportation, proximity to shopping and activities, sporting and arts events, parks, and commute times for work and school.

Try to imagine a typical day in your family’s life and then map that onto the neighborhood to figure out whether it will meet your family’s needs.

4) Talk to neighbors

If possible, talk to neighbors in the community where you are considering a home purchase. Get their take on the best (and worst) things about living in the area. Hearing from people who have lived in the area a long time can give you the best perspective. 

5) Get the kids involved

Ask your children about their vision for a family home as well. Get them involved in the process by making a list of their desired features, and keep it handy when you go to view homes. If they feel connected to the process, you’re more likely to get their buy-in when you finally decide which home to buy.

How to buy a home as a single parent FAQs

Can a single parent with a low income buy a house?

Yes, a single parent with a low income can buy a home. There are a number of mortgage programs geared toward low-income homebuyers, provided they have steady income and meet credit score and debt-to-income requirements.

How do single parents afford to buy a house?

There are plenty of ways a single parent can afford to buy a home. Here are some ways to make homeownership possible:

Down payment assistance
Gift funds (from friends and family) for down payment assistance
First-time homebuyer grants and forgivable loans
No or low down payment conventional, USDA, VA, or FHA loans
Buy a multifamily home, live in one unit and rent out the rest to help cover the mortgage payments

Is it possible to buy a house as a single parent?

Yes, not only is it possible, but 31% of single moms in the U.S. are homeowners. The key is to organize your finances, set a budget, and work with a mortgage lender that will help you find the right loan program for your family.

Can a single parent buy a home? Definitely. 

As a single parent, you may feel like you are at a disadvantage when you buy a home. And it’s true that the homebuying process as a solo dad or mom can feel tough.

The good news is that there are plenty of loan options, assistance programs, and smart buying strategies to help you overcome those hurdles and find the perfect house that you and your children can call home.


Fairway is not affiliated with any government agencies. These materials are not from the VA, HUD, FHA, USDA, or RD, and were not approved by a government agency.

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