How to Buy a House for, or From, a Family Member?


|10 min read

Buying a house from a family member or buying for a family member is a unique real estate transaction. If you’re buying a house from a family, there’s more on the line than just money.

This type of transaction is not just about negotiating prices and signing contracts; it consists of navigating the complexities of family relationships, emotions, and financial considerations. When you buy a house from a family member, the stakes are higher because it’s not just a monetary investment but also an emotional one.

Similarly, purchasing a home for a family member involves careful planning and understanding their needs and expectations. If you are buying a house for a family member, such as a parent or sibling, you not only need to find something they want to live in but also need to set boundaries in terms of budget.

This article will explore the aspects of buying a house for or from a family member, highlighting the importance of clear communication, legal considerations, and financial planning to ensure a smooth and successful transaction that strengthens family bonds rather than strains them.

What are Non-Arm’s Length Transactions?

If you’re doing a transaction involving family, there isn’t the typical distance or unanimity anonymity that you would have in traditional real estate transactions. This kind of real estate transaction is what is called a non-arm’s length transaction. 

Non-arm’s length transactions refer to real estate deals where the buyer and seller have a pre-existing personal relationship, such as family members, friends, or business associates.

This relationship can influence the terms and conditions of the transaction, potentially leading to more favorable or agreed-upon conditions that might not reflect the true market value of the property.

These transactions differ from typical real estate transactions, considered “arm’s length.” In an arm’s length transaction, the buyer and seller act independently without any relationship influencing their decisions.

Both parties aim to maximize their financial gain, leading to a sale price that more accurately reflects the property’s market value. The negotiations are conducted more formally, and the process is often more transparent and regulated to ensure fairness and market consistency.

In contrast, non-arm’s length transactions can have different motivations, such as helping a family member acquire a home or transferring property within a family for estate planning purposes. These transactions may not always prioritize achieving the highest possible sale price or market terms.

Due to the personal relationship between the parties, there might be less negotiation, and the terms can be more flexible or favorable to one party, which could affect the deal’s perceived fairness and market consistency.

Buying a House for a Family Member Can Still be a Non-Arm’s Length Transaction

When buying a house for a family member, you are typically purchasing from an unrelated third party. This scenario can still be structured as an arm’s length transaction, where the dealings are conducted as they would be with any unrelated party, ensuring that the terms, negotiations, and final agreements are based solely on market conditions and not personal relationships.

In such transactions, the buyer, who is helping the family member acquire a home, engages in negotiations with the seller (who is not related to either party) to agree on a purchase price that reflects the current market value.

By maintaining an arm’s length approach, the transaction remains straightforward, transparent, and compliant with legal and financial regulations. This helps to prevent any potential conflicts of interest or complications that might arise from the familial aspect of the buyer’s motivation.

Pros and Cons of Family Real Estate Transactions

Buying or selling a house within a family can have both advantages and disadvantages, ranging from financial benefits to potential interpersonal challenges. Before entering into a real estate deal with a family member, be sure to understand the pros and cons.

Pros of Family Real Estate Transactions

Engaging in real estate transactions within a family can offer several advantages, often making the process more personal, flexible, and financially beneficial than typical market dealings. These benefits can facilitate the transaction and strengthen familial bonds through mutual support and understanding.

The potential positives of family transactions include:

  • Financial Savings
    One of the most significant advantages is the potential for reduced costs. Families may save on real estate agent commissions, closing fees, and other transaction-related expenses typically involved in a standard real estate sale.
  • Flexible Negotiation
    Family members may have more room to negotiate terms that suit both parties better than in a traditional market transaction. This can include price, payment schedules, and closing dates, providing a more tailored approach to property transfer. Ideally, family members should work together to land on terms that work best for all parties involved.
  • Quicker Process
    Transactions within a family can often bypass the lengthy processes of listing, marketing, and public showing, leading to a faster and more streamlined transaction.
  • Familiarity and Trust
    Dealing with family members can reduce the uncertainties and risks often associated with buying or selling property, as there is a pre-existing relationship and a level of trust. Family members should disclose any issues in the property and help expedite due diligence.

Cons of Family Real Estate Transactions

While family real estate transactions can offer numerous benefits, they also come with their own set of challenges and potential downsides. Navigating the dynamics of family relationships and the financial complexities of property transactions can sometimes lead to complications and strains within the family.

While it’s possible to save money and transact faster when dealing with a family member, you also need to consider the following downsides:

  • Financial Implications
    The transaction can have complicated financial implications beyond the purchase price. For example, you must consider potential tax consequences, such as gift tax, capital gains tax, and property tax assessments, which require careful planning and professional advice. For example, if you buy a house from a family member at a price below its fair market value, the difference between the market value and the purchase price can be considered a gift.
  • Increased Emotional Stakes
    Mixing financial transactions with family relationships can lead to heightened emotions, potentially straining relationships if disagreements or misunderstandings arise.
  • Potential for Unfairness
    Perceived or real inequities in the transaction terms can cause family disputes, especially if not all family members agree or feel that the terms favor one party over others.
  • Legal and Financial Scrutiny
    These transactions may face closer scrutiny from lenders and authorities to ensure that they are not attempts to circumvent legal or financial obligations, requiring additional paperwork and validations to prove the transaction’s legitimacy.

Mitigate the Cons by Working With a Real Estate Agent

Engaging a real estate agent in family transactions can significantly mitigate the potential downsides. An experienced agent brings objectivity and professionalism that can help navigate the emotional complexities and financial intricacies of buying or selling property within a family. An agent can add value by:

  • Serving as neutral mediators, facilitating discussions, and helping both parties reach amicable agreements.
  • Supplying a comprehensive market analysis to ensure the property is priced appropriately, aligning the transaction with current market conditions, and helping to prevent disputes over fairness.
  • Completing all necessary paperwork accurately and in compliance with state and federal laws.
  • Providing access to a network of professionals, such as home inspectors, appraisers, and lawyers, who can ensure the transaction is conducted professionally and thoroughly.
  • Acting as an emotional buffer between family members, helping to keep the transaction process business-like and focused on the practical aspects rather than personal feelings.

Steps to Buy or Sell a Home to a Family Member

Navigating the buying or selling a home within the family can be complex, but following a structured approach can ensure the transaction is legal and practical.

Step One: Determine Market Value & Get a Professional Appraisal

Establishing a fair market value is crucial to setting a fair price and preventing future disputes. A professional appraisal gives an objective assessment of the home’s value. This step is essential for both buyer and seller to have clarity on the property’s value and agree on a price that ensures fairness in the transaction.

Sometimes, an appraisal can determine an outdated value, especially during a hot seller’s market. A real estate agent can also be an excellent source for determining market value by providing a comparative market analysis.

Connect with a local real estate agent with FastExpert. A professional agent can guide you through how to buy a house from a family member.

Step Two: Consult a Real Estate Attorney, Accountant, or Tax Preparer

If you want to protect yourself, consult a real estate attorney and an accountant or tax preparer. A real estate attorney will review any potential legal issues related to the transaction, such as title concerns, zoning laws, and compliance with state and federal regulations.

They can also prepare or review the necessary legal documents to ensure they accurately reflect the agreement and protect all parties involved. In some cases, buying or selling property within a family can have implications for estate planning.

These professionals can offer advice on how to structure the transaction in a way that aligns with the long-term financial and estate planning goals of the family.

An accountant or tax preparer can advise on the financial aspects of the transaction, including the tax implications of buying or selling property below market value. They can help both parties understand the potential tax consequences, such as capital gains tax, gift tax, and property tax adjustments.

Step Three: Secure Financing

If the buyer needs financing, it’s important to understand that lenders may scrutinize non-arm’s length transactions more closely. Start the process of getting pre-approved and talk to your mortgage broker about the parameters of the deal.

Your mortgage broker can assist in presenting the transaction in the best light to lenders to secure financing. FastExpert makes it easy to connect with a mortgage broker or lender to help secure your purchase financing.

Step Four: Draft and Review the Purchase Agreement

Any real estate transaction must be documented in writing. Creating a detailed purchase agreement is a critical step that outlines the terms of the sale. It should include terms such as the purchase price, down payment, conditions, and closing date. Make sure it’s reviewed by legal and real estate experts to ensure all aspects of the deal are fair and comprehensive.

Step Five: Get a Home Inspection

Do not skip a home inspection when buying a house from a family member. Conducting a home inspection helps identify any issues before finalizing the sale. It establishes clarity of the property’s condition.

Step Six: Closing

The closing process involves the formal transfer of property ownership, including exchanging funds and signing documents. All transacting parties must review and sign the final documents before transferring the deed.

Financial Gifts vs. Loans in Family Real Estate Transactions

When buying a home from a family member in a non-arms-length transaction, it’s common for family members to want to offer financial support. Their financial contribution can come as a gift or a loan for the down payment, each with different implications and considerations.

A financial gift means a portion of the home’s purchase price is given without expecting repayment. This sometimes happens when buying below fair market value. The buyer receives a sum of money towards the purchase that they do not need to repay, reducing the overall financial burden of the purchase.

If the gift exceeds the annual IRS exclusion amount, the giver must file a gift tax return. However, actual tax liability may only arise if the giver’s lifetime gift amount exceeds the federal exemption limit.

On the other hand, a loan can be provided by a family member selling their house. A loan involves a formal agreement to repay the borrowed amount under specified terms.

A gift may allow the buyer to qualify for a mortgage more easily, as it reduces the loan-to-value ratio, while a loan from a family member might be viewed by lenders as additional debt. But that doesn’t mean a gift is always the best option.

Gifts can require tax filings and impact the giver’s estate, whereas loans must be legally documented and may also have tax implications for both parties, especially regarding interest payments.

Structuring the Deal with Family Members

Just because you’re transacting with family doesn’t mean you don’t need to document your real estate sale. Even among family members in non-arms-length transactions, it’s crucial to formalize the transaction with a written purchase agreement.

This document should outline all terms of the sale, including the price, payment schedule, contingencies, and closing date. Have a real estate attorney review the agreement to ensure it complies with local laws and accurately represents the deal’s terms.

Obtain an independent appraisal to establish the home’s fair market value. This ensures the price is based on objective criteria, such as the property’s condition, location, and market trends.

Conduct all financial transactions through traceable means, such as bank transfers or certified checks, to create a clear payment record. If part of the purchase involves a financial gift or loan from a family member, document this clearly in the agreement.

Specify the amount, whether it is a gift or loan, and the terms associated with repayment if applicable. Consider using an escrow service to transfer funds and the property title. This adds a layer of protection for both parties, ensuring that the funds are transferred and the title is changed only when all conditions of the sale are met.

How to Buy a House For a Family Member

Buying a house with the intention of becoming a family member’s home can mean that you either continue owning the property or put it in their name. Alternatively, it could involve supporting a family member’s purchase by co-signing a mortgage or helping with a down payment.

Direct Purchase

Direct purchase involves buying a home outright and can be executed in two primary ways: purchasing the property and putting it in the family member’s name or buying it as an investment property with the family member as the tenant.

If you’re purchasing and transferring ownership, the process involves standard real estate transaction steps, including negotiation, inspection, and closing. Once the property is in the family member’s name, they become the legal owner, assuming all responsibilities, including maintenance, taxes, and mortgage payments (if not bought outright).

Many buyers purchase properties and then lease them to a family member, whether an adult child or an aging parent. This allows their family to have a secure primary residence and the owner to potentially build wealth through appreciation over time.

The advantage of this approach is that it will enable the buyer to maintain control over the property and benefit from investment perks like income generation, tax deductions, and potential appreciation. The drawback is the ongoing responsibility of being a landlord, and the family member does not build equity in the home.

Co-signing a Mortgage

Co-signing a mortgage is a common way to assist a family member in the home-buying process when they cannot qualify for a mortgage on their own due to income, debt, or credit issues. Co-signing means agreeing to share the mortgage loan’s shared responsibility with the primary borrower.

Essentially, you guarantee the loan, and your creditworthiness assures the lender that the loan will be repaid. If the primary borrower fails to make payments, the co-signer is expected to cover the debt.

As a co-signer, you are legally responsible for the loan. If the primary borrower cannot make the payments, the lender will expect you to pay. This liability can affect your debt-to-income ratio and potentially limit your ability to secure additional loans or credit.

Financial Assistance for a Down Payment

Financial assistance for a down payment is a common way to help a family member purchase a home. Types of financial aid include:

  • Gifts: Gifts do not have to be repaid. However, it’s important to document the gift properly to satisfy lender requirements and tax regulations. Lenders generally require a letter stating that the money is a gift, not a loan, confirming that the recipient is not obligated to repay the amount.
  • Loans: A loan to the family member can provide the needed funds for a down payment. However, you must document the loan and establish a structured repayment plan. If the down payment is provided as a loan, the borrower must disclose this to the lender. The loan can affect the borrower’s debt-to-income ratio, potentially impacting mortgage qualification and terms.
  • Shared Equity Arrangements: In a shared equity transaction, the person providing the funds receives a percentage of property ownership. This equity stake can be repaid or realized when the property is sold or refinanced. This arrangement might complicate the mortgage process, as lenders consider the shared equity part of the property’s financial structure. The terms of the shared equity agreement must be clearly outlined and understood by the lender.

With all three of these options, it’s important to understand the cost and tax implications. For example, gifts above a certain amount ($18,000 per person in 2024) require filing a gift tax return, although actual tax liability typically only arises after exceeding lifetime exemption amounts.

Make sure you document all financial contributions. Just because you are doing a deal with a family member does not mean you don’t need to protect your self-interest. Offering financial assistance for a down payment improves a family member’s ability to purchase a home.

Remember to consider the tax and legal implications and how the assistance will affect the mortgage application and terms.

Successful Family Real Estate Transactions with FastExpert

Buying a house for or from a family member is a non-arms-length transaction that can benefit the family but also presents unique challenges. You need to navigate the emotional comments as much as the financial ones.

Don’t take on the real estate transaction yourself. To protect your self-interest and the personal relationship with your family, it’s crucial to consult with real estate professionals, tax advisors, and legal experts. They can provide the necessary guidance and support to make informed decisions while adhering to legal and tax requirements.

FastExpert offers a platform where you can find and compare real estate professionals, ensuring you partner with the right expert for your needs. Review their credentials, compare their track records, and streamline your search to find the top real estate professional for your family transaction.

Visit FastExpert today to begin a guided, well-informed, and stress-free process in managing your family’s real estate endeavors.

Kelsey Heath

Kelsey Heath is a real estate content specialist with an extensive background in residential, industrial, and commercial property. She has been involved in the industry for a decade as a professional and personal investor, gaining a deep understanding of the market and trends. With a passion for written communication, Kelsey loves helping people understand the sometimes-complicated concepts behind real estate and is now a sought-out guest and ghostwriter.

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