Can You Build a Barndominium With a Va Loan?

Can You Build a Barndominium With a Va Loan?

In recent years, there has been a growing trend in alternative housing options. Among these, the Barndominium stands out, blending the rustic charm of a barn with the comforts of a traditional condominium. Initially conceptualized as a storage space for large equipment with living quarters, modern barndominiums have evolved into luxurious and fully customized homes, offering a unique blend of function and style.

For many U.S. veterans and active-duty service members, the dream of homeownership is made more attainable through the VA loan program. Established by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, VA loans provide favorable terms to those who have served, including benefits such as no down payment requirements and competitive interest rates.

The program’s main objective is to offer affordable home financing options, ensuring that those who’ve served the nation have a place they can call home.

The convergence of these two topics – the rise of barndominiums as a viable living option and the availability of VA loans for veterans – brings forth a compelling question: Is it possible for a veteran to capitalize on the benefits of a VA loan to build or buy a barndominium?

This article aims to delve deep into this query, exploring the intricacies of VA loan requirements and the unique challenges and opportunities presented by barndominiums.

What is a Barndominium?

Origins of the Barndominium

The term “barndominium” is derived from a fusion of “barn” and “condominium.” Historically, these structures began as barns or workshops where a section was often reserved for living quarters. Over time, with the increasing need for affordable, efficient, and personalized housing solutions, the concept has evolved.

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Instead of just being a side feature of a barn, the living space became the primary focus, transforming these structures into full-fledged homes with a unique barn-inspired aesthetic.

Modern Barndominiums: Not Just a Barn

While the origins of barndominiums are humble and functional, today’s versions are a far cry from just being a simple living space attached to a barn. Modern barndominiums are often custom-designed residences, tailored to the homeowner’s preferences.

They can be as luxurious and expansive as any traditional home, boasting features like open floor plans, large windows, loft spaces, and even gourmet kitchens. Their exteriors, however, retain the rustic charm of a barn, often featuring metal roofs and wood sidings.

Benefits of Living in a Barndominium

  1. Cost-Effective: Generally, barndominiums can be less expensive to build than traditional homes due to their simpler construction and the use of materials like metal, which is both durable and affordable.
  2. Customizability: With open floor plans and fewer structural restrictions, homeowners have the liberty to design their barndominium’s interior according to their wishes, creating unique spaces that reflect their personal style.
  3. Energy Efficiency: Metal, a primary material used in many barndominiums, provides excellent insulation, which can lead to reduced energy costs.
  4. Low Maintenance: Given the materials and construction style, barndominiums often require less maintenance than traditional wood-framed homes.
  5. Versatility: The unique blend of residential and potential commercial space means that owners can use a part of their property for business purposes, workshops, or even hobby areas, integrating work, play, and home life seamlessly.
What is a Barndominium?

The Basics of VA Loans

The VA Loan program, backed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, was introduced in 1944 as part of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, commonly referred to as the GI Bill. The main objective was to offer a range of benefits, including home loan guarantees, to World War II veterans as a token of appreciation for their service.

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Since then, the program has expanded and continued to provide millions of veterans and active-duty service members with an affordable path to homeownership.

Key Features of VA Loans

  1. No Down Payment: One of the standout benefits of a VA loan is that eligible borrowers can finance 100% of the home’s value without needing a down payment. This significantly reduces the upfront costs of purchasing a home.
  2. Competitive Interest Rates: VA loans typically come with lower interest rates than conventional loans, as the VA guarantees a portion of the loan. This guarantee provides lenders with an added layer of protection, allowing them to offer more favorable terms.
  3. No Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI): Unlike conventional and FHA loans, which often require PMI if the down payment is less than 20%, VA loans do not have this requirement, leading to potential monthly savings.
  4. Limited Closing Costs: The VA sets a limit on the amount of closing costs that can be charged to the buyer, ensuring that veterans aren’t burdened with excessive fees.
  5. Foreclosure Protections: The VA provides financial counseling to homeowners facing financial difficulties, and they often intervene with the lender on behalf of the borrower to seek alternatives to foreclosure.

Eligibility and Limitations

To benefit from a VA loan:

  • Borrowers must obtain a Certificate of Eligibility (COE).
  • The loan is generally available to active-duty service members, veterans, and certain members of the National Guard and Reserves.
  • The property being purchased must be intended for personal occupancy. Hence, it must be the borrower’s primary residence.
  • Both the borrower and the property must meet specific VA standards and lender’s credit and income requirements.

Loan Limits and Funding Fees

While there is technically no maximum loan amount for a VA loan, there are limits to the amount the VA will guarantee without a down payment. These limits can vary based on the county in which you’re purchasing.

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Additionally, there’s a funding fee, which is a one-time payment that can be financed into the loan or paid at closing. The fee varies based on factors like the borrower’s service history and the type of loan.

VA Loan Property Requirements

Understanding VA’s Minimum Property Requirements (MPRs)

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has established a set of standards known as Minimum Property Requirements (MPRs) to ensure that properties financed with VA loans are safe, structurally sound, and sanitary. These standards are intended to protect the financial interests of the VA and the borrower.

Key Aspects of MPRs:

  1. Sanitary Facilities and Domestic Hot Water: The property must have appropriate sanitary facilities, including space for living, sleeping, cooking, and dining. Additionally, it should have a continuous supply of potable water for drinking and domestic use, along with hot water.
  2. Roofing: Roofs must be in good condition, free from leaks, and have a reasonable future utility (typically, they should have a remaining life of at least two years).
  3. Mechanical Infrastructure: The property’s heating, water, sewage, and electrical systems must be safe and functioning. Heating must be adequate for the property and capable of maintaining a minimum temperature of 50 degrees in areas containing plumbing.
  4. Foundation and Structure: The foundation should be solid without any significant cracks or damage. The overall structure of the property, including floors, ceilings, and walls, should be free from hazards that might impact health or safety.
  5. Pest Inspection: In certain areas, a pest inspection may be required to ensure the property is free from termite or other pest damage.
  6. Access: The property should have safe access from a street or road and have adequate space for parking.
  7. Site Conditions: The site should not have any hazards or conditions that affect the health and safety of the occupants or the property’s structural integrity. This includes things like unstable soils or slopes, high-pressure gas lines, and more.

The Importance of “Safe, Sound, and Sanitary”

At the core of VA’s MPRs is the philosophy that veterans and service members should have homes that are “safe, sound, and sanitary.” It’s a basic assurance that the property is free from significant defects, is habitable, and provides a safe environment for living. This requirement isn’t just about the present condition of the property but also its future viability as a home for the borrower.

How Barndominiums Fit In

Given the unique nature of barndominiums, meeting the VA’s MPRs can present some challenges. Their construction and design may differ from traditional homes, which can sometimes make it difficult for appraisers to evaluate them against MPRs accurately.

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Prospective buyers or builders need to be proactive in ensuring that the barndominium adheres to VA standards, possibly working closely with contractors who understand these requirements.

Challenges with Using VA Loans for Barndominiums

The marriage of traditional VA loans with the contemporary concept of barndominiums can be fraught with complexities. While VA loans are rooted in longstanding policies and standards, barndominiums, being a relatively new housing trend, may not always align seamlessly with these established requirements.

This intersection presents a set of challenges for veterans or active-duty members eyeing a barndominium purchase or construction using a VA loan.

1. Appraisal Issues

  • Lack of Comparable Properties: Given the unique nature of barndominiums, finding comparable properties in the area for an accurate appraisal can be challenging. The lack of “comps” can result in an undervaluation of the property.
  • Potential for Lower Appraisals: If there aren’t enough comparable barndominium sales in an area, the property might appraise for less than the purchase price, complicating the loan process.

2. Understandability and Familiarity

  • Lender Hesitancy: Since many lenders may not be familiar with barndominiums, they may be reluctant to issue VA loans for such properties, fearing that the resale market might be limited.
  • Ambiguity in Classification: Is the barndominium primarily a residential property or does it lean more towards a commercial classification due to its origins? This can make it harder for appraisers and lenders to evaluate.

3. Meeting VA’s MPRs

  • Construction Standards: Barndominiums may sometimes be built using unconventional materials or methods, which might not align with the VA’s MPRs.
  • Mixed Use Concerns: If a significant portion of the barndominium is dedicated to non-residential use, such as a workshop or storage for farming equipment, it might not meet the VA’s requirement of being primarily a residential property.
  • Future Viability: The VA loan criteria emphasize not just the current state but the future viability of a property as a home. Given the evolving nature of barndominiums, some appraisers may be cautious or uncertain about their long-term appeal or durability.

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4. Varied Interpretations

Subjectivity in Appraisals: Two appraisers might view the same barndominium differently. While one might see it as a unique, modern living space, another might focus on potential resale challenges or non-traditional aspects of the property.

5. Financing Complications

Loan Amount Restrictions: Depending on the appraisal value, the requested loan amount might exceed what the VA is willing to guarantee, especially if the barndominium construction is on the higher end in terms of cost.

Despite these challenges, it’s not impossible to secure a VA loan for a barndominium. The key lies in preparation: understanding the potential issues, working closely with knowledgeable professionals, and being ready to make adjustments or compromises as necessary.

Tips for Navigating the VA Loan Process for a Barndominium

Tips for Navigating the VA Loan Process for a Barndominium

Combining the unique characteristics of barndominiums with the stringent requirements of VA loans might seem like a daunting task. However, with some preparation and insights, prospective borrowers can successfully navigate this terrain. Here are some essential tips to guide you through the process:

1. Choose a Knowledgeable Lender

  • Experience Matters: Select a lender familiar with both VA loans and barndominiums. Their experience can streamline the process and anticipate potential hurdles.
  • Ask for Recommendations: Connect with other veterans or barndominium owners who’ve gone through the VA loan process for recommendations on lenders.

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2. Prioritize Communication with Appraisers

  • Educate Them: Provide appraisers with details about barndominiums, their features, and benefits. The more they understand, the more accurate their appraisal will be.
  • Provide Comps: If you’re aware of other barndominium sales in your area, share that information with the appraiser to ensure they have relevant comparables.

3. Ensure Adherence to VA’s MPRs

  • Work with Specialized Contractors: Engage builders or contractors who are familiar with VA MPRs to ensure that your barndominium meets all the requirements.
  • Regular Inspections: Schedule periodic checks during construction to ensure all standards are being met and rectify any issues immediately.

4. Document Everything

  • Keep Records: Maintain thorough documentation of every stage of the construction process, from planning to execution. This not only helps in the appraisal process but can also be beneficial if there are questions about the property’s construction or features.
  • Get Certifications: If possible, obtain certifications for materials used, especially if they are non-traditional or innovative. This can help validate their quality and durability.

5. Consider a Mixed Financing Approach

Exploring Alternatives: If obtaining a VA loan for the entire amount proves challenging, consider using it for just the residential portion of the barndominium, and seek alternative financing for the non-residential parts.

6. Seek Guidance from VA Experts

  • Engage VA Consultants: There are consultants specialized in guiding veterans through the VA loan process. Their expertise can be invaluable, particularly in complicated scenarios like barndominium financing.
  • Join Communities: Engaging in online communities or forums where veterans discuss their VA loan experiences can provide insights and tips specific to barndominiums.

7. Stay Flexible and Open-minded

  • Plan for Contingencies: Be ready for unexpected challenges and be willing to adjust your plans accordingly.
  • Stay Patient: Given the uniqueness of the situation, the process might be longer than a standard VA loan application for a traditional home. Patience and perseverance are key.

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Successfully obtaining a VA loan for a barndominium is achievable with the right approach and preparation. By being informed, proactive, and working with experienced professionals, you can realize your dream of owning a unique and customized home that honors both your service and your vision.

Alternatives to VA Loans for Building a Barndominium

While VA loans offer numerous benefits for veterans and active-duty service members, there are times when these loans might not be the best fit, especially for unique projects like building a barndominium. Thankfully, several alternative financing routes can help make your barndominium dream a reality:

1. Conventional Mortgage Loans

  • Basics: These are standard home loans not guaranteed by a government agency. They typically require a higher down payment and have stricter credit score requirements than government-backed loans.
  • Benefits for Barndominiums: Since they’re not constrained by government standards, lenders may have more flexibility in evaluating barndominiums, especially if the property is considered a primary residence.

2. Construction Loans

  • How They Work: Construction loans are short-term loans used to pay for the construction of a home. They’re typically set for a term of one year or until construction is completed.
  • Draw Schedules: Instead of receiving the full loan amount upfront, borrowers receive disbursements in stages, called “draws,” as specific construction milestones are met.
  • Converting to a Permanent Loan: Once construction is complete, the loan either becomes payable in full or can be converted into a conventional mortgage.

3. Barndominium-Specific Lenders

  • Niche Market Expertise: Some lenders specialize in financing barndominiums, recognizing the growing trend and market demand.
  • Tailored Solutions: They may offer terms, rates, and loan products specifically designed for barndominium construction and ownership.

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4. Home Equity Loans or Lines of Credit

  • Using Existing Equity: If you already own a home or another property, you can tap into its equity to finance the construction or purchase of your barndominium.
  • HELOC vs. Home Equity Loan: While a home equity loan provides a lump sum, a Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) works like a credit card, allowing you to draw funds as needed up to a set limit.

5. Personal Loans

  • Unsecured Financing: Unlike mortgages, which are secured by the property, personal loans are unsecured. This means they might have higher interest rates, but they don’t require collateral.
  • Suitability: They’re better suited for smaller amounts or as a supplementary funding source given their typically higher interest rates and shorter repayment terms.

6. USDA Rural Development Loans

  • Target Audience: Specifically designed for rural property buyers and builders, these loans are an excellent option if your barndominium is in a qualifying rural area.
  • Benefits: They offer competitive interest rates, and some programs require no down payment.

7. Pool Resources or Partnerships

Joint Ventures: If you’re open to co-owning the barndominium, consider pooling resources with a trusted friend or family member. This can significantly ease the financial burden and speed up the construction process.

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While the VA loan offers a fantastic route for veterans to finance their homes, barndominium enthusiasts have a range of options at their disposal. It’s essential to evaluate each alternative, considering the terms, rates, and requirements to find the best fit for your barndominium project.


Navigating the path to building or buying a barndominium with a VA loan can present its unique set of challenges. However, with an understanding of the VA’s property requirements, coupled with persistence and due diligence, it’s entirely achievable.

For those who find the VA route a bit intricate, numerous alternative financing methods can also lead to realizing the barndominium dream. Whichever path you choose, always remember that informed decisions, guided by expert insights, are your best tools in turning your unique housing vision into reality.

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