I’m writing this short primer because I get development loan requests for projects on a daily basis from borrowers and other brokers who aren’t well versed on how lenders analyze A&D loan requests. I hope this helps.
A land development loan is an advance of funds, secured by a mortgage, to finance the making, installing, or constructing of the improvements necessary to convert raw land into construction-ready building sites. In other words, a land development loan takes an unimproved parcel and breaks it up into a number of smaller, improved parcels upon which homes or commercial buildings will be constructed.
The kinds of improvements we’re talking about might be subdividing, leveling, grading, building roads and bringing sewer, water and power to the site. These kinds of improvements are also known as horizontal improvements.
An acquisition and development loan (A&D loan) is a loan where a part of the proceeds are used to buy the property. The total project cost would include the cost of the land, the hard costs for the horizontal improvements, the soft costs (including an interest reserve and sales commissions) and a contingency reserve. The minimum cash contribution of a developer on an A&D loan is usually 25% of the total land development project cost. Sometimes this percentage can be reduced by teaming up with an equity partner. But most equity investors I’ve worked with will usually want to make their investment after the land has been acquired, re-zoning has been completed, entitlements are in place, site planning has been approved, and the project is read for construction. This substantially reduces their investment risk because the value of the collateral has been increased. That being said, experienced sponsors that have shown consistent success in their projects may be able to get their equity a lot earlier in the process.
As a general rule, the minimum cash down payment required for a land developer to purchase a piece of land is 30%. Note that while many hard money lenders will not exceed 25% to 50% loan-to-value when refinancing a piece of land, many reasonable hard money lenders will finance up to 70% of the purchase price of the land, if the developer is putting down 30% in cash.
If anything other than cash is used as the down payment, like a seller-carried second mortgage or some “credit” for work already done, the size of the loan that the typical hard money lender will make will fall dramatically, probably down to the 55% LTV range. The 30% down payment must be in cash.
When underwriting a land development loan, the underwriter will look carefully at where the property is located in the entitlement process. If the land is zoned agricultural, and the nearby town is anti-growth, a reasonable loan-to-value ratio for a land loan might be just 10% to 25%. If the nearby town is pro-growth and the subject property is located close to the town and in the path of growth, a reasonable loan-to-value ratio might be as much as 40% to 50%, even if the zoning is still agricultural.
A parcel that already enjoys a tentative map for a residential subdivision might be eligible for a refinance in the range of 50% to 60% of value, especially if the current property owner got the property up-zoned. Be careful, however, of the property that is “just a few weeks” from a tentative map. That “few weeks” could easily extend into a "few decades" if the local Board of Supervisors votes against the map.
One of the first things a lender will want to know is, “What is the exit strategy? How are we going to get paid off?” You need to have a viable plan to answer this question.
Vice President, Cressida Capital
8939 S. Sepulveda Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90045
O: 213.784.2784 x1004