We explain how bridging loans work, when to use them and how to apply. Read our market insights, need-to-know tips and pros & cons of different lenders.
- How Bridging Loans Work
- Market Overview
- Types of Bridging Loan Lenders
- Smart Ways to Use a Bridging Loan
- Applying for a Bridging Loan
How Bridging Loans Work
As the name suggests, Bridging Loans are designed to bridge the gap between buying and selling, when the scenario isn’t fundable through more traditional finance methods. In the past, they were typically considered a last resort, secured if people were let down by an alternative source or had no alternative option. Now, Bridging Loans are used by successful property entrepreneurs as a powerful tool to facilitate both simple and complex transactions, quickly.
Amongst other benefits, they can allow a property purchase to go ahead before selling an existing one, buy an uninhabitable place in need of refurbishment, or facilitate a quick move when speed is a priority. Interest rates are higher than traditional funding options but cheaper than they used to be, and the potential upsides for the borrower will normally outweigh the increased costs of funding.
Since the financial crash, the bridging market has grown at an explosive rate, with around 100 lenders now competing for their share, contributing to a huge increase in popularity among property investors. In 2012, UK bridging completions stood at £885m, and in 2019, totalled more than £4bn, representing 352% growth in just seven years.
While the benefit to the borrower of market growth is more choice, it’s more difficult to secure the best possible deal. It’s also important to understand how a lender is funded, as delays and reversed approvals are costly. Unbeknown to many borrowers they could still be borrowing from a mainstream bank. Some of the bigger, well-known household names provide wholesale funding lines to the smaller boutique lenders, which means they underwrite the loan a second time (after the bridging lender has completed its initial underwrite).
It’s an important nuance to understand as problems can arise with changed pricing, reduced leverage or declined applications when the borrower is already a long way along through the process.
The difference is, the better bridging lenders will still have enough of their own money to execute on deals where the funding line is not available, or have multiple funding lines where risk appetite is diversified. The thin equity lenders are essentially mainstream lenders under a different guise and will provide little deviation from their High Street sponsor’s standard criteria.
To fully understand the bridging market, you need to drill down to the lenders and how they are individually funded. Each lender has their pros and cons, so the key is having an in-depth understanding of the market, and the know-how to select the best lender for each individual scenario.
Types of Bridging Loan Lenders
Mainstream lenders & private banks
- Good for
- Bad for:
- Being slow and risk adverse
- Their lawyers may not often work with Bridging Loans, resulting in delays.
- Private banks may need assets under management.
- Good for
- Ability to transact quickly
- Normally working with lawyers who are experts in Bridging Finance.
- Flexibility, if they still have their own pot of money or thick equity.
- Bad for
- Some are wholesale funded with little autonomy, which could slow things down
- Good for:
- Cheap rates
- (Normally) better leverage than the mainstream lenders
- Bad for:
- Being slow
- Their lawyers may not often work with Bridging Loans, resulting in delays
Individuals/family offices (not funded by wholesale)
- Good for
- Full flexibility and delivering on ‘hard money’ loans
- The quickest option and they rarely reverse lending decisions
- Bad for
- Normally more expensive rates
Smart Ways to Use a Bridging Loan
1. Development entry
Bridging Loans can make development sites that seem unattainable, a reality. If a developer needs to apply for full planning or revise existing planning, then a Bridging Loan is a perfect way to secure the site before the purchase price increases once planning is granted. Once the site has been fully prepped the site, developers can then switch to a development loan.
2. Development exit
Development Exit Finance is a short-term Bridging Loan, used to repay outstanding finance against a property development once the project has reached practical completion. It’s a great tool to use when existing finance is coming to an end and sales won’t be completed in time. Reduced risk means it costs less than Development Finance, it buys time and reduces the need for lowering prices for quick sales, and frees up equity to fund the next project, making it a win-win for developers.
3. To upgrade or downsize
If a homeowner is considering upgrading or downsizing and have a large amount of equity in their home, a Bridging Loan enables them to borrow to buy a new property, before selling their existing one. When someone looking for a new home genuinely thinks they have found ‘the one’, they don't want to miss out, and the set-up fees and interest are worthwhile in the long-term if it means securing that once in a lifetime property.
4. As a second charge to fund other assets
Second charge Bridging Loans are a great way to access equity in a property without having to fully replace the first charge. This can be particularly useful for someone looking to pay a deposit for a new development site funded by equity in lieu of cash.
5. To secure finance against mixed asset types
Most lenders will have an asset type they prefer, be it residential, BTL or commercial. Securing a Bridging Loan for a development with mixed assets can be complicated if you start involving multiple lenders with multiple rates, and it just takes one to derail the entire deal. Even larger lenders who can finance different asset types will split the loans across different departments, making communication slow and the process disjointed. With the right contacts however, it is possible to secure one loan against multiple and mixed asset types.
6. For people who are asset rich but cash poor
For anyone with a strong asset base but lacking in liquidity, a Bridging Loan can be a great option to provide some breathing space whilst organising assets and completing on a sale. Assets might be in transition and require work before they can be let, so they can be considered by traditional funders. Or, simply renovated to add value before selling in order to achieve the best possible price. A lack of liquidity normally rules out mainstream lenders, despite the fact there is still plenty of value on the owner’s balance sheet, and a bridging lender will have the flexibility and foresight to recognise this.
7. To purchase property on auction
Purchases at auction require the buyer to pay a 10% deposit and exchange on the purchase on the day of the auction. Afterwards, there is normally just four weeks to complete, ruling out traditional lenders who cannot operate this quickly. When buying a property to live in, traditional lenders also require it to be in a habitable condition (connected to the mains with a working kitchen and bathroom), or in a lettable condition, if buying to let. The nature of auction properties means they are often neither, allowing buyers to add value and make a larger profit. A Bridging Loan provides the speed required for auction transactions, as well as the flexibility to lend against properties, whatever their condition.
8. To resolve short-term illiquidity
Anyone can face short-term liquidity issues and for anyone waiting on a property, business or other asset to sell, a Bridging Loan can help provide a solution quickly. With a clearly defined exit strategy, i.e. the asset is being sold and contracts have been exchanged, although completion could still be months or weeks away, a lender will normally provide a better rate as they are confident the loan can be redeemed.
Bridging Loans aren’t as expensive as many developers think
There’s a common misconception, even among experienced property developers, that Bridging Loans are an expensive form of finance. The increase in popularity however means there’s more choice of lenders on the market, which ultimately leads to better pricing. And if securing a Bridging Loan means a developer can buy the property that’s right for their portfolio at the right price and relatively quickly, it will prove good value in the long-term.
There’s more to consider than pricing and leverage
Whilst pricing and leverage are key, looking deeper is the way to secure the best deals. For larger, and more complex loans, or loans against commercial or transitional properties, the contractual Ts & Cs and loan covenants are just as important. They can be complicated and onerous, hence developers need to make sure they use a solicitor or broker that knows their way around a Bridging loan offer.
All large Bridging Loans (at least the good ones) are bespoke
When looking to secure a large Bridging Loan, chances are the developer's financial needs and situation are unique. This means the standard finance options offered by the High Street banks aren’t an option, so it's important to explore the specialist lenders who will take the time to understand individual circumstances properly and have the flexibility and experience to adapt. If a lender isn’t willing to do this, move on. Specialist brokers should be able to pre-empt lender concerns and present their client's borrowing needs and development plans in the most compelling way possible. Like anything else, the narrative around the deal is key.
Applying for a Bridging Loan
- Step into the lender’s shoes and provide concrete reassurance that the loan can be paid back
- Build the case professionally; being ill-prepared won’t impress anyone
- Gather the information for a well thought out strategy; be realistic and not overly optimistic
- Demonstrate, in as much detail as possible, how lender risk can be mitigated.
Create a short-form presentation in the style of a lender credit paper. Accentuate the positives but address the negatives upfront.
The presentation should include all of these:
- The history of the property
- If the loan applicant owns it; how long have they owned it and what did they pay for it. If they’re buying it; who is selling it and why.
- The developer's expertise
- Prove why this particular applicant is someone to back. Include all relevant previous experience, preferably for similar schemes.
- The strategy for the loan
- What the developer plans to do, how long it will take and why it will lead to a successful outcome.
- The exit plan
- Will the property be sold or refinanced. The lender’s primary concern is how they will be repaid, so a robust plan is critical to securing a positive lender decision.
- A detailed budget & cashflow
- If the developer will do work to the property, include whether the loan will cover all costs. Consider if the loan term is long enough to complete the works and then sell or re-finance.
- Be realistic
- Lenders will know if an applicant is being overly optimistic and will lose confidence. Be realistic with costs, timescales and selling prices. There is no point in proclaiming that the completed project will sell at £800k when a similar property in the area sold at £600k - this will lose the trust of a lender pretty quickly.
- Be honest
- In an age of instant data, being economical with the truth isn’t an option. Lenders can check an applicant's numbers and history in minutes, so be upfront from the start. If an applicant has a CCJ caused by a phone bill, chances are a bridging lender won’t care, but being honest and open at all times is the best approach.
- Maintain contact
- Once a loan is completed, contact between borrower and lender needs to be maintained, even if things aren’t going to plan. If a borrower builds a relationship and maintains dialogue, a lender is more likely to be patient and accommodating if things go wrong. If they disappear and then request more time and money one month prior to redemption, they’re unlikely to receive a positive response.