The Return of the 10 Percent Down Payment

By Brendon Desimone

SEATTLE (Zillow) —Remember the 10 percent down payment on a house? After virtually disappearing for years, it's back.

Around the country, some lenders are offering 90 percent financing again on all loan types. For example, San Francisco-based RPM Mortgage resumed offering "piggyback" loans in the first quarter of 2013 after discontinuing them during the height of the credit crisis in late 2007, according to Vice President Julian Hebron. (A piggyback loan enables a home buyer to put only 10 percent down without having to buy mortgage insurance. This is done by getting two loans totaling 90 percent.)

In Monroe, NY, Rosalie Cook of Weichert Realtors says she is seeing buyer down payments range from all cash to as little as 5 percent. Mortgage lender Tom Gildea of Prospect Lending in Rockland County, NY agrees, saying that he's doing loans with as little as 5 percent down "all day long." Those 5 percent down deals are with private mortgage insurance, are only for conforming loans (less than $417,000) and are reserved for borrowers with excellent credit, verifiable income and little debt.

Mortgages used to be easy

Before the credit crisis of the mid-2000s, getting a home loan was simple. Your down payment was small — if you even had to make one. To qualify, all you had to do was "state" your income and sign on the dotted line.

Of course, that was the kind of lending that got us into the credit crisis. After the bust, many lenders started requiring a minimum of 20 percent down. Coming up with that much money was a stumbling block for many would-be home buyers. In addition, buyers were already worried about the economy or were uncertain about their jobs, making buying a home not only difficult but also downright scary.

The result: Even though home prices had plummeted and mortgage rates were at historic lows, many potential buyers were forced to sit on the sidelines for years.