Remodel & Renovate in Boston>Question Details

Jeff, Home Buyer in Boston, MA

What are the order of steps to purchasing and converting a single family to a multi-family? Looking in Boston/Cambridge/Brookline if that matters.

Asked by Jeff, Boston, MA Fri Feb 15, 2013

I know each unit will need kitchen/batch/bedroom and I know the city needs to approve it. Do I find a place that I want to buy first, and then ask the city? Can I get a larger mortgage if my plan is to live in one unit and rent the other(s)? Do I get a remodeling estimate from a contractor after approval from the city, but before I buy? Thank you in advance!

Help the community by answering this question:


There are a lot of good answers here regarding the zoning part of your question. I can help with the financing end of things. You can use a FHA 203K loan to purchase a single family home then convert it to a multi-famiy. To be eligible for the 203K, you would need to owner occupy one of the units. The minimum down payment will be 3.5% of the total acquisition cost ( price of home plus the renovation costs) The lender will need one estimate from a licensed and insured general contractor.

The 203K loan will give you 6 months to complete your renovation. Getting an extension might be possible. If you know that the permitting process might be a longer more complicated process, you might decide to purchase and close on the single family first. You can then work on the permits, then refinance with a FHA 203K loan to complete the conversion. There might be some duplication of closing costs because you will be financing the property twice.But the reduced stress coming from having more time to secure the permits may be a luxury worth paying for.
1 vote Thank Flag Link Sat Feb 16, 2013
Hi Jeff!

1) Hire an exclusive buyer's agent. In this scenario you really want someone who is only working for you (interests aligned at all times) because there will be a lot of due diligence on each property;

2) Line up a great real estate attorney;

3) Line up a contractor in advance. Tell them about your project and bring them to each property you are seriously considering. You may need to pay them a small amount but 100% worth it; and

4) Definitely search, identify the property and do your due diligence first before buying. The big question will be zoning. Not all single family homes (sometimes even certain locations) are zoned for multi's. Other things to identify are any set back restrictions on the property and of course amount of work that needs to be done. Again, this is where your buyer's agent and attorney will really come into play.

Another option to consider is buying multi's, converting into condo's and reselling.

If you are looking for single families and multi's in Cambridge prepare for a highly competitive market. Multi's are selling on average about 3% over asking price.

In regards to financing you will be buying it (and closing) as a single family so your question doesn't apply. However, once you have converted to a multi you can refinance. Prepare for a higher loan to value so you may need to pay some money out of pocket (you might be able to get a better rate but not guaranteed)

Hope that helps!

Feel free to call us anytime for further assistance. It's what we do, it's ALL we do.
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1 vote Thank Flag Link Sat Feb 16, 2013
Hi Jeffrey -
I don't believe you'll be able to obtain approval from the city before you actually own the unit--although they may be willing to tell you what is likely to happen. You should at least find out what the zoning is for the area--and then there are other factors, such FAR (floor area ratio), that may come into play. As for your mortgage, I believe it will be difficult to get financing based on a multi-family house for a property that is legally a single-family.

You are considering a transaction that could have many complications and you would be wise to work with a buyer agent who may be able to advise you. If I were your agent, though, I would not advise you to buy a single-family property if the only way you can make it work financially would be to convert it to a multi, since there are so many variables involved.

Good luck to you and if you decide you'd like to speak with an agent feel free to email or call me.


Ellen G. Friedman, ABR (Accredited Buyer Agent)
Keller Williams Realty
1 vote Thank Flag Link Fri Feb 15, 2013
The abilty to change a single family over to a multi-family covers so many steps. The property, it's current zoning, neighborhood zoning, ability to have the property comply with the new changed zoning, the liklihood that the neighbors would be ok with it if you need a zoning variance etc. etc. You really should be working with a team of knowledgeable people who have experience doing this type of work in the community you're interested in. You'll need a mortgage professional well versed in construction loans, a real estate attorney who knows the local politics & regulations for zoning changes and the types of contracts you'll need to be working with, a general contractor and a real estate professional to assist you with identifying properties, neighborhoods and cities.

Hope that helps,
1 vote Thank Flag Link Fri Feb 15, 2013
You first have to check the area for zoning restrictions, then check with the town to see what is allowed in that specific area. The more information you get on the town and restrictions beforehand can help save you a lot of money in the long run.
1 vote Thank Flag Link Fri Feb 15, 2013
All the answers here are really good.
I also would recommend consulting a real estate lawyer for this matter.
Please keep in mind that if you are borrowing money for this project, you will run into limitations and restrictions on closing some units.
Best of luck.
Also, if you need a brokerage firm to represent you when you want market and sell the condos, please feel free to consult with us first.
Web reference below for more info.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Mon Apr 22, 2013
Hi Jeff,

Get an attorney.
Read the code and conversion regs for the area you want to buy in - they are usually online.
Re-ask your attorney for guidance.

(Please note: when you choose an answer as a Best Answer, or at least give a thumbs up, it helps those who answer questions here.)
0 votes Thank Flag Link Wed Feb 27, 2013
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