Reader question: “We want to buy a home that has a swimming pool, if at all possible. And we’re planning to use an FHA loan so we can get the 3.5% down payment option. What are the FHA requirements for swimming pools? Does the inspection and appraisal process include the pool, or just the house?”
The Federal Housing Administration mortgage insurance program is managed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). So you’ll want to refer to the official HUD handbook to learn about FHA swimming pool requirements.
The handbook in question is called the Single-Family Housing Policy Handbook, or HUD 4000.1. Going forward, I’ll simply refer to it as the FHA handbook. Here’s what it says about swimming pools, as they relate to the appraisal and inspection process when buying a home.
FHA Appraisal Requirements for Swimming Pools
In a section entitled “Appraiser and Property Requirements,” the FHA handbook states:
- The Appraiser is required to report any “readily observable defects” that might render a swimming pool inoperable or unusable.
- If the water contains algae and is “aesthetically unappealing,” but the FHA home appraiser has no evidence the pool is otherwise contaminated, then no cleaning is required.
- Additionally, the swimming pool must be operational to provide “full Contributory Value.” In other words, it should add value to the home by being usable. It should not be a liability due to structural flaws or other issues that prevent use.
- If a swimming pool has unstable sides or other structural issues, the appraiser should condition the appraisal report for the pool to be “repaired or permanently filled” in accordance with local laws and guidelines. In such cases, the land surrounding the pool might have to be re-graded to improve stability and function.
- If a swimming pool has been winterized (i.e., shut down and covered for the season), or the FHA appraiser cannot determine if it’s in working order, then he must complete the appraisal with the “extraordinary assumption that the pool and its equipment can be restored to full operating condition at normal costs.”
Note: I’ve paraphrased here. If you want to read the FHA swimming pool requirements verbatim, check out the handbook mentioned above. You can find it online and download it as a PDF. Open the document and do a word search.
Here’s what to take away from all of this. Home appraisers are not pool specialists. But they are responsible for assessing the overall condition of the home, including external structures. They must also determine the market value of the home. So, when an FHA loan is being used to buy a house, the appraiser is mostly focused on structural soundness and operability.
If the pool appears to be in good working order, it should clear the appraisal without any issues. However, if it has obvious structural flaws … or if the pump is broken … or it’s just not usable for some reason … it will probably be an issue.
Review Your Local Ordinances
Elsewhere in the FHA handbook, it says that the “Mortgagee [i.e., mortgage lender] must confirm that any swimming pools comply with all local ordinances.”
So if you’re determined to buy a house that has a pool, and you plan to use an FHA loan to finance your purchase, you might want to review your city and/or county requirements for residential swimming pools. Such requirements vary widely from one city to the next.
For instance, some municipalities require all residential pools to have some kind of safety fencing around them, while other areas do not have such requirements. It varies. So you’ll want to familiarize yourself with local ordinances.
In closing, I recommend that you read through the official handbook to learn more about swimming pool requirements for FHA loans. You could also speak to a HUD-approved mortgage lender in your area, as they would be familiar with all of the appraisal and inspection guidelines.