What to Do When You Can't Afford a Home Repair

A look at loans, grants and refinance options that may be available to you.

Plumber working on sink with wrench
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For instance, Stephanie Irto, a broker and Realtor at Equity Builders Home Financing and Real Estate in Los Angeles, notes that if you live in the flight path of Los Angeles International Airport, there is currently a program in which property owners can apply for approximately $30,000 worth of work, including projects like the installation of sound-deadening, double-wall modifications (no surprise, given where the home is located), electrical service panel upgrades, fireplace and chimney modifications and installation of a heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system.

Some cities, like Detroit and Tucson, Ariz., have even held occasional lotteries, in which residents can put in an application for a grant for a home repair and hope their name is selected. These lotteries are rare, but it's worth keeping an eye out for them.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has what it calls the Very Low-Income Housing Repair program, which provides loans and grants to homeowners to repair, improve or modernize their homes. The department also offers the Rural Housing Repair and Rehabilitation Grant, which is available to homeowners 62 and older; funds may be used for repairs to improve health, safety or make the home accessible for a resident with disabilities.

[See: 10 Ways Your Home Can Pay You Money.]

As you can imagine, the best way to find out about these grants is to search online and see what you come up with, or talk to someone in your community who might be in the know at a local housing nonprofit, the chamber of commerce, your bank or your local Department of Housing and Urban Development office. People at the HUD offices may be able to direct you to an agency or nonprofit that can help – or they may be able to help you get a community development block grant, money that goes toward everything from affordable housing to home repairs.

But whatever you do, "Try not to make a rash decision about how you're going to finance your repairs," Robinson urges.

That's sometimes easier said than done. If you don't have a working heater and a polar vortex is staring you in the face, a high-interest loan may start to look pretty appealing. But if you're in a situation where you have some time before a home repair becomes an emergency, utilize that time to organize a posse to search for money. There is home repair help out there – somewhere.