What you should know about FHA guidelines for attics if you want to sell your home

I received an email this week asking what the FHA guidelines for attics was from a person who wanted to sell their home. They wanted to make sure it met these guidelines just in case the buyer used an FHA loan.  So I thought I would share my answer with you in case you might be wondering the same thing.

The HUD Handbook 4150.2 states the following in section 3-6A(9):

The appraiser must enter the attic and observe the interior roof structure and attic for evidence of leaks, water damage, structural problems, previous fire damage, FRT sheathing, exposed and frayed wiring, deficient materials, deficient insulation and adequate ventilation by vent, fan or window. The attic must be entered, at a minimum, by head and shoulders, whether access is by pull-down stairway or scuttle. Size of scuttle and accessibility of the attic dictate the level of entry. If unable to visually evaluate the improvements in their entirety, the appraiser must contact the lender and reschedule a time when a complete visual inspection can be performed. The appraiser is not required to disturb insulation, move personal items, furniture, equipment, plant life, soil, snow, ice or debris that obstructs access or visibility.

So as you can see that while the inspection is only a “heads and shoulder” one, the level of observation is still pretty extensive. If there is no attic access this must be reported and the underwriter will most likely make the loan subject to an access door being installed so the appraiser can report their findings. The only time one would not be required is when the roof is flat. The goal of the inspection is to determine if the attic meets the “Three S’s” which I wrote about in my HUD MPR post. Take a look at the video below to see a recent attic I looked at during an appraisal inspection.

Are there any features of your attic that you are concerned may not meet HUD/FHA guidelines? If you have any questions let me know by connecting with me at any of the social media accounts listed below.

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  1. I was able to finally speak with the company that installed the metal roof, he indicates that he installed a vent across the top, peak. I was unable to view from the ground. Would this still be acceptable? The attic seems kind of warm in the summer.

  2. FHA Appraisal. Does an attic have to have a fan for ventilation? No fan, no opening for a fan. The home was built around 1950 or so.

    • Yes, some type of ventilation is required. This is to help prevent any type of moisture or heat build-up which could cause deterioration to the house and could potentially reduce its market value.

  3. I am looking to purchase a 2 flat apartment building in Chicago. The problem is, nearly all of them have either basement or attic in-law apartments. I suppose that the only reason they are on the market for the public is because the investors don’t want empty units they can’t rent out. I was told these won’t pass FHA inspection. I suppose then, they will sit on the market until the owners give up and the investors swoop in with a song; as intended of course. My question is, does FHA allow attics or basements with bathrooms, or is it only kitchens?

    • There is nothing in FHA guidelines that prohibits attics and basements from having bathrooms as long as it is built to within city building code and is safe and sound.

  4. I have Appraisal that states the attic drop stairs are broken. Do they have to be repaired prior to closing of the loan. Some how he did provide pictures of attic, but noted the stairs where broken.

    • There is nothing in the FHA manual that specifically says that the stairs must be repaired but he may be including it because it poses safety risk, which appraisers are required to do. The appraiser is required to note items like this and then the underwriter would make the call as to whether it needed to be repaired prrior to closing.

  5. I’m awaiting an FHA appraisal on a house we are looking to purchase. There us no access to the attic because it has been turned into a closet. The property us a duplex and the seller says it’s closed off because the other half of the house has the attic access. Is thus going to prove a problem? The roof on the house was replaced in 2013.

    • Will you be buying both units in the duplex? If so, can you gain access to the attic through the other unit? From my experience in the past HUD/FHA may require you to create an access if there is none. The appraiser will need to report the lack of access and then let the underwriter make the decision as to what should be done.

  6. Does a walk up attic have to have be finished?

    • Katy, I am assuming you want to know if the attic has to be finished in order for it to be included and given value. The answer to that is yes. The attic needs to have a similar finish as the rest of the house (with heating and colling) and an acceptable form of access.

  7. Kim Castellanoz says

    I have a cut out of drywall for a attic/crawl space but no person can even put their head in there.. I need to check for a leak and a plumber can’t access the problem? Should I be worried?

  8. I do not have a properly inspected crawl space/attic.. no person can fit?
    And if no person can fit? How can I fix my leak if you can’t see the pipes your head can’t even fit? Never needed to go up to attic until now? I bought my home in 2003 and now it’s 2016? Is there anything that can be done?

    • If your home was purchased using FHA financing they should have noted the lack of space underneath the house. If they cannot crawl beneath the house I would think they may have to remove the flooring. I think I would speak to a plumber as they may have other methods, good luck.

      • Kim Castellanoz says

        The attic /crawl space is above and I checked all upstairs bedrooms no access.. in my feature sheet of home I found they say I have copper pipes how do they know that? If you can’t fit your head into the attic to see.. no inspecter can even see anything.. and it passed inspection.. it says so on my furnace. I never had to use attic my home was fine until now I have a leak..

  9. We bought a house built in 1985, and did a full reno downstairs. We installed attic stairs and it appears that the original blown insulation is still there, but appears scant, if that makes sense. Is there an FHA density or thickness requirement for insulation? What if some insulation does not cover the flooring of the attic?

    • FHA is interested in the home meeting code and/or being energy efficient as they do not want the mortgagee paying larger than normal energy bills as they could cause them to not be able to make their mortgage payment. We don’t have to measure the thickness but if we see that if it is sparse or not there we have to report it.

  10. I have a home buyer who had an FHA appraisal and I am being told that I must install insulation in order for the buyer to get the loan approved.

    I have not been able to find anything that states that it is an actual requirement. Can’t you please solve that mystery for me.


    • FHA does not have a specific requirement for insulation. The house must beek building code so this may be where the hang up is. The appraiser is required to report what they see and if they reported that the home did not have insulation then the lender probably made this a requirement to get the loan. FHA/HUD wants buyers to be in the best position to make payment on their loan and having an energy efficient home can cut down on heating and cooling expenses, which in turn makes it easier for them to pay the mortgage. I think this is probably more of a lender requirement than an FHA and/or appraiser requirement.

      • Hi Tom….WE are in southwest Colorado. We are selling our home and have written up because we don’t have 12″ of blown in insulation in the attic. Is this a legit. write up?

        • It could be. I assume you have at least some insulation? I ask this because I have heard some appraisers mention that they have looked at homes that have no insulation. Assuming that you do have insulation it may be a matter of not having enough per local building code requirements. I would check with the county or city building department to see what their requirements are. You can also ask the appraiser where he got the 12″ requirement. Hope this helps and good luck.

  11. I have a home built in 1924. It has never had access to the attic crawl space from the interior of the home. The access is through vents on the outside of the home. One access is accessed off a portion of the home that is flat roof and is big enough to completely crawl into, the other is accessible by ladder that is approx 10′ from the ground. The appraiser, doing an FHA appraisal, told us that he cannot access the attic from the outside of the home, only the inside, and he can only use a maximum of a 4′ ladder to access it. He told us we needed to install an access from inside the home. Isn’t our home grandfathered in? And can he make us cut an access to the attic?

    • Shannon, I have never heard of an FHA rule that says the access cannot be from the outside of a house or that the maximum size of the ladder is 4 feet. The only thing that I can think of that the appraiser may be referring to is a city building code. I’m not sure the code would have a rule about the size of the ladder though. I would call the city to find out what their requirements are for attic access because that is what FHA would probably use as their guideline requirements.

    • Pamela Harris says

      Refer to the last paragraph, this is an excerpt from an email I received directly from FHA when I had the same issue. Your appraiser is wrong.
      Is an attic inspection required for FHA?
      The guidance in this FAQ is effective for case numbers assigned on or after September 14, 2015.

      The Appraiser must observe the interiors of all attic spaces. The Appraiser is not required to disturb insulation, move personal items, furniture, equipment or debris that obstructs access or visibility. If unable to view the area safely in their entirety, the Appraiser must contact the Mortgagee and reschedule a time when a complete visual observation can be performed, or complete the appraisal subject to inspection by a qualified third party.

      In cases where access through a scuttle is limited and the Appraiser cannot fully enter the attic, the insertion of at least the head and shoulders of the Appraiser will suffice. If there is evidence of a deficient condition (such as a water-stained ceiling, insufficient ventilation, or smell of mold), the Appraiser must report this condition, and render the appraisal subject to inspection and repairs if necessary.

      If there is no access or scuttle, the Appraiser must report the lack of accessibility to the area in the appraisal report. There is no requirement to cut open walls, ceilings or floors. An observation performed in accordance with these guidelines is visual and is not technically exhaustive.

      • Pamela, I am familiar with these guidelines by HUD and did have a situation one time when there was no attic access. They required one to be created so that the attic could be viewed.

  12. Liz Kelly says

    I have a house with a Gable roof and two bedrooms on the second story (like a dormer) so the only attic access is on each side of the rooms. When the appraiser came he said no way that was the access and is sending another appraiser out. What do I do?

    • That’s confusing to me since all the appraiser is required to do is not what type of access the attic has. I’ve seen various types and don’t understand why another appraiser would need to be sent out.

  13. We have no attic and we have a cathedral ceiling. What is needed in this case?

    • If there is no space for an attic, such as your cathedral ceiling then there is no worry. On the other hand, if there is space between the ceiling and the roof, an access will need to be made such as a panel opening or a drop stair. Hope this helps.

  14. Can someone answer a question for me? What if the scuttle is in the garage and over 12 ft high. My step ladder won’t reach? Do I have to go get an extension ladder and inspect?

    Any thoughts?

    • Yes Susan, no matter how high the access you still have to do at least a head and shoulder inspection.

      • Pamela Harris says

        Wrong. I had an attic door located on the outside of the subject property, approx. 20 feet high. I contacted FHA and advised them I didn’t feel safe going up that high and they replied that they don’t expect the appraiser to do anything that impacts his/her safety. “The attic inspection does not have to be by an appraiser. It could be by a home inspector or some other qualified entity. Even the underwriter can inspect that if they want.”

  15. This is a great resource for owners, Tom. Well stated. I like how you said despite the inspection only being a “head and shoulders” inspection, the appraiser is definitely looking for quite a few things.

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