What Is an Alienation Clause in Real Estate?

Definition & Examples of an Alienation Clause

Couple signing a real estate contract with their agent
•••

Westend61 / Getty Images

An alienation clause is language in a mortgage or trust deed that allows the lender to call the loan immediately due and payable in the event the owner sells or transfers title to the property. It prevents transferring the loan to the new buyer and renders payment of the remaining balance due at once.

Almost every loan today contains an alienation clause, also known as a due-on-sale clause. It's important to know what this clause means for buyers, sellers, and lenders.

What Is an Alienation Clause?

An alienation clause prevents a borrower from transferring the loan obligation when they sell the property at some point in the future. When it's included in a loan contract, it means that the remaining loan balance is due in full upon completion of a sale.

A common type of alienation clause found in many trust deeds is as follows, from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission:

"In the event the Property or any part thereof or any interest therein is sold, conveyed or alienated by the Trustor, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, except as prohibited by law, all obligation secured by this instrument, irrespective of the maturity dates express therein, at the option of the holder hereof and without demand or notice, shall immediately become due and payable."

While it might not be stated verbatim, the alienation clause is designed to prevent the owner from selling their home without paying off their mortgage.

  • Alternate name: Due-on-sale clause

How the Alienation Clause Works

If a mortgage contract has an alienation clause, as most do, the full loan balance is due as soon as the borrower completes a sale of the property or a transfer of the title. Essentially, what this means is that the proceeds from the sale will first be used to pay off the loan before any money goes directly to the seller. It also means that the seller cannot transfer their loan, with its older interest rate and terms, to the new buyer. The buyer must apply for their own loan under today's terms.

If your mortgage contract does not have an alienation clause, it's known as an "assumable mortgage," which means it can be transferred to a new buyer.

Alienation Clause Exceptions

Back in the 1970s, several court decisions ruled that alienation clauses were not enforceable. This was particularly true in California, and it led to all sorts of creative financing efforts from lenders. However, the 1982 Garn-St. Germain Depository Institutions Act put an end to that and has left alienation clauses mostly enforceable. There are still a few exceptions, however, including:

  • Transfer to a joint owner or relative upon the death of the owner
  • Transfer of ownership to the owner's spouse or children
  • Change of ownership resulting from separation or divorce
  • Putting the title in a living trust
  • When the owner obtains a second mortgage on the home, such as a home equity loan

In the case of ownership transfers described above, the new owners must live in the home in order to be able to assume the old mortgage.

Certain types of loans are still typically barred from having a due-on-sale clause. These include Veterans Affairs (VA) loans, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) loans, and Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans.

Buyers who wish to take over these loans must be approved by the lender, who will take into consideration the same factors as they would for a new mortgage: your credit score; your credit history that is documented in your credit report; your income, including your debt-to-income ratio; and your existing assets, including cash in bank and retirement accounts.

The lender may charge a fee for allowing you to assume a loan. For an FHA loan, the maximum fee is $900.

If the seller has a lot of equity in the home—if they have paid off a lot of the mortgage—the buyer must either have a lot of cash to pay for that part of the purchase price or be able to take out a second loan to cover that amount.

Key Takeaways

  • An alienation clause, or due-on-sale clause, is part of a mortgage contract that prevents the borrower from transferring the loan with the sale of the home.
  • The clause requires the original borrower to make full payment of the remaining loan balance upon completion of the sale.
  • Most mortgages have this clause; those that don't are called "assumable" and allow for transfer of the loan.
  • The buyer who wants to assume the loan must be approved by the lender to do so.