credit-score-door
Getty Images; realtor.com

Bad credit? No credit? No problem—or so, many of those all-too-catchy loan ads promise.

But while you might be able to finance a used car with less-than-stellar credit, getting approved for a home mortgage when you have FICO scores dwelling deep in the cellar can seem like an infinitely steeper climb. An Everest-level climb, in fact.

But here’s the shocker: It can be done, particularly if buyers know where to score a mortgage. That’s where realtor.com®’s penny-wise (but never pound-foolish) data team comes in. As it turns out, there are plenty of cities where a not-great credit score—say, well under 650—won’t stand between buyers and their dream home. And yet, in other parts of the country, buyers are delusional if they think they’re getting a mortgage without a nearly perfect score—and boatloads of cash for a down payment. We located the top metros for both.

So how do you snag a home mortgage without an excellent credit rating? It’s largely a matter of what government loan programs are available in a specific area—and those vary substantially. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, for example, sometimes offers no-money-down loans to borrowers whose scores are below 640—but only for homes in a rural ZIP code.

Federal Housing Administration loans, among the most popular government-backed mortgages, allow borrowers with credit scores as low as 500 to qualify with a 10% down payment. (They must have scores of 580 to snag loans that require only 3.5% down payments.) But plenty of sellers choose not to accept them if they have other offers.

On the exclusionary side of the equation, home prices and market hotness play leading roles in keeping credit rating requirements high. Maybe too high if you haven’t been tending to your credit like a weed-free garden.

“When you’ve got 25 offers on a house and you’re the seller, you’re more likely to take a cash buyer or a conventional loan with 20% down,” says Courtney James, owner of Urban Durham Realty in Durham, NC. (Conventional loans, not backed by a federal agency, generally require a credit score of at least 620; anything lower than 650 is considered “OK,” “poor,” or “bad” by rating agencies.)

To find out where credit-challenged buyers live out the American ideal of homeownership, we calculated the share of mortgages in the largest 200 metros* obtained with a 649 FICO score or lower. The share of mortgages was calculated over a 12-month period from July 2017 through June 2018. We limited rankings to one metro per state.

So let’s start with the feel-good news: places where would-be home buyers with poor or downright crummy credit scores can still dare to dream!

Cities where you can get a mortgage with poor credit
Cities where you can get a mortgage with poor credit

1. Charleston, WV

Median home list price: $147,300
Share of borrowers with a 649 FICO score or lower: 39.1%

Charleston, WV
Charleston, WV benedek/iStock

Although the state capital of West Virginia is a college town, the city’s overall population is aging. There’s been a big decline in chemical industry or coal jobs. That’s caused many folks to put their homes on their market.

This has opened the door for first-time buyers seeking move-in ready, three-bedroom homes near downtown, says local real estate agent Margo Teeter of Old Colony Realtors. These single-family homes start around $130,000, but can be found for less.

“We’ve got a buyer’s market,” says Teeter. Due to the relative abundance of homes on the market, she says, “our area has more motivated sellers.”

The affordable prices have led to an increase in young buyers, ranging in age from 22 to 35, who take advantage of the lower credit scores required for USDA and FHA loan programs. Most just don’t have the credit history or scores to get into other kinds of more traditional loans, says mortgage banker Joey Starcher of Victorian Finance.

2. Clarksville, TN

Median home list price: $209,950
Share of borrowers with a 649 FICO score or lower: 35%

A home in Clarksville, TN
A home in Clarksville, TN realtor.com

This quiet, family-friendly town along the Kentucky border is best known as the home to the U.S. Army base Fort Campbell. (It’s also just 45 minutes away from Nashville.) So it makes sense that many folks are becoming homeowners with the help of Veterans Affairs loans, which require a minimum credit score of just 620.

Most of local real estate agent Laura Stasko‘s clients are scoring entry-level, three-bedroom, vinyl-sided ranch homes in suburban areas near the base. These run from about $100,000 to $130,000—a fraction of the national median home price, just below $300,000.

But buyers on a budget in Clarksville, with its quaint downtown filled with older, brick buildings, stately Victorian houses, and parks, had better act fast.

“Anything under $140,000 or $150,000 has been flying off the market,” says Stasko.

3. Corpus Christi, TX

Median home list price: $239,750
Share of borrowers with a 649 FICO score or lower: 35%

Corpus Christi has plenty of attractions for buyers: It sits on a large, shallow bay that attracts a diverse flock of water birds, songbirds, and raptors. This helped it earn the title of—you guessed it—“America’s birdiest place,” according to the San Diego Audubon Society. There are plenty of jobs in the medical, oil refinery, construction, and, with nearby tourist destinations like Mustang Island, hospitality industries.

Yet the city has the fifth-lowest credit scores in the United States, with an average of 638, according to a report by Experian.

That hasn’t stopped people from buying houses. Buyers can still find 1,200-square-foot starter homes for under $160,000 in desirable areas within Corpus Christi like Del Mar and Lindale, says local agent Monika Caldwell of Hunsaker & Associates.

In addition to FHA loans, the city promotes multiple locally and federally funded home buyer assistance grants that help out buyers with down payments of up to $10,000….