Listings from Non-MLS Websites

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About once a week, I get an email from a client or prospect asking about a property they found on a site not sourced from MLS. These properties are pretty universally non-existent, at least as far as being for sale for the advertised price.

MLS listings have to pass some very important tests. Other agents, and for that matter, regular clients have got to be able to verify that they exist. What is it being offered for, what are the showing instructions. Agents who put properties in MLS without having listing agreements are subject to pretty severe sanctions when it is discovered. Fines, Loss of MLS access, possibly even regulatory action if it's severe enough.

That's not the case with the rest of the websites, the ones that get their listings from somewhere other than MLS. I'm not going to name names, but it's pretty easy to discover whether a site is sourced in MLS or not. I will say that client gateways and emails and IDX sites (such as agent websites that say "search MLS!" and realtor.com) are sourced on MLS. Sites sourced on MLS will still have puffery, but the property exists, is for sale for the listed asking price, and the hard numbers will be as correct as possible.

If the site does not source its listings from MLS, then agents can write up any property they want. In the past month or six weeks, I've had clients ask about

  • properties that were already sold - escrow closed before the ad was written
  • properties that aren't on the market and haven't been for years
  • properties allegedly priced at sale prices from over ten years ago
  • one property that doesn't exist anymore because it was torn down for new development

What is going on is that agents are writing up false listings for the express purpose of trolling for clients. Getting people to call so that they can maybe pick up a new client. This is very subject to the "talking a bigger better deal" phenomenon, because the person that talks the biggest best deals gets the most calls.

But here's the catch: These bigger better deals don't exist. What happens when you find out that deal doesn't exist? When you discover that an agent dishonestly claims to have a property for sale that they don't in order to get your business. Does that sound like the kind of agent you want? Of course, if you've already signed an exclusive agreement by then, you're stuck. Yet another reason to prefer the non-exclusive agency contract, where you can fire that agent by simply not working with them any more.

I have also seen the actual listing agent writing up ads on third party sites for far less than the list price of the property - a violation of fiduciary duty if ever there was one. This isn't a buyer's agent saying "I think I can get it for $X" This is a listing agent essentially repricing the property without consultation with the client. Nor can they have it both ways. If they believe that is a correct pricing of the property, why haven't they persuaded the owner of that, so the listing is priced correctly in MLS?

It is to be admitted that every once in a while - maybe one in a hundred - the property in question is a "For Sale By Owner" that hasn't figured out how to put their property on MLS through some discount service, or is too cheap to spend sixty or a hundred dollars to do so. Neither one of these is a recommendation for the property. If they're too greedy to spend that small an amount of money that will get the property sold better and faster than everything else, that doesn't bode well for their negotiating stance. On a $200,000 loan at six percent, $100 is three days interest, and that's a tiny loan around here. If the property gets sold three days faster by alerting the agents (and all of their clients with automatic feeds) to its existence, that owner is ahead. And if they can't figure this out, or don't care, how likely are they to negotiate in good faith?

On MLS, there are checks. The property is linked to public records. Other agents who know the area can challenge it. Not to mention the fact that the price listed must be the current asking price per the listing agreement. There are penalties for claiming something that is objectively untrue. There is a limit to the puffery due to these facts. Third party sites, not so much.

I suppose I should mention that it's not the MLS name that's important, nor ownership by Realtors. It's the fact that there are mechanisms for verification and challenge built into the website - mechanisms that are easily invoked, and once used, are actually followed up upon quickly with bogus entries being promptly removed or corrected and penalties applied for having put them there. I can send a complaint to my local MLS in about thirty seconds, the bogus information will be gone within 24 hours (usually within 30 minutes if it's during their business day), and the broker who put it there is likely to have some adverse consequences. Those are the important reasons MLS can be accorded some measure of respect.

All of this is quite aside from the fact that Dual Agency is a recipe for disaster, but at least a third of the buyers out there don't know this, because that's about the ratio of buyers that use the listing agent, according to Association of Realtor figures.

But the key feature of the third party sites for these ads is that they are not checked by anyone. The only way to find out if they're BS is by calling - and that's what the agent wants you to do. If they can convert one call in twenty to a client by writing an ad for a nonexistent listing on a third party site, they are way ahead of the game. The other nineteen weren't going to be their clients anyway, and one client with a $150,000 purchase - tiny around here - can put anywhere from $4500 to $9000 in their pocket. But do you really want to work with an agent who got your business by telling a lie?

I wouldn't.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

We read Searchlight Crusade every day and consider your essays a priceless education in avoiding the major pitfalls in the home-buying process. On behalf of all of us consumers, thank you so much for your hard work!

Please comment on any pitfalls in selecting a property to purchase that is on a community water system. How do we find out how many homes share the resource, how often the water is tested and what the results mean, the GPM rate and whether it's sufficient for usage without any rationing, etc. We've had a long-time driller tell us NEVER to share a well, but this is a community system, not a single well. Unless the system uses only a single well...?

To be honest, there aren't a lot of properties around here still on a well. The water table has gotten too low in the populated areas to make it work. Most of the properties that are on wells are isolated and in rural or quasi-rural settings.

First a little background for folks who may not understand anything about wells. You have to be aware of the well parameters, of which there are three that are most important: "How deep has it been drilled?", "How big is the holding tank?" and "How fast does the pump replenish it?" These aren't the only issues to pay attention to, but they're the ones that are guaranteed to bite you if you don't pay attention. Wells do silt up over time and may need to be re-drilled. Pipes and pumping mechanisms corrode, get old and break down. And water quality is sometimes a very big issue - for instance if the tank at the town filling station springs a leak, and it may even be caused by something nobody knows about. I knew a gas station owner who got fingered by the EPA for a leak and spent 4 years and over $100,000 digging it out, diluting the underground flume he couldn't get to, and everything else anyone could think of before someone discovered an old forgotten military tank left over from WWII that was the real cause of the whole thing. (No, he didn't get any of his expenses back). Not to mention the water may just taste bad. It happens.

Finally, I should also mention that most of the properties I know of that are on wells use septic waste disposal systems. It may be revolting if you think about it, but in some areas you won't have any choice if you're going to live there. People have been doing fine with these systems for quite a while and it's quite safe - but you need to be careful that both systems are completely up to snuff and separated by the appropriate buffers. I'm no expert on what those are, but be certain to check with someone who is an expert before you buy. This can also make it very questionable as to whether you're going to be able to do any expansions you may desire in a legal and safe fashion. Septic systems are only rated for so much, and if you want to add additions, you may need to expand them - if the soil will absorb the extra, and if there's room. Sometimes the soil won't, and there may not be the necessary expansion room even if the soil will take it.

Now, getting to your specific question: Do you know how many wells we're talking about, and what the communal capacities are? Ask yourself how much water you're likely to use, and multiply that by the number of folks on the system. Ask if there are any agricultural or industrial users on the system, and how much water they use. Add in a finagle factor for bumps in demand - for instance, if a main pipe or holding tank springs a leak, one of your neighbors hosts a family reunion with a fleet of RVs, etcetera. If one of the users is agricultural and it's a dry growing season, they're going to put a lot of demand on the system. I haven't encountered it personally, but given that southern California used to be the citrus capital of the world, I've heard older relatives tell me about water wars between citrus growers and between citrus growers and everyone else. It still happens today, even though most agriculture has now left the area.

Now, let me ask what feeds your water supply? What's the source of the water? Is it just rainfall, or is there some permanent stream nearby that feeds it? How is the water table holding up under current and projected demand? Is it holding steady or dropping? Go ask some people that have lived there for a while about dry years and whether they have water worries. Ask about whether there has been more demand placed upon the water available in the past few years. Ladies and gentlemen, my father told me stories about the San Diego River filling Mission Valley from side to side, so there wasn't any way across that didn't involve boats. I remember floods that completely filled the underground garage at Mission Valley Center, right up to the ceiling. In the last thirty years, however, there has been too much demand placed upon the water table for it to flood like that.

My point is this: water tables don't replenish themselves. There has to be water coming in to replace what is used. If there isn't enough coming in to replace what's going out, there's going to be a problem. Eventually, everybody is going to be out of water if this is the case. The only question is when. Do you want to buy into a situation like that? They can drill deeper and all the other stuff; it only delays the day of reckoning and makes it worse. This was one of the root causes of the Dust Bowl back in the 1930s - everyone had kept putting increasing demand upon the aquifer that underlay an area basically several states in size, drilling ever more deeply to be able to water their crops one more year. A tragedy of the commons if ever there was one.

Which segues into another issue: All it takes is a small proportion of nitwits to exhaust the community water source. I've heard that your area is dry - perhaps not as dry as some of southern California, but that it doesn't get a lot of rain due to being in the rain shadow of some high mountains. If a few of your neighbors want to simulate a rain forest, it can leave everyone else without enough water. Exactly how many it takes depends upon the system and how much extra capacity it theoretically has. Even if everything is hunky dory now, all it takes is one water hog buying a property that's served by the system to possibly create problems. So let me ask you what the provisions are for limiting the water of abusers of the system? If you have to get law enforcement involved and go to court for years, where is the community going to get the money? Can you afford your share? Not to mention you would probably like to know where you're going to get water in the meantime. And what happens if the community water authority is run by control freaks? You don't necessarily have to do anything wrong to incur their wrath. Sometimes, all it takes is changing something they're used to, and even though it doesn't impact water use adversely, they'll try and use the water authority as a means of getting back at you (I suppose I should thank Larry Niven for introducing me to the concept of hydraulic despotism at a relatively early age). How big is the community water system? The bigger it is, the more nitwits it takes to drain the system, but the smaller it is, the more likely everybody is to make a good faith effort to get along and the less likely it is that some people see it as a lever for power over others. The issues aren't at all unlike those encountered by common interest developments in the cities, except that it's water rather than parking, recreational access, or loud parties that make it difficult for everyone else to live their lives, and a board that's more interested in its own power than in harmonious administration of common resources for the benefit of all. Unfortunately, these are all depressingly common occurrences.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

My article Debunking the Money Merge Account Scam has been getting a lot of attention and a large amount of hate mail lately. The scamsters that sell these things love to send me hate mail for exposing the fact that their particular emperor has no clothes.

Here is the bottom line: The only benefit these programs actually get is about two weeks temporary reduction of principal per month, based upon your take-home pay. On a $200,000 mortgage at 6 percent, that is worth roughly $4.41 per month under ideal conditions. It will pay the mortgage off approximately three and a half months early. On a $400,000 mortgage at 7%, it's worth about $11.41 per month under optimum conditions, and will pay off your mortgage a little over five months early.

They programs do not give you the right to make extra payments, and they don't save you the money that those extra payments saves on your mortgage. Anyone who doesn't have a "first dollar" prepayment penalty can do that, any time they want, for free, and if you do have such a penalty, Mortgage Accelerators and Money Merge accounts will not prevent that penalty for being levied.

What they do is charge you anywhere from $2000 to $6000 as a sign up fee for these programs, and most of them require a Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) as well, increasing the cost of interest of whatever money is in them. Quite a few of them also require a monthly fee that varies from $1 up to about $8. I have yet to find one of these where the numbers say that the gain is not more than offset by the fees.

Suppose instead, you spend the sign up fee on a one-time pay-down of your mortgage. Instead of paying $2000 to $6000 for this program that gets you a few bucks per month, you spend that money on a one time pay-down of your mortgage. I have yet to find a scenario where that doesn't pay off your mortgage earlier, and have a lower balance the entire time it is in effect, so that if you do refinance or sell as most people do, you're ahead of the game the whole way.

The people selling these scams love to pull the ad hominem. They accuse me of not liking the program because people on this program won't want to refinance, and there's usually something in their accusation about how I cannot sell the program. Both of these claims are nonsense. I have idiots begging me to sell these things on a regular basis, and I could sign up with any one of them and make money. I have not done so, because these programs will not deliver, and my entire method of doing business is predicated upon doing the right thing for the client, so they are motivated not only to come back to me themselves, but also to send me anyone they care about. Furthermore, people on these programs refinance almost as often as anyone else. The difference in the numbers these programs make is a lot less than saving an eighth of a percent off the actual interest rate, and I can prove it. If I have a refinance that saves them money starting the day it happens, they're going to sign up just the same as anyone else.

The only effective selling tool these con artists have to sell these programs is the appearance of free money. They assume that the money for extra payments comes out of some hyperspatial vortex. They do generate a few dollars per month in interest savings through temporary payment reductions, but as I covered above, you're better off using the sign-up fee to pay the balance of your mortgage down. Any extra payments that do get made don't come out of a hyperspatial vortex - they come out of your checking account, which comes from your paycheck. Such money for extra payments is then not available for other things, whether it's a vacation, a new car, an alternative investment, or just blowing the money down at Joe's Bar. The extra money is the same, and you have the exact same right to use it to pay your mortgage down faster with or without one of these programs. If you have it extra to pay down your mortgage, you can do so regardless of whether or not you have paid the sign-up fee for one of these scams. If you don't have the extra money, then obviously it's not going to get paid to your mortgage, is it?

In fact, one of the things these folks never mention is that the entire question of whether to pay off your mortgage faster is an open one, subject to a lot of variables, and the numbers in most cases argue that you should not. If you can make more with an alternate investment than you save by paying your mortgage down, the default answer is going to be that you should go with that alternate investment. Since average return over time of bonds and stocks and other possible investments is considerably higher than the six percent interest of your average mortgage, with federal and state deductions for mortgage interest paid lowering the effective cost of the mortgage further, it's silly to pay down your mortgage faster unless there are other factors. A mortgage accelerator may actually lock you into that when there are better, smarter, more profitable alternatives available. Finally, even though paying your mortgage down may be the alternative best in line with your current situation and plan for your life, paying any kind of sign up fee or monthly maintenance for such a program is a waste of money when you have the perfect right to make those payments on your own, for free, at any time you choose. Any fee you are thinking about paying for one of these things is a waste of money. You are better off putting that fee towards a one time direct pay-down of your mortgage.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

One of the things I have to deal with on a continuing basis is people calling me because they like something they saw on one of my websites, but they have no intention of doing business with me.

Most common is would be buyers calling me, "Just tell me the address of that Hot Bargain Property." That's not how it works, as I explain in literally every one of those posts. It isn't luck I find those properties. It's dedication and skill. I spend a lot of time looking, not just in MLS, but in public records and physically going out and looking at them. I've spent a lot of time learning what to look for and how to look for it in all three places. Maybe, if I had personal need of their professional services, I might consider a barter - mine for theirs. But in point of fact, I suspect a large percentage of the calls I get of being lazy agents (A receptionist answering the phone in the background saying the name of a certain major chain is a dead giveaway).

There is a reason these properties are of interest. I'm going out and finding properties that are noteworthy bargains. If it could be done by any random person with MLS access, anybody who could type realtor.com could do it. I can do it, in large part, because I make a habit of doing it and most others won't. It is work. If George digs a ditch, you don't pay Charlie. You pay George. Same principal here. The reason I'm worth more than the discounter, in terms of what I find, how well I negotiate, and everything else, is a function of all of the work I do that helps me find good properties, spot problems, know the micro-markets I work in, understand what is critical and what is not. If you find the property yourself without any help from me, yes I'll discount my services for negotiation and facilitation because you're not getting the largest part of the value I provide, and I'm not risking the largest source of agent lawsuits. Otherwise, I am providing more value to you than the discounter and am therefore worth more pay. And I'm providing it, not that discounter. I'm not going to give out the locations of the special bargains I find to anyone not willing to work with me. Like I said, George digs a ditch for you, you pay George, not Charlie. You want to pay Charlie, get Charlie to dig the ditch. But in this case, he not only can't, he won't try.

Borrowers will call about my Real Loans for Real People. They want to know what lender that's with. Well, I hate to break it to you, but the loan I have is the loan I have. Credit Unions, National Megabank, etecetera may use the phrase "cut out the middleman" to try to get you to avoid brokers, but that's not the way it works. Even if I gave you the name of the lender, very few of them give their captive loan officers rates as low as brokers get from their wholesale division. Why? Because they're not paying my overhead, and my clients aren't captive to them. They regard their clients as captive because comparatively few people shop loans effectively. They go to big name lenders, who have no more programs than other lenders, and comparatively little imagination. They may or may not have the most appropriate loan program for a given client. Usually not. Big lenders mostly compete on the basis of name recognition and consumer comfort. A broker may be a middleman, but we function more like discount outlets. And the specific stuff I get is for my clients. If you want it, you've got to be one of them. If you weren't interested, you wouldn't have called.

What I'm trying to get at is this: Trying to cut out the person who provides the value you're interested in is counter-productive. Even if I told you what lender a particular loan was with, rates change at least every day, and it's unlikely they will offer as good a deal through their dedicated loan officers, even if they are the right fit for your loan. Trying to cut out the person whose market knowledge and work enabled them to recognize a bargain means that even if you know what property it is, you're in a weaker position on negotiations. Net result, you get some money back, but you also paid a higher price than you needed to in order to get it. The latter is almost certainly more than the former - probably by a good bit. Once again, if you want George to dig a ditch for you, or if you want George's ditch, pay George, not Charlie. You'll come out better, even if George wants a few bucks more than Charlie. If Charlie's ditch was something you wanted, you wouldn't have needed to get George involved. Chances are, even if you buy Charlie's ditch, you're going to want George to fix it, so the money you paid Charlie is wasted. Actually, it's worse than that, because in real estate, once something is screwed up, there are no shortcuts to fixing it. Once a real estate transaction is done, unwinding it or fixing it becomes far more expensive and difficult than doing it right in the first place.

Caveat Emptor

Original Article here

There are actually several different kinds of listing agreements. They get their names from the rights conferred when you sign the contract. The vast majority of agreements concluded are either Exclusive Right to Sell or Exclusive Agency.

Exclusive Right To Sell means that no matter who buys the property, that agent will get the listing commission. There is an intelligent reason why most listings are Exclusive Right to Sell: If I can spend all that money and time doing the work to sell your property, and then you can not pay me for it even though I'm successful, well, let's just say I'm not going to be so enthusiastic about spending that money and that time if the prospective buyer can then go straight to the seller and I get nothing for my efforts. Some agents won't accept other kinds of listings. Other agents will only do so on a flat, up front fee basis, as opposed to deferring their fee unless and until the property actually sells. If you want a good agent to devote their full energy to selling your property, this is the kind of listing contract for you. If there is one particular person you think might buy direct from you, the owner, that can be handled via an Exclusive Right with Exception, which designates one of more persons who are exceptions to having to pay the agent, but even that is a marginal idea. Yes, it might save you a commission. But it will definitely create some doubt in the agent's mind, and less willingness to spend what they might really need to in order to get a sale made. Better to get a solid yes - or no - from that person who is an exception ahead of time. If they really want the property, they won't have any problem committing saying they want it when you ask them. And you can't sell to more than one person, right? So you shouldn't be wondering about somebody you found when you contact an agent. And before you condemn agents for acting like this, ask yourself how hard you would work at your job in order to maybe get paid, or maybe not, even if the job is successfully completed.

Exclusive Agency means that you won't pay agent commission if you sell it yourself, but you will pay if they, or some other agent, brings you the buyer. Any agent with a buyer is presumed to have been procured through the listing agent's marketing efforts. Nonetheless, this does allow for random people to knock on your door and buy the property direct from you - despite the fact that the listing agent's efforts were what alerted them to the existence of the property. Since most agents have been burned on this one or know someone who has, few agents want to accept this style of agency without requiring you to at least pay for their efforts, and they are mostly not the top-notch ones. But if you really want to exercise the escape clause in having to pay the agent, count on being on your own through the negotiations and escrow process. A very large proportion of prospective buyers who will go around your agent to negotiate with you directly are sharks, unqualified buyers unable to buy, or possess some other characteristic that's going to cost you a large amount of money, time and frustration. Real estate sharks like being able to cut an agent out of the transaction, because if you negotiate a direct sale, your agent is certainly going to pack up the tent and leave, which then leaves the shark a clear field with nobody who knows how to deal effectively with that shark.

Limited Service listings are popular with discounters, but they typically do not work on the basis of commission delayed and contingent upon a successful sale. They want their money up front. Cash, check, or, sometimes, charge. Furthermore, the reason they are called limited service listings is because they are not fulfilling all of the services that real estate agents are normally expected to fulfill, and their responsibility to you is also much lower. Might be a good thing to do if you're a former real estate agent who knows how to do it, but the average client doesn't know how much they don't know. The pitch is "save money!" but that's not how it usually works out. When the agent on the other side is a discounter, a good buyer's agent knows that their client is going to end up very happy - especially once it's been on the market a while. The same thing applies when a good listing agent gets someone represented by a commission rebate buyer's agent. In both cases, the difference in sales price is likely to be several times the commission difference. One more thing I should mention: A lot of both types make their living by shifting their work onto the full service agent that they presume is going to be on the other side of the transaction. What happens if there is no such full service agent - in other words, if the other side is using a limited service discounter also? The work needs to get done, and neither agent is going to do it. You're going to do it yourself or pay a lawyer - and paying a lawyer to avoid paying a real estate agent full commission is like spending a dollar to save a few pennies.

Open Listings are listings where there is no single agent that has a right to get paid. Of course, no one has the responsibility to act on the owner's behalf, either. Not to market the property, not to make certain you get the best deal possible, and not to represent your best interests in other ways. Therefore, most agents and discount listing services usually want a flat fee in advance for open listings. It may be small or relatively small, but it's cash upfront. There may or may not be a listed payment to buyer's agents in open listings, and therein lies the horns of a dilemma. You don't list a buyer's agent commission and buyer's agents avoid you because there is nothing in it for all of their hard work. You list a low one, and they're still going to take their buyer's elsewhere. You list a good one, and they'll bring their buyers all right - while working on their buyer's behalf to get them a better deal. Kind of like an arms race, except it's not life or freedom at stake, only money. Still, you just invited a bigger, better equipped army than yours into the fight, on the other side.

Probate is a special purpose listing when the property is being controlled by the estate of someone who died. Probate listings almost always go to full service agents because the probate judges are looking to get the best deal possible. Furthermore, the probate attorneys and executors aren't going to do the work, and the deceased definitely isn't going to do the work. There are often debts and there are almost always tax bills, and there are always heirs looking to get the most money possible. Probate is a real pain to deal with, and it takes forever, because the courts are involved. Nor are they necessarily great deals. For most local probates as of this writing, the court or the heirs have set a minimum bid that's more than the property is worth, because they evaluated the property on the basis of the prices when the owner shuffled off the mortal coil. However, with declining values, they're only hurting themselves. There's one not too far from my office where I had a client it would have been perfect for - except that the minimum bid is at least $40,000 more than the property was worth on the market back then. It had been on the market for a good long while before I found it, and it's still on the market today, more than six months later. If they'd priced it $20,000 lower, it probably would have sold within a month of going on the market. By the time I found it, prices were diverging by $40,000. Now, it's more than that.

I'm the sort of agent who believes in competition, and an exclusive right to sell kills competition once it has been signed. Nonetheless, there are enough countervailing reasons why it is in your interest to sign an exclusive right to sell. I may not like it, but you can have agents compete before you sign a listing agreement. Your house is a half million dollar investment around here. You probably want to interview at least as many agents as you would visit stores when you're looking for major appliances, before you trust anyone to handle that kind of investment. The difference in likely results is a lot more than the entire cost of a refrigerator.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

I have a landlord, that is always harassing me every 2 weeks, for the past 2 years, on the upkeep of the property, and wants to have inspections. Also want me to mail them all their mail. Most of which is Bank stuff. I am fed up, and thinking they are under a Owner Occupied Loan. Is there a way I could find out? And who do I complain to, if I decide to?

It is a misconception to think that just because someone moves out, they can no longer have an owner occupied loan.

In fact, the typical owner occupancy agreement that is required in order to get owner occupied financing is only a twelve month occupancy. When I buy or refinance today, I agree to live in it for twelve months in order to get those rates. After I have met that requirement, I can move out, rent it out, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. That loan contract is in effect, I have lived up to all of my obligations as far as owner occupancy, and I can keep that loan as long as I maintain my end of the other parts of the contract. It is fraud to claim I'm living there, or intend to live there, for those twelve months if I do not actually live there, but once I've met that twelve month occupancy requirement I can go live in Timbuktu so long as I get my loan payments in on time, properly insure and maintain the property, pay taxes in a timely fashion, etcetera.

It is possible, as I discovered once upon a time, that if you have an owner occupied loan with lender A, that same lender may refuse to give you another owner occupied loan on a different property. In this case, it was refinance the loan on the other property, or accept a second home loan on property A. But notice how, even then, the lender did not force them to refinance despite the fact that they hadn't lived in the other property for years. They just offered the owner the choice of accepting a slightly less favorable loan (Second home financing, still much better than investment property) or refinancing the existing owner occupied into another occupancy type. Or, being brokers, we could submit the package to another lender. There are circumstances where each of these three possibilities may be the best choice. The lenders do not share this data between each other; indeed, my understanding is that they cannot legally do so. It was only applying for a second owner occupied loan from the same lender that brought this on, and not every lender even does this much. If thirty year fixed rate loans are the only type you ever apply for, it is theoretically possible to legitimately have a new owner occupied loan starting each and every time you have met the minimum time for owner occupancy for the previous lender. In extreme cases, it might be possible to get upwards of twenty owner occupied loans all in force at the same time, while having honored your contractual requirements for each and every one.

The minimum owner occupancy requirement can be different. One year is by far the most common, but there is no reason that I am aware of why it cannot be longer, if that is what is specified in the contract. However, I do not know of any lenders that requires you to refinance or requires you to pay a surcharge if you move out once you have met the required period of owner occupancy specified in your Note.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here


I find it fascinating the number of people who will claim that because no college degree is required to become a real estate agent, that agents can't possibly be worth any significant amount of money.

The reason no college degree is required is because no college curriculum can teach what a good agent needs to know.

Oh, there are license preparatory schools in abundance. They'll teach you what you need to know to pass the licensing exam. You do need to know that stuff to practice real estate, but doing a good job on real estate is a lot harder than answering multiple choice questions on a government exam. You have to understand how it all fits together. No school in the world teaches that. Real estate law and practice is an extremely complex profession, and every situation, every real estate transaction, is different because no two properties are the same, no two sellers are the same and no two buyers are the same. There are common recurring elements, but there is not one line of the standard eight page purchase contract (in California) that there isn't occasional reason to change via negotiation, and there isn't a school going that teaches what those exceptions are.

Popular media loves to gloss over what agents do. People see the media depiction and think they can do it. Ladies and gentlemen, the reason the media glosses over it is because it's boring detail work, and most of the dramatic interactions take place between pieces of paper. When's the last time you saw a legal thriller that spent a proportional amount of time on all the boring background work that goes on? Same principle. I was an air traffic controller for twelve years and I have yet to see a single media program get that right, and ATC is considerably more interesting to the outsider. People are not on the edge of their seats to see if form WPA or the addendum controls in this instance, the way they are when there's two 747s on a collision course and Jack Bauer (24) has to save the day - but the real estate agent has to know, and if they don't know, they have to find out without anyone giving them the answer. It's not exciting to watch the agent visit the comparables to compare features and condition and figure out what a good offer or a good price is. It might be good drama to watch a good listing agent talk a potential client into listing for the right price as opposed to their fevered dreams of avarice, but few media writers are that good - and even fewer have a clue that this is a good thing to be doing. It's definitely not drama the way a good agent closes with prospective buyers, the best way being to show them they've already convinced themselves that they want it.

Most people also don't have the critical skill necessary for an agent - the skill of betting their paycheck on weeks or months of work that may or may not move to a successful conclusion. If the transaction doesn't close, we get nothing. How many doctors you know work on that basis? Lawyers? Even the ones that work on contingency want their expenses paid, and that includes office staff, and they're not likely to take contingency cases without a very large prospective payoff. Nobody but agents bets weeks to months of their time for such a small payoff. The whole mindset is completely foreign to educational faculty. Grant application papers, yes - but they're getting a regular salary while they write those. The fact that you've got to go out and get hired at least a couple times per month in order to survive is also completely outside their frame of reference, as well as most other members of modern society. For academics, even if they're turned down for a grant, they've still got money coming in. Even if they get refused tenure, they only need to get hired again once to have a new regular paycheck rolling in.

Most importantly, real estate markets are both hyperlocal and changeable. I've written a series that's eight or nine articles long about the neighborhoods of La Mesa, a city of about 60,000 people, and I have at least as many more to write. Those markets are different today than they were three months ago, and three months from now, they'll be different again. The only way you can keep track of what's going on in those markets out there is by being out there in those markets and living those changes. You can't do it from the inside of a college classroom, grading papers, and agents can't get this information from a college professor because that college professor doesn't know. That property that sold last week for $487,000 - what condition was it in? What amenities did it have? How big was it, really? Were those floors good hardwood or cheap pergo? This property right here that meets these client's criteria - What are the competing properties, and where does this one shine by comparison, and what are the problems with it? (There are always problems with every property). What were the recent sales really like? You don't know unless you were there. Old listings on MLS don't give you a good idea. It takes a good agent maybe two weeks to learn not to trust MLS claims, MLS pictures, or MLS video. A bad agent might learn, they just don't act like they've learned. It's a very rare consumer who doesn't take it as gospel.

This segues in to the war of information. Listing reports are, in a very real sense, a battlefield of information. You can only learn by experience what is and is not important, what had damned well better be correct versus what's in there for purposes of puffery, what's important and real, what's useless and unimportant, and what's in between. What, you didn't realize that sellers and listing agents want to present the property in the best possible light? Ladies and Gentlemen, they're practicing informational warfare with the goal of making this house seem like the bargain of the century. Lest you think I'm getting all holier than thou, I do this too, when I list a property. It's my contractual fiduciary duty to sell my listings for the highest possible price on the best possible terms in the least amount of time, and it is my job to tell the property's story in such a way as convinces someone to buy it on those terms. And roughly a third of all buyers use the listing agents as their buyer's agent. Scary, when you think about it. Do schools teach how to fight that informational war? Maybe the military educational establishment does, but nobody else, and they don't show how the principles apply to real estate, and even the marketers who've learned a good informational offense are sometimes stumped as to providing any defense whatsoever. Furthermore, an inappropriate or overly aggressive response to the situation can sink you worse than doing nothing at all. Did you learn all that in college? Me neither - and I took marketing. I had to learn how to handle the informational war by doing it.

Admittedly, a lot of agents don't know, either, and won't make the effort to learn, which is why I'll back a newbie with the right attitude and a brand new license over someone with thirty years experience and the wrong attitude any day of the week. Nothing says "bozo!" like the agent who brags about thirty-seven years of experience and acts like a deer in the headlights when he's presented with facts he'd rather pretend don't exist. But the point is this: the good agent didn't pick it up in school, and the rotten agent thinks they already know everything there is to know because they've got the license and one or two of those meaningless NAR designators designed to gull the public as you sit through 18 hours of class to put initials after their name. I just did six hours calling around and reading today and yesterday on a subject I researched and wrote about two years ago, and learned some things I didn't know. The final answer wasn't what my clients wanted, but I'd rather find out now, before we've made the offer than after we're in the middle of a transaction and my clients are out appraisal and inspection money and their deposit is at risk. I know for a fact that the answers to my research weren't in any NAR class, or anywhere else in any educational curriculum. Real estate is one of those fields where you've got to be prepared to learn as you go, but unless you've got the background of detailed knowledge of the field, quite often you run into a landmine you never knew was there, simply because you weren't looking for it. Someone a little more complacent than I am would never have questioned the obvious answer, which turned out to be wrong (It had to do with a municipal first time buyer program). My client is still questioning it, it's so counter-intuitive to a layperson, and I don't blame her. But there are huge and obvious traps that claim large numbers of victims. For example: the roughly one-third of all buyers who don't have a buyer's agent at all, using the listing agent to facilitate the transaction.

It's very hard to dodge landmines you're not looking for, and once the explosion happens, the damage is done. To be fair, even the best agent hits a landmine sometimes. But I'd rather be avoiding the mines in the first place than doing damage control afterward, and the odds of doing that are better if you've got someone on your side who knows what to look for, and is in the habit of questioning every irregular feature of the landscape they can before you drive over it, and who recognizes what an irregular feature is, because it's the hazard that you don't understand is a hazard that gets you. I say this regularly because it bears repeating at every opportunity: with the dollar amounts at stake in real estate, there are a large number of people out there who regularly and easily make multiple tens of thousands of dollars extra because the people on the other side of the transaction weren't careful enough.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

With the down payment presenting the largest difficulty for most people want to buy right now, I am covering every base I can think of as a place to get a down payment. I have covered VA Loans, FHA loans which require a relatively small down payment, and Municipal first time buyer programs, some of which can take the place of a down payment. There are also seller carrybacks and lease with option to buy. There's also the traditional "Save it over time", and in some circumstances, you can also borrow from your retirement accounts or even take a withdrawal. You can even Sell Some Stuff. But there is at least one more entry to the pantheon.

Most people don't think of it, but a personal loan is one of the ways to get a down payment quickly. It has some notable drawbacks, but it can be done. Being unsecured, the interest rate is higher than real estate loans, and the repayment period is shorter, meaning higher payments.

A personal loan is a loan not secured by real property. Because it is not secured by real property, all the lender really cares about is the payments and whether you can qualify for their loan by underwriting guidelines including the payments for such a loan. Personal loans include car loans and student loans and just about every other type of installment debt out there, as well as personal lines of credit and even credit cards. Not all of these are a possibility for the subject at hand, which is rapidly acquiring a real estate down payment. CREDIT CARD CASH ADVANCES ARE RIGHT OUT!. But the possibility exists of borrowing enough to get a down payment with a personal loan.

This possibility includes both institutional loans from a bank or credit union, and "good in-law" loans from family members. Negotiate a loan contract, sign it, and be certain to disclose it to your mortgage lender on your mortgage application so that they know you're not trying to pull a fast one. The reason why mortgage lenders are obsessed with sourcing and seasoning of funds is because they don't want an undisclosed loan, which might mean that you cannot really afford the all of payments you're going to be making. But a fully disclosed personal loan is just like any other open credit. It has a repayment schedule, maturity date, etcetera. The mortgage lender looks at the situation, including the loan that got the down payment, according to lending guidelines, and if it appears you have the income to make those payments, they will approve the loan.

The major and irrefutable drawback to getting a personal loan for the down payment is that it impacts debt to income ratio. You have to account for the fact that you owe this money, and you are obligated to make those payments, and therefore, you cannot afford as big a real estate loan as you otherwise could. Since most people try to stretch their budget further than they should anyway, this can be a deal-killer. It can force you to buy a less expensive property than the one you have your heart set upon, or even than the property you could otherwise afford, at least by debt to income ratio. Of course, if you don't have a down payment, you can't buy the property of your dreams either. But if you buy a property, especially while the market is down, leverage can mean you will be able to buy the property of your dreams much sooner and much easier, or in plain words, buying the less expensive property is smart if that's what you can afford now. Of course, if you've got more than enough income but no down payment, that's the situation where getting a personal loan for a down payment is a serious possibility. Say you're a doctor who just spent the last two years paying off your student loans ahead of schedule. You've got a great income, but you spent everything on getting rid of that debt, and as a consequence, you don't have much for the down payment, right when it will do you the most good.

It is possible, for some people who have a large down payment but are nonetheless getting a loan from somewhere (most likely a close relative), for the loan to be a subordinate real estate loan. This happens mostly when Mom and Dad are rich and doing estate planning. They loan Princess (their daughter) and her Darling Husband some money to make it easier to buy, often planning to forgive the debt in accordance with federal gift guidelines. Note that the thing controlling it here is that lenders have guidelines that set maximum comprehensive loan to value ratio (CLTV), or the ratio of all loans secured by the property to the value of the property. Even though they may be in first position, lenders may not be willing to loan when there's another loan behind theirs on the property if the CLTV is higher than underwriting guidelines allow. It is necessary to make certain that the lender you apply with will permit any other contemplated loans. And even though Mom and Dad may be intending to forgive Princess' loan in accordance with gifting schedules, Princess and Darling Husband still need to have an official repayment schedule on the loan and those putative payments must be taken into account on the debt to income ratio.

One more thing I should mention is that if you're going to do this, the personal loan needs to be in place before you apply for the real estate loan. Contract signed, funds dispersed, at least one payment made, preferably two or more, and preferably reported to the major agencies. Failure to do any of these is a potential failure point for the real estate loan. The only exception is if you're trying for a subordinate loan, and the lenders have been especially unforgiving of that lately. I've had people I did the primary loan with a private money second previously, unable to refinance even with the same lender. Yes, this means that if you can't get the real estate loan, you still have this loan which you didn't want. This whole idea of personal loans to get a real estate down payment is risky and has downsides. It is not something to try if you have a better alternative, and not without careful scrutiny of all the numbers beforehand, and even then it can fail. It is a risk.

I must emphasize this again: DO NOT TAKE A CASH ADVANCE ON YOUR CREDIT CARDS!. Unless you have credit limits in the multiple hundreds of thousands, your credit score will plummet, and you will be unable to qualify for the loan no matter how much income you have. I will bet a nickel that someone will email me saying that they "did what you said," and that now they cannot qualify for the loan because their credit score is in the toilet. If you write me with such an accusation, I will drag you down to the zoo, where I will arrange for the elephants to do a line dance on your sorry carcass, and the rhinos to use what is left as a target for both ends. Taking a personal loan for a real estate down payment is playing with fire. If you're going to do it, make certain to follow lender and loan officer instructions exactly and carefully. There are a number of other pitfalls, that may not be as bad as the credit card cash advance but will still sink your loan. Getting a personal loan for a mortgage down payment is the mortgage equivalent of a circus high-wire act - one wrong move and the whole thing is a disaster where people get crippled for life even if they aren't killed outright. Having the numbers be right for it is not a common occurrence. But if the numbers are right, and you and your loan officer are careful, it can work.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

Not too long ago, I started negotiating for a property. I did extensive research online, and and I and my clients visited several competing properties. We made an offer that was a little under 90% of the asking price, and I justified it in a cover letter with several direct comparisons. The property has potential - but my clients were going to have to really work at realizing any of that potential - and I don't mean just carpet and paint.

The owner's response? They did come down a little bit - about 2% of the asking price. But all they said was, "We want $X"

That's it. No, "But the kitchen is beautiful, it's 500 square feet more than those, the location prevents it from getting socked in by traffic noise." None of which was true, but are examples of the kinds of things they could have said.

Instead, just an ultimatum. I don't believe anyone can legitimately call that "negotiation", unless you want to include the sense that a flying creature with feathers that waddles on land, swims on water and goes "quack" can be labeled a Doberman Pinscher. It's still a duck, no matter what you call it, and that's still an ultimatum. If you look at diplomatic ultimatums, what spot do they occupy in the hierarchy? They're the last step before war. Similarly, in real estate, they're the last step before walking away. They should be a sign that negotiations have essentially failed. They're certainly not the way to start successful negotiations.

If you want more for the property, tell me why in the heck you think I should give it to you. What you want (more money) is irrelevant. It's counterbalanced by what I want - which is the exact opposite, to pay less money. Start a conversation for crying out loud - that's what I was trying to do. I didn't expect them to take my first offer, but my clients have the ability and interest to give them what they want - cash - for what they have: a property they don't want. Even if my clients are getting a loan, it still amounts to cash for the sellers. That's what any offer is really saying - "We're interested in buying this property, if we can reach an appropriate agreement." The initial offer is your bona fides as to what sort of agreement you're willing to reach. I don't make first offers I expect to have accepted, but neither do I make hopeless low-balls unless it is just a shot in the dark and I don't care if it "poisons the well" of possible rapport. I do want a reasonable response, and I do everything I can to encourage such a response rather than an ultimatum.

Duelling ultimatums is kind of like throwing matter and anti-matter at each other. Often, there's an explosion, and even when there isn't, nobody is happy because the radiation when they combine poisons everything. If you do end up with a purchase contract, there's still no rapport, so anything that comes along later is likely to cause the whole thing to fall apart. Why in the nine billion names of god would anyone want to do that? You don't get any empathy, you don't get any respect, and you're very likely not get a transaction, which means the buyer is unhappy, the seller is unhappy, and both agents are unhappy. Nobody is happy. It's nearly as certain as gravity. Why would you want to "negotiate" by dueling ultimatums when you know it's going to cause you and your client to end up unhappy?

I know how this happened. During the seller's markets, sellers had all the power. For a couple of years, there were dueling offers on almost every property on the market that was even vaguely reasonable in asking price. Listing agents got used to being able to dictate terms, and buyer's agents went along, in part because they could only hope to extract one or two things and going along with everything else was the only way to make it happen, and in part because the next time they made an offer to that listing agent, they didn't want it rejected out of hand. And it's taken three years of a buyer's market to start to get the message across that buyers are in command right now, buyers have needs of their own, and in the current environment if you don't give one buyer what they need in order to qualify or want in order to prefer your property to another, you may not get another buyer. You want to play hardball with this buyer, they're going to go down the street to the competing property, leaving you as the seller high and dry.

We're moving back to a more normal state of affairs now, but this doesn't mean sellers can play the autarch again. You have equity in a real estate property. You can't spend it at the grocery store, the gas station, or put it into your 401k. It's a real pain to swap it for another property, and if you're not willing to dive in and negotiate, you're not going to do well there either. You need the cash from a buyer - not necessarily this one, but how many do you think you're likely to get? There are almost always more properties for sale than there are people looking to buy them, and more coming onto the market every day. You can compete strongly enough to convince one buyer that they want your property instead of a competing one, or you are wasting your time. Effective negotiations are a large part of that competition.

A negotiation is first and foremost, a conversation. You ever had someone you got off on the wrong foot with, but then you had a conversation and found out they're a pretty swell person? Guess what? When you negotiate in good faith, both sides stop thinking of the other so much as "the enemy" and start to see each other in more human terms. This is good.

Negotiations are also an argument. A civilized refined argument. Many of us have forgotten how to have an argument that doesn't end up with lost tempers. You can find examples of this on both ends of the political spectrum - a sort of take-no-prisoners way of talking past each other - argument by slogan. Argument by putting the worst possible spin upon everything the opposition says or does (and conversely, the best on everything your side says or does) is worse than argument by slogan, as it shows actively bad intent, rather than just closed ears. Sometimes, one side is entirely in the right (or the wrong), but that's not the way it generally happens. Most times, there's evidence on both sides and some darker and lighter shades of gray involved, some justice and points on one side versus some justice and points on the other. In politics, the posturing is showmanship intended to woo third parties, but in real estate negotiations, the transaction is entirely dependent upon the two parties coming to an agreement both sides think makes them better off. Neither one can force the other to sign on the dotted line.

And what happens when you recognize the virtue of something the other side says? Yes, you give away something, but you get something as well. The other side takes a step back and says, "Wait a minute. This person is not just a member of the ravening horde, simply intent upon taking everything they can get." Yes, I'm trying to get everything for my client that I can, but if I try and get it by ultimatum, what happens when the other side is in a stronger position? If I try and get it at sword-point, what happens when the other side is better with sabers than I am? Even the very best lose at violence sometimes. This is why the idea of negotiations started - both sides end up better off and nobody ends up dead. The whole "defeat the vikings/huns/mongols" idea goes out the window when they start seeing you as human. Maybe when you say you see one of their points, maybe they come back and acknowledge some of your points as valid, and they give up something too. Guess what? The more both sides do this, the more likely the negotiation and transaction is to succeed.

Not everybody will negotiate in good faith. You always have the option of walking away from the negotiation table if they don't. I'm walking away less often these days than formerly, but it's still on the table. Knowing when is a matter of judgment and experience, and maybe training if you can find someone good enough, but you're not going to learn it all in one transaction. Sometimes walking away will knock some sense into the other side, most often when you've seen the virtue of some of what they're saying and they suddenly realize that in order to salvage this deal they want, they're going to have to get with the program. Sometimes, it doesn't. But in that case, there are other properties and other buyers out there that will be a better fit and give you a better bargain. If there isn't something better, then you shouldn't have walked away. It's as simple as that (Pssst: You can go back. Really. It's not easy, and you're likely to end up less well off than if you hadn't walked in the first place, but if it's still the best fit and the best bargain out there, you should).

So don't just trade ultimatums. Tell the other side why what you're asking for is necessary, reasonable, or both. Listen to what they say in response, acknowledge not only that you heard the response, but that you might even see the justice of some of it, if you can. They'll usually do the same. Give some ground where it is appropriate, and I am confident that your negotiations will come out better, as mine do, because we're not going back to a situation where one side dictates to the other any time soon. But you neither I nor anyone else can hold a conversation with the other side of a transaction if the other side is unwilling to hold it. If you are always willing, and always trying to start such a conversation, the odds of a successful negotiation increase dramatically.

My transaction? I think I've finally persuaded them to actually talk to me, rather than just trading ultimatums, both sides still have the ability to talk it over in private and think about it for a day or two. I was expecting an answer to my most recent proposal the day I originally wrote the article. We did eventually come to an agreement and consummate the transaction. Everybody ended up much happier than they would have had I not been able to talk them away from their ultimatum.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

What Does Escrow Do?

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This is a question that gets asked a lot.

Escrow is nothing more or less than a neutral third party that stands in the middle of a real estate transaction and makes certain all of the i's are dotted and t's are crossed. They make certain that all of the terms of the contract have been met, and then they make certain that everyone who is a party to the transaction gets what is coming to them via the contract. Given the complexity of a real estate transaction, you want this. In California, that's an eight page basic contract. Do you want to go through and verify that it's all done? Suppose there wasn't an escrow? Given a half million dollar transaction, do you think it might be possible that some people would try to arrange to be paid without handing over a good Grant Deed or clear title, or that they might try to pay with nonexistent funds? Escrow puts a stop to someone not giving what they agreed and still getting what they want.

Many times folks complain about the escrow company or escrow officer, when it's not escrow's fault and the problem lies elsewhere. The escrow company is obligated to make certain all of the terms of the contract have been followed, not just most of them. I've talked before about how if the contract is not accepted exactly as proposed in the most recent modification, you don't have a deal. There cannot be any points of disagreement, or you don't have a purchase contract. Similarly for escrow. Usually problems that the client sees are not the escrow officer's doing, but rather someone else's. Quite often, the person complaining is the person who caused the problem. The escrow officer can't do anything without mutual agreement. If the loan officer doesn't get the loan in a timely fashion, it's not the escrow officer's fault. If the agent doesn't meet the inspector or appraiser so they can get their work done in a timely fashion, it's not the escrow officer's fault. If you can't qualify for the loan, if you have to come up with more money, if you don't get as much money as you thought, it's not the escrow officer's fault. But in many cases, the escrow officer makes a convenient whipping boy for the sins of others.

This is not to say that it's never the escrow officer's fault that something goes wrong, but if one party or the other is not in compliance with the terms of the agreement, the only options the escrow officer has are to get an amended agreement or get them into compliance. Nonetheless, I have seen many transactions fall apart because the escrow officer was a bozo. The really good escrow officers are like chess masters - several moves ahead of the whole game, and when I find one, I want to use them all of the time. Unfortunately for buyer's agents, the seller often has the real control over where the escrow transaction goes, and when the seller's agent decides they want to use some bozo, that's probably where it's going. I can do all kinds of things that should move them, but the bottom line is they want to use their broker's pet escrow (who is more likely to be staffed by bozos than any other escrow company, as they've got captive clients), I as the buyer's agent cannot force them to go elsewhere. It's a violation of fiduciary duty for them as well as a RESPA violation, but if I complain to the appropriate agencies, what are the chances of my client getting this property they've decided that they want?

As the escrow process moves forward, the escrow officer collects documentation that the various requirements of the contract have been fulfilled. When they have all been fulfilled, the transaction is ready to close and record.

The loan is usually the last thing left hanging after everything else is done. There are a variety of reasons for this, most obvious of which is that the loan's conditions are likely to include everything else being done before the loan funds. Appraisal, grant deed, inspection, etcetera and ad nauseum. When the borrower meets underwriter's guidelines, they go and sign loan documents. Signing loan documents does not mean the loan will fund, and it is a major misapprehension to believe so. It is legitimate to move conditions from prior to docs to prior to funding if doing so serves some interest of the client, such as funding the loan before the rate lock expires. If they go to documents before the client's income and occupational status have been verified, that's an unethical lender looking to lock the client into their loan or none at all. Always demand a copy of outstanding conditions to fund the loan before you sign loan documents.

Once the loan documents are signed is when the real fun begins, because that's when the underwriter takes a step back and the funder steps to the forefront. The loan funder is an employee of the lender who fulfills much the same function as the escrow officer - make sure all of the conditions have been met before they release the money. The loan funder has responsibility only to the lender, though, not the borrower, not the seller, not anyone else. It's their job to ask such questions as when the homeowner's insurance got paid (and where is the proof?), has the final Verification of employment been done (assuming they aren't required to do it themselves), or work out a procedure whereby they get proof that all of this stuff is satisfied before the funds get released. If the loan officer has done their job correctly, the funder is working primarily with the escrow company. If I have to talk to the funder as a loan officer, that's usually a sign I should have worked a little harder earlier on, because my part should be done before the funder gets involved.

Once all of the conditions to fund the loan and close the transaction have been met, the escrow officer records the transaction. In point of fact, it's the title company who usually is set up to record the documents, something they will charge for. Until the transaction is recorded, the lender can pull the funds back. It's not the escrow officer's fault (in most cases) if they do this. It's because something about the borrower's situation changed, and now the lender is unhappy and unsatisfied with the level of risk of losing some or all of their money. Only rarely is it caused by a bozo of an escrow officer who doesn't understand what's going on, and tells the funder something that causes the lender to get nervous. Remember, the lenders are loaning a lot of money, and the list of reasons why lenders justifiably get nervous is fairly long, especially as a certain percentage of all mortgage applications are fraudulent.

Once the loan is funded and the transaction recorded, the escrow officer has some final stuff to do. Send out the checks to everyone who's getting one, complete with an accounting of the money. Make certain all charges relating to the transaction are paid, for which they will usually keep a small "pad" for last minute expenses, so that the buyer and seller are likely to see a small check a few days later after the escrow officer has made certain everything is paid to the penny. And so ends the transaction, and this article.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

This article was originally from April 2006 - anybody want to tell me I didn't call it? Of course, by that time it was like predicting a dropped anvil would fall but that was when the question was asked

From an email:

I've been enjoying your blog posts on mortgages. I've learned more from you about what to expect than I have from any other source, and I've gotten 10 mortgages in my life.

I was reading Larry William's website this week, and on there I saw one of his newsletters from last summer:

Larry Williams you may be familiar with, he's written many books on trading.

Anyways, the newsletter talks about buying 2nd mortgage notes as an investment. And that's something I haven't seen you write about.

With the softening of the housing market in many areas, and overextended borrowers, I suspect that the market for 2nd notes will be heating up over the next few months and years.

I'd appreciate hearing your views on the opportunities and pitfalls in this area.

Let us consider the efficiencies of the market. The Institutional lenders have economies of scale, underwriting guidelines, and a set checklist of procedures as to how to approve (or decline) loans. They have a system that makes them effective. They can do this because they have enough loans to make it cost-effective, and because of their experience, they know how to price their loans. From advertising to wholesaling to pricing to packaging and servicing, they are set up for efficient service. Lest people think I'm saying lenders are a better place to get loans than brokers, I am not. Quite the reverse is true. But the the vast majority of broker originated loans are with regulated institutional lenders.

What happens if you're not set up like that? The answer is you're either more highly priced than they are, or you're not as profitable. I've said more than once that without regulated institutional lenders, every loan would be a hard money loan. So in trying to originate loans, an individual is competing at a disadvantage. Where then, can they make a profit?

The answer is in the loans that the regulated lenders won't or can't touch. Now we need to ask ourselves why they can't or won't touch them. There are three common reasons. First is there is something wrong with the borrower. Second is that there's not enough equity. Third is that there is something wrong with the property.

Something wrong with the borrower has several subtypes. Credit Score too low, in bankruptcy, too many mortgage lates, no source of income to pay back the loan. Most of these can be gotten around in one degree or another unless they take place in combination with insufficient equity. Most single problems are surmountable by a good loan officer, providing you've got the equity required to convince the bank they won't lose their investment. You'll pay a higher rate or higher fees than you would without, but better that than no loan. It's when they take place in combination that problems arise which break the loan beyond the ability to rescue. And of course, if the property is not marketable in its current condition, no regulated lender will touch it.

What the first category reduces to is increased chance of default. The second category reduces to increased risk of losing money in case of default. The third category, something wrong with the property, reduces to you're going to get stuck fixing the property if they do default, which means sinking thousands to tens of thousands of dollars into it, above and beyond the amount of the trust deed. Furthermore, both the second and third categories are also at increased risk for default, even if the borrower has the wealth of Midas and the credit score to match.

So let's consider what happens when something goes wrong. The borrower doesn't make their payments, and it becomes a non-performing loan. You're not getting your money. If you need it every month, that's a problem. Do you know the proper procedure to foreclose without missing any i-dots or t-crossings? If you don't, your borrower can spin it out a long time. Actually, they can spin it out for a long time anyway. Well, that's what a loan servicer is for, but a loan servicer cuts into your margin, and they get their money every month regardless of whether or not you get paid. This means they're a monthly liability if the loan isn't performing. Furthermore, over half the time, some low-life attorney talks the people into filing bankruptcy to delay the inevitable. It's stupid, and it almost always ends up costing them still more money and making their final situation much worse, but they do it anyway - and now you have to start paying an attorney to have any hope of getting your money.

Suppose the property does go all the way to auction? You are second in line behind the holder of the first trust deed. They get every penny they are due before you get one penny. And if the first trust deed holder forecloses (or the government for property taxes), your trust deed is wiped out. The only way to defend against this is go to the auction with cash to defend your interest. And if the borrower isn't paying you, may I ask why you think they'll pay their property taxes or first trust deed? The answer is "they're probably not." They are going to lose the property anyway, so why make payments that don't prevent that?

(There are a lot of details in the foreclosure process. The stuff in the above paragraph should not be taken for anything more than a broad brush child's watercolor type painting of the process, as including those details would digress too far)

Now, suppose you're not originating the loan, you're just buying the right to receive payments, either on an individual loan or a package of loans, after the fact?

Well, can I ask you which loans you think the lenders are selling? If you answered "The ones in greatest danger of default" you get a star for the day! The lenders will either sell them off individually, if there are people inclined to buy, or actually repackage them thusly. The ones that are still performing, and still going according to the original guidelines will go to other regulated institutional lenders in mass packages, but those lenders won't take these, or if they will, it'll bring the price of the entire package down by more than it's worth. So they separate out the dogs before they sell the package. So unless you're buying them as part of the original loan package, this is what's happening. Now mind you, there are always those who want the non-performing loans because they know how to deal with them, but they know to only buy the ones with enough equity to cover the loans in case they need to foreclose. Those who specialize also know what these loans are really worth, and they don't pay full value - usually not even in the same ballpark.

So the aftermarket loans that are available tend to be in danger of default and without sufficient equity to cover if it goes to auction. If you're looking to lose your money, you've just found a very good way. You can also trivially spend thousands of extra dollars trying to defend your interests.

The equity issue is going to assume increased importance as prices in some overheated areas subside. If the loan was underwritten and approved on the basis of a $500,000 appraisal, but now similar properties are only selling for $420,000 and the loans total $450,000, it doesn't need a genius to understand you're not in the best of positions. Even if it sells at auction for as much as comparables are going for, you're still down at least $30,000 plus the expenses of the sale.

Now, with that said, second trust deeds can, if the equity is there, put you in the catbird seat. Suppose there's an IRS lien junior to you? Our office dealt with a $700,000 property with a $1.6 million lien against it - junior to the $28,000 second we bought. Nobody else could touch that property. The owner just wanted out - he wasn't getting any money regardless of what happened. He stopped making payments, and our clients had to step in with thousands of dollars to keep the holder of the first happy. There ended up being a fair amount of money made, although it took some serious cash for a while, because our clients had to make the payments on the first loan as well as everything else. This is not for the weak of wallet. If buying the Note had taken all of their ready money, they would have been SOL.

There are also all of the standard diversification of investment concerns. If ninety percent of your money is tied up in this deed, that's a pretty serious risk to your overall financial health. No matter how many precautions you take, some do go sour.

In short, while there is a lot of potential for gain, it's some serious work to evaluate the situation, and usually some serious work and serious cash to make it work for you when it is right.

UPDATE: something I'm running into a lot right now: Lenders that sell the note but retain servicing rights. So when the note goes south, and my client wants to buy into a distressed situation, the servicers are rejecting offers without checking with the actual investor, because they could get sued (for misrepresentation and bad underwriting) if they accept less than they loaned. On the other hand, if the property sits on the market (thereby costing the investors even more money), they don't get sued because, hey, the asking price is enough to cover the note. Now there is a legal deadline involved with lender owned properties, and nobody is going to offer enough to bail them out. But it's kind of like the old joke: "A lot can happen in a year. I may die. The King may die. And perhaps the horse will sing." Corporations don't die. Even if it were an individual investor, someone's going to inherit the right to payments. I do not think this horse will sing - it probably won't even whinny. In other words, nobody is going to offer enough to bail the lender out of their fix. Near as I can figure, those controlling the corporations holding servicing rights are evidently hoping that by that time, they will have moved on to other jobs and can't be held liable as individuals.

One more reason to be very careful investing in trust deeds

Caveat Emptor

Original here

If you don't know the answer to this, don't be embarrassed. Lots of alleged professionals forgot the answers to these questions for several years, if indeed, they ever knew. It seems like quite a few still don't know the answer

Loan qualification standards measure whether or not you can afford a loan. By adhering to them, the lenders both lower the default rates and have some assurance the loans they make will be repaid, while borrowers avoid getting into situations where foreclosure is all but certain. Lest you misunderstand, this is a good thing for both the lenders and the borrowers. It isn't like the lenders want to stand there like the Black Knight shouting "None Shall Pass!" They want to loan money - that's how they make profit. But unless you live in a cave, you may have heard of some problems with defaulted home loans of late. You may have heard they're a major problem for both the lenders and the borrowers. Guess what? They are.

From the lender's standpoint, of course, the important thing is that they prevent loaning money to people who can't afford to repay the loan, but the other isn't a trivial concern. Even if they get every penny back when they foreclose, foreclosures are still bad business, with negative impacts on cash available to lend, regulatory scrutiny, and not least important, business reputation.

Going through foreclosure is no fun from a borrower standpoint either. I don't think I have ever seen or even heard of a situation where somebody ended up better off from having gone through foreclosure than they would have been if the lender had just denied the loan in the first place. So whether you like it or not, the lenders are doing you a favor to decline your loan when you're not qualified.

There are many loan qualification standards, but the two most important ones are debt to income ratio, often abbreviated DTI, and loan to value ratio, often abbreviated LTV. The first of these is much more important than the second, but both are part of every single loan.

Debt to Income ratio is a measurement of how well your monthly income covers your monthly payments. It is measured in the form of a percentage of your gross monthly pay, averaged over about the last two years. The permissible number can change somewhat depending upon credit score in some situations, and with enough in the way of assets in others, but the basic idea is you can afford to be paying out 43 to 45 percent of your monthly income in the form of fixed expenses - housing and consumer debt service. You can cancel cable TV or broadband internet, you can cancel your movie club or book of the month - but the items debt to income are concerned with are essentially fixed by your situation. You owe $X on student loans, and you're required to repay so many dollars per month. Your mortgage payment is this, your pro-rated property taxes are that, your homeowners insurance and car payments and credit cars are these others. There's no possibility of this money suddenly disappearing - you already owe it, and you are obligated to repay on thus and such a schedule.

Loan to value ratio is not a measure of whether you can afford the loan. It is a measurement of how likely the lender is to get its money back if you do default. With appraisal fraud and similar problems, it's not any kind of a magic bullet - but it is the best they have. When values are rising quickly and holding onto a property for six months generates a 10% profit, it shouldn't surprise anyone that the lenders are willing to take more risks with loan to value ratio than they are in the reverse situation. Many properties have lost value and even if the borrowers had kept up the payments before default, they would still owe more than the property is worth.

Lenders aren't going to refinance on good terms if you're "upside down" or even close to it. But being upside down is not a big problem so long as you have a sustainable loan situation and can afford your payments. You keep making those payments, eventually you are going to have equity again. You try to get another loan after default and foreclosure, and you'll find out in a hurry that lenders are not forgiving. Kind of like the Wild Bunch in a way - mess with one, you mess with them all. Lots of folks are thinking that the smart thing to do is walk away when you're upside down. Even if they do have a non-recourse loan, they're going to find out soon enough that wasn't so smart. Making the payments on a sustainable loan lowers the balance, and values are going to come back - sooner than a lot of people think. Put the two together, and as long as you can hold out until you have equity again, you're better off making those payments.

These standards do, and always have, arisen out of "cut and try". Experience really is the best teacher - unfortunately getting that experience has a habit of being kind of rough. Experience may also be what you get when you didn't get what you wanted - in this case, a satisfactorily paid loan - but the lenders have regulators after them, and those regulators are sensitive to political pressures, and sometimes regulators won't let lenders do something they really do want to do - like loan money with a level of qualifications regulators look askance at - because if the lender makes enough bad loans, even if they survive financially, the regulators may decide they're doing something they shouldn't, and shut the lender down for predatory lending practices. It takes a long time and a lot of evidence to persuade lenders and regulators to relax standards, while a comparatively few bad experiences will have them toughening standards. Over-tightening lending standards has major bad effects upon everyone, including causing foreclosures that would not otherwise have happened, but it's hard to point to any specific victims and there's always idiots with a political axe to grind who will claim the people hurt by over-tightening standards were themselves victims of predatory practice. Right now, both lenders and regulators have been royally burned, and so they don't want to assume any risks they can avoid. This will likely change within a couple years, but for now, that's the way it is. You can learn what you need in order to qualify and get your loan approved, or you can go without. Right now, most lenders are too paranoid to care that having their standards too tight means they lose profit, because they've been burned too much, and the money they have in their accounts is not at risk from having made bad loans. When they make between six and eight percent per year on a successful loan, out of which they have to pay taxes, employee wages, facilities costs and everything else, a one in 100 chance of losing the entire investment to a bad loan is unacceptable, and although the default rates on newer loans is practically zero, they're still working through the bad stuff made during the Era of Make Believe Loans.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

I keep getting search result hits for the string "fsbo horror." It's an amalgamation because I haven't done any postings on this specific subject.

Both buyers and sellers have problems relating to For Sale By Owner issues.

For sellers, the largest issue seems to be properly disclosing all relevant items to satisfy the liability issue. There are resources available, but the question is whether the you took proper advantage of them and made all the legally required disclosures on any issue with the property there may be. If you have an agent that fails to do this, you can sue them. If you are doing it yourself, the only one responsible is you. You are claiming to be capable of doing just as good a job as the professional, and if you didn't do it right, the buyer is going to come after you. You have all the legal liability.

Now I'm going to leave the marketing and pricing negotiating questions out of the equation, because with a For Sale By Owner most folks should understand that in return for not paying a professional to help you, you've got to do it yourself. What many For Sale By Owner folks seem to fail to understand, however, is that if you haven't met legal requirements, the real nightmare may be just beginning when the property sells.

Let's say it was something fairly innocuous, like seeping water from a slow leak you didn't know about. A couple years pass, and now there's mold or settling. Perhaps the foundation cracks as a result of settling. Bills are thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Your buyer goes back and finds that your water usage went up by fifteen percent in the six months before the sale. He sues, saying that even though you didn't know, you should have known based upon this evidence. Court cases are decided based upon evidence like this every day. A good lawyer paints you as maliciously selling the property as a result of this. Liability: Steep, to say the least.

Now, let's look at it from a buyer's prospective. You have a choice of two identical properties. In one, a seller is acting for themselves, in the other, they have an agent. The price may be a little cheaper on the for sale by owner one, or it may not - usually not. The most common reason people do for sale by owner is greed. But when I'm looking at a for sale by owner, the question that crosses my mind is "Are they rationally greedy, or are they just greedy?" Are they going to disclose everything wrong or that may be an issue with the property? At least here in California, the agent has pretty strong motivation to disclose if something is wrong that they know about. If they don't, they can lose their license, and even if they keep the license, they have potentially unlimited personal liability. If they did disclose, they're probably off the hook, and even if they aren't, their insurance will pay for the lawyers, the courts, and any liability. If there's one thing all long term agents get religion about, no matter their denomination, it's asking all of the disclosure questions.

This is not the case for many owners selling their own property. Some few are every bit as conscientious as any agent. A good proportion, however, are intentionally concealing something about the property. What's going to happen when it comes to light? If there's an agent, there's a license number, a brokerage who was responsible for them, and insurance. The latter two are deep pockets targets for your suit, and you can find them. Once that owner gets the check, you can find them unless they're dead, but they may not have any money. Even if they do have money, it may be locked up and inaccessible via Homestead or any number of other potential reasons.

One of the reasons that I, as a buyer's agent, am always leery of a for sale by owner property is that I have to figure that first off, there's a larger than normal chance that this property has something wrong that's not properly disclosed. When that happens, my client is going to be unhappy. When my client is unhappy, they are going to sue. The first target is the seller, but if they're gone or broke, who does my erstwhile client come after? Me. So I have to figure that not only is there a larger chance of there being something wrong, I have to figure there is a larger chance of me being held responsible for something I took every step I legally could to avoid. For Sale By Owner properties usually have to be priced significantly under the market in order to persuade me that not only am I doing the right thing by my clients by showing them them this property, where my clients have to pay my buyer's agent fee out of their pockets rather than out of the selling agent's commission, but also that the heightened risk of future problems is worth more than the price differential to my clients. Unless the answer is a strong solid "yes" that I can document in court if I have to, I'm going to pass it by in favor of the agent-listed property next door or down the street. That's just the way things are.

Caveat Emptor (and Vendor)

Original here

The easy, general rule is that legitimate expenses all have easily understood explanations in plain english, they are all for specific services, and if they are performed by third parties, there are associated invoices or receipts that you can see.

Let's haul out the Mortgage Loan Disclosure Statement (California) or Good Faith Estimate (elsewhere), and go right down them line by line. To be certain, it's the HUD 1 form that's really definitive, but you don't get that even in preliminary form until you're signing loan documents, and if it's not on the earlier form it shouldn't be on the HUD 1.

Origination is not a junk fee. It can be excessive, but it is a real fee to pay a real service. Relating to this is Yield Spread on the HUD 1, which is what the lender will pay the broker for a loan on given terms. Origination plus yield spread plus line 808 (Mortgage Broker Commission) is what the loan provider makes if they are a broker. If they're a lender, they make a lot more, and they can hide it more easily. Yield Spread and Origination and Broker's Commission are disclosed on the HUD 1, while the price on the secondary market is not disclosed anywhere, and if you're talking to a direct lender, they don't have to disclose Origination or Yield Spread because there may not be any; they can decide to be paid entirely off the premium the loan sells for in the secondary market - and then they tell you you're buying it down from there with discount points. This is why I keep telling people to shop for loans based upon the terms to you. If you evaluate it on the basis of loan provider's compensation, a broker who has to disclose compensation of $4000 is going to look like a worse bargain that the direct lender who does not apparently make anything but turns around and sells your loan for a $25,000 premium. In this example, the broker's loan is likely to be about a point and a half to two points cheaper to you, but if you evaluate it on the basis of who has to tell you how much they make, you lose.

This has gotten an order of magnitude worse this year as the new 2010 Good Faith Estimate treats Yield Spread (for brokers) as a cost and requires it be included in the computation of costs. It isn't a cost at all - it's now money that actually reduces your cost. But bankers used political contributions and connections to ram through a law requiring it to be quoted as if it were a cost, thereby making a direct lender loan appear more attractive than it is when compared to a broker originated loan by someone who doesn't understand this - which is to say the vast majority of the American population. Nor do direct lenders have to so much as disclose how much they are going to make selling the loan on the secondary market. The politicians have deliberately obscured actual cost to the consumer in favor of aiding one class of loan provider over another. I'm planning an article that directly compares the exact same loan done on a correspondent or direct lending basis versus a broker originated loan.

Loan Discount Fee is the fee you pay in order to get an interest rate lower than you would otherwise be offered. It is not junk, but you probably don't want to pay it, as most folks never recover the money they pay to get the lower rate via the lower payments and interest rate charges. Note that you are actually getting something for your money - lowered cost of interest over the life of the loan. It's just that it takes longer than most people realize to recover the money you spend upfront. I never pay discount points for anything except a 30 year fixed rate loan that I'm going to keep at least ten years.

Appraisal Fee is not junk. There is an appraiser who needs to get paid for doing the appraisal. Before this year, many times this got marked PFC on the MLDS/GFE, to make it look like a given loan provider was cheaper than they were. Make no mistake, there's going to be a figure in the range of $400 associated with it eventually, but because it's performed by a third party, the loan provider could (and usually did) pretend it doesn't exist as part of the charges until you have to pay it.

Credit Report is not junk. It's not free to run credit, you know.

Lender's Inspection Fee is usually (not always) junk. You're paying the appraiser. If you're smart, you're paying a building inspector before you buy, and the lender often makes you do it even if you don't want to. Every once in a while, there's a home with a documented pest or structural problem that the owner wants to refinance, and that's where this comes in as non-junk.

Mortgage Broker Commission/Fee: Is all a part of how the broker gets paid. Around here it's origination and yield spread, but this could be part of what a broker gets paid. Origination plus Yield Spread plus this line is the total of what they get paid. If these are larger at closing than when you signed up, that's par for the course most places, unless they guaranteed their fees up front in writing. I do it. I know one other company that does it. Those who are members of Upfront Mortgage Brokers guarantee the total of the items that are their fees, but not the rest of the form. For anyone else, they can and most will change the numbers on these forms within very broad limits (and to illustrate with an example someone recently brought into my office, the difference between one quarter of a point and three points on a $450,000 loan is over $12,000).

Tax Service Fee is not junk, unfortunately.

Processing fee is not junk but it may be negotiable. When it's imposed by the lender, it's not. When it's imposed by the broker, it's to pay the loan processor, which may be negotiated sometimes. Often, some places pretend they're not charging it, while adding a larger margin to origination or discount. It is a real fee, however.

Underwriting fee is real. Lenders charge it to cover paying the underwriters.

Wire Transfer Fee is real, because it costs money to wire money. If you don't need it, don't get it.

Prepaid Interest (line 901) is definitely not junk. This is interest, exactly the same as you're going to pay every month of your loan.

Mortgage Insurance Premium is not junk but may be avoidable.

Hazard Insurance premiums are not junk, either. This money is to put a policy of homeowner's insurance (or renew an existing policy) on the property. Lenders having been burned a few times in the distant past, the insurance policy needs to be in effect from the exact instant they commit their money - half a microsecond later is not good enough for them.

County property taxes are not junk, either (darn!). If you buy during certain periods of the year (e.g. April through June in California), you'll need to reimburse your seller for property taxes they already paid.

VA Funding fee is charged by the VA on VA loans only. Not junk, but if it's not VA, it doesn't have this. As I remember, if you're 10% or more disabled this can get waived.

Reserves deposited with lender are not junk, either. They will be used to pay your fees as they become due. It isn't the lender who owes property taxes and homeowner's insurance. It's you. They're just holding the money.

Title charges: Settlement or Closing Escrow Fee is a real charge to pay the escrow company. Like Appraisal fee, this is often marked PFC, but something like $500 plus $1 per thousand dollars is common.

Document Preparation Fee is mostly real, and actually the lenders do most of it these days. When the title or escrow company need to do it, they will charge fairly steep rates (I've seen $200 for a single sheet document), but you are a captive audience unless you discuss it beforehand.

Notary Fee is to pay the Notary. It's real. It often fell into the PFC trap, previously discussed for Appraisals and Escrow, but you really do need certain documents notarized. Sometimes you can save some money by finding a less expensive notary, but this can bring up other issues, like getting everyone to the same place at the same time.

Title Insurance is real. If it's a purchase, there will actually be two policies of title insurance purchased, one for the new owner and one for the lender. This insures against unknown defects in the title of your property, and yes, title claims happen every day. Lenders won't lend without one. Title insurance is another one of those third party fees that got marked PFC so that less scrupulous loan officers could appear to be less expensive than their competition.

I'm going to mention subescrow fees here, even though they aren't preset onto the form, and are not only junk but also avoidable if your agent did their job. The title company charges them because they are usually asked to do work that is, properly speaking, the realm of the escrow company. But if you choose a title company and escrow firm with common ownership, they will likely be waived.

Government Recording and Transfer Charges are not junk. They are charged by the county, and they are not avoidable, nor should you want to. Recording fees and tax stamps (if applicable) are just part of the cost of doing business. Beware of one provider pretending it doesn't exist while another honestly discloses it.

Additional Settlement Charges. Pest Inspection is the only one on the form, and it is not junk. You want a pest inspection if you're buying the property. The lender can require it in some circumstances upon refinance.

Now, you'll notice that of the permanently etched items on the form, there's not a lot of junk, but everybody keeps talking about high junk fees. What are these, and where are they?

Well, most of the things that people talk about as junk fees aren't junk fees. These are fees like Appraisal fee, escrow, credit report, notary, etcetera. These are, incidentally, half or more of the closing costs for most loans. They may have been hidden from you on the initial form, but they're not junk. They are essential parts of the process, and if you don't see explicit dollar values associated with them, somebody is trying to lie about their fees by not telling you about all of them. It's not like you're going to somehow not pay them. They're just pretending you're not in order to get you to sign up with them.

This has diminished significantly this year with the advent of the 2010 Good Faith Estimate. The regulators may be intentionally deceiving consumers about the costs of broker loans versus the cost of direct lender loans, but they did one thing to the benefit of the consumer - if it's not on the Good Faith Estimate, there are now fewer circumstances where the lender is permitted to raise what they disclose, so there is less pretending a loan is going to be all but free and then socking people for $12,000 in closing costs.

Nonetheless things that really are junk fees are a real problem, but the reason they're not among those listed on the form is that the items listed on the form are mostly real. It's the extra stuff that gets written into the extra lines that you've got to watch out for. It was fine and legitimate for a loan officer to write "Total of lenders fees $995" or however much it was, although the new 2010 Good Faith Estimate no longer permits this. On the HUD 1, these should be broken out into separate charges, but this way the loan officer only has to remember one number. As long as they add up correctly, no harm and no foul, and it doesn't make any difference to you whether it's underwriting and document generation or spa visits for their senior management, it's part of doing business with that lender. What is probably not legitimate is to start writing all kinds of other fees. Miscellaneous fees. Packaging fees. Marketing fees. Legitimate Messenger fees should be something you know about because you need them at the time they happen. But the majority of messenger fees are the title/escrow company trying to get you to pay for daily courier runs that happen anyway. If you choose the right title/escrow combination, you should be able to avoid them in most cases.

It is also a common misconception that all junk fees are lenders junk fees. I don't impose junk fees on my clients, and I do my best to keep title and escrow from doing so. However, coming into situations other loan officers have left behind where it's best to simply go with what's already in place, title companies and escrow companies, in general, appear to impose about an equal amount in junk fees with most loan providers. This is also changing now with the new Good Faith Estimate which makes lenders and loan officers liable for the extra fees - as a result of which title and escrow companies who don't want to lose business are cleaning up their act. I have told more than one title and escrow representative that the first time I end up paying their extra fees out of my pocket will be the last dime their company sees from my clients. Multiply this by the number of loan officers in the country, and you can see that they've suddenly gotten a powerful incentive to treat broker clients, at least, honestly.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

(This is an updated reprint of an article written in February 2007. The Era of Make Believe Loans that made it easier to qualify people for inflated loan amounts ended abruptly a few days later, but the sort of thinking that set people up for later default is still with us)

Not very long ago, a woman who was impressed by my website called because she wanted to get pre-qualified for a loan. "Great!" I told her, and proceeded to ask about her income and her monthly obligations and everything else, and came up with a figure of about $220,000 that she could realistically afford. If you're familiar with San Diego, you know that that's a 1 bedroom condo, or maybe a small two bedroom in a not so wonderful area of town. Even with prices down now, it's definitely not a house. With a Mortgage Credit Certificate, it got to maybe $260,000. If she bought somewhere there was a Locally based first time buyer program also, that would add whatever the amount of the program was, but the only one with money actually available was a place she didn't want to live. If we went so far as to go interest only, we might have boosted the base loan amount as high as $300,000. Severe fixer houses might be had for $350,000 or so - and she had the literature for a brand new $700,000 development. She had her upgrades and drapery all picked out, too. So I tried to be gentle in pointing out that the property appeared to be a bit more than she could afford.

Was she grateful? Heck no! She then asked, "How am I supposed to afford a house with that?" She was spitting mad! She acted like I was personally standing there saying "None Shall Pass!" (about a minute and a half in). "Well, if you won't qualify me for a house, I'll go find someone who will!"

I'm sure she did find someone to tell her she could have a $700,000 loan if she wanted it. Put negative amortization together with Stated Income or NINA, and there are any number of people out there who will not only keep their mouths shut about the consequences to you, but aid and abet you in staying ignorant about those consequences - at least until they've got their $25,000 commission check. And you know, I can do that loan also, if you don't mind that real interest rate adds $100,000 to what you owe over the course of three years and the payment all of a sudden adjusts to over four times what you can afford, and you lose the property and your credit is ruined for at least ten years. Not to mention the fact that rarely do people allow the mortgage payment to go south on its own.

There is no conspiracy keeping you away from home ownership. There is no smoke filled back room deal setting the price of properties such as the one she wanted out of her reach. Lest you be unaware, here in Southern California, we haven't been building enough new housing for the people who want to live here for thirty years now. Those desirable properties are highly priced because they are scarce, and the prices are where they are because that's where the supply of such properties balances the number of people who want them badly enough to pay those prices. Notice that I did not say, "The number of people who can afford those prices." This is intentional. If you want them bad enough, there are lots of loans out there, and at the time, there were lenders eager to make them, such that you could have that dream house - for a while. But the way financing works is like the laws of physics. Specifically, like gravity. It's there, all the time, pulling away, and there is no analog to the ground that holds us up. Think of it as an very tall elevator shaft going both directions from where you start. This month's interest is gravity, pulling you down. What you're paying is like the upward thrust of a rocket, pushing you up. When you make an investment (and a property is an investment), you want to go up, but if pull down is more than thrust up, you start going down instead. Furthermore, we are talking in terms of acceleration, not just velocity. If down is more than up next month, too, you're now going down even faster. And so on and so forth.

But the elevator shaft is never infinite going down, and now ask yourself what happens when you're going down, at a speed you've been building up for months and months, and the elevator shaft ends? I've been watching old cartoons on TV sometimes, and I've noticed that they usually don't show Wile E. Coyote's impact any more, but what just happened to you makes the time he got caught under the anvil, the lit cannon, and the huge falling rock look like a love tap.

Real estate agents don't set prices. The market does that in accordance with supply and demand. In southern California, there's twenty million plus people demanding housing and not enough being built. You want to change this, take it up with politicians. All buyers agents can do is try and find the best bargain out there, while listing agents are trying to get the most possible money.

Your budget is your budget. You make what you make. You spend what you spend. Your savings is what you have saved plus what it has made. You can afford more for a home if you make more, spend less, save your money, and invest it effectively. If you don't do these things, you can't afford as much. Indeed, most people kill their budget voluntarily, by spending more than they need to. It isn't my opinion that matters, or anyone else's. All of these are cold hard numbers. You know what you make, you know what you spend. If you could do better, that's something for you and your family to work with. All a loan officer can do is work with the numbers as they are.

These numbers give the payments you can afford and your down payment. The rates are what they are. The variations in available rates are smaller than most people think. Actually, the largest difference in rates and their associated costs is how much the loan providers want to make for doing your loan (and whether they will admit it). Not the only difference, but the largest one. The second largest difference is in finding the loan program that is the best fit. When you put all of these factors together, if you come up with variations of more than half a percent for the same loan at the same cost, then I will bet money that either the higher quote wants to gouge you badly, the lower rate is not quoting something they can really deliver, or possibly both. The point is this: If someone working with real numbers says that you can afford $X, any pre-qualification or pre-approval you get that's more than about 5% different should set alarm bells ringing.

So now let's revisit Ms. Eyes Bigger Than Her Wallet. She thinks all she has to do is say "Abracadabra!" and the whole thing will work out. But the interest rate is what it is, which means the monthly cost to have that loan is fixed - if she didn't bump it up by wanting something she can't afford. That lender is run by some pretty smart people, who understand all of this extremely well. They have the assistance of some very sharp lawyers in writing those loan contracts. One thing I can absolutely guarantee is that if they don't get their money - all of their money - you will be even unhappier than they are. The upshot is that the vast majority of the people who think they're solving their problems with a wave of some magical wand and the phrase, "Abracadabra!" are in fact doing something Unforgivable to their own financial future, roughly equivalent to pointing that magic wand at their own finances and mangling the pronunciation to "Avada Kedavra"

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

Copyright 2005-2014 Dan Melson All Rights Reserved

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