This article was inspired by closing one of many transactions where my clients did not make the high bid (or even close), but did get the fully negotiated purchase contract and the property. By building an airtight case that this client was capable of promptly consummating the transaction, I persuaded a rational seller to accept less money than they might theoretically have gotten from another interested party.

Let me make it very clear that this does not work every time, and you have to offer them something else they want that nobody else is offering. It takes a seller with a certain amount of knowledge of the market to make it work, and their agent cannot be clueless either. Your first time home seller with no knowledge of the reasons why transactions fail, or how frequently, is not likely to realize where the probability of money is. So after that seller eats carrying costs for the property for two to three months at several thousand dollars per month before they discover that the buyer cannot consummate the transaction, they might start to get rational about what's important - providing they haven't lost the property to foreclosure in the meantime.

The better the agent is, the more likely they are to be on the side of the more certain transaction. Over forty percent of all escrows started in the last year locally did not result in consummated transactions. Why did all those transactions fall apart? The loan couldn't be done. No other reason but "the loan couldn't be done." Transactions that fall apart for other reasons - newly discovered major repairs, and all of the little problems with interpersonal relationships that strike between contract and recording - are mostly unknowable in advance. We can all spot the purchase offer (or seller's counter) that says "Danger, Will Robinson!" but most of them aren't that bad. And the fact is, no matter how unwilling sellers may be to deal with newly discovered issues, they're stuck with them and the buyer isn't. Nobody's going to buy a house where you can't flush the toilets, as I had to explain at length to a listing agent not too long ago by way of explaining why his client was going to have to replace septic or hook it up to the sewer (Indeed, both law and lenders will make it very difficult). The most important question in the mind of any rational seller or listing agent has got to be, "What assurance do I have that this buyer can consummate this transaction in a timely fashion?"

As a buyer's agent, that's what you want to sell in a competitive bid situation: increased certainty of the transaction happening.. Confidence that you and your client can make it happen, given the opportunity. Show the sellers why these buyers are qualified. Telling nothing but the truth, paint a coherent picture of an easy transaction. This is one of the big reasons why real estate agents need to understand loans, whether they're on the listing or buying side. Walk the walk, don't just talk the talk. If your clients are all cash buyers, pound the point home - demonstrate they've got the cash in the bank and get rid of that financing contingency! What's the credit score? What's the income, how stable is it, what's the debt to income ratio? The loan to value ratio? With client approval, you can even remove the account numbers from statements, and show them where the funds for the down payment are coming from!

Pre-Approval or Pre-Qualification letters will not get this job done. Neither one of them means anything real. I'll write them because other agents want them (usually for pure cover their *** after the transaction fails - again - because they don't understand what they're doing), but the only one I trust is one that I wrote. Why should I expect any other agent to give them any more weight?

The more qualified the buyers, the bigger the down payment and deposit they're bringing in, the better this works. A good sized deposit says you and your buyers are confident you can get it done, particularly if you'll waive one or more of the usual contingencies.

You do need both a good agent and a good loan officer to make it work. If the loan officer and agent are both the same person, that's even better, but this isn't happening with a discounter if the listing agent has more than an hour in the business, even if they're a discounter themselves (although I've never had a competitive bid situation happening with a discounter's listing. I don't wonder why, and you shouldn't either).

This pretty much can't work if you're in a Dual Agency situation. That agent counsels the owner to take the offer made where they get both halves of the listing commission, but the owner gets less money? Ten minutes in court or a regulatory hearing and that agent is toast. Yes, some agents are that stupid - but this is a mistake nobody makes twice, because once puts them out of the business. Not to mention that that owner is going to figure that the agent is out to line their own pocket at their client's expense.

For my buyer clients, I'm always looking for something valuable to the seller that isn't cash, or isn't purchase price cash. A high likelihood of the transaction closing is one of the best, because it doesn't cost my clients a darned thing, and yet it really is valuable to sellers.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

I don't know how many people have told me the story of the Purchase Offer That Was Accepted But Couldn't Be Done. They come to me because they lost their deposit or are about to and they want some way to make it not happen.

But it's never happened to offers I write for my buyer clients. I doubt it ever will. There are many reasons why real estate agents need to know and understand loans. First off, to save their backside. Somebody defaults on a purchase money loan, the agent is an obvious target to drag in. E&O insurance plus fiduciary responsibility equals rewarding target for lawsuit. The second reason is even more important than that: Saving the client relationship. What could possibly be more damaging for a buyer's agent than losing a client's deposit? There really isn't much. When I write a purchase offer, the built in structure is always of a loan I know that I can do.

This is particularly important where there's less than 20% down payment being contemplated. For about ten years, there was pretty much always been a loan that could be done, no matter how poorly qualified someone was. Many real estate agents got used to that, writing (and accepting) purchase offers essentially "in the blind" as far as the loan went. That has now gone by the wayside. Stated Income and NINA loans are no longer available as I write this. Even full documentation loans add new curlicues every week as burned investors add more and more things they won't do to the list. Even if you make plenty of money, any loan over 80% loan to value ratio has far more stringent qualifications than a few years ago, and 90% or higher loan to value ratio is very difficult unless there's government insurance involved.

All government programs - VA loans, FHA Loans, FHA Secure (not a purchase money program), Mortgage Credit Certificate, and locally based first time buyer assistance - every one of these has always required qualifying based upon full documentation of enough income to repay the loan.

Given this, you have to know if you can afford it before you make an offer. You're going to spend roughly $1000 to pay for an inspection and an appraisal as soon as you have an accepted offer, not to mention you're tying up a deposit of several thousand dollars in escrow - a deposit that's potentially "at risk" if you are unable to qualify for the loan that will allow you to purchase the property.

I know that I'm not very respectful of pre-approval, let alone pre-qualification. This is because there are no real standards for either one, and I've seen enough pieces of paper swearing a loan could be done when it in fact could not to make a fair sized bonfire. There are several reasons for this. There just isn't anything to gain personally, and everything to lose, for a loan officer to tell someone "Sorry, but you do not appear to qualify." So they issue the pre-qualification or pre-approval on hope and a prayer, because they might be able to get a loan done. You do not want this to happen to you. Even if they tell you truthfully that you need to reconsider your loan and your purchase, you are provably better off than if they string you along with messages like Think Happy Thoughts About Your Loan and you end up spending money for the appraisal, inspection, etc, and end up losing your deposit. Probably the best way to insure that this doesn't happen is to insist upon a frank discussion of what the qualification standards are, and what your limits are under those standards. If you're right at the edge of qualification standards, might I suggest you consider "pulling back" slightly? There are often bumps in the road and you don't want one bump to mean you cannot qualify.

You want to make the loan officer go over the numbers with you. Debt to Income ratio, Loan to Value ratio. Add up all of your other debt, add up the full payments for principal and interest, property taxes, and homeowner's insurance. What percentage of your verifiable monthly income (monthly average over the past two years) is that? How much do you have available to use in your bank and investment accounts? Does that cover the projected down payment and sufficient money above that for the closing costs you'll need to pay? If you need to buy the loan down with three points in order to qualify on debt to income ratio, is there still enough available to make the required down payment?

In some cases, writing the purchase offer correctly - structuring the transaction with the loan in mind - can make a difference between a loan and a purchase that can be done, and one that cannot. This is definitely the case if you are looking for a loan over eighty percent of property value. The only 100% financing available right now the the VA loan. It can be done, even in declining markets, but you have to be extremely careful to write that purchase offer in consideration of loan requirements.

If your real estate agent is a highly qualified loan officer, it's no sweat. I write every purchase offer with prospective loans in mind. If I don't know I can do the loan, I find another way to write the purchase contract so that it can be done.

The time of writing a purchase contract and worrying about the loan after acceptance is gone, and it may not return. Even for well qualified borrowers with plenty of income and down payment, it can't hurt to get a loan officer involved when making an offer. For those with marginal income and not much down payment, getting a loan officer involved before you write an offer (or accept a counter) can make the difference between a viable transaction, and one where everyone's wasting their time and money. Yes, you can potentially renegotiate a purchase contract later. Is there anyone who wants to tell me that's as good as getting it right in the first place? Do you think you might be opening the door to issues of trust between buyer and seller getting in the way on those renegotiations? Do you think that the seller might demand fresh concessions, where if it had been negotiated correctly in the first place, you would have something that's essentially the same terms as the initial contract? Not to mention time lost, delays in closing, opportunities for the entire transaction to go south? Write your offers with loans that can and cannot be done firmly in mind, and you won't need to renegotiate for the sake of the loan.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

I get people asking me about how much their mortgage loan providers make, usually with an idea towards negotiating it down but often with the idea of choosing one loan or the other based upon the loan officer's compensation. This is a bad idea.

First off, there are several forms loan officer compensation takes. There is so-called "front end" compensation paid directly by borrowers. There is "back end" compensation paid by lenders, also known as yield spread (or SRP for correspondent lenders). There are also volume incentives given by most lenders, and promotional give backs and offsets. Then there are times when the loan officers is holding out their hand for kickbacks behind your back or by "marking up" third party services that they order on your behalf. This is illegal, but it still happens. Finally, for direct lenders, there is the premium they earn by selling your loan on the secondary market, a figure which is usually several times all of the others and which is the reason why those are paid, but does not need to be disclosed at all. Trying to judge a loan by loan officer compensation is very difficult if they are trying to hide it.

Furthermore, it's actually a distraction from what is most important, namely, the best possible loan for you. For instance, a couple of weeks before I originally wrote this, I was shopping a loan for a decidedly sub-prime prospect. The lowest quote I got enabled me to give a quote of a 7.25% retail rate at par, which is to say no discount points to the borrower. But that lender was better than half a percent better than their nearest competition because this borrower fit neatly into one of their targeted niches. Had I merely not shopped that loan with that lender, the best I could have done would have been 7.8 percent at par, and one full point from the borrower would only have driven it down to 7.3 percent. Now suppose I didn't shop that one lender who gave me the best price, and my competition had found something even better, say a 7.00 percent par rate loan. For that particular loan, they could have made a full percent and a half of that loan amount more than I did, and still delivered a better loan for the client.

In point of fact, I actually beat my competition by quite a bit, But the point I am making is still valid. Judge the loan by the best loan for you: Type of loan, rate, and total cost in order to get that rate.

Furthermore, brokers and people who work at brokerages legally must disclose their company's compensation from other sources, while direct lenders do not. Direct lenders are making, if anything, more for the average loan than the brokerages, but because they do not have to disclose compensation not paid by the borrower, if you try to use loan officer compensation as a way of judging the value of the loan, the direct lender will look better than the broker for most loans. Until, that is, you go and compare the loans they actually were prepared to deliver from the most important perspective: What it means to you, the consumer. A 6 percent thirty year fixed rate loan with no pre-payment penalty that cost you a grand total of $3500 is a better loan than a 3/27 that has a pre-payment penalty, cost you $8700, and is at a rate of 6.25%, regardless of how much the respective loan officers or their companies made, or would have made. Loan Officer compensation is a distraction from what's really important. Much more important is the loan they are willing and able to deliver, it's type, rate, costs, and whether or not there is a pre-payment penalty.

PS: If the loan is better for you than any other loan you're offered, it shouldn't matter if the loan officer or bank is making more than the amount of your loan. In such a situation, they won't be, but focusing on their compensation - or actually, what a given loan officer is required to disclose of their compensation - is entirely the wrong concern. Choose based upon the bottom line to you.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

Just like Mohandas Gandhi and Genghis Khan and Attila the Hun were (despite their differences) all human beings, lenders (despite their differences) make money by lending money to people who want it.

That's about the limit of the truth in that statement.

Lenders do, by and large, get their money to lend from the bond market. But not all lenders get their money from the same part of the bond market. Some get the money from low-risk tolerance folks looking for security, and willing to accept comparatively low rates. Some get the money from high risk tolerance folks looking for more return for their risk. Within each band, there are various grades and toughnesses of underwriting. A lender with tough underwriting will have a very low default rate, and practically zero losses. A lender with more relaxed underwriting will have more defaults, and higher losses, meaning they must charge higher rates of interest in order to offer the investors the same return on their money.

When I originally wrote this, I had literally just finished pricing a $600,000 loan for a client with top notch credit and oodles of income (he's putting $800k down). Even A paper and with the yield curve essentially flat, I got variations of three eighths of a percent on where their par rate was. Every single one of them had significant differences in how steep the points/yield spread curve was (if you need these terms explained this is a good place). For one lender it was "offsheet pricing" below their lowest listed rate. This lender is more interested in low cost loans, and they take it for granted that folks will not be in their loans very long. This lender is appropriate for those who are likely to refinance within a few years. For another lender, it was "offsheet pricing" above their listed sheet prices. This lender specializes in low rates that cost multiple points, so they can market lower payments. For those few people who really won't sell or refinance for fifteen years, these are superior loans.

Which do you think is really better for the average client? Well, let's evaluate a 6.5 percent 30 year fixed rate loan that costs literally zero (I get paid out of yield spread, while rebating enough to the customer to cover all their costs), with a 5.875% 30 year fixed rate loan that costs $3400 plus two points. I always seem to be computing $270,000 loans here, but since this was "jumbo" pricing and a $270,000 loan is "conforming", which carries lower rates, I'll run through both.

The 6.5 percent loan is zero cost to the client. Nothing out of pocket, nothing added to the loan balance. Gross Loan Amount: $270,000. The 5.875% loan cost 1.875 points in addition to $3400 in closing costs. Gross loan amount $278,625. You have added $8625 to your mortgage balance to save yourself $98.40 per month. You theoretically are ahead after 88 months (7 years, 4 months), but not really even then.

Every so often I get a question that asks why they can't have A for the price of B. The answer is the same as the reason why you can't have a Rolls Royce for the price of a Yugo. Another funny thing about Rolls Royces is how expensive they are to maintain. A middle class person with a Rolls better plan on living in it. The funnier thing is that in the case of loans, your friends, family and neighbors can't even see you in it, so there is no point in a "Rolls Royce" home loan except for utility, and if it's not paying for itself, then there is no utility (or negative utility, i.e. something you don't want), and therefore, money wasted.

Now, let's crank the loans through five years - longer than 95 percent plus of all borrowers keep their loans, according to federal statistics - and see which is really better for most borrowers. The 5.875% loan makes monthly payments of $1648.17. Over five years - 60 payments - they pay $98,890 and pay their balance down to $258,869. Total principal paid: $19,756. Actual progress on the loan (amount owed less than $270,000): $11,131. Interest paid: $79,134, which assuming a 30 percent combined tax rate, saves you $23,740 on your taxes.

Now let's look at that 6.50 percent loan that didn't add a penny to your balance. Monthly payments of $1706.58, total over five years $102,395. Looking pretty awful, so far, right? But your total amount owed is now only $252,750. Total principal paid: $17,250. But this same number is also the actual progress! Interest paid $85,145, and assuming 30 percent combined tax rate, same as above, it gives you a tax savings of $25,543.

Now let's consider where you are after five years.

With the 5.875% loan, you saved $3505 on payments. But you also owe $6118 more, and the 6.5 percent loan saved you $1803 more on your taxes. Furthermore, if you've learned your lesson about high cost loans, and rates are as low when you refinance or sell (6.5 percent on your next loan), it's going to cost you $397.67 per year from now on for that extra $6118 you owe! Net cost: $4416 plus nearly $400 more per year for as long as you have a home loan. Assuming that's "only" 25 years, your total cost is $14,358. I never spent so much money to save a little for a little while!

Now, let's consider that $600,000 loan in the same context. After all, the pricing really applies there (conforming rates are lower). Appraisal costs a little more, and so does title and escrow, for jumbo loans on million dollar houses. Let's say $3700 in costs. Your new 5.875% loan would be for $615,236 (disregarding rounding). Payment $3639.35, which over 5 years goes to $218,361 in payments. Crank it through 60 payments, and you've paid the loan down to $571,612. Principal paid $43,388, actual progress $28,388. Total Interest paid, $174,973, which assuming a combined 40% tax rate (higher income to qualify!) gives you a tax savings of $69,989.

At 6.50 percent, the payment on a $600,000 loan is $3792.40. Times 60 payments is $227,544. Crank the loan through those 60 payments, and you've paid the loan down to $561,666. Principal paid and actual progress made: $38,344. Total interest paid $189,209, which at the same combined 40% rate is a tax savings of $75,684.

With the 5.875% loan, you saved $9183 in payments. Yay! However, you owe $9946 more, paid $5695 more in taxes, and on your next loan, assuming it's at 6.5 percent, you pay $646.49 per year in additional interest. Total cost is $6458 plus $646 per year for as long as you have a home loan, which assuming that's 25 years equates to a total of $22,620!

Which of these two loans and lenders is better for you? Well, if you're going to stay 15 years or more and never refinance, the lender who wants to give you the 5.875% loan. That rate wasn't even available from the 6.5 percent lender. On the other hand, if you're like the vast majority of the population that refinances or sells within five years (for whatever reason) you really want the 6.5 percent loan whether you knew it before now or not, which also was not available from the 5.875 percent lender.

The billboards advertising rates aren't going to tell you cost, of course. They're trying to lure clients who don't know any better, and often they're playing games with the loan type as well. But when the rate spread between the rate they're selling and APR is over 3 tenths of a percent, you know they're building a blortload of costs into it. Keep in mind that the examples I used were almost two full points in addition to basic closing costs, and they were each only about a 0.25% spread between rate and APR. Most people are never going to recover those costs in the time before they refinance or sell. The lender who offers you 6.5 percent for zero cost is probably offering you a better loan.

Now, there were lenders targeting the markets between these two lenders, some that overlapped the whole market, and even another lender specializing in rates even lower and with higher pricing. Keep in mind that this article was limited to A paper 30 year fixed rate loans, which are limited in what they can possibly accept by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac rules. Once you get out of the A paper market and especially down into sub-prime lenders (when sub-prime becomes available again, which it will), the diversity between offerings really multiplies, as the differences they are permitted in target market cover all parts of the spectrum. Some wholesalers walk into my office with the words, "Got any ugly sub-prime today?" Other sub-prime wholesalers ask me about "people that could be A paper but are willing to accept a prepayment penalty to get a lower rate" (I don't use those much). Some want short term borrowers, and their niche is the 2/28. Some want the thirty year fixed with a prepayment penalty. The ones who asked me about negative amortization loans, I threw out of my office but they sold them somewhere. A lot of somewheres, judging from the evidence that they were 40 percent of purchase money loans locally in 2005 and 2006.

So lenders are not all the same. Indeed, every single one of them is different, and you need to shop enough different ones to find the program that's right for you, and ask lots of questions every time. Just asking about rate is not going to make you happy, as I hope I have just demonstrated. If you walk into their office, they're not going to tell you that you're not the client they're really looking for unless they just don't have any loans at all that you qualify for (and if you're in this category, do not blindly accept any recommendations they make. Most places, they're sending you to the place that pays the most for the referral, not the lowest cost provider appropriate for you).

Caveat Emptor

Original here

Here was an idea I had: Pack a list of the most important things consumers need to know about buying real estate, as packed into the words I can say in sixty seconds without sounding like an over-clocked squirrel.

Here goes:

Spend some time making your property shine before you put it on the market. Doing it yourself is better than giving an allowance. Spend the effort to find a good listing agent, and sign a listing agreement at least a week before you want people to know your property is for sale. Consult the agent as to what can be done to make the property more attractive before anyone sees it. Agree to pay your listing agent for the good they do, and offer buyer's agents at least an average commission - you don't want them trying to sell someone else's instead property to the people who like yours.

The property is only worth what someone will pay. Price it correctly from day one. You'll end up with more money, faster, than if you start too high and reduce the price. Not all goods are in the form of cash - decide what's important to you, what's not, and how much money it's worth, before you have an offer.

Once the property hits the market, make the property as available for showing as you possibly can. If you don't show it when people want to see it, they might not come back. If you possibly can, don't be there when your prospective buyers are.

Negotiations are give and take. You shouldn't expect to get unless you're willing to give, and a stubborn attitude can sabotage your sale. Remember, you have a property and you want cash. There are lots of other properties out there

How's that?

Original article here


I've been saying this for a long time: Short sales are poison for buyers. I don't know why people encourage buyers to look at short sales, because there is no advantage for buyers that I am aware of. In fact, there are several decided disadvantages. I'd much rather make offers on lender owned property, or anything else for that matter. Short sales are the absolute bottom of the barrel as far as buyer desirability.

For those sellers who desperately need to sell, which is pretty much every short sale, I really am sorry. But I have a fiduciary responsibility to my buyer clients, who come to me wanting a better property for less money, and less hassle. The facts of life in short sales work against getting a bargain, while sabotaging our (mine and my clients) ability to control the transaction. Therefore, I advise against. Much better for buyers to look for lender-owned or other property.

The main issues lie with the lenders, who are in denial of the situation. I've never come across anyone in any lender's short sale department who didn't have their head stuck in cloud-cuckoo land. Instead of making a prompt approval or disapproval of an offer, they sit and delay and hope for a better one. When I originally wrote this, I would usually have the purchase financing ready to go in about two and a half weeks from the date of the purchase contract. For any other property, it's pretty trivial for the listing agent to be ready to close by then. We're done, and my client is happy.

For short sales, we usually won't get word as to what the lender is going to do for at least a month after that. I've literally never had an approval from a short sale lender within what used to be a normal escrow period of thirty days. This has implications for the buyer's loan. Mortgage Loan Rate Locks are more expensive for longer periods. Pulling a rate sheet at random, a 45 day rate lock adds a sixth of a point to the costs for a thirty day lock, while a sixty day lock adds four tenths of a point. On a $400,000 loan, this works out to roughly $667 and $1600, respectively. If you need an extension, a tenth of a point (roughly $400) buys five calendar days. Some lenders aren't extending locks at all for loans above the conforming limits. Or buyers can float the rate, leaving themselves at the mercy of the financial markets as to the loan they might eventually get. None of these is an optimal situation from a buyer's point of view.

When they do respond, the short sale lender will always try to squeeze more money out of the transaction. They're in denial about their loss, with the practical effect of making that loss worse. The property is only worth what it's worth. The first few days on the market are the best time to get the highest offer. If you didn't get an offer then, you're not likely to get more money later, as I said in How to Sell Your Home Quickly and For The Best Possible Price. But loss mitigation departments are congenitally clueless about this - and they will forget whatever you manage to teach them within 4.3 nanoseconds. They are structured towards shaking the most possible money out of the transaction, and seem completely unable to learn that all this does is result in a failed transaction, no matter how many times it happens. What's that definition of insanity again?

So what usually happens (after 45 to 60 days - weeks after my buyer clients could be living in any other property) is that the lender wants two things: A higher price out of my buyers, and a commission reduction on my part. I'm not going to say that I'm in love with commission reductions, but I'll agree in order to make clients happy. But the deal-killer is that they want the buyer to make a higher offer. Ladies and gentlemen, I went out and negotiated a good deal that my client is willing to accept with the seller, despite all of the delays and problems in short sales, and here's this third party essentially vetoing the purchase contract. If I did get a heck of a deal, it's now gone. In any case, my clients are going to be unhappy, being presented with what amounts to an ultimatum: Pay more money or lose the property. Show of hands, please: Is there anybody reading this that would be happy to get such an ultimatum? Unilaterally attempting to alter the purchase contract is forbidden with any other transaction. Why in the world would a rational buyer want to subject themselves to that? Why would any but the most clueless of agents not discourage them from doing so? I'm not going to say it's impossible to get a great bargain on a short sale, but it is highly unlikely.

I do consider my clients being willing to deal with a short sale to be worth some serious concessions in the purchase contract, as does every other buyer's agent with any experience in dealing with them. So it's not difficult to negotiate a pretty good bargain initially - but it's extremely difficult to keep that contract intact when the short sale lender gets involved, because their priority, the only thing that's on their radar screen, is shaking as much money as possible out of all the participants.

Nor is there anything I can do as a buyer's agent that's going to make the transaction fly faster, or prevent the short sale lender from sabotaging it. I can argue until I'm blue in the face. They're not going to listen to me. They might listen to the listing agent, but not the buyer's agent. I can help the other agent with what to say, but I'm still relying upon someone else to convince that short sale lender. Whatever they do, they're going to take their own sweet time responding, hoping for a better offer.

The cold hard statistics is over eighty percent of all short sales fall apart, and most often it doesn't even get as far as whether the buyer is qualified. The short sale lender wants more out of the buyer, wants the seller to come up with more money than they've got, the buyer gets tired of waiting and moves on - something. No matter what is is, my buyer isn't going to be happy. Quite often, I get the blame, at least in my client's mind, for the transaction failing - even after I warned them as to why this was a bad idea in the first place.

If you do get an approval from a short sale lender, quite often they're written on a ridiculously short deadline. Given all of the facts above, I'm not going to advise my buyer clients to spend their money on appraisal, inspector, etcetera until we do have an approval. That's just money thrown away if the short sale lender doesn't approve it. But waiting on them means it's likely to take more than a week to get the loan done once we do have an approval - and dealing with a one week deadline was an actual experience I had once. Not to mention the effects of waiting for such an approval on the buyer's due diligence period, and possible exposure to loss of my client's deposit (at the very least, it's sitting there tied up in escrow while everything gets sorted out).

Seller paid closing costs, integral to most transactions currently, are also extremely difficult to get approved. These are money out of the lender's pocket, and they're going to require a higher than what they consider "market" price in order to compensate them. This is intelligent and reasonable, but if you're looking for a bargain due to them not understanding their bottom line, it's not going to happen, and in fact, when one or both of these things are part of most transactions, the "market" is priced to include them. Result: The buyer who needs one or both of these is likely to have to pay more for a short sale than any other property they might fix their eye upon. And those buyers are wanting me to find them a better property, cheaper. Are you still in doubt as to why I advise buyers against short sales?

Since I originally wrote this article, another category of problems has become endemic as well. Listing agents are playing "bait and switch" on the price - advertising prices far lower than any offer the lender will likely accept. Such a sale isn't going to happen, and the agent knows it - but that's sure a good way to get prospective buyer clients to call, giving the listing agent an opportunity to gain a new client! Furthermore, because there are so many of them and they are time intensive, many brokerages are delegating the negotiations with the lender and asking prospective buyers to pay for it.

It is far more fruitful for most buyers to focus on properties in other categories. For this particular property, better to wait until is is lender owned, at which point the bank is on the hook, paying money out of their pocket, and usually the money tied up in this non-performing asset costs that lender heavily in leverage on their working capital. Lender owned properties get turned over to different employees, with different performance incentives, with the instruction of getting that property off the lender's books! The money this costs the lender is their own management's fault.

For any lenders reading this and not liking it: The responsible party is you. If you don't want them to become lender owned and cost you much more money, get real about your short sales! Publicize your criteria so buyers and their agents will know they're not getting into a "black hole" situation, and respond in a timely and reasonable fashion without trying to leave people who weren't involved (the prospective buyer and both agents) holding the bag for your mistake. It will save you money by dealing with the situation before it goes to Trustee's Sale.

As far as writing this article goes, the only one I have any sympathy for is the current owner, who really does need to sell. No matter what past sins they may or may not have committed, that owner is currently trying to face reality and deal with it. As the buyer, however, unless you believe that seller's plight is worth wasting several tens of thousands of your dollars, there's nothing you can do. Buyers should avoid short sales. They're not likely to end up happy.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

From an e-mail

I've been talking to agents lately and I ask them about the things I've learned about from your site. I thought I would say things like "I want to apply for a backup loan" and they would say "Good idea!" instead of "Why would you do that?" I try to answer the why and next thing you know none of my why's make sense anymore. Here is a summary of that conversation:


Me: Okay, so I need to get a "pre-approval" or "pre-whatever" from a lender so I can put an offer on this house . . . that sounds fair . . . but I want to shop my loan around and in fact, I want to get a backup loan.

Agent: Backup loan? What for?

Me: Because from what I understand what you are told at first isn't what gets delivered and you are at the mercy of the loan officer if you don't have a backup plan

Agent: They have to fill out the form and give you what they promise so you are protected.

Me: So it's the law that they deliver what they fill out on this form?

Agent: No, it's not the law but they wouldn't dare change the terms or I wouldn't recommend them.

Me: Well, most people don't know they're getting screwed until later and most of the ones that notice don't do anything about it.

Agent: Well, if you hire me to be your agent then you should trust my advice . . . otherwise why would you hire me?

A similar conversation ensued when I talked about a "exclusive" vs "non-exclusive" buyer's agent agreement. "There is no such thing as "non-exclusive"". What is the benefit to you? If I have multiple agents then they all work to find me the perfect house and the one that finds me the one I like is the one that get's rewarded. Nope! If you tell an agent you have other agents he won't work with you. Okay, well, I wouldn't tell the other agents. But any good agent is going to make you sign an exclusive agreement.

Anyway, the sales techniques here are right up there with car salesman.

Let me ask you about your experience with monopolies? Your electric provider, mass transit provider, cable provider - do they furnish top notch customer service? Do you think someone might be able to do better, cheaper? Quite likely, because monopoly situations encourage rent seeking behavior. Monopolies are the classic example of rent seeking - do business with them, or not at all, meaning you're stuck with whatever service they choose to give you at whatever price. Why in the world would you do that to yourself?

Only two possible reasons: You don't have a choice or you don't know any better. You do have a choice in real estate, no matter how much various people may choose to pretend you don't. I certainly haven't noticed any shortage of real estate agents or loan officers. There's something like 7500 licensees in San Diego County alone. That leaves you don't know any better. It doesn't matter whether it's through ignorance or not following through on the knowledge.

In fact, if you think about it, someone who insists upon exclusive rights to your business is telling you they're worried about comparisons to other professionals. They're telling you they're afraid they can't compete and they're not willing to try. Does this sound like someone who's likely to give you the best service? Someone who's not willing to compete?

Just because an exclusive agreement isn't in the consumer's interest doesn't mean that it isn't very desirable for agents. In fact, most agents take a lot of classes in learning how to lock your business up and cut out the competition before anyone else gets to the starting line - several times more training than the average agent ever takes in learning how to actually give good service and good value to their clients. Look at the average agent symposium sometime. There will be easily ten times more offerings in how to get clients and cut out the competition than there will be in how to get your clients the best value. If the average agent doesn't offer a non-exclusive buyer's agency contract, they can pretend such a thing doesn't exist. It does exist; it's available in every state. In California, it's form BBNE in WinForms, the standard computerized package. But if they can persuade you to sign an exclusive contract, they're guaranteed to get whatever buyer's agency commission is due - before they've done any real work, before they've demonstrated that they are really going to guard your interests at all. I've written about the drawbacks of an exclusive agreement before, and even given examples in shopping for an agent, and the games that get played with consumers by agents. If you've signed an exclusive agreement, you're stuck. If you don't, you're not - indeed you keep far more control in your own hands.

Some agents will try to sidetrack you with an exclusive agreement "but you can fire me any time you want!" The first question is where is that written into the agreement? Show me please. In fact, the standard exclusive contract is written to be very difficult to break for any reason. The second question is that even if it is written in, how is that not functionally equivalent to a non-exclusive contract? The answer to that is they've still got your business locked up until and unless they make an obvious blunder. As long as they don't make that obvious blunder, they're still in the driver's seat. But this doesn't mean that they're a good agent - you have no standards for comparison. Indeed, you are agreeing not to acquire any standards for comparison. Matter of fact, they can be the worst excuse for an agent ever and still not make any mistakes that most people are going to fire them for. Plead for one more chance, and most people will give it - dozens of times. The bottom line is that they still avoid any chance at having to compete.

Now just because your agreement is non-exclusive doesn't mean you have to go find other agents. At least half of my clients never talk to another agent. But they have the option of doing so, and that knowledge is one of the things that motivates me to do the best job I can for my clients, and why I keep the list of clients I'm working with at any time short enough so that I'm certain I can handle them all with no deterioration of service. If I don't, they can fire me and find another agent as easy as crossing the street. That motivation just isn't there if you give someone an exclusive agreement. Do you want the agent whose motivation is to concentrate on giving a few clients the best job they can possibly give, or do you want the agent who's a half-notch above getting fired, whose motivations are to lock up as many clients as possible, secure in the knowledge that none of those clients are likely to actually fire them? And if they're confident they can give you such a terrific job, why are they requiring an exclusive agreement? If they're really that good, they should be eager to compete. That's the best confirmation of their abilities possible - the fact that someone else tried and couldn't do it! As I've said, most of my clients see the job I do and never talk to another agent, and most of those who do end up telling me how much I shine by comparison. But it takes confidence in my own ability to offer that non-exclusive agreement. The ones who won't are telling you that they don't have that confidence. Do you think there might possibly be a reason for that lack of confidence?

Probably the largest number of agents and loan officers compete by being what I call "Social predators" Involved in Boy Scouts, Soccer, Little League, the church, PTA, whatever. They try to make those they come into contact feel obligated to do business with them, because they are after all, a good guy (or girl), they help the cause, etcetera. Surely such a person is worthy of trust? Surely they will treat you right? They lock up the business with an exclusive agreement or a large deposit, raising the barrier to competition as high as they can. This effectively sets you up for the kill. My personal experience leads me to believe that such agents and loan officers are responsible for a truly outsized proportion of the people who are losing their property to foreclosure in the current crisis. It seems like everyone I come across who's in the process of foreclosure has a "social predator" story to tell, although many of them don't realize it. Most of them have no clue what happened until I dissect the entire process and show them that their "little boy's wonderful scoutmaster" bent them over and took advantage. The thought process is natural, but the conclusion does not follow from the premise - a thing most people don't understand until how it bit them (past tense) is plainer than the nose on their face.

Ronald Reagan loved a very applicable phrase: Trust but Verify. It's not accident that this principle, which he applied as President, served him and the country very well. On a more personal level, you are willing to trust agents with your business (otherwise you wouldn't be talking to them), but you want to verify that they're earning it. You're not willing to take trust to the level of the spouse who's clueless about their spouse telling them they worked late when they come home at 3AM six nights in a row smelling like someone else's perfume or cologne. This is the best function of a non-exclusive buyer's agency agreement. This means you still have the right to go out and get the only valid standard of comparison: Another agent who has the same opportunity to do the same job as them.

In your situation, I'd be very blunt: "What you're telling me about requiring an exclusive contract makes me believe that you know very well you don't measure up to a good standard. In fact, the harder you argue for an exclusive agreement, the less willing I am to believe you are worthy of one. I'll willingly give you a chance to earn my business with a non-exclusive agreement, but I'm not going to sign any exclusive agreements with anyone. Since you're not willing to sign a non-exclusive agreement, I am wasting my time. Good-bye." They have as long as it takes you to get to the door to change their mind. Walk out and never look back - find someone else who will offer non-exclusive agreement.. In fact, taking this stand in your self defense is the first and most critical point of Shopping for a good buyer's agent. The standard non-exclusive contract is truly a bet you cannot lose as a consumer. There literally is no risk. Doesn't matter if they're a freshly minted licensee who's never done a transaction in their life (How often do you hear that from someone who actually has significant experience?). Go ahead and sign a non-exclusive agreement, and the worst that can happen is they don't get the job done. You're still free to use anyone else who does. You have lost exactly nothing - as a matter of fact, both you and that agent are mathematically, provably better off for having signed that non-exclusive contract! Hiring them thus can only increase the probability function in your favor! This improvement may be marginal or even zero, but so long as you do your due diligence it cannot be negative.

The same thing applies to the loan officer an agent recommends. The reason they're choosing that loan officer has nothing to do with the best choice for you and everything to do with the best choice for them. That's a loan officer they trust not to screw up the transaction by telling you, "You know, I'm not certain you can really afford this property." That's the loan officer they trust, by hook or by crook, to have a loan ready at the close of escrow, no matter what it takes, so that that agent can get paid - and if you're facing foreclosure six months down the line, hey, they got paid. Has nothing to do with how good that lender's loans are, how competitive they are, or any other advantage to you - only that they trust that loan officer to insure their paycheck. That's what the agent is really telling you. The loan officer may be really good, and very competitive on price. Then again, they may not, and the one thing I'd bet significant money on, sight unseen, is that they will never tell you that maybe you're stretching beyond your means - that agent will never send them another client if they do! The only agents I'm certain could tell the difference between good loans and loan officers and bad ones if it bit them are the ones who are also loan officers themselves.

If an agent is recommending a loan officer on the basis of "This person wouldn't dare cheat my clients!", ask them for a copy of the initial MLDS (California) or Good Faith Estimate (the other 49 states) and a copy of the final HUD 1 for that loan officer's last five transactions with their client. (sarcasm on) What, they don't have them? What a surprise (end sarcasm). But if they don't, how can they possibly know whether that loan officer does or does not quote accurately? You've just asked for the only possible evidence, and they don't have it! Nor does this cover how well they compete on price. As long as the terms are the same and the rate/cost tradeoff is better, a loan is a loan is a loan. I used to advise people to apply for more than one loan, but changes in the lending environment have put the kibosh on what was an easy and effective way of managing your loan thus. Now you need to have a real problem solving discussion with several potential loan officers and evaluate the solutions - a much more difficult task for a lay consumer, because neither I nor any other loan officer is doing back up loans any longer. Rate shopping on the phone doesn't cut it any more because loan officers can lie like rugs and low-ball worse than any remodeling contractor and now they can point to a federal form for false credibility

You're right that these sales techniques have a lot in common with used-car sales. Everybody in any sales business wants to avoid competing if they can - it means they don't have to work as hard, and get higher profit margins. Consumers, for their part, need to learn to understand what actions mean, and that actions are important, not words. That's part of the reason why I'm writing this article.

Sales persons, properly handled, are your best friends in the whole world. Nobody solves your problems as well as an expert with the motivation of getting paid for their trouble, and there always seem to be problems that lay people don't realize exist until they're bitten, which is almost always far too late to avoid all the damage that's coming down the pike. Kind of like having a Terminator after you. If you don't have your own very special protector, they're going to get you. I don't like having my clients bitten - not tomorrow, not next year, not ever. One bad transaction can ruin you as an agent or a loan officer, and I intend to be doing this for the rest of my life. So I'll do everything I can to keep it from happening before it happens, and you want someone just as dedicated working for you. The only way to be certain is to watch them in action over time. But if they're asking you to sign that Exclusive Agreement beforehand, how in the heck can you possibly have the knowledge of their business practices to give it to them?

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

This is the conclusion of the series begun in Page One and continued in Page Two

Page Three is where the most blatant lies of this whole piece take place, and the first part of page three is where they are found. It segregates the charges into three different camps: Ones that it claims cannot increase, ones that it claims cannot increase by more than 10% in total, and ones that, supposedly unlike the other groups, can change at settlement.

This is nonsense on stilts, lulling the consumer into a false sense of security.

Loan providers can low-ball every bit as much as they ever could, and this form, in my honest opinion, is the worst part of all because it explicitly states something that is not true. What it really means is that these charges cannot increase without being redisclosed three to seven days in advance of signing the final paperwork. Guess what? Crooked loan officer lies like a rug to get you to sign up, and on day 38 or 42 of a 45 day process is finally forced to tell the truth or something close to it. At that stage of a purchase, there is (thanks to other new regulations) no way on this earth that you're going to be able to get another loan ready before the deadline written into your purchase contract. You have no choice - you are stuck. And the whole concept of back up loans has been killed by changes in the market. Even on a refinance, you've spent the money for an appraisal and other sunk costs. There's no way to force them to release that appraisal to you - not that it would do any good with HVCC in effect. Net result: You're out the money and the time, and many refinances have an external reason forcing them to happen - almost all "cash out" refinances have an external deadline, a time by which the people have to have the money. People are extremely unlikely to begin the process anew at that point in the transaction, which means that the people who LIED to get them to sign up are rewarded with a loan commission, people who told the truth and are spurned by consumers because the lie looks better receive nothing and go out of business, and the federal government is an unindicted co-conspirator to the raping of the consumer by making a false promise that the liar's numbers cannot change.

We've covered how this whole premise is a lie, but let's cover the three categories and how honest loan providers are going to approach them until they go out of business.

The charges that supposedly cannot increase at settlement are loan origination charges, discount charges for the specific interest rate chosen adjusted origination (which I covered in the page one article) and governmental transfer taxes. It is worth noting that even on the new Good Faith Estimate form the government does warn you that discount is changeable until you lock your loan, something that the market is trying to push as close to the day of settlement as possible by imposing high costs on brokers and correspondents for every loan that is locked but does not fund. The reality is that these charges are going to change. Until they started charging me for loans which don't fund, I locked every loan when people said they wanted it. Now I have to float the rate until I'm certain underwriting isn't going to reject the loan. If your loan isn't locked, you are at the mercy of the market even without mixing in possibly foul loan officer intentions. The closest thing to a guarantee even the best most conscientious loan officer can give in the new lending environment is "Everything but the rate/cost tradeoff I can guarantee right now - but I can't guarantee that until we lock your loan, all I can do is tell you what it would be if we locked today" Since the this tradeoff is far and away the largest determinant of the loan you will get, this amounts to guaranteeing the molehill while the mountain moves every day. It would be a useful yardstick for comparison as to which loan to sign up for if lenders had to tell the truth at loan sign up, which they do not.

The charges which supposedly cannot increase more than 10% in total are services that the lender selects, title services and title insurance, required services where you're allowed to shop but the lender ends up choosing the provider, and government recording charges. First off, on purchases trying to get escrow and title companies to honestly disclose their charges is a battle all on its own - I don't know why, as I have no problems getting "one flat rate" quotes from them on refinances. Maybe because it's because they can seduce the less diligent real estate agents by offering them help prospecting for clients, while on refinances they have to deal with loan officers who are competing on price for consumer business. But the same thing applies to this section as the previous - these charges can change without limit if they are redisclosed three to seven days in advance of closing.

The only charges that receive a completely honest treatment from the new form are the ones that the form advises you can change at settlement; These are services that you can shop for and don't have to use providers identified by the lender, such as escrow, title (if you don't use their selected provider), etcetera.

The one thing I do like about this new form comes next, because it tells consumers for the first time anywhere in an official publication that there is a tradeoff between interest rate and cost by telling you that there may be alternative loans available for lower cost at a higher interest rate or lower rates for a higher cost. Of course, this being the government, it misses something important - the changed loan amount or how much money you will receive from the same loan amount if you do choose the different loan.

It then gives consumers an place to write down and compare the loans they are being offered. Once again, this might mean something if prospective loan providers had to tell the truth at loan sign up, which they don't. As it is, this section serves as nothing more than another way to lull the consumer into a false sense of security about what they are being told. If the loan providers are permitted to lie about their loan characteristics and what it costs, the whole exercise becomes a competition to see who can tell the tallest tale believably. Traditional methods of comparison do not help in such an environment, as the numbers they are using to compare are fabrications told for the purpose of securing your business and getting a commission check, because by the time they have to tell the truth most people cannot change loan providers and most of those who could won't.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here


Continued from The 2010 Good Faith Estimate (Page One)

The next section is on origination charges. Indeed it is titled "Your adjusted origination charges"

It starts with "Our origination charges" saying this is the charge for doing the loan. Indeed, that is and has been the meaning of origination for as long as I've been a loan officer. But they want to add other things into it. Furthermore, be advised that prospective loan officers are allowed to change their minds about origination up until 7 days before the final loan documents are signed. In short, they can tell you they are not going to make anything in order to get you to sign up - then decide they want to make 3 points after it is too late for you to change loan providers.

The next subsection talks about "Your credit or charge (points) for the specific interest rate chosen" This is what is traditionally known as discount (in the case of a charge) or yield spread when this money is money paid back into the loan by the lender (I should mention that Congress has essentially banned Yield Spread in loans on the sly - something very disadvantageous to consumers, as you can't do low cost loans without it). Then it offers lenders three different options. They can say it's included in the origination line. This means they're not breaking it out as a separate charge, but lumping it in with true origination. The second option is to tell consumers they will get a credit out of the rate chosen, which does sometimes actually come true in the real world. I have used this credit dozens of times to get clients a true zero cost real estate loan. This usually happens when rates drop precipitously, so instead of seven percent, people can get a loan at 5.5% for literally nothing, as the lender pays enough to pay me and all of the other settlement charges. Of course, people willing to pay those charges get a substantially lower rate - ALWAYS. But if the people know they're going to have to sell or move in a year (not enough time to recover the costs of those lower rates), a zero cost loan saves them money every month they have it because there are no costs to recover. Finally, you could be paying this charge on top of regular origination. The one thing I want you to take away from this part is that origination is going to get paid on every loan somehow, and you need to understand how it's going to be paid before you tell someone you want their loan. And note that none of this is set in concrete at the time you sign up for your loan.

The next set of items is "Your charges for all other settlement services" Unlike previous versions of this form, there's a lot of lumping into sections going on here. Lumping is a good thing, as far as it goes. It lessens the ability of people to pretend that certain charges aren't going to happen. However, keep in mind that at sign up, and up to 3-7 days before final loan paperwork is signed, loan providers can still change all of these simply by giving you another Good Faith Estimate. It needs to be emphasized that the general practice ever since I can remember is to delay telling you about as many of the charges as possible (and pretend the ones they can't are going to be smaller than they are) until it is too late for you to switch loan providers, and the new Good Faith Estimate is doing damned little to change that fact or hamper that practice.

"Required Items that we select" tells you about the service providers that you have no option on. Until 2009, this section should have been blank. Now with Home Valuation Code of Conduct raping consumers and making it difficult for good loan officers and good appraisers, this is where the appraisal needs to be. Loan officers are not allowed to choose appraisers or even appraisal companies in most loans. The appraisal company is predetermined for us and we are not allowed to use anyone else - and that company gets to assign the appraisal to whomever they want. Usually, this is the appraiser who is most desperate for work who submits the lowest bid. If the qualify was there, or if I even had the option to kick bad appraisers off the list, that would be a good thing. As it is, I feel lucky any time an underwriter actually accepts an appraisal ordered under this procedure.

"Title services and Lender's title insurance" Once again it might be nice, if the title insurance company provided complete charges at sign up. About two months ago when the seller chose one in a transaction, they were incomplete to the tune of about $480 when we started the loan, and when I was trying to nail everything down for MDIA compliance, they were still $120 too low on what they actually ended up charging the consumer. I was not happy, and my client even less so. Even if the title company is truthful however, there is no guarantee at loan sign up that a lender will disclose those fees honestly.

"Owner's Title Insurance" This should not be a part of refinancing. As far as I know, owner's title insurance can only be purchased when you buy the property in order to prevent what insurer's call adverse selection. Around here, the title company on purchases is specified by the purchase contract and the lender has exactly zero control over it. Furthermore, every purchase contract I've ever written requires the seller to pay for an owner's policy of title insurance. If they're not willing to pay for the buyer to have a policy of title insurance, there is a reason, and none of the explanations that are really possible is a good situation for the buyer to be getting into.

"Required Services that you can shop for" this means they have to get done, and they have to be paid for, but you can choose by who and the charges are only an estimate. Be aware that no matter how conscientious the loan officer, they can't be held responsible for accurately quoting a service you are going to choose later, either morally or legally. I quote what I can deliver from service providers I know - but you're welcome to take the business elsewhere with the understanding that you are responsible for the outcome of doing so.

"Government Recording charges" these charges are for recording your documents so they become part of the public record. This is a requirement for all regulated corporate type lenders. The mafia or your dad doesn't necessarily have to record your loan - but public lenders do, and it's for your protection as well as theirs. Whatever it is, it's charged by the government, and everyone's charges should be the same because they're passing along a charge. If they're not the same as everyone else, that's a problem.

"Transfer taxes" are charged on the transfer of real estate (or refinancing, in some states) by the government. Once again, everybody should be the same because they are just passing along a government charge where it exists. If someone is different from everyone else, that's a problem.

"Initial Deposit for your escrow account" If you want or are required to have an impound account, the money to seed it is accounted for here, despite the fact that it is not a cost of the loan no matter who or how many people say it is. It is to be used to pay your property taxes and your homeowner's insurance when those charges are due, and when the loan is over, you get any excess back. This is just the lender holding on to your money. Once again, this should be the same for everyone. If one lender is telling you something different, odds are they are low-balling you by telling you you're not going to have to come up with what you are really going to have to come up with.

"Daily Interest charges" go to paying the prepaid interest. You pay interest on every loan for every day you have it. You never ever really skip a mortgage payment - but this is what allows some lenders to pretend that you do. This is not really a cost of the loan - you would be paying it even if you didn't refinance. It should be loan amount times interest rate divided by 12, then divided by 30, times the number of days. The most common method of playing games with this is to pretend that the prepaid interest is going to be for fewer days than actual. On a refinance, it can never ever really be less than thirty (30) - it's usually a day or two more. On a purchase, it's the number of days between closing date and the end of the month, counting both days (in other words, on the first day of a 31 day month, it's 31).

"Homeowner's Insurance" This is the money that will be used to pay for your homeowner's insurance. This is required by all regulated lenders, but I cannot imagine owning a home without having insurance from a solvent company able to pay whatever claims may arise from a widespread natural disaster. So unless you're one of the people who disagrees with me on that, it really isn't a cost of the loan, is it?

Once again, I must emphasize that at sign up, lenders are permitted to low-ball costs, particularly the ones that aren't fixed in concrete by other parties (government fees, prepaid interest, insurance). They don't have to be honestly disclosed until 3-7 days before the final loan documents are signed - far too late to change lenders in most cases. Used to be I could reliably get a purchase money loan done in 17 calendar days or less, a refinance in about 24. With all the regulations building new delays into the system, even if I have everything I need in my hand at the time of application, 45 days is about the quickest loan practical these days. If there is a loan involved, I wouldn't consider a purchase escrow of less than 60 days, and I'd be mentally prepared to extend even that.

Caveat Emptor

The concluding article on page three is now here

Original article here

I had a great rant about the limitations of the Good Faith Estimate all planned out in my head when I when I was in the very first stages of planning this website in my head. It was the first idea I had for an essay, as it is the most commonly abused item in the whole mortgage system of ours, and abuse of the GFE (as the industry calls it) sets the stage for a significant amount of everything else that goes on.

Some people are asking if the new MDIA rules make any difference to this. The answer is emphatically no. They actually muddy the process. The only difference it makes is that crappy loan officers now have to tell you the truth three to seven days in advance of signing final loan documents. Since those same MDIA rules together with other new regulations have stretched what was a seventeen day process a couple years ago into forty or more, you tell me how much good it does the average buyer of real estate to find out 40 days into a 45 day escrow period that they're not getting the loan they thought they were getting. There's no time for a purchaser of real estate to get another loan - they're stuck with that crappy loan. Even on a refinance, how likely are people to start another 45 day process after spending 40 days with the first lender? Furthermore, if you rely upon redisclosure to determine whether or not you were lied to, the waters are even muddier. I just closed a loan last week where everything was exactly what I had quoted the day the folks signed up - but the lender still wanted the redisclosure made to cover their backside, as MDIA has substantial penalties for failing to redisclose, but no reasons not to. At least one lender intentionally refigures the APR in a way different from Regulation Z (which governs APR calculations among other things) to force redisclosure even though that redisclosed APR is not accurate according to Regulation Z!

Nor are the new Good Faith Estimate rules coming into effect on January first going to make any difference. All they mean is that if the fees change (or go outside of a margin allowance in some cases) the lender is going to have to redisclose, exactly like they are doing now, with exactly the same situation for the consumer. Too late to change lenders for buyers, have already spent appraisal money for an appraisal that can't be moved to the new lender, and even for refinances, at a stage where they are just jerking the consumer after the last practical moment to chance as the new lending environment means nobody can guarantee their quotes upon sign up any longer, and nobody is doing back up loans either. Seriously, my opinion of these new rules has evolved since they were published from my initial "they could have done better but this is a good thing" reaction to "This (expletive) was designed to muddy the waters and confuse consumers"

On the other hand, the federal Good Faith Estimate is what we will have to use, and on that note:

The first page, if it was binding, would actually accomplish a little bit of things I've been telling anyone who would listen that we need. If it was binding, it would warn people in advance of all the lenders that pretended they were getting the consumer a sustainable loan for that ridiculously low payment when it was really a negative amortization loan. However, this section is no more binding than any other part of the form and can be redisclosed (i.e. changed) up to 3 days before signing loan documents.

On item 1, the interest rate for the GFE should basically always say the quote is good for today only. If they were required to be totally honest, it would say "This rate is available right now, but may change without notice. Nor are we going to lock your loan until we have a reasonable assurance of it closing". The only way a rate is good for longer than right now is if it's got a "margin" built in to absorb some change. Since this "margin" would mean almost everybody ends up paying more than they would otherwise need to, quote good for longer than right now either are not honest quotes (see my comment upon redisclosure above) or the consumer can get better rates elsewhere. Since the second possibility means that provider becomes less competitive in the marketplace, the first is far more likely.

Item 2, the estimate for settlement charges should be better, but isn't. My company's charges are exactly the same on every loan. The only things that should change are investor charges and third party charges. If I put a loan with lender A, the charges may be as low as $225 while if I put it with lender B the charges may be as high as about $900. I have to consider this alongside of the tradeoff between rate and cost those investors (lenders) offer to determine which is the best investor for the consumer to place the loan with. On refinances, I have "one rate" contracts for third parties (title and escrow, and before HVCCrules came into effect used to be able to do that for appraisals as well, and can usually do it even now. But once again, loan officers intentionally low-ball "forget" to fully disclose these charges at sign up, knowing they are going to disclose the correct charges later.

Item 3 tells your alleged lock period, and if this were any better than the rest of the form, would be a very good thing to disclose to consumers. Item 4 tells people how long before closing they must lock. Expect this number to seven days. Why? Because seven days before closing is the longest period they might have to wait between final redisclosure, which really translates into "finally telling the truth" and loan signing.

Summary of loan is no more binding at loan sign up and no more accurate than it is now. Why? Because they are allowed to change it later, and promising a great deal at loan sign up is how lenders lure people into signing up! But let's go over it anyway

"Your initial loan amount is:" On refinances, this should be current loan amount plus closing costs plus prepaid amounts - unless the loan officer knows you intend to pay those out of pocket because you said so and mutually agreed upon it. If this number is anything else, they are telling you point blank that they are a low-balling liar. On purchases, this should reflect what you are actually borrowing, not just cost of property less down payment. Remember, it's going to cost you some out of pocket money for appraisal, inspection, escrow and title costs, etcetera. This money has to get paid somehow, and the Loan to Value Ratio is measured off the amount actually borrowed versus official purchase price or appraisal, whichever is lower. If you don't have a firm handle on where the money to pay those extra costs is coming from, something is wrong.

"Your Loan term is:" good thing to have and know. Doesn't have to be honestly disclosed at initial sign up any more than anything else, but only the real crooks lie about this.

"Your interest rate is:" Important and critical. But note that it doesn't have to be disclosed honestly here - not until the final disclosure seven days out. Usually the lender actually intends to deliver on this interest rate - just not for the costs disclosed above, and that tradeoff between rate and cost is critical. To pretend they have the rate available for lower cost than real is LYING. It is lying with malice aforethought. I can do loans a full percent lower than what I am currently quoting most people - but for outrageous costs I wouldn't trick my worst enemy into paying!

"Your initial monthly amount owed for principal, interest, and any mortgage insurance is:" What most people think of as the payment. You've got to be able to make it. If the payment needed to be honestly disclosed at initial sign up any more than anything else, might be useful. But as I keep telling people, Never Choose A Loan (or a Property) Based Upon Payment!

"Can Your Interest Rate Rise?" would be a good thing to know if they had to honestly disclose it at sign up. Amazing how many lenders told people who signed up for all of the worst loans of a few years ago that they were getting a thirty year fixed rate loan even past the period when the loan had funded - right up until the people noticed something wrong and they had to come clean. We're not talking just brokers here by the way - some of the biggest name direct lenders in the country did it. Now, they have to tell the truth (guess when?) three to seven days before the final paperwork gets signed - but still not at initial sign up.

"Even if you make payments on time, can your loan balance rise?:" See the above paragraph. Same stuff, different line.

"Even if you make payments on time, can your monthly amount owed for principal, interest and any mortgage insurance rise?:" Same caveats, iteration three

"Does your loan have a prepayment penalty?:" I will bet you money that this remains one of the most common things loan providers lie about to get people to sign up. They can and do change it later. Same caveats, iteration four

"Does you loan have a balloon payment?": This isn't a common point of lying at sign up now - hybrid ARMs tend to be better loans for everyone - even dishonest loan officers - than balloons. But it would be good to know if they had to honestly disclose it at sign up. Unfortunately for consumers, it can still be changed later.

The next section talks about escrow or Impound accounts as they are less confusingly known. If you have one, it can only increase the amount of cash you need to come up with or borrow. I generally counsel people to plan direct payment as it eliminates the need for this cash, and avoid doing loans where it is a requirement. Sometimes, however, not wanting to have an impound account can mean a hit of a quarter to a half point of cost at the same rate, and it is then that you have to weigh those costs versus your pocketbook and available cash.

Summary of Your Settlement Charges: Adjusted Origination Charges Plus Charges for All Other Settlement Services Equals Total Estimated Service Charges. I have four words to say about this calculation: Garbage In, Garbage Out. If the figures it's based upon don't have to be correct, how can the final amount be correct?

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

The article on page two is here, and the article on page three is here

The recent hot thing in mortgage circles is a mortgage accelerator program. I've heard other things, most notably biweekly payment programs, called mortgage accelerators in the past, so let me take a moment to define exactly what I'm talking about.

A mortgage accelerator is essentially a combined mortgage and checking account, where every month you deposit your entire pay, and then write checks out of it as the month goes on to pay for your living expenses, and the mortgage interest of course accrues on a daily basis. The good things about it for consumers (and it is a good thing, as far as this goes) is that the entire paycheck is applied against your mortgage balance on day one, when your pay is deposited. This means that instead of just the minimum monthly payment, your entire pay goes towards the mortgage, lessening the amount of interest you pay in any given month. The bank, for its part, gets your entire paycheck and a significantly lower incidence of default.

This isn't a new concept. Several banks had somewhat different versions back in the late eighties. It went away. Why?

Several reasons, some administrative, some financial. Basically, consumers wised up. First, the administrative. This bank has basically your entire financial activity. Let's say someone gives you a better deal. Now you either have to stick with a mortgage accelerator program, or go through the hassle of coming up with enough cash to start a new checking account if you go back to having a standard mortgage. Furthermore, when you do refinance, what happens to outstanding checks? That payoff is as of a specific day at a specific time. Your escrow officer comes in and gets the payoff demand, and then more checks clear and everything has to be re-figured. The alternative to this is freezing the account as is done with Home Equity Lines of Credit. So all of a sudden while you are going through this refinance, you have to come up with the seed cash for a new checking account, get new checks rushed through, and then pay your bills with the new checks. May the Universe Help You if you normally pay by automatic debit or any of the primary variants, because you have to set that up as well.

So what else does the bank get out of it, looking at the above? Increased opportunity costs for refinancing. In short, it makes it more difficult for you to take your business elsewhere. Cha-Ching! as the bank officer's eyes light up with dollar signs.

Now obviously, this mortgage accelerator saves you a small amount of money, if you assume it's just a matter of math, and that math shows how much interest you save as opposed to the same loan at the same interest rate, providing you keep money in your checking account, of course. But how many people do? Not that many, these days.

Furthermore, it assumes you get the same loan at the same interest rate that you normally would. I haven't comparison shopped many of these yet, but my general impression is that the rates, and costs to get them, are higher than you might otherwise get. The assumption that it is the same rate and the same costs on the same type of loan is just that, an assumption, made for modeling purposes. I have used the metaphor of the matador in the past. The bull (consumer) wears himself out on the obvious large red cape, namely the cool service and the fact that all your pay is applied to your mortgage, and never sees the sword, which is the fact that your interest rate is half a percent higher than you might have gotten, you paid an extra point of origination as well, and you're being dinged $10 per month administrative tracking charges for this cool new toy you just got, the accelerator mortgage. Let's say your mortgage is $400,000. Half a percent of $400,000 is $2000 extra interest per year. An extra point of origination is $4000. And $10 per month is about what the average person might save on their mortgage interest if they weren't paying a higher rate, which they are.

($6000 per month deposited, instead of maybe $2500, leaves $3500. You save an average of one half months interest per month on this difference. $3500 at 6% divided by 24 is $8.75. If they bill you $10 per month for the service, you are out $1.25 per month net, on top of the additional interest charges and the one time fee of several thousand dollars of origination)

So lenders with mortgage accelerators charge you more money, charge you more up front costs, and you pay higher interest charges, as well as making it more difficult for the consumer to refinance into a better deal somewhere else. The banks love this one. Only the fact that your parents figured out what a rotten deal most of these are kept them from becoming a permanent fixture of the mortgage landscape decades ago.

The vast majority of the benefit of these programs is in the extra money they assume you'll use to pay down the mortgage, a thing which almost anyone can do for free. Still, if you can find a mortgage accelerator at the same interest rate, for the same costs, and without the monthly or up-front setup fees that you don't have to pay for with any other mortgage, then YES it makes sense to have one of these programs. But that's not what most of the lenders are offering. In fact, I've never seen one offering that. They are hoping that you are so distracted by the money whizzing everywhere that somehow magically pays your mortgage down, that you won't consider that their rates and the costs to get them are higher than you're being offered elsewhere. They hope you're distracted by their (nonsensical) figures of how much you will save if you keep your mortgage until it's paid off, that you will never see how much extra you are really paying. Nor do most people keep any given mortgage longer than a few years. In fact, the median time living in a particular piece of real estate is only nine years - less than one third of the time until payoff. The metaphor of the matador is extremely apt. This is precisely what the matador does with the bull. Distracts them and wears them out with the cape so that they never see the sword. The banks dangle this wonderful mathematical concept of what might happen thirty years down the line for that one tenth of one percent of people who actually keep the loan that long and pays extra money while doing it, hoping you are so fascinated by it that you never notice that they're charging you more up-front fees and a higher interest rate than you would have gotten with a traditional mortgage, and often, more in monthly maintenance fees that you save by depositing all of your pay. In short, the lender is making more money off of you by pretending to do you a favor.

So shop loans by interest rate and cost, and then if they'll let you put a mortgage accelerator on it for free, great! If not, they're just trying to distract you from what is really important by offering you a convenience and a cool-looking trick, while charging you hefty amounts of money and tricking you into thinking you are getting something beneficial.

Caveat Emptor

Original here


Way back when I was just out of high school, I was doing a lot of things with my time. Working, dating, competing on the fencing team, gaming of various sorts. But every once in a while, I dropped in on one of those math courses I was registered for at UCSD. One of those courses was Math 110, "Introduction to Partial Differential Equations and Boundary Value Problems" Bozemoi. That was the course that convinced me that I was not, after all, cut out for a career as a mathematician. All the other undergraduate courses, I got a handle on fairly quickly, but the way my mind works made that one course something like having those alleged brains pounded out between two large gold bricks wrapped in lemon.

I eventually got through it. But one thing I took out of that class in no uncertain terms is the form a real solution to those equations took, and the fact that if you were missing terms ("parts of the answer" for those less mathematically inclined), your answer was wrong. Not incomplete. wrong.

One of the standard ideas of internet commerce is "cut out the middleman and their fees." You can find this in lots of fields. Some of them begin far earlier than the world wide web. "Discount" brokers have been going for decades, for both stocks and real estate. The internet certainly helped them, however. Loan quote services were probably one of the first ten business ideas on the world wide web. On-line this, on-line that. Do business with the faceless on-line corporation with cheaper fees (or none!) and you can't help but be better off, right? It's easy to illustrate that difference to just about anyone. There's money they're not spending, that anybody can point to as a savings earned by doing business in that fashion. But is that the whole story?

Indeed the whole discount proposition cannot succeed without an implicit or explicit assumption that the value you receive from having paid that fee is zero. But if that were the case, these professions would never have gotten going in the first place. Who wants to pay money you don't need to? Anybody want to raise your hand? I certainly don't. The world, humankind, and even our financial markets survived for millennia without stockbrokers, real estate agents, travel agents, or any other sort of business that is now being subjected to disintermediation. Why did these professions come about? It wasn't because our great grandparents were stupid, uninformed of the alternatives, or had no choice. They could and did buy and sell stock and real estate directly. The reason these professions, and others (such as journalism) arose is because they added value to the entire process. The people who made use of these professions profited by their choice. Not necessarily directly in dollars with every transaction, but statistically, the people who spent that money emerged notably better off in one or more important respects, and therefore, our predecessors made a choice to do so until essentially everyone did so.

There you have it: An explicit refutation of the assumption underlying the entire discounter promise. It neglects an essential term in the answer as to whether you end up better off. Was the money you didn't spend really the whole answer? What if by spending that money, you end up better off?

Suppose you save three percent by not having a real estate agent sell your property. Seems like a great idea on the surface, doesn't it? On a half million dollar property, $15,000 in your pocket for what you think is a few hours of work. I'll even start by granting you the same ability to market that an agent has, which isn't the case for the vast majority. But what happens if the price you pick isn't right for your market? I've gone over that. What happens if you don't disclose everything you need to? Then let's consider negotiations. Trying to match wits against a buyer's agent whose been in everything that sold in your neighborhood in the last six months is a guaranteed lose for a seller who hasn't seen any of it. That agent's got permission to visit other stuff in MLS. Owners trying to sell their own property don't. . Do you know what's appropriate for contingent sales? What about negotiating repairs disclosed by inspection? These and many other things need to be negotiated, and just telling the other side to do it your way will result in a failed transaction. Do you know how to find out if a buyer is qualified? The two months you spend waiting to find out that your prospective buyer can't qualify costs you roughly six thousand dollars all by itself. I could go on and on.

The same applies on the buyer's side. In the current environment, any decent buyer's agent who tries can make at least a ten percent difference by suggesting the correct property, negotiating to their clients' strengths, and using the seller's weaknesses against them. Usually it's more than that. My average was running about twenty percent when I originally wrote this. Even when the market turned crazy for about nine months it stayed about 10% - when everyone else was having appraisal problems due to Home Valuation Code of Conduct, I didn't have a single property that failed to appraise for value. Sound like a good bargain to you? Spend ten to twenty percent to save three? If so, come on into my office, and I'll give you $30 for $100 until you're broke. Or you can come into my office and agree to spend that $30 in order to have a very good chance of making well over $100.

The intelligent question is: Does spending that money save you more than it costs? Most people will spend $10 to save $100. That's rational. Most people will spend $90 to save $100. That's still rational. Some people will spend more than a hundred dollars to save $100, though, and that's not rational. Not spending the $10 or even $90 to save $100 isn't rational either. Nor are all of the costs in money. How do you quantify not making a mistake that most people don't know is there until and unless it bites them, after the purchase?

That's really the whole question, isn't it? Furthermore, it has to be answered individually, because few situations really subject themselves to this kind of analysis Admittedly, with the internet, it's gotten easier for consumers and more difficult for members of those professions. But the internet can only help you with questions you actually think to ask, and you still have to do the work to make certain you debunk wrong answers to find out where the truth really lies. It's not going to tell you any of dozens of reasons why this freshly remodeled home of your dreams is going to turn into a nightmare.

When I originally wrote this, I was closing on a property where the folks contacted me with information from a popular discount model brokerage in their hand, and those were the first properties they wanted me to look at (which I did). The difference in value they are receiving for their money is such that they never went back to that discounter, because I went out and looked at properties, I gave them reasons why this property was or was not one that they were going to be happy in, I gave them reasons why this property was a Vampire while that property was not. I explained to them how the surrounding environment was going to impact them in the property. I showed them what needed to be fixed, and gave them an idea what was involved. When I found an especially good value for their money, I got them out there and told them to act fast if they wanted it - if I hadn't, it would have been gone by the weekend. I'm not going to talk about why, but I can truthfully say that I wrote an offer that the seller chose to accept even though it wasn't the highest offer they had, and the difference was a lot more than my company's three percent commission. If those kinds of services aren't worth money to you, then you're not a good candidate for my services anyway. But all that discounter had to offer was how cheap they were, while I gave my clients more value than they would have saved before they put the offer that was accepted in, and they knew it. Once the clients started thinking in terms of what they were receiving by giving up that discounter's commission rebate, the discounter never had a chance. By CMA of all comparable properties in the area at that time, my buyers saved over thirty percent, and that's just by square footage - not including all of the amenities the property had that the competing ones don't.

I'm not going to pretend this one isn't an above average bargain, even for me. I'm not going to pretend that every full service agent can make that kind of difference on every transaction, because I know it isn't true. The best agent in the world strikes out occasionally - in which case you are still no worse off than without them. But making more of a difference to the client than the three percent a full service agent makes around here is an awfully easy mark to beat for the agent who tries.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

It's a well known fact that not all factors in real estate are equally important, and not all property investments perform equally well. A critical part of successfully choosing the right property, whether it's for investment or personal use, lies in realizing that some things about a given property are completely under your control once you purchase, some things are only controllable by large groups of people acting in concert, and a few things can't be changed at all.

There are graduations among the three, in fact, it's more or less a continuous spectrum from picking up a piece of trash to weather and earth movement. Just because you can't control it doesn't mean you can't take it into account before you decide on where to spend your money. Once you've bought, of course, you're stuck with what events happen to have an effect upon that given location. Just because there hasn't been an earthquake there in 6000 years of recorded history doesn't mean it's impossible for there to be an earthquake. But if the area has a history of earthquakes, fires, landslides, you name it, or even just a known susceptibility, you're wise to take it into account. This extends into human controlled areas as well. Never been so much as loitering within ten miles? Nice, but that doesn't stop the head of the local mob from buying the house next door to yours later on, or the FBI from renting it for their Witness Protection Program (and no, that's one neither you nor I am likely to find out unless and until gunfire starts, but that doesn't stop the crooks looking for those witnesses!). One of the aspects of this being a free country is that bad people are also pretty much equally free to go where they want unless they're actually in confinement somewhere.

There are, however, all sorts of known factors about a property that you can consider, and a good agent can really hep you with. Sometimes it's a matter of capability (whether you can), sometimes of knowledge, sometimes of willingness, and sometimes, of visualization, whether you can really visualize the place with the changes made.

Knowing that difference is money.

Serious money, especially in a high cost area like mine. Knowing what you can change and what is beyond your control. Knowing what stuff costs, in general, is a really valuable piece of knowledge for an agent, and whether it's likely to be worth the money you spend.

Some stuff, like trash in the yard, paint on the walls, and carpet on the floors, is so easy to change it doesn't hardly register. Yes, good carpet costs thousands of dollars, but it's worth every penny at sale time. Paint is cheaper. Window coverings, All of this is superficial, and can be changed easily, but unless you're an experienced agent you would not believe how many times I've heard arguments against purchasing a property that amount to "I don't want to have to spend $4000 to save $40,000!" from buyers. Then they go out and buy another property for that $40,000 more, and stillspend that $4000 - or more - changing out the already good looking stuff that was already there for other good looking stuff, when they could have saved $40,000 off the purchase price by simply realizing they were going to replace it anyway, and buying the property with trashed carpet in the first place. I don't care how often I've seen it. It still blows my mind, every time. And if you're looking to sell, by all that's holy, you'll make a lot more dealing with it yourself than giving Martha Stewart Jr. a carpet allowance. The idea is that you want as much of Martha's money in your pocket as possible! By giving an allowance, sellers not only lose the money several times over in the sales price, they're also volunteering to pay some of the money they do get right out again!

Appliances. Why in the nine billion names of god are some buyers so particular about the appliances? The vast majority of appliances are personal property and are going to go away with the current owner. Who cares if the refrigerator is avocado green now? It's going away. If the owners do leave it, I know places that will pay you money for the privilege of hauling away functional appliances, and then you can put your burnt orange one in its place. Even if the appliances are attractive, unless they're built into the property, they're going away. It's not like it's going to be hard finding a stylish modern replacement. But when you're selling, it really is a good way to sucker more money out of people, and unless you build it in or agree to leave it in the sales contract - a concession the buyers will pay dearly for - you get to take them with you! How cool is that?

Surfaces are a little harder, but I do not understand why people are willing to reward current previous owners who built in things like granite counter tops or travertine floors. Actually, I do. It's all part and parcel of that same desire that Mr. and Ms. Middle Class want to have their home be beautiful, so they'll spend $50,000 more to buy the property that's beautiful now, and then they'll come along and replace all that beautiful stuff with equally beautiful stuff that's more in line with their taste. But granite counter tops, travertine floors, etcetera aren't all that expensive to put in (why do you think they're so popular with developers now?) and they do age. If you stay in the property twenty years, you're going to want to put in new ones before you sell. But guess what? You paid all of that opportunity cost, and interest on all of that cost, all of these years, and now you're having to install new ones just to come close to breaking even on what you've already spent. Smart Investors are looking for the properties where they can get those bumps up in value themselves by putting them in and flipping the property off to Mr. and Ms. Middle Class.

Similar to all the preceding examples, lighting is a relatively cheap investment that pays off. Lots of nice bright soft lumens. Some people will pay big bucks without realizing why, not to mention that light bulbs are both cheap and easy to change and the wiring lasts basically forever, so you can fix it up after you own it, enjoy it all those years you live in it, and still get the bump up in value when you go to sell. Providing, of course, you or your agent has the presence of mind to recognize the opportunity, and you don't insist on having it already in place.

Not quite so easy are windows for natural light. It's very hard to go wrong with too many windows, or too big. Just don't sabotage your structural support. And of course, you're cutting through walls. This isn't cheap; but it is often worth the money. Just like electrical lights. It'll make lots of folks willing to spend big bucks without understanding why.

This contrasts to bad or old wiring. It just won't hold the load modern dwellings need to, or doesn't have enough outlets. Back in the 1930s, one outlet per room was plenty. These days, code requires one per six linear feet of wall in new housing. The house I grew up in had a thirty five amp master fuse. That may not be enough for a linen closet, nowadays, but those houses are still out there. It isn't cheap to upgrade their wiring, but if you've got to do it, overkill isn't much more expensive. If you're running all new wiring and putting in new breakers and new outlets, the cost differential to make it way more robust than absolutely necessary is perhaps 1%. Instead of 500 amp service, consider at least doubling that. As long as you're putting in one outlet every six linear feet, make it a four or six plug outlet (with wiring robust enough to match). Point of fact, investors who flip rarely upgrade wiring - it doesn't pay off in sales price. But if you need to do it in order to make your family comfortable, overdo it. It doesn't cost any more per hour for an electrician to run bigger wires, install bigger breakers, or put in a bigger socket. So you spend $1 extra per outlet - if it keeps you from having to do it again. There's been a steady increase in the amount of electrical load for the average house over the last eighty years or so. I wouldn't bet on that trend changing any time soon, and when you go to sell in five or twenty or thirty years, the electrical situation will still make buyers happy. Unless that house falls down around your ears in the meantime, you'll be glad you did. Here's another thing I don't understand: People will act like it's no big deal to upgrade the electrical service, even though it's much more costly than any of the stuff you've already read about. Maybe because they don't understand what's involved, or maybe because it's not obvious on the surface, but a house where the electrical grid will handle your requirements is easily worth $30,000 or more than one that won't - because if it won't, guess who's spending that money?

Towards the high end of the subspectrum involving personal control, you're pretty much stuck with the architecture. Put another room on that doesn't match, and people will start describing the house as "ramshackle". Houses where everything matches get more than houses where there are obvious mismatches. Short of hiring a bulldozer and starting over, your architecture is your architecture. Ditto basic construction. If it started with adobe, you'd do well to stay with adobe. If you don't like adobe, don't buy adobe.

Right at the extreme of possible personal control is the lot you're buying. Unless you can persuade one of your neighbors to sell, it is what it is. Don't count on that happening. If it's 4700 square feet, it's always going to be 4700 square feet. If it's next to a beach or next to a toxic waste dump, it's always going to be next to a beach or toxic waste dump.

Getting into things you can't control, but can influence, is the homeowner's association. If there's a homeowner's association, you can influence it by getting involved. You can't control it by yourself, and you can't make it go away, except by not buying where there's a HOA. Learn the rules, and learn the neighborhood, before you buy. If your rules aren't something you can abide by, be certain Mrs. Grundy is going to do her best to harass you into doing so. This starts at letters and goes through fines, and might even include foreclosure. If your neighbors are at war with each other before you buy, that's likely to continue indefinitely afterwards. Just because there's no war right now doesn't mean one won't start the instant you buy. The more recently it was built, and the higher end the property, the more likely it is there will be a HOA. If you buy where there's an HOA, it's more likely one of my grandfathers will give birth to triplets than that HOA will go away (FYI: if being old and male in a species where it's the female who gestates and rarely to more than one child at a time isn't enough for you, my grandfathers are dead). HOAs really are a good guardian of property values, but they sure can make an ordinary person who just wants to enjoy their property miserable.

You can't do a darned thing as an individual about the surrounding property, or the neighborhood. If all around you are 3 bedroom 1.75 bath properties that sell for $400,000, that's the mean your property will tend towards and be judged by. In some areas, $400,000 is a mansion. Around here, it's nothing nearly so grand. You may be able to get a little more if you've got a fourth bedroom, or an extra large lot, but a 6 bedroom 4 bath place will not be worth twice as much, simply because of the surroundings. In fact, it's unlikely you'll get more than 25% extra even if the property is a mansion, that being a relevant appraisal standard. Even if someone agrees to pay it (they won't), lenders won't lend based upon it. That property is a misplaced improvement. It's fine if you just happen to like the neighborhood, but don't expect that your house will sell for twice as much because it's twice as big or twice as nice. Three words: Not. Gonna. Happen. Keep this in mind when you're buying or upgrading your property, also. On the flip side, this can help properties that are below that neighborhood average. Everything around them pulls them up. But it also means that there's a sharp limit to the improvements that are worthwhile.

Traffic, whether you're on a busy street or a busy corner, parks, shopping and other neighborhood amenities, you can consider to be essentially fixed characteristics. No one individual controls them. Even if you get yourself elected mayor, you'll find yourself checked by the power of the rest of the government. There's nothing you can do to advantage yourself without disadvantaging someone else, and if you want the most primal scream of most suburban dwellers, talk to them about lowering property values. It sends people completely around the bend, mental health wise. Sometimes you get lucky and something good happens. Sometimes you get unlucky and the opposite occurs. But it's not under the control of any one person. Know this ahead of time. Acknowledge it to yourself, and worship at the altar of accepting these things as they are. By the way, if I were selling, I'd make certain your prospective buyer is aware of upcoming issues that may negatively influence the neighborhood. Even if you didn't know, if they can make a case that you should have, that may be good enough to win in the courts. It depends upon the jurisdiction. Talk to a lawyer in your area to be certain.

The geography of the land you can consider as fixed. Weather also. Even if you own a large enough parcel to move your house to a better location on the lot, or even to level that hill that's threatening to slide down on top of you every time it rains, your return on that investment is not going to repay the cash it costs you. Earthquakes, wildfires, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods. You might was well consider that the price tag includes a certain probability per year of each, be it large or extremely small.

Knowing, or learning, the difference between what you do and don't control, and what is and isn't profitable to upgrade, is a large part of the battle of finding a good property to invest in, whether you intend to flip in two months or whether you intend to live there for the rest of your life. A good agent, who's not dependent upon the tollbooth model of business, will be an immense help to the selection process or the sales process, and likely to make - or save - you enough money to pay their commission several times over, and more so if you include them in your planning process.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

Here was an idea I had: Pack a list of the most important things consumers need to know about buying real estate, as packed into the words I can say in sixty seconds without sounding like an over-clocked squirrel. Here goes:


Figure out what you can really afford before you do anything else. Shop by purchase price, not payment, and refuse to look at properties which cannot believably be obtained within your budget.

Listing agents are contractually and legally obligated to sell the property as quickly as possible for the highest possible price. They represent sellers, not buyers. If the listing agent can sell you the property for $100,000 above comparable market price, they have done nothing except their job. Never allow the listing agent to represent you as a buyer.

Buyer's Agents represent buyers, not sellers, and having a good buyer's agent will make more difference than anything else to get you a better property value for less money. Get at least one buyer's agent before you start looking. Sign only non-exclusive buyer's agency contracts, insist they cover bad points as well as good on every property, and fire any agent that won't, or any agent that shows you a property that cannot be obtained within your budget.

There is no such thing as a perfect property, or the perfect time to buy real estate. Properties in immaculate condition command premium prices because the owners can get more money. If you want a bargain, be prepared to do some cosmetic work. A good buyer's agent will help you know what's cheap and easy to fix, versus what's difficult and expensive.

How was that?

Caveat Emptor


Original article here

I know 401k contributions impact a persons Adjusted Gross Income, thus would it also affect the amount a person could qualify for? If so, I will delay enrollment for a few months...

This depends upon what documentation you use to qualify. For most of those who are salaried or hourly W-2 employees, debt to income ratio is calculated using gross pay from w-2s and pay stubs. This is more more than half of the people out there. For these people, it doesn't matter, because the computation is based upon gross pay before any deductions - even withholding. The thinking goes that you can always stop retirement contributions if you need the money now to afford your mortgage .

For those who have to use the full federal tax forms to qualify however, the computation is based upon Adjusted Gross Income. This is basically three groups: The self-employed, commissioned sales people, and construction trades, the last being notorious for periods of unemployment between the end of one project and finding another project that's hiring. Adjusted Gross Income, or AGI, is after retirement contributions from taxable income, as well as business expenses and several other things are deducted. The reason for this is those people have more expenses that statutory employees, whether those employees are cube farm dwellers, have a corner office, or whatever. Lenders are well aware of this. The only reason why they're willing to accept taxes as proof of income is very few people will tell the IRS they make more money than they do when it means paying so many cents of every dollar they didn't make in taxes.

This can make it very difficult for people in these three groups to qualify via documentable income. This is the reason why stated income loans were created and why the complete demise of stated income is a very bad thing no matter how much I hated doing stated income loans. There was an excellent reason why reason why they existed - people in this category got to legitimately deduct more on their taxes, but it hurt their ability to qualify for a mortgage. The rates were higher and the underwriting requirements were tougher, but without that, some people would never be able to qualify for a home loan, no matter how credit-worthy. As I've said before, stated income was subject to ridiculous abuse, and you'd really rather qualify "full documentation" if there's any way you can, especially once lenders and investors started suffering suffering stated-income-phobia and it always meant having to come up with tens of thousands of extra dollars down payment and pay an interest rate that might have been two full percent higher than people who can qualify full documentation would pay, but it meant there was a loan such people could qualify for.

So retirement contributions will make a difference if you're one of those who needs to use tax forms to qualify for a loan, but if you're someone who can use w-2s to qualify, it shouldn't.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

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