November 2007 Archives


Politics, American Style at Scrappleface.


Cute Geography Game


Michelle Malkin on CNN using questions from democratic activist plants at the republican debate, and allowing them to misidentify their actual positions.

Hot Air has video of one.

I used to be disgusted. Now I'm just jaded. Luckily, the internet makes this easy to discover. Thanks, Michelle.


Man takes hostages in NH Clinton office

Here's hoping "the bomb" is just Hillarycare II. (Sorry, I couldn't resist).

Really, let us hope that nobody gets hurt. Despite my dislike of Ms. Clinton's politics and personal character, she's entitled to sell her message unhindered. If not enough people decide to buy, that's her problem. If enough do, well, she'd be entitled to the presidency, however much I might dislike it.

It did cross my mind that with her campaign hurting in recent weeks, this might be a put-up of some sort so she can play the victim card that won her the senate race again. But it's too easy (and far less prone to investigation) just to let Bill do what he does naturally instead. With how easily plots are researched once there's reason (see above for one of millions of examples), I don't think even John Edwards is that stupid and uneducated in the power of the internet any longer.


Islamic rage, edition seventeen trillion and forty three: Calls in Sudan for execution of Briton

Thousands of Sudanese, many armed with clubs and knives, rallied Friday in a central square and demanded the execution of a British teacher convicted of insulting Islam for allowing her students to name a teddy bear "Muhammad."
They called for Gibbons' execution, saying, "No tolerance: Execution," and "Kill her, kill her by firing squad."

She was imprisoned for nine days, for allowing a student to name a teddy bear "Muhammad." Which was, incidentally, the boy's own name. How many children in the US and elsewhere have stuffed animals named after themselves or a family member? But because the boy's name happened to be Muhammad, they go ballistic with the clubs and knives, straight out of the mob scene.

This is about power, plain and simple. If they didn't want the name used for other things, they shouldn't be using it for other things. How many Buddhists do you know called "Buddha"? How many evangelicals named "Jesus" (Catholics do it, and that's fine by their lights - but they don't get upset when the name gets applied to dolls and stuffed animals by those same kids).

These people need to be told point blank to get their thinking out of the seventh century if they want to be considered fit for the rest of the world to trade and associate with. This sort of thinking is nothing less than a disease, and far more dangerous than most such. Nobody has any kind of a natural right not to be offended. The only people who would try to enforce such a thing are dictators and absolute monarchs, able to enforce it at the point of a gun.


Round and round she goes, where she stops, everyone knows: EU-Iranian talks break up; no compromise.

Talks between Iran and the European Union broke up Friday without compromise on Tehran's refusal to freeze uranium enrichment, and the top EU foreign policy envoy said he was disappointed at Tehran's refusal to budge.

But this way, the politicians can pretend they did something about it to their constituents.

I expected more and therefore I am disappointed," EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said after a five-hour session with the Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili. The failure of the meeting was likely to increase pressure for new U.N. Security Council sanctions, with the five permanent council members set to discuss such actions Saturday.

Just minutes before Solana spoke, Jalili had sent a different message, describing his meeting as "good" and saying the two men had arranged to meet again next month.

Solana, the EU representative, isn't fooling anyone. All these talks do is buy Iran time to achieve nuclear weapons and allow the EU politicians to pretend they did something to stop it, so they don't have to rattle sabers they don't have, and they won't get lynched when Iran launches nukes. I'd say the whole thing is like Nero fiddling while Rome burned, except that 1) The EU is more like the fiddle, and 2) It's a myth that Nero fiddled while Rome burned in the first place.


Kasparov: Russian election a farce

Former chess champion and Kremlin critic Garry Kasparov on Friday dismissed Russia's parliamentary elections this weekend as a farce that will push the country toward what he called a "single-party dictatorship."

A day after he was released from five days in jail for a street protest, Kasparov said massive state support for President Vladimir Putin's party and growing pressure on dissenters will cast a mantle of illegitimacy over the Kremlin and will galvanize its opponents.

Mr. Kasparov cares about his country, which has gone from mostly democratic back to autocratic in less than a decade, and if it continues on this course will once again be a police state within the term of our next president. Bush Sr, Clinton, and Bush Jr. all share the blame for this.

"A meaningful number of political forces ... are being excluded from the process," Kasparov said, leaving tens of millions of Russians without any chance of representation by politicians who share their views.

"This in itself makes the election a farce, and the volume of falsifications, violations and pressure on any political opponents and political criticism is pushing the current regime into illegitimacy," he said.


Turk army gets green light to hit rebels in N.Iraq

"Intelligence reports show about 2,000 of the rebels have passed into Iran and a further 1,000 into Turkey, leaving only about 500 or so in caves in the Qandil mountains (of northern Iraq). This is not worth a major military operation," he said.

This is, nonetheless, something that we need to shut down, and fast. How would we feel about it if seperatist rebels were hiding out just north of the border in Alberta, and the Canadian government was letting them operate?


Off to go get the new puppy.

Condo Assessments

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I bought a condo in DELETED, CA. Zero down. For 7 months I paid every bill on time - mortgages, HOA and taxes until... The Homeowner's Association told us that we MUST pay a $20,500 special assessment.

My realtor had told me nothing about possible coming special assessment. I lived from paycheck to paycheck and had to leave the property.

I didn't pay ANY bills until my property was foreclosed. Today, AFTER ONE YEAR it was foreclosed, I received a letter. They say that I owe "prior the date when the property was foreclosed... delinquent in payment of the assessments, late charges..." $24.773.08

I can agree that I owe HOA monthly payments until the property was foreclosed but special assessment?

With a delay of seven months, I consider it unlikely (although possible) that the assessment was proposed prior to your purchase. It's usually no more than three months from proposal to assessment.

Usually, special assessments of that magnitude are not required to be paid immediately in one lump sum, but rather eligible for payments of so much per month over so many months. However the condo association has the right to levy assessments for repairs and required maintenance. This is part of owning communal or common interest property. Your assessment was larger than most, but the Association does have that right to make those assessments. It's in the CC&Rs, which you had to accept in buying the property - the former owner did not have the right of severing the unit from the association, and neither does the current owner. Usually assessments are recommended to the board by the management company, approved by the board (itself elected by the owners) and confirmed by vote of the owners. You most likely got a ballot in the mail. Whatever you did with yours, a majority of a quorum of owners in your complex voted in favor of the assessment. They need to keep records of all of this - board minutes, ballots mailed, ballots returned and how they voted. My guess is there were pretty good reasons the other homeowners voted for such a large assessment, and unless there's something wrong with how it was conducted, it's a valid lien on your property. If something was concealed from you, it would be in the records of the association.

I doubt you were bamboozled by an already approved assessment. In California, you're required to receive what's called a "condo certification," from the HOA within seven days of the accepted offer. Among other things, that condo certification will show special assessments, whether under consideration or already approved. Furthermore, every single regulated lender in the known world is going to require that condo cert in order to fund the loan, and if there are special assessments known, they will require that you qualify at the increased rate of payment. So I'm betting you got one.

This was a buried problem, and the only way to ferret it out for certain is asking members of the board point blank about any deferred maintenance issues, but sometimes things like this can take an association by surprise. For example: fires, burst pipes, etcetera. A condo inspection only looks at your unit, not all of the others. Alternatively, you've got to walk the entire property looking for problems, and hope it's not hidden inside a something where there's no way to know it's there. One final way that might spot problems is in looking at the level of association reserves in the condo cert. it takes a good buyer's agent to ferret it out before a sale, and an even better one to tell you about it. Most of this stuff isn't part of basic due diligence, and telling you about it is a noteworthy example of "no good deed goes unpunished," because it's going to mess up the transaction, and most clients will kill the messenger by not working with you on their next offer. If you didn't have a buyer's agent, you were all on your own, because that listing agent certainly isn't going to investigate in the first place and get their client angry. There's a reason why Dual Agency is a sucker's game from the buyer's perspective. Well, actually there are hundreds of reasons why, but this is one of them.

It appears that you were the owner of record at the time the assessment was made. It may be payable in payments, but the full amount is due from the owner of record as of the day of the assessment. It's an all or nothing thing. It wouldn't matter if you were two days from buying it - the seller would have to pay it in order to deliver clear title, while you would not be obligated, although if the owner didn't pay it and clear the title, it's unlikely the transaction would proceed. If you were two days from selling it, same story. You would have to pay in order to deliver clear title, as required by the purchase contract, and the buyer would have the right to expect that you would do so, and the title company would refuse to insure the property until you did so, so the transaction would not happen without that assessment being paid. If you had bought it the day before the assessment became effective, well, you would have been informed by the condo certification, but it would be attached to you. You owe this money. The fact that you are no longer the owner as of this moment is irrelevant. Nor does default wipe it out, in general.

The homeowner's association has the right to assess the individual owners for needed repairs and maintenance. Indeed, they have a duty to do so in order to preserve the value and marketability of the property. What this person did was pretty darned silly, but done is done and there are no do-overs in real life. The board and owners don't make assessments gratuitously, because they're also assessing themselves, and every last one of them had to pay that $20,500, the same money this guy would have paid. Twice that, if they own two units. I may wonder what caused a large assessment unforseeably, and consider it likely that a good buyer's agent would have caught some deferred maintenance issues, but the cold hard fact is that he owned the property on the date of the assessment, and he therefore owes the association that money. He needs to talk to a lawyer if he wants to get out of it, but I don't know anything except bankruptcy that might do the trick, and that's only likely to reduce the damage, not wipe it out, and bankruptcy on top of a foreclosure is very bad juju for your credit rating. It could cost him five times as much as the actual money he'd save by not having to pay off the debt in full.

Caveat Emptor

Article UPDATED here

"Contractor's Specials"

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I was looking through some real estate listings and saw one property described as: "Contractor's special, first time buyers and investors. House needs TLC." Does contractor's special mean u better be a contractor if you wanna buy this place?

It means it needs some serious rehab work, but it's priced too high for you to make a profit paying to have it done, so the people they're trying to attract are people who are inexperienced home repair folk who don't realize what their time is worth, and won't realize how much time and money and dirt and sweat and just plain hassle that living with the problem and getting it fixed is going to entail.

In point of fact, it's an uncommon "contractor's special" that isn't overpriced. We're not talking about just carpet and paint here. We're talking some major league repairs. Foundation breaks. Significant settling damage. Plumbing that's broken and leaking water. Mold in the framing (which will usually spread). Wiring that's a fire hazard. The list goes on, but they've all got one thing in common: You're dealing with stuff that adversely influences the habitability of the property. Without those repairs, you're not going to get reasonable enjoyment out of the property. It fails the most essential test of inhabitability for a property: The ability to live the same kind of lifestyle in that property, as the rest of the country does in theirs, and to do so for the foreseeable future.

Martha Stewart notwithstanding, you can live with stained carpet. Whatever you read in Better Homes and Gardens, you can live with spots on your walls, or even holes in the drywall. It's possible to live with both old and ugly, if you get get electricity and hot and cold running water when you need them, and the house isn't falling to pieces around you. You can't really live if every time you plug something in or turn something on, there's a significant chance your property will burn down around your family's ears. You can't live if hot water is leaking out and eroding your foundation support, as well as keeping you from taking hot showers. You're not going to live indefinitely with a foundation break - sooner or later, it'll either rip the house apart or tear it apart.

Such properties aren't a residence at all, when you really think about it. I'd sooner put your average family of four into a one bedroom apartment than a "contractor's special." Sure you got a low price - on a property you can't use. Kind of like getting a deal on dog vomit. It begs the question not only of why you'd pay for it, but why you'd want dog vomit at all. Me, on those rare occasions when one or another of my best four-legged friends has lost their dinner, I'd willingly pay someone who offered a certain amount of money to get rid of it for me.

This kind of property can be an opportunity, IF you really know what you're doing, and IF it's priced correctly so that you can do the work and make a profit, and that includes some significant cash for being the one to deal with it. But it's no coincidence that the serial decorators who line up to replace bad carpet and paint ugly walls give "contractor's specials" a wide berth. The work that needs doing is far too expensive to be "worth it" - at least at the levels "contractor's specials" are usually priced. The most recent one I was in, a four bedroom place not very far from my office, was priced about $20,000 below what would have been appropriate for a turn-key property in the area - and it needed roughly $60,000 worth of work that I saw. For a forty year old 1600 square foot house, with position issues, floor plan issues, and not a single surface in the entire property that presents well. A more appropriate price would have been land less demolition and haul away. Which is about what it's going to go for - once the owners price it somewhere in the appropriate ballpark. Oh, I can fight the battle and often even win a signed purchase contract for the correct amount - but it's a lot more effort that finding someone who at least is willing to admit the realities of the situation up front. Sometimes, I'll see if I can get a client the property is appropriate for to make a test offer, just to see if the sellers and their agents are willing to admit the obvious truth. If not, we move on.

What the owners are really hoping for, of course, is someone who only sees only the relatively cheap price, but not the cost, in all senses of the word, of the work that's necessary to have a useful property once they own it. But this kind of cheap is no bargain. I've said it in the past, but Know What Can Be Fixed and What Can't, What's Profitable and What Isn't, which is only one of hundreds of reasons why You need a buyer's agent, whose job is to bring up all of these not so minor concerns that owners and listing agents would rather buyers didn't understand, because it means they get more of that buyer's money.

Caveat Emptor

Article UPDATED here

Links and Minifeatures

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Fake Photos Alter Real Memories

There are still suckers who think Dan Rather's TANG documents were real. Or the Reuters photos of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Or the thoroughly faked ambulance photos.

People remember what they're told first. That's why these folks do it.


Older white women join Kenya's sex tourists

As long as they keep it legal, I can't find it in me to condemn them any more than I can the male sex tourists who also keep it legal. But it's still not something to encourage. So long as there are consenting adults on both sides, I can't see that 60 year old woman with 20 year old male is any worse or any better than 60 year old man with 20 year old female. But just because I can't condemn it doesn't mean I think it should be encouraged, and there's also the risk of STDs to consider.


Too silly not to link: Web site ranks stupid holiday gifts


Private Papers on academia and Free Speech.


Gore Visits White House

Wait until you see who sponsored the visit!

It's not reality, it's Scrappleface! Reality imitates Scrappleface!


Compare and Contrast, over at Wizbang.


The American Non-Empire, over at Captain's Quarters

That was a question I was asked via email.

The answer is "No." You don't have to lose your home in bankruptcy. I've done loans for many clients who kept their homes through bankruptcy. But they kept their mortgage payments current, or close enough to current.

The condition that causes you to lose your property is called foreclosure. The specifics vary from state to state, but here in California, the lender has the option of marking you in default when you are 120 days in arrears on your mortgage.

Default causes you to lose some rights, and the lender to gain some. Since properties can go into arrears literally for years before they go into default, this seems appropriate. You could theoretically stay at 90 days behind throughout the whole term of your mortgage (except the first 90 days), and the lender can't really do too much about it except hit your credit. Please, don't try this at home. This is for purposes of hyperbolic illustration only. It really does kill your credit rating. Refinancing (or getting another loan after you sell) will be extremely difficult, and the rates will be sky high if you can get it.

But at the point you enter into default, your lender can require that you bring the loan completely current in order to get them to rescind the default. A Notice of Default, or NOD, is a matter of public record, and if one is recorded against your property, you can count on getting hundreds of solicitations from bankruptcy attorneys, hard money lenders, real estate agents, and just plain sharks. Additionally, the lender is going to hit you with thousands of dollars in fees when they put you into default. These go into what you owe.

Here in California, if you don't bring the loan current within sixty days, the lender has the option of dropping a Notice of Trustee's Sale on you. This publicly recorded document basically says "Bring it current now, or we're going to sell it at auction." Actually, at this point they can require you to pay them off in entirety to make them go away, and I don't know anyone except hard money lenders that will refinance you out of default. They can do this because you signed a Deed of Trust when you got the loan. Things are different in states that still use the mortgage system - there, the lenders have to go through the courts, which you're also going to end up paying for. The Notice of Trustee's Sale will tell the owner to be out at least five days prior to the auction. You also lose the legal right to redeem the loan at that point, although most lenders will keep working with you until the gavel falls. There must be a minimum of 17 days between Notice of Trustee's Sale and the actual auction. This is called foreclosure.

Bankruptcy is a different process entirely, and has to do with solvency, the ability to make required contractual payments on all of your debts. Within limits, you can choose to enter or not enter bankruptcy, and which creditors are and are not included in the bankruptcy. It's usually better not to include everything in the bankruptcy, because post bankruptcy credit history is critical re-establishing your credit. No matter what else, if you can stay current on the loan against your personal residence, that has more rights of preservation against other creditors than anything else (usually). Please consult an attorney in your state - there may be differences in the rules, or you may fall into one of the exceptions, and there are all kinds of relevant details I'm not going into here.

If you can hang onto your personal residence, and keep the loan current through bankruptcy, you not only (usually) get to keep your property, but you have a ready made mechanism to rebuild your credit. Those monthly payments you keep making to your mortgage lender? They count for credit re-establishment. In fact, if you have zero balance credit cards or revolving lines of credit, you can often choose not to include them in the bankruptcy, get to keep them, and all that nice jazz having to do with duration of credit, etcetera. You might want to read my article Credit Reports: What They Are and How They Work for more.

Foreclosure and bankruptcy are two different issues that often go together - but not necessarily. The law gives consumers a lot of protections on their primary residence, even through bankruptcy, but if you go into default on your mortgage, it's very hard to keep your home if you're in bankruptcy also.

I have seen people fresh out of Chapter 7 bankruptcy qualify for an A paper loan. It's unusual, but it does happen. What usually causes it to happen is that they have one or two lines of credit, often business related, and they file bankruptcy promptly, rather than spending months getting their credit dinged because they're in denial, and they keep everything else is current.

But if you keep your mortgage payments current, whatever else happens, frequently you will emerge from bankruptcy with your property.

Caveat Emptor

Article UPDATED here

New Family Member!

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I need to show her off to someone!

My wife and I had decided to hold off on a puppy due to some peripheral concerns, but she approached me earlier in the week and said, "Hilda needs a dog." So we decided to get a new puppy.

I visited four places today, including a fairly big breeder. Truthfully, I was pretty certain driving up that that breeder was not where I was getting a dog. Yes, they seemed very competent and very ethical (not puppy mill iif that's what you were thinking), but they just had too many dogs to properly socialize them to humans correctly.

My criteria were:

1) Must be miniature shorthair. Dachshund, of course! We're a dachshund family!

2) A dog that was hand raised by a family, not in a cage with other dogs or (worst of horrors!) alone! Dogs are social creatures, and the more and the earlier the human contact, the better!

3) The younger the better, subject to being completely ready to leave mom and the law. I understand there's an eight weeks law now. Well, you've got to comply with the law, but when I brought Thing home at a little under 7 weeks, the fact that I had to get up and feed him every two hours that first week helped us bond.

4) The only one that couldn't be checked over the phone: Personality had to be compatible with sharing a residence with a 7 year old and a 3 year old. Found one that was a possibility at this nice lady's house in Lakeside, but managed to say not yet, and I'm glad I did, because I found a two even better at the last stop of the day in Escondido. I gave serious consideration to a sweet little dilute red with a lot of spunk, but her sister was even better. She's not quite ready to come home with me yet, but we'll be able to pick her up after Wednesday, so we're planning Friday the 30th, so she'll have an entire weekend at home with the family before she's left with only Mellon for company.

After I chose, I took a few pictures, and here's the best one!

View image

Hilda doesn't know she's getting a puppy. We intend to surprise her Friday evening. I'll leave work early, and go pick up the puppy, getting home (I hope) before my wife. We've let the grandparents know, so they can be here if they like to see what happens when Hilda sees the puppy.

Hilda's first real pet! I'm excited, and Ramona is even more excited than I am! And it's going to be a surprise!

(Nobody could believe that coat color just wasn't on my list. But truthfully, I didn't care. I was prepared to search from now until Christmas or longer, because the personality part was that important. Disney notwithstanding, there's no such thing as an Ugly Dashshund)

Consumer Focused Carnival of Real Estate


Congressional stupidity, Pentagon gets blame, Wounded Soldiers Get Bill


Ralph Peters on what went right in Iraq.

Or, for the intellectually challenged among us: You don't win wars by quitting. You win them by fighting better than your enemies until they give up, or there are none left. Usually the first, but the second works also.


This looks like a misapplication of the principle of adverse possession, failing the tests of exclusive, hostile, and most certainly, continuous and uninterrupted.

(Via Instapundit

Adverse possession is a item of legal precedent with a very long history, but the requirements are rigid.

Here's a citation that matches what I remember from studying for my agent license:


Does it not seem to fail three of the requirements? to wit: "exclusive", "hostile", and most certainly "continuous and uninterrupted"

It does not appear as if the law was correctly applied, although Colorado law may differ.

It looks far more like grounds for impeaching at least two judges for abusing their positions, followed by criminal trials.


I'm off to buy the dinner rolls for tomorrow!

Strange how the older I get, my list of things to be thankful for gets longer every year. (Okay, not really strange at all. I simply figure out more of the way the world works every year).

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

One of the things I've heard and read other agents complaining about is that they can't find qualified buyers to represent.

Welcome to Unintended Consequences 101.

The way that the market had been working is this: Young, often unmarried, buyers buy a starter place, usually a condominium of some description. A few years later, once they're married and have a couple kids, they trade up, using their equity for the down payment and (usually) increased income in order to make the payments. They may do this a second time when the kids are teenagers, or when they get another rise in income. This is all simple demographics.

However, we all know that most buyers want to stretch to their maximum, and even a bit beyond, not understanding that there is no magic wand to make borrowing money more affordable. The absolute hardest thing for a buyer's agent who's trying to to their job correctly, is persuading buyers with property lust in their hearts to limit themselves to properties they really can afford. Traditionally, the penalty for failing to do this was a failed transaction, and a ticked off client who had already spent hundreds of dollars on appraisal, inspection etcetera, and quite often, multiple trips to the decorating store planning and a month or more fantasizing about the decorating they're going to do. When that all comes crashing down, it's kind of difficult to hold onto the client.

During the era of make believe loans, however, the immediate downside disappeared, and by the time people figured out that they couldn't really afford the property, those agents were long gone, with their commissions, leaving those buyers high and dry. With easy loan qualification, and initial payments way below a sustainable level, there was no immediate need to restrict themselves to selling what a client could afford. Since given one client or set of clients, most agents would rather make more money than less, they sold higher end properties than clients could really afford. The clients, for their part, were happy that there was no apparent need to spend years living in the lesser property, building equity.

However, by skipping over those starter properties, those agents greatly exacerbated their future problems. When the condominiums and other starter properties don't sell, the owners are stuck with them, and they cannot afford a larger, more expensive property until those properties do sell. These folks are the largest single source for buyers of archetypical three and four bedroom detached housing. If you bought a condo for $90,000 and sold it for $200,000, you have roughly $100,000 down payment for a $500,000 home. This lowers the payments from about $3415 (assuming PMI) to $2398, total cost of housing from roughly $4045 per month to $3030, and the income to qualify from $9000 per month to about $6730, a full 25% less, assuming no other debts. Considering the median family income is approximately $5500 per month in San Diego, this makes a major difference to how many people can qualify - far more than a proportional difference. Assuming a standard normal distribution, you're going from about 3.5 standard deviations over area median income to about one and a quarter. This increases the number of people who qualify from 233 in a million to 110,000 in a million (via Hyperstat). Now, you have 470 times as many people in your target group! But in order for this to happen, the condominiums and other starters have to sell.

The temptation is always there for agents want to hunt the big game, but now that the make-believe loans that enabled it are gone, we've got a situation. We've conditioned the public to believe that everyone can afford the property of their dreams, right off, and that's just not the case. This makes it much harder to sell them starter properties that fit within their budget. Their friend John or Jen was able to get that dream property, why can't they? The fact that John and Jen are fighting a losing battle against foreclosure doesn't enter their thought process. The people that already own the starter properties, having bought five or ten years ago and gotten to a position where they're ready to move up, can't. Not until the starter sells. This makes the crimp in the market far worse.

If condos and other starter properties don't sell, you don't have the usual influx of buyers with a down payment that enables them to afford more expensive properties. When you're essentially putting contact superglue on the bottom-most rung off the property ladder, you can't be too surprised when the higher rungs are vacant. So if you want buyers for higher end properties, and you want your higher end properties to sell, sell a few starters.

Caveat Emptor

Article UPDATED here

Carnival of the Capitalists


You Can't Make This Up Department: Sesame Street released on DVD

Sunny days! The earliest episodes of "Sesame Street" are available on digital video! Break out some Keebler products, fire up the DVD player and prepare for the exquisite pleasure-pain of top-shelf nostalgia.

Just don't bring the children. According to an earnest warning on Volumes 1 and 2, "Sesame Street: Old School" is adults-only: "These early 'Sesame Street' episodes are intended for grown-ups, and may not suit the needs of today's preschool child."

Is there anybody out there who doesn't think the nanny mentality has gone too far?


Dalai Lama may appoint successor.

In 1995, the Dalai Lama chose 6-year-old Gendun Choekyi Nyima as the 11th Panchen Lama, the most exalted figure of Tibetan Buddhism after the Dalai Lama. The boy and his family disappeared soon after and have not been heard from since.

China's communist-led government later named Gyaltsen Norbu as the 11th Panchen Lama and said Nyima and his family were being kept in a secret location for their protection.

Tibetan Lamas are supposed to be reincarnations of the former holder of the office. The Dalai Lama, as the most revered, selects or confirms the lesser lamas (depending upon how you look at it). But it is to the Panchen Lama that the leadership of Tibet is supposed to be given during the search for the reincarnated Dalai Lama, and the Panchen Lama is given the prerogative to accept or select the next Dalai Lama. China, being the paranoid repressive government it is, wants to control this eminently controllable selection process, so they made the "true" Panchen Lama disappear and instead foisted their own choice upon the people of Tibet. If they can make it stick, they will control the succession from here on out.

Their plan is about as subtle as a sledgehammer, but in order to defeat it, the Dalai Lama has to break with a centuries old tradition. Since the high Lamas are typically confirmed very young, they are raised in accordance with the precepts they need to live by, and tend to do a much better job of practicing what they preach than the average politician elsewhere. Whether this makes them better leaders is not evident, but it's still sad. I think Tibet may have gone longer without a succession struggle than any other polity in the world.

If I am buying a foreclosed home for 220k of which 200k is being financed, and the home comes back at being valued at 285k from my mortgage company, am I still required to pay PMI? If so, how in the future would I be able to eliminate it?

At purchase, the lender treats the value as being the lesser of cost (i.e. purchase price) or market (i.e. appraisal value).

So if your purchase price is $220k, that's the most the lender will consider the property to be worth at purchase. You will be required to pay PMI for any single loan amount over $176,000, or eighty percent of this. Since second mortgage lenders don't want to loan over ninety percent of the value of the property right now, you can either come up with a couple thousand dollars more, or accept PMI.

A couple years ago the wisdom was just to refinance in a few months. Lots of luck with that in the current market. In the current market, lenders are reverting to their standards of several years ago, which is that unless you spend some major sum upgrading it, the most a lender will believe within one year of purchase is 10%. Were I in your shoes, I'd plan on waiting a year, then doing whatever your state law says is necessary to remove PMI. This might be pay for an appraisal, this might be get a broker's price opinion based upon recent comps, but there have just been too many people over-evaluating property in return for some special compensation (i.e. accepting bribes to return a higher number on the value). They want to see some time to season the transaction between purchase and evaluation. Scam artists don't want to hang onto the property for a year.

Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) is not a good thing, but it may be the only way to get the loan in the current environment, as I discuss here.

You do have the option with a lot of lenders of converting to LPMI, or lender paid mortgage insurance. This folds PMI right into the basic rate of your loan, so (unlike regular PMI), it usually becomes tax deductible. On the other hand, because it's written into the basic Note rate, it has a disadvantage that unlike regular PMI, you need to actually refinance to get rid of it. Since most people spend thousands of dollars to refinance, this isn't a good bargain unless you figure the rates to go down. I don't, or at least not much. Were somebody to put a gun to my head and force me to make a bet right now, in November 2007, I'd bet they were going up over the next twelve months. If I were to decide to accept LPMI, I'd almost certainly want a true zero cost loan now, with the loan I'm getting for the purchase. I would accept the higher rate that comes with it, and quite likely a hybrid ARM as well instead of a thirty year fixed rate loan. The reason for this is that I'm never going to recover closing costs through lowered cost of interest in only one year. In other words, accepting LPMI means I've made up my mind to refinance in a year, or sooner if I can find a lender that will do it, and that I'm not going to willingly pay any loan costs that take longer than a year to recover. Furthermore, if I can get even a slightly lower rate by accepting a shorter term hybrid ARM, that's worth a good idea under these circumstances. As I said, If I'm accepting that I'm going to refinance in a few months, I'm going to want a loan with costs as low as I can get it, and it just isn't important to me to have a thirty year fixed rate loan in such circumstances. Makes no sense to worry about having it be fixed for the entire duration if the loan you're getting will go away in a few months regardless.

If I was getting a loan for the purchase where I'm paying closing costs and points to buy it down, regular PMI is the way to go. That can be removed without a full refinance. If I have to refinance in a year to remove LPMI, the vast majority of those loan costs will be wasted, because I need to refinance to get rid of LPMI, and when I do, I'm letting the lender off the hook for the rest of that loan period, and if I haven't yet recovered the closing costs, I certainly won't get any additional benefit from my current rate after I refinance!

Caveat Emptor

Article UPDATED here

Carnival of Personal Finance


Q and O on news media selectively editing what they want you to hear.


Pentagon is left scrambling to pay for war

The congressional inaction may trigger Secretary Robert Gates to carry out his threat last week to furlough as many as 200,000 civil servants and defense contractors this winter, raising the stakes for Democratic lawmakers determined to tie war funding to a drawdown of US troops from Iraq.

Gee, I wonder what districts are most likely to get their workers furloughed?

Before lawmakers left town Friday for their Thanksgiving recess, they did approve the Pentagon's $470 billion base budget, but not a supplemental funding request to pay for war operations. Democrats don't want to fund that $189 billion defense request from President Bush unless the money is tied to deadlines, or at least goals, to bring the bulk of troops home from Iraq by the end of 2008.

This is what I call poetic justice for those speaking out of both sides of their mouth.

Not to mention a wake-up call for those who are determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory

Me? I don't like it. But it's rather disingenuous to play these games and expect the other side not to follow suit. I can hardly fault the current President from playing the games of politics as they are played. If the other side is going to play these sorts of games, he can give in completely, or he can play the same sort of hardball back. Since his current policy is in the best interest of the country, the hard-ball response is the correct one.


Mark Steyn on something to be thankful for.

HR 3915 is not the answer. We've been here before (in the early 1990s), congress did something remarkably similar except a little bit more sane. It didn't work then. Why would we expect it to work this time? Among many other problems with the bill, if prohibiting yield spread being used by brokers to pay loan costs and their own compensation is a good thing, why not get the whole of the problem and prohibit lenders from selling notes above face value at all? The differences are two: The premium that lenders make from selling loans above face value is more than yield spread (usually double yield spread or more) and whereas yield spread is disclosed to consumers, the premium a loan will sell for on the secondary market is not. This proposal is a payoff to lending industry campaign supporters, in order to make it more difficult for brokers to compete. Nor is there any legal requirement for a lender to offer yield spread. If lenders feel it is being abused, they have the ability to refuse to offer yield spread. But of course, then the lenders that continue to offer it will attract more business from brokers - an incentive for individual lenders to make more money by breaking ranks with their competitors. Lest you not understand, if individual lenders can not break legally do this, the lenders as a whole will make more money, and consumers will lose.

I've also seen proposals put forth that federal licensing, a la the NASD, will solve the problem. Preposterous. There's lots of counter-evidence on this one. Black Monday 1987. The dot com bubble of 1996-2000. Pretty much everybody in the securities business is multiply licensed, and it didn't prevent either one of these. The securities business may be a little tighter than the real estate business, but that doesn't make it something to emulate, nor does it mean that licensing will solve problems, as I have illustrated with these two well-known examples, and could illustrate with many others, less well-known but no less telling. If we're going to have licensing requirements, I favor toughening those requirements, but not for this reason.

The causes of this mess are not simple, and a real solution will not fit in a sound bite.

The problem was one of responsibility. Responsibility in law and legal responsibility in fact.

Lending practices had become decoupled from responsibility. Not only had the lenders become insulated from the consequences of offering ill-considered loan programs, mortgage originators had become insulated from the consequences of making an unsustainable loan, the agent from the consequences of selling clients a more expensive property than they can afford.

The point of immediate failure was the loans associated with real estate, and so I'm going to focus there for this article. It wasn't buyer cash, or the price of housing. You can do anything you want with your cash, and the worst thing that can happen is that you don't have it for something else. If the day after you buy a million dollar property for cash, the market collapses and it's suddenly only worth fifty cents, you've still got that property, you just don't have the million dollars for other uses. Whatever the purpose it was going to be used for, it can still be used for. There are no issues with being unable to make monthly payments, no need to refinance when you're upside down because you can't make those payments, and you're not on the hook for money you probably don't have and can't get by selling the property. That's part of money management for adults. But for loans, you're making payments on existing debt with money you are theoretically going to earn in the future. The most critical factor is not the immediate payment. It's the cost of that money - the interest on the loan and the initial costs to procure that loan. Some people still don't understand that these are not the same thing. People tried to pretend that the real cost of the money didn't matter, only the monthly cash flow - until the real cost of the money rose up and bit millions of people in denial. It was the money for debt service that gave people difficulty, and the inability to pay the real cost of that money that financially crippled the vast majority of those that got hurt, and those who are going to get hurt in the coming months.

If I had to look at one place to stop future problems like this before they start, it would be in the loan. How many people would be in difficulty today if lenders had been unwilling to make the loan? That real estate agent can preach for months about how great this house is, Mr. and Ms. Wannabe Homeowner can pine for it all they want, and Mr. and Ms. Seller can proselytize about how wonderful an investment the property is. The fact remains that if the buyers cannot qualify for a loan large enough to buy the property (in combination with their cash on hand), it's not going to happen for those buyers at that price. If they've got the price in cash, there isn't a problem. As I said, the worst that can happen is that they don't have that cash for something else.

The entire lending process was so skewed that it's difficult to communicate to someone who's not a professional in the field. Let me start by describing three of the leading poster children loans that led to the housing meltdown.

100% loan to value ratio loans done on a stated income basis. Stated income loans were an early enabler of the housing boom, and they do have legitimate uses. Their traditional niche is persons who are self employed business persons, who are allowed any number of tax deductions not allowed to the corporate employee, because congress wants to encourage the next Microsoft, the next Google, or the creation of legal, medical, and accounting firms, among others, to foster the competitive element in those professions. If there really were only four accounting firms, they could get together, section the country off, and charge anything they wanted for any quality of service they wanted to deliver - not exactly conducive to happy consumers of these services - and congress gives the owners of those businesses certain tax advantages to encourage the formation of these firms. However, since income is documented via federal tax return, this causes them to be unable to document the same income that someone working as an employee of a larger firm who really is making the same money. Hence, the stated income loan, where someone "states" their income, and in return for a higher interest rate, the bank agrees not to demand documentation of that income. The problem is that if the consumer really doesn't make that income, they're still going to have to pay that same cost of money.

The traditional control upon the stated income loan was nobody did them for 100% of purchase price. And today, we're back to that traditional state of affairs. When you have to put between ten and twenty-five percent of the gross purchase price into the transaction in the form of your hard-earned cash, not only is the lender insulated from losing money if you default, but most people are going to do some hard investigation to make certain they really can afford it and aren't putting that money at risk. Before I write a check for $100,000, I'm going to make darned certain that what comes after is going to enable me to protect that investment. Nor was stated income ever a blank check: You had to be working in a field, and with a job title, where people really do make the income you "stated". Even though the bank wasn't verifying it, it had to be believable. But for several years, these were available for people with credit scores as low as 600 who didn't put anything down. To many people's minds, these consumers weren't really risking anything. here's my rebuttal to one such alleged professional who wrote me an email asking for an endorsement of his program about a year ago. To this way of thinking, this loan removed risk from the prospect of the reward. After all, the consumer wasn't putting any of their hard earned money into the deal, so if it should just not work out for any reason, the consumer could just walk away, whereas if it did, the consumer was in the money! The thinking of these people (who were looking to get paid for their alleged wisdom) was that the consumers weren't risking anything with these loans, so there was no reason not to do these loans and these transactions. As I said then, investment risk is not and never can be zero. There is no such thing as a risk-free investment. Risk can be camouflaged or hidden, but it's still there. Good investment consists of managing that risk. Furthermore, these alleged professionals sold people property and the associated loans based upon this false assessment. Whether a given individual was truly unaware of these consequences, or maliciously lying in order to get a commission, the result should be the same: I put it to you that they are unfit to practice either real estate or loan origination, and they should be permanently barred from the entire real estate industry, after making restitution and serving some appropriate period as involuntary guests of the government.

The 2/28 interest only loan is one of the more common examples of what I have been calling short term adjustable loans. Unlike the 100% stated income loan, which was offered by many A paper lenders for a while, this loan is explicitly subprime. The way this loan, and others of similar mien such as the 3/27 interest only loan, work, is thus: There is an introductory period, during which the loan rate is contractually fixed at a set rate, and the borrower pays only the interest that accrues every month on the loan. For example, if the loan is at 6% for $200,000, the monthly payment is $1000. The attraction is that the payment, and hence, the perceived cost of money, is lower than the same loan fully amortized, for which the payment is $1199. But now let's get to the reason why it was the subprime loan that was offered, instead of the A paper equivalent, various hybrid ARMs such as the 5/1 ARM or 10/1 ARM: Because qualification standards in the subprime world were written to allow borrowers to qualify on the basis of Debt to Income Ratiofor the loan payments at this initial level of payment, rather than based upon the fully indexed payment after this initial period and with a lower maximum debt to income ratio to allow for the fact that that underlying index might well rise, as A paper standards require. Furthermore, thirty year fixed rate loans are available subprime, albeit at higher rates. The net effect of all this was to allow people to qualify for a larger loan than they could really afford, and made sellers, real estate agents, and lenders very happy, and buyers happy for a certain period of time. After all, here they have this house that they didn't think they could afford, much nicer than the one they thought they could afford. It must have been a great bargain, because the apparent cost, or in terms they understood, the payment, was the same!

Unfortunately, that temporary payment is not the real cost of that money. Well, actually it is to begin with in this case, but if that cost changes, and in this instance we know it will, then good risk management means we need to plan for it. In this case, we know from the start that on day 731, that interest rate is jumping to 8.2%, the underlying index plus a margin stated in the contract, and assuming that the index stayed the same, that's what we'd be going to in two years. Bad enough in the case of an amortized 2/28, where we know the payment is going to jump to $1437, a roughly 20% increase over $1199. It's tolerable to do these loans on a refinance for people whose credit just needs a couple years breathing space, after which they'll be eligible for A paper (provided, of course, they know that's what's going on before they sign the application). But for the interest only variant, the payments jump from $1000 per month to $1521, a 52% increase, and that's assuming the underlying index (in this case, the 6 month LIBOR) stays exactly where it was back then.

The most egregious loan of all, the negative amortization loan, should never be a purchase money loan for a primary residence. If you need a negative amortization loan to qualify, you shouldn't buy that property. Period. But it was marketed under all sorts of friendly sounding alternative names, like "Option ARM", "Pick a Pay", and the ever popular "1% loan." Who wouldn't want a loan with a cost of interest of 1%? Sign me up for that!

However, the 1% was a nominal rate only. You were allowed to make payments "as if" your actual loan rate was 1% or something similar. That was not your actual cost of interest for one single solitary second. The actual cost of interest was somewhere between seven and about nine percent, depending upon the situation. This while I had thirty year fixed rate loans in the low 6% range, and lenders were going out advertising to convince people who had gotten 5% thirty year fixed rate loans to refinance into these. You're only writing a check based upon a 1% rate, but they're charging you 8%. That payment is $643 on $200,000, but they're actually charging you $1333 to start with. The difference ($690 the first month!) goes into your loan balance, where they can charge more interest on it next month! Then, when you hit recast (within 5 years at the very most), which in this case we will pick to be 15%, which happens in month 39, and your monthly payment jumps from that $643 to $1756, a 170% increase, and you discover that you now owe $230,000, and the property was only worth $212,000 when you bought it, and you discover it's worth less than that now. You have severe difficulty refinancing to something affordable, even if you didn't trigger a pre-payment penalty. Once again, the lender made the qualification decision based upon the debt to income situation computed using the minimum initial payment! And until the customer is completely unable to pay, the lender is booking all that income from deferred interest. That's what their financial statements write up as income! That bank executive looks like a genius for getting you to sign up for a loan with an interest rate 2% higher than you could have had, or 3% higher than the one you did have. I read an interview conducted with one of those executives back towards the beginning of 2007, who basically said, "The people who sign up for these are all idiots, but I've made a lot of money off them," to which I thought, "No you haven't. The accounting just looks that way right now on paper." Twelve months further on, that company is in bad trouble. To make matters even worse, both this loan and the 2/28 were also offered on a stated income basis!

Lest this be in any way unclear, nobody was coercing lenders into offering these products. They were completely free not to. In fact, I can name a couple of household names that hung back, and never did offer negative amortization loans. But with the huge although false incomes lenders and mortgage investors were reporting upon these three types of loan (and others), there was a mad stampede for a while to see who would offer the most over the top loan program. For that matter, mortgage brokers were free not to participate, and real estate agents were free to limit themselves to real loans their client could afford, and more than one did, not matter how they suffered professionally while their competition was offering make-believe pie-in-the-sky math. But so long as that mortgage broker and their client was following the rules set down by the lender, the only people the lenders can blame is themselves. So long as the mortgage broker and real estate agent made certain their client could in fact afford that loan, there is absolutely nothing wrong with having your client buy a property with a stated income loan for 100% of value. If the program the lender offers falls apart in the aggregate on loans that were precisely as presented, there is no one to blame but the lender themselves.

The problem is that disclosure and transparency were nowhere to be found in the vast majority of these loans. I can imagine otherwise sane adults signing off on all this sort of problem loan even if they were fully informed, but not in the numbers that are causing all of the problems. There are rational reasons why someone might do every single one of those loans. These loan programs are not new - it was the way they were marketed and sold that led people to sign up without understanding the consequences. Lest anyone be unaware, bad consequences hitting large numbers of borrowers always translates to bad consequences for lenders holding those notes, something that the lenders themselves had forgotten.

Lack of real disclosure is at the heart of the problems with our entire system of real estate in general, and of loans in particular. Lack of disclosure of what is going to happen should the consumer stay in that loan. Lack of disclosure as to what is really going on. Lack of disclosure - really a lack of transparency - in the entire loan process. I know - every good loan officer knows - what loans are available and what loans are potentially deliverable to a given applicant. It really doesn't take much in most cases. Credit report, income documentation, purchase contract. Every once in a while there's something unusual going on that prevents the loan you thought you could do, but for the vast majority of loans out there, that's enough to tell a competent loan officer what you qualify for. Furthermore, if a loan officer doesn't know all the salient points of the mortgage loan they're trying to persuade someone to sign up for, I don't think anybody sane would argue that wasn't gross negligence. "I can't tell you what this loan is going to do, but I think it's a really great loan for you!"

In the overwhelming majority of cases, however, that loan officer knew exactly what loan they would be able to deliver, at exactly what real cost, before the borrower signed the loan application to begin the process. They knew exactly what the terms would be, and exactly what the cost would be, exactly what the final loan amount would be, and exactly what the payment would be, not only now, but for the rest of the loan. This is all easy math, and the only thing more difficult than what a third grader needs to know to get into fourth grade is computing the payment once you have the total. Some of it may be subject to revision if you find out the client had their current balance or whether there was a prepayment penalty wrong, but you should be able to get it within no more than a dollar, otherwise. It is one of the lending industry's big dirty secrets that the lender who underestimates the real figures by the largest amount will win the business. The one that tells a given consumer the best fairy tale gets their signature on a loan application. Despite the fact that these fairy tales are not binding in any significant way without a Loan Quote Guarantee, rare indeed is the consumer who will penalize the lender who lies to get them to sign the application, by not signing the final loan documents thirty or sixty days later.

I've already discussed the major ways in which people were qualified for loans they couldn't really afford, and the ways that were available to a competent loan officer to make it appear as if a given client could afford a given loan. And people who don't understand what was wrong with these are still looking for them. I got a search hit yesterday for "1% loan 120% of value." I get comparable search hits most hours of most days. People think these loans are good for them because they enabled them to buy a more expensive property than they could really afford (or "cash out" refinance for toys when they shouldn't have). But the real cost of the money was there and lurking all along, and none of this was explained to them. Furthermore, the vast majority of people whom I explained it to proceeded to go ahead and do it anyway, because it was so attractive to them now. They didn't do it with me, despite the fact that I told them if they were certain they wanted to do it, I could get it done. They went out to someone else who pretended the downside wasn't there. The downside was there, but by pretending it wasn't, these providers persuaded millions of people to do loans where they were cutting their own throat in slow motion. But people didn't want the truth - that they were heading towards an inevitable disaster - they wanted to pretend that everything was hunky-dory, and they richly rewarded those who pretended it was so.

How do we prevent this from recurring? Three answers: mandatory and full timely disclosure, a more transparent process, and more responsibility in fact. None of these are present currently. The lending and real estate industries and their lobbyists will fight all three of these, but they are all necessary if we really want to deal with the problem.

Let's detail what I'm talking about.

Instead of the joke that is the current Good Faith Estimate (Mortgage Loan Disclosure Statement in California), let's require prospective loan providers to tell the whole truth about a loan before the client commits by signing up. It's not difficult for a loan originator to figure out what the real costs are going to be, and what the rate really is going to be. We've already established that if they don't know all of the characteristics of a loan before they try to sell it, something is wrong. So the loan originator really should know everything about a loan as soon as the prospective consumer furnishes basic information. Let's make it mandatory to tell the consumer the truth of all of those neat little details when they sign up, rather than when they sign final paperwork. Let's start with a real accounting of the new balance: "This loan will cost you 1 point of origination and 1 point of discount. Administrative costs to finish the loan will be $3022, including all third party fees. You have indicated that you will/will not be adding the cost of one month interest to the loan in order to skip one payment. There will/will not be an impound account set up to pay property taxes and homeowner's insurance, requiring an initial amount of $n/a, which will be paid by check/adding it to loan balance. Starting from your initial balance of $200,000, this leads us to a final balance on your new loan of approximately $208,186. If this number is not correct within $100, your loan provider must present you with an updated estimate via this form at least ten calendar days prior to final loan documents." This puts an honest accounting of what the loan is really going to cost in the consumer's hands right away. It removes the incentive for low-balling, because the client is going to know about any changes ten days in advance - enough time for their competitors to get the loan done. Here's an article discussing how much it's legal to low-ball a loan quote, and the lenders keep pretending that quote is real, even though they know it isn't, right up until loan signing, where the consumers usually have no choice but to sign the documents for the loan they were lied to about all along.

Then let's have a section on characteristics of the loan: I don't like 2/28s, but let's use one for an example, just to show how well undesirable terms should stand out: "The initial interest rate will be 6%. This will be fixed for 24 months. After this initial period, your interest rate will be determined by 6 month LIBOR plus a margin of 2.8%, determined every 6 months. Should this index remain where it currently is, your interest rate will be 8.2% upon full adjustment. This loan is fully amortized/interest only for a period of n/a months/negatively amortized for up to n/a months, after which, it will fully amortize. If this loan features negative amortization, your balance will increase by $n/a if you make the minimum payments for this period. Should any of these numbers other than the value of the applicable index change, your loan provider must present you with an updated estimate via this form at least ten calendar days prior to final loan documents." This lets the consumer know exactly what they're getting into, before they have no choice but sign the documents or lose the deposit, while still have time to shop for something else.

Let's disclose the effects of any prepayment penalty, as well! "This loan does/does not include a prepayment penalty. Should you pay it off within 24 months of funding, you will be required to pay a penalty of 100% of six (6) months interest upon the loan. At current values, this is approximately $6245.58. If any of these values changes by 1% of the estimated value, your loan provider must present you with an updated estimate via this form at least ten calendar days prior to final loan documents." Let's put a dollar figure on that pre-payment penalty, so people know what they're risking. It's not like this is Monopoly money!

Now, let's disclose the payments, and the real costs of keeping the loan: "The initial monthly cost of interest on this loan will be $1040.93. Assuming the underlying index remains constant, the cost of interest will be $1422.60 per month at full adjustment. The minimum initial monthly payment will be $1248.19. Assuming the underlying index remains constant, the monthly payment will be $1543.14 at full adjustment. If any of these values changes by 1% of the estimated value, your loan provider must present you with an updated estimate via this form at least ten calendar days prior to final loan documents."

Next, a little bit of transparency: "This includes a rate lock of 30 days, and is subject to change until such time as the lender accepts the rate lock. Your loan is/is not currently locked. If it is locked, your lock expires n/a (date) and the loan must be funded by that time in order to receive this rate. Should any of these numbers other than the value of the applicable index change, your loan provider must present you with an updated estimate via this form at least ten calendar days prior to final loan documents.

Now, some real transparency! Let's tell the consumers what it will take to qualify: "This loan requires full documentation of income/stated income/no income requirement. It requires a debt to income ratio not exceeding 50%, and a loan to value ratio not exceeding 80%. This quote is based upon a FICO score of 640, with the following mortgage delinquencies in the preceding 24 months 2x30 0 x 60 0 x90, and the following non-mortgage delinquencies n/a x30 n/a x 60 n/a x90. Based upon known debts service of $1643 per month, of which $1483 will be replaced by this loan, and prorated monthly property taxes of $166 per month and prorated insurance costs of $72 per month and other monthly housing costs of $230 per month, you will need an monthly income of $3753 to qualify for this loan, and the property must appraise for a minimum of $260,250 in order for this loan to be accepted by the underwriters. If any of these values changes by 1% of the estimated value, your loan provider must present you with an updated estimate via this form at least ten calendar days prior to final loan documents. Note that misrepresentation of your financial position or of the property value is a felony punishable by up to five years in federal prison, and conspiracy is a separate felony offense also punishable for up to five years in federal prison, and you may also forfeits legal protections afforded most consumers" Most people can look at this and tell if they qualify. No more loan providers baiting someone with a loan they know they're not going to qualify for! There could even be a standard list of common "loan busters" attached. Finally, it lets people know that they need to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth in order to receive all of those nice protections the law has granted consumers against lenders. Furthermore, other people, such as agents and sellers, can look at this and see something that really tells them whether or not these people are going to qualify for this lean. No stringing other people along for two months before they find out the loan isn't possible!

My point is this: Both consumers and those who are honest loan providers will benefit from moving the moment of truth forward from final loan documents. The only people that will be hurt are those who make a habit of low-balling their estimates - telling people about loans that there's really no way they can deliver. The current situation, where consumers are likely to sign up with the person that tells them the best fairy tale, even if they shouldn't get a loan at all. The current situation encourages telling fairy tales in order to get people signed up. I don't think anyone will argue that's a good thing. The replacement should encourage people to understand how loans really work.

I've discussed disclosure and transparency. Now let's consider responsibility. The best laws do no good unless they're enforced, and enforcement has to start getting tough for real. Furthermore, for many years a lot of large companies have gotten away with saying they train their people to follow the law, when in fact they let it be known they'll wink at violations so long as you bring in a little more business because of it, if not actively encouraging violations when the regulators backs are turned. They'll make their people sign off on a piece of paper that says the company told them about violating the "do not call" list, or that soliciting other agent's listings is illegal, or any of dozens of other violations, while letting it be known that the company will wink at violations if not actively encourage them. And I'm just talking about things that are flatly illegal here, never mind things that may be unethical but not illegal, such as telling people they have a $400,000 loan for $1287, encouraging people who already have loans at 5% to exchange them for negative amortization loans at 8%, where the minimum payment may be less for a while, but the real cost of the money is $2700 per month, as opposed to the under $1700 of their current loan. Just forgetting to mention little things like that.

Nor can the hunt for responsibility stop at the first broker supervisor up the chain. Companies that make it clear they want you to follow the law don't have nearly as many difficulties. If more than a very small percentage of loan officers or agents working for a given chain do something they shouldn't have, it wasn't likely to have been spontaneous disregard of the rules. The big chains know that under the current set up, they'll lose the occasional low level victim to the regulators, but nobody important will ever be prosecuted. That needs to change. At one point in time, I was waiting to interview at a loan place which shall remain nameless, and heard someone described as a "national vice president" giving a class that was not only incorrect as to the facts of the matter, but intentionally misleading in such a was as to make it easier for the loan officers he was instructing to rationalize putting a client into a bad loan. But if the only penalty such companies face is a slightly higher turnover of underlings, while they're permitted to keep the increased level of business that results, that is not the way to encourage good, ethical, responsible behavior. Nor is it sufficient to train the people you're allegedly responsible for in legal CYA maneuvers and declare training complete.

Let's consider advertising for a minute. Currently, it over-promises the moon, just in order to get people to call. "$400,000 loan for $1287 per month!" to use the example of one web advertiser I've seen way too much of. The cost of that loan isn't $1287 per month. That's just the minimum payment. The real cost of that loan is $2700 per month, and increasing if the borrower makes that minimum payment. Net result: Millions of people who gave up good loans for lies, and have now lost their homes, or are in the process of losing their homes, because of it. Advertising needs to be required to focus on the real cost of the money. The interest rate, and how much in dollars it will cost to get that loan done. If they had to advertise a rate of 8.2%, they wouldn't get nearly so many gullible people signing up. If those people who make a habit of advertising a loan with a low rate instead of a low payment, then they're going to need to explain that that $400,000 loan at 5.5% will cost $24,000 to get it done. There's always a Tradeoff between rate and cost, except when they can sucker someone into applying for a loan that has a high rate and high costs.

Enforcement needs to be faster. There is no reason why every HUD 1 that gets filed cannot be checked for compliance by a computer program, and flag for human evaluation those that fall outside of set parameters. It needs to be compared to the earlier paperwork the client was given, and checked for compliance with the law, not wait until someone actually loses their property before the government starts to act. Swifter, more certain punishment will deter more of the unethical and illegal acts before they happen. Elementary psychology. Sadly, there are those that can only be deterred by confiscating their license permanently and sending them to Club Fed for several years, but the rest of us are better off without them in the business, but the sooner we confiscate that license, ban them from the industry, and put them away, the fewer people that will get hurt as the result of their actions.

Another thing: For as long as real estate agents and loan originators are the same license, it's time to stop pretending that one doesn't need to know the basic job functions of the other. Professionals who deal with real estate every day are much better equipped to recognize malfeasance, and stop if before it gets to the point where their client is getting hurt. If you don't warn your client of any issues you see, you have violated fiduciary duty, and nearly as deserving of punishment as those who commit it. No, you can't recognize everything that happens before it does. But there's no excuse not to have an affirmative requirement to investigate, not to turn someone in to state regulators, but to inform their client that all may not be as it seems. This may meet resistance from loan officers and agents who want the other to continue to share business, but who is really entitled to more protection: The person who leaves you open to charges that you failed your client, or that client, who really does directly and measurably put money in your pocket?

There can only be one answer to that question.

Caveat Emptor

Article UPDATED here

While I have been reading the site for about a year, I have tended to gloss over or completely ignore the posts regarding real estate and purchasing a home. That is, until about two weeks ago when I had a conversation with my parents and decided that I want to stop being a renter and instead purchase my first home this spring. I have tried to wade through your numerous posts on Home Buying and Real Estate but am having trouble finding a nice, organized timeline of posts to read. Could you perhaps help me by providing a suggested reading list of your posts for a soon-to-be first time home buyer, in the order that you think I should read them?

Thanks for your time. I appreciate all of the work you put into the site.


The organization on the site is not intended to be in any kind of order. Still, I'll go over a few of the most important ones that everyone needs to know.

Should I buy a Home? series

Preparation, Process, and Consequences

The recent companion articles on why renting is for suckers and when you should not buy:
Why Renting Is For Suckers and When You Should Not Buy Real Estate

Why There is Money in Fixer Properties

Then read my basic series on loans: The Good Faith Estimate, parts I and II, Truth in lending, and HUD 1, and why you should ignore APR (if you're in California, I've edited the first two for California's MLDS on my other site)

Good Faith Estimate Part I, Good Faith Estimate Part II, Truth In Lending, HUD 1, Why You Should Ignore APR

(California's Mortgage Loan Disclosure Statement, Part I, and Mortgage Loan Disclosure Statement Part II)

Now you're ready for the advice on shopping a loan, and dealing with agents. In no particular order

How To Effectively Shop for A Real Estate Loan
Mortgage Loan Advertisements: Horrible and Getting Worse
Payment, Interest Rate and Up Front Costs: Choosing a loan intelligently
Mortgage and Real Estate Red Flags
Levels of Mortgage Documentation, or, Why You Should Demand to Do More Paperwork
Questions You Should Ask Prospective Loan Providers
Available Real Estate Loan Types
Fixed rate, Balloon, ARM and Hybrid Loans
One Loan Versus Two Loans
The Best Idea About Applying for a Mortgage
Loan Rate Sheets: An example, and the games lenders play
Mortgage Loan Rate Locks
Loan Quote Guarantees

On dealing With Real Estate Agents:

How to Effectively Shop for a Buyer's Agent
Dual Agency: Using the Seller's Agent as Your Buyer's Agent
Buyer's Agents: What Do They Do?
Production Metrics versus Consumer Metrics
Exclusive versus Non-Exclusive Buyer's Agent Agreement

and, to help you avoid selection mistakes
Manufactured, Modular, and Site-Built Homes: How Lending Practices Drive the Sales Market
Don't Let Cash Make You Stupid About Real Estate
Vampire Properties

Then then while the whole thing is in process, come back and read as much as you have time for.

I'm exploring book publication, organized in more or less the chronological order you need to know everything.

(If anyone knows a good literary agent, I'm interested!)

Caveat Emptor

Original here

Who is responsible for the sub-prime mortgage failures?

There's a lot of blame to go around.

Regulators for failing to police existing Federal Reserve regulations on the lenders. This includes both Clinton and Bush era regulators.

Bond rating agencies for failing to perform due diligence on the investment potential of these loans. This stuff should not have been rated investment grade. Most of it should have been in the speculative junk bond classes (Ds and Fs), not AA or even AAA.

Lenders get a double whammy: Offering unsustainable loans to consumers without adequate disclosure of future consequences, and the games they played with Wall Street investors they were selling the loans to in order to make them seem less risky than they were. Make an unsustainable loan that the consumer cannot really afford, manipulate the paperwork until it looks like the loans are good, and sell them off before they go bad! Great work if you can get it - provided you've had your senses of ethics and self-preservation surgically removed.

Loan originators (that's both brokers and direct lenders, making a third strike for the direct lenders) for failure to make certain their client understood what they were getting into early enough to not get into the situation in the first place, and for cooperating with agents who wanted to sell a more expensive property than the buyers could afford, lest that agent not send them future clients, or talk future clients away from them. In many cases, they did not understand the loan they were recommending for the client. I have yet to see any evidence that direct lenders were superior to brokers on this score.

Listing Agents and Developers who wanted to sell more expensive houses and make more money, and went three states beyond overboard in doing so, and Buyers Agents who failed to advise their client that that huge new beautiful house they had their hearts set upon appeared to be beyond their means.

(Lest anyone thing otherwise, all of these are indictments against INDIVIDUALS who failed to perform their job functions correctly. There were individuals at all levels above who tried to warn everyone they could of what was going on. Pretty much without exception, they suffered for it professionally)

Last and certainly not least, the consumers who fell for the easy, attractive sale because they wanted so badly for it to be true so they could get that huge new beautiful house, that they did no investigation of what was really going on in the largest transactions of their life. Or they wanted the $100,000 cash out for toys without understanding the consequences of the loan paperwork they signed. The information was out there, and available. If you're an adult, you are, in the final analysis, responsible for your own actions. If you're not, what are you doing buying real estate and signing promissory notes for hundreds of thousands of dollars?

Did I miss anyone? Appraisers, yes, but their role was comparatively minor and the result of pressure from without. Furthermore, there were more than enough appraisers participating to render the refusal of any particular one nothing more than an exercise in scapegoating. Agents, loan originators and especially lenders bear a much larger burden of responsibility. Just because I didn't personally participate is no reason to excuse my profession.

So there's more than enough evidence to point fingers at every major player in the real estate business, as well as quite a few minor ones. The idea that any one group bears enough culpability to somehow sacrifice in the name of expiating the sins of all is garbage, nothing more than spin cooked up to distract the Short Attention Span Theater that is American Politics from the fact that it's the system as a whole which failed. Staking out any single group as a scapegoat is setting ourselves up for a repeat on an even larger scale in a decade or two. It's the entire system that needs an overhaul.

Caveat Emptor

reprinted article here

Carnival of Personal Finance


Education doesn't get any more pathetic than this (via Dr. Sanity)


megan McArdle on why we need entitlement reform now, not in 2041.


A wish list for the perfect strategy game. More than slightly tongue in cheek.


I'm a little behind the writing curve, because I spent Monday night and most of Tuesday trying to cough up a lung (fortunately, I failed). I was also committed to help with my daughter's class field trip Wednesday, and I still have to polish the seminar for Thursday night a bit more, and the major thing that can give is new writing here. So if there's a couple of extra repeats this week, that's what happened.

Transaction Case Study

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I had been corresponding irregularly with this gentleman during his hunt. It happens he lives outside of California, and I only work inside California, so I wasn't professionally involved. However, when he sent me the email telling me how it all worked out, I thought it it would make a good case study to show how several things I write about actually happen, how to deal with them, and that even if you don't do everything I write about, you can still get quite a bit of benefit out of this. I obtained his permission to run it with identifying details removed. I'm going to break it up into more digestible blocks, and comment upon what he did right and what he could have done better, had he wanted to spend the effort.

Hello Dan,

Thought I'd drop you a note and complete the circle so to speak. We've corresponded a handful of times since about May. I'm in DELETED, sold my $200K townhouse and contracted to have a new house built. I used your site a lot to come up to speed on mortgage matters, I've only had 1 mortgage in my life which was for the townhouse 8 or 9 years ago. That one was an FHA ARM I assumed so this new one was a new deal entirely for me.

Research is always good. That puts him ahead of at least 90% of everybody, right there.

We signed the contract to build around May 1 and closed on a nice shiny new 3,100 square foot, 5 bedroom house on a .31 acre lot on October 1. It's been a wild month what with moving and all but we're now firmly in and very happy with the new digs. Mortgage wise we went with the builders affiliated lender, it's a moderately large regional builder not one of the publicly traded ones. I would have liked to have had the opportunity to shop around a lot but the way they write these contracts makes their lender pretty enticing with a $15K credit towards closing costs.

A $15k credit towards closing costs? On a $200,000 loan? Real is $3000-3500, plus whatever you decide to pay in points. That's about 6 points of buying the rate down. And 6.125, what he ended up with, is available in my neck of the woods for less than a point. Rates are down from where they were in the summer, but even then, I think 1.2 points was as high as I got for that rate. Real, effective savings for using the builder's lender: about $6000. Not exactly chicken feed, and at least it was a net savings. All too often, people let cash make them stupid about real estate, and this is one of the biggies. We didn't cover whether the builder's loan had a pre-payment penalty, but the builder's loan having a prepayment penalty would have eaten all those savings and more, besides.

A better way to handle it is as a direct credit on the sales price of the house. Of course, you need to have already negotiated your best bargain before you bite off on that, or they'll give you $15,000 with one hand, while taking $20,000 away with the other.

So here is how it all worked out. Initially we got a GFE from the lender which is of course worthless at the start since you can't lock a rate 4 months ahead of time. The initial GFE was for 5.875%, 30 year fixed with a single point origination fee. Then over the summer the whole subprime mess hit the mortgage market hard. My loan was never going to be a problem with a loan amount of $215K against a purchase price of $430K but we were sweating bullets over the rate for a while . I got my initial firm rate lock the last few days of July at 6.5% with the same 1 point and 30 year fixed term. That was just under 75 days from the initial closing date of 10/8, I believe (you'd know ;)) the 75 day locks are a little more expensive than the shorter term ones. This lender lets you lock at the first opportunity and for my loan type that was 75 days, then they'll let you re-lock once between then and closing at no extra charge. I watched the rates every day and I was subscribed to DELETED daily rate alert so I could see the daily trends as the bond market did all sorts of gyrations up and down .

The longer the lock is for, the more expensive it is, yes. That said, for A paper loans, it's not very difficult to lock for up to 270 days out. On the other hand, for longer locks, you're likely to make a non-refundable deposit.

This is describing the "float down" option that lenders have, and which may or may not be included with a lock at a direct lender - their way of luring in customers, and that's fine. Broker clients don't get this (at least I've never heard of a broker who could offer it), but brokers can pull the loan and resubmit elsewhere, no matter how much lenders try to stop the practice (It's so rare that ways they try don't do much good). What they're doing with the float down is getting people committed without having them feel committed. Unless you're working a back up loan that's going to be ready at the same time, you're committed. Here's the proof of that pudding: What happens if they completely hose you on the loan? Who else is going to parachute drop in with another loan ready to sign? Answer: Nobody. Therefore, you're committed to that lender.


My closing date got moved up to 10/1 at some point and then we got to September. On 9/7 (I think this was the week) which was a Friday bonds had had a rally that week anticipating fed action. The DELETED rate had dropped from 6.5 to 6.375 to 6.25, I checked with my Broker and he offered 6 & 1/8. I held off till Monday since the bonds had rallied even more on Friday thinking it might drop a smidge more. No dice, Monday had the same 6.125 so I re-locked at that rate, 1 origination point and 30 year fixed - or so I thought.

If he's working for the broker, he wouldn't be working for the developer. He might be a loan officer, but he's not a broker. I've never made $15k on a single loan - ever. My company has never made half that amount, even on loans several times the size and apparent difficulty. That builder is not offering you $15k of incentives to use his lender if they're only making a couple thousand that a broker would from that loan. That builder is getting the direct lender's stroke from selling that loan on the secondary market.

That said, this is pretty good work on the lock.

Now, at every turn in this process I'd see other options. Initially he asked me if I had any interest in interest only, "certainly not" was my reply. Each time I receive a GFE there were blocks for the interest only option. I know in the past they've done A LOT of interest only 5 year fixed period loans. But I wanted a 30 year fixed, the rates are hardly any different these days and I do want to actually payoff my loan eventually! :-)

Oh, you will pay off your loan eventually. That's one feature all loans have. Lenders use interest only to make the payments seem a little more affordable. Of course, when the interest only period expires, your loan amortizes over a shorter period, and the payments are even less affordable than they would have been.

Unless you can afford the property with a fully amortized, you're well advised not to buy it with an interest only. They always bump the rate for interest only, and usually it's grounds for a loan originator to make a little more money, or at least try to. Even if you can afford the fully amortized payment when it does adjust, only go interest only if you have a plan that's going to make you more money than it costs you.

So closing day arrives. We trundle over to the brokers office and meet the person from the title company who is serving as the closer. She begins reviewing docs, might have been the first piece of paper of maybe the second - "and here is your note, 6.5% rate with interest only for 5 years" Wait, STOP - that isn't my loan, my loan is a 30 yr 6.125 rate!!! So she calls the broker and they look it over . Oh, so sorry, someone dropped the ball and drew up the papers incorrectly. It took them an hour to redraw the entire package up the way it should have been in the first place. The broker was very apologetic and did offer, without me asking, to waive their document processing fee which was a few hundred bucks. All's well that ends well but it makes you wonder. The loan they prepared in error had the slightly higher rate and no origination point so the costs were a couple thousand less for the higher rate. So I don't think they were trying to screw me totally but the fact remains it was a totally different loan from what we had discussed all along.

6.5%, even interest only, on a 5/1 would have made them something like 2.2 points of yield spread, had they been a broker. It makes a difference of something between 3 and 4% of the loan amount on the secondary market. That's why no origination on that loan. If you had signed those papers, they would have sent out for caviar! That and of course, the fact that they were giving you a $15,000 allowance which you weren't close to using all of. That said, always judge and compare loans by what is best for you. If someone can make more money while delivering me a loan with a better bottom line, they've earned every penny of whatever they make. Lender compensation is not something for consumers to worry about.

This is very good, that you caught the difference and stood your ground, however. Yes, your signing agent made it easy on you, but you still did it. People don't believe this really happens, but it happens all the time, and over fifty percent of all people it happens to do not notice, and of those, something like 85% won't stand their ground.

Caveat Emptor

Article UPDATED here

Project Valour IT

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(This message will remain on top thrl Veteran's Day through November 12. Scroll Down for newer entries.)

UPDATE: Thus far, the drive is a miserable failure. I just got this email:

ValOUR-IT will run thru MONDAY @ midnight, 11/12/2007

We're still struggling to get to $100K overall, despite Mrs G's lurid
attempts at getting others to donate to the USAF.

It's time to sprint. Don't forget to push the auctions!

If 5% of my usual traffic over the next three days donates $5 each, that will be over $1500 - two and a half laptops. Come on! Show that you're one out of twenty!

Once per year, I engage in fundraising activities, but not for me.

Project Valour IT helps injured service people reconnect with the internet by furnishing voice activated laptops to wounded service folk who have lost the use of one or more limbs. This is critical because it allows them to do things everyone else has come to take for granted while they're going through treatment for their wounds, and afterwards.

These folks stepped up to the line to defend you, me, our friends, family, and even that jerk who runs this website that everyone hates, and it cost them one or more limbs. Seems an awfully small measure of appreciation to help them be able to surf the internet and send email while undergoing treatment and afterwards, because I've yet to meet any of them who really got their hands back.

Please, give what you can if you can. These men and women deserve a lot more than this, but this is what I'm asking you to help with. I know it's rough with the fires having just happened; I understand if you're not in a position to do so.

(PS the manufacturer sells them at cost or even a bit below. They don't make a penny)



Here's the Soldier's Angels page that tracks the overall progress. (if you have a website, join there!)

Prevent this shame from happening to us:

The Last of the Light Brigade

There were thirty million English who talked of England's might,

There were twenty broken troopers who lacked a bed for the night.

They had neither food nor money, they had neither service nor trade;

They were only shiftless soldiers, the last of the Light Brigade.

They felt that life was fleeting; they knew not that art was long,

That though they were dying of famine, they lived in deathless song.

They asked for a little money to keep the wolf from the door;

And the thirty million English sent twenty pounds and four!

They laid their heads together that were scarred and lined and grey;

Keen were the Russian sabres, but want was keener than they;

And an old Troop-Sergeant muttered, "Let us go to the man who writes

The things on Balaclava the kiddies at school recites."

They went without bands or colours, a regiment ten-file strong,

To look for the Master-singer who had crowned them all in his song;

And, waiting his servant's order, by the garden gate they stayed,

A desolate little cluster, the last of the Light Brigade.

They strove to stand to attention, to straighten the toil-bowed back;

They drilled on an empty stomach, the loose-knit files fell slack;

With stooping of weary shoulders, in garments tattered and frayed,

They shambled into his presence, the last of the Light Brigade.

The old Troop-Sergeant was spokesman, and "Beggin' your pardon," he said,

"You wrote o' the Light Brigade, sir. Here's all that isn't dead.

An' it's all come true what you wrote, sir, regardin' the mouth of hell;

For we're all of us nigh to the workhouse, an, we thought we'd call an' tell.

"No, thank you, we don't want food, sir; but couldn't you take an' write

A sort of 'to be continued' and 'see next page' o' the fight?

We think that someone has blundered, an' couldn't you tell 'em how?

You wrote we were heroes once, sir. Please, write we are starving now."

The poor little army departed, limping and lean and forlorn.

And the heart of the Master-singer grew hot with "the scorn of scorn."

And he wrote for them wonderful verses that swept the land like flame,

Till the fatted souls of the English were scourged with the thing called Shame.

O thirty million English that babble of England's might,

Behold there are twenty heroes who lack their food to-night;

Our children's children are lisping to "honour the charge they made-"

And we leave to the streets and the workhouse the charge of the Light Brigade!

Rudyard Kipling

Please help if you can.

If you have three real estate companies sending you emails with multi-listings, if you want to see one of the properties, who gets the commission? There five properties that I want to see the inside of the houses. Company A, B, C, etc. One house is listed by one of the three people that have been sending me emails.Am I obligated to sign up with an agent if I want to see the inside of a house? Do I tell the other agents not to send me anymore multiple listings?

That depends upon you and upon the agent and upon what sort of agreement, if any, who have signed.

If you haven't signed any representation agreements, nobody has grounds to complain. I don't ask for any agreement just to have listings automatically e-mailed to a prospect (within limits), or even an automated site for them to manage those listings. I have to have MLS access anyway, and that comes as part of the package. I look at it as an opportunity: for a few minutes work, I'm likely to end up with a prospective buyer. If one in a hundred of these converts to a transaction, I'm ahead of the game. The ratio is much higher than that. I could use it as an opportunity to set up my toll booth, and many agents do, but although they may be "top producers" because they cut out other agents for having their receptionist take five minutes out of their day to set this up, they're not the sort of agent someone who compares agents in action will likely choose.

If you've signed a non-exclusive representation agreement, the one who is the primary motivating factor behind the sale should be the one paid. This may be the agent who introduces you to the property, or it can be the agent who answers all of your questions well enough that you're willing to make an offer. It can also be the one who fast talks or pressures you into making the offer, but that's the beauty of non-exlcusive agreements. You can fire such agents by just not working with them any more, and they're out of your life and out of the transaction.

If you've signed an exclusive representation agreement, then the person you signed the exclusive agreement with is legally entitled to be paid. This is a problem if someone else really sold the property to you, or if you've signed two or more such agreements. Furthermore, you can't fire bad agents with an exclusive agreement except by waiting for it to expire. You sign a six month exclusive agreement in April, they're going to get paid for any transaction you start through October (and possibly longer) - even if you told them you never want to see their face again before April was over.

Many agents will ask you to sign an exclusive representation agreement before they do anything. You shouldn't sign one at all. Non-exclusive is plenty good to protect the agent while preserving your protections against a bad one. And there is no reason not to sign the standard non-exclusive agreement.

I have heard every rationalization under the sun as to why exclusive agreements are desirable. The only person they're desirable to is insecure or incompetent agents. There is no advantage for the consumer to sign one. Exclusivity prohibits real competition, where the consumer can observe your skills and your attitude in action. Anybody can look good in the office before you've seen a single property together. That's just sales patter. The proof is watching them in action when you're evaluating property together. That's where you can tell the best agents from the friendly idiots, the high pressure commission grabber, and all the other problem personalities around. And sometimes, that's where you find out that they're not so friendly after all. Unless it's showing one of my listings, I won't go out with someone who's signed an exclusive with someone else, and neither will any other agent I know of. I'm not going to show someone the bargain I spent twenty or thirty hours finding so that an agent who couldn't be bothered to get out of their swivel chair can get paid for the work I did, but you'd be disgusted at how often I get the request.

If all you're getting is a sit on their hands agent who never leaves their office to scout property for you, whether they're an explicit discounter or someone pretending to be full service, then the purchase contract itself has confirmation of the relationship and there is no need to sign an agreement in advance of this at all. The same is true anytime you approach an agent with a property you have already determined to make an offer on. The agency relationship is confirmed in the purchase contract, indeed, in the initial offer. There's absolutely no need to sign any kind of representation agreement with them outside of that. It's simply one more method by which rotten agents lock up business, because if you sign that exclusive agreement they ask for, they've got you for however long it lasts. I've been told - by clients - about listing agents who wouldn't communicate an offer until they had signed a representation agreement - a clear violation of fiduciary responsibility to that owner. I've heard every rationalization under the sun here, as well. "I'm putting my time into this! I deserve to get paid if it falls apart!" is the most common one. My response is to such agents is, "Then make sure it doesn't fall apart, and no, you don't." The reason agents get paid as much as they do is because their pay is contingent upon a successful, fully consummated transaction. It's right there in all of the standard WinForms contracts. If an agent can't make this transaction go, they haven't earned any kind of right to mess up another one also. If you, the client, want to stick around once you've seen them in action, that's great! If not, that should also be within your range of choices. An exclusive agreement removes that option.

Caveat Emptor

Article UPDATED here

Carnival of Personal Finance


Congress hands Bush first veto override

"The president is standing up for the taxpayers," White House press secretary Dana Perino said. "No one is surprised that this veto is overridden. We understand that members of Congress are going to support the projects in their districts. Budgeting is about making choices and defining priorities - it doesn't mean you can have everything. This bill doesn't make the difficult choices; it says we can fund every idea out there. That's not a responsible way to budget."

The bill funds hundreds of Army Corps of Engineers projects, such as dams, sewage plants and beach restoration, that are important to local communities and their representatives. It also includes money for the hurricane-hit Gulf Coast and for Florida Everglades restoration efforts.

The majority of this bill consists of home district earmarks for the house and senate.

This goes to show there is one thing more powerful in national politics than anything else: Pork.


A matter for considerable concern: Ground said rising at Yellowstone Park

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Yellowstone National Park, once the site of a giant volcano, has begun swelling up, possibly because molten rock is accumulating beneath the surface, scientists report.

I saw a Discovery Channel documentary on this a couple years ago. Yellowstone is not merely a volcano site, it is the site if one of the most powerful volcanoes on Earth. Erupting at about 600,000 year intervals, it typically blows with 1000 times the force Mt. St. Helens did. The entire valley is an active caldera - that's why the geysers. If it goes, everything from there to Chicago could be buried under a foot or more of ash.


A very interesting development, from one of my wholesalers:

Ginnie Mae recently announced that it would no longer limit loan amounts to the one-unit conforming loan limits on mortgages guaranteed by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The current limits are $417,000 ($625,500 in Alaska and Hawaii).

To support this initiative, DELETED will allow VA loans up to $700,000, effective Nov. 19. Exceptions for higher loan amounts (up to $1.5 million) will be considered on a case-by-case basis...

Talk about changing the calculus of the VA loan!


Just FYI, I'll be doing a seminar, at 7pm on the 15th at my office. This is going to become a regular feature, on second Thursdays. This month is going to be on buying foreclosure with zero down, but it's going to have a lot of applicability to people who want to do one or the other, as well as both.

Email for for directions

Next month, I choose the topic.

It's not difficult to see how some of the weakest agents and loan officers I know make lots of money. They work for an office of a well advertised chain, and when they get the walk-in traffic, no matter what happens, it's "A great property," or "a great loan." Nice place, priced a hundred thousand above where it should be? "Great property!" Attractive on the surface, but has a cracked foundation that's going to cost a hundred thousand to replace? "Great Property!" A 2/28 a full percent above what you could have had with a thirty year fixed, and with a couple thousand dollars in extra closing costs? "Great Loan!"

It's like working with a cheerleader.

A lot of ex-cheerleaders make a very good living as real estate agents and loan officers. The personality types are a good fit for sales, whether it be real estate or loans. Enthusiastic about everything, no matter how messed up it is. Their answer is always, "We can do it!". The people who are don't understand what's really going on, and don't compare it seriously, they hear a putative expert going on like this, and all their warning reflexes get defused. It's human psychology, that when all the barriers should be going up in such situations, they go down instead.

Here's a cold hard fact: There's no such thing as a perfect situation in real estate. No matter what you're doing, buying, selling, or getting a loan, there are always trade-offs. Sometimes the trade-offs are obvious, as with loans, where there is an explicit tradeoff between rate and cost. Sometimes, they're not so obvious or direct, as when comparing between properties for sale. You can understand those trade-offs, and choose the one most advantageous to you, or you can choose in ignorance, metaphorically stamping "sucker!" on your forehead.

A stronger agent or loan officer will explain those choices, and put the consequences of each in context. "This one is $50,000 more, but has another bedroom, another bathroom, and is 300 square feet larger. This one is $40,000 less, but it's going to cost you $80,000 to fix the foundation. This one is $30,000 less, but it's going to cost you about $10,000 for carpet and paint." On the loan side, "You can have a thirty year fixed rate loan at 6.5% for a total cost of $1500, as yield spread will pay the rest, or you can have 6% for a total cost of $8000, or you can have a 5/1 ARM at 6% for $3000, or a true zero cost 5/1 ARM at 6.375%" . An informed choice requires knowledge of both reasons for and against a given option. I don't try and tell them which property to make an offer on or which loan to like more. I can present one in a better light than another, but making the choice is not my job. My job is explaining the consequences of the choices the clients make before they're stuck with them, because in real estate, like in real life, there are no "do overs".

People like to be told that everything is going to be easy. But that's not the way to get a good bargain in real estate. You shop for the best loan, force loan officers to compete, compare properties, force your agents to come up with bad things to say about every property, fire any listing agent who won't tell you hard truths from the first time they open their mouth. Real success in real estate is never easy.

Real estate transaction can be made easy - at the price of giving the other side what may be the best deal since the Dutch bought Manhattan. Real estate, particularly in high cost areas where the largest proportion of the population live, is valuable enough that just a few percent of the purchase price can be more than most people make in a year, and if you're not on your guard, you may never know you've been had. I talked with a guy recently who had no clue that there was an identical property four doors down being offered for $140,000 less than he paid, at the time he paid it (I didn't tell him. Not my client, and done is done. No use stirring up trouble or getting him aggravated over something that could no longer be remedied). Really pay attention to the things people will do to save much smaller amounts of money for a few weeks, and it will remove all doubt in your mind as to whether scams happen. To use another gratuitous example, the vast majority of all the negative amortization loans out there. What percentage of people do you think are going to sign off on, "pay interest two percent higher than you could get, compounding against you in the lender's favor, end up owing more than the property is worth and being unable to refinance or afford the payments in three to five years, thereby ruining your credit for life and losing the property as well," if everything is laid out with full disclosure? But millions of people did, and I'm still getting email most weeks from people who were lied to by their loan officers and agents and only figured it out at signing! Bobby McFerrin wrote a great song, but "Don't worry, be happy!" is not the key to a successful real estate transaction. In fact, it's the direct opposite. If you're not willing to be a diligent guardian on your own behalf, I'm willing to bet money that nobody else involved will, either.

Around here, even an average "small" transaction puts $300,000 or so onto the table. Ask yourself, "What would I do with $300,000 at stake?" Then ask yourself what the worst scoundrel you know would do with $300,000 at stake. I assure you that the world of real estate has people out there worse than any fictional villain - I've dealt with some of them. The fictional villain has to be believable; the real person only has to exist. Finally, ask yourself what somebody who's almost - but not quite - a saint might be willing to do with $300,000 on the table. The variations should give you a good idea as to the gamut of possibilities, but people are ingenious when it comes to ways to squeeze extra money out of someone else.

Now ask yourself: Do you really want to hire a cheerleader as the expert on your side in light of this? Or do you want a cold-hearted analyst who really understands everything that can go wrong, and is going to tell you the downsides as well as the upsides of everything? It may not be as complex as the game of celestial billiards NASA plays with probes like Voyager, Galileo, and Cassini-Huygens, but a constant between the two is that, like celestial mechanics, real estate transactions have critical moments where if you are just a little bit wrong in what you do, you end up heading in completely the wrong direction, if not splatted into the side of the waypoint at several miles per second. Nor can you usually fix it later if you get it wrong at the critical moment. If you doubt this, spend a little time on any of dozens of real estate forums, reading the stories of the people who got it wrong, and are now trying to fix it.

Buying real estate, or financing it, is a huge decision. So big, that the emotional hind brain with all the "flight or flight" stuff over-rides our rational decision-making process, which was layered on in our complex operating system we call a brain much later, and loses out any time there is a conflict between the two. Fear and suspicion are hardwired into the hind brain. If anything about the situation is uncomfortable, the primary reaction of the hind brain is to get out of that situation. In fact, in many cases, the only way some sales folk can move a lot of people off their hunkered down position in mental concrete is by pretending that there is no possible downside to the transaction. Not only is this cheerleading behavior a calculated lie (unless the sales person really is that clueless themselves), but it destroys any element there may be of the healthy response of evaluating the situation completely, from a rational viewpoint. There is no such thing as a real estate transaction without potential downsides, and the ones you don't know about or don't understand are generally much worse than the ones you do.

I don't know how many times I've heard people say things that reduced to "I can't be rational! This is far too important for that!" A good professional's most important job function boils down to keeping intellect in the process. I can't make Mrs. Lee (and women make the decisions when picking out the cave!) decide she emotionally likes the property enough to buy it (Even if I could, I wouldn't - that way lies professional disaster). That's Mrs. Lee's part of the process, and Mr. Lee will help. I can give them enough concrete reasons why or why not to get past that reptilian hind brain's emotional over-ride of the thought process.

I've got to admit that the thought of being able to buy real estate and get loans stress free appeals to me, too. Being a carefree adolescent or child is appealing on a certain emotional level. But it's also profoundly dangerous. One of the wisest and most profound things I've ever read, despite the mixed metaphors, was the following:

"'Let George do it ' is not just the lazy man's motto. It is also the credo of the slave. If you want to be taken care of and not have to worry, that's fine; you can join the rest of the cattle. Cattle are comfortable - that's how you recognize them. Just don't complain when they ship you off to the packing plant. They've bought and paid for the privilege, and YOU SOLD IT TO THEM"

So how about it? Do you want to be comfortable, or do you want to be involved and understand everything going on? Do you want to have it all easy, or would you prefer to plan it through? Do you want to work with a cheerleader, or with an analyst? Maybe you've been reading the news these past several months. Millions of people are in the process of losing their homes, having their credit ruined for years, and having the rest of their lives ruined, financially. Millions more have already been through it. I've yet to hear of one who was the client of an analyst who disclosed everything the client needed to know at the appropriate time.

There's always going to be a leap of faith somewhere in a transaction. Short of learning the jobs of three or four professionals on the same level of knowledge and practice as they possess, there is no way around this. But by going in with your eyes open, doing your own due diligence, and cross checking what you are told, you can make that leap into a short step, and give yourself confidence that your trust is not misplaced by verifying it isn't misplaced where you can check. Because most of the crooks out there are fundamentally lazy, and can not or will not do the work and preparation that will enable their little drama to withstand even small amounts of real scrutiny. Most of those desperate people I read or get email from, trying to recover from being royally taken advantage of, could have been saved by very small amounts of skepticism and research.

Caveat Emptor

Article UPDATED here

Welcome to the Consumer Focused Carnival of Real Estate for November 7, 2007!

There were seven submissions that might have read the guidelines for this carnival. Of those, I was able to accept five, in two groups.

There were no "editor's choice" submissions this time.


Your host brings you an article from his other site, Loan Rates for Low Income Families

Digerati Life brings us the tale of homeowners in denial with Nope, Not Selling Our House. Not Even For 1000% Rate Of Return In 2 Years!. One comment from the editor: Kelo vs. New London.

Bigger Pockets tells us that we have legal rights in dealing with new construction, in Buying New Construction? Don't let those builders push you around!!.


Boozwatt has a lengthy article How to maximize "flip" profits through smart renovations

Daily Panda has a similar article on 10 Home Improvement Projects That Actually Pay Off.

Consumer Focused Carnival of Real Estate will return in two weeks, and just for variety, I think I'm going to host it on my other site, Dan Melson's San Diego Real Estate and Mortgage Website. Deadline for submissions will be November 19th.

If you would like to host, please let me know.

what if i sign all the paper work for a house at a title agency, can i back off the house?

Depends upon the laws in your state. The Federal three day right of rescission only applies to refinancing your primary residence.

(here's an article about that in case this is a refinance, because refinancing your primary residence has a mandatory three day right of rescission.)

In most states, for purchases and purchase money loans, there is no right of rescission whatsoever - you have to go through the courts, and prove something actionable, to get out of the purchase. The person handling escrow could theoretically fund and record a purchase immediately upon signing, although in practice you can figure it happening next day, providing everything really is ready to go.

If the escrow officer has not yet funded and recorded, then by amending those escrow instructions, giving the escrow handler new instructions not to continue with the transaction, and making them aware of amending instructions, you can almost certainly get them to stop if they're not yet finished. However, there are likely to be legal consequences and cancellation fees and all of that stuff. Talk to a lawyer in your state if you want to know all about this dismal subject.

But once you sign the basic documents, there is no legal impediment to finishing a purchase transaction. So you want to be darned certain before you sign that all is as it should be. TAKE YOUR TIME. If the signing agent is in a hurry, that's their problem. Concentrate on three items for the loan: The Note, the Trust Deed, and the HUD-1. Any funny business with the loan has to show up on at least one of those, and usually two.

For the property, make certain they're not trying to slide any last minute disclosures that you weren't aware of ("You didn't know that they're building a chemical factory on one side and a stockyard on the other?" "You didn't know that the foundation is cracked and the roof leaks?"). It's disgusting how often I hear about things buyers should have known before they made an offer being presented to them at the final signing. That's not an agent who was looking out for your best interests - that was an agent who hosed you engaging in legal manouevers to cover their backside after the fact. An uncommonly large proportion of the ones I find out about are in Dual Agency situations

There's a blortload of paperwork at signing for a loan, just by itself, and adding a purchase at the same time doesn't exactly cut it down. Quite often, the less scrupulous will use that, trying to hide something that should kill the deal (at least as written) in amongst the blizzard of paperwork you're asked to sign. You need to understand everything you sign. If they tell you a given form doesn't apply to you, there is no reason why you should have to sign it. Set it aside in a separate stack under your control, so they can't ask again. If you don't understand it, read it until you do. Ask questions. If there's a problem, get it dealt with before you sign. Do not accept, "Just sign now, and we'll deal with it later." Once you have signed, you are stuck.

I always call the signing "The Moment of Truth," because if there's an issue you should be concerned about, whether it be property or loan based, it can be hidden until then, and often is, because at the signing your average person has their eyes on the prize, and they're thinking "all I have to do is sign all of this and we're done!" So many unscrupulous sellers and loan officers will hide things until then, knowing that industry statistics say something like half of all the people won't even notice changes at signing, and of the ones that do, eighty to ninety percent will sign anyway, not knowing enough to realize they shouldn't. But you shouldn't be discovering anything for the first time at signing. If you are, it's a sure sign that someone didn't do their job, and quite often, indicative that they actively hid things from you. I cannot tell you absolutely that you should cancel the entire transaction if you discover something you didn't know at signing, but you should always go to signing mentally prepared to cancel. You always need to keep a sense of perspective in real estate, but if you discover something you didn't know at signing, especially if you don't immediately understand all the consequences, chances are good that you should cancel.

A good agent or loan officer has absolutely nothing to fear from someone going into signing ready to cancel if something is not as they were led to expect. Oh, occasionally a loan officer you've never worked with before will bite a good agent, and vice versa. This is one reason I try very hard to get my buyer clients to at least apply for a back up loan with me, and why I really want my purchase money loan clients to work with me as a buyer's agent. That way, whatever happens is all my fault and I have nobody else to blame - but also I can make sure nothing goes wrong with either side by making sure my client knows everything well in advance. Nothing that my clients see at final signing should be a surprise. Ever.

Caveat Emptor

Article UPDATED here

One of the hard things to get through to sellers is the characteristics of the sort of buyers they need in order to have a successful transaction. If a given set of prospective buyers can't afford the property, they might look anyway. They might even make an offer, and it's possible the offer might even be accepted. But in the current loan environment, the necessary loan won't fund, so the transaction isn't going to actually happen.

Furthermore, it's a good idea to know the income characteristics you're aiming at by the price you set. If you set a price of $400,000, what does someone who can afford a $400,000 loan make? You'll know better than I who makes and does not make that kind of money in your area, but you should know it. I know it for San Diego. This isn't the kind of knowledge that comes from 10 minutes on the internet. I know what professions do and do not make the required money, and what professions for which it's a matter of where a particular prospect falls on that profession's pay scale, but it's taken me years to learn, just for San Diego, and every city is different.

Most areas have their own character. Some neighborhoods have a working class character, while others attract highly paid professionals. Some have an artsy orientation, others are very matter of fact. Properties have their own characteristics. The one property in the neighborhood with a panoramic view of the area is not going to appeal to the buyer who's looking for any hole in the wall, so long as it's in that neighborhood so their kid can go to Super High. Put property character and neighborhood character and the price you want to obtain together, and if you're a listing agent, that had better give you an idea of exactly who you're hoping to attract to your property. Like all targeted marketing, you won't turn away someone from out of the targeted demographic, so long as they can actually get the transaction done, but you don't have to be in the business long to discover that you'll do better by appealing to the degreed professional who makes the money to qualify based on Debt to Income Ratio for an 80 to 100 percent Loan to Value Ratio loan, than you will targeting the fry cook who's saved and invested for twenty years and is all of a sudden ready to buy the property, now that he has a 70 percent down payment. That fry cook may show up on their own anyway, but how many people do you know who save that much over that long a period and then want to spend it all on real estate? As opposed to the newly married professional couple who've been in their careers a couple years each, have a little bit of money saved, and now they want to stretch their budget as far as they can?

As I type this, I can do a thirty year fixed rate loan at 6% with a total of one point. Since the equivalent rate for a 5/1 hybrid ARM is 5.75, I'm thinking most folks are going to want that thirty year fixed when I offer them the option. This is going to change a little bit every day, but in most cases, it's not going to be significant change. Things like interest only loans will stretch their qualification a little bit, but those are best approached with a trembling hand for purchases, and you're better off planning for the buyer being advised that the property may be too expensive for them in such an instance, and having a plan in place, than you are hoping that everything goes perfectly for you to sell to an unsuspecting buyer.

Not all loan amounts are the same. Once the loan amount goes over $417,000, the conforming loan limit in effect right now, the current loan environment is that 100% financing goes away for A paper borrowers. You might be able to get them 100% financing on a sub prime loan, but the rate/cost tradeoff will be even higher than the A paper rate of 6.625% for one point on non-conforming loan amounts. Subprime is kind of in never never land right now. If you read between the lines of what their reps are saying, they want A paper borrowers who don't know they can get an A paper loan. And nobody wants to touch 100% stated income loans, no matter how good the credit score. Fact. You can live with it and plan for it, or you can fight it and still lose.

So what I'm going to do is compute the monthly cost of housing on purchases of a given size, together with the income to qualify. I'm going to assume this is California, with California property tax rates. Furthermore, I'm just going to make a flat allowance for Homeowner's Insurance plus Association dues of $250 per month. It's not exact, but it'll put you in the right ballpark. With a specific property, you can get closer, or course.

Let's start with 100% financing, a 100% loan with PMI, because that's the only way to do it right now. This limits us to conforming loan amounts. Here's what it takes:

purch price $200,000.00 $220,000.00 $240,000.00 $260,000.00 $280,000.00 $300,000.00 $320,000.00 $340,000.00 $360,000.00 $380,000.00 $400,000.00 Monthly COH $1,788.94 $1,942.83 $2,096.73 $2,250.62 $2,404.51 $2,558.41 $2,712.30 $2,866.20 $3,020.09 $3,173.98 $3,327.88 mo income $3,975.42 $4,317.40 $4,659.39 $5,001.38 $5,343.36 $5,685.35 $6,027.34 $6,369.32 $6,711.31 $7,053.30 $7,395.28 annual inc $47,705.02 $51,808.86 $55,912.69 $60,016.53 $64,120.36 $68,224.20 $72,328.04 $76,431.87 $80,535.71 $84,639.54 $88,743.38

In other words, a family who wants to buy a $400,000 property without a down payment needs to be making almost $89,000 per year. Them's the facts, and that's not including any existing debt service they may have. Credit cards, car payments, student loans, etcetera. If other debt service is $500 per month, you raise the income to qualify by over $1100, and the yearly income by $13,000 plus change. San Diego's Area Median Income is a little over $64,000, and a family making that much money can afford a loan of about $280.000 - if they don't have any other debt. If they have a huge down payment, of course, it's easier, but how many people have you encountered recently with huge down payments?

Now, let's consider people who actually have a 20% down payment. Most likely, they bought a condo a few years ago and now they've sold it, but they had enough equity in the condo to account for that 20% down on the more expensive property. Or they sold the condo and bought a starter home, and now they've sold that and are looking to move up again. This is without PMI, and having some equity means that not only are the terms of the loan more favorable, but you don't have to borrow as much to buy a property that costs the same, and so a property of the same value is much more easily affordable.

purch price $200,000.00 $220,000.00 $240,000.00 $260,000.00 $280,000.00 $300,000.00 $320,000.00 $340,000.00 $360,000.00 $380,000.00 $400,000.00 $420,000.00 $440,000.00 $460,000.00 $480,000.00 $500,000.00 $550,000.00 $600,000.00 $650,000.00 $700,000.00 $750,000.00 $800,000.00 $850,000.00 $900,000.00 $950,000.00 $1,000,000.00 MonthlyCOH $1,417.61 $1,534.38 $1,651.14 $1,767.90 $1,884.66 $2,001.42 $2,118.18 $2,234.94 $2,351.71 $2,468.47 $2,585.23 $2,701.99 $2,818.75 $2,935.51 $3,052.27 $3,169.04 $3,640.28 $3,948.49 $4,256.70 $4,564.91 $4,873.12 $5,181.32 $5,489.53 $5,797.74 $6,105.95 $6,414.15 mo income $3,150.25 $3,409.72 $3,669.19 $3,928.66 $4,188.13 $4,447.60 $4,707.07 $4,966.54 $5,226.01 $5,485.48 $5,744.95 $6,004.42 $6,263.89 $6,523.36 $6,782.83 $7,042.30 $8,089.52 $8,774.43 $9,459.33 $10,144.24 $10,829.15 $11,514.05 $12,198.96 $12,883.86 $13,568.77 $14,253.68 annual inc $37,803.04 $40,916.68 $44,030.32 $47,143.96 $50,257.60 $53,371.23 $56,484.87 $59,598.51 $62,712.15 $65,825.78 $68,939.42 $72,053.06 $75,166.70 $78,280.34 $81,393.97 $84,507.61 $97,074.26 $105,293.14 $113,512.01 $121,730.88 $129,949.75 $138,168.63 $146,387.50 $154,606.37 $162,825.24 $171,044.12

Once again, this assumes there's no other debt service involved. But if you've got a home with a $700,000 price tag, you're still looking at trying to lure in a buyer family that makes at least $10,000 per month. These kinds of buyers are not going to go for old carpet and a carpet allowance. They want your seller to have already dealt with it. Even if it's the cheapest, most beat up property in Rancho Santa Fe, on the smallest lot, the sellers are still going to take a hit on the price for not dealing with it themselves.

For a successful listing, you need to know your target market. Some people do buy properties that are apparent mismatches between their lifestyle and the property, but not many. As listing agents, we not only need to understand what is and is not a match before setting off to attract a buyer, and recommending appropriate measures to the owner before it goes on the market, we are much better off concentrating our marketing efforts where they are most likely to succeed.

Caveat Emptor

Article UPDATED here

Too surreal to ignore: Chessboxing. Precisely what you'd think from the name. Six rounds of speed chess, five rounds in the boxing ring.

"The problem is adrenaline," he says. "It can bring you to the point of overestimating positions. After the first boxing round, don't make fast moves - try to slow down. And try to make the last move before the boxing so your opponent has to make the first move afterward."

If I were twenty, I'd probably give it a whirl.


Creature ID'd as coyote, not chupacabra

It would have been cool to see the legend verified. But the facts didn't support that.


California Prepares for More Fires

None of more than two dozen air tankers and military helicopters that arrived from around the country to fight last month's blazes are returning to their home bases, said Francis Solich, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Now why didn't they think of that - sooner?

I had a fairly large boost in traffic from covering the fires. Still, I'd rather not have a repeat.


Planet Hunting: Find Neptune and Uranus

I've seen Uranus naked eye and through my old telescope, but never Neptune. It's worth doing, especially if you're out away from city lights and have binoculars (or better). The official moon count for Uranus was about 9 or 10 back then, and no, my telescope wasn't good enough for the rings. For that matter, I wasn't certain if the flecks around Uranus were Oberon and Titania or just dim stars in the right place.

(The first time you see Saturn's rings through a decent home scope, you will be hooked)

Somebody asked me that.

A dachshund puppy (or two!) would be the first item. I miss Thing, and Mellon just isn't the companion he was. She's very sweet, and devoted in her own way, but the phrase "Canine American Princess" was invented for her. If she can't have 100% of your attention, she's not interested in just cuddling up while you read.

After that, invest some in the stock market for liquidity, and buy some rental properties, because within two years anything I buy now is going to be a lot more valuable. Leverage my money right, and we're talking at least two million, probably more.

Specifically, Condominiums, and Townhomes. High density housing.

Why? Well for an illustration as to the first part of that reason, look at my article from October 15, 2007, Economics of Home Ownership in High Density Areas. We're in a phase here in southern California where we're getting ready to switch, by economic necessity, away from the single family detached property on its own lot and towards the community interest lot. Land is just too expensive. The average person or family, making an average paycheck, can no longer afford single family detached housing unless they've got one heck of a down payment. The demand is too high, and the supply too limited, for everyone who wants one to have one. When that sort of situation happens, price goes up until enough people get priced out.

Here's the trip: When you're talking rent, half million dollar single family detached housing rents for maybe $1800 per month. But if you buy a $200,000 condo, it rents for $1000 to $1200. Put 20% down, and it's very possible to have a positive cash flow on such a unit - something it's not currently possible to have with the detached house. The fact that the spread is so small is temporary, of course, but in the meantime it's an opportunity for a sort of arbitrage.

Furthermore, the average family can afford a fairly nice condominium or townhome. It's just that during the era of make believe loans, they were told they didn't have to "settle." So they purchased properties far beyond their real means, because they were being told they could qualify for those ridiculously high dollar value loans.

(I call it the era of make believe loans because the agent made believe people could afford more expensive properties, the lender made believe that people could qualify, and the consumers made believe that there weren't deadly traps they were falling into on every single one of them. It was seductively easy for everyone. The agent didn't have to sell only the property the client could afford, or "settle" for the smaller commission. The lender and loan originators could make money hand over fist on paper. The consumers could pretend they could afford a property far beyond their means, and didn't have to "settle" for what they could really afford. And people are still making believe that the era of make believe loans is going to come back.)

But denial has a definite half life when it encounters pervasive economic reality. Once it's become accepted that the housing market has stabilized from its free fall of the last two years, people will be forced to look reality straight in the eye. We had the bubble, we had the pop, and now it's almost time to start going up again. Once it starts happening, families will be forced to confront the fact that they can't get the American Dream all in one easy step by essentially clicking their heels together and declaiming, "There's no place like Oz!" They will have three options: Stay a renter forever, move away to somewhere there is less demand or more supply, or settle for what they can afford, leveraging it to something better. When larger number of people realize that those are their choices, the demand for and price of condominiums is going to shoot up.

So, put $40,000 or $50,000 into a $200,000 condo, rent it for $1200 per month, and your cash flow is just about even. That's the second half; the situation right now, as it exists. I've predicted rents are heading up in the near future several times, and that was before the local fires. Rent goes up, I'm making a couple hundred dollars per month while values are climbing. In a few years, I've a property that has doubled in value while making me some small cash in the meantime. Multiply this by a dozen, and I've got two to three million dollars from an investment of six hundred thousand or so. Plus, of course, I'm going to pull all the old flipper's tricks just before I sell them. Yes, there's risk - risk that can be minimized and dealt with. That's why I wouldn't be sinking every last penny I had into it, a mistake way too many people have made in the last few years.

Of course, nobody's giving me a million dollars. But if you have $50,000 sitting around, you can make about 10% per year in the stock market with a reasonable amount of risk, Over ten years, that's turning your money into about $138,000. Or, if California real estate increases at an average rate of 5% per year for the next ten years (our forty year average is about 7%), that $200,000 condo turns into a $325,000 condo, while your loan has been paid down to $125,000 and you walk away with $200,000, not counting the cash in your pocket between now and then. If we should actually tie our long term average of 7% annualized increases, that's a $390,000 condo and you walk away with $265,000. Meanwhile, the cash flow picture gets better every year as rents increase. Your choice, of course, but I'm not the only one who sees an opportunity here.

Caveat Emptor

Article UPDATED here

I am very put out. We didn't get even one trick-or-treater last night. Last year, we had half my daughter's school, and everybody was raving about how they were getting great candy everywhere as they walked by. What's with that?


Now that most of the links are fixed and pages redirected, October's stats are twice September's, and climbing. There is not a day in October that didn't beat the best day of September for traffic. 404 errors fell almost 90%. October ended up having 66,596 visits, but page views were 324,114. My new host separates out search engine and bot traffic (which accounted for another 200k page views) from actual human visitors, and we're entering the slower period of the year. I think it's also set for a longer period before it counts as a new visit than my previous host, because page views per visit has almost doubled from the prior host. But I'm going to accept it all "as reported" like if it were simply a revision to GAAP, which gives me an obvious goal of getting my monthly visit count back where it was. Running totals: 2,129,592 visits, 7,497,047 page views.


Private Papers on government mandated health insurance plans. We won't have a real solution until we stop treating healthcare as an all you can eat buffet, and this explains a few reasons why.


One by one, the heroes who saved the world are leaving us. Fare thee well, Paul Tibbetts

What he did was clearly necessary and beneficial by any reasonable standard. If you don't understand this, you need to go demand a refund from every school you've ever attended. Preliminary plans for the invasion of the Japanese home Islands had combat casualty estimates in the millions, never mind collateral damage or innocent bystanders. But the hard part didn't end there. For the rest of his life, he had to put up with useful idiots telling him what a butcher he was, and he didn't want a headstone or a grave because he knew it would be defaced.

Clear skies, sir. You will be missed.

What is a good interest rate for a house that is for someone with low income?

Well, if you make enough to afford the property, your income isn't a factor on the interest rate you get! You either qualify or you don't. Banks may charge a fee for low loan amounts, but your income is not the issue, except as to whether or not you qualify for the loan as it is submitted. The lender does not care if you just barely scrape through, or if you have a hundred times the minimum income to qualify. Kind of like there's no such thing as "a little bit pregnant." You either are or you aren't. Same thing with loans: You either qualify or you don't. It's possible you might qualify for a better program than you got, or that you might qualify with another program where you don't qualify with this one, but those aren't questions that the underwriter or the underwriting process are going to address. They're questions your loan officer needs to get right before the loan is submitted.

There may be programs you are eligible for, such as Mortgage Credit Certificate or a locally based first time buyer assistance program. These programs can make it easier to qualify, in that they effectively raise your take home pay, they keep you from having to borrow so much, or even that the save you from the choice of PMI or splitting your loan. However, be aware that every single one of these programs requires full documentation qualification for a loan that's fixed for at least three years and fully amortized, or fixed and interest only for at least five years. Stated Income and negative amortization loans are not permitted with any of these programs that I am aware of. The idea is that you buy a property you can afford and stay in it for a long time, not a property you cannot afford, and get foreclosed upon. These programs also have income limits that many people might not consider "low." Up to $96,000 per year here locally can still qualify, and the big concern is whether there's money still left in the budget for these programs.

There is no special magic wand that enables low income people to stretch beyond their normal means in purchasing a home. There's a lot of unscrupulous people who have gotten paid a lot of money pretending that there is, but there isn't. Nobody is really going to give you money at a lower interest rate than someone else, just because your income is lower. If this means you have to settle for a condo when you want a single family detached property, or a less expensive home than you would like, well, that's what everyone else has to do.

Caveat Emptor

Article UPDATED here

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This page is an archive of entries from November 2007 listed from newest to oldest.

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