Seller Paid Closing Costs (or, When Your Prospective Buyer Has No Money)

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In many transactions when I originally wrote this, the buyer has absolutely no money, or an amount that was not sufficient to pay the costs that they would traditionally be expected to pay in order to close the transaction. Today, unless they're eligible for a VA loan, there is no such thing as a "no down payment" loan, but the trick is to stretch the cash they do have to make the transaction work. In a buyer driven market, often the seller still wants to do business with them.

The usual way it's handled is in Seller Paid Closing Costs. The Seller gives the buyer an allowance to cover their share of the costs

Lenders have become somewhat tolerant of the practice, at least so long as the appraisal comes in at or above the official sale price. Many of them were starting to revert to the treatment this trick traditionally got, which is to say, if the sale price included a rebate to the buyer, then the sale price as far as the lender was concerned was the official price less the rebate. In other words, seller's net. Remember, lenders value real estate the same as accountants, on the LCM principal - Lesser of Cost (which is to say purchase price) or market (which is to say the appraised value). If the seller is giving the buyer money back, then the official price listed on the transaction isn't really the price, is it? Do advertisers tease you with the gross price of stereo or computer gear before the rebate, or the net price after the rebate? Same principle here. The lenders traditionally took this stance, although it has been more relaxed in the highly competitive lender's market of late, and although they were starting to change back, the dearth of qualified buyers with extra cash has made them reconsider that. The lenders are (typically) not going to lend more money than the lesser of those the two variables, cost and market, and they will base the loan parameters on whichever is less. You can always buy a house for more money than the value, as long as you have the cash to make up the difference.

The Sellers get their house sold. That and the ego thing of the official sale price seem to be the benefits to them. I would certainly rather sell for the seller's net in the first place, if I'm a seller, without an allowance, because I have to pay commission on that higher amount. A $10,000 allowance (as has become common here) costs the seller $700 to $800 or so in increased costs - agents commissions, title insurance, escrow fees, transfer taxes - even if the sale price is $10,000 higher because of it. This is neglecting the potential effects of taxes due to exceeding the $250,000 (or $500,000) maximum gain exemption from the IRS code Section 121. I recommend against it for sellers unless there is a substantial deposit, as it is often indicative of a not very qualified buyer. Even then, it's a real good idea to talk to your tax person. Furthermore, with the lenders in full blown panic right now, the only loans being accepted with little or no down are VA and FHA, both of which carry government guarantees. VA can do true 100% financing, but buyers eligible for VA are uncommon. For FHA, the zero down enabling down payment assistance programs are dead, but having 4-6% down for an FHA loan is a lot easier than 10%+ for anything conventional.

The Buyers get a deal, or so it appears at first blush. A piece of property without having to save for closing costs. When I originally wrote this, in many cases they didn't have to put a penny down, either. Pretty cool, eh? Get a house and actually skip a month of writing a check (due to the allowance covering prepaid interest), so effectively putting cash in your pocket. Keep in mind, however, that a competently advised seller is going to inflate the sales price to match, where (if they were smart) they would rather have accepted the net sales price without rebate. Furthermore, at least here in California, property taxes are based upon official original sales price, so you'll be paying for it as long as you own the property. Finally, because your purchase price, and therefore your loan, is going to be higher, your payment is going to be higher, you'll pay higher loan costs every time you refinance, and your eventual net on the property will be lower. If it is the only way to get into the property, and the deal otherwise makes sense, that's fine - but don't kid yourself that you got free money. Chances are that you're going to pay far more than the amount of any allowance because you got it.

If it's bad for the seller, bad for the buyer, and risky for the lender, why does it keep happening so much?

Well, it's a sale for sellers. The property has now been disposed off. It's also an ego defense for sellers. Instead of $470,000, they can tell everyone they got $480,000. So long as they don't mention the allowance, it sounds like a far better price to their friends, family, and soon to be ex-neighbors. In short, bragging rights. Buyers, it gets them into the property, formerly often without coming up with a penny in cash and still allowing them to save one month's rent or payment, effectively putting cash in their pocket. Mind you, that unwillingness is going to be costing money for as long as they own the property, but that's their choice.

Real Estate and Mortgage folks, get bigger commissions. $10,000 in sales price gets translated to $100 per 1 percent of commission. This is anywhere from an extra $100 to an extra $300 or $400 for each of the offices, buyer's, seller's, and loan. Furthermore, I know of loan agents who extract larger commissions because "it's such a hard loan." It does make the loan harder, but not by another point of origination's worth. Wouldn't you like to have extra money for essentially the same work? I assure you that your average real estate agent and loan officer are no different than most folks.

These days, the spoke in the wheel that prevents this from happening is usually the appraisal. With Home Valuation Code of Conduct, most agents in most transactions no longer have the option of steering business to the appraiser who will inflate value as much as possible. I'm not having problems on my purchase money transactions because if appraised value isn't likely to be there, I advise my clients of that fact. But it's putting a real crimp on the transaction mills.

There is nothing wrong with the practice of seller paid closing costs, so long as everybody knows what's going on. But it's certainly not something you want to do if you have a choice.

Caveat Emptor

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on August 5, 2014 7:00 AM.

How to Use Internet Based Real Estate and House Hunting Sites was the previous entry in this blog.

Why Buyers and Refinancers Should Think About a 5/1 ARM is the next entry in this blog.

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