June 2018 Archives


One of the things that is really helping military families afford good properties is the military housing allowance and the way that lenders treat it, making it much easier for them to qualify with regards to debt to income ratio, while the magic bullet of VA loans makes loan to value ratio essentially a non-issue. Between these benefits, the military is sitting pretty for being able to afford housing.

I should mention that this math helps non-military getting a housing allowance just as much, but there are relatively few people outside of the military receiving a housing allowance.

Receiving a housing allowance actually works out far more advantageously for purposes of loan qualification than if they just paid them the extra money. $X basic salary plus $Y housing allowance is demonstrably more money than a salary of $X+Y as far as qualifying for a real estate loan goes. Here's how it works.

To start with, the housing allowance is generally non-taxable. I'm sure you know that's not the case with your basic salary. The $Y extra you get in allowance really is $Y, not the much lesser amount that you would get to keep if paid that in salary.

On top of that, the housing allowance is "soaked off" against the expenses of housing on a dollar for dollar basis. In other words, compute your cost of housing - principal and interest on the loan, taxes, insurance, Homeowner's Association dues, Mello-Roos, etcetera. Add them all up. From this, subtract housing allowance. If the housing allowance is more than actual cost of housing, we're all done. You made it, at least on the basis of debt to income ratio. If the costs are more than the allowance, all is not lost. At this point, you have to add in other debt service to whatever is left, but then so long as you are less than the normally allowed debt to income ratio as compared to your regular salary, you still qualify. Is this a great country, or what?

Here's a concrete example of how it all works: Let's say you make $3000 per month salary from the military. In addition to that, you get a $2000 housing allowance. You have other monthly debts of $250, and you want to buy a property where the monthly expenses of owning it (principal and interest on sustainable loan, taxes, and insurance, or PITI) are $2500. If you made that $5000 per month as a regular working schmoe, you would be told you aren't likely to qualify. Your "front end" ratio would be 50%, and adding the other monthly debt service makes 55%. Normal guidelines are 45% "back end" (housing plus all other debt service) for conforming loans, and you're way over that on the front end alone. Maybe in some circumstances such as disability or retirement income with a "walks on water" credit score, that might be accepted by one of the automated loan underwriting systems, but under manual underwriting rules you are dead in the water.

As the beneficiary of that housing allowance, however, things are quite different. The $2000 housing allowance draws off housing expense dollar for dollar, not at the 45% ratio of the rest of your salary. Instead of $1 enabling you to have forty-five cents of housing expense, it enables your to have $1. So subtract $2000 housing allowance from $2500 housing expense, and you have $500 left over.

If housing allowance was $2500 against that $2500 housing expense, or to use the general case, if housing expense was less than or equal to housing allowance, we'd be done, at least on the grounds of debt to income ratio. We're not done yet in this case, but the remaining $500 of housing expense plus $250 of other debt service equals $750, which divided by $3000 regular income yields a 25% back end ratio. Since this is less than 45%, bing! Debt to Income ratio works - by which I mean that you are over the most important hurdle in loan qualification.

So there you have an example where somebody making exactly the same number of dollars does not qualify where someone getting part of their salary via a housing allowance does. Since the military is pretty much the only folks that get paid that way (I can't remember the last time I had anyone not in the military with a housing allowance), advantage: military.

A couple of caveats need to be mentioned and emphasized right now. As should be obvious to the mathematically inclined, Comparatively small amounts of difference make much larger differences to debt to income ratio. Change the PITI payment to $3000, and your debt to income ratio stands at 40 percent, getting close to the ultimate edge of qualification.

You should also be careful that you really can make the payment on the loan. Foreclosure is no fun, as millions can attest right now. Make certain you really can make the payment, considering your family's lifestyle and other bills that may not be monthly debt but would be difficult to eliminate. I have written multiple times warning Never Choose A Loan (or a Property) Based Upon Payment.

Because I am normally careful to quote in terms of purchase price and loan amount and interest rate, I want to say why I did it this way, quoting in terms of payment, in this case. It's a complex subject, and the math gets hairy very quickly, and varies constantly and from market to market and time to time as interest rates and home prices change. Judging by my traffic, people are going to be reading this article months from now, if not years. I wanted a concrete, easily understood example of the subject that's not going to be completely out of line six months from now when the rates have changed and some housing markets are recovering strongly while others are in the process of crashing.

I also should observe that companies looking to help their employees while conserving costs can do this every bit as much as the military does by carving off a portion of the salary and paying it in the form of housing allowance - but in order to do that, they'd have to admit these people were employees. Pay the social security taxes lots of companies are manipulating the law to avoid, give them all the rights contractors don't have in employment. Of course, the reason why that happens is due to government action. Every time the legislature or some judge adds another cost to having employees or makes it more difficult to terminate those who need to be terminated, they give corporations another reason to avoid hiring them in the first place.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

Most people don't stay in their first house their whole life. At some point, they want to move to a different home.

There are several ways to approach the transaction, but you have to decide which way fits you. You can approach it with an idea to maximizing profit, maximizing cash flow, maximizing speed, minimizing stress, or minimizing inconvenience. You really only get to choose one, but it's a good idea to rank them from most important to least important so that both you and your agent know where your priorities lie, and perhaps you can do some things from your lesser priorities.

Now, if this was a commercial site, looking to seduce you into listing with me, I'd probably have some corporate salespeak flack telling me to say you can have it all, but instead I'm going to tell you the blunt truth: You can't, not reliably, and any representation to the contrary is a lie, the words of a fool, or both. You can certainly do things in each of the categories (and others) but if you don't go into the transaction with a clear view of what is most important to you, chances are you won't get whatever it is that is important to you. Some people do luck out, especially in hot markets, but when the market is cooler, the fact is that you take what you can get, and the probability is better that you will get what is most important if you decide what is most important and stick to it.

Whether you are moving up market or down market, whatever factors there are that help you on one end of the transaction will hurt you on the other. If there are more buyers than sellers, it's going to be hard to compete against the other buyers, but easier to sell your current property, and vice versa. Generally speaking, Buyer's Markets Are A Great Time For Moving Up, while seller's markets are superior for moving down.

If you choose to maximize profit, move out of the old property and into a rental unit, and make whatever cosmetic alterations you're planning before the property hits the market. Newly renovated vacant units show better, and therefore sell better, than anything else. Your time of highest interest is typically for the time period immediately after it hits the multiple listing service. Particularly if you have pets or children, who are both highly efficient entropy generators, you want to move out if you can afford to. Since this is very costly in terms of cash flow, many cannot afford it. Nonetheless, in most markets under most conditions, the return you will get will repay your investment, as there are few obstacles and conditions to your prospective buyer moving in as soon as they can consummate the sale. Furthermore, because the property is vacant, they can more easily picture themselves living in it. Ask any artist which is easier to work with - a blank canvas, or one that already has a painting on it? Then consider that the average buyer has the imagination of a rock, which is why properties with just a little more oomph are much easier to sell. The less of your family there is in the property, the more potential buyers can picture theirs in it. The nicer it is already, the less trouble they have picturing their family in it nicely fixed up.

Staying in the property causes not only stress from whether the property is clean enough to show every day, but also from prospective buyers and their agents having both a window of observation on your life and the potential opportunity to debark with some material piece. I imagine it happens, but not nearly so much as to warrant the stress sellers put themselves through on this point. As an agent, I'm always aware that my good name is on the line as well, and I'm always watching prospective buyers, even though I've never had anyone attempt to remove anything (that I'm aware of). Nonetheless, many sellers insist upon being physically present, which often has the effect of chasing people away that I, as the agent, could have sold the property to given a freer hand. Given real estate practicalities, your concern over a couple of $15 CDs that might have potentially wandered off could have just cost you tens of thousands. So if you're concerned, move anything valuable or irreplaceable like jewelry and heirlooms out, and resign yourself to replacing anything that someone does take. You will come out ahead in the end.

If you're looking to maximize speed, moving out is a good idea also, but you're also going to want to price your property significantly lower. The higher the price, the harder it is to sell the property, the fewer people that can be expected to look at it, and the harder it will be for them to qualify. If you're priced 5 percent above anything comparable, the appraisal probably going to come in lower than the sale price, and not many people want to pay a premium for a property. It's going to take longer to sell, and you're almost certainly going to end up cutting your price below what you could have gotten in the first place. If you're priced a tad below the comparables, however, well everyone wants to buy homes with some built in equity, and the bank sees their loan as being less risky, so it's a little easier to qualify (They're still going to stick with the LCM principle, but from experience, they're less sticky about the little stuff if the appraisal is a little above the price). However, you walk away with less money than you could have gotten, a less than optimal circumstance.

If you're concerned about cash flow, on the other hand, moving out is not the way to go about things. For one thing, you don't have the money, or if you do, you're going into stress mode about whether some short deadline is going to be met, which can cause you to be forced to accept an awful deal that you would not otherwise have considered because you're running out of money to pay for all the extra stuff you weren't paying for before. If you think ahead, and make your agent aware of your concerns, you've got a better chance to come out ahead in the end.

Suppose your priority is to minimize stress? Then you typically stay put while researching other properties, and ask for a contingent sale, possibly with a leaseback that gives you a certain amount of time to find alternative lodgings. Alternatively, if cash flow isn't an issue, you might start looking right away, either with or without a "bridge loan" (cash out against your current property, as a down payment on the new one). Bridge loans are great, they are wonderful, they can do all sorts of things for you, but they are aren't cheap. Before you do one, consider whether there is a real need. If you have some cash and are a good credit risk, the better option may be to borrow more against the new property. Perhaps the better option is to split finance the new property and pay off the second loan on the new property when the current property sells. Because "bridge loans" are cash out refinances, then all things being equal, it's probably a better idea to get the money through a purchase money loan. It's even possible (albeit rare) that despite paying for two loans, the math may favor getting some money via a bridge loan, and borrowing the rest through the purchase loan on the new property. But if your debt to income ratio is tight, none of this may work.

If you want to minimize inconvenience, you probably want to stay in the property until it sells, and quite probably for a while thereafter, so you're going to want a short term leaseback as a condition of the sale. Many people do this to avoid moving the kids out of school in the middle of an academic year. If they're staying, it also gives them some time to find another property in the same district, or even that attends the same school. But here again, remember that you're limiting your buyer's options, which has the likely effect of scaring off the ones who would otherwise have offered you the best price, or causing them to not be willing to pay so much for it ("Darn it, my kids are in the middle of a school year, too!") If it's a buyer's market, you're likely to pay a certain price - or rather, your buyers are likely to be willing to pay less - but if it's worth it to you, you also get what you pay for.

There are other potential factors, certainly, and other strategies to maximize the blend of "goods" that's best for you. But these are the ones that most people need to think about ahead of time, and these are the ones where failing to consider them ahead of time will reliably cost you the most.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

There's an awful lot of nonsense out there that advises people to do without an agent. Quite often, first time buyers of real estate get seduced into not having an agent by this stuff before they get into the market, let along before they understand what's really going on. After all, it's pretty easy to get seduced by an advertising come on that says, "Save money!" when there's an explicit cash reason to do so, and there is no corresponding line on a HUD 1 that details everything it cost you. I get emails and even occasional comments from people who are convinced they did "just fine" without an agent, often despite evidence right in their own email that they did not.

The fact is that with a routine transaction, if nothing goes too horribly wrong there are no red flags or screaming flares that rub a layperson's nose in how badly they are missing a buyer's agent. You make an offer, it gets accepted, the loan gets approved, you move in. There's nothing to tell you you're going to spend tens of thousands in repairs, you spent tens of thousands too much on the purchase price, the seller and listing agent kited by on their legal requirements (reasons on top of the double commission why bad listing agents and brokerages love buyers without an agent or their own), or any one of dozens of other problems that really do crop up. But the person who said "ignorance is bliss" made one glaring omission that changes everything (unless you're a politician). Ignorance is only temporary bliss.

By the time of their second real estate transaction, most people have figured out that while an agent is an expense, a good one is a financial lifesaver as well. For most people, however, the second transaction is a sale as opposed to a purchase, and a buyer's agent makes a lot more difference to your result than a listing agent

The first thing you have to understand is that just because you don't have an agent does not mean there isn't an agent involved. Furthermore, the agent that isn't yours is working for the person on the other side of the transaction, not for you. If you think of agents as some sort of tollbooth, it makes sense to try to bypass them. It's very possible to do so. In no state that I am aware of is there any requirement whatsoever to have an agent. However, agency is not a tollbooth, no matter how many "do it yourself!" hucksters and crummy real estate agents make it out to be. There are real opportunities to make a positive difference at every stage of the transaction, and if these is no agent, chances are that not only will things not be made better, but that the other side will make them worse.

For buyers, the very first thing to understand about a listing agent is that they have a contractual and fiduciary responsibility to get the best terms possible for the seller. Highest price, quickest sale, fewest problems. When I take a listing, I am trying to sell that property. When a prospective buyer calls me wanting me to show my listing, and I am going to do my best to sell you that property. Nothing so crass as a high pressure sales pitch, but I'm going to get the job done a lot more often than you'd think. Whereas I might look at 100 houses or more for my buyer clients and show them only the ones where I see some value, my sales ratio is a lot higher than 1 in 100 or even 1 in 10 when I've got one listing I'm trying to sell to people who call me out of the blue to see one of my listings. The specific numbers might change, but you'll find that's pretty much the way of things with listing agents. Not the best property for the buyer? Better properties available more cheaply in the same neighborhood? You could get a lower price for the same property if you had a better negotiator? None of these is a problem from the listing agent's point of view. The listing agent's job is to get the best possible terms for the seller, and every one of these situations is indicative of a listing agent who has done their job.

If I'm the buyer's agent, my responsibilities are entirely different. The vast majority of the time, that listing agent doesn't so much as get to talk to my clients. That agent has my contact information, not my client's, and I don't have a financial incentive to sell them any given property. I'm not going to let my clients get pressured to buy something that doesn't suit them, and even if the listing agent does (due to showing restrictions) get to talk to my client, I'm going to keep the conversation where I think it belongs. I've put listing agent's noses out of joint quite effectively by bringing client attention to defects or any number of other tactics, including the old "talk to the hand" standby where necessary. These people have designated me their agent, therefore, you talk to me, Mr. Listing Agent. It's my responsibility to pass it to the clients - along with anything I believe is getting left out. A good buyer's agent is not looking to sell their clients this property, they are looking to find the best bargain for the client's needs and make that happen. A buyer's agent has no responsibility to the owner of the property beyond "fair and honest dealing" - our responsibility is to our clients, the prospective buyer.

Any time you are looking to buy real estate, you are in a situation of asymmetric information. The seller knows more about the property than you do. A good buyer's agent is going to remove most of that gap in information. I know the area, or I wouldn't agree to work there. Simply by practice, I've become much better at spotting issues that buyers need to become aware of before they make an offer. Quite often, the buyer was aware of something I point out, but hadn't considered it in this particular context. It's a rare property where I don't get a look from my client that all buyer's agents should recognize, because it means the clients hadn't thought of that. Often, it's something that means I've just talked them out of a property they would have been miserable in.

It's not just in spotting defects, either. A lot of what I bring up has to do with long term livability of the property or relative value. I've saved clients from so many misplaced improvements that you probably wouldn't believe me if I gave you a number. Saving people from spending money they don't have to (along with the interest on the bigger loan that goes with it) happens multiple times with most clients. Beautiful is nice - but it's also seductive and usually over-priced.

Then there are negotiations. A buyer's agent has seen what's sold in the area recently. Unless you've had a long and unfruitful search, chances are that you have not - and they're not going to let you in now. A buyer's agent knows how this property compares to what has sold lately in the area. It's disgusting how often I find listings where the agent literally has no clue about the antecedents or the current competition. Often it's because that agent bought a listing - promised to get an unrealistic price in order to secure the listing contract. They're not going to get that price - except from people who think they're being "smart" by not having a buyer's agent. Far and away the largest reason for overpriced sales is people trying to "save" a little money by not having a buyer's agent.

Furthermore, quite often once you do get into negotiations, you discover that the other side has decided not to be reasonable, and there is a tension between whether it's a good enough bargain to stay in the transaction, or whether the attitude of the seller and their agent has crossed over a line into territory where you are better off bailing out. Just because you have started negotiations doesn't mean you are under any obligation to continue. Sometimes, even if you have a purchase contract, the best way to respond to a given situation is to decide you don't want the property that badly. If the owner is not going to fix problems they should, the purchase contract needs to be re-evaluated in terms of the rest of the market. This property might not be the bargain you thought it was. Better to discover that before there is an offer, of course, but before the transaction is consummated is better than afterward. That owner is stuck with that problem. Whatever it is, you don't want to take it off their hands unless you're getting something out of the situation that compensates you in your own mind. Then there are costs associated with the transaction, and who pays for them. Your agent should know what is and is not customary in your area, and why, not to mention the basic law behind everything.

Everywhere in the United States that I am aware of, the listing contract calls for the listing brokerage to get a set percentage of the sales price, and split that percentage in some wise with the buyer's agent, if there is one. If there isn't, the listing agent gets to keep the difference. There are reasons why the seller effectively pays the buyer's agent, despite the questionable nature of it - and consider too, that the only one bringing any actual money to the table is the buyer. Without the buyer's money, nobody gets anything, so everybody is being paid by the buyer. Nonetheless, trying to save money by doing without a buyer's agent won't get you any actual money, and you will end up paying all sorts of extras that don't show up on any official paperwork but are no less real, because you didn't know what a good buyer's agent knows, and therefore bought the wrong property for too much money and spent extra for stuff that really should have been the seller's expenses.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

During the initial interview with prospects, I like to cover the division of the labor that goes into a purchase that makes the buyers happy.

I have to know what's important to the buyers, how important it is, and what the budget I have to work with is. My goal is to get my clients some combination of better property and a lower price that's at least ten percent better than they would have had otherwise. That's a realistic, achievable goal. But in order to deliver that bargain in such a way as will make them happy, I have to know what's most important to them, what's not so important, and what's not important at all. That way I can ignore the property where the owner is so proud of some modification my client doesn't care about that they're not prepared to be reasonable.

Once I know what they want and what their budget is, I can tell them how realistic they are being. A good buyer's agent can hit a goal of making a ten percent difference with pretty much every property purchased. I can't guarantee it, but I'm pretty certain all of my clients would agree I made at least that much difference. In some situations recently, it's been thirty percent. But I can't find three bedroom houses in good shape on the top of Mt. Soledad for $250,000. It's not going to happen, and it's no service to anyone to pretend that it's likely to. If your budget and your desires are mismatched, it is my responsibility to inform you of that fact right at the beginning.

Once we have a meeting of the minds on what is possible and achievable, and what may be necessary to do it, the job that comes next is finding "possibles". I define a "possible" as any property which meets the client's essential requirements and might be obtainable within their budget. Budgets should be expressed to agents in terms of purchase price, not monthly payment. Expressing it in terms of payment leaves you open to being sold a property with a negative amortization or some other unsustainable loan with an initially low payment that becomes unmanageable later. You get a higher priced and therefore more attractive property for a payment that's within the payment you told them, and by the time you figure out the gotcha!, they've already been paid, and now they're going to want you to sell the property through them so they get paid again!

Back to the "possibles." The primary responsibility for finding them is mine, but if the client wants to suggest possibles, that's great also. Once possibles are identified, I've got to do a little records research and go look at them. It doesn't take long - fifteen minutes inside each one is more than enough to tell me if this one makes the cut, as far as amenities and value and condition go. Because I'm looking constantly, I've got a pretty solid sense of where the market in my usual areas is. In most cases, I've been inside several that were initially built to the same floor plan that have already sold recently. I've got a laundry list of common problems I specifically look for and evaluate how bad they are if they are present. I've also got to see if I can find a reason why it's obtainable within the budget I've agreed to work with. The obvious case is that if the asking price is less than the client's budget, that's pretty good evidence. That's not the only possible evidence by any means, but it's a pretty solid indication. Where the cut is varies. The easier it is to find what my clients want within their budget, the pickier I can afford to be. The one thing I don't want to do is waste my client's time with below average properties there's no reason for them to be considering.

If a "possible" makes the cut for value, amenities, and especially condition, while being obtainable within my client's budget, it then becomes a "worth showing". This is when I bring it to my client's attention, we go take a look at it together, and I tell them what I see that's right and wrong with the property. Most of my clients aren't real estate experts. On the other hand, they know what they like and are willing to pay for better than I ever can. If the only way you'll ever take action is if your agent tells you it's perfect and doesn't have any flaws, please get real. No matter how great it is, there's at least a dark lining to every property. If it's huge and beautiful, maintaining it is going to be expensive or you're going to be losing some of your return to deterioration. Fact of life. There is no such thing as the perfect property unless you've got an unlimited budget. Seeing as not even the richest man in the world has an unlimited budget, one hopes that you get the idea.

Agents should tell you about the pluses and minuses of every property they show you. I want to make certain they understand the implications of things they may not have thought about. I looked at six properties with a client the other day, and on every single one, there were things I pointed out that changed the picture in her mind dramatically. Agents shouldn't be shy about making recommendations as to which one they like or has the best apparent value. With that said, however, it's not the agent's job to tell the client which one the client should like. You're the one that needs to be happy at the end of things. No matter how much I like a property, if the client doesn't like it, that property profile goes into the wastebasket. Similarly, if the client likes one that I don't, it's my job to report the facts, not to talk them out of it. I can tell them why they shouldn't like it, but if I explain why they shouldn't like it and they still do, well, it's their money and their life. I'm the consultant, not the boss. I'm the hired expert who knows more about the market than they likely ever will, but the most important thing is that they're the one that knows their own mind best. It's darned few who are silly enough to disregard my advice, but they must be able to do so. I'm permitted to try to talk them out of making an offer, but not to prompt an offer, and whatever the clients want to do, they have to be the final authority.

Once they've decided to make an offer, it's my job to figure out how to conduct negotiations such that the clients get the best possible price. To this end, I'm always looking for things that aren't money to offer. For instance, with sellers nervous about committing to move out before close of escrow, a short term leaseback can make an offer more attractive. It amazing the difference that can make to the price the seller may be willing to accept.

Finally, the due diligence period is mostly on my head. Getting the inspections and appraisal done promptly is important. It's great if the client is there for the inspection, but despite lawyers who advise agents not to be there, it really is a responsibility that can't be ducked. I can't see how it can not be gross negligence to be not be present at the inspection. Make certain the client knows and understands what is going on. If I have to call the inspector back to explain something, I have to call the inspector back. Make certain the client understands the title report, the hazard report, etcetera.

A good agent provides lots of professional advice and input. More than some clients want, as a matter of fact. But real estate is enormously complex and if there were easy answers, everyone could do it. It's my responsibility to help you understand the issues, to make certain that you've got the best possible set of choices to choose between, and to make certain you understand the advantages and disadvantages of those choices (There will always be disadvantages, and if you don't understand this, you shouldn't be buying real estate). The decisions themselves, however, must be yours.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

During the Era of Make Believe Loans, a lot of folks got used to zero real scrutiny of transactions. With values increasing rapidly, it was hard to lose money on real estate, whether you were purchaser or lender. One of the most common abuses has been Straw Buyer Fraud. Well, with local prices having receded roughly 30% and no rapid increases on the horizon right at this instant, a lot of lenders are getting burned on loans, losing money, and going back after those who aided and abetted and made those transactions appear more solid than they were.

Against that backdrop I got this email, with the subject, "I am a straw buyer":


I thought I was helping out a friend and HONESTLY did not think and/or realize I was doing anything wrong.

The friend has been making the payments for 10 months and is due to buy the property back from me at the 1 year anniversary (DELETED).

If he can't buy the property back (which I don't think he can), I want to approach the Lender. I can't afford the payments of DELETED and I don't want the property which is worth DELETED.

What kind of trouble could I be in?

Also there is an agent, a broker and an attorney involved in this scenario as well.

Well, California is an escrow state, so this isn't anywhere I can get involved, and the rules are different in every single state. As I've said before, the best thing to do if you find you may have violated the law is consult a licensed attorney in your area, and if it relates to real estate, make it an attorney who's a real estate specialist.

There are some generally applicable principles, but keep in mind that I'm not an attorney, so if there's any conflict between this and what your attorney says, believe your attorney.

The situation is this: You signed a Note, and in most cases, a Trust Deed or the equivalent. The Note says you owe the money. The Trust Deed pledges the property as security for that money.

In many states, California among them, purchase money loans are not generally subject to recourse. Unfortunately, you have committed fraud, which is one of the exceptions and therefore subject to full recourse in every state I'm aware of. Furthermore, loan fraud itself is usually a matter that causes the federal government to get involved, as most lenders are federally chartered. So you have a criminal fraud case, most likely at the federal level, quite likely conspiracy added to that charge, and on the civil side, you are going to be at least one target of a civil suit if the lender loses any money. You can also expect to hold a share of liability for the lender's attorney fees. That's the bad news.

The good news is there's quite likely evidence that you were led down the primrose path by those alleged professionals who should have kept you from breaking the law. This won't get you released from your basic responsibility for what you did, but if the feds and the lender bother with you, you're not likely to be their primary focus, and on the civil side, you're not likely to be the deep pockets they are really interested in. While neither the feds nor the lender is going to want to let you off the hook, you shouldn't be their primary target if you can show that you were advised to do this. Ignorance of the law is no excuse, but when comparing the level and degree of culpability, I'd expect that a non-professional led afoul of the law by allegedly professional advice you should have been able to trust is a fraction the culpability of those professionals who willfully advised you to commit an illegal action.

Now before you breathe a sigh of relief, let's consider the following: What if those alleged professionals aren't there any more? What if they're already out of business, broke, and in jail? Now you're the only target left. Ouch. Now you know how the last of Custer's men felt at Little Bighorn.

Here's another not so comforting thought: What if that property wasn't really worth what was paid for it? From what I understand, a large proportion of felons like to combine their scams. For instance, adding appraisal fraud usually doesn't add appreciably to the risk, while adding greatly to the reward. They pay an appraiser to come up with an inflated value, get someone to pay it, and voila! Extra profit! The games that can be played are legion. Usually, the sucker or mark is just so pleased to be getting "such a great property" that they don't really examine what's going on. Sometimes, they're so happy to be qualifying for anything at all that they won't examine the situation at all, for fear that they will won't qualify and it will all somehow melt away. It's been said before, but you're never so vulnerable as when you're trying to get away with something. If something seems to good to be true, it probably is, especially where hundreds of thousands of dollars are involved. In real estate, you always look the metaphorical gift horse in the mouth. If it's real, it will stand up to the examination. If it's not, you might just avoid paying three times what the property is worth, not to mention criminal prosecution.

Read those contracts. Really read them. Pay attention to paragraphs that say stuff like, "It is a felony to misrepresent information on this application." With hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line, they mean it.

If anybody claims to be helping you break the law or circumvent safeguards, run away! If they're willing to break one law, or one of their ethical responsibilities, ask yourself what reason there is to believe they won't break others? To be precise, their duties to you? If you're trusting them for advice, it seems likely they know the system a lot better than you ever will. There is a reason for every single law and procedure in real estate. The vast majority of the time, it's to protect consumers. If an alleged professional is willing to admit to doing one thing illegal or unethical, what evidence do you have that you're not going to end up one of the victims?

If there are legal ways around legal requirements and procedures that have been put in place, they almost always involves full disclosure to all parties. There some stuff that's none of the business of some parties, but that's because they have no reason to be interested. For instance, the listing agent in a recent transaction asked me for some financial history on the buyers that they had no need to know - they were just trolling for data which might lead to future clients, i.e. trying to get my clients' future business. For that sort of stuff, it's good to tell them something vulgar and report them to the state. But if you know or have been led to believe that the other side of the transaction is being deceived or intentionally kept in the dark, you should be hearing more warning sirens than a ten alarm fire during an air raid. Do all the agents know everything they need to? Does Escrow know? Does Title know? Does the other side of the buyer/seller transaction know? Most importantly, does the lender know? Are you sure? Did you tell them? If not, what evidence do you have that they know?

Nobody should ever rush you into signing anything. Take your time. If you're not certain you understand it, don't sign, no matter who's hopping with impatience. Even me, although I don't recall ever committing that particular sin. Taking your time and consulting disinterested parties may cost you some money, although your agent or loan officer is doing their job if they inform you of what consequences there may be. Not doing so can cost you a lot more money, plus your freedom for years and your credit rating for the rest of your life. Worst comes to absolute worst and you lose the transaction and your deposit, that's better than getting convicted of fraud and owing half a million dollars that the property isn't worth.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

what happens when house doesn't appraise?

I presume this question meant "for the necessary value according to the lender's guidelines".

Lenders base their evaluation of a property upon the standard accountant's "Lower of Cost or Market." This is intentionally a conservative system, because the lender is betting (usually) hundreds of thousands of dollars upon a particular evaluation, and if something goes wrong, they want to know that they'll be able to get their money back. Or at least most of it.

When you're buying, purchase price is cost. When you're refinancing, there is no cost basis, we're working off of purely market concerns, except that for the first year after purchase, most lenders will not allow for a price over ten percent increase on an annualized basis. Six months, no more than five percent. Three months, about two and a half. Mind you, if you turn around and sell for a twenty percent profit three months later, the new lender is going to be just fine with the purchase price, as long as the appraisal comes in high enough.

But as far as a lender is concerned, you can see that no matter what the appraisal, the property is never worth more than purchase price on a purchase money loan. There is a transaction between willing buyer and willing seller on the books and getting ready to happen. It doesn't matter if the appraisal says $500,000 and you're buying it for $400,000. The lender will base the loan parameters upon a value of $400,000.

But what happens if the appraisal comes in lower than the agreed purchase price? For example, $380,000 instead of $400,000? Then the lender considers the value of the property to be $380,000, no matter that you're willing to go $20,000 higher. You want to put $20,000 of your own money (or $20,000 more) to make up the difference, that's no skin off the lender's nose. Matter of fact, they are happy, because it means they still have a loan, where they would not otherwise.

Keeping the situation intact, if you planned to put $20,000 down (5%) on the original $400,000 purchase price, the loan is probably still doable (or was when this was originally written in mid 2006, and 100% financing will almost certainly be back), albeit as a 100% loan to value transaction instead of a 95% one, which means it will be priced as a riskier loan and the payments on the loan(s) will doubtless be higher than originally thought. The same applies if you were going to put $40,000 (10% of the original purchase contract) down, except that the final loan will be priced as a 95% loan ($360,000 divided by $380,000 is 94.74 percent, and loans always go to the next higher category as far as loan to value ratio goes).

Suppose you don't have the money, or won't qualify for the loan under the new terms? That's why the standard purchase contract in California has a seventeen day period where it's contingent upon the loan (many sellers agents will attempt to override this clause by specific negotiation). If you get the appraisal done quickly, you have a choice. You can attempt to renegotiate the price downwards. How successful you will be depends upon several factors. But if you're still within the seventeen days, the seller should, at worst, allow the deposit to go back to you, and you go your merry way with no harm and no foul, except you're out the appraisal fee. This is not to say that the seller or the escrow company has to give the deposit back; they don't. You may have to go to court to try and get it back, depending upon the contract. The escrow company is not responsible for dispute resolution. If the two sides cannot agree, they will do nothing without orders from a court. If the seller wants to be a problem personality, you can't really stop them without going through whatever mediation, arbitration, and judicial remedies are appropriate.

Suppose the appraisal comes in low on a refinance? Well, that's a little more forgiving in most cases around here, at least with rate/term refinances where you're just doing it to get a better loan. If you have a $300,000 loan and you thought the property was worth $600,000 but it's only worth $500,000, that just doesn't make a difference to most loans. Your loan to value ratio is still only sixty percent, and it probably won't make a difference to residential loan pricing (commercial is a different story, and if you have a low credit score it might also make a real difference). On a cash out loan, it can mean you have to choose between less favorable terms and less cash out, however, especially above seventy to eighty percent loan to value ratio.

Once an appraisal happens, it is what it is. If the underwriter sees one appraisal that's too low, they're going to go off that value, and if you bring another appraiser in, the underwriter will usually average the two values, so even if the second appraiser says $400,000, the underwriter who has seen a $380,000 appraisal will value it at $390,000 (not to mention you pay for two appraisals). And a low appraisal can mean that the reason you were refinancing becomes impossible, in which case you're better off walking away.

What can you do about a low appraisal? Your options reduce to four: You can come up with more cash than you initially planned. This option is not available to most purchasers, but it is there. You can renegotiate the purchase price. Not too long ago, when the quality of appraisals was better and more controllable, this was a very good option, but right now with Home Valuation Code of Conduct, a low appraisal means a lot less than it used to regarding leverage to renegotiate price. You can begin the process again with a new lender, hoping the new appraisal comes in higher - assuming the seller will wait. Or you can walk away and look for a different property.

Caveat Emptor

Original here


A while ago, I wrote Sourcing and Seasoning of Funds. You'd think I have a set spiel I give out, and I do. But I had a case where I didn't think I'd need it, and it burned me. Nice clean loan, plenty of down payment all sourced and seasoned, and then almost $100,000 appears in the account on the last statement as I'm getting ready to close it. Instant can of worms - Oops.

Any time money mysteriously appears, the mortgage loan underwriter is going to take an interest. I don't need all your financial statements, I just need enough to get the loan approved. But don't go dumping large amounts of money into the account, just like you shouldn't go apply for a non-mortgage loan while a mortgage loan is in process.

These two items are related because whenever a large amount of money appears, the underwriter's presumption is that you got another loan. Whereas there is nothing inherently wrong with doing so, when you get a loan, you're going to have to make payments. Those payments affect your debt to income ratio, the most important measure by which you qualify for a loan. The underwriter is going to want to know what the terms of that loan are, how much the payments are going to be, whether those payments are fixed or variable, and all of the other things that help them determine whether you qualify for this new loan even with making the payments for that other loan.

So when a large amount of money appears, the underwriter wants to see sourcing and seasoning of those funds. They want to know where the money came from and how you got it and how long you've had it. If it was a gift, they want to know how the person who gave it to you got it, and they want evidence that no repayment is expected. If you can't provide this information, the presumption is going to be that you got a personal loan of some sort. Obviously, if it's a loan, you're going to have to make payments. The payments are going to add to your monthly debt service, which adds to your monthly cost of housing to determine your debt to income ratio. Every dollar you add to monthly cost of housing or debt to income ratio is a dollar that might mean you don't qualify for the loan on your new property.

It's a horrible lie about people from Missouri, but think of underwriters as Missouri accountants. If you want them to believe anything but the worst possible interpretation of a given fact, they want you to show them on paper. That's their favorite phrase: "Show me on paper." It doesn't matter how much down payment you have, it doesn't matter how much equity in case of default. Lenders are not in the business of repossessing property; they are in the business of making loans that are going to be repaid. Especially in the current environment, they don't want to take any risks that your property is going to be one more property in their already too high inventory of lender owned properties.

When you move money from one account to another, you need to show that it has been in the previous account for a while, or where you got it from. You're going to need a paper trail back just as far as all of your other funds on this new money. If you got it from selling your previous property, the underwriters are going to want to see the HUD 1 form from that transaction. If it's a gift, they want a signed letter attesting to this fact from the donor, as well as a source of that money. If you got it from selling something else, the underwriter is quite likely going to ask for copies of the bill of sale. If you're going to be buying property in the near future (or refinancing), keep all the paperwork from anything you sell. And for crying out loud, before you move any large amounts of money around, talk to your loan officer about what you're going to need in order not to kill your loan. Even if you've got all the paperwork, it can make the difference between an easy, straightforward loan, and one where the underwriter takes it into his head that there's something funny going on. You really don't want them to do that, because when it does happen, they can start demanding more and more information, imposing more and more conditions to approving your loan, and in general, delaying your transaction and making the completion of it difficult. Every time one of their loans goes south, an underwriter is potentially in danger of losing their job - so when they think something may be not quite right, they are going to protect their job by requiring all of the information they can think of that might show something isn't quite copacetic. If they should find something specific they can point to, your loan will be declined, and your credit file could very well get an 'attempted fraud' tag. You don't want that, as it can lead to your loan being rejected not just at that lender, but everywhere. So you need to be very careful, and very clean, about moving money around, especially so within six months of applying for a mortgage.

My loan? The client had the paperwork necessary to satisfy the underwriter. Loan funded, he's living there today. But not everyone has that level of paperwork. Better not to raise the flag in the first place by showing the underwriter the statements for the money you actually intend to use for the down payment.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

One of the things that most mortgage and real estate consumers get mixed up on is the distinction between low-balling and junk fees. Junk fees are when they add fees that really aren't necessary to what you're paying. Low-balling is when there's an essential cost (or the associated rate) that either gets underestimated or they somehow neglect to tell you about. This can also take the form of costs such as subescrow fees which happen because your representatives did not choose your service providers with your best interests in mind.

A lot of this has abated since the 2010 Good Faith Estimate became required, but there are still loopholes that unethical people can drive a truck through.

As I said in Mortgage Closing Costs: What is Real and What is Junk?, "The easy, general rule is that legitimate expenses all have easily understood explanations in plain English, they are all for specific services, and if they are performed by third parties, there are associated invoices or receipts that you can see." In my experience, the vast majority of what extra fees that appear on the HUD 1 despite not being on the earlier forms are not the result of junk fees being added for no good reason, but are the result of real fees that your agent or loan provider knew were going to need to get paid, should have known the amount, and chose not to tell you about them or chose to tell you they would be less than they are. In short, low-balling is a much worse problem in the industry than junk fees. I've had people tell me my closing costs seemed high, because despite the fact that I have negotiated for discounts from providers, other loan providers were quoting significantly lower costs. What's going on is not that my costs are high - in fact they're pretty darned low when you compare the fees clients actually end up paying - but the fact that a large proportion of my competitors will pretend that a large percentage of those costs aren't going to happen. The penalties for this, in case you weren't aware, are pretty much non-existent. It's harder now to cross the is and dot the ts of increasing what was quoted on the Good Faith Estimate, but the real crooks have the entire process honed to a science.

The reason they do is is to make it appear for the moment as if their loan is more competitive than it is. What happens is that because it appears that their loan is cheaper for the same rate, people will sign up for their loan. They then invest the six to eight weeks necessary to fund that loan working with that loan provider. By the time they discover the real costs and the rate of that other loan are going to be much higher than they were initially quoted, there's no time to go back and get another loan - and that's if the people notice, and industry statistics say that over half of the people do not realize even massive discrepancies between the initial quote and eventual loan delivered.

This is why most loan providers don't want to tell you what your loan is really going to cost. It isn't that the extra is junk or in any way unnecessary. It's that they want their loan to appear more competitive that it may really be. All of the incentives are lined up in favor of this behavior - they got you to sign up, didn't they? - and there is no penalty in law. Of those people who do notice discrepancies, eight to nine out of ten will give in and sign anyway. For the unethical, their experience is that 90 to 95% of the people who sign up because of their false quote will consummate the loan and they will make money - and they make so much per funded loan that they're doing ten times better than the ethical people who practice full disclosure. That the ethical people are almost certainly going to end up cheaper is your incentive to do what it takes to find them.

This principle applies also to many agents' "estimate from proceeds of sale" form. Despite the fact that the default purchase contract and usual custom may have the seller paying for certain items, such as a home warranty plan and an owner's policy of title insurance, many agents will leave these costs off the estimate. Unless you're selling a fixer in utterly "as is" condition, you're going to end up paying for a home warranty plan. Unless the buyer's agent utterly hoses them, leaving that agent completely open to lawsuits, you're going to pay for an owner's policy of title insurance. Unwillingness to do so is a universal deal killer unless the buyers are getting a price more than good enough to make it worth their while to pay for it themselves. Even if they've deliberately chosen escrow and title providers such that you're going to pay subescrow costs, they'll likely leave those costs off their estimates. Why? To make it seem like you're getting a better deal from them than you actually are.

I've seen more than a few people who signed up with other agents or loan providers based upon ridiculous low-balls (and over-estimates of sale price). Without exception, these people end up paying every single one of those loan costs. It's not like the people who do the work are going say, "Oh well, it's not like we want to get paid for all this work we did." In the case of sales transactions, that's if it sells - and it's very unlikely to sell at all if it's overpriced. Nonetheless, this gives the person who gives the great line of patter - a supposedly "bigger better deal" - a large advantage in getting people to sign up with them. By the time the clients learn the truth, it's too late. Most people don't want to do the research up front to find out what's really going on. They wait until after they've already been hosed to do the research they needed to do in the first place.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

What can a seller do to get the deposit when the buyer backed out after the time limit and just won't sign off on the money? My real estate agent is not helping at all. The real estate office was representing both the seller and buyer and I believe they don't want to upset the buyer and that is why they aren't pushing her to do the right thing. Thanks for any help.

This agent is not representing your interests in a fiduciary manner as demanded by the listing contract.

Real Estate is not sugar and spice and everything nice. Sometimes - quite often, actually - doing your job as an agent means that you have to do something unpleasant by taking your client's side. If your agent isn't willing to be a complete jerk on your behalf if they have to, they're not worth a talking to, much less signing a contract with.

This is another reason why Dual Agency is a bad idea from the consumer's point of view. Most of the reasons are from the buyer's side, but here's a concrete example why you do not want to permit your listing agent to also represent the buyer. Since when I originally wrote this, about thirty percent of all purchase contracts fell out of escrow for some reason or another - and that number has since exploded to over fifty percent - ask yourself how you'd feel about your listing agent trying to preserve the buyer's deposit even though you, the seller, may be entitled to it. You gave them sixty days or more exclusive shot at that property, paid the mortgage and all the other bills for that time period, and could not sell it to anyone else while they were wasting all of that time and money of yours. This is a very common phenomenon when one agent tries to represent the interests of both sides. But your interests call for the buyer to forfeit the deposit, and if they want to continue to represent you, they need to act in your best interests. In this case, your agent hasn't done that.

This isn't to say they have to start with scorched earth. A simple request to sign the cancellation and release of deposit is very reasonable - and precisely what they agreed to when they wanted to represent both sides, if the transaction fell apart. When there's no other agent, there isn't anyone else to do the job. They're it, because they tagged themselves by requesting dual agency.

Agents, however, are not lawyers, arbitrators, legal mediators, or judges. They have zero authority to force their other client to sign the cancellation and release of deposit. Some people won't do the reasonable and intelligent thing, whether it's because they're hoping to get away with it, or because they don't think it's the reasonable and intelligent thing, or for some other reason. But a failure to even ask is gross dereliction of duty, and a failure to do their utmost in persuading the other side to release you the money is a failure of their contracted fiduciary duty to you.

This means that you quite likely have a valid reason to cancel your listing. Consult with an attorney, but from the information presented, they have clearly failed to represent your best interests in accordance with that listing contract. As far as calls upon agent loyalty go, listing contracts conquer everything but the law in terms of interests to guard, or at least they should. That's why I give each and every one of my buyer clients an explicit written release of any obligation if they should choose to buy a property I'm listing. They can always find another buyer's agent to represent them, but the sellers are contractually committed to staying with me for the contracted period. I also tend not to show my few listings to my contracted buyer clients, for reasons I've gone into elsewhere.

One hopes you see why I make such a big deal about putting in the work to find a good agent. Here you are with months and multiple thousands of dollars gone, and you have absolutely nothing to show for it because your agent is a self-serving bozo. You don't need to fret about finding absolutely the best agent there is, but you do need to find one who knows what they're doing and will do what is necessary to represent your interests. I wrote a two part article How to Effectively Shop For A Listing Agent (Part I) and How to Effectively Shop For A Listing Agent (Part II) on this very subject. Chances are, there is more than one good agent in your area, but the good ones are usually outnumbered by the bozos, so just using your relative or friend is like playing Financial Russian Roulette with four of six chambers loaded. Nor is "top producer" any kind of sobriquet I'd want for my listing agent, because they're talking about overall volume of sales, and that's not likely to be present in the agent who can actually get top dollar for your property. All of the agency mechanics that favor mass production of sales work against them getting the best price possible for any particular property. To be fair, this works in the other direction as well, but it's not your problem. You want someone who's going to get the best possible price for your property, not someone who mass produces transactions. If they've chosen the other path, you don't need to feel guilty about passing them up in favor of the boutique agency that busts their backside to satisfy you. That high producing chain is making plenty of money off the suckers who don't know any better.

Caveat Emptor

Original Article here

"buyers agent refuses to make offer" was a search hit I got recently. This is yet another reason not to sign exclusive buyer's agent agreements.

My hypothesis - and based upon experience it's pretty strong - is that the CBB is lower than the agent would like. The CBB is the "cooperating brokers" payment - that share of the selling agent's commission that will be paid to another agent who brings in the buyer.

Now, to repeat what I've said before, the standard listing agreement gives the entire commission to the listing agent if they bring in the buyer themselves, or if the buyer has no agent. But if they want buyer's agents to bring their buyers to this property, or if they want it to sell quickly, they'll make certain the buyer's agents have a good reason to bring the buyers by - in the form of a reasonable CBB. Three percent seems to be average around here now, up from 2.5 about a year ago, and properties that want to sell go higher. Even the discount brokers that will settle for 1% to list (or a flat fee) will tell you to offer at least three to a prospective buyer's agent. It's not mandatory, but it does work to sell the property.

The default buyer's agent contracts (exclusive and non-exclusive) in my area specify a 2% commission from the buyer to the agent but state that any commission paid by the seller is to be used to offset this first. What this means is that as long as the agent finds you a property paying at least 2 percent to buyer's agents (CBB) the buyer pays zero. See What Do Buyer's Agents Do? for more information. (If they don't find you a property that you buy, no commission or other obligation is incurred)

Now my attitude is that as long as my buyer isn't going to have to come up with cash out of pocket for my commission, I want to move from "looking" to "negotiation". Because my contract with the buyer is non-exclusive, they are free to look elsewhere, and with other agents, cutting me out of the process entirely if I don't perform. Therefore, my motivation is to find them the property they want, and get the transaction moving. This isn't particularly virtuous on my part; That's where the incentives are. I haven't seen a CBB lower than 2 percent ever, that I can recall, except for a few greedy, almost always drastically overpriced FSBOs.

Suppose, however, Joe Realtor has your signature on an exclusive buyer's agreement. Now he's got your business locked up for six months or a year, no matter what. You can't buy anything without Joe getting paid. This creates a different incentive. Now Joe can pick and choose what properties he wants you to see, what properties he wants you to make an offer on. If you don't like his work, you are still stuck with him until the agreement runs out. If you go elsewhere and buy a property, Joe still gets paid, without really doing anything. If Joe gets two and The Other Guy gets two, and the CBB is three, that's one percent you've got to pay out of your pocket at a minimum. Maybe two percent, because The Other Guy is going to take the viewpoint that he did the work for that property, and is entitled to the full commission. When lawyers get involved, you never know how it'll end up. My only advice to to heed Sancho Panza's words of wisdom, "Whether the pitcher hits the stone or the stone hits the pitcher, it's going to be bad for the pitcher." The legal system makes a pretty good substitute for the stone.

So Joe Realtor thinks he's got your transaction locked up with an exclusive agreement. So he's thinking of this transaction as being in the bag, and he wants to make it as large as possible in his favor. So if the CBB is listed as 2.5 or less, he isn't interested. He wants three at least, more if he can swing it. He also wants the transaction to be as large as possible, by the way, and if he can think of a way to talk you into a property where the only way you can qualify is a stated income negative amortization loan, boy has Joe got a paycheck coming!

Now it happens that flatly refusing to make an offer is one of the ways to potentially break an exclusive agency agreement (the relevant legal stuff varies). On the other hand, Joe is not going to let you go willingly. By the time you've spent fourteen months in court and thousands of dollars for your lawyer, you will probably wish you hadn't, particularly when it turns out that your claim is a "he said this, the other guy said that," case, as you have no documentation. Better to just wait until any claim Joe may have is moot. Better still not to sign the exclusive agreement in the first place.

If you're a seller wanting to make the best possible profit, you might want a listing contract which gives more than half of the overall commission to the buyer's agent. The larger their commission, the more buyer's agents you attract, and therefore, the more buyers. It's a "catch more flies with honey" sort of thing. Mind you, the listing agents will resist this, but until you sign their contract (which should be exclusive, by the nature of things, at least for a given property), you are the one who holds the power to control the transaction by walking out. Don't stint the listing agent, as they're the professionals who you're counting on to help you out in marketing and negotiation. But giving incentives for buyer's agents to bring buyers to your property, instead of the one two streets over, is typically money better spent in all but the strongest of seller's markets.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

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