August 2018 Archives

what happens if partner refuses to pay his half of the mortgage?

The lender will hold you each responsible for payment in full. They don't care who pays; only that they get the full amount every month. That's the long and the short of it. You both agreed to the loan contract, and if it's not paid in full there will be all of the consequences: Hits to your credit, notice of default, foreclosure.

This is basically blackmail on the part of your partner but a disturbing number of partnerships have this phenomenon occur. The only way I know of to recover the money is through the courts, which takes forever and costs more money. Even when you have a judgment, it can be difficult to actually get the money if they have taken certain steps to place it beyond your reach. Talk to an attorney right now, keep good records, and send everything Certified Mail.

Unfortunately, there are no method except time that I am aware of to repair the damage to your credit once it has been done. You just have to wait it out. For that reason, it is usually cost effective to loan your partner the money, even at zero percent interest.

What if you don't have the money for both halves of the payment? Well, that's a real question, and the answer is found in the article What Happens When You Can't Make Your Real Estate Loan Payment. This is not a good situation to be in. Talk to that attorney about liquidating your investment. It takes time and a lot of money if your partner doesn't want to.

What can you do to prevent this from happening? Pick a good partner that won't pull this nonsense. Spend the money to protect yourself up front with a partnership agreement (It should protect your partner from you as well). But the fact is that if your partner wants to be a problem personality, you really can't stop them in the short term. Not that it makes any difference to your pocketbook, but sometimes it's not intentional. People do fall on bad times for reasons not under their control.

Corporations are another step people take to protect themselves from this sort of thing, but that brings in all sorts of further problems. How the corporation qualifies for a loan is often a significant problem, and many times practically speaking, is insurmountable.

Borrowing money in partnership with someone else is something to be done with a lot of forethought and preparation, otherwise there's nothing you can do when bad things happen.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

after Katrina I am upside down with my mortgage. my house is uninhabitable. My flood insurance check doesn't payoff the mortgage. How can i get a short payoff due to financial hardship - i.e. relocation loss of jobs and steady income?

This is one of the hard truths about mortgages. They are a contract between you and the lender to pay back a certain amount of money that you borrowed in order to purchase that property. They have nothing to do with any unforeseen hardship, and if you do not pay that money back, in full and on schedule, you can anticipate negative consequences no matter how good the underlying reason. Especially to your credit, and those are going to be long term consequences indeed.

Unforeseen disasters, like Katrina, Earthquakes, floods, fires etcetera, are some of the biggest reasons why things go wrong with your ability to repay that money. Something happens to the property and now you can't live in it, and you do need to pay for housing elsewhere. Furthermore, in widespread disasters like floods and earthquakes, since your job may no longer be there, you may have to relocate a considerable distance away in order to find work, and have difficulty paying your mortgage even if your property, in particular, came through just fine.

There are several issues that trap the unwary or uninformed consumer. Homeowner's Insurance in general is the first of these. Many lenders in other states have requirements that the property be insured for the full amount of all mortgages against the property. This requirement is illegal in California (and a few other states), and actually is counter-productive as this implies that the objective is to pay off the lenders, when the objective of insurance is to repair the damage. The phrase that California lenders look for in the policies of homeowners insurance that any lender can and all lenders do require is "Full replacement value." In other words, the insurer must agree to bring the property back to being in the same condition it was in prior to the covered event that caused the damage. Nonetheless, there are many properties where this kind of coverage is not available, most often due to their location in areas vulnerable to periodic fires. In such instances, you can expect lenders to require significantly larger down payments and charge higher interest rates, if they are willing to lend against the property at all. Since this adversely effects the owner's ability to sell their property, you will therefore likely get such a property for a lower purchase price than you would otherwise - but you will also have the same difficulty when selling it. You should be advised that this difficulty will persist before you purchase the property, no matter how much you have for the down payment. An agent who doesn't tell you about this issue on properties where it is an issue is either incompetent, or not looking out for your best interest.

Another issue with homeowner's insurance is that you must keep the insured amount reflective of your home's current value. If you bought in the eighties here in San Diego, you probably paid about $150,000 for a three bedroom single family residence. I don't know of any single family residences below about $300,000 now, and most are in the mid 300s or higher - let's say $450,000. The insurance companies, quite reasonably I might add, take the position that even if you have "full replacement value" coverage, your home is only insured for $150,000, and is worth $450,000, you are not insuring it for the full value and will not pay the full bill for any repairs even if it is only for $100,000. In such a case, it's been a while since I went over the figures that are the legal basis for the math, but in this particular instance, I get that the insurance company will pay $41,666 out of that $100,000 repair bill in this particular instance. The threshold is legally if you had the property insured to at least eighty percent (80%) of its actual value, they will pay the full bill, but you only had it insured to 33 percent of the value, and therefore they will only pay 33/80ths of the bill. So once every couple of years (more often in markets rising 20% per year!) talk to your insurance company about making certain your property is properly insured. Yes, you'll pay more money, but it is a trivial amount compared to the cold hard fact above. My first property multiplied in value by about three and one half times, and the difference between the insurance premium then and the insurance premium now is less than fifty percent. Some insurers (mine among them) have a good record of not invoking the 80 percent rule I'm talking about here and paying the full amount, but this is a matter of company policy, not legal requirement, and it can be changed at any time and no matter how benevolent they are, if the disaster is bad enough they will have no choice. Furthermore, those folks who keep their coverage updated are de facto paying for those who don't under such a policy, and for those who do make a habit of keeping their insurance coverage updated may find more competitive rates with other insurers.

Two things everybody needs to be warned about is that no regular policy of homeowner's insurance, not even the vaunted H.O.3 policy with the H.O. 15 endorsement, covers against flood or earthquake. If possible flood or earthquake is an issue where you are, you need to buy a special policy to be covered by them. Flood and earthquake policies usually have a higher deductible than a basic homeowner's policy, and the reason for this is simple: solvency of the insurer and price of the insurance. Flood and earthquake are typically widespread devastating disasters that make for major damage over a widespread area. If the deductible was smaller, the price of the added policy would need to be much higher, as paying off such claims strains the financial resources of even the strongest insurer. If you're buying on stable soil atop the highest ridge line for miles around, flood insurance is probably not a worry for you. I sit roughly two tenths of a mile from a creek bed, but the amount of territory it drains is relatively small, only a of couple square miles, as the big watercourses go well away from where I sit and there are large hills between me and them. On the other hand, being in California, I've had earthquake insurance since the day I bought the property.

One more thing with flood insurance: There is a federally mandated thirty day waiting period between application and payment of premium and the time it goes into effect. This is to prevent, for instance, people in New Orleans waiting until there is a hurricane headed their way and rushing out and buying flood insurance, then canceling it and asking for a return of their premiums afterwards. I think the thirty day requirement is waivable to the extent that it can go into effect on the day you buy your property, but talk to your insurance agent.

Now, one final thing to be aware of. The value of the land itself is not insured, only the value of the improvements to that land. If a flood goes through your land, the land will still be there afterwards (and research riparian rights sometime if you're worried it will not be - another thing a good agent should warn you about if it's relevant). So if, like many in San Diego, you bought the property for $500,000, but it only cost the builder $200,000 to put the property together, the value of the land is obviously $300,000, right? Well, your mortgage is for eighty percent or ninety percent of the value of the improvements plus the land. Let's say 80%, $400,000, although I suspect that's on the low side of both mean and median. So when a disaster destroys the improvements (i.e. the home) and your insurer sends you a check to rebuild those improvements, that $200,000 check is obviously not going to cover the full amount of the mortgage. What do you do?

Well, that's where the importance of a good insurance policy, that will cover the costs of housing while you rebuild in addition to the costs of rebuilding the home in the first place, comes in. You'll also need to learn the value and importance of managing cash flow versus amount you may owe, but that's a subject for another essay and you should consult a good professional financial person if you haven't learned this before said happens in any case. Trying to learn that financial skill "as you go" is a recipe for guaranteed disaster. Furthermore, no matter how good your policy of insurance is, there is always a deductible and there are always extra expenses of rebuilding that you need or desire to undertake because it's the best and cheapest time to do so. This illustrates the value of building up and maintaining an emergency fund that you can access, because even if the finished property will be worth far more, no regulated lender will touch a refinance for cash out while the property is still under repair. A "hard money" lender might lend you new money, but they require so much equity in the property "as it sits right now" that this is not an option for the vast majority of all property owners. And in the meantime, you must keep up all payments required under the original loan contract you agreed to. Yes, it's a hardship. But it's what you agreed to do when you signed that mortgage contract.

PS: I've said this before, but being 'upside-down' on a mortgage is one of those things that just isn't important unless you need to sell or refinance right now. Don't magnify the importance of transient numbers on paper to the real world.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

I wouldn't have believed this one if I hadn't been there when it happened.

Another agent in my office had a listing where the property went into default. We just happened to find out about it; the seller tried to keep it a secret because they were embarrassed. Silly because default is a matter of public record, but it happens. Suddenly, the sharks started swarming, of course.

One agent brought an offer in. Among other things, that offer called the property, "a dog." It's not a dog. It's not a place where I'd expect to find a billionaire living, but if someone gave it to me, I'd have no problems either living there as it sits, or renting it out.

Never insult a property you're interested in. It's smart to explain the facts of the situation that are in your favor, but calling the property "a dog" conveys no information, is completely subjective, and is usually construed by the owner as a direct personal attack. If you want them to agree to sell you the property - which should be the reason you made an offer - it's a great way to sabotage that goal. If the property has holes in the wall or cracks in the foundation, by all means remind them. Be specific about the faults, but don't get personal and don't make subjective judgments.

Then this clown not only sabotaged his argument, but violated his fiduciary duty, by bringing in a competing offer.

This just blows my mind. Not only is the property now obviously not a dog, since you have multiple people clamoring to buy it. How many buyers can one agent work with at a time, anyway? My absolute limit is six. If two of them want the same property, there must be something pretty darned attractive about it.

This also increases the leverage the seller has, raises the sales price for the one that gets the property, and means that one of them doesn't get the property. How can this not be in violation of fiduciary duty of that buyer's agent?

No matter how good the bargain, as a buyer's agent, I never ever initiate showing a property to someone else until the first buyer has told me they're not interested. I can't stop them from seeing the property, but I can avoid personal responsibility for encouraging someone else to make a competing offer. Especially now - it's not like there's any shortage of bargains out there. Sure, the incidence of multiple offers has risen dramatically, and properties that are priced competitively are moving (both of these are signs of a buyer's market that's about to turn, by the way). Nonetheless, there's a lot of good stuff out there if you know what's really important and how to look. A buyer's agent should know both. That knowledge is a significant fraction of what we're selling. When I originally wrote this, I had found four great bargains, even considering the market, which was the last time I got out just on a general search, not associated with any particular client. All I had to do was get off my backside and out of my office and look. I don't accept clients if I haven't got the time to look for them.

This clown of an agent was thinking about getting paid, not the client's interest. Furthermore, unless he told them, which I will bet he didn't, those two sets of clients have no way of knowing that the agent has hosed both of them. The property was one heck of a bargain as it sits. Either one of them should be ecstatically happy with it and a good bet to come back on their next transaction - provided they don't know how the agent hosed them.

In the case of this particular property, both the MLS and the foreclosure list are public knowledge. It's not like there's any deep dark secret about it. Perhaps this agent is even selling foreclosure lists as a way to procure business, and both clients independently spotted the property and asked about it. He still owes it to the client who put in the first offer to do what he can not to sabotage them. This is the one exception I can think of to Agents Refusing to Make an Offer on Real Estate. As a buyer's agent, I have a firm policy of one outstanding offer per property (As a listing agent, I love multiple offers and do everything I can to encourage them). It's a minor encouragement for fence sitters to pull the trigger now, when I tell them that if another of my clients makes an offer, I will decline to submit an offer from someone else until that one is off the table. This protects both clients by keeping them out of a bidding war I would have facilitated. I'll find the second client something else. Doesn't matter how hot the market - There are very few properties so good they're worth getting into a bidding war over, and even fewer prospective buyers who will be happy in the aftermath of a bidding war.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

Good Evening!

My name is DELETED and my wife and I recently signed papers to purchase a property from DELETED in DELETED, CA. After our options, their lot premium, and the elevation charge, the house is listed at 425,000. We have 90,000 in incentive money to spend which we would like to lower the overall cost of the home to 335,000. We only receive the incentive money if we get the loan through (their in-house lender). We were interested in a 30yr fixed rate mortgage that is 100% financing and will pay the closing costs out of pocket. I feel like I am being stiffed by their loan guy. Back in late May or early June, he told me that we could get 30 yr 100% financing with HOA, Mello Roos, PMI, PITI out the door for $2889 on some 6.75 percent loan (which still seemed high to me) but just last week he told us that we are now looking at 7.8% with out the door payment of $3250 because 100% loans are harder to finance now. I guess my question is how do I not get stiffed by their loan agent and what proper steps do I take to ensure the best loan and rate for us? I think that 7.8% is ridiculously high for this market! Here is some background info on us:

Credit scores of 750-780 for both of us
21,000 in bank accounts
2 car loans with 3 yrs remaining on each (238 and 210 per month)
Current renters with 80k gross yearly combined salary
1st time homebuyers

Any help regarding this matter would be greatly appreciated! Thank you for your time and consideration. If there is any other information you need us to provide I would be more than happy to provide it.

First off, check with your local authority to see if you qualify for a Mortgage Credit Certificate. It looks likely. Whether or not the developer's lender participates is a question, but it's a question that needs answering.

Now this is definitely a situation where you needed a buyer's agent to deal with a developer. Unfortunately, at this point it's too late to get one involved, as you've already signed the contract. The work a buyer's agent does is pretty much moot. You've already signed that developer's contract. I'll bet a nickel they'll be able to keep your deposit if you back out, and likely sue for more. They are now in a win-win situation.

Here locally, I could tell you if it was a good idea to pay that developer's extra charges or just take their basic unit. Elevation premium? What's the view now, and is it likely to stay that way? Lot premium? How many extra square feet are you getting - or is it just a junk fee? You're not local to me, so I do not know.

What I can assess is numbers. This article is a reprint and rates are lower now, but when I originally wrote this I just picked a rate sheet at random which had an 80% first with zero points and no pre-payment penalty at 6.75%. On $268,000, that's $1738. The 30 due in 15 second would be at 7.75%, with a negligible cost, for a payment of $480. Assuming that your official purchase price is $425,000, add about another $443 for California property taxes and just a guess of $100 for homeowner's insurance, and that's a payment of $2761 plus Mello-Roos and HOA, which I have no way of knowing. Never choose loans by payment, but this would cut your cost of interest more than it cuts your payment.

However, at $425,000, you've got a first of $340,000 and a second of $85,000, giving us payments of $2205 and $609, respectively, and that's what we'd be looking at if you came to me for the loan the day I originally wrote this. Add that $543 taxes and insurance, and your payments would be $3357. Not having that $90,000 in your balance makes a huge difference, and not just to the payment, but also to the cost of interest.

Here's another point on which developers hose unsuspecting buyers. Is that property, as it sits, going to be worth $425,000? Is it going to worth $335,000? If I were in your shoes, I'd hire an appraiser right now. You do want an independent opinion. The chances of that developer's appraiser rocking their boat are nil.

Here's one thing to seriously consider: Take their financing offer, even if it includes a pre-payment penalty, which I'm betting it will. Of course, if they offer you the option of buying it off with a higher rate, that's something you're going to want to do in this scenario. Then, providing the property is really going to be worth enough, refinance immediately. That pre-payment penalty isn't going to be $90,000, even with the costs of the new loan included. But you want an independent appraiser's opinion before you jump into this, to find out if it's likely you'll be able to refinance.

What you'd be doing is taking the $90,000 incentive money and then paying a toll of about $13,000 for the pre-payment penalty plus whatever the costs of the new loan are (the ones I outlined would be roughly $3000 if you accepted a 3 year penalty of $500 on the second, or $500 higher if you didn't). Net to you: roughly $73,000 - if the value of the property will cover the refinance, and you'll get better terms if the value is actually $425,000, because the Loan to Value Ratio won't be 100%. It'll be about 83%, which translates to an 80/5. Provided, of course, that the purchase contract says $425,000. If your official purchase price is $335,000, your monthly property taxes will be about $349, but then we're dealing with whether or not the lender will believe your appraisal. A paper lenders quite likely won't. Most of the time, your official sales price will be the full amount, but every once in a while developers like to throw a curve in. On one hand, a lower sales price reduces your property taxes, while on the other it means that you'll have difficulty refinancing for a while.

If you had a good buyer's agent, you'd likely already know the answers to all of these questions, and you likely wouldn't have fallen into a couple of traps, but that's water under the bridge. We have to deal with the situation as it exists, and figure out the best way to deal with the facts looking forward. If an appraiser tells you the value is there, I'd take their loan on a short term basis for the incentive money. If the appraiser tells you the value is not there, it's probably time to see a good lawyer about getting out of that contract. If you lose your deposit, that's usually not as bad as spending more than the property is worth and getting stuck with a rotten loan you can't refinance out of.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

I've been answering this question for a long time. Whose interests do we need to be concerned about, in a "If they are harmed, we've got a problem" sort of way? Who has a primary stake in a real estate transaction, and who does not? Whose interests must be served by said transaction? Whose interests are critical, and whose are not? I never really went into an explicit answer. But some nasty emails and deleted comments of late have made an explicit answer important.

For as long as I've been thinking about the question, I've been answering it the same way. Depending upon the transaction, there are two or three parties with a primary stake: The buyer, the seller, and the lender if there is one.

The buyers interests are the most important and the most critical. They are giving up a very large sum of money in order to purchase real estate. Money is liquid; real estate is not. You can do anything with money; real estate, not so much. Therefore, there must be a compelling arguments made why it is in that buyer's interest to part with that much cash in order to buy that property. I've made a fair number of said compelling arguments, but you always have to be able to make it. Every time. If they're getting a loan, you also have to build an argument why it is worth them taking out a loan, which forces them to pay out a given amount of money every month for the next thirty years in most cases. Money that the buyer hasn't earned yet, and in most cases couldn't pay back right now if they had to. You've got to build a compelling argument for why that buyer giving that seller however many thousands of dollars in order to buy that property is in that buyer's best interest. If you're a real estate agent and you can't do this from the ground up, you're in the wrong business.

The seller's interests are also critical. There's got to be a compelling argument made as to why it's a good idea for that seller to agree to sell their property for that price. If not, they shouldn't be selling it. Real estate may be illiquid, but nobody is creating any more of it. Not the Dutch, not the UAE, not anybody, not really. So why, to paraphrase the immortal words of Roald Dahl, would someone willingly exchange something of which nobody is making more of for something which they're printing more of every day? Again, if you're an agent and you can't do this, you're in the wrong line of work.

The seller's interests and the buyer's interests are different, of course. Without those differences, nobody would ever trade anything to anyone else ever again, and that includes trading for money, or sales as it is usually called. But you've got to be able to make compelling arguments for both sides, and you've got to be right, as real estate transactions are not readily reversible in the general case. There may be occasional exceptions, but you can't go back afterwards and say, "Let's call the whole thing off!".

The lender, if there is one, also has a compelling primary interest in a real estate transaction. They are putting up many thousands of dollars of money they have already earned or gotten in some fashion in order so that the seller gets cash from the buyer rather than having to wait thirty years for the last bit to trickle in. In most cases, the lack of a lender will prevent the transaction from happening at all because that seller needs cash in order to pay off their own lender, or cash for the property in order to accomplish their reasons for selling it, not monthly payments trickling it over the next thirty years. Therefore, without the lender, the seller's interests could not be met, and therefore the buyer's interests would not be met. But the lender doesn't have a direct interest in the property investment, only that it can be sold to pay off the debt if the borrower defaults. What they do have an interest in is whether the buyer can pay them back, and, failing that, if they can get their money out of selling the property if the buyer does not.

The seller is usually paying almost everyone who works on the transaction, the buyer's money is the reason why the seller is able to pay everyone, and the lender's money is what is used so the seller can pay everyone right now (including themselves). These three parties have legitimate, primary interests in the transaction. If their needs and criteria are not being met, they can call the entire transaction off. As strange as it may be to see a real estate agent and loan officer writing this, these three parties should call the transaction off if their interests are not being met.

Everyone else is working for a paycheck: Agents, loan officers, escrow, title, appraiser, inspector, notary, ad nauseam. We make our money by being able to help one of the above three "people" consummate the transaction. Our interests lie in that paycheck, not in the transaction. We are worthy of our pay to the extent we help one or more of the primaries serve their interests, or serve those interests better. If we can't do that, we shouldn't be part of the transaction. We only make money by serving the interests of the primary stakeholders, and if we're not doing that, we shouldn't make money.

If you cannot agree with this, you and I have nothing further to talk about. I make my money by putting my clients into a situation that's better than it would have been without me. If that's not the way you make money in real estate or any other business you might be in, then you are trying to be a tollbooth, and the dynamics of the market are going to do their best to route around you. In other words, if you cannot show a value to those you serve that is at least as great as the money you make from providing those services, the market evolution is going to put you out of business as soon as it can. This knowledge goes back at least to Frédéric Bastiat, but it's nothing that despots the world over haven't known for millennia, who have been getting increasingly sophisticated about not getting put out of business as the markets have gotten more sophisticated about what adds value and what does not. I have absolutely no sympathy for any argument that concludes you must pay someone because the law says you must. To the extent it relies upon "because I said so!", the law is an ass.

That doesn't mean there aren't legitimate economic reasons to choose to use a real estate agent, a lender, a notary or whomever. There are quite powerful ones, in fact. But to the extent the law forces you to use one, the law is a tyrant, engaging in rent-seeking behavior. Healthy economic organisms interpret rent seeking behavior as damage, and seek to route around it. Eventually, they will succeed. It may take a while, but they will succeed.

So now you know why I am always looking at "What is the consumer's interest?" and "How can the consumer benefit?" and "Does this benefit the consumer?" It isn't altruism. It's enlightened self-interest. By providing value for the consumer, even if in the context of specialized knowledge or judgment that consumer may not have, I am showing an economic reason why it is in that consumer's best interest to put money in my pocket. If $1 in my pocket means more than $1 in theirs (and it does), consumers will freely choose to line up at my door for the privilege of paying me. Some consumers may not agree, and that's fine. There's plenty who agree do to keep someone who is so oriented hopping for as long as I am willing and able to work. That's the best income insurance there is or ever will be.

But if you are not so oriented - and I am looking here at any alleged professionals who think in terms of their own benefit, rather than the benefit of consumers - then it's only a matter of time before the market figures out a way to route itself around you. I and others like me are going to be working forever. Those who take the tack that "you pay me because you have to!" are going to find yourselves in declining industries, and no amount of regulation (e.g. this) is going to do anything other than delay the tide until someone figures out how. And acting self-righteously as if you have some kind of "right" to that money as you lobby the government for them to force people to do it your way will only make you more and more contemptible, more and more an object of ridicule.

Caveat Emptor (and especially Caveat Vendor)

Original article here

A search I just noticed asked the question "Who gets the deposit if escrow falls through?"

The theory of the deposit is that here is an amount of cash that the buyer is putting up as evidence of their ability and intention to consummate the transaction.

This is a good question. I've only dealt with real estate sales in California, so I'm going to deal with it from a California perspective. California is a widespread model for real estate practices (as New York is for insurance), but I can't speak to the specifics which states are and aren't following this model and to what degree.

Most of what happens in real estate sales contracts has a default way of handling it, but is subject to specific negotiation. In other words, there's a standard way of doing it, but you can change that by negotiation with the other party. California Association of Realtors (CAR) has a specific set of forms that are encouraged, in order to make these questions somewhat more clear cut.

The standard here in California is that the purchase is contingent for seventeen calendar days, after which the buyer's deposit will belong to the seller whether escrow closes or not. From the time the contract is accepted by both sides, the buyer has seventeen days to finish all inspections, and to obtain a commitment for acceptable financing. If they call it off within those seventeen days, they get the deposit back. If the purchase falls through later than the seventeen days, the seller is usually entitled to the deposit, within limits. The seller can't just arbitrarily cancel the transaction on the eighteenth day and keep the deposit. The time specified in the purchase contract has to have expired, there must be evidence of bad faith dealing on the buyer's behalf - something.

Let me make very clear that the seller is indeed giving the buyer something when the purchase contract is signed. To be precise, the exclusive right to purchase that property for a certain amount of time. There are expenses of selling that they must pay and that they don't get back if the buyer can't carry through, not to mention expenses related to preparing to move, at least potentially having the house sit vacant, etcetera. They cannot conclude a purchase contract with anyone else while the current buyer's contract is going on. If I'm selling, I insist upon retaining the deposit if the buyer can't carry though. If I were to be unable to consummate a purchase, I certainly understand that the seller will retain the deposit in most circumstances.

The escrow company won't just give the deposit to the seller. They are paid to be a neutral third party, to stand in the middle and make sure that everybody gets what everybody agreed upon, but it is not their place to settle a dispute. For that, you're going to have to go through whatever dispute resolution process is appropriate. This can be mediation, arbitration, the courts, or possibly something else. You can spend a lot of money fighting what the contract says, but in the end you can also expect to have to live up to it, and likely to pay the other party's costs as well as your own, so better not to fight something the contract says you should have done. The escrow company will often also charge a cancellation fee from out of the deposit, by the way. They do an awful lot of work, and if the transaction gets canceled for whatever reason, they do not otherwise get paid.

The number one reason for failed escrow is loan providers leading borrowers down the primrose path. "I can do that," and no, they can't. Unfortunately, I've never seen anyone able to recover damages from a failed loan provider. I used to advise people to get back up loans, but due to changes in the loan market, nobody can offer those any longer. For sellers, look for a qualification letter that you can take to any loan provider to find out if this buyer is qualified.

You can change the standard contract by specific negotiation. If you're a seller who wants to get the deposit no matter what on day 30, you can ask for that as a condition of the initial sales contract. In a hot market, this is easy to ask for and get, but in a buyer's market, you are likely to lose the buyer. If you're a buyer who doesn't want to lose the deposit no matter what, you can ask to put that into the contract you propose, but most sellers, even in a buyer's market, are going to tell you to take a hike somewhere else. No big deal if it was "Hey, let's make a bid on this and see how desperate they are!" A real problem if you fell in love with the property and just have to have it. Over-playing your hand in negotiations is as disastrous as under-playing, and I've seen many people so intent on being Mr. Tough Negotiator that they diddled themselves out of an excellent transaction. In any case, being too sticky on the deposit is a good way not to get as good of a price as you otherwise might have. For a seller, you have this property and you want cash. You need somebody to agree to pay it - the cash is not going to materialize out of thin air. For a buyer, the whole idea is that this property is attractive to you for some reason, or you would not be making an offer. You are asking the seller to trust thousands of dollars to your ability to swing the deal as much as you are trusting their ability to deliver a clear title to a property without hidden defects.

Whether you are a buyer or a seller, once that contract is signed, you want to get cracking on whatever your obligations under it are. Get it Done. Prompt good faith execution of everything you need to do to make the contract happen is your best protection against losing the deposit if the transaction fails. The alternative is that you're likely to forfeit whatever rights to the deposit you may have had if you had been prompt. Just because Things Take Time in Real Estate Transactions is no excuse for you to waste time. Wasting time is expensive for everyone, and one of the strongest signs of a sour transaction I know. Buyers and borrowers pay increased loan and other costs, sellers lose money from delay. This is equally true in refinancing, by the way. The loan you are quoted today does not exist tomorrow unless you act on it today. In summer 2003, when rates hit what were at the time fifty year lows, many people were in no hurry, and rates shot up a full percent and a half over a couple weeks. Today, rates have been even lower for years, but they've been slowly climbing these last several months, and you can see signs that they're going to rise further even if the economy dies completely. But many people insisted upon thinking, in the face of evidence and testimony to the contrary, that the rates would always be there, and they lost out. This happens constantly on smaller scales, and recently happened again on a bigger one. If rates go down after locking, a good broker may be able to get you better rates. If they go up, you've got the lock. If rates go up and you didn't lock, you get the higher rates. Period.

But the deposit is definitely something that the buyer can owe the seller if the transaction falls through, and that's as it should be.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

(This article was originally written in August 2006. The market and loan rate figures have changed, but the basic information is the same, as is the conclusion)

Okay, you might expect a Real Estate Agent to have a post with that title, but I'm going to surprise the doubters by hauling out a spreadsheet and proving it with numbers.

When I originally wrote this, if you had moderately decent credit you could have qualified for 100 percent financing. The more you had for a down payment, the better your interest rates and the lower your payments, but even so, you could have gotten it. Now, not so much unless you have VA loan eligibility, but FHA loans allow 96.5% financing, which most folks should be able to swing by borrowing against a 401k if nothing else.

The first thing to remember is that you have to live somewhere. When you buy, you place your cost of housing forevermore under your own control. Inflation means nothing to the housing costs of someone who's already bought. Rising rents means nothing - unless you've bought an investment property to rent out, also. We are currently facing a period wherein rents are likely to rise precipitously. Why? Low vacancy rates, and many landlords facing adjustable rate mortgages that are going to adjust upwards at some point. It doesn't matter that your landlord has been nice up to now. They were banking on selling for a profit and right now, they can't. When the monthly outlay goes up, they're going to raise the rent. They will get it, too. If you won't pay it, someone else will.

Once you have bought, you step off of that one way escalator of rising rents. Rents increase at a yearly rate about comparable to inflation in most cases, and rents never drop. I have never heard of a rent decrease except in areas that were so far gone they might as well have been war zones. You only borrowed $X when you bought, and unless you take cash out (which is under your control) you should never owe more money next year than the previous one.

So buying stops your situation from getting worse. What about making your situation better? First off, I need to observe that with rising rents, your situation will always get worse until you do buy. But buying really does make your situation better. Not immediately; there's always a hit for buying, and it always costs money to sell. But within a couple of years the average person will be above any reasonable return they can earn any other way, and the reason is leverage.

Fact one: you always need a place to live, and the options are to rent or to buy. Renting typically requires less cash flow, but returns nothing. Once you have bought, all that lovely appreciation belongs to you and nobody else but. Let's look at an actual scenario for San Diego, one of the highest priced places to buy.

When I originally wrote this, I had looked at one particular property that day with an asking price of $450,000. We're going to leave aside the issue that with the market as it was, $410,000 would be a really terrific offer, and use that $450,000 asking price. The most comparable rental in the area was $1700 per month. For people with dead average national median credit scores, I had 6.125% on a thirty year fixed rate loan for the first 80% of the loan, and 8.75% on the second mortgage. Yes, I'm assuming a 100% loan. Total loan costs, one point and approximately $3400 in closing costs. With sellers outnumbering buyers 36 to 1 at that point, it was an idiotic seller who wasn't willing to pay your closing costs. Your payments on the two mortgages are $2187 and $708, respectively. Call it $2896 with rounding. I assumed you're married, which means you got a $10200 standard deduction on your federal taxes for 2006. Furthermore, property taxes are about $470 per month, and homeowner's insurance costs about $110 per month at the high end for an HO-3 policy, the best there is. Total cost of housing: $3476 per month. Over twice your cost of renting, yes. But $400 of that goes straight into your own pocket, in the form of principal you're paying off from month one. Furthermore, $2960 per month is a tax deduction, from which you'll get a benefit of $(2960*12)-10,200 (standard deduction), or slightly more than $25,500 per year, from which someone in the 28% tax bracket will see a tax reduction of about $7145, returning another $595 per month to your pocket. $3476-$400-$595=$2481 net costs per month to own that property. Less the $1700 rent, works out to $781 extra you're spending. Furthermore, if you turn right around and sell it, you're going to be out about 7% of that sale price. Assuming it's the same $450,000, that's $31,500 you're down.

However, property values don't stop rising just because the renters of the world would like them to. Let's assume you're going to make a slightly below average for this area 5% per year in absolute terms - not inflation adjusted. Most of California has been averaging seven percent per year for the long term, over cycles and cycles of pricing. The CMA for the first property I bought, at the peak of the last cycle fifteen years ago says $320,000, an 8.8 percent per year average increase. So 5% is definitely on the low side. Let's assume you have a twin who continues to rent, and invests that $781 per month, tax free, while you take it and buy a property. Actually, let's go ahead and give your twin the full net cash differential of $1143 per month.

One year later, he's got about $14,400, while your property is worth $472,500. You've got about $27,000 in equity. On paper, you're ahead of him, but remember that real estate isn't liquid and there are always selling expenses. You're really still down by about $20,000 as opposed to your twin. Darn! Just when you had a really good brag going. But wait! Now your twin's rent is raised to $1768 - right in line with 4% inflation. But your mortgage costs are fixed.

Run it out another year. Your twin has about $29,700 in that account. Looking pretty good, right? Well, you've now got a value of a little over $496,000 and you have about $56,000 in equity. You're not really ahead yet, but deducting the 7% costs of selling net you about $461,400. You've made over $11,000, net, not counting the equity you paid down! But your twin has almost $30,000. Why is renting for suckers, you ask?

Go out one more year. Your twin's rent has gone to $1838 per month, but even so his investment account still has a tad over $46,000 in it. Looks like he's pulling away! Or is he? Your property value has gone to almost $521,000, and you only owe $434,000. You're up almost $87,000, and even allowing the standard 7% for costs of selling, you're would now have over $50,000 in your pocket, several thousand dollars more than your twin.

Every year from then on, you pull further ahead. After ten years, when his monthly rent is over $2500 per month, you've got $350,000 in equity, and even after the costs of selling, are over $100,000 ahead of your dimwitted twin.

Lest you think that if your twin started with $45,000 due to a ten percent down payment it would make a difference, the answer is not really. It cuts the lead, but not the essential facts. I could cut the rate on the second mortgage a bit, but let's leave it at 8.75% for the purposes of this exercise. True, after three years you're still lagging your twin in this scenario, as that investment account is $95,000, but only by a few hundred bucks. Your equity is $130,000, of which $94,300 would be left after the expenses of selling. After ten years, he's $80,000 behind you, net of the cost of selling.

Suppose you start with a full 20% down payment? You're still $55,000 net ahead of the game after ten years. Your twin started with $90,000 earning ten percent, but not only do you not have that expensive second mortgage, you've got $450,000 earning 5%, and it's all yours and then some. This is the concept of leverage. That loan turns out to have been a good thing, as it enabled you to leverage your down payment into a much larger appreciating asset. So you only earned half the return - it was on five times the principal! It translated into a much bigger number. By the way, your twin only has the edge on you in cash flow by about $120 per month at this point, and he's going to be negative next month.

Now the real estate market doesn't earn nice smooth returns like this. Neither does the stock market, or anything except maybe bank CDs or the money market, at a fraction of the return illustrated here. Furthermore, it reliably and unavoidably takes about three years to come out ahead on a real estate investment. There are always the twenty percent per year markets, but those don't happen very often and never predictably. What I'm talking about are is making money in the slightly below average market years also. Note that you'll still make twenty percent in the years the market does. Sometimes you get lucky. But "time in" is so much more important than timing that they don't even play in the same league.

You don't have to be a genius, you don't have to have perfect credit, and you don't have to make a mint. You do have to pick properties that you can afford to make the payments on, and you do have to make the decision to accept a couple of tough years for cash flow. There just is no avoiding this hard fact. There are loans that promise otherwise, but they have bitten everyone I've ever met who tried them. Once you have made the decision to accept those lean times, however, the good times seem to flow from them for the rest of your life. The sooner you make the choice to accept them, the better off you will be.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

In the interests of fairness, I've also written a companion article, When You Should Not Buy Real Estate

This is one of those commercial gambits I keep seeing that has nothing intrinsically wrong with it, and yet it is most often a tactic employed by the more costly loan providers. In short, sharks and scam artists.

The basic come-on is this: Loan provider offers to pay for your appraisal if you do the loan with them. They often use such come ons as "free appraisal!"

TANSTAAFL. Repeat after me. TANSTAAFL. There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. "Free" stuff has an ugly habit of being the most expensive there is, and this particular come-on is no exception. Offer you a few hundred with the left hand while picking multiple thousands out of your pocket with the right. If you want to be an educated consumer, engrave TANSTAAFL upon your soul.

What's going on here is that they are trying to make it look like you're getting something free. You're not. They may front the cash for the appraisal, but in all but a few cases you're going to get explicitly charged in the end. Even for those people whose final loan papers does not show an appraisal charge, they are charging it to you somewhere else. Odds are that they're charging it about ten times over somewhere else. Either in origination or yield spread, one way or another you are going to pay for this appraisal. Actually, you are likely going to pay for that appraisal several times over. People are strange about cash. Many folks, if told they don't have to lay out $300 to $500 for an appraisal, will choose loan providers where the proposed rate is 1/4 to one half a percent (or more!) higher than competing loans, with closing costs thousands of dollars higher. They are getting the cost of that appraisal all right. In this scenario, they're making half a point to one point more than anyone else on the same loan, plus all of the extra closing costs. That's if they're a broker. If they're a direct lender, the difference is between a point and a half and two and a half points, more if there's a prepayment penalty!

Furthermore, in that packet of papers you're asked to sign will almost certainly be a form where you agree to pay for the appraisal if the loan doesn't close. Practical effect: To hold you hostage at the end of the loan.

Appraisal standards that took effect in May 2009 require the lender to pay the appraiser. This is a good thing in that the appraiser who has done the work should expect to get paid, not stiffed for the bill when escrow doesn't close. However, the lenders have a choice: They can require a deposit for all loans, or they can jack up their profits per loan, effectively forcing those clients whose loans close to pay for the appraisals of those clients whose loans don't close.

Low cost loan providers do not pay for your appraisal. The loan providers who pay for the appraisal are paying not only for your appraisal, but the appraisal of all the people who cancel, and a good margin besides. Not to mention that this loan provider completely controls the appraisal, leaving them in control of what happens if you actually notice their huge fees when you go to sign loan documents, and decide you want to go somewhere else. This is one of the ways that loan providers avoid competing on price, by pretending to give you something for free. I say "pretend" because they are not giving you anything for free. I do not understand that normally competent adults who are well aware what "free" really means in other contexts will think it means they're getting a benefit. But just like the "buy one, get one free" offers that jack the price up threefold first, this is only a good bargain if the few hundred dollars it saves you stays saved, rather than giving you $400 with one hand while taking $6000 with the other, through higher loan rates and costs. Rate and cost trade-offs on real estate loans vary constantly. You can't know what the best bargain is right now unless you price it out right now.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

It really helps my perspective in a lot of ways to be both a Realtor and a loan officer. Just the other day, I had a loan only client where they were already under contract to buy a property when they contacted me. The basics of the situation was that the property was in a very urban area, built up about the time of World War I, that has seen considerable renewal in the last decade or so. I work there as an agent sometimes, but don't keep constantly informed on all the market activity in the area, so when I do get a buyer or seller client in that area, it does take me a bit of effort to get back up to speed on that micro-market.

Silly me, I trusted that the buyer's agent had done their job, and when I got the loan application, I sent the appraiser out. Yes, a stupid mistake, I know. The buyer's agent was raving about what a fantastic deal it was the whole time the appraiser was working. Then the appraiser e-mails me and said, "Value isn't there. Do you want to proceed?"

Well, beat me like a red-headed step child. I ran the comps, and there just wasn't any doubt. The property was at least 25% over-priced, at least as compared to what the appraisal will support. Keep in mind that lenders will only lend based upon the lower of purchase price or appraisal. This is good basic accounting practice going all the way back to Luca Pacioli, and those who would change this do not understand the underpinnings of our financial system nor do they understand loan underwriting.

So what do I do? First, I apologize to the client for not having run the comps in the first place. Then I explain the situation to him. Having the value fail to come in isn't the end of the world. He has a loan contingency in effect, so he has options.

First, he can just walk away. The loan can't be done on the terms of the purchase contract, giving him grounds to exit the contract without penalty. No harm, no foul. This is a good option to consider, especially if option 3 fails where it is usually the only viable remaining option that does not actively work against client interest.

Second, he can come up with the difference in cash or the equivalent, increasing his down payment so that all the lender has at stake is the same percentage of the appraisal amount. If it was an eighty percent loan on (for example) $200,000 (or $160,000), coming up with more cash can make it a eighty percent loan on $160,000 ($128,000), or higher percentage value loan on the same amount. This usually isn't a good option, but if the property really is worth that much to you, it might be worth considering if you can. Most residential buyers don't have this much extra cash lying around, but if you really would get something out of the deal that really is worth the money you are paying, it is an option worth considering.

The third and usually the best option is to renegotiate the deal. The seller can't make the buyer stay in the contract if there's a loan contingency in effect. In fact, if the appraisal is done correctly, there just isn't a lot of wiggle room for the sellers. Another appraiser is going to come up with a very similar value. Therefore, the seller is not going to get more money out of the deal. They can decide they want to do what is necessary for this deal, or they can flail about for months hoping for another buyer who doesn't need a loan. If the appraisal is done correctly, it is in the seller's interest to renegotiate. Some won't, sitting in Denial, but it's not the constructive alternative. If the appraisal is only going to come in for $160,000, pretending it's a $200,000 property doesn't help the seller any more than over-pricing the property in any other context. Remember, lower of purchase price or appraised value. If the appraisal is only for $160,000, the loan can't be based on a value higher than $160,000. Whether the listing agent bought the listing or whether there really are aspects of the property unquantifiable in the appraisal, the fact of the matter is that most potential buyers need a loan and are therefore going to be stuck with that appraised value, and can't pay more than it indicates. Even the ones who can usually don't want to.

There really aren't any other options that do not actively work against the interest of the buyer. The seller wants it sold and it is in their interests to get it sold. Most business models of real estate are built around listings and catering to sellers. They do not consider the interests of buyers, which is why the traditional response of most agents has been to play games and commit fraud and conspire against the interests of the buyer rather than do the hard work their job requires. It's also a reason why you want a good buyer's agent if you are a buyer.

This isn't to say that appraisers are infallible, don't make mistakes, don't collude with buyers upon occasion, etcetera. Sellers and their agents need to do their own due diligence to find out if that appraisal is accurate or not. But if it is, sitting there in denial of the facts isn't going to help.

What is not a constructive option is to beat up the appraiser or get another one. Assuming the appraisal is well done, the value is going to be close to what any other honest appraisal will come up with. The sales in the neighborhood are what they are. If there are better and higher comps, by all means ask the appraiser to take them into account. But if there aren't better and higher comps, it is neither in the buyer's interest nor the lender's to over-pay for the property. Buyer's agents and loan officers who pressure an appraiser for higher values than are justified, and appraisers who cooperate, are committing FRAUD. I have nothing but contempt for any of them. Especially the buyer's agents, who are violating fiduciary duty on the most basic level.

The appropriate response, on an buyer's agent part, is to renegotiate or advise a client to walk away if the seller won't renegotiate. That's doing your job, serving your client, etcetera. If I can't find comps that persuade the appraiser to change the appraisal upwards, that appraiser has just saved my client a large amount of money they shouldn't have been spending. The appropriate reaction is gratitude, not anger that my deal is falling apart and I'm not going to get a commission check yet. Unfortunately, this is often not the reaction that appraisers and loan officers get in that situation. The most common reaction is trying to find a more compliant appraiser, one who is willing to stretch the truth, and pressuring the client to fire the loan officer who just proved they will guard the client interest more than the lazy alleged buyer's agent. Exactly how is that fiduciary duty to pursue a path which results in my client over-paying for the property?

If the property really is worth paying that much money, I shouldn't have any problem explaining to my client why it is worth that much money, appraisal or no. Yes, they've got to come up with more cash, but if the property isn't worth the purchase price, I shouldn't be pursuing a course that results in my client paying that price. Agents who do should be fired. Actually, I think they should lose their license, but consumers firing them is an acceptable minimum.

It is only the loan which enables anyone to pretend otherwise. But a dollar my client pays for via a loan is every bit as much real money as a dollar out of their checking account. Neither a client or an agent should treat $1 in purchase price any different in an "all cash" purchase than they should if the property is bought with a 100% loan and no money out of the client's pocket. For an agent to do otherwise is a sign of the worst kind of crook in the business. If a property is worth $X, it's worth every penny of it whether or not lenders will lend based upon the full purchase price. It may not be a property which this client can purchase, but it is still worth that money. The appropriate response for a buyer's agent is to attempt to renegotiate, and advise walking away if that is unsuccessful. It is not to violate their fiduciary duty as well as committing FRAUD by getting a bogus appraisal. If the buyer's agent is really determined to do their job correctly, they've just got a little bit more to do than they previously thought.

Unfortunately, it's been a really long time since any of the main institutions of real estate were serious about the client interest part of professional standards. Neither the various Associations of Realtors nor anyone else really gives a rat's. What most of them teach is getting a transaction done, and treating the loan and the appraisal as obstacles to that, rather than protections for clients. There is an enormous inertia of lazy thinking in the real estate profession, and it's been hosing clients for decades. But just because you can manipulate the system to persuade a lender to believe that a property is worth lending $X on doesn't mean the property is worth that purchase price, and lenders are starting to defend their interests, something I'm very happy to see.

It isn't pleasant for a buyer's agent to re-open negotiations. It's still my job when this happens, and if the listing agent is any kind of professional, they're going to respect me for it. Nor is getting angry a constructive response from a listing agent. As a listing agent, I can try and find better comps, I can persuade the buyer why the property really is worth that much money despite the appraisal, or I can do what I almost certainly should have done in the first place: Go back to my selling client and explain why the property is over-priced and why they should sell it for less. A listing agent who can't or won't act appropriately in this situation isn't worth the dog feces stuck to the bottom of their shoe, much less a fat commission check. They are sabotaging their client, and should be treated accordingly.

This issue is endemic to Dual Agency, where the agent is supposed to be representing the best interests of both buyer and seller. What actually happens is they want to protect their double slice of an inflated pie by getting it sold at the inflated price, so dual agents are strongly motivated to pretend that the accurate appraisal is a lowball. As a buyer, the idea of protecting your interests generally doesn't even cross their mind in this situation.

Do you see what the common element is here, and the common problem? It's agents who didn't do their job right, whether they "bought" the listing by indicating an unrealistic price, or said it was a good bargain when it isn't. Not only did they commit one of those two egregious violations of client interest, when it is rubbed in their face, they are compounding that mistake by refusing to own up to it and deal with the consequences. It's difficult to own up to mistakes, but it's also something a professional has to do. Agents who refuse to do so should find themselves unemployed and penniless. It's too bad that by the time a consumer has discovered this issue, they are already damaged by these malfeasant twits. Unfortunately, it's very hard to get rid of these sort of agents and the inducements really aren't there for other agents who do serve their clients best interest to make the complaints that would, in a perfect world, result in the incompetent ones losing their license. All the more reason why consumers need to do due diligence in the first place and ask the agent the hard questions before they sign on the dotted line.

The guy I talked about at the start of the article? Despite the evidence I furnished of the comparable sales, his agent is either sitting in Denial or FRAUD. There isn't a lot of wiggle room here. They dropped the application with me when I took the position that the appraiser was correct. They couldn't dispute the reasoning, so they went in search of someone who will agree with them despite the evidence. The property still shows as being in escrow. The only way that value is going to come in for a value that allows that transaction to close as written is via a fraudulent appraisal that's going to result in the client paying too much for the property. But evidently, this agent has decided that's where his interests lie. So it does happen. It will happen to you if you're not careful about your choice of agent. The good news is that with lenders defending their interests more strongly now, this kind of agent is going to find themselves increasingly out in the cold when it comes to actually getting the transaction done. And about the only good thing about the new appraisal standards is that they have made that kind of "appraisal shopping" more difficult (Not impossible, but a little more difficult).

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

Buyer's Markets

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One of the phenomena that I have encountered is fear of the market in buyers. They are concerned if prices are falling, and that they will lose some or all of their investment if they buy.

Well, the first thing to understand is that buyer's markets are not the time for "flippers". You are not going to buy the property and make a profit after the expenses of selling in three or six months. That's a seller's market. In hot seller's markets, most prospective buyers were using the f-word. In buyer's markets, those people who were buying to flip are caught flat-footed by a market that has turned, like deaf kids in a game of musical chairs. The signs were there, but they were just a little too greedy.

Nonetheless, a buyer's market is the best time to buy for everyone else, and here's why: Inventory. Turnover Rate. Market Saturation. Supply and Demand. Instead of being the kings of the world, sellers have now turned into the beggars. Imagine you're in an environment where there are 30 people of the opposite sex for every one of yours. I'm assuming you're interested in the opposite sex, but even if you're not, you should be able to understand the implications. That one woman with 30 men to choose from is going to be able to get just about anything and everything she wants. Even the woman who would be completely ignored in other circumstances is going to have multiple, attractive suitors. Alternatively, the one man with 30 women to choose from is going to end up pretty darned happy about the situation, even if he is short, fat, ugly, middle aged and balding. If you're buying to hold, stop thinking in terms of short term cash, and start thinking in terms of affordability. Your money buys more in a buyer's market. Over the course of ten years - or however long you keep it - the market will change many times. Inflation and many other factors will wax and wane in influence. Stop thinking in terms of cash, start thinking in terms of other commodities. The property you bought for the equivalent of 100,000 pounds of hamburger at market trough is a better bargain than the same property for the equivalent of 150,000 pounds of hamburger at market peak.

To return to the dance metaphor, the sellers in buyer's markets don't really have the option of choosing other sellers, as it doesn't help them. They have real estate, they want cash. Just like how that short fat ugly balding middle aged guy does pretty well for himself when there are 30 women for every guy, so does the buyer who has cash, or can get it via their power to get a loan.

Prices are likely to drop for a while in buyer's markets, but in seller's markets where prices are rising, you don't have a high ratio of sellers to buyers, and the market could turn at any time. If you wait for the market to turn around before you put in a bid, you will be much less sought after, with the consequence that you will spend more in real terms. In buyer's markets, the power of the market puts buyers in control of the transaction. If this seller isn't quite desperate enough to do what you want them to, the one down the street or around the corner is. Like the 30 men to every woman scenario, if this man isn't able or willing to meet the woman's full wish list, she can move on to someone who is.

Buyer's markets don't usually last long. The last one was less than a year, and only about two months that buyers had peak power. If you buy for a little more than market bottom, so what? The only time value of the property is important is when you sell and when you refinance, and I've already told you this is not a flipper's market. But once other potential buyers get the idea that there are bargains to be had, they will come out of the woodwork, and the vast majority of your purchasing power will be gone when the ratio of sellers to buyers drops to four to one. And soon after that, they turn back into seller's markets. When that happens, watch the prices - and the profits - shoot back up.

Miss the window for whatever reason, and you'll pay for it later. Any market is always most lucrative when everybody else wants to do the exact opposite of what you're doing. Pick and choose your properties with care, and you will do very well when the market turns, whether that is next month or next year. In buyer's markets, you have your pick of sellers, and your pick of their properties, and the leisure to consider. When the ratio of sellers to buyers drops, it gets much harder to find these kinds of bargains, and much harder to get in before someone else has locked it in by getting an accepted offer.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

I don't do rental agency, but I do I work with people to get them to the point where they are ready to buy. I recently got this email from a single mother I'm trying to get into a position to buy

Hi Dan,

An opportunity came up for a 4 bedroom house to rent. It's actually a "too good to be true" opportunity. The rent is only $1400 (only $150 more than what I am paying already) and it is in DELETED. I would still be able to save some money to buy a house plus we would be comfortable in the process. Anyways, I was hoping you could read the response from the owner and tell me what you think. I was also hoping you had a way of checking to make sure this house isn't in foreclosure. That would be a nightmare. To move into a house and then get evicted or worse.

As always thank you for your time and generosity.

The email is below. I'm sure you'll agree it has all the hallmarks of those Nigerian 419 scammer emails.

Hi Thanks for the email. I DELETED owns the house and also it is situated and also want you to know that it was due to my transfer that makes me and my family to leave the house and also want to give it out for rent and looking for a responsible person that can take a very good care of it as we are not after the money for the rent but want it to be clean all the time and the possible tenant will see the house as his or her own. We have left the US and we are currently in the West Africa for a program called 'World Conference Against Racism Youth Summit, Empowering youth for combating racism, HIV/AIDS, Poverty and Lack of Education, the program is taking place in three major countries in Africa which is Sudan, Ghana and Nigeria. It as been a very sad and bad moment for me, the present condition that I found myself is very hard for me to explain. If you will be the right tenant to our house, we will get the keys and documents of the house sent to you via courier services as soon as all terms are settled.

HOUSE ADDRESSES : DELETED. 4 Bedroom, 2 Bath, 2 Car attached garage. Nicely upgraded house on a Cul-De-Sac in quiet Santee neighborhood. Remodeled kitchen with Granite countertops, Refrigerator, Microwave, Dishwasher, and Gas Range included. Remodeled master bathroom and fireplace with marble tile. Mirror closets in all bedrooms. Laminate wood and tile floors, carpet in the bedrooms. Central A/C. Large backyard with a nice view of the mountains and city lights. Close to shopping centers and schools.

All types of pet allowed and Additional monthly charge of $80 for pets.....You can drive down there to take a look at it and also Available now!.

I will be online through out to get back to you as soon as you are able to get back to me. I would want to know how soon you would want to move in, as I will be taking a 2 month upfront payment which mean the first and second third months you will be staying in the house including some utilities (Electricity, Water, Internet and Garbage). I am asking for $1400 and I believe we should be able to help ourselves. I am accepting $1400 including utilities because I want you to take a very good care of the house while I am away.

I am looking forward to hear from you ASAP so that i can forward you an application to fill out and discuss on how to get the house rent over to you so that I can get the keys and papers sent to you via FedEx or ups e.t.c, also are you ready to rent it now or when? Await your reply. I will be willing to send the inside view of the building if you demands for it.

I could let you remain in the house till I come back if you are a good tenant and
you can reach me on DELETED PHONE NUMBER.

Thanks and God bless you..

My response:

The name given is the name of the actual owner of record. There is no Notice of Default flag in that portion of the public records I have access to via MLS (it's been known to be mistaken, but is most of the time it's spot on).

With that said, I don't practice rental agency, but my understanding is the maximum they can collect up front is the deposit plus one month rent.

Furthermore, a situation like this where they are "out of the country" is rife with potential for fraud. There is a lot of rental fraud out there right now. Run "rental fraud" and "landlord fraud" through a search engine for articles. It's just as easy for scammers to look up who the owner of record is as it is for anyone else. They also can get the information from legitimate ads. My advice to you is to ask for their local agent, make sure they have agency authority (the document is easily understandable) and are licensed and bonded, and deal with that agent.

Otherwise, you could very easily find yourself in a situation where you have wired several thousand dollars to a scammer in another country. This situation and the email you got rings all of the alarm bells of any 419 scam. It could be legitimate, but everything I am reading tells me BEWARE!

Yes, you might lose a sweet deal. But you also have thousands of dollars at risk in a situation rife with opportunity for fraud. This is not a subject where I am really competent to advise.

The lady emailed me back

Hi Dan,

There have been a lot of conflicting stories since I wrote you earlier today. Last night we drove by the house and it was obvious that someone is living there. I received a second email from the "owner" telling me that the house is vacant. I drove by there tonight and got up the nerve to knock on the door. The new tenants were living there and had been living there since March 1. I think what happened was someone saw the original posting on Craigs List, used that info to create a dummy listing. This is truly heinous. I'm glad I'm smarter than the crook that is doing this scam. I'm going to back to Craigs List and report them before they cheat someone out of thousands of dollars.

Happy ending for this one, but every day people get taken by scams like this one. Your protection against this (when the owner is not local enough to meet and show the property themselves) is to use a licensed bonded rental agency. Yes, insisting upon this protection might possibly mean that you miss out on a really sterling rental deal, but it's far more likely to mean that you miss out on wiring several thousand dollars to a scammer you'll never be able to track down when it turns out they had no authority to rent the property.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

The question every good loan officer hates is "What is your lowest rate?", usually the first thing in a phone conversation. People think that this sort of rate shopping is going to help them. The fact is that it almost ensures they are going to get ripped off or worse, as millions of people have discovered in the last few years - and most of them don't understand that this attitude is precisely what got them into the toxic loan that ruined them financially.

First off, everybody doesn't get the same choices. As I've said before, somebody who can prove they make enough money, has a history of paying their debt, and offers the lender a situation where there's 30 percent equity (or more) gets a different set of choices than somebody who can't prove they make enough money, has a questionable history of paying debt, and wants to borrow 100 percent of the property value (or more).

Second, different loans get different rate-cost tradeoffs. The loan that most people seem to consider the most attractive loan, the thirty year fixed rate loan, is always the most expensive loan out there. It always has the highest set of cost/rate tradeoffs. Why? Because on top of the cost of the money, you are essentially purchasing an insurance policy that says your rate will not change for thirty years. Even when long and short term rates are inverted there is a premium charged for the thirty year fixed rate loan. It makes a certain amount of sense; insurance policies are never free, and the thirty year fixed rate loan is the most desired loan out there. Simple economics: Higher demand equals higher price. Goods perceived as more valuable carry a higher price tag. So if you're looking for a thirty year fixed rate loan, and all you say is "What is your lowest rate?" you are likely to get quoted a rate from a Negative Amortization loan, the most toxic, least desirable loan out there, because it carries the lowest nominal rates. Even today with those gone, there are replacements which may not be quite so toxic, but are certainly nothing you actually want to be signing a contract for. If you want to argue with me, consider the meltdown we've been having these last several years caused by toxic loans. If interest rate (or worse, payment) is your only datapoint from the various loan providers you talk with, you are likely to do business with the one who quotes you the negative amortization loan, not the thirty year fixed rate loan. Matter of fact, the loan provider who tells you about the loan that you really wanted is least likely to get your business in this scenario, because you're focusing in on the red cape of rate and payment when you should be paying attention to other things.

Third, and most importantly, for every situation and every loan type, there is more than one rate available. Why is this, you ask? It seems obvious to you: Why not just choose the lowest rate, which has the lowest payment? It takes a little examination to see why.

The difference between the rates is in cost of the loan. There will be a rate called par. This is the rate at which the lender will loan you the money straight across. They don't charge you any money (discount points) to get a lower rate. They don't pay any of the costs of the loan. Getting a loan done really does take a minimum of about $3000 in closing costs (actually, that figure is for California, which believe it or not is one of the cheaper states to get everything done in - every other state I've done business in has higher closing costs), plus whatever the lender makes in order to do your loan. Whether points and closing costs are paid out of your pocket or added to your mortgage balance, you are still paying them. Indeed, when shopping for a mortgage, the phrase "nothing out of your pocket" from a prospective loan provider should immediately put you on guard.

For rates below par, you must pay discount points. This is an upfront incentive to a lender to give you a rate lower than they otherwise would. Every situation is different and should be analyzed with numbers specific to that situation, but as a rule of thumb: Unless you're getting a thirty year fixed rate loan and you have a history of keeping loans at least five years before sale or refinance, you should avoid paying discount points if you can, and accepting a rate with a bit of yield spread to offset origination is probably a good idea. The lower payments you get, quite simply, are usually not worth the cost of adding points to your mortgage balance. People who don't qualify for A paper may not have this option, but more people qualify A paper than think they do. These days, with true subprime essentially extinct, it's A paper, what professionals used to call "A minus" which is essentially for people who barely miss qualifying A paper, or nothing.

For rates above par, the lender will actually pay part or all of your closing costs. It's rare that they will actually put money in your pocket, but it can happen. Note that this is different from a stealth "cash out" loan that adds the cash you get to your mortgage balance, charges you closing costs, and often puts a couple points on the whole amount of your new mortgage, and so where you've been told you're getting $2000 in your pocket, there may be $20,000 or more added to your mortgage balance. This is where the lender is actually paying part or all of the costs of the loan, so it is neither coming out of your pocket nor being added to your loan balance. This is called a "yield spread" or "rebate". Yield spread can be thought of as the opposite or negative of discount points, and discount points can be thought of as a negative rebate. There are never both discount points and yield spread on the same loan, although there can be origination points on loans where there is a rebate. I still believe it's a material misrepresentation, but that's the way Congress and HUD now require it to be done.

The critical fact that most consumers never figure out for themselves, and certainly never realize the implications of, is this: The vast majority of borrowers don't keep their mortgage loans very long. The median age for a mortgage was roughly two years when I wrote this and is still under 3 years. Fewer than 5 percent of all loans are five years or older. If you're the exception, bully for you. Otherwise, take heed and remember this fact: Whatever costs you pay for a mortgage are sunk at the beginning. This money either comes out of your pocket, or goes onto your mortgage balance. If it goes onto your mortgage balance it is even worse than paying it out of pocket because this money you owe sticks around a very long time and you pay interest on it. When you sell or refinance, (or when your rate starts adjusting), the benefits stop. They are over. Done with. If you haven't recovered the costs you paid to get a lower rate by that point in time, you have made a losing investment. Period. End of story. No chance for recovery. Matter of fact, even if you are technically ahead at that point in time, you can go negative later.

Let us consider a $270,000 loan. Smallish for California, but large in most other areas of the country. As I said earlier, real closing costs of doing this loan are somewhere in the neighborhood of $3400. Rates are lower now, but here are some real options that were available from one lender when I originally wrote this article:

You could do a thirty year fixed rate loan at par of 5.75 percent. Or you could get a one point rebate at 6.25, or you can pay one point and get 5.25 percent. Rates at this update are hovering right around four percent or a little lower but this is still a good example to use so I'm going to leave the original figures untouched.

Assume you roll any costs into your mortgage like most folks do. Your starting loan balance will be $276,162 if you choose the 5.25% rate. If you choose the par rate of 5.75%, it will be $273,400. If you choose the one point rebate rate of 6.25%, your balance will be $270,666. These are real examples off the first rate sheet I happened to look at when I wrote this.

Let's compute the linear break evens: The 6.25% rate cost you $666 to get (Closing cost less dollar value of rebate). You pay $1409.72 in interest the first month. The 5.75% rate costs you $3400, and you pay $1310.04 in interest. The 5.25% loan cost you $6162 (Closing cost plus dollar cost of discount), and you pay $1208.21 interest the first month. Difference in cost divided by difference in interest.

6.25% versus 5.75% loan: $2734/$99.68 = 27.42 months.

5.75 versus 5.25 loan: $2762/101.83 = 27.12 months

5.25 loan versus 6.25: $5496/201.51 =27.27 months.

Actually, the break even is likely to come a month or two earlier. But let's compute what happens if you refinance again into a 5% fixed rate loan for zero real cost right at breakeven time, 27 months. This makes the residual cost of the previous loan as low as reasonable.

The 6.25% loan leaves a balance of $263,241. When you refinance under this scenario, the new monthly interest charge will be $1096.84.

The 5.75% loan leaves a balance of $265,193. The new monthly interest charge will be $1104.97. The extra money on your balance costs you $8.13 per month, $100 per year. Plus you still owe almost $2000 more. Yes, you have technically broken even at this point because you saved that much in interest, but that benefit is gone into the past, while the extra money you owe and the costs of it are still with you.

The 5.25% loan leaves a balance of $267,104. The new monthly interest charges will be $1112.94. The extra money on your balance costs you $16.10 per month, $193 per year, from here on out. Plus you still owe almost $4000 more.

These are actually favorable assumptions compared to the real world in that they treat the 5.25% loan option much more kindly than it deserves compared to the 6.25% loan. Furthermore, the breakeven on buying a loan down is usually 3-5 years, a much longer period. Also, in this example I chose to wait to refinance until you had theoretically broken even, even though you didn't, really.

Most people have done this multiple times. $10 or $15 per month doesn't sound like a lot, but do it a couple times and you have $100 per month, and owing tens thousands of dollars more than if you'd gotten a cheaper loan that carried a slightly higher payment in the first place. I believe in offering choices, but I also know which I would recommend and choose for myself.

One point that needs to be made again is sometimes costs get built into the back end of a loan, via a pre-payment penalty. Most loan officers will not volunteer whether there is a pre-payment penalty, and many will lie even if you ask, just to get you to sign up, knowing that once you sign up you will likely consider yourself committed. This may not be legal, but it happens, and is another reason to read your loan paperwork carefully and shop several lenders. Reading the Note carefully at signing of final documents is the only way to be sure that there is no prepayment penalty.

The tradeoff between rate and cost is the most important fact of loans, and almost nobody pays attention to all the money they sink into the front end of a loan that they never get back via the lowered interest rate they bought with it. Instead, they refinance (or sell the home and buy another, requiring a new loan), and how they do this over and over again, adding thousands of dollars into their loan balance, needlessly and wastefully.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

Sooner or later, a pretty fair proportion of the population are going to get an offer for a much better job, but the catch is that job is located in another city on the opposite end of the country. What are the major issues relating to the mortgage?

Well, first off, the relocating spouse may not have the job until they actually report for their first day at work. Many times people are told "Go there and you'll have a job," and when they get there, they don't. So no matter how much time you have in that line of work, until you actually have the job things are iffy and you can expect loan underwriters to reflect that. The job offer letter may or may not get the job done - it usually doesn't. Usually they want at least an employment contract, sometimes (particularly A paper) the first pay stub as well. It can be rough, and a waste of money to rent, but over the lifetime of a loan with a higher interest rate, it may pay off to actually wait until you've got that first pay stub.

Now just because the one spouse has a job offer doesn't mean the other spouse will get a job in their field. Sometimes they work in a field where there is no problem finding work, like health care. Sometimes they work in a field where moving means they don't have a career, and they're going to have to start all over in some other field. If you worked in a distillery and you're moving to Salt Lake City, you're probably going to need a career change. If that job is similar enough to the one you left behind, that's cool. But if you used to be a bookkeeper and now you're a retail clerk, then you do not have two years in the same line of work. Chances are your family is not going to be able to use your income to help qualify for the loan. They are not going to be able to use it at all until you have a job that has income. Since this can take a while, you really might be better advised to rent for a month or two (or even six, if that's the shortest lease you can find). Of course, if one spouse isn't working and doesn't plan to, this isn't really an issue.

Next, there are the issues with the property in the old city. Many times, especially in a market like the current one, the property has not yet sold, becoming a drag upon your ability to qualify for a new loan. If you can rent it, that's certainly one solution, but most lenders will only allow 3/4 of the monthly rent to be used to qualify you for a new loan, but will charge all of the expenses against this. Considering that around here it can be tough to get a positive cash flow for a rental property, you can imagine how tough it is when your monthly income from the property is chopped by 1/4, and how much more you will need to be making, in order to justify the loan. Furthermore, there are caveats to whether the lenders will accept any rental income. Be damned certain there is a paper trail on everything: accept no cash - checks only and keep copies of those checks - and even if the rental is month to month, have a written rental contract.

Another thing is that most folks expect to be able to use the entire amount of the new salary to qualify, and that's not the way it works. If you made $6000 per month for the past two years, one month at $9000 isn't going to move that monthly average income up very much. The computation is done on a weighted average basis - you've got 23 months at $6000 per month, or $138,000, and 1 month at $9000, which when added makes for a grand total of $147,000, or about $6125. When it was available, often newly relocated folks had to settle for sub-prime loans when they are normally A paper so that they could use bank statements or something else to qualify. Stated Income is also dead for now - only certain types of lenders can offer it, and they were getting so much as a proportion of their total loans that they stopped offering it. I don't know of a single lender that's actually funding stated income currently.

Showing enough of the right income - and a paper trail to document it - has never been so critical to those wanting a loan so that they can buy a home. In cases of relocation, it has become necessary that you pick a loan officer and work with them to dot all your i's and cross all your t's before you apply - lest you go through the entire process only to find on moving day that you have no loan.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

"What mortgage fees can i recover after loan denial" was a search I got. The answer is basically, "None."

The only thing that should be charged up front is a credit check, which costs about $20, and you should be prepared to spend that $20 several times over while you're shopping lenders. If you're worried about twenty dollars when you are applying for a mortgage, chances are that you shouldn't apply.

Once you have selected a provider, however, expect to pay for the appraisal before it is done. The new appraisal code of conduct means that they are going to get paid for any appraisal done. Loan providers have zero control over the appraisal process, and once ordered, no avenue of appeal if the value is low, while being obligated to pay that appraiser. This means every loan company out there has had to make a bleak choice: Decide whether to charge an upfront deposit, or jack up their margins so that the people whose loans close and fund pay for the appraisals of those that don't. As I said in Loan Providers Offering to Pay For The Appraisal, this means that those companies that offer to pay for the appraisal (i.e. choose to jack up their prices) will make more. Your choice as to which to deal with, but either way you choose, you will need to do upfront due diligence. My choice has been to require payment for the appraisal before I order it. I don't like doing this but I like the alternative of charging those clients who stick enough to pay for the clients who don't even less.

Deposits were historically charged by lenders who want to get you committed to the loan, and they do it for at least two reasons. The first is psychological commitment. Usually when I mention things like that, I get people who immediately come back with, "Those kind of mind games don't work with me!" I'm not looking for an argument, and with most folks, I don't know their past history well enough to come up with an example, but this phenomenon is essentially universal as far as humans go, and those few not subject to it are probably suffering from some other more debilitating psychological problem. In fact, the normal progression of a loan is a series of commitments upon your part. The decision to talk to potential providers. The application.

After the application, lenders want the originals of your documentation and money. The original documents are requested so that you cannot shop or apply for a loan elsewhere. I, as a loan officer, do not need your original documents for anything I can think of. I need the original of the loan application and a couple other items you fill out with me, but not of your pay stubs, your taxes, your insurance bill, or any other documents you have pre-existing. Copies are just fine for any lender I do business with, so long as they are clean and readable.

The next step is to get money out of you. If all they want is the credit report fee of about $20, that's fine and normal. Credit Reports cost money, and if you're just shopping around, a loan provider has two choices: raise their loan prices slightly so that they charge those people who finalize their loans more, or charge folks whatever the cost is to run credit when they apply.

But many loan providers want more than the credit check fee. A lot more. They want a deposit that varies from several hundred dollars to one percent of the loan amount, even two percent in some cases. They might say it's for the appraisal, and usually at least part of it does go to the appraiser. I used to say that you should not give it to them, but the standards behind that advice are changing. I've had my clients tell me about the tales they've been told, about how that money is to pay the appraiser. The best thing for consumers is that the appraisal should be paid for when the appraiser does the work. Unfortunately, the new appraisal rules prohibit the consumer paying the appraiser directly, and require the lender to pay the appraiser (as well as preventing the lender from firing bad appraisers). As I've said before, you want to be the one who orders the appraisal, and therefore controls it. Unfortunately, the new standards completely prohibit this consumer advantage. An appraisal done under the old way of business will cause it to not only be wasted money as it is unacceptable, it stands a good chance of costing a lender their ability to do any business. Therefore you may have no real choice but to put a deposit for the appraisal up-front. But don't give the lender any more than the appraisal money.

The reason they really want larger amounts of money out of you upfront is two-fold. First, it builds that psychological commitment I talked about a while back. Second, it makes you financially committed to a loan, which tremendously raises the level of psychological commitment. It means they've got some of your cash. Most people don't really understand loans, not deep down where it really matters. Consider, for a moment, which you would rather have: $400 cash, or a loan that costs $5000 less (not so incidentally making a difference of $25 on the monthly payment), but is otherwise identical. Dispassionately sitting there on the monitor in front of you, the choice seems obvious. You're going to have to pay that $5000 back sometime, and in the meantime you're paying interest on it. But move it to a situation where these potential clients have already put down a $400 deposit with an overpriced loan provider, and the vast majority of them won't sign up for my loan. Why? Because they're thinking of that $400 in cash that came out of their checking account, not the $5000 in extra balance on their mortgage. Companies want that deposit to stop you from going elsewhere, to a loan provider that can do the loan (or, more importantly, is willing to do the loan) for much less money. Practically speaking, they're not only guaranteeing themselves a certain amount of money, they are guaranteeing that the client won't change their mind about their loan.

So do you get it back if the loan is denied? Nope. At least I've never been told about an instance where it happened. That money was a good faith deposit. Legally, it was an incentive for that loan provider to do the work of that loan, all of which costs money. Provably costs money, I might add. The loan processor doesn't work for free. The underwriter doesn't work for free. The escrow officer doesn't work for free. The appraiser doesn't, the title company doesn't. Nobody works for free. Phone calls and copies and word processors to generate all of your documents from the title commitment to the loan documents. Some documents are the same for every loan and can be computer generated. Others, like the title commitment, require humans to enter literally everything on them.

But a deposit for more than appraisal and credit report isn't necessary. In fact, you can find loan providers out there (I was one of them, and would like to be again, but while I can blow off a $20 credit check if the loan doesn't fund, I don't make enough money off loans that fund to enable me to pay for $400 plus appraisals for loans that don't) who routinely work the whole loan on speculation of it funding. They might ask you to pay for the credit report and appraisal up front, but everything else is paid for when the work is done and the loan funds. I would much prefer that you write the check to the appraiser when they do the work, but I can't legally do that any longer. You might ask the advantages to the consumer of this. That advantage would be that these loan providers are not holding your money hostage. This means that if the loan falls apart because the loan provider told you they could do the loan and they couldn't, they're out the money, not you.

As of this update, the law of getting loans has changed a lot in the last few years, and it's to the advantage of the banking and other interest groups, not the consumer. Look to the people in charge of Congress for the reason (Dodd-Frank, to be precise). Furthermore, the lenders are instituting more changes because they can, now that there are a lot fewer lenders and less competition. I'm not happy about any of this, but even the best loan officers have two choices: Adapt as best we can, or find a new line of work. If the best loan officers trying their hardest to help consumers leave, ask yourself what would be left?

So if a loan provider asks for a large cash deposit up front to begin the loan, chances are that you shouldn't give it to them. Chances are they are trying to lock you into their loan by holding your money hostage, and when you discover at closing that they tacked thousands of dollars onto the loan charges that they conveniently "forgot" to tell you about or pretended didn't exist ("Escrow's a third party charge. We don't have to tell them about it until afterwards"), and now you are facing a choice between forfeiting your deposit and signing off on a loan that's not what you agreed to when you gave them that deposit. Better not to face that choice, by not agreeing to pay anything beyond the credit fee up front, and the appraisal when ordered. The purpose of this article is to help you understand - before you sign that loan application and fork over a deposit - exactly what your choices are and the possible consequences to you.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

Since May 1, 2009, we've been having problems with appraisals like never before. It's an interesting case study how the attorney general of one state used threats to blackmail a nationwide industry, installed personal controls and opportunities for graft into that industry, added a layer of overhead and administration increasing costs to consumers, decreasing compensation for appraisers, and many other things. Everybody in the industry - appraisers, loan officers, etcetera - agrees that this is one of the most misbegotten abominations to come down the pike in the political "let's pretend to do something to fix the problems without goring the ox of any major campaign contributors" response to the lending meltdown. The only people who don't hate it are the appraisal management companies.

To help enhance the integrity of the home appraisal process in the mortgage finance industry, in March 2008, Fannie Mae entered into an agreement with our regulator - the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) (then the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight) - and the New York Attorney General's office to adopt certain policies relating to appraisals for loans delivered to us. Following a public comment period, the Home Valuation Code of Conduct has been modified and will be effective for single-family mortgage loans (except government-insured loans) that are originated on or after May 1, 2009, and delivered to Fannie Mae.

The final rule is here.

I'm going to quote large chunks of it and comment

B. No employee, director, officer, or agent of the lender, or any other third party acting as joint venture partner, independent contractor, appraisal company, appraisal management company, or partner on behalf of the lender, shall influence or attempt to influence the development, reporting, result, or review of an appraisal through coercion, extortion, collusion, compensation, inducement, intimidation, bribery, or in any other manner including but not limited to:

(1) withholding or threatening to withhold timely payment or partial payment for an appraisal report;

(2) withholding or threatening to withhold future business for an appraiser, or demoting or terminating or threatening to demote or terminate an appraiser;

(3) expressly or impliedly promising future business, promotions, or increased compensation for an appraiser;

(4) conditioning the ordering of an appraisal report or the payment of an appraisal fee or salary or bonus on the opinion, conclusion, or valuation to be reached, or on a preliminary value estimate requested from an appraiser;

(5) requesting that an appraiser provide an estimated, predetermined, or desired valuation in an appraisal report prior to the completion of the appraisal report, or requesting that an appraiser provide estimated values or comparable sales at any time prior to the appraiser's completion of an appraisal report;

(6) providing to an appraiser an anticipated, estimated, encouraged, or desired value for a subject property or a proposed or target amount to be loaned to the borrower, except that a copy of the sales contract for purchase transactions may be provided;

(7) providing to an appraiser, appraisal company, appraisal management company, or any entity or person related to the appraiser, appraisal company, or appraisal management company, stock or other financial or non-financial benefits;

(8) allowing the removal of an appraiser from a list of qualified appraisers, or the addition of an appraiser to an exclusionary list of disapproved appraisers, used by any entity, without prompt written notice to such appraiser, which notice shall include written evidence of the appraiser's illegal conduct, a violation of the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP) or state licensing standards, substandard performance, improper or unprofessional behavior or other substantive reason for removal (except that this prohibition will not preclude the management of appraiser lists for bona fide administrative reasons based on written, management-approved policies);

(9) ordering, obtaining, using, or paying for a second or subsequent appraisal or automated valuation model (AVM) in connection with a mortgage financing transaction unless: (i) there is a reasonable basis to believe that the initial appraisal was flawed or tainted and such basis is clearly and appropriately noted in the loan file, or (ii) unless such appraisal or automated valuation model is done pursuant to written, pre-established bona fide pre- or post-funding appraisal review or quality control process or underwriting guidelines, and so long as the lender adheres to a policy of selecting the most reliable appraisal, rather than the appraisal that states the highest value; or

(10) any other act or practice that impairs or attempts to impair an appraiser's independence, objectivity, or impartiality or violates law or regulation, including, but not limited to, the Truth in Lending Act (TILA) and Regulation Z, or the USPAP.

Most of this section is actually pretty reasonable, and I agree with the majority. But subparagraph 2 removes the ability of anyone - loan officer or otherwise - the ability to stop using a bad appraiser short of an actual provable violation. Anybody else see a problem here? This has, of course, been a long term goal of appraisers. But just because I can't get them convicted of actual malfeasance doesn't mean they're any good. In conjunction with subparagraph 8, once they're approved, we no longer have the right to stop using them. Waste the money of every client they get by coming in with a low appraisal? Set me up for fraud by coming in with a high one? I am completely helpless to simply stop using them.

Subparagraph 5 is another one I have issues with: I can't ask them not to waste my client's money if the value obviously is not there. A good loan officer wants an appraiser who will return an honest value no matter what, but when 5 minutes checking says the transaction isn't going to fly, this is a waste of client money.

What they are doing is called "rent seeking behavior". Look that up. And everything else about this section was already present.

III. Appraiser Engagement
A. The lender or any third party specifically authorized by the lender (including, but not limited to, appraisal companies, appraisal management companies, and correspondent lenders) shall be responsible for selecting, retaining, and providing for payment of all compensation to the appraiser. The lender will not accept any appraisal report completed by an appraiser selected, retained, or compensated in any manner by any other third party (including mortgage brokers and real estate agents). The lender may accept an appraisal prepared by an appraiser for a different lender, including where a mortgage broker has facilitated the mortgage application (but not ordered the appraisal), provided the lender: (1) obtains written assurances that such other lender follows this Code of Conduct in connection with the loan being originated; and (2) determines that such appraisal conforms to its requirements for appraisals and is otherwise acceptable.
B. All members of the lender's loan production staff, as well as any person (i) who is compensated on a commission basis upon the successful completion of a loan or (ii) who reports, ultimately, to any officer of the lender not independent of the loan production staff and process, shall be forbidden from (1) selecting, retaining, recommending, or influencing the selection of any appraiser for a particular appraisal assignment or for inclusion on a list or panel of appraisers approved to perform appraisals for the lender or forbidden from performing such work; and (2) having any substantive communications with an appraiser or appraisal management company relating to or having an impact on valuation, including ordering or managing an appraisal assignment. If absolute lines of independence cannot be achieved as a result of the lender's small size and limited staff, the lender must be able to clearly demonstrate that it has prudent safeguards to isolate its collateral evaluation process from influence or interference from its loan production process.
C. Any employee of the lender (or if the lender retains an appraisal company or appraisal management company, any employee of that company) tasked with selecting appraisers for an approved panel or substantive appraisal review must be (1) appropriately trained and qualified in the area of real estate appraisals, and (2) in the case of an employee of the lender, wholly independent of the loan production staff and process.

So mortgage brokers as well as real estate agents are now completely cut out of ordering an appraisal. Actually, all loan officers are, apparently. So no more calling Appraiser A to find out how fast he can get me the appraisal. I have to use an appraisal management company, or delegate the ordering of an appraisal to an individual "appropriately trained and qualified in the area of real estate appraisals". In other words, appraisers decide who gets appraisal work. More specifically, senior appraisers decide who gets appraisal work. Not the hardworking young appraiser who's still trying to make friends. Not the independent appraiser who's willing to call other appraisers on what they're doing wrong or should be doing better. This reduces to "The old boys network decides who gets work". I thought we were trying to get away from that sort of thing - particularly when they owe no benefit of loyalty to anyone aside from each other.

Question: Would you like to have a real estate agent assigned by the old boys network without input from you? A loan officer?

This is going to have far reaching consequences for consumers, and they're not going to like it. One person, the identity of whom is not in any way controllable by them or anyone else with whom they have any contact, is going to control the outcome of their loan. Because The Mortgage Loan Market Controls the Real Estate Market, this is going to have the potential to break every single real estate transaction, randomly and arbitrarily resulting in unhappy buyers and sellers, lost deposits, and all other sorts of problems. If they take a disliking to you, all they have to do to spike the loan and the transaction is to come in just a little bit low on the appraisal.

IV. Prevention of Improper Influences on Appraisers A. In underwriting a loan, the lender shall not utilize any appraisal report: (1) prepared by an appraiser employed by: (a) the lender; (b) an affiliate of the lender; (c) an entity that is owned, in whole or in part, by the lender; or (d) an entity that owns, in whole or in part, the lender. (2) prepared by an appraiser (a) employed, (b) engaged as an independent contractor, or (c) otherwise retained by any appraisal company or any appraisal management company affiliated with, or that owns or is owned, in whole or in part by, the lender or an affiliate of the lender.

B. Section IV.A. shall apply unless: (emphasis mine)
(1) the appraiser or, if an affiliate, the company for which the appraiser works, reports to a function of the lender independent of sales or loan production;
(2) employees in the sales or loan production functions of the lender have no involvement in the operations of the appraisal functions and play no role in selecting, retaining, recommending, or influencing the selection of any appraiser for any particular appraisal assignment or for inclusion on a list or panel of appraisers approved to perform appraisals for the lender or forbidden from performing such work;
(3) employees in the sales or loan production functions of the lender are not allowed to have any substantive communications with an appraiser, appraisal company, or appraisal management company relating to or having an impact on valuation or to be provided information about which appraiser has been given a particular appraisal assignment before completion of that assignment;
(4) the lender, or its agents, and any appraisal company or appraisal management company providing the appraisal to the lender do not provide the appraiser any estimated or target value of the property or the loan amount applied for (except that a copy of the sales contract for purchase transactions may be provided);
(5) the appraiser's compensation does not depend in any way on the value arrived at in any appraisal or upon the closing of the loan for which the appraisal was completed;
(6) the lender and any appraisal company or any appraisal management company providing the appraisal to the lender has adopted written policies and procedures implementing this Code of Conduct, including, but not limited to, adequate training and disciplinary rules on appraiser independence (including the principles detailed in Part I of this Code of Conduct) and has mechanisms in place to report and discipline anyone who violates these policies and procedures;
(7) the lender's appraisal functions are either annually audited by an external auditor or are subject to federal or state regulatory examination, and, unless prohibited by law, the lender promptly provides to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac the results of any adverse, negative, or irregular findings of such audits and examinations indicating non-compliance with any provision of this Code of Conduct, whether or not the examination was conducted for the purpose of determining compliance with this Code of Conduct; and
(8) the lender and any entity described in section IV.A. providing the appraisal to the lender recognize that, once the Independent Valuation Protection Institute is established, the Institute will receive complaints for review and referral regarding non-compliance with the Code of Conduct. Referrals and reports shall be made to Fannie Mae and/or Freddie Mac regarding such complaints and the Institute will provide information on the results of complaint reviews to Fannie Mae and/or Freddie Mac and make them available to the other parties to the Home Value Protection Program and Cooperation Agreement

This isn't independence. This is unaccountability.

An Independent Valuation Protection Institute (Institute) shall be created as approved by the parties. Subject to section IX, when the Institute is established, the lender will provide information to appraisers and borrowers regarding the availability of the Institute's services, which are expected to include: (1) a telephone hotline and email address to receive any complaints of Code of Conduct non-compliance, including complaints from appraisers, individuals, or other entities concerning the improper influencing or attempted improper influencing of appraisers or the appraisal process, which the Institute will review and report as provided in IV.B(8) and IV.C(2) of this Code of Conduct; and (2) the publication and promotion of best practices for independent valuation. The lender shall not retaliate, in any manner or method, against the person or entity that makes a complaint to the Institute.

So we can't complain about lazy worthless appraisers for anything less than an obvious violation of code - but appraisers can complain about anyone else. And we can't stop using them when they libel us. Even if the accusation is baseless. As I said above, this isn't independence. This is unaccountability.

The lender agrees that it shall quality control test, by use of retroactive or additional appraisal reports or other appropriate method, a randomly selected 10 percent (or other bona fide statistically significant percentage) of the appraisals or valuations that are used by the lender, including the results of automated valuation models, broker's price opinions, or "desktop" evaluations. The lender shall provide to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac a report of any adverse, negative, or irregular findings of such quality control testing, and any findings indicating non-compliance with any provision of this Code of Conduct, with respect to loans sold to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac respectively, and the Enterprise may enforce all applicable rights and remedies, including requiring the lender to repurchase mortgages or the Enterprise's participation interest in mortgages.

Here's the translation: Appraisers can't get in trouble for coming up with a value that's too low. Lenders don't lose money in the accounting sense when the appraisal is too low. All that happens is that they don't make money they could have made from doing that loan, an item that does not show up on financial statements. Appraisers can, however, get in trouble for coming in too high. Does anyone thing this means anything other than "They're going to come up with the lowest value they can justify?" That's where the incentives run. Result: Consumers get hosed (along with everyone else except the appraisers)

VIII. Representations and Warranties A lender shall certify, warrant, and represent that the appraisal report was obtained in a manner in compliance with this Code of Conduct. If the Enterprise determines, on its own or from a referral made by the Institute, that a lender is in breach of a material aspect of this Code of Conduct or in violation of a provision of the Code by a complaint referred from the Institute, the Enterprise will enforce all applicable rights and remedies, including suspension or termination of the lender's eligibility to sell loans to the Enterprise, if the lender fails to remediate.

Sounds reasonable, doesn't it? What this means is that a single appraiser making an accusation has the power to threaten a lender's ability to sell loans to Fannie and Freddie. Since those are far and away the most popular loans with the best rates, this means that lender loses most of their business - especially as VA and FHA can be expected to follow suit.

Fannie Mae put out a set of FAQ's to lenders a week or so ago

Scope of Coverage Q1. What loans are affected by the new Home Valuation Code of Conduct?

Fannie Mae has agreed to adopt the Home Valuation Code of Conduct ("the Code") for all conventional, single-family loans originated on or after May 1, 2009, that are delivered to Fannie Mae. For purposes of the Code, origination date means the date of the application. The Code will not apply to multifamily loans, or to loans insured or guaranteed by a federal agency; the Code only applies to 1- to 4-unit single-family loans sold to Fannie Mae. The Code will not apply to loans sold to Fannie Mae on or after May 1, 2009 that were originated prior to May 1, 2009.

This means every Fannie Mae loan since May 1, 2009. The same applies to Freddie Mac.

Q3. Does the Code allow an appraiser to update an appraisal for another lender?

Yes. The Code does not prevent an appraiser from performing an update of an appraisal for another lender.

That's nice. It still doesn't force a lender to release the appraisal, something that would have made a positive difference to the public. I order an appraisal and I can't perform the loan on the terms indicated, I should release it to someone else who can.

Q6. After May 1, 2009, is it permissible for Fannie Mae to purchase private label securities backed by mortgage loans that do not meet the requirement of the Code?

Yes. The Code applies only to 1- to 4-unit single-family loans sold to Fannie Mae by mortgage originators. It does not extend to Fannie Mae's investments in mortgage-related securities.

So it doesn't apply to what caused Fannie and Freddie to melt down. This whole code is a distraction from really fixing what went wrong.

Q7. Does the Code require lenders to obtain appraisals where they were under no such requirement pursuant to the Fannie Mae Selling Guide?

No, nothing in the Code requires a lender to obtain a property valuation, or to use any particular method for property valuation. Nor does the Code affect the acceptable scope of work for an appraiser in connection with a particular assignment.

Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, lenders are required by the Federal Reserve and SEC to use all due diligence. Every loan that goes south without a full appraisal is grounds for getting somebody fired. What do you think is going to happen? How often do you think lenders go without full appraisals now?

Q9. Does Section I.B.(9) specifically prohibit a lender from ordering a second appraisal?

No. Section I.B.(9) only prohibits a lender from ordering a second appraisal when they are attempting to influence the outcome of the first appraisal and are now "value-shopping." As a risk control measure for certain loan products, it may be common for a lender to order more than one appraisal, and this subsection does not prohibit that practice.

In other words, yes it does prohibit getting a second opinion if the first appraisal is a piece of garbage. The only exception is if the lender makes a practice of ordering a second appraisal for that particular loan product. More money for appraisers, and the second appraiser isn't accountable either.

I'm going to take these next ones together:

Q11. Does Section II of the Code require the lender to provide the appraisal free of charge?

No. The Code requires the lender to provide, free of charge, a "copy" of any appraisal report completed in association with a specific loan. The lender may require the borrower to reimburse the lender for the cost of the appraisal.


Q13. Does the Code prohibit an appraiser from collecting payment for the appraisal directly from the borrower?

Yes, for loans to be delivered to Fannie Mae. The Code requires the lender or any third party specifically authorized by the lender to select, retain, and provide for all compensation to the appraiser.

If you think this isn't going to cause problems, welcome to Earth and I hope we can be friends. This places the burden for payment upon the lender, who remember has no ability to control which appraisers they use. Paying through escrow might be a theoretical possibility, but it leaves open the possibility that the lender gets stiffed and has to pay out of their own pocket. Lenders are going to have a choice of 1) Requiring an upfront deposit for the appraisal or 2) Jacking up their margin so that clients who close pay for ones that don't. Either one of these is vile, and bad business. My company (and every other lender and loan officer out there) had to figure out which of them is the lesser of two evils. This is going to have implications for escrow accounting, as well - the number one reason that brokers and lenders lose their licenses (and 99% for completely stupid technical reasons having nothing to do with consumer benefit). From a benefit to the consumer standpoint, requiring the lender to release the appraisal to a new lender would be far superior. But that doesn't give appraisers power, see that they get paid, etcetera.

Q18. When selecting an appraiser, may lenders use a pre-approved appraiser list or panel? Yes. Lenders may use a pre-approved list or panel to select a residential appraiser, provided that (1) any employees of the lender tasked with selecting appraisers for the list are independent of the loan production staff; and (2) the loan production staff is not involved in selecting appraisers off the list for particular appraisal assignments.

Confirming and emphasizing what I said earlier. There is no way I or any other loan officer can keep from using a bad appraiser, no matter how bad they are.

Q19. May a servicer use an affiliate company to order appraisals for borrower-initiated private mortgage insurance cancellation based on current value?

Yes. The Code does not apply to appraisals for cancelling mortgage insurance based on current value. The Code is specific to "a mortgage financing transaction," and cancellation of mortgage insurance is not "a mortgage financing transaction." The Fannie Mae Servicing Guide states that "To determine the current appraised value of the property, the servicer must select an appraiser, order a new appraisal (which must be based on an inspection of both the interior and exterior of the property and be prepared in accordance with our appraisal standards for new mortgage originations)."

So feel free to value play games with the appraisal when you're trying to remove PMI. Why this would be such a straightjacket for new loans, and completely inapplicable for leaving lenders uncovered by mortgage insurance, contradicts all reason - but not politics.

In-House Appraisers Q21. May in-house appraisers prepare appraisal reports? Yes, in-house appraisers may prepare appraisal reports if the conditions of Section IVB. are met.
Q23. May a correspondent lender use in-house appraisers? Yes, a correspondent lender may use in-house appraisers if they meet the criteria in Section IV.B. of the Code.

In other words, so long as the appraisers are completely unaccountable. They can't even be fired for consistently producing bad valuations, so long as they don't go over the line into actual misconduct.

Appraisal Management Companies Q25. Is a lender required to use an appraisal management company for ordering appraisals?

No. A lender may order appraisals directly from an individual appraiser.

So long as it isn't any dirty filthy loan officer, anyone accountable to any loan officer, or in fact, anyone other than another appraiser doing the ordering. See above.

Q27. When a lender uses an appraisal management company, the appraisal management company is responsible for retaining and paying the appraiser. Is it likewise permissible for a mortgage broker to use an appraisal management company, since the mortgage broker does not technically retain or pay the appraiser?

No. The Code prohibits lenders from relying on an appraisal where the broker had a role in selecting, retaining, or compensating the appraiser.

Q28. May a mortgage broker provide the lender with an approved appraiser list for the lender to use when ordering appraisals for that particular broker?

Q32. May a lender accept an appraisal prepared by an appraiser that was ordered by a mortgage broker?
No. The Code does not allow a lender to accept an appraisal prepared by an appraiser that was ordered by a mortgage broker as noted in Section IIIA. of the Code.

Q33. May a mortgage broker order an appraisal directly from an appraisal management company that was specifically authorized by the lender?

No. The Code prohibits brokers from ordering appraisal services.
Q34. Does the Code permit a mortgage broker to select an appraiser from the lender's list of approved appraisers, if the lender is responsible for the relationship with the appraiser, including compensation?

No. The Code prohibits lenders from relying on an appraisal where the broker had a role in selecting, retaining, or compensating the appraiser.

Once again, I'm mostly a correspondent. The restrictions on brokers don't mean that much to me, per se - just covering the fact that it applies to brokers too. This is just more emphasis that appraisers are no longer accountable in any way, shape or form. But they do seem punitive.

Portability of the Appraisal Q29. May an appraisal be transferred to a lender from a correspondent lender and, if so, under what circumstances? Yes, a lender may accept an appraisal from a correspondent lender that complies with the Code. Q30.A mortgage broker submits a loan to lender A, which orders an appraisal. The broker later decides to submit the loan to lender B because it is offering better terms, or for another reason. May the appraisal obtained by lender A be used by lender B (assuming the mortgage broker has no control over or involvement in the assignment)? Yes, a lender may accept an appraisal from a different lender that complies with the requirements of the Code and in particular Section III.A. in connection with the loan being originated. Lender A must be named as client on the appraisal report.

Note that there is still no requirement to release the appraisal - meaning the appraisers get paid again when the lender won't.

Furthermore, this means the lender's name is on the appraisal - not the broker who paid for it (if there is one), not the loan officer. You think a lender is going to release an appraisal when someone wants to take potential business away from them? I don't.

Now, my comments on the entire thing. There were abuses of the appraisal process. They need to be fixed. This is not the way to do it. This does absolutely nothing to stop collusion between an appraiser and another party, which was the largest problem that has not yet been fixed. Properties were selling for those amounts. It was not the fault of loan officers, whether lender, broker, or correspondent, that the values got so high. By far the largest root cause was the fault of the loan programs the lenders were offering, or rather, very aggressively pushing. If you offer a loan program specifically designed to make it look like someone making minimum wage can afford a $500,000 property, you can expect problems when people take you up on it. Yes, there were loan officers colluding with appraisers. There were also sellers, buyers, agents (Realtor or not), and everybody else under the sun colluding with appraisers. Collusion, problem though it was, was not the largest problem by an order of magnitude - that was loans that set the borrowers up to fail, and the lenders themselves with them. This solves neither of those problems. The largest one has already solved itself as lenders stopped lending money on a Make Believe basis. The lesser although still major problem of collusion this does nothing to stop. In fact, it explicitly states that communication between an agent and an appraiser is not prohibited, nor is communication between a buyer or seller and the appraiser, or for that matter, between a loan officer and an appraiser. It's when the appraiser takes exception that such becomes a problem - there is no new control on collusion anywhere in the process. All it does is prohibit responsiveness to the needs of the consumer.

All of the incentives in place are for appraisers to come up with a value that is too low. They no longer can lose business for bringing out appraisals so low as to constitute nonsense - they can't be pulled off the eligible list, and the lender has no power to direct future work away from them. The only real way they're going to get in trouble is by coming up with a value that's too high, and that's going to be rare, both because the system isn't set up to catch it until after the fact and because that's the only thing about an appraisal that can cause lenders lose money in a traceable, accounting sense.

I don't know how many self righteous appraisers have told me "We are the only representative for the house." This is nonsense (to be polite). The house is neither living or sentient. It's a thing. It has no interests. The legal responsibility of the appraisers is entirely to the lender, not to the consumer. Comparatively few appraisers understand how it damages a lender to have the value come in lower than it should - a loan does not get made where it should have been made, and the lender does not make money when they should have. Comparatively few appraisers care about the consequences to consumers of appraisals that are too low, who put money in the appraisers pocket only to be denied the benefit they paid that money for and that they should have gotten. What they have told me time and time again is important (by their actions, and more often than not, by their words) is putting money in their own pockets whether or not it benefits the consumer, whom they have no legal responsibility towards.

There will be no more developing a good working relationship between appraisers and anybody. I used to have a couple of appraisers I had learned to trust - they're honest enough that I don't have to worry about them returning a fraudulently high appraisal, they're responsive enough that I know when they tell me the value isn't there, it isn't. They've helped me to learn what to look for so that I know ahead of time whether the value is going to be there or not. I have never asked an appraiser to give me a higher value. All I have ever done is not used them again if they ripped off my clients, and comparatively few times at that (about 5, in over 1000 loans in every county in California, and quite a few in Florida and Nevada, so it's not like I've been limited to one or two appraisers in San Diego County). That ability to stop using problem appraisers is no longer something I'm going to have. I've had to get used to clients being ripped off, and there being absolutely nothing I can do. The only way to protect myself and my company from false accusations of manipulating the appraiser (and thereby losing the ability to do loans with Fannie and Freddie) is not to discuss anything with them verbally. I have stopped meeting appraisers, and am only communicate a bare minimum of information through things like email and facsimile, and I'm advising my clients not to be there either. I have a combo lockbox for the keys, so the appraisers can let themselves in.

So don't get mad at your loan officer. If the appraisal doesn't come in for a needed value, it won't be because of anything they could have done or not have done. Nor can we complain. Loan officers are very exposed to reprisal; the appraiser is almost completely insulated from any consequences. Appraisers can potentially kill our loan business with a single accusation - justified or not. We can't do a damned thing to them unless we can prove an actual violation - a much higher standard of action, especially as appraisal standards use a lot of words like "reasonable". In other words, judgment.

I would not presume to argue that appraisal standards did not need reform. They did, very badly. They still do, as this was not what they needed.

The appraisers organization, or actually, appraisal management companies, have somehow gotten themselves into a position like tenured college professors, and without any of the (debateable) reasons for that. But there are a lot of bad appraisers out there who waste appraisal money with absolutely no understanding of the damage they are doing. It's going to get a lot worse until public outrage puts a stop to it. Appraisers own the problem - there is absolutely no way to blame any future problems on anyone except appraisers. Unless the appraisers who have been creating all of the problems, and their organization, change their way of thinking and police their own problems, I firmly believe they're going to learn to appreciate the virtues of the old aphorism, "Be careful what you ask for. You might get it."

Like it or not, however, it's the de facto law of the land. Every loan officer has to have to live by it. The only way to stop it is for consumers to start expressing the outrage that they will soon be feeling every time an appraiser returns a garbage value that wastes their money. Express it loudly, express it repeatedly, express it to all of your congressional representatives and senators. Make them understand they have to actually fix the problem, which means taking the time to actually understand it and think, not finding one scapegoat and declaring someone else to be sainted by virtue of having obtained an appraiser's license. You don't fix problems by giving one person absolute power over a transaction with no real accountability to anyone else.

The appraisers were pushing for this, but appraisers didn't come out all that well by it. The execution is hurting them a lot precisely because they wanted to remove the ability of loan officers to choose an appraiser. This means good, ethical appraisers who earn business by doing high quality appraisals are not able to attract business any more. It's all lenders ordering from appraisal management companies, who charge as much as the market will bear and pay the appraiser as little as they can get away with. There being fewer appraisal management companies than appraisers, there is less competition and therefore prices are rising - I heard $700 for an appraisal quoted yesterday - while the appraisers are getting paid less (one company is only paying them $150. As my source said, if that's the way things shake out he will go get a job at Starbucks because he'll make more money and have health care paid too). The only real way lenders can order appraisals is through an appraisal management company, and working for an appraisal management company is the only way appraiser can get work. This bottlenecks the process, and puts appraisal management companies in a position where nobody has any choice but to deal with them. Upshot: The appraisal management companies are making money hand over fist, but everybody else loses. I strongly urge everyone with a stake in the real estate loan process (in other words, everyone who might like a loan someday) to write your congressional representatives and senators and get this abomination repealed now, before appraisal management companies become any more of an entrenched special interest.

The appraisers, for their part, have already discovered the gotcha! in what they pushed for. They already know that what they thought they were asking for is different from the reality.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

"I am married but want to refinance my house only in my name. What do I have to do?"
Refinancing in one name only is actually pretty easy, and there are at least two ways to potentially accomplish this, depending upon lender policy and the law in your area.

Most lenders policies require the property to be titled in a compatible manner to the loan. Some few do allow the spouse to be on title and not a party to the loan, in which case they will be required to sign the Trust Deed, although not the Note. Most lenders, however, will require that if you are the only one on the loan, the property be titled in your name exclusively. So your spouse will be required to sign a quitclaim to "Jenny Jones, a married woman as her sole and separate property" (Or "John Jones, a married man as his sole and separate property). If you don't like the title being this way, that's fine and don't sweat it. You can quitclaim it back to "John and Jenny Jones, husband and wife as joint tenants with rights of survivorship" as soon as the loan records. What matters is that the people agreeing to the loan, as of the moment the Trust Deed comes into effect, is reflected in the official title of the property.

For those intelligent individuals whose property is in living trusts, this is also a common feature of getting a loan on the property. The lender will usually require it be quit-claimed from "John and Jenny Jones, trustees of the Jones Family Living Trust" to either the sole individual who qualified for the loan, as in the previous paragraph, or to "John and Jenny Jones, husband and wife as joint tenants with rights of survivorship."

All of that is the easy part. Now comes the hard part. If one spouse wants to be the only one on the loan, then they must qualify on their own. Only their income may be used. However, since most debts in a marriage are in the names of both partners, typically they are going to going to be charged for most debts on their qualification sheets. This really is no big deal if that particular spouse is earning all of the money anyway, but in most cases these days, both spouses are working, and they want to buy the biggest home they can, so it can be difficult to qualify them for that home based upon the income of only one spouse. Here's a typical scenario: He makes $5600 per month, she makes $5000. They have two $400 per month car payments and $120 per month in credit card minimum payments. But he has rotten credit, so they are hoping to secure a loan on better terms. By A paper full documentation guidelines, she only qualifies for a PITI payment of $1330 ($5000 times 45%, minus $920), which might get a one bedroom condo in a not so hot area of town. So then they have to go stated income in order to qualify for the loan on the home they really want - and stated income loans are dead, at least for now. As a couple they qualify for payments of $3850 ($10,600 times 45%, minus $920), which will get a decent single family residence in an okay area of town. You, the readers, can guess which of the two properties the average couple in this situation is going to shop for. Unfortunately, if they can't use his income, they don't qualify for the property they want. This is a real issue, especially if they went and got a prequalification from someone who figured both of their incomes in the equation, so here they are with a purchase agreement and they can't qualify like they thought they could. This is one reason I've learned never to trust someone else's prequalification of a buyer, because in this situation, the only way to make it happen is to put John, with his rotten credit, on the loan. Because he makes more money than Jenny, he will be the primary borrower, and so the loan will be based upon John's bad credit history, not Jenny's above average FICO. There used to be ways to potentially get around this, but the lenders have closed pretty much all those loopholes (and then some...) and so John and Jenny often don't qualify for the loan amount they need for the property they shopped for. Better to get John's credit score up where he will qualify for a good loan beforehand, of course, but usually these folks want a loan now so they can get this home they've already signed a purchase contract on. The ability to improve credit scores in a short period of time is limited, and it's even more limited if John and Jenny are short on cash, which is usually the case.

These can all be issues with the spouse who makes less money, also. Reverse the incomes, so that John, with his bad credit, makes $5000 per month and Jenny, with her good credit, makes $5600. So at least Jenny is primary on the loan now but that doesn't help a whole lot in the A paper loan market, where both borrowers have to meet the same standards.

Now, in point of fact many borrowers these days are ones that have settled upon a property before they even considered a loan, and are determined to get that property no matter what they have to do. Alternatively, they may have talked to someone about loans who gave them a budget which was in fact accurate, but they liked this property so much that they are utterly ignoring that budget. Such people are going to end up with bad loans or, more likely today, no property and a forfeited deposit. They want more house than they can really afford, and they want it now. When first I wrote this, I could get the loan for them, any competent loan officer could have gotten the loan for them, but there would be consequences down the road, because there are still those pesky payments they have to make (or negative amortization that builds up. Or both). A loan you cannot afford is a course for disaster, and the longer you're on it, the worse the disaster gets. And the lending standards now are much more paranoid on the lenders part. The Era of Make Believe Loans is over.

Another thing that bites a fair number of people is divorce, where one ex-spouse figures that because he (or she) qualified all by themselves so they should be able to make the payments all by themselves. But the loan officer back when they originally bought used stated income without telling them, and once that other income is gone, it turns out that they can't make the payments. Not only can they not make the payments, they cannot qualify to refinance now, even as a couple. Typically, most people live in denial about this for way too long, ruining their credit to where they can no longer qualify for the loan on the lesser property they would have been able to get if they had done the smart thing and sold as soon as they figured it out in the first place.

One spouse qualifying for a loan on their own has some real issues to be aware of, and that will turn and bite you if you're not careful enough.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

It's very simple really, and this is something I have never covered in the perhaps mistaken belief that it was too simple and everybody knew this.

The Note is the loan contract that sets the terms of the loan, repayment, etcetera. This contract is the document that controls, in conjunction with state law, your loan. Term of loan, interest rate, prepayment penalty, penalties for late payments, it's all there.

The Trust Deed is the security instrument. Without the Deed of Trust, the Note still creates the indebtedness, it's just not secured by anything specific. You still owe the money, but without the Deed of Trust the lender cannot force the sale of the residence (or take possession themselves) in satisfaction of that Note. Actually, I should say that they can't do so without recourse to the courts, and they would have to stand in line with all of the other unsecured creditors. The Deed of Trust creates that security interest, and makes the debt secured by a specific asset - the land given in the Deed of Trust. The Deed of Trust, unlike the Note, is recorded with the County Recorder with an official document number, and indexed in public records to as being associated with a particular piece of land, hence the ability to find it pretty easily.

You hear talk about a Note secured by a Deed of Trust. They're talking about a Note, and telling you that it is a note secured by Deed of Trust on a particular asset. Both real estate and automobile loans are routinely secured by a Deed of Trust against that particular property or vehicle, which is how the various holders of those loans have the ability to take back the secured property administratively, without recourse to the courts, provided certain conditions are met. If these loans were not secured by the pledge of a specific asset, these creditors would have to go through the courts, and stand in line along with credit card companies, etcetera. If they did not have a greater security interest, there would be no incentive to give real estate and automobile loans better rates than credit card holders get. So think about that before you advocate making it harder for lenders to foreclose. Every little bit you restrict a lender from its valid security interest means higher rates for everybody else as well. This is basic economics.

There's was a great brouhaha a while ago about "produce the Note." People who were in over their heads are telling lenders to "produce the Note" in order to proceed with a foreclosure. They're hoping for a jackpot, and a few years ago, in the case of perhaps one to two percent of all borrowers, usually with a loan that had been sold multiple times, the lender was unable to produce the note and the person ended up with a free house instead of losing it. I shouldn't have to tell you who ends up paying for those houses and the loans associated with them, should I? Here's a hint: It's not the lender or their stockholders. If you're completely clueless, It's customers of that bank and future borrowers who end up paying. If it gets bad enough, its the US taxpayers and depositors with over the insured amount in that institution. These days, however, "produce the Note" is a delaying tactic - figure the lender is going to find it in all but a very small number of cases - on the order of winning the lottery odds. It may take them a while, but it's a safe enough bet that they will find it. It may buy you a month or two delay, that's all - perhaps only a day or less. If you can solve the problem presented by the default in that period of time, all well and good. If you can't, all you've done is delay the inevitable and perhaps make it worse (The Trust Deed is part of the public record, and trivial to find and produce - the title companies can all do it within thirty seconds).

The two legal documents (or instruments) can be combined, but generally aren't, and I don't know why. However, this can be a problem for lenders who buy the loans from other lenders. It doesn't happen much any more, but it does still happen that lenders cannot produce the Note, and it usually is something that takes a while. Without the Note, there is no evidence of debt and therefore no loan to satisfy, and so you can have your lawyer insist that the Trust Deed be reconveyed. to clear the cloud it creates upon your title. Essentially, free money. Without the Reconveyance, however, it's difficult to sell the property and this can give the lender leverage to require repayment if you're trying to sell the property right now. Any unreconveyed Deed of Trust creates a cloud on title, and you need to clear that title in order to be able to sell, quitclaim, or even conceivably, will the property to an heir or even have it pass by action of law. If court action is required to clear a title, it's called a quiet title proceeding.

I'm not a lawyer in any state, so if a lawyer tells you something different than this, take their word for it, not mine. Even if I'm right in every other state, the lawyer is going to know that yours is the exception. This is simply the understanding of a layman who has had things explained to him by lawyers, and is attempting to pass on general knowledge of the differences and relationship between two loan related legal documents.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

As a good buyer's agent, I love a challenge. When someone comes to me trying to make a budget stretch just a little bit further than it would usually go, that's the kind of client I love to have. My goal is always to make at least a ten percent difference to the price the client pays, the value of the property they get, or some combination of the two. Nonetheless, the ones who can almost but not quite afford what they want without me (or someone equally good) as an agent are the ones I really get off on working with. The single mom of two who I can help get into the three bedroom condo or PUD instead of two, so everybody gets their own room. The huge family (or multiple family) where everybody pitches in together for the house they're all going to live in together. The young newlyweds who are just getting started and may only intend to hold onto the property for a few years, but they're going to start their family there. One hopes you get the idea, and of course, preventing the "mistake" properties that are just going to suck a budget dry and be an ugly problem to sell.

There is nonetheless a thin but sharp divide between someone like that and someone who will only buy the Taj Mahal at a cut rate price. Someone calls me and asks for something that doesn't exist and isn't going to at a price they are willing to pay, I'm going to be completely upfront about telling them that what they're asking for is not realistic, and any agent worth a damn is going to do exactly the same thing. Anyone who can swing it is eager to buy the Taj Mahal at a cut rate price.

I did use the phrase "cut rate Taj Mahal" deliberately. If it's beautiful, people will want it. That's the way people are wired; women especially so, and women are the ones that make the "buy" decision. The only thing that prevents it from selling is if they can get more for their money out of some other property. An attractive property that is not significantly over-priced will sell in any market. Of course, it will sell for significantly more in a hot market than a buyer's market, but that's an entirely different subject. The property is on the market when it is on the market, and whether a seller could have made more by waiting is a subject for a different article. The point is that beautiful properties will sell, there is always demand for them, and if they are priced even close to the right level, you will get people lining up to buy them, competing to buy them. The probability of a cut rate offer being the one that is accepted is about the same as winning the lottery with a single ticket. An ethical listing agent won't let it go for less than it's worth. Heck, a crummy listing agent won't let it go for less either - they are paid on commission!

I just checked the statistics on MLS. When I originally wrote this, the San Diego area was down to 12099 active listings, while 946 had gone Pending in the last seven days, giving us about a 13 week theoretical supply (89 days) in inventory. That's a balanced market, no longer the buyer's market. But a sample of actives in a couple of diverse zip codes yielded that about 20% of the theoretical actives are short sales with an accepted contract that were allowed to remain on the active list. Looking at 80% of the actives number, and assuming that a short sale takes about ten weeks on average, that means the real numbers were about a 57 day supply of inventory - just over 8 weeks. This means we're edging down to a full fledged seller's market, and it wasn't yet Easter.

So what does this mean to buyers? The first thing to consider is that the above numbers are the statistical mean. You're lumping the beautiful property in a great neighborhood with fantastic schools with the cluttered, trashed, falling apart piece of garbage in an area where the schools mostly teach "Hanging out with an ankle bracelet", and then taking the non-existent middle course between the two. Assuming you don't really want the cluttered trashed falling apart ghetto property, this means you're competing for the property at the other end of the spectrum - by which I mean the highly desirable properties that are going quickly and for good prices. The morning I wrote this, I called the listing agents on two such properties that have been on the market less than a week, and got believable responses that both properties have already gotten multiple offers. Those properties are not going to go for a cut rate price, and buyers putting in low-ball offers to see if they work are wasting paper and wasting time. In such an environment, the days when I or anyone else could "steal" an attractive property like that for thirty-five percent under the appraised value are gone, as I must have predicted here in writing on at least three or four occasions - not that there was any great predictive ability involved.

If you're wealthier than Midas and don't mind spending your wealth on housing, this article just isn't relevant. For those looking to buy significantly below the limits of their means (and I do seem to get a fair number of clients in this category, for which I am profoundly thankful, and I can make an even larger difference than usual), large parts can be ignored because they have the alternative of increasing the budget if they don't like their choices at the current dollar limit. For those who want to stretch their budget and make every dollar count, it is critical, and failing to follow something very close to this model is a recipe for disaster. The idea is to make rational, informed choices that you will be happy with later.

The first thing to consider is your budget. In order to buy within a budget, you have to know what that budget is. There are no more "Make Believe" loans - and this is a Good Thing, as I'm certain the vast majority of the millions of people who went through defaulted Make Believe loans would agree. They could have afforded something good enough with a sustainable loan, and instead they chose a Make Believe loan in order to get the Taj Mahal, but now they're losing the Taj Mahal, and can no longer qualify to buy the eminently suitable property they could have had if they had chosen rationally in the first place.

I compute what every single buyer client can afford, whether or not they're planning to do the loan with me. I sit down and discuss the questions that need to be answered: "How much cash do you have for the down payment and closing costs?" and "how much income can you document for (the relevant period)?" and "What is your credit score?" I sit down and go over what those numbers mean in terms of purchase price in the current market, and then both the prospective buyers and I have got to agree upon a maximum purchase price we will consider. If the property cannot be obtained within that purchase price, it is a non-starter. There may be a certain amount of gray area as asking price is not the same as sales price, but the bottom line is that if I cannot persuade someone to sell for a price within the budget my client and I have agreed upon, we're going to put that property out of our minds. Most of the trouble I do get arises because there is a lot less slack in the asking price for beautiful properties new on the market than there is for less physically attractive properties that have been sitting a while. I have a choice as to where to put the dividing line as to what the clients see, and my default is always to allow them to see all the properties within a set mark-up of the agreed upon budgetary maximum, even though that may have attractive properties new to the market where the price is not that negotiable, or not that negotiable yet. Transparency, always transparency - even when it causes me problems.

The next thing to consider is "what does the property absolutely have to have?" The hard part here is cutting this list to the bone, if not all the way down to the marrow. You have got to focus on no more than one or two things at this level. It can be a good school district, it can be a certain number of bedrooms or certain size of lot, it can be a certain section of town, it can be a lot of other things but the critical thing is to get that focus laser-sharp. One thing, or at the very most, two. To paraphrase the immortal Monty Python, three is right out, and for reasons similar to those given in the Book of Armaments. You have got to be clear, and you've got to mean it. If it doesn't have this one thing, it's off the list of possibilities, no matter how beautiful it is. That's pretty easy for most folks. The logical corollary of that, however, is much more difficult: that if it does have that one attribute, the property is a serious possibility no matter how ugly, no matter how trashed, no matter any number of other undesirable factors. If you're not serious about this one point, you're not serious about stretching your budget. I'm not going to say that there's nothing a good buyer's agent can do for you, because it wouldn't be true, but if you cannot abide this corollary you have become your own worst enemy. This is at the heart of why there is money in fixer properties and why you might be able to find a bargain if you don't insist on perfect now. If someone else has already made it beautiful, people are going to line up to buy it at a very competitive price. If you want a budget stretching price, you've got to be willing to some degree to be the one who makes it beautiful.

This applies no matter what else you want. The ultimate expression is that if I run a search and there is one property that meets your budget and your "must have" list. This has never happened to me yet, but there's nothing that says it won't happen tomorrow. At that point, you have Hobson's Choice: that property or none at all. Mind you, "none at all" (i.e. continue renting) is likely to be the superior of those two alternatives in this situation, but it would certainly cut down on my time requirements. Also, there is always the option of "wait and see". Just because nothing on the market today fits the bill doesn't mean that there never will be. It's not for nothing that "patience" is the number one item on my list of Top Twelve Things That Help You Buy a Bargain Property.

Things usually aren't that cut and dried, however. Usually, there are several dozen possibilities, sometimes hundreds. This is because I will either keep badgering people to expand their criteria until there are enough possibilities to give a real selection, or I will tell them point blank that the list of possibles is short and once we have seen what's available, they're going to need to make a choice. It doesn't take very many properties on the alternatives list before there will be at least one worth buying whether they like it or not, and if they choose not to buy anything available within their budget, I have to reconsider whether I'm able to help them. If what you want isn't available at a price you can actually pay, nobody can help you.

Keeping in mind that thin line between my favorite clients in the "challenging but possible" camp and those in the "want a bargain on the Taj Mahal" camp, there are only two choices for an ethical agent who believes he's got someone in the latter category: Have a frank talk with the client in which these folks convince me that they have seen the light of what is realistic, or I must stop working with them. If I continue working with them when they have unrealistic expectations, I'm wasting my time, their time, and the time of every listing agent and seller whose property I want to show, because it's not going to happen, and it's my fault if I don't put a stop to the wishful thinking. I'm wasting money and gas and nice afternoons that we both could be spending doing something else and keeping myself from helping other people where I might make a real difference. My point is this: People looking for something unrealistic are not going to turn into happy owners. I can tell them they're not realistic, or I can put them into a property they are going to be miserable in. In the latter case, they're not going to be happy with me. If I tell them the truth in the first place, they might be able to respect my professionalism and refer someone else I can make into a happy owner. If I put them into a property where they are not a happy owner, then I might get one paycheck, but I'm going to be paying for it forever when those people tell all of their circle of influence how miserable they are and whose fault it is.

I'm not a wealthy broker running a transaction mill. Yes, I'm busy, partly because I'm good and partly because I earn my pay. I spend a lot of time and effort doing the best I can for each and every client, and I don't accept clients if I haven't got the time to do a good job with them right now. You really want an agent who follows this business model, by the way. "Firing a client" has real consequences to me and my family, and I don't do it lightly or often. Nonetheless, I will do it if I need to because the consequences of not doing so are worse.

Starting from a point where there are several dozen properties that potentially fit the bill of being within budget and possessing the absolute "must have" quality. This means the client has a range of options, and usually more properties coming onto the list by the time we've looked at all of them. We don't have to look at all of them, and in fact I don't think I have ever shown every single property on their list to anyone, but we could. In the meantime, if something catches their eye as being something they think they'll be happy with, especially once we've discussed downsides and potential downsides, it's a good idea to make an offer on it right away. In my experience, hoping for something perfect is more likely to net you frustration than a good property you'll be happy with at a good price. Beyond a certain point, the more you try for perfection, the less happy you're likely to end up.

The real point is that there will be a set of trade offs the client can choose between. This one will have more square footage, while that one will be beautiful, but have a homeowner's association that comes with it. This one will have some significant extras but need lots of cosmetic work, while that one doesn't have a lot of the lesser qualities they want but be move in ready. It's the client's money, therefore it's the client's choice. My principle jobs as a buyer's agent are to 1) Differentiate the obviously unacceptable and those with problems that laypeople may not spot from those that are real contenders, 2) Make certain that the client understands the ramifications of their choice before signing away hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and borrowed money, 3) Negotiate as effectively as I can for a better deal, 4) Be aware of everything about that transaction and 5) be willing to take action, up to and including counseling my clients to walk away if something is wrong enough.

The more you require in a property, the more it will cost. There is a measurement for how desirable a property is, and the unit of measurement is the dollar. If you've only got a certain budget and you're looking to buy in the best neighborhood in town, it's going to cost you more than the same property in the ghetto. The difference is that value of the neighborhood. The same property in the district with the very best school system (or best school) is going to be more valuable than the otherwise identical property down where schools are just a taxpayer subsidized babysitting service where the kids learn undesirable behaviors. People seem to soak this up easily, but they aren't usually as fast on the uptake of "holding the neighborhood constant, you can have a beautiful turnkey property or you can have an extra bathroom, two bedrooms, and four thousand square feet on the lot by being willing to beautify a solid property or you can have a huge lot with a better zoning where the existing building needs to come down completely." All of these, and many others, are potentially valid choices and I can see where making any of these choices could be the most rational choice if your needs and resources match the right profile. It's my job to help you with that, too, but the final choice has to be yours. Nonetheless, there will be tradeoffs involved - you can't have it all. If I were some corporate or NAR flack, I'd be telling you otherwise, but the fact is that you're going to have to choose what's most important to you, and either create the rest yourself or do without. The more you have to spend, the broader your choices and the more you can expect to receive for that money, but even the richest man on the planet has alternative uses for the money that he's giving up to buy this property. Nobody has an unlimited budget.

Putting up with things that others are not willing to is worth some money - often enough for a major shift in the question of whether they're being realistic. I had some clients who were relocating from the primary flight path of a major jet airport. They laughed every time I talked to them about traffic noise as a negative factor, and that was fine. They had told me they didn't care, but they had also told me that this wasn't a forever property for them, which means that when they go to sell it, it's going to be a factor for them. They wanted to consider a property on what was essentially a frontage road to an interstate. I convinced them otherwise for a number of reasons that include that street might as well be a drag strip because mild mannered housewives with their hair up in curlers turn into testosterone fueled racing junkies there - all within feet of where children are playing in their yards. But if the traffic noise had been all there was to the issue, they could have used it to snare a bargain property because they would be willing to put up with something nobody else would. They were also shopping well beneath the limits of their means, so I was also able to put them into something in a better location with a lot more upside for the same money.

The bottom line is that more money buys a better property. Like any other good buyer's agent, I can stretch your available dollars, but there is a limit to how far I can stretch them. I'm aware of that limit, and so are my buyer clients because I will make certain that they are aware. There comes a point where a given set of search criteria flips from "challenging but possible" to "not likely to happen on Planet Earth." If that happens to you, you are wasting your time and everyone else's. Most buyers have to accept compromises in order to get what they need within their budget, and it's only going to get worse as we finish working our way through the problems that caused the meltdown. If you understand this in the first place, you're in a much stronger position when you start looking.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

A high percentage of buyers out there have no idea of how qualified they really are themselves. They have no clue as to any of the major factors in determining credit-worthiness. To be fair, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of little details that can kill a loan dead. This is one of the significant advantages to dealing with a loan brokerage instead of a direct lender, because if a loan killing detail strikes, a brokerage doesn't have to start all over from square one. Pretty much all the paperwork is still usable, I just have to submit it to a new lender that can do the loan. But so long as a very few things about the buyer's situation are acceptable, I'm confident that a loan can be done.

Nonetheless, with a large minority of clueless loan officers out there, and still others who will keep stringing people along as long as they can, hoping to get an approval that's just not going to happen, sellers are understandably concerned. It costs serious money to carry a property, and an unqualified buyer stringing a seller out for three months before the transaction falls apart usually runs into five figures. That's what sellers are potentially looking at when they sign a purchase contract. RESPA strictly prohibits the practice of steering, while many listing agents have absolutely no clue as to whether the buyer making the offer can possibly qualify for the necessary loan. A significant number of listing agents violate RESPA anyway by requiring the buyers deal with a given loan provider. The way it was explained to me, even asking a buyer to get qualified with a specific provider and no other obligation counts as steering. Even as the buyer's agent, I can't so much as hint that there's any obligation to do the loan or qualification with me - all I can do is offer better terms. Carrots only, never sticks.

The correct way to handle it, of course, is with agreements for deposit forfeiture in certain circumstances. I don't list a lot of properties, and I'm certainly not going to point out something that isn't in my client's best possible interest when I'm agent for a buyer. I'll tell the listing agent that something seems like steering, and is therefore unacceptable, but I'm not about to suggest terms that could result in my client losing their deposit.

Some agents go overboard with deposit forfeiture provisions, and in a buyer's market like we have locally right now, being too aggressive with those is a good way to lose potential buyers. People are stupid enough to sign up for negative amortization loan that wastes thousands of dollars per year for precisely this reason - they understand money in terms of cash and payments. That deposit is cash, cash they usually spent a significant period of their life setting aside out of earnings. They understandably have a problem with potentially losing it. Even affluent and well qualified buyers may not want to accept the risks, which in a market like this is a good way to miss out on the best buyers, if not upon selling the property entirely.

There's no way to know for certain whether a loan is going to fund until it does. Pre-approval means nothing. In fact, lenders can pull funding back until documents are recorded. There is no guarantee that anyone except an underwriter can make that a loan will fund. Nobody can guarantee a loan except a loan underwriter. Period.

On the other hand, there is a compromise solution. You can't find out if the loan officer is a bozo except after the fact, but you can find out if there's no way that loan can be done. The borrower information you need to know is: Approximate Credit Score (FICO), How much they make, What their other monthly payments total, and whether they have any derogatory notations in the last two years, most notably payments 30 days late or more. You already know what the purchase price and down payment are. With this information, a decent brokerage loan officer should be able to tell if a loan is possible. When Stated Income loans were available, if the other side was doing a stated income loan, job title could substitute for actual income information. Within a twenty point band is close enough on the FICO score (e.g. 660 to 680), with differences in higher credit scores mattering less. There really isn't a whole lot of difference, even today, between a 721 and an 800 in terms of whether they'll qualify at all, and only a slight difference on loan pricing. There isn't that much difference between 681 and 719. Below 500, of course, regulated lenders can't do business and we're talking hard money only. But the loan market changes over time. If you're not a loan officer dealing with twenty lenders or more, you're going to have some real issues keeping on top of it yourself. Yes, this is privacy act information, but let's consider this: That property owner is risking an amount that's likely to run into five figures when they sign a purchase contract, because that's how much they're likely to be out if the buyer can't perform. It's reasonable to agree to give them a certain amount of information. For instance, an attestation of the credit report. W2s or 1099s with anything sensitive that the seller doesn't need to know removed. Bank statements, ditto.

I realize that these loan officers want something for their trouble, which is one of the two reasons why steering happens (kickbacks, even more illegal, being the other). Steering is nonetheless illegal. When I first wrote this, an agent whose counter my clients walked away from a few days prior got really defensive about it, but getting defensive doesn't change the fact that you are violating the law by asking the clients to so much as contact any one specific loan provider. The procedure for writing to HUD is very simple, and I'm sending them these easy packages off every time there's a problem with steering. It costs me about a dollar including postage, and I'm ridding the industry in my area of lazy problem agents, one at a time.

If you know these very few pieces of information, you can figure out things like debt to income ratio and loan to value ratio. You can know if a loan is going to be able to be done. If the buyer chooses a bozo of a loan officer, that's their prerogative, however unfortunate it may be for you. It doesn't change the fact that they could have qualified, which is all any loan officer can really tell you anyway. Matter of fact, a large proportion of the loan officers that agents try to steer towards are bozos. I recently had one agent try to steer my client to a loan provider who had blown a trivially easy loan for a previous client, who would likely have cleared $100,000 profit after fixing the property up, but instead ended up losing his deposit. I get angry about things like that. As I wrote earlier, just because the buyer is my client for the purchase doesn't mean I can force them to do the loan with me. If I can't force them to do the loan - or even put in an application - with me, what gives some lazy (expletive) of a listing agent the idea that they can? Especially when they don't owe the buyer fiduciary duty and I do? Only in as hard a seller's market as we had a few years ago is there any prayer of getting your way in that. Buyers with a competent agent now are either going to walk, or use the fact that you violated RESPA as leverage against you. Whichever it is, you've violated your fiduciary duty to your client.

The most important thing about a lender letter that says a given person is qualified is that the person writing it shows their work so that the fact of their qualification can be independently verified by any loan officer the agent may care to show it to.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

I read with great interest you article on the internet about pre-payment penalties. I find my self in a situation involving a pre-payment penalty and would appreciate your advice on this. I currently have a loan in which the prepayment penalty is up on DELETED. I have gone to another lender for a refinance and have been approved for a loan. Since this loan process occurred before the pre-payment penalty was up, my current lender has included it in the payoff demand information. My new lender has approved funding a loan with this penalty ($12,000) included. Documents are scheduled to be signed DELETED and the loan will be funded (13 days before the penalty expires). If I try to push back the date of my loan, my interest rate will go up, and I may not even qualify for a new loan since my FICA scores have dropped. My intention is to go through with the loan and have the loan person hold onto the payoff check until DELETED, after the pre-payment penalty has expired. I will then request a refund of this amount from my current lender. Do you think this strategy is viable or can you suggest an alternative without changing the the time schedule or amount of my new loan?
So you're want to be paying interest on two loans for two weeks?

Doing it that way is okay if you want to pay the penalty and are willing to pay interest and points and everything on the extra. If not, just have your loan provider get a rate lock extension. You'll pay roughly a quarter of a point in fees, but that's less than the interest - or the penalty. Have your new lender get a payoff demand valid from expiration of the pre-payment penalty forward.

Your new lender is not going to tolerate being second in line for several weeks. Until that previous trust deed is paid off, the loan to value ratio is higher than their underwriting allows, and I'll bet that debt to income ratio is as well. Suppose there's a fire during those two weeks? Is there enough money in the insurance to pay both of them? The answer is no. Until that prior loan is paid off, the value of the property is exceeded by the loans against it. This is the purpose of escrow - and there's escrow in a refinance as well as in a purchase. You don't get that check - you only get what's left over after escrow does their job, which includes paying off the prior lender.

As to your personal situation, why has your FICO dropped? Credit scores don't drop without a reason, and one credit check isn't going to make that much of a difference. Basically, it looks like your lender is trying to make more money off you, and feeding you a line of nonsense to facilitate it. By boosting the loan amount, their compensation in the form of origination and yield spread rises. Okay, so 1% of $12,000 is only $120 - but that's $120 more for basically the exact same work. Not to mention the loan is funded now and they get paid now. Loans that are finished don't fall apart. I'd bet millions to milliamps that they're intending to fund your loan before the penalty expires. If they weren't, there's no reason to have you sign loan documents that early. I wouldn't have you sign until your right of rescission runs out concurrently with your penalty.

From the information given, this is not likely to be a lender with your best interests at heart. About the only thing I can even think of where it might be in your interest is if there's a notice of default or trustee's sale looming - and then we have to consider whether paying that penalty and all of the costs of the loan is really in your best interest. And since you didn't say anything about either one of these situations, I have to question the wisdom of basically volunteering to pay 6 extra months of interest plus loan costs. In this loan environment, I just have trouble believing that the new loan is going to save you that much money over the course of the time you are likely to keep it, let alone over the two weeks early you're paying it off. Even if you're at 8% now and moving to a 4 percent thirty year fixed rate without points, you're spending $12,000 you don't need to in order to fund 2 weeks earlier. It's basically impossible to construct a realistic scenario where paying that penalty is in your best interest. And yes, rates are going up, but neither I nor any other analyst I read is expecting that much higher, that quickly - even if your rate isn't locked, and rates that aren't locked aren't real.

Rate lock extensions cost money. But sometimes they're still the smart thing to do. In your case, it's spend approximately a quarter of a percent of your loan amount (depending upon lender policy), or three to four percent for six months interest that I can't see any compelling reason for you to owe.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

Not too long ago I got an email from an ex-prospect who decided to buy a developer's property without a buyer's agent. They persuaded her that she would get a better deal without them having to pay a buyer's agent commission. They then proceeded to hose her. She wanted to know if there was anything I could do. The only answer I could honestly give was basically, "Sorry! The transaction is already done!" This is the way that developers like it. Once the transaction is complete, the damage is done. You own the property, and you owe the money. The only recourse is through the courts, which takes years as well as lots more money - and that's if you win.

Many folks want a brand new house for one or both of two reasons. First off, there's that new house feeling. Secondly, they don't have to deal with a real estate agent, or so they think.

This is mistaken. The agents who work for developers are very pleasant, very professional sharks. They're not legally allowed to actually lie, but other than that, they have no significant responsibility to the buyers. Their responsibility is to get the most money on the quickest sale, period. If you let slip the wrong thing that leads them to believe you'll be a difficult transaction, you can be torpedoed before you even start. They're not there to tell you the bad things about a property, or that there's a better deal two blocks over. They have a responsibility to get the property sold. Period. The developers hire them from among the very sharpest, most ruthless agents there are.

Indeed, developers usually have higher hurdles for buyer's agents to jump over than any other seller can get away with. Buyer's Agents must accompany the client upon their first visit, and register them in writing. Seems minor, but anyone else who tried this would be dead in the water as far as getting agents to show their property, while developers will do both of these and more. With anyone else, when an offer comes in through an agent, that's enough. During the seller's market, many developers were refusing to pay commissions to any buyer's agents at all. This left potential buyers to pay their buyer's agents themselves or do without. The feeling on the part of developers is that buyer's agents spoil their party and prevent them from doing everything they want to their customers, so since they didn't have to deal with them, they weren't going to. The demand was there to sell the developments out whether they were willing to deal with buyer's agents or not - and if they didn't deal with buyer's agents, they would have things more their own way.

This changes in strong enough buyer's markets. Every last buyer is precious, so developers are grudgingly working with buyer's agents. I went to a development with a client a few days ago, and the developer's agent had no difficulty conveying the same sentiments as that classic San Diego bumper sticker, "Tourists go home - but leave your dollars and daughters." They wanted my clients - but they didn't want me. Some of it traces to the fact that they want the whole sales commission, some of it to the fact that clients with a buyer's agent working on their behalf have a stronger proponent and negotiate better bargains, meaning lower bonuses and less in commission.

Indeed, a buyer's agent is a fairly unique position in sales. A buyer's agent's responsibility is to get you the best bargain possible - lowest price for the best property. Since commission is based upon sales price, this is the only job I'm aware of that gets less money the better they do their job. The idea, of course, is the better they do their job, the more people will want you to do it for them. They may not make as much per transaction, but if a buyer's agent does more transactions than they otherwise would, they come out ahead.

Some agents try to leverage this by rebating a percentage of the commission they would get. After all, it doesn't take a lot of time to fill out an offer. However, it does take a lot of time to shop effectively for a given client. I'm making offers now for a client I've been working with for two months. I've probably spent in excess of a hundred hours physically looking at properties just for them, never mind researching the properties before I left, or all of the things that contribute to general market expertise. They looked at a few on their own - and stopped, because they were seeing better values with fewer issues through me. A good agent knows what else is available on the market - but the agent who sits there with a license and a fax machine has no clue. There's nothing ethically wrong with agents getting paid for sitting by a fax machine. I'm perfectly willing to rebate part of the buyer's agent commission if someone doesn't want me to scout and evaluate properties. If, however, you want someone who's able to recognize what is and is not value, and who is going to be a strong negotiator on your behalf, thereby getting you a better property at a better price, you need someone who gets out of the office and looks at property. Agents can't get that kind of expertise sitting in the office. And if your only qualifications are a real estate license and a fax machine, why are you making more than ten dollars per hour? What benefit does that have for the public? I visited a new development on behalf of some clients last week. They had one left, in which I spotted a foundation crack literally from side to side of the structure. I checked the area again today, because we're still looking, and that property has gone Pending. I'm not a licensed inspector or contractor, but if someone can spot this before the sellers have your deposit, it can really save your bacon. If I were a discounter, that would have been my clients, because they loved the property until I showed them the crack.

People in the financial press like to complain about real estate commissions being too large. But they are not as large as they are by some accident of nature. People didn't just decide to pay five, six, or seven percent of the sales price because someone told them to. Sellers do it because experience has taught them that they end up with more money in their pockets because of their listing agent's expertise. It's not a large jump from there to understanding that if the seller has someone whose expertise for one transaction is worth that kind of money, it's a real good idea to have someone on your side who knows just as much, not only about real estate in general, but your market in particular. Various businesses have been trying to offer real estate brokerage services at discounted rates since at least the mid 1970s from my personal knowledge. Traditional sales models have lost a little bit of market share, but they're still going strong. There are reasons for this. Reasons like how long it really does take to get a property sold, like how much work it really does take to know the market. Reasons like there is no way to evaluate the relative value of the property except by looking at lots and lots of properties. Reasons like the paperwork that has to get done, and the legal liabilities involved if something goes wrong, or the buyer isn't happy, or any of hundreds of other reasons. Not to mention all of the transactions that stop before consummation. Real Estate is the only occupation I'm aware of that anything like the work we routinely do, and doesn't get paid at all if the sale doesn't happen. When discounters work for less pay, the only thing that can give in this whole process is the services they provide.

Developers know all of this very well. They are not charities. They are out to make the largest profit possible. They don't hire discount agents. They hire the best agents they can get, and support them with large advertising budgets, because that gets the properties sold, and for enough more money to more than pay the costs of what they spend. These agents act very friendly, very charming and disarming, and completely ruthless. Developers' strategy of discouraging buyer's agents from being involved is part and parcel of ending up with more money in their own pockets. The only place for the money in their pockets to come from is the pockets of the people who buy from them. If you want to deal with a developer, you want someone on your side who knows enough about real estate and your market to stand up to the experts on the other side.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

(Note: the available loan options have shrunk since this was first written, and the rates are significantly lower right now, but the main point is calculating what you can and cannot really afford)

Hi Dan, I am a first time home buyer and a big fan of the advice on your blog. I was wondering if you could offer some advice on my current situation. I apologize for sending you this question but I've had many sleepless nights over this and I really respect your opinion.

I've narrowed my search down to two properties, one is a condo in DELETED (where I work) and the other is a new home in DELETED (closer commute for fiance). As a first time buyer I'm looking to stay in this place 5-7 years and then if possible rent it out as an investment.

The new home builder has a 2-1 buy down plan so the rates on a $519,000 5/1 arm would be Year 1: 3.75%, Year 2: 4.75%, Year 3-5: 5.75% on the first mortgage and 9.375 on the 2nd (which I would try to refinance right away).

The condo is $335,000 (a similar model sold on recently for 400,000) and the rates are 7% on the 1st and 8% on the 2nd. Both loans are with 100% financing.

I really like the house but don't wanted to be lured into a larger loan if it might come back to bite me. I would go for the condo if it would be a better investment in the long run but would be sad without a yard. I my income is 94,000 a year and I have good credit, my fiance will also be contributing to the monthly payments.

Thank you for reading my lengthy email, I'd really appreciate your help!

If you really respect my opinion, why haven't you contacted me to act as your buyer's agent and/or loan officer? You are local enough.

I am not going to pass judgment on either property and its worthiness as an investment, its comparative value, etcetera. Those are buyer's agent questions. The real question I can deal with here is numbers: What can you afford? If you can afford both, is the more expensive property worth more money to you?

You make $94,000 per year, which equates to $7833 per month. Subprime will allow a fifty percent debt to income ratio, which means that for is total monthly housing and debt service, you can afford $3916. That's got to cover first, second, taxes, insurance, Mello-Roos and HOA, etcetera, as well as your existing debt. A paper fixed rate firsts allow basically 45 percent, while A paper hybrid ARMs are usually lower, and compute based upon the fully indexed payment, not that low initial payment. Matter of fact, what they're trying to sell you on looks like a Temporary Rate Buydown, so they can sell you the property based upon a low initial payment.

Let's look at these two situations.

On a $335,000 condo, that's a first of $268,000 at 7% and a payment of $1783. On the second, that's a $67,000 second at 8%, which is a payment of $492. At 1.25% (standard California rate) your property taxes would be $349 per month. Insurance is not required for condominiums even though it's both cheap and a really good idea, so it doesn't impact debt to income ratio. On the other hand, there will be HOA dues, and may be other monthly expenses such as Mello-Roos. As long as these, plus your other debts do not exceed your remaining $1292, you're likely to be able to afford it. Add in 75% of whatever your fiance will sign a lease for, as standard allowance for rent, in addition to the $1292. Bottom line, based upon the information provided, it looks likely that you can afford that condo.

On a $519,000 property, that's a first of $415,200 and a second of $103,800. The second gives a straightforward payment of $863. The first has an initial payment of $1923, but that's not the real payment. The real payment is $2423 - $500 more. Nor is this the qualifying payment that an A paper lender will use, which is computed based upon what would happen if that loan hit the end of the five year initial fixed period today. That rate would be 7.125, or a payment of $2797. Yes, I like 5/1 ARMs, but they are perversely harder to qualify for than fixed rate loans. I get that basic California property taxes would be $541, I'm guessing insurance would be about $100. Total is $4301, and we haven't considered Mello-Roos, HOA (if any), or your existing debt. On the plus side, we haven't considered your fiance's contribution, either, but it's not looking good as you're nearly $400 over your monthly total payment limit already, and that's without considering possibly lowered debt to income ratio guidelines.

Now, let me point out a couple of tricks going on here: That temporary buydown isn't free, or even cheap. Nor is 5.75 available on a 5/1 without points right now, from any lender I'm aware of. This developer is not going to do your loan for free just to unload the property, and they used the temporary buydown to make it look like the payment is lower. They came close to hooking themselves a sucker fish, too, from your email. The money to do all of this is coming from somewhere, and the only candidate I'm seeing is the pockets of the buyers. It's almost certainly a waste of money as well as defeating the purpose of a hybrid ARM to pay points and temporary buydowns - and you would be paying them. If not explicitly, through being able to negotiate a lower price on the property without the developer paying for all of that. Which would you rather have: slightly lower payments for a while, or a lowered amount of debt in the first place? They pad the price, so they get more money right away, while paying out a part of it to make the payments look lower for a while. If you offer someone a dollar for thirty cents, most of them will take you up on as many dollars as you have, then turn right around and hand you back a portion of the money you just handed them. When you reduce it to the basic mechanics, that's what is apparently happening here. Of course, the average consumer is clueless about this - all they understand is that they're getting a beautiful property that they didn't think they could afford for an initial payment they're happy with. Well, they really can't afford it, but someone who knows a critical bit more of how the game is played persuaded them they could.

All of this is one more argument why everybody should get a good buyer's agent. If you don't have one, especially in dealing with developers and their lenders, nobody has a fiduciary responsibility to you. That and shopping your loan extensively are the best ways to avoid rude awakenings expensive enough to jeopardize your entire future that there are. In fifteen minutes with a calculator and my professional experience, I may have just saved your financial future. The other side has people whose job it is to get that property sold for the most possible money and make money with that loan, too. They're paid to act like your friend while picking your pocket. If you really want to play that game without someone on your side who knows the same tricks they do, you're a foolhardier braver man than I am, Gunga Din.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

Quite a while ago, I wrote Top Ten Reasons You Bought The Wrong House and Top Ten Reasons Your Home Isn't Selling. In that vein, I'm going to write a list of the most important things when you're shopping for a property. Lots of folks shoot themselves in the foot, and it's easy enough to see why in retrospect - but isn't it better to not make those mistakes in the first place? I'm going to count down from twelve to one and try to inject what humor I can.

12)Short escrow periods, but only if you can perform. That seller is out money every day of the escrow period, and every day that passes while the property is Pending is another day that other potential buyers aren't looking at it. This daily racking up of costs has been known to cause seller panic. Knowing that there's a limit to how many days the property is going to be tied up is certainly something that can be useful in convincing a seller that this is a better offer. Warning: The deposit is always at risk, so if you cannot perform within the time period you agreed upon, you could find yourself out the deposit money. Since this article was originally written, the time to reliably get a loan done has risen from 2-3 weeks to 2-3 months due to regulatory changes and procedural changes on the part of lenders to comply with those regulations.

11) Short term leasebacks: If the seller is living in the property, accepting your offer means that they have to get on the stick to find their next home. This can cause them quite a bit of anxiety, especially if they're not certain the transaction is going to close. The sellers can sign a lease and risk not needing the leased property while still having to pay a mortgage, they can enter into another purchase contract and find themselves unable to perform, they can find themselves living in a hotel because they didn't allow enough time, and with the problems in the market today, they can often be risking homelessness. If you're not in a particular hurry to move in (and you shouldn't be!), offering to lease the property back to them for up to thirty days after closing is a major anxiety reducer for the seller. Delaying your own gratification - the ability to turn that key and say "Mine, mine, all mine!" like Daffy Duck - can be a lever to get a better price or something else you want out of the seller. Short sales are a particularly good time to offer this - you're looking at an extra six weeks, possibly three months or more, before the lender gives their blessing to the transaction, then usually wants to close faster than the speed of light while the buyers are trying to get their loan done and the sellers are stressing about the tax implications and whether anyone is going to be willing to rent to them along with everything else. To add both parties suddenly having an urgent and immediate need to pack up for a move that they're not certain is going to happen and sign a new least or give thirty days notice when they're possibly going to be without a place to live doesn't make things any easier. As long as the actual move-in happens within thirty calendar days of closing, loan standards for "owner occupied" loans are still satisfied, making it a win for everyone.

10)Buyers have liquid cash - Sellers have an illiquid property. Cash money is the universal problem solver - everybody takes cash, everybody needs cash. What most buyers have isn't the full price in actual cash - but the seller gets cash proceeds from the loan as well. That seller isn't sitting upon the crown jewels of the world either - they have the most illiquid investment there is, and they are attempting to exchange it for cash - that universal problem solver. Otherwise you wouldn't see that property listed for sale. The buyer is the one with access to the universal problem solver, and if that seller wants that problem solver, they had better be cognizant that their problems are not the buyer's problems until the deal is done. If the property has problems, it is the seller's challenge to persuade the buyer that it is worth the buyer's resources to deal with those problems. Otherwise, that seller is stuck with those problems.

9) Be willing to do without meaningless contingencies. The appraisal contingency is the prime example of this. By requiring an appraisal contingency, you're saying that you don't want the property unless everything is absolutely perfect - unless some appraiser can pretty much arbitrarily be persuaded to say the property is worth at least the official purchase price. That's a weak offer, and it puts a lot of sellers in the position of resistance because they "don't want to sell for less than it's worth". If more agents explained what the appraisal is and is not, this would be a much smaller problem. I am always looking for value, and always mindful of the minimum necessary appraisal amount, but I'm also pretty much always willing to give up the appraisal contingency if I even put it into the offer in the first place. If there's a loan, the loan contingency is going to cover my clients. If there wasn't a loan, why would you care if the appraisal came in? You shouldn't ever offer more money than the property is worth to you, so why should you care if the property appraises? Being unwilling to give up the appraisal contingency is the sign of a weak offer from a buyer who isn't really sold on the property.

8) Zig when everyone else is zagging. The time to buy a property is when nobody else is willing or able. If potential buyers are waiting for the market to bottom, if they're scared they'll lose money on paper, scared they'll lose their job, or just don't want to move right now because it's Christmas, that's the time to be out buying. On the flip side, as this whole housing bubble and Era of Make Believe Loans should have made clear to everyone, when everyone is convinced that prices are going to keep going up 25% per year and therefore real estate is selling like hotcakes is probably the time to sell yours and go rent until the bubble pops. Don't confuse mass psychology with the fundamentals of the market. This applies in reverse as well.

7) Know what cannot be improved or fixed. Location is the first item on that list. If the property is already the best in the neighborhood, it's not a bargain. If everything around it is selling for half the price, it's not a bargain, it's a misplaced improvement. The area is what it is, and while sometimes they do improve, it's not under any individual's control unless you're a corrupt public official capable of zoning that airport or that sewage plant out of existence. There are other items here - environment, view, desirability, etcetera - but what I wrote about location finds a good analog in each of them.

6) Look for properties you can improve: If they're the cheapest property in the neighborhood, that is an opportunity for profit. The beautiful turn-key property where everything is already perfect is not an improvable property - at least not at a price that's worth it, not only because everything easy has already been done, but because those properties are in high demand. When everybody wants it exactly as it is, that's not a bargain property. If you look at it and fall in love with the beautifully done kitchen and bathrooms, that's not a bargain property because most buyers are willing to pay a premium for those sorts of things. Which leads us into-

5) Look for solid, not beautiful. Even if it hasn't been updated in fifty years, a good floor plan is a good starting point. Most people will not look past an outdated surface to what is underneath - solid foundation, good floor plan, solid construction, good location, lot with plenty of usable space. Yes, you're going to have to do some work to make it shine, but you're looking for a bargain property, not the one that's already been over-improved by a devotee of one of those house-flipping shows. The people that have done that work expect a premium for all that effort. If you want already beautiful, you can expect to be the one paying that premium. If you're willing to take something solid and make it beautiful, you're going to be the one getting that premium.

4) Don't fall in love with one particular property Be willing to walk away if the negotiations don't work out, or if you discover something about the property that's worth walking away from. I see people get all worked up over the possibility of losing a $3000 deposit and sign on the dotted line for things that are going to take ten times that much money just to bring the house up to where it should have been already. I tell buyer clients that the ideal time to fall in love with a property is as I am handing them the keys - something that doesn't happen until escrow has closed and they actually own it.

3) Have a plan Why are you buying this property? Is it a starter property for a few years, are you trying to flip for a profit, or is the home you're going to live in the rest of your life? Are you planning to hold onto it and rent it out once you're done living in it? Is it the basis of the plan to use leverage in your favor so you qualify for a better property when you sell this one? Is this the end property, or is it a shortcut for getting where you want to be? Each of these possibilities has consequences and implications that make it advantageous to do one thing and not the other. A good agent knows what they are. Plan ahead for what you want, and the right things to do to achieve it are a lot more definite.

2) Good buyer's agent. This is the expert who will help you with how best to make the transaction in your favor, as well as reverse engineering what the sellers and their agent are trying to do. Everything about a real estate transaction happens for a reason. You want someone who can take the what and figure out the why from that, as well as the how of getting from where you are to where you want to be most efficiently and effectively. It is easy to find a good buyer's agent if you make the effort. But this is not number one because the best buyer's agent in the world can't do you much good if you haven't got the

1) Patience If you're only willing to look at a few properties, if you're not willing to investigate the property and the market, if you're not willing to consider that maybe another property might be better for you - if you're going to get your heart set on one beautiful property because it's the most upgraded one in the neighborhood, there's not much anyone or anything else can do for you. The more patience you have, the more I and other buyer's agents can do for you. If you're not in any particular hurry, we've got time to make things happen your way. If you need to be under contract in two weeks, you've got about a week to start negotiating an offer, and no plan B available if that first negotiation fails. This weakens your bargaining position, to say the least.

Bonus item: Higher Deposit People are funny about cash. Perhaps it's because they had to earn that cash dollar by dollar, not spending it on other things. Every dollar in that deposit represents something that they could have bought, fun that they could have had, but didn't. A large deposit is therefore indicative of someone who has made some serious sacrifices and is putting that money on the line in the pursuit of this property. That says a lot of positive things about how serious they are, how certain they are that they want the property, and how certain they are that they can make the loan happen. A large deposit is also (usually) indicative of someone who's in the habit of saving and therefore really does have good credit. The deposit is always at risk, but there are steps you and your agent can take to minimize that risk. Look at it from the seller's point of view: You've got someone willing to put thousands of dollars of their own money potentially on the line, versus someone who's scraping together change out of the seat cushions of their couch and asking for help from relatives because they can't save money. Which of those two offers would be more attractive to you?

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

This is going to be a long article and somewhat technical in places, but it needs to be covered and everyone who is thinking about getting a real estate loan needs to read it.

"Fall-Out" is very simple: The number and percentage of dollars of loans that get locked that eventually fund. If I lock $1 million worth of loans this month, and fund $650,000 of that, I have a fall out ratio of 35%, and a "pull through" of 65% (my personal "pull through" is much higher than that, but this is an industry wide issue). The secondary loan market is putting immense pressure upon lenders to deliver a very high percentage of what gets locked. This has implications for the way loan officers need to handle loan applications, when they lock your loan, and many other things.

I got this email sent to me the other day from headquarters. It's very representative of tensions going on between the interests of consumers and the interests of lenders, and has implications for what can be done to advance the interests of consumers and the direction the loan industry is likely to go in the near future. Because the email is long, I'm going to break it up and respond in pieces. I'm going to put the email text in various block quotes, while my responses will be normal text style. If I need to change some jargon in the body of the email to render it comprehensible, I'm going to change it and put the changed text into parentheses. Specifically identifiable information (personal or corporate), I am going to show as DELETED.

The question has come up many times "Is the brokerage business going to survive?"

I recently had factors explained to me that moves my answer away from just having a positive faith into a more realistic understanding of what elements will determine the outcome. Economic systems live or die on economics. Seems simple enough. If the brokerage channel is economically viable, then it will survive; if not, it won't. If companies are economical, they will survive; if not, they won't. And of course, the same is true for (loan officers).

In my discussions with that lender, I now have a better understanding of how fallout plays into the economic model and what lenders are going to do differently now to ensure their own survival. Brokerage channels are inherently more unreliable and inconsistent on fulfilling lock promises than retail banking. As such, the secondary market is paying substantially less for broker commitments than the equivalent banking commitment. When bank retail (loan officers) lock loans, they don't have the ability to move the loan for a better rate. The pull through on locks in retail channels is 10-20% higher than DELETED. The reason I bolded above is broker (loan officers) vary on pull through from 10% to 45% back to 100%. It's that inconsistency that prevents lenders from picking, say 40% fallout as the number. When you want the lock to exist, you want your cake. It's just broker LO's want both.

It shouldn't come as any surprise to anyone that this is changing, driven by the secondary market. When a loan officer locks a loan, the bank turns around and orders funding from Wall Street Investors at the rates available at that time. This changes with market conditions, and that is the reason why there can be half a dozen loan repricings per day as the market waxes and wanes with events. If that money that gets ordered does not in fact get used, the bank is out the money.

This is going to have effects within the industry. Consumers are going to find it much harder to get a loan locked without paying a deposit to the lender. The only way - and only loan officers - which are going to be an exception to this are loan officers who either 1) Float the rate while telling you it's locked, or 2) Ruthlessly weed out their loan applications of anyone who is less than fully qualified and completely committed to this loan. Since one or the other of these latter conditions applies to the vast majority of everyone, the practical upshot of would be a loan officer passing upon the majority of their potential income, which just is not going to happen.

Mortgage Loan Rate Locks have always been the horns of a dilemma for loan officers. Lock now and you risk the consumer bailing out on you if the rates fall, or demanding a renegotiation. Float the rate, and you risk those rates rising to the point where the consumer is angry, starts shopping elsewhere, or even just blows off the idea of getting a loan entirely. Consumers have had this choice far too easy for the last ten years or so, free-riding upon the intense competition between lenders. In case you haven't noticed, there aren't nearly so many lenders in business today as there were a few years ago. Lenders are going to start charging for a rate lock because they are now able to do so. This may change back again in a few years, but for now you can look at it as the way things are going to be for the foreseeable future.

Lenders need to have 75% pull through in order to make money. Think about it: in order for them to sell their portfolios, roll in all the costs of their operation, roll in all the "touches" on files that close and all the files that don't close, the lost hedge fees on loans that don't close, plus all the losses that occur on buybacks - 75% is the bar they have set. When a company is below that, they lose money.

As you've seen, lenders are starting to differentiate between profitable companies and unprofitable companies. DELETED volume makes a lender's effort at rehabilitation worthwhile. That lure is always there, but if the relationship doesn't work, it doesn't work. DELETED has long talked about fallout as a major problem, but lenders and DELETED have been giving it only lip service in the past. No longer.

If the brokerage business is to survive, the broker has to make it so the lender wins. No lender, no broker. Since the lender knows the relationship is symbiotic, many lenders are creating pricing tiers to incentivize companies to figure it out. That is only the first step. Lenders are now dropping unprofitable mortgage as they try to improve their execution price with Fannie/Freddie. In other words, the brokerage business will be smaller, more focused, more partner-like than what has been in the previous "sales" model of mortgage brokering. DELETED plans to "partner" with its top lenders and assure top tier pull through in order to get the best from each company. We need to make that commitment to them which will assure our mutual survival.

A very important shift must occur to be successful. The (loan officers) must shift their thinking to make sure the lender wins 80+% of the time. The math is very, very simple: What's the dollar volume that gets locked? What is the dollar volume that closes? What's the ratio?

I would take issue with the contention that "the lender needs 75% pull-through to make money". Their own captive loan officers rarely achieve 75% pull through. Talk to me about it when lenders start firing their "in house" loan officers for less than 75% pull through. But there is a point at which it is no longer profitable to do business with a given brokerage or loan officer, and a large percentage of loan officers are below that point. The upshot is that lenders are increasingly serious about this, and are terminating relationships that don't measure up. For that matter, they are terminating their own loan officers, albeit for mostly unrelated reasons. Net result: fewer loan officers, less competition, and the balance of power shifts more towards those loan officers remaining in the business, away from consumers. Nor is this going to be an issue at brokerages only - direct lender loan officers are going to get hit by it.

This is also leading towards a dichotomy that the lenders which are more reluctant to lock a loan are going to be able to get better pricing for their loans once they do lock. The lenders are passing along the negative parts of the investor incentives to whomever is originating the loan. If you've been reading this site very long, you've heard me say upon multiple occasions that "It's not real if it's not locked." But if I lock a loan for someone who is playing games, it hurts all of my clients as well as my ability to attract future clients, so I'm going to be really careful about which loans I lock, and I am going to be very upfront about what it's going to take in order to lock a given loan. I'd rather lose one loan than the ability to compete as strongly as I do, let alone lose access to a lender with useful programs. I am still disposed against the cash deposit in order to lock, but I may have no choice in the long run. Loan officers, whether they're brokers or work directly for the bank, have to keep lenders happy or pay the consequences, which means all of their clients also pay those consequences.

This is why the backup loan is dead - even I can't do them any longer. What this means is that you have to do real due diligence ahead of time, nail down prospective loan providers by asking them all the necessary questions and insisting upon a loan quote guarantee. Alternatively, you'll probably be able to make a cash deposit - but the loan originators are going to get very hardcore about keeping it if you don't fund your loan. It won't matter why - your fault, my fault, nobody's fault. The downside of all of this is that instead of having a third option, consumers are going to be stuck with either loan A or no loan at all, giving unscrupulous originators even more of an edge than they've got already.

Here's the tough part. It doesn't matter:

* That the house didn't appraise

* That the borrower didn't qualify

* That the rates dropped significantly

* That the borrower walked

* That the borrower was related to someone who got them a better deal

* That the Lender changed their program mid stream

* Etc, Etc, Etc.!!!

If you locked, the lender lost money. Of course those are good (loan officer) reasons, but if DELETED loses our lender relationships due to those reasons, then something's got to change. The thing that has to change (and will change) is what factors must exist for the (loan officers) to lock. Ideally, after Clear to Close, lock it and doc it and get 'er done. But many (loan officers) don't work that way. Well, I am asserting that ultimately there is no home anywhere in the mortgage business for the (loan officer) who locks first and apps later. No home for the (loan officer) who locks before he's run (automated underwriting system), seen the documentation, determined value, and checked with the lender. No one will be able to lock as what will soon be referred to as "old school". All brokers will have to conform to this mode of thinking.

He's unfortunately correct - and it's going to apply to all loan officers, whether they work at a brokerage or for a direct lender. It's going to take a very sharp loan officer to be able to get away with locking before clearance to close. Loan officers who do that are going to have to know the standards cold, and still they will be taking risks. But here's the thing - you want a loan officer who is willing to lock sooner than that.

I'm not certain that any of these except "lender changing their program mid-stream" is unpreventable. At the end of January 2009, Fannie and Freddie suddenly imposed a requirement that almost half of everyone with a loan in progress fell afoul of, and that they suddenly became over-conscious of the fact that they've had a major fall-out surge is supremely ironic, because that surge is nobody's fault except their own. "House didn't appraise" did not used to be a factor if the buyer's agent knew what they were doing. This has changed because the new appraisal standards are a disaster for consumers, loan officers and appraisers, and only good for corporations in the appraisal management company business. It's a bad news/good news/horrible news situation. The bad news is that good ethical appraisers and good ethical loan officers basically can no longer develop or keep a working relationship. The good news is that the less ethical examples of each are going to start running up against the better ones on the other side of the relationship, and the good ones are going to complain. The horrible news is going to be that there is nothing that good loan officers can do about rotten appraisers. If you don't think this doesn't have consequences, let me know - I need a good laugh these days. The appraiser's professional organization has learned the hard truth about being careful what you ask for, as appraisers are making less despite appraisals being more expensive, and it's not the careful and honest appraisers who are getting the work.

When I first wrote this, "Borrower didn't qualify" was ninety nine percent preventable by going over income documentation on debt to income ratio, asset documentation and being mindful of how much cash a buyer has to play with so that you know how much you need for loan to value ratio and cash to close, and if necessary, the the buyer's agent writes the purchase offer and negotiates it with the loan in mind. It's been a long time since the necessity of buyer's agents consulting a loan officer before you make a purchase offer began, and listing agents to require that a lender's prequalification or preapproval letter must be offer-specific - tailored to this particular purchase offer on this particular property at this particular point in time. If not, you might as well use the that letter for toilet paper because it doesn't mean anything. You can't fake up a loan any longer with a 100% loan to value stated income negative amortization loan. Agents have got to learn to be clear whether a potential buyer can qualify before they write the offer - and definitely before you counsel your listing client to accept it. It's also smart to build in a bit of wiggle room in the qualification. Lender standards are cold and hard thin lines - on one side, the buyers qualify, while on the other, they don't. If buyers have stretched to the absolute limit and the tradeoff between rate and cost on loans shifts upwards just a little bit, that can put a buyer on the other side of a hard line that says "No way". For buyer's agents, the need to be able to work within a client budget, and also to persuade those clients to stay within that budget, is here to stay. There are no more Make Believe Loans.

"But what if rates drop half a percent and the lender has a bad re-lock policy?"

Don't use that lender if they have a horrible re-lock policy. The re-lock policy is a feature of the product they are selling. Don't buy from them if you don't like that feature.

"What if their rates are terrific?"

Then use them, but keep your pull through at 80% or be subject to consequences.

And that's the issue. The brokerage community has never really had to pay the consequences. Now brokers will. Therefore, brokers and (loan officers) have grown up in the industry with the mindset of the child whose parents constantly threatens and repeats, but never follows through. The shocking turnaround seems unfair. But what really is happening is a movement to align value with value. "For those that help us win, they get value. For those that don't, they're gone."

This is a fact of life for all loan officers, whether they're working for a brokerage or a direct lender. It is therefore going to be a fact of life for consumers, and it is going to have effects upon their loan choices. Consumers are going to have to decide between great rates and the ability to cancel a loan without consequences. Consumers are going to be forced to choose between locking early and not having to make a loan deposit. I despise deposits, but there it is. Consumers are going to have to learn that there are things which may not be obvious on the face of it that are important to their loan satisfaction, to do their due diligence first, and if they don't do it right, they are going to be stuck. Consumers are going to have to learn the difference between merely talking a good game, and actually delivering the loan that was talked about. Loan originators are not going to accept dual applicants (lest they lose hundreds to thousands of dollars per loan when their fall out ratio becomes unacceptably high), and while all credit reports run within fourteen days count as one, it's going to be more than fourteen days between credit reports if you've had a loan fall apart in between. And consumers are going to need to be far more in touch with the consequences of their choices, as the ability of loan officers to shelter their clients is disintegrating.

I've spoken with several small to midsize mortgage companies throughout the country. They are being cut off by lenders for several reasons: low volume, high fallout, high touches. DELETED have avoided that fate due to our volume; however, there could come a time that volume won't even help if we don't move our pull through and quality into the next era.

This is from a lender this morning that supports my point:

What does a "loan lock" mean? One top agent sent out a note to her staff. "I think as a consumer, or even a loan officer, when we lock a loan, we feel like we are simply "securing" or "holding" that rate for a client. That is only part of it. Once a lock is made, at that moment, the investor is expecting delivery of that loan at the interest rate as part of their portfolio. (In essence, the loan might not be closed, but it is already sold.) If you can't deliver, or don't close on time, or you are just simply "trying" to secure a "deal" based on rate, then the investor is going to call your lender and ask, "Where is my loan? Where is my money?" Then your lender might try to "replace" that loan with another loan, or just say to the investor, "Sorry." You are not just simply holding for you and your client an "Insurance Policy" to try to get that rate, if by some chance you get the loan, you are, in fact, impacting the investors who are trying to make money on those sold loans. It may be hard to miss that "single day" rates are awesome...but, if you are not in Contract, and you don't have an Appraisal...and you don't have a true file you can close in 30 days...then DON'T LOCK...UNTIL YOU DO! LOCK when you KNOW you are going to close it. Lock AFTER you have an approval. Don't lock at multiple Banks. A lock is a promise to deliver!"

The lenders are starting to enforce that promise to deliver, and putting loan originators who don't deliver into the penalty box if not throwing them out of the game entirely. Anywhere that loan originators go, their customers will follow. The loan originators that survive are going to be the ones who are careful about locking, and make it difficult for clients to bail out of a rate lock without an over-ridingly good reason. The ethical ones are honest about it. The less ethical ones are continuing to give you the same snowjob you've always gotten from them.

One of the practical effects of this is going to be to essentially kill online mortgage quotes as being of any actual use whatsoever to the public. I am sorry to see this happen, but that's economic reality. When loan officers can't honestly quote you a binding rate and cost without building in an an ungodly amount of slop to account for how much the market may move between quote and lock, there are going to be two kinds of quotes: High ones that the loan officer is prepared to stand behind, and low ones that are the result of lowballing, wishful thinking and just plain lying. There will be no exceptions. The originators can either quote you a rate and cost predicated upon the rate/cost tradeoffs not going up, or they can make an honest allowance for that. In the first case, if the rates go up, you're either paying the higher amount or you're not going to have a loan, as loan originators certainly aren't going to do loans which cost them money, as these would require them to do. The only alternative for this brand of loan officer is to play the "wait, delay, and hope" game in speculation of the rate/cost tradeoffs coming back down. In the second alternative, you're going to be expecting consumers to sign up for apparently high priced but real loans versus shameless lowballs that are not going to be delivered on those terms when the loan is ready to go. That hasn't been working out very well for consumers these last forty years or so - I see no reason to expect it to miraculously change now.

These developments have made a lot of changes to effectively shopping for a real estate loan. The one thing that isn't going to change is that you're going to have to have a real conversation with several loan officers, and ask each and every one of them all of the relevant questions. Just getting a quote and hanging up is going to become even more of a recipe for disaster than it already is, and those who believe otherwise are fooling only themselves.

Caveat Emptor

Origianl article here

People are understandably hazy on the difference between pre-qualification and pre-approval. Pre-qualification is a non-rigorous process whereby somebody says that based upon the information as presented to them, it appears you'll qualify for the loan.

Pre-approval should be more rigorous. For A paper, it should mean that you have documentation of income and assets acceptable to loan underwriters, made certain debt to income ratio, loan to value ratio, and cash to close all work with this particular offer on this particular property. Some (for those qualifying A paper) might then taken that information off that documentation, including qualifying rate, income information, credit information, etcetera through one of the automated underwriting programs, and have it come back with an "accept". All that is needed is the actual underwriting.

Due to the nature of the loan and real estate market, very few people actually get a pre-approval. Why? It costs money to do all of that, and takes a lot of time. Furthermore, it's based upon a qualifying rate. If rates go up, you have two choices: live with a higher rate or pay more money to buy the rate down, and sometimes no matter how much money you pay, the old qualifying rate isn't available. You can't lock the loan with any lender that I am aware of until you have a specific piece of real estate, so your rate will float between pre-approval and a fully negotiated agreement to purchase. Nor is the fall-out rate significantly lower for pre-approval as opposed to pre-qualification.

Furthermore, people have an unfortunate habit of stretching to the very limit to buy more house than they should. If you attempt to build in a little margin on the pre-approval, you're going to qualify them for less money than someone else.

With sub-prime lenders, they don't have Fannie and Freddie's programs to fall back upon, and if Fannie and Freddie will approve you, you shouldn't be getting a sub-prime loan. So in most cases, they have to go through essentially a full underwrite of the file, and agree to pay a cancellation fee if you don't fund within X number of months. Remember also what I told you about having an underwriter do part of their work now, part later. Every time they pick up that file is a real possibility that they will find something wrong that is a good reason not to fund the loan, or imposing a condition that the borrower cannot meet. Result: Dead loan, and in this case where you thought you had it covered, it really ticks off the client, understandably so. I'm a correspondent broker; I can always submit elsewhere, but direct lenders are stuck, and the client doesn't exactly like paying that cancellation fee, either.

Many seller's agents are getting tired of getting metaphorically left at the altar because a preapproval and pre-qualification mean so little, and are starting to demand a lenders letters with special conditions accompany their offers. I do sympathize with their plight, but that doesn't mean that the solutions they are trying aren't illegal under RESPA or even merely Counter-productive. Loan standards are way too tight right now, unsustainably so in my opinion, but that doesn't change the fact that agents have to obey the law and really need to learn what loan standards are. I submit an offer on behalf of a client, the listing agents are required to submit it to the owners in any case. Most seller's agents wouldn't know what a qualified buyer was if it bit them. Income documentation? Credit Score? Debt to income ratio? They are happily clueless, and they don't know how to negotiate for an appropriate deposit, with appropriate controls on who gets it and when. Furthermore, they don't want to drive off potential buyers, although this is exactly what most of their tricks do. A good buyer's agent knows better in this current market, but on the other hand they don't want to waste time with an unqualified buyer in the first place, and many of them have no more clue than listing agents what a qualified buyer looks like.

I've told you before that a large number of listing agents are lazy clods whose skills are mostly limited to getting the seller's signature on the listing agreement. They don't want to do the work more than once, and will drive off willing buyers who actually are decently strong, hoping for someone like King Midas to roll in so they only have to do the work once. Never mind that if they do it right, most of the time the clearances and such only have to be done once. But in the current market, driving off any willing buyer with a decent chance of qualification is a good way to have the property sit for months. if not have the listing fail altogether. Every so often, when I'm calling around to check about showing properties, an agent will tell me that they have two offers. Sure you do, Mister. After it sits for six months, suddenly two separate groups decide it's worth buying when everything else on the market is languishing? If the two offers are real and not a figment of someone's imagination, neither one of them is good, or you would have accepted one and the property would be in escrow. If such offers are real, they're desperation checks from the sharks.

But even in a seller's market, requiring illegal pre-approvals is counterproductive, and may mean that you are disallowing the person who would give you or your client the best offer, and are very likely to be a well-qualified buyer. Yes, it may stop you from dealing with some of the "riff-raff", but the work it saves you could cost your client thousands of dollars, and you signed on to do that work. So if you're a potential seller, ask questions about this potential situation.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

The majority of the protections that folks have are aimed at helping non-professionals have a chance in the complex and nearly incomprehensible maze that is real estate. The legal presumption is basically that you are a babe in the woods, and can easily be led astray by the fast-talking real estate broker and the big bad mortgage lender. And actually, this isn't too far off. I have seen enough to know that however bad a choice Negative Amortization loans are for 99 percent of the population, an unscrupulous agent and/or an unscrupulous loan provider can talk 95 percent plus of the public into getting one of them simply by accentuating the low payment and not mentioning the fact that your balance increases, among other things that a fully informed consumer might regard as inimical about them. Particularly in combination, each of them hoping for a big commission (the agent from a house beyond what the client can really afford, the loan provider from the associated loan), they reinforce each other's credibility beyond all but the most skeptical of laypersons to withstand.

When you get into investment property, however, this isn't just your personal residence any more. This is no longer something every living person needs, a place to live.

You are now intending to make money.

You are now in business. You are a businessperson. It does happen, of course, but it is difficult to have much sympathy for a businessperson who doesn't know enough to conduct business of that nature. Some Poor Guy who wants to get in on the American Dream is entitled to significant legal protection against all the sharp and smooth operators out there. But once you get out of the realm of personal use and get into the realm of making money, now you are telling the world that you know something about this (or at least that you should know something).

You have promoted yourself into the realm of sophisticated user. The legal presumption is no longer that you are a babe in the woods, although you may be every bit as much of one as the person in the earlier example. But because you have promoted yourself to someone trying to make money, many of the protections and disclosure rules do not apply.

It's not like you went out and got a real estate license (unless you did) or passed the bar, which automatically gives you the right to a broker's license in most states. There are still significant protections even there. But if they wanted to push the point, your agent and loan provider could probably eliminate half the forms you're asked to sign. The three day right of rescission on refinances goes away because instead of being presumed to require consultation with professional experts, you are presumed to be a professional expert. Why are you in the business if you're not an expert?

Needless to say, this point has become quite the illuminator of experience for many folks who see others making money via real estate investments, and think, "That's easy! I can do it too!" All too often, people who may be used to the protection afforded the general public get burned when they are presumed to be experts by the law. Not that the government has done a particularly good job of protecting the general public, but the sharks in those waters have to make it look reasonable. The sharks who swim in the waters of investment property have no such limitation. They talked you into a bad loan? For your own personal use, you have the three day right of rescission and many banking laws designed to require that the bank show something that can be construed as a benefit to you, the borrower. Lower payment, lower interest rate, something that persuades a judge that a rational person might have done this. The person with an investment property doesn't have that protection. So what if it leads to bankruptcy? You did it. You must have had some reason.

I am not a lawyer, but I have seen enough happen to have some appreciation for the protections consumers do have. Real Estate investments, handled correctly, can make you a humongous amount of money. The point I'm trying to make is that they can also lose the unwary a lot of money. The amount of loose money available in real estate for the picking is the lure for a large number of professional sharks. A professional who wants to be one of those sharks has any number of ways to make something appear to be to your benefit when it really isn't.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

Just like "we'll beat any deal!" in any other competitive sales endeavor, this is a game. Actually, it's even more of a game for loans than it is anywhere else, used cars included. What they are hoping is that you'll go there last, and tell them what the best thing you've been quoted, and then they can sell you on their loan and most people will go with them, because "we're here, not there."

The first issue is that anyone can give a low quote. It's like the old joke, "Your lips are moving." Unless they guarantee that quote, that's all they're doing: flapping their gums. All a quote is is an estimate, and I've more than adequately covered the games it is legal to play with a Good Faith Estimate (or MLDS in California). By itself, A low quote means nothing. Loan officers can, legally, quote you one loan and deliver a completely different loan at a completely different rate with a completely different (higher, or course) closing cost. This has become a little more difficult with the new rules for the 2010 Good Faith Estimate, but there are still loopholes you can steer a supertanker through and the people who practice bait and switch are very good at hitting those loopholes.

The second issue is that even if they are quoting a loan they intend to deliver, unless they are quoting to the exact same standard, the quote game favors the lender who pretends third party costs don't exist, who pretends that you're not going to pay for add-ons that you are going to pay for at the end of the process, the lender who quotes based upon a loan that you do not qualify for. Are you going to pay these costs? Absolutely. Would you rather know about them at the beginning, so you can make an informed choice, or get blindsided at closing (assuming you even notice)?

The third issue is that they are looking for safe harbor, and they're hoping you give it to them. If someone brings them everyone else's quotes, they know what everyone else has talked up, how big the lies are that the prospect has been told, and they just have to tell one that's a little bit better. This is trivial when you've got all that information you've been freely given. This is called false competition. You've metaphorically given them a mark, and told them to "tell a more attractive story than this one." Easy enough in a storytelling context - tell the same story with a little more sex - and even easier with loans.

A good loan officer has no need to know what quote you've been given to tell you what the best loan they can deliver is. Tell them to quote you the best loan they can without this information. Ask them if they'll guarantee that quote, because a quote that isn't guaranteed - as in they pay any difference, not you - is worthless. That's how you can choose the best rate that can really be delivered, not by allowing someone the advantage of knowing how much they have to lie to get the business.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

When Israel invaded southern Lebanon a few years ago, this picture from Reuters ran worldwide


The problem was that it was heavily photoshopped by a Palestinian stringer trying to make it appear like the Israelis were setting the entire city on fire indiscriminately. This was original photo:


It shows one fire and smoke from it drifting as it dissipated, presenting a far different picture of the situation. Instead of shelling everywhere, Israel was making precise strikes at locations where there actually were terrorists firing at their troops. Reuters got a lot of bad publicity out of this, and it cost them a fair amount of money because it wasn't what they were representing it to be. Reuters claims to be reporting the news as it really is without an agenda to grind, and items like this (of which there have been many) punch significant holes in their credibility with people who really pay attention to what's going on. (If you care, I got the photos from an article Little Green Footballs did on it)

So what's this got to do with real estate?

Unlike Reuters, listing agents don't have any sort of obligation to report the news as it is. Theoretically, agents and Realtors have a duty of fair and honest dealing with all parties, but this is more honored in the breach than in any other way, and they figure that if you can come out and see the actual property, doctored photos don't matter. It's their job to make the property look attractive. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are at stake. People lie, cheat, steal, commit felonies and risk jail to sell real estate for a higher price - on that scale, the minor dishonesty of doctoring photos just doesn't register. Result: Lots of photoshopped pictures.

I do not understand why people pay attention to online photos. Actually, I do. I'll admit to being a bit slow on the uptake - it must have taken two months back when I first started being an agent for me to stop paying attention to them. People think they're saving the time and gas of driving to ugly properties. The truth is that there really isn't a lot of actual correlation between ugly photos and bad properties, or good photos and worthwhile properties. I usually don't look at photos at all unless clients want to talk about them - I look at several other factors that tell me whether there's a possibility of finding a bargain here.

Most buyers, however, won't listen until they've had a certain amount of bitter experience with cold hard reality, which is that somewhere between the camera lens and the online listing pictures, there have usually been alterations made. I tell my clients point blank that I never look at photos, but when people are starting to look it seems they just can't help but shop for property by the photographs. After all, this apparently saves the effort of driving to the property! Even when I ask people point blank whether they've heard of photoshopping, they won't connect it to this situation - until they've dragged themselves to a couple dozen properties where the photos did their subjects entirely too much justice, if you know what I mean.

Instead of pictures, I tend to look at things like price (especially as compared to nearby properties), showing instructions, whether the listing acts like it really wants to sell or is doing the peasantry the immense favor of offering it for for their perusal, whether the listing agent works within a very few miles or is from further away and a few other data points that most clients never do figure out the importance of. Are they telling us it's a "fee simple" title while admitting there are HOA fees? If they're trying to play buyers for saps, chances are that property is not going to be a bargain or even so much as worth looking at. That listing agent is hoping to get a sucker to come in and via Dual Agency make an offer based on an undebunked rose-colored picture of the property. Not only is this another reason buyers want to find a good buyer's agent before they start looking at actual property, but it's a sign that there are likely to be other games going on once you make an offer as well.

Sometimes pictures not only haven't been altered, but don't do their subject properties sufficient justice. It is just as silly to toss a property from consideration for a bad photo as it is to include it because of a photoshopped one. The only way to see what it really looks like is to go look at it with your own eyeballs - there are no acceptable substitutes. I've seen just as many real pictures taken with bad cameras from poor vantage points as I have photoshopped ones. As I've discussed, just because flinty eyed buyer's specialists like myself have learned to ignore online photos, or at least take them with an appropriate amount of salt, doesn't mean everyone has. Good photos can bring people out to the property to look.

I do advise against photoshopping in significant ways. If the photo doesn't match the reality, most people will figure it out at some point. It's fine to choose a good angle that shows the property to advantage, but if you change an entire room full of clutter to what George Orwell would have called unpersons, people who actually come look at the property, which is what you want pictures to cause them to do, are going to be turned off. If you simply showed things as they are, someone might have thought it was good enough. It really is a matter of managing expectations. Lure people with a promise of something super, and the merely satisfactory doesn't cut it, but if they're only expecting the satisfactory, they might be happy with it.

I don't trust any real estate photos I can't vouch for personally, which means that I have learned not to pay a whole lot of attention to them. Similarly, doctoring photos doesn't really help. If potential buyers are obsessing about the cool pictures of the bathroom, the kitchen, or the backyard pool, they're more likely than not going to be disappointed when they actually go to the property, and disappointed people don't make good offers, which is what the sellers (and their agents!) really want.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

I found you on the Web after doing some research for my parents regarding short sales and foreclosures. I appreciate your straight talk regarding the whole loan and real estate process which I know they find incredibly intimidating. Right now, they're sort of putting their head in the sand regarding their financial problems. I have been trying to help them stay afloat but it's becoming tight. My mom received a default letter from the lender last week since she was two months behind. She sent one payment last week and I wrote a check to her lender for this month's mortgage to bring her current. I told her I couldn't do this again. She wants to walk away from the house, I told her "bad idea." My parents can't make the payments anymore and I am wondering if they should sell or refi. Here are the stats:

They've got a 7% fixed for three years which they are about a year and a half into. The payment is plus or minus $3100. The mortgage is $468,000 with a $12,000 pre-payment penalty. I don't know how they got into this mess but seeing her struggle and cry each month is something I can't watch anymore. My father and she (they're in their early 60s) have 2 pensions and 2 Social Security payments they receive each month. They make enough to make their house payment but not enough to cover all the other bills. My mom's logic is - "If I didn't have the house payment I could pay my bills." I tell her that her home is more important, and looking at your articles it seems to me the consequence of not making your mortgage if far worse then not paying credit card and car loan debt. Their credit is good but they don't want the house because the mortgage is so high. They talk of renting but I am afraid if they walk away from the house-the consequences will be dire.

In your experience is their hope? I've offered to refinance with them, the three of us, but would that help? I already own a home with my husband - I imagine there are occupancy restrictions? I have good credit. If they sell, it would be short with the pre-payment penalty. Are their agents that would sell the house? I can't imagine they'd want to since there would be no money for a commission.

Here's the real crux of the matter: These folks owe $468,000 and have a payment of about $3115 at a seven percent interest rate. Those are cold hard facts. As of this writing, there just aren't any loans out there that will help them enough to be worth paying that pre-payment penalty. There are loans that would make it appear as if they can afford the loan for a while longer - with even more dire long term consequences. Someone could boost their interest rate by maybe a quarter of a percent in order to cut their payment slightly with an interest only payment - but then the hole would stay just as deep as it is, and all interest only payments eventually start to amortize. The longer it is before this happens, the worse the payment shock when it happens. Most interest only loans adjust upwards on the rate at the same time. Sudden forty percent increases are nothing out of the ordinary. Even a longer amortization isn't going to help very much - even assuming the interest rate doesn't change, by the time you add that prepayment penalty in there, you've got a payment of $2982, even assuming no loan costs or fees get rolled in.

The point I'm trying to make is that I can't see a way for them to really be able to afford this property. Matter of fact, I have a very hard time believing that the agent and loan officer who sold them on this situation didn't do something both illegal and unethical along the way, and your parents should consult a real estate attorney about that. Nor is refinancing with you on the loan likely to help. As of right now, despite the fact that rates are close to the lowest they've ever been, there just aren't any loans enough better than what they already have to be worth paying both the pre-payment penalty and the cost involved, especially given the circumstances that they have major hits to their credit situation with the late payments. Not to mention the fact that the appraisal is going to be problematic, even more so now than when this was originally written. Sure, there are still appraisers willing to say that property is worth $500,000 when it isn't, but they're a lot fewer, and the one positive thing the new appraisal standards now implemented have is making it very difficult to direct loans to compliant appraisers (the greatest negative from consumer point of view is I can't direct them away from utter incompetents, either). And if you can't afford to make their payment as well as your own, putting yourself on their mortgage is a good way to sink your credit as well as theirs. Then you have problems down the line with your own property.

I sympathize with these folks and you, but the only way they're likely to get rid of unaffordable mortgage payments is to get rid of the property. Unless, of course, they've got enough cash sitting around somewhere to pay their mortgage down enough to make it affordable. However, if they could do that, why didn't they put the money in as a down payment? I'd need more information to be certain, but I strongly suspect that it's time to own up to the truth, which is that they have purchased too much house (or taken too much cash out) and they cannot afford it.

With that said, "walking away" is just about the worst thing you can do in most situations. Now the lender has to go through the whole dreary process of foreclosure, with is going to effectively kill their credit for seven to ten years, and might cause the interest rate on any other debt they have to rise as well as making it more difficult to rent. They need a lawyer to advise them on their situation. Anyone in this situation needs a lawyer, and I'm not a lawyer. With that said, the following options are usually better:

You can talk to the lender about the situation. Lenders don't want to foreclose. They don't make money when they foreclose. In fact, they lose it by the railroad carload. If it'll keep them out of foreclosure, chances are good that the lender will agree to a temporary loan modification of the note which will give your parents time to sell the property. They may or may not agree to accept a short payoff as well. It'll depend upon the listing agent and the lawyer. And yes, banks will usually agree to allow agent commissions in short payoff situations - it gets the property sold, which means they lose less money than if it goes all the way through foreclosure and they have to hire an agent anyway.

Another option that can be worth exploring is the Deed in Lieu of Foreclosure. This is where you sign the property over to them in satisfaction of the debt. It has the advantage that it stops future hits to credit. Although Deed in Lieu is itself one of the deadly sins according to mortgage providers, it's not as bad as a Trustee's Sale in most cases, and you don't have all the individual derogatory reports of the late (non-existent!) payments between now and whenever the Trustee's Sale happens.

One thing to warn of is that all of this, except perhaps for the Trustee's Sale, is the cause for a 1099 to be issued for income through debt forgiveness. Your parents will probably owe taxes on this money, so I strongly advise them to consult a tax professional as well (As best I recall, it's ordinary income, the same as if they had earned it working). In some cases, there may be a deficiency judgment as well, while in others there may not be. Nonetheless, this money is likely to be for a much smaller amount than $468,000, so they can probably dig themselves out, given time, and without living completely poverty stricken and without completely torpedoing whatever financial future they may have.

I know you wrote to me as a loan officer, but with the rates and loans available right now - especially considering the late payments on the mortgage - there's nothing the loan officer can do that actually helps, although there are a lot of loan officers out there who would say they'd help. If they were sitting in my office, it would be time to put on my Realtor hat and talk about selling that property. I wouldn't be happy about it, but the universe doesn't particularly care about making me happy, and it's the best way I see out of a bad situation.

Caveat Emptor

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