December 2018 Archives

Continued from Part 1: Preparation


I am considering buying a home, although I have not made up my mind on the subject. This is not due to indecision, but rather due to a lack of necessary information. There are many factors to be considered in my case, and in order for me to make an informed decision about buying, I need to solve for several variables involving cost.

My questions to you involve what steps I can take to solve those variables. Should I begin with a pre-qualification or loan approval? Will a lender invest time and resources in me when I have no specific property in mind, and I may ultimately decide to continue renting? Should I start by speaking with realtors in order to guage what is available in my price range? Will realtors invest time and resources in me when I have no loan arranged and I may ultimately decide to continue renting?

Also, what is the proper sequence of action for someone who is seeking to collect all the relevant information in order to make reasoned decisions about buying a home?

Well, as I said in Part I, a major question is whether you can trust real estate agents to answer the question honestly. Some will, most won't. If they tell you to buy, they make money. If they tell you to keep renting, they don't. Mind you, if you can afford to buy, the numbers are overwhelmingly in favor of that, as we'll see in Part 3. Nonetheless, one trusts that you see the potential for abuse.

Nobody should have a specific property in mind when they first approach an agent. Smart buyers won't make an offer without looking at a certain number of properties first. The only exception is if you're buying the old family home from your parents or something. You've agreed on the price, and the terms, and now you're going to pay an agent to make sure all the paperwork is done and filed correctly and the inspections are done and all of that sort of stuff. This is a smart thing to do, by the way, but most people in this kind of transaction seem determined to "save money" when a low percentage agent's fee or some flat fee would be an astoundingly good investment.

You needn't worry about whether lenders and agents will "invest time in you." Those who are unwilling to spend time on you in such circumstances should be avoided. Yes, I want my time to be spent on people who really want to buy and are capable of buying, which is why a basic prequalification is among the first things I usually do. I don't want to waste your time showing you stuff you can't, or shouldn't, afford any more than I want to waste my own. But there's a lot you can do to qualify yourself, so that you know how strongly you're inclined to buy, and approximately how expensive a property. This way, you know that the agent or lender isn't leading you down the primrose path with properties you cannot really afford. This is a severe problem, especially in expensive areas. I've said it before and I'll say it again. You need to know how much house you can really afford in a sustainable situation, and you have to make certain your agent knows and sticks within your budget. The one who shows you the five bedroom house when you can really only afford the three bedroom condo is not your friend. I'd fire such an agent the first time they showed you something you could not reasonably get for your known housing budget (which is one reason of many I recommend against Exclusive Buyer's Agent Agreements, and don't ask for them unless I'm giving them something beyond MLS listings for their exclusive commitment). The agent who shows you the three bedroom condo you really can afford when everybody else is showing you the five bedroom house you can't, is your friend, whether the "Oooohhh" factor is there or not, and even if the "Eeewww!" factor is there. Curb appeal is how sellers sucker buyers (and yes, when I'm a listing agent I'll help you with that in every way I can. It's the most important part of my job to help my client get the best deal they can. But right now I've got my buyer's agent hat on, and my job is to help buyers see the diamonds in the rough and not pay more than they're worth).

Once you've done your self-qualification, that's when I'd go find a real estate agent. I wouldn't worry about an actual lender's prequalification as long as you know what your credit score is. A good agent is going to do a prequalification anyway, and if they're a loan officer as well, they'll set you up there. An agent who doesn't do loans should be able to provide recommendations for someone to do the prequalification, and if they don't recommend the same loan provider for the loan as did the prequalification, I'd go back and check with the provider who did the prequalification anyway, as well as finding other prospective loan providers, not to mention pointedly not accepting the new recommendation for a loan provider. Despite the fact that I'm a loan officer who also does real estate, I'm not sure I'd trust a real estate agent with my only loan application. I came to being an actual real estate agent from being a loan officer for several years first - and then I went and learned how to do real estate. The average real estate agent who does loans never spent an apprenticeship doing loans, never learned the ins and outs, and has no clue whether they can deliver what they put on the Good Faith Estimate (Mortgage Loan Disclosure Statement in California). They just figure "It's the same license, so I can, and it's an easy way to earn a lot more money from the same clients!" They don't really know loans, they've just figured out that it's a way to make more money. Furthermore, there are too many shady personalities out there, and way too many real estate agents think they know how to do loans but don't. There are a fair number of crooks and incompetents and just plain gladhanders, who only care about whether they're getting a commission on this particular offer, out there, but most of what I do as a real estate agent can be plainly seen and understood by my clients. What a loan officer does is much less transparent to even the most sophisticated borrowers until it is too late to change to another provider. I've seen way too many people burned by only applying for a loan with one provider, and am very upset that lenders and the government are making it more difficult for consumers to obtain a good loan. I've only ever not been able to do one loan on the terms quoted and locked (and I did my darnedest to help the provider who could, where most loan providers in my shoes would have obstructed to the best of their ability, as I've also learned by bitter experience), but I've seen a lot of people who applied with the loan provider who talked a better deal but who couldn't deliver any loan at all, much less the one they talked about. Many times they have come back to me in desperation two days before escrow expires, or seven days after it was supposed to expire, and I can't always help them in time then. Be very careful in choosing your loan provider, especially if it's a purchase.

Take any newspaper advertisements you see about rate, however, with great heaping cargo ships full of salt. I'll cover what's really available later on, but for now what you need to know is that loan companies advertise with teasers like negative Amortization Loans and short term ARMs and hybrid ARMs that takes five points to buy the rate and you still won't get it when it comes time to sign the final papers. The whole idea is to get you to call, so that they can sell you what they really do have. I don't think I've ever seen a real rate on a real loan that I would be willing to get for myself advertised anywhere, in any medium. Even the so-called "best rate" websites and newsletters are notorious for cheating. I've gone right down the line calling them and asking about loans that were supposedly the standards they were quoting to, and gotten not one answer that was within half a percent of the rate quoted on the website or in the newsletter. Nor were any of the websites or newsletters I've complained to (or my company complained to, when I worked for an internet lender that was signed up with them) interested in enforcing the rules. I don't know one single loan provider who advertises actual rates that they can actually deliver anywhere. Those few companies who are actually willing to do it have all quit advertising in disgust and gone to finding clients in other ways.

Concluded in Part 3: Consequences

Caveat Emptor

Original here

I am considering buying a home, although I have not made up my mind on the subject. This is not due to indecision, but rather due to a lack of necessary information. There are many factors to be considered in my case, and in order for me to make an informed decision about buying, I need to solve for several variables involving cost.

My questions to you involve what steps I can take to solve those variables. Should I begin with a pre-qualification or loan approval? Will a lender invest time and resources in me when I have no specific property in mind, and I may ultimately decide to continue renting? Should I start by speaking with realtors in order to guage what is available in my price range? Will realtors invest time and resources in me when I have no loan arranged and I may ultimately decide to continue renting?

Also, what is the proper sequence of action for someone who is seeking to collect all the relevant information in order to make reasoned decisions about buying a home?

Well, a major question is whether you can trust real estate agents to answer the question honestly. Some will, most won't. If they tell you to buy, they make money. If they tell you to keep renting, they don't. One trusts that you see the potential for abuse.

The question here of "Should I Buy A Home" really separates into two basic questions: "How much home do I qualify for?" and "Is there a better alternative, financially?" You can then decide if buying or renting is the better alternative for you.

Qualifying yourself to buy a home, or to use better phrasing, figuring out how much home you should buy, is easier than most folks think. You can look in the classifieds section or on any number of internet sites to find out what the asking prices for properties like ones you might want to buy are in that neighborhood.

The personal information needed is easily available. First, you need to know how much you make per month, as you make mortgage payments monthly. Next, how much your mandatory payments are. Third, about what your credit score is.

Most people know how much they make per month. "A paper" guidelines go between thirty-eight and forty-five percent of gross income for your total of all required monthly debt and housing payments. Subprime lenders will go up to anywhere between fifty and sixty, with most limiting your debt to income ratio to fifty or fifty-five percent. I'd recommend staying within A paper guideline, but calculators are easy to use. So multiply your monthly income by thirty-eight percent, forty-five percent, fifty percent, and fifty five percent. This gives you a set of four numbers, which you may call anything, but I'm going to call A0, B0, C0, and D0. They correspond to what should by standard current loan guidlines be easy total debt service payments for most folks, moderate payments, difficult payments, and extreme payments.

Most people have recurring debt of some sort. Credit card payments, car payments, furniture payments, student loans, etcetera. This does not include monthly bills that you are paying as you go. You know what your monthly obligations are. Whatever this number is, call it $X. Subtract $X from each of those four numbers above, so that you have the numbers that you really have available to spend on housing in each of these four scenarios. Obviously, the smaller $X, the more house you will be able to afford on the same income. I'm going to call these numbers created by subtraction A1, B1, C1, and D1.

These numbers you have must cover all the recurring costs of owning a home. These include not only the principal and interest payments on the loan, but property taxes, homeowner's insurance, homeowner's association dues if applicable, Mello-Roos districts here in California, and anything else that may be applicable where you want to buy. Within the industry, the acronym most often used for this is the PITI payment, for Principal Interest Taxes Insurance, with the understanding that it includes anything else necessary as well. Association dues and Mello-Roos districts are a function of where you buy. Every condominium or coop is going to have Association dues or some equivalent. Mello-Roos districts are limited time property tax districts assessed to pay for things like municipal water and sewer service for new developments. Most newer developments here in California have them, and the equivalent districts are becoming more and more prevalent in newer developments elsewhere. Homeowner's Insurance is mandatory if you're going to have a loan - no lender is going to lend money on an uninsured property, but note that even the best homeowner's policy does not include flood or earthquake coverage, so if you're buying in an area where that is a consideration, the extra cost of a flood policy or earthquake policy is probably worth it. Condominium owners should have a master policy of homeowner's insurance paid for by their association dues, but it's still a good idea to have an individual policy for your unit, called an HO-6 policy here in California and by the NAIC.

Property taxes are paid to city, county, state and possibly utility districts, but your county tax collector should be able to quote overall rates. There is no way to know how much they will be from here, but you can make an estimate, if nothing else by calling the county and asking. Note that they usually quote taxes in terms of a percentage tax value per year. Multiply assessed value by tax rate to get a per year tax bill, then divide by twelve to get a per month value. In California, there's a rule of thumb that property taxes per month are approximately one dollar per thousand dollars purchase price per month in most places (it will be more if there's been a bond issue approved or any number of other circumstances), so take the last three digits off the purchase price and that is usually close to your monthly tax liability. $250,000 purchase price? $250 per month. $500,000 purchase price? $500 per month.

By subtracting off all those figures, you get a range of monthly payments for the loan that you can actually afford. Call these A2, B2, C2, and D2. Armed with these and your credit score, you can figure out what kind of rate you might qualify for. When this article was originally written thirty year fixed rate A paper purchase money loans of no more than eighty percent of the value of the home could be had without points at something between 6.25 to 6.5 percent. When I originally wrote this, "Piggyback" seconds would go to 100% of the value of the property, but that is no longer the case, so if you don't have 20% down and you aren't a veteran, you're going to pay PMI in some form. You can usually get significantly lower rates by being willing to accept a hybrid ARM (I've been doing it for fifteen years), but some people aren't comfortable with them.

Knowing the payment you can afford, the interest rate, and the term of the loan, you can calculate how much of a loan you can afford. Knowing any three of principal, interest rate, payment, and term, a loan calculator can tell you the fourth. Do this with your four values, A2, B2, C2, D2, and you get four potential loan principal amounts, A3, B3, C3, and D3. These correspond to loan amounts where the payment should be easy, moderate, hard but doable if you are disciplined enough, and a real stretch. To this, add any money you have available for a down payment, and subtract projected purchase costs (maybe $1000 plus 1 percent of home value). This gives you four values A4, B4, C4, and D4. These correspond to the purchase price of the homes you can afford under those four prospective loan amounts. You can then compare these amounts with what is available, and at what price, in those areas you might wish to buy.

Continued in Part 2: Process

Finished in Part 3: Consequences

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

Can I qualify for first time home buyer financing if I buy a duplex and live in one and rent out the other?

I thought if I bought a duplex, lived in one side and rented out the other would be a good idea to help pay the mortgage. I would live there for a couple years then move and rent the entire duplex as an investment property

It would be very popular to answer "yes".

However, the fact is that the only nationwide first time buyer program in existence, the Mortgage Credit Certificate, explicitly disallows all multiple unit property from participating.

Furthermore, I've dealt with the federally funded local first time buyer programs throughout southern California (in excess of forty different municipalities). In every single case I'm familiar with, it's a requirement that it be a single family residence. Just like the MCC, no duplexes, no apartment buildings, no "2 on 1" properties. Condos, townhomes, and PUDs are fine, but nothing intended for more than one family to live in.

People sometimes get confused because of the way residential property is defined (1-4 units), but just because something qualifies as residential property doesn't mean it is eligible for a first time buyer program.

Finally, for every first time buyer program I'm aware of, the government assistance goes away (as with the MCC), or worse, becomes immediately due should you move out. For example, in one San Diego suburb they have a very nice "silent second" program. It means you only have to actually pay the mortgage on a potentially much smaller amount, usually wiping out a need for PMI or a conventional second mortgage, while the city's second accrues at a very low rate. But if you move out, they'll call the loan, which means you've got thirty days to get them their money somehow before they foreclose.

(They also flatly refuse to subordinate, meaning you're not going to be able to refinance without paying them off, so you'd better choose a fixed rate loan that you can really afford for your primary mortgage in the first place)

There may be municipalities somewhere where this is permitted under their local programs, but I've never heard of one, and I do suspect it's prohibited in the legislation and regulations for the federal administration that funds these local programs. The First Time Buyer programs are intended to stabilize neighborhoods, and make it a little easier for people to be able to afford to buy housing they intend to live in. They are not intended to help you build a real estate empire - as a matter of fact, that's somewhat counter to their purpose.

First time buyer programs are also never free of strings. If you intend on taking advantage of these programs, it would behoove you to make certain you understand what those strings are, as well as all of the implications, before you've got a purchase contract. Some of the strings on first time buyer programs are real deal-killers. For example, a city about a half hour's drive from my office has one that looks really nice at first glance, but restricts both who you sell to and what you can sell for, eviscerating the economic benefits of ownership and making you essentially a renter who also pays maintenance and property taxes. Unless you're just going to live there forever, which may not be under your control, that's not a desirable situation. Probably better to buy in the city next door to that one, which has a more useful for your financial future "silent second" program much like the one described above. You need to be careful with first time buyer's programs, lest you end up in a situation that does not justify your expenditures with future benefits.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here


There's an old saying in sales: "The best way to achieve your dreams is to help others achieve theirs". I wasn't able to run it down to the original attribution, but it is as true a saying as can be imagined. The first thing to understand about any transaction that doesn't flow from the point of a metaphorical gun is that all parties are made better off thereby. The way to get as much as possible for a property is to show prospective buyers that they are getting as much as possible for their money.

As a seller you have real property. As fantastic an investment as it is, it is also completely illiquid. You can't go up to the counter at the grocery store and pay with a couple square millimeters off your lot. You have to have cash and for whatever reason, you have decided you want cash. You can't spend real estate, just like you can't live in cash. Buyers have cash or the ability to get what is cash to you via the loan they take out to cover the difference, and they want a property. Therefore, you have the makings of a real exchange that leaves both parties better off provided that you can persuade them that your property is the one that they want.

What you want is for prospective buyers to be willing to pay you as much cash as possible. Since Make-believe loans are no longer with us, this means you have to show real value to them. At the present time, the only widely available loan that does not require a down payment is the VA loan, and selling to someone with a VA loan has its own set of issues. What this means is that the buyers need a down payment, and they are going to have to qualify for a real loan with an ongoing income stream. Neither one of these is easy. Buyers understand money they had to build up for the down payment dollar by dollar out of their paychecks is real money much more clearly and at a more visceral level than they have the same understanding about money they borrow. They understand the payments they are going to have to make at least as clearly, and neither one of these is subject to the same kind of handwaving "let's pretend you can do it" loan qualification as they were a few years ago. Therefore, buyers are aware of value today in a way they were not aware of it a very few years ago.

One thing that you must understand in your bones before your property hits the market is that buyers are shopping for the lowest possible price for the best property they can get. Nobody ever bought a property because it was that property's "turn" - quite the opposite in fact, as the longer it's on the market, the less valuable a property is perceived as being. They bought it because it was the best value for them that they could afford. If there's a better property out there cheaper than yours, that's the one buyers will want. They will not automatically come to your property when that one sells, either, unless you're the best remaining value on the market. If another property comes on the market that's a better value, that's the one people will want instead of yours. It's what you did when you bought. Understand that's what everyone else wants to do when they buy. You are competing for those buyers attention and you are competing for their desire.

Fortunately for sellers, every buyer values property in slightly different ways, and therein lies your potential for profit. Some buyers want the absolute cheapest property they can get, while most people will pay more for certain amenities. But what every single buyer has in common is that you have to offer them something that they perceive as being more valuable to them than the difference in price between yours and the cheaper property down the block or around the corner. Not more valuable to you, the owner. More valuable to them, the buyer. Otherwise, they're going to buy the cheaper property, or at least make an offer on that one instead of yours.

Each and every buyer has a mental list of amenities they are willing to pay extra for, and ones that they are not. If your property is priced higher because you expect them to be willing to pay more for something in particular and they are not, your property is stricken from their list. The more things you try this with, the narrower your marketing niche. This is why you need to understand how prospective buyers think - what marketing folks call "hitting a target market" You or your agent need to understand the target market for your property, and work to hit it. This is not to say that no property ever sold to someone who wasn't in the precise target market, but those people are not usually willing to offer as much money, which defeats your aim in properly marketing the property because you want the people who are willing to pay the most for your property. People are willing in general to pay more for beautiful kitchens, good floor plans, extra bathrooms and nicely landscaped yards they can actually enjoy, but not every person and every target market is so willing. Your area, your neighborhood, and your location also influence your target market, and most particularly, the target market's willingness to make an offer and their willingness to make a higher offer in negotiations. Practically everything else in the way of amenities means you are trying to hit a narrower target market in order to get the most money, and any time you narrow your appeal, you have to make even more effort to be more attractive to the prospective buyers who are left in your target market.

Another thing to understand is that if the prospective buyer cannot see the property with their own eyes, they are not likely to make an offer, and they are definitely not going to make a good offer. The phrase "pig in a poke" comes to mind. Fewer people who are able to see your property means a lower selling price. What this means in practical terms is make the bar to seeing the property as low as you possibly can. Yes, it's a pain when someone wants to see the property and you had a quiet day at home planned, but think of it this way: Your property is probably valued around $400,000 (at least in San Diego that's a good ballpark mode, in the mathematical sense of the word). If it makes a difference of 1% to your sales price, you are effectively paying yourself $4000 for a month or less of making your property accessible - and 1% is a very low estimate of the difference this makes to sales price. Put the heirlooms away, put the dog in a run or a portable kennel, get a lockbox on the door so people can see it when you or your agent aren't there (both conditions make it much less likely you'll get an offer). If it's tenant occupied, anything you spend to negotiate with them to make the property completely accessible will likely more than pay for itself. When my clients ask me "can we see the property today?" and the answer is "No, because it's tenant occupied and we need to have 24 hours advance notice" what do you think happens? We go see other properties, and if they like one of those, they're no longer interested in yours. When that happens, you're left with something you don't want - an unsold property. If you still wanted it, it wouldn't be on the market, now would it?

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

Having done both, there's no question in my mind. For the average person and the average transaction, the buyer's agent makes a lot more difference. In the aggregate, a good buyer's agent has the opportunity to make a lot more difference to the situation than a listing agent.

There are exceptions. I don't know any rules of thumb that don't. But the leverage is all on the side of the buyer's agent. There is nothing about the situation that the listing agent deals with that does not have its roots in the purchase of that property.

That listing agent does a lot of work, and provides a lot of value. They have absolutely no input, however, on the identity of the property being sold. You can clean it, paint it, put additions in, landscape it. It's still the same property the people originally bought, however long ago. Nothing that listing agent can do is going to change the location or basic construction. If those are a problem, it's because of the buyer's agent, who could have directed the owners to a different property. Without a bulldozer, nobody is changing the basic construction, and nobody is changing the location of the property, period.

Maybe there was no buyer's agent. The observation stands. Whether the people acted as their own agent or went along with Dual Agency, somebody did it. If a better buyer's agent, or one actually working for the buyers, could or would have brought something to the owner's attention that led to them not making an offer on that property, they wouldn't own it now. Therefore, it lies squarely in the purview of the buyer's agent.

From the first moment prospective owners consider visiting a property, the buyer's agent is involved. Even before. The buyer's agent should be working with the prospective owners on what they can afford, what they must have, and what they can live without. Everything in real estate is a tradeoff. Price versus number of bedrooms versus location versus time to buy versus literally hundreds of other characteristics. Amenities that will make a positive difference later, whether in price or in ease of sale, are a buyer's agent's responsibility, as is keeping people from paying extra for things that don't make a difference.

Your ability to enjoy a property for the period of time you live in it traces directly to how well the buyer's agent did their job. All of that time you lived in the property, whether you realize it or not, you were either praising or cursing that buyer's agent. Maybe you could have done better with a bigger budget for the purchase - but the buyer's agent can always make a difference. Maybe you could have done better with more patience -it's up to the buyer's agent to make that clear. Whether you're able to rent it afterwards, how easily and for how much, the marketability of the property when it comes time to sell, the repairs you have to make, and the differential between that property and the rest of the neighborhood as far as desirability and sale price, all trace back to how well the buyer's agent did their job.

Owners can modify property. The buyer's agent should have made clear what's likely to make a difference in the sale price, and what's more likely to end up being simply for your own enjoyment. Most major work typically does not return anything like 100% of the cost in terms of sale price, meaning the remainder of that cost had better be indicative of how much enjoyment you personally got out of it in the interim. A good agent will go over likely remodels that will do you some good, whether they're helping you buy or sell, but truthfully, in which case (right after purchase or getting ready to sell) is it more likely you'll do some significant work?

The most salient part of a buyer's agent's job is to keep you from wasting money - paying more for the property than you can get an equally valuable property for nearby. By the time the listing agent comes on the scene, that's a moot point. The property is what it is and is worth what it's worth. If it's good, the listing agent has a much better success story. If it's not, all the listing agent can do amounts to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic so the sinking goes in a more seaworthy manner with no more casualties than necessary. On listings, it's really rare that I have have more than two weeks to work with a property before it hits the market. I can help the owners make what's there more visually attractive, but I can't really change it much in most cases. When I'm helping buyers, the vast majority of the time I can keep them from dealing with a problem property at all.

When I'm listing, my clients own a property, and they would like to exchange it for cash. I can get more people interested enough to view it, I can stage it so it's more attractive to them, and I can definitely concentrate my efforts on people fitting the property in terms of lifestyle and requirements. But the property itself pretty much already has to fit their requirements, at a price they can afford. If it doesn't do the former, they won't make an offer, and if it doesn't do the latter, the escrow will fail, as the era of make-believe loans is over. I can't really make a two bedroom structure into a three, no matter how many agents try by entering the larger number. I can't magically add another tub, or an entire bathroom, either. If the lot is 5000 square feet, steeply sloped, and planted in water efficient desert plants, that property is not likely to be attractive to the family who wants a place for their young children to play outside. Potential buyers are going to figure the basic elements of this out, and they'll do it before they make an offer. It's not like it requires any intellectual feats more impressive than Og the Australopithecus was capable of. Or even George of the Jungle. I can market the property ahead of this curve, or behind it. The former leads to fewer showings, but better, more qualified prospects. The latter leads to frustrated clients who have opened their house to dozens of prospects, but no offers. That's one of many real differences the listing agent makes.

But when I'm helping some people buy, the only limits upon the process are the number of properties that match my client requirements. My buyer has either cash, or the ability to get it, and that's what every seller wants. Consider groceries: With a few dollars you can always walk into the store and buy a loaf of bread of your choice. But if you choose the wrong loaf, changing that loaf of bread for back into dollars is a lot more problematical. The same principle applies, greatly magnified, to real estate.

Good agents can spot most of the signs of destructive settling, of likely non-permitted additions, leaky roofs, bad plumbing, ancient wiring, and the vast majority of the time, good agents will talk clients out of a problem property before it gets to the point of an offer, and steer them to a property that they're going to be much happier with (and usually for about the same price, if not less). This translates to a property that's much easier to sell, and for a higher price, than the one I talked them out of. Not to mention fewer, less costly repairs, and increased general enjoyment for the time they live there. Not to mention administrative details such as if the sellers of the Nightmare (house) on Elm Street never have my client's deposit money, we definitely don't have to go hand to hand combat in the courts to get it back, and if they don't get into a bad situation in the first place, my clients don't have to pay attorneys to get them out of it - Maybe.

If our clients want to know what my company's stake in them buying one property versus another, I think we should tell them (once we look it up). It shouldn't be relevant to the thought process of either client or agent. Either this property is the one with the better trade-offs for the buyers, or it isn't. If it's not, I shouldn't be trying to sell it to them. If it is the best possible purchase, the fact that the seller wants to pay my company eight percent of the sales price to get it sold versus two and a half or three doesn't make it not so (and no, I've never seen anything higher than five, although the ones offering more than customary are as likely to be overpriced as the ones offering too little, and more likely to have problems that will be revealed at some point in the escrow process). Still, If my client wants to weigh my motivation, they're entitled to do so. If I need to do some introspection on my own motivations, pretending I don't isn't going to help me. But the vast majority of the time, it means I need to explain myself better, and show the client so they can see what I'm talking about with their own eyes.

When you really think about who makes the most difference to the future of the prospective client, basically all of the factors line up on the side of the buyer's agent. There is usually nothing about any situation any listing agent ever deals with that does not have its roots in an issue a buyer's agent did or did not deal with. Talk with successful, experienced, long term, multiple property investors. They'll tell you the same thing - they made most of what they made because of what they bought or didn't buy. The money was really made on the purchase; the sale only formalized the exact dollar amount. This also illustrates why you need to be able to get rid of ineffective buyer's agents, hence my recommendation of non-exclusive buyer's agency agreements. It's easy for agents to talk a good game in the office, and it's easy to burn a few listings they don't really want you to buy. You want someone who will continue to be a good buyer's agent, because they haven't got you trapped by their agreement for months. The vast majority of the people I work with never go see another agent, but that's always their choice, because they know from having seen me in action that they're not likely to find anyone as good, not because I have them stuck in an exclusive agreement for six months. Show me someone who requires an exclusive agreement, and I'll show you someone who isn't secure in their own ability.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

This article started with another one of those desperate consumer fishing calls a while ago. Loan standards have tightened since then (In my considered opinion, over-tightened and the lenders and Wall Street will figure it out within a couple years). Stated Income is no longer available, and as much as I dislike stated income loans, there is a group of people for whom they are the right choice. Negative amortization (aka "Option ARM" "Pick a Pay" and many other friendly sounding names) is no longer available, and that's 99.999% a very good thing, but there was a tiny niche of people who had a legitimate use for them.

This particular phone call began with her saying said she had to have an Option ARM. I told her I had them available to me (then), but...

She interrupted me to say she had to have it Stated Income, or if necessary, no documentation. Yes, I told her, even those are still available (they were at the time), but...

She interrupted me again, wanting to know if they were no points and no prepayment penalty. I said that while I hadn't done a loan with a prepayment penalty in years, Option ARMS without prepayment penalties don't exist. She then said, "We've come to the end of the conversation," and hung up.

Obviously, she's been burned by someone. Just as obviously, someone else gave her a shopping checklist for a loan, or she made it up herself. She wants it all, she's not going to settle until she gets it, and she's not going to let some horrible awful salesperson lead her astray like last time. In fact, she's so determined on this point that she's not going to let anyone try to save her, either.

As regular readers have no doubt figured out by now, here's her history. She didn't tell me this, but It doesn't take much if you understand the way the market went during the relevant time period.

She either bought a property more expensive than she could really afford, or refinanced a property she already owned for cash out, and could not afford a real loan now. Not understanding that minimum payment is not the same thing as the cost of the money, and that you should Never Choose A Loan (or a House) Based Upon Payment, she signed upon the dotted line, not really understanding anything that was going on except that she wanted that house, or that cash.

Along she went, happy as a clam, until she got smacked upside the head with the real cost of money, aka the interest rate she was paying. Gravity never quits, and compound interest working against you is even worse than that.

And here's where it gets really sad. Instead of figuring out her mistake, or cutting her losses, she is determined to repeat the mistake and make it worse. So determined that she's not going to let anyone stop the process before it gets even worse than it is today, however bad that is. She didn't mention anything about loan to value ratio, but I'll bet it was higher than the 80% that's the most any lender would have accepted at that time for stated income (if debt to income ratio wasn't outside of any acceptable range there would have been better loans to do in the first place). What's the definition of insanity again?

The loan she wants is not going to happen. But that won't stop people from telling her that they can do it, figuring once they get an application and psychological investment, not to mention hundreds of dollars of her cash, then they come up with something else at final loan signing, chances are that she'll sign it and they'll get paid. I went over this in The Doctrine of Delaying The Moment Of Truth. The loan they'll get her probably won't be as bad as what she wants, but it's unlikely to do her any good. She owes what she owes. If she could afford the loan, she wouldn't need stated income or negative amortization, and she probably wouldn't have needed them in the first place.

Furthermore, she's shopping her loan from a checklist of things somebody told her were good or bad, completely ignorant of the fact that she can't have them all. There's a reason I tell people they need to ask all the questions on this list from a prospective loan provider. It's not a simple matter of shopping your loan until you get everything on a shopping list. Some things do not go together at all, like negative amortization loans without a prepayment penalty. In all cases, there are tradeoffs between A and B, C and D. You decide which you want more, or which you don't want more, or, in the case of points and cost vs. rate, where on the spectrum of the tradeoff between rate and cost you want to be. Some providers may give you a better set of tradeoffs than others, but those tradeoffs still exist, and pretending they don't is a good way to end up with a putrid loan. Somebody will tell you about a loan that doesn't exist in order to get you to sign up with them.

Before you can ask the questions, however, you've got to let a professional have a reasonable chance at figuring out the best loan for your situation. In order to do that, you've got tell them enough information so they know what your situation is. After I propose a solution, then you can ask those questions and give me the third degree, and if you're smart, you're going to shop it around until you get a couple or three different opinions, and cross check the information each provides against the other. You might still get conned, especially if you don't make the effort of comparing and cross-checking answers. But as I went over in The Ultimate Consumer Horror Story, if you won't talk to sales persons, as in real conversations, I can pretty much guarantee you're coming away with your own private version of the Nightmare (mortgage) on Elm Street.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

I had the idea for this article some time ago. It took me a long time to decide to share it publicly, because quite frankly, knowing what I know now, I was an idiot. I was still young enough to think I knew more than I did. Now that I've learned a lot more, I still don't know what I thought I knew then, but I'm getting closer. When I repeat transactions of this nature now, I don't repeat these completely boneheaded mistakes.

The year was 1990, and I was still working for the federal government in my first career, air traffic control. Controllers are not your most humble of people, and for better reasons than most. Most days, I could go home secure in the knowledge that without me there, a couple of airplanes would have crashed together, and even if everyone walked away from it, however unlikely that was, there would have been anywhere from a couple hundred thousand dollars in damage to millions. But, as you're about to see, this has nothing to do with competence in real estate.

Before I go any further, let me tell you that things could have been much worse than they ended up being. I understood a lot of things about real estate and finance, even then. Even then, I knew enough to know how simply full of excrement most of the people claiming do it yourself real estate was the way to go were. Ignorant. Guilty of wishful thinking. Neglecting terms in mathematical equations. Just plain wrong.

I simply thought I was better than that. At the time, I thought I did pretty well. But in retrospect, boy did I get taught a lesson by a pro.

Let me tell you first what my problems weren't. It wasn't that I didn't understand how to check out a property. I grew up a contractor's son. From the time I was old enough to wield a paintbrush with a modicum of control, I was helping my dad on his projects. Some of my earliest memories are of helping my dad mix and pour concrete. You name the project, I've pretty much done it. I learned how to spot construction defects, problems, and things that needed to be fixed before I figured out that girls didn't have cooties. I have an excellent idea of what's involved in fixing most of them, much better than you get by watching any of those home repair or decorating programs. Furthermore, I had my dad with me to help me spot potential problems.

I did pretty darned good on the loan. Through both intentional and accidental learning (i.e. formal classes and having friends and co-workers older than I was, and listening to the problems they had had), I had a pretty good understanding of the pitfalls there. I knew what the options to compare were, and I knew why a 5/1 ARM is better than even a 7 year balloon, and how both compare to 30 and 15 year fixed rate loans. Through the financial markets, I understood that there was a tradeoff between rate and cost. I could have maybe shopped it a bit more, and probably should have taken a less expensive loan, but the higher cost for the lower rate worked out in my case.

(Amazing that for all the "do it yourself without an agent" advocates out there, I've never encountered a single person encouraging you to be your own loan broker, despite the fact that I can get a newly licensed person up to speed on common loans a lot more quickly and easily than I can teach them the rest of what they need to know to act as an agent)

My problems wasn't location, or lack of knowledge of the area. I bought less than three miles from my mom's house, about four from my dad's. I had been on that street at least dozens of times prior to buying that property. I knew the area cold, and I love the area even today.

It wasn't a failure to shop, or not knowing what would do well upon resale. I did my homework, and looked at a dozen properties before I made my offer. It certainly wasn't failing to do research, on the internet or elsewhere. I read several books that are still well-regarded today. Yes, this was before the World Wide Web, but newsgroups and forums existed back then, and were easy to access, and I always had a good internet connection. It's become easier to use the internet since then, but the signal to noise ratio has gotten considerably worse. Not that it was stellar in the first place, but I find more spectacularly wrong "information" out there now with an agenda of selling some thing or idea in particular, than I did then. At least in the newsgroups, you could always count upon having opposing points of view. Just surfing the world wide web, you're at the mercy of the publisher of that particular website if you don't know any better.

Now here's what the problem was: My ignorance. Ignorance of the market, ignorance of procedures, ignorance of what everything meant and the implications thereof.

Let's be honest. It could have been much worse than it was, even with everything else covered.

What I was paying attention to was asking price, not comparable sales. Furthermore, since I hadn't been in any of those comparable sales, I didn't have the basis for a valid comparison and pricing. That listing agent did. Furthermore, the local real estate market at that time was getting ready to fall, much like things were in much of 2006. Sellers were just starting to realize things were not likely to fall their way in the future. A good first offer would have been $10,000 less than I offered, then negotiate hard, and settle on maybe $8000 less than I actually paid. Considering prices were much lower then (still under $100,000!), I overpaid by about 10%, and there were enough properties on the market, and few enough buyers, that if they hadn't been willing to negotiate, I could have walked away and found something just as good for about that price in the exact same area.

It gets worse. Because I didn't know what local procedures were, I ended up paying just under $3000, more than a buyer's agent would have made, in various fees that were really the seller's responsibility. Not to mention using the wrong escrow and title company.

All told, my ignorance cost me somewhere between ten and fourteen thousand dollars, out of a purchase price significantly under $100,000, and it could have been much worse. There were no issues with title of construction defects or anything else. This meant ten to fourteen thousand dollars more to pay interest on. Rates then were higher than most people have since become accustomed to (The seller was proud of the fact they had an assumable loan at 10%). I can do a better loan cheaper today on a thirty year fixed rate basis than was available on a 5/1 ARM back then. On top of that, it made the difference between not needing PMI on my loan and PMI being required, at about $80 per month in addition to the extra interest. PMI used to be much more expensive than it is now, also, and the whole piggyback loan thing was not yet a real option.

Lest you not understand, the listing agent was doing nothing other than her job with all of this. She was responsible for getting the best possible deal for her seller. If a sucker swam into the net, so much the better. I understand this now. I didn't then.

One more thing that may not be clear to the average reader: Most real estate transactions doesn't get dissected like this, in retrospect by someone who is now a trained professional with lessons to learn from it. Most people never realize how much they've been taken for, and I did a lot of things right that most people working on their own behalf don't.

Why did I make this mistake? I was in, "I don't want to deal with sales people!" mode, even though that's precisely what I was doing, and even if it had been "For Sale By Owner," that doesn't magically change the fact that the person who wants to sell it has become a sales person by that act. I was so focused on "not wasting money with a commission," that I rationalized doing one of the biggest transactions of my life without expert help. Even if I had ended up paying the buyer's agent commission out of my own pocket (I wouldn't have) that would have been at most a quarter of what not having one cost me, and it could have been much worse. Even so, I rationalized my way into completely wasting four to five times the amount I would have spent. The difference between 99 percent plus of the "do it yourself" crowd out there and me, is that I have subsequently looked at what happened with more experienced and educated eyes, even though what I have now learned makes me want to hide my face in embarrassment.

I could pretend it came out better than it did. This was before I was married, and the only person who was hurt by this was me, and my wife wasn't there, so she doesn't know enough to keep reminding me about what a loser I was (not that she would). But that wouldn't help me not to make the same mistake again. I can have my ego and false illusion of invincibility, of thinking "I'm da MAN!", or I can face my mistakes, learn from what I did wrong, and not make those same mistakes again. I know which bodes better for my financial future, and that of my family. I've decided I can take the ego hit more easily than I can take repeating the same mistakes next time, let alone for one of my clients. I've since acquired one of the most valuable skills anyone can have: The ability to assess when you're beyond your level of competence. I've done a lot of loans since then, and a not insignificant number of real estate transactions, and I keep learning new things with most of them. The largest difference between me, now, and me, then, is that I've learned a lot more about the problems with believing you know something that is not, in fact, true, and how to investigate and research and just plain ask other professionals who have previously dealt with a given issue. This knowledge and experience and skill doesn't come at a price most people consider "cheap". But it will save most likely save you several times what it costs, making that money one of the best investments you will ever make. Offer most people the choice between spending a flat $1000 or a ninety percent probability of being forced to spend between $4000 to $5000, and the rational, logical choice is obvious. It's the cheapest insurance you will ever buy, in terms of real cost to expected benefit - you're getting several times the expected value in return. Now consider that with property values several times higher than that now, the amounts at stake locally are ten times that or more. It may not show up on an accounting form, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. It does, and there are an awful lot of people making a good living off people who don't understand that simple fact.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

One of a long series of emails about this horrid product: (identifying details redacted)

Learn How To Make More Money Per Client ($500-$1000)

In This Workshop You Will Learn Why The Most Successful Mortgage & Real Estate Professionals Across The Country Partnering With DELETED?

To Maximize their Income

To Gain and instill Loyalty with current and past clientele

To Exponentially amplify their business success

A Win/Win decision that will impact your business and your client's lives

Because the Demand for Mortgage Protection Insurance is exploding across the country

You notice how "helping your clients" is nowhere on the list of benefits?

Here's another ad of theirs I found online, in the help wanted section:

DELETED is now looking for former Account Executives of Direct Mortgage Lenders, former Account Executives for Title companies & Current Life insurance salespeople that are licensed. DELETED Insurance is offering a new way for Mortgage companies to add an additional revenue stream to their company. We are offering Mortgage protection to them to sell to their clients. You will be responsible of managing your pipeline and territory management. This position is 100% commission. We offer the highest commission splits in the business. First year earning potential can be a 6 figure income. There is also opportunity for you to become an area sales manager in your area. If you are familiar with Mortgage protection insurance or Mortgages, you will know why mortgage professionals will say yes to this product.

Notice how they say they'll take currently licensed people, but those are not the candidates they're really looking for? There's a reason for that. People who have been around the insurance business know about this market sector's history of abuse, and how it always seems to be the sales people who take the fall when the regulators shut it down, while the higher ups walk because they "have it right here in writing that we told those people what they were doing was illegal," while winking at anything that brings in more sales, if not actually encouraging it - just not in writing.

and one more ad,

I am offering Mortgage companies to sell mortgage protection insurance.

Here now simple it is to sell.

1. get your lifie insurance license (sic)
2. sell to past and exsisting clients (sic)
3. Earn 80% of the total commission
4. wrap the first year premium into the loan (emphasis mine)
5. Never have to meet the client
6. everything is done at the time of close
7. Recieve check 72 hours after closing (sic)

average commission is $650

Look forward to speaking with you on this.

At purchase, you can't really put the premium into the mortgage. The only way to do so is fraud. You're either paying for it in cash, or you're paying for it by effectively decreasing your down payment. You cannot do it in conjunction with 100% financing, unless the seller is paying, and I wouldn't want my clients doing so. At refinance, it's at least a possibility. But does a sane financial planner want you increasing your mortgage by about $1000, paying interest on it and possibly kicking the loan over into the next higher Loan to Value category (thereby effectively raising the rate on the whole loan) so that you can purchase the most awful policy of life insurance going? Additionally, many states have rules on buying insurance with borrowed money, and agents knowingly accepting such. California is one of these. This entire pitch element would appear soliciting someone to break the law, perhaps in multiple particulars. Experienced agents know this - newly licensed ones may not.

In order to understand what's going on with this product, you have to understand what Mortgage Protection Insurance is and what it is not. First, what it is not: It is not Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI). Private Mortgage Insurance is an insurance policy that insures the lender against loss, which you pay for as long as you require it. Private Mortgage Insurance can be a required item in getting a certain loan, and as much as I detest it, for loans above 90% of the value of the property, it's the only real alternative as of this writing, for reasons I go into in this article.

Mortgage Protection Insurance is a decreasing term life insurance policy, which is supposed to pay the lender off directly in the event of your demise. It is not required by any lender. If lenders were going to require some sort of actual insurance policy, they'd require disability insurance, which is needed three times more often than life insurance, with worse longer term consequences for loan viability. Lenders do not waive requirements or fees for Impound Accounts because you buy Mortgage Protection Insurance. As I said, disability is a far more common cause of lender losses than life insurance. But I got email from someone in California who was told that by a loan officer who wanted to sell Mortgage Protection Insurance (FYI, in California it is a prohibited practice to require an Impound Account, or to charge a higher fee for not having one. Yes, this means that we all pay for it with a slightly higher rate/cost tradeoff. But we all have to live within the law, and my point is that purchasing Mortgage Protection Insurance makes no difference to the impound account, despite what this person was told).

This is a very lucrative field as far as making money goes, as you can see not only from the advertisements above but also a on-line search. The ability of practitioners and sales persons to make money is not an indication that a product is bad, but it is a sign of potential abuse. Any time you have the potential for a lot of money by cutting not very many corners, it's a warning sign that says in no uncertain terms to be careful.

The first real objection I have to this product is that decreasing term life insurance is probably the worst life insurance policy that it's possible to buy, and I'm telling you this from the point of view of someone who wants life insurance and can't get it on any kind of reasonable terms (This is not an invitation to a solicitation. I tried very hard to get life insurance on reasonable terms when I was licensed, because I understand what a good investment it can be). First off, it's term life insurance, with all the issues inherent in term insurance: rising cost of insurance, no use of tax advantages, likelihood of voluntary cancellation, likelihood of wasting every single penny you pay. Now add the fact that as your overall cost of insurance goes up, your coverage goes down. It doesn't take any kind of genius to tell you that increasing revenue for decreasing liability is an insurance company's dream scenario, while not being nearly so wonderful from the consumer's point of view. At some point before the insurance company's risk of (decreasing!) payout becomes significant, actuarially speaking, the vast majority of consumers simply cancel. Their premium tables are calculated to encourage this.

Next to consider, we have health considerations. Entropy hits us all. More and more health conditions start happening as we get older. It's scary to think about, but right now is probably the best health you will be in for the remainder of your life, and you're buying a policy of life insurance where the benefits decrease in absolute terms when most people need them to at least stay constant, if not increase. Inflation isn't going to stop because you bought a policy of life insurance. Thirty years ago, $25,000 was a fairly serious policy. These days, most companies don't sell amounts that small, and the ones that do, charge much higher rates for such small policies. The more you understand about financial planning, the more you understand that your ability to profit from life insurance is likely to increase as you age, not decrease. But when you go to buy more later, because you've finally figured all this out, you find out (as I did) that now you've got health conditions that either disqualify you, or raise your rates outrageously. And you want to buy decreasing term insurance?

There are also estate tax considerations. The Congress of 2001 understood the need for estate tax reform, but in order to get the votes to pass it, the advocates had to accept a sunset date of December 31, 2010, after which time everything went back to the way it was prior to the reform. The people who passed that legislation knew that Congress was going to have to revisit the issue before it expired. However, the Democratic controlled Congress of 2010 had to be bullied (by 60+ of them losing their jobs!) into allowing another temporary fix at the last moment. As I've said, I'd rather have AMT reform because estate tax is essentially voluntary, but most people seem to volunteer to pay estate tax, which is and remains the highest rate taxation in the country, and it has crushing implications. The value of a life insurance policy, unless you've done the work necessary to avoid volunteering for estate tax, is part of your taxable estate. In this case, your family will owe taxes on on it, and the lowest bracket is almost forty percent, just on the federal level. Lots of folks assumed that estate tax was going to be going away, as that was the obvious signal sent by the Congress back then, but that's looking less and less likely given the current Administration. Maybe it's just me, but I don't see any advantage to paying off the mortgage only to have my heirs forced to visit a loan shark in order to pay the taxes.

But the ultimate killer objection to this product is the fact that it's just plain a bad idea to take life insurance proceeds (that can be completely tax free if you take the proper steps) and pay them to anyone except your chosen beneficiary. I've gone over this before, in Mortgage Life and Disability Insurance. What your heirs can do with such money, prudently invested, completely shatters any consideration of taking the money and paying off the mortgage, which your heirs can nonetheless decide to do with any policy. Why in the world would you want to take that decision out of their hands with a policy that dedicates the benefit if you should die to that lender? You buy life insurance to benefit your family, not your mortgage lender! Even if you understand nothing about leverage and how it works, this just isn't good financial planning!

So if anyone tries to sell you this product, just say, "no thank you!" and indicate in no uncertain terms that you will not be purchasing this product, and if it's a requirement to get the loan done, you're going to go elsewhere to get your loan. I'm not saying life insurance isn't a good thing - in fact, I'm saying the exact opposite - but you don't want to buy this particular sub-species of policy. Go get a real policy that will actually benefit your family if the circumstances where it is needed arise.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here


Hard as it may be to believe, I've never done an article comparing asking price to sales price. It's way past time.

Asking price is quite simply, a written representation of an offer the seller would be willing to accept. It's amazing how many agents have forgotten that, if they ever understood it. If the seller would not be willing to accept that price, they are committing an intentional misrepresentation when they enter the number as the asking price. In short, fraud. This violates the legal requirement of "fair and honest dealing with all parties" which agents agree to upon commencing the practice of real estate. It isn't fraud on the scale of which many were guilty during the Era of Make Believe Loans, but it is still fraud. By entering an asking price of $X, you are representing in writing that the seller would be happy to accept that offer. But if there are already higher offers from qualified buyers (as is very often the case in some markets) you are defrauding those who come to investigate that property based upon the misrepresented asking price.

Why do agents do this? Some of them hope to generate a bidding war. Bidding wars are certainly nice, but they are unlikely to bid the property back up to the price it could have gotten by setting the asking price correctly in the first place. In such cases, it's the obviously lower than comparable properties price for a valuable asset that attracts potential buyers, and if the low price is no longer applicable you can expect them to lose interest.

Most of them do it as a way to make contact with prospective buyers who don't know any better, so they get a chance to act as that client's buyer's agent. Never call the listing agent to show you a property. Their loyalty should be given first, last, and always to the seller of the property. If it's not, they are failing in their primary duty as an agent and you definitely don't want an agent who would hose their client so they can get more money. If their loyalty is so given to their listing client, it isn't being given to you, the buyer. Either way it's a bad situation you should know to avoid. Because it happens and it isn't rare or even uncommon. In fact, it is disturbingly pervasive, especially when the market is hot.

Sales price is the price at which two unrelated parties decide to willingly exchange a property for money, because both of them believe they are made better off by the exchange. You need to understand that, too. If you don't, petition the courts to appoint a conservator for you, because it is the basis for all economic transactions other than the ones that flow from the point of a gun. If two parties are related - whether parent and child or corporation and controlling interest in that corporation or any other permutation - it is not a true sale because the goods being exchanged on the record are not the only ones being exchanged, and it should not be used for comparison for other properties. Related party transactions are tough to do correctly, and many people don't understand that until they get bitten by it. In fact, an awful lot of what appears in MLS for two days or less is quite likely a related party transaction pretending to be a regular "arms length" transaction. Some are because an agent is hosing their clients, others are because someone wants a loan and therefore is trying to make it look like a legitimate arms length transaction when in fact it is not.

There are still plenty of reasons why both parties can agree on a sales price that leaves each of them better off in their own opinion. One of them needs a place for their kids to grow up, while the other no longer has that need being the classic reason. Perhaps one of them needs to buy another property somewhere else, and the proceeds from this property enable them to do that. I can go on all day, and I'll bet most of you can, also, if you try. The point is that in order to be a viable transaction with a hope of actual consummation (In other words, the exchange of property for other valuables actually takes place), both parties to a purchase contract must believe they will be better off after they make the exchange. Otherwise, one of them is going to find a reason to not actually carry through.

Sales price is generally lower than asking price. Not always, and certainly not where everything on the market is seeing multiple offers within the first week, but in general this is so. There are exceptions to that rule. Just because someone would be content to accept an offer if it were the only one does not mean they will feel compelled to accept that offer in the face of better ones. My objection to the abuses of the process detailed above is in asking prices that everyone involved knows are not anything like the price the seller can expect to receive.

Nor does the act of putting a certain asking price on a property mean that you're likely to actually get that price, no matter how long you wait. I don't know how and why the urban legend about "if you wait long enough, someone will meet your asking price" got started, but it is pure myth. The longer a property is on the market, the less desirable it is perceived as being by most buyers, because what buyers really think is "It's been on the market for sixty days and everybody else passed on it. What's wrong with it?" The longer a property is on the market, the more you are likely to have to reduce your price in order to actually sell.

The numeric relationship between asking price and sales price is complex, and governed by many variables. The ones that leap immediately to mind include the economic target market, the ease of qualifying for a loan, interest rates on loans (The mortgage market controls the real estate market), sales prices of similar properties under prevailing conditions, and most importantly, general economic supply and demand. In other words, how many people want to buy versus how many people want or need to sell. If the first number is higher than the second, expect prices to rise. If the second number is higher, expect them to fall, at least in terms of affordability if not absolute numbers. If you don't believe me, consider how fast real estate market conditions change when a relatively small number of people drop off one side of the buying or selling side of the equation at the same time a few more jump onto the other.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

"What do I do when the loan falls through"
That depends upon when it falls through and what situation you're in. If you're in a refinance situation, you generally keep making payments on your old loan until and unless you can find a refinance that is better that you qualify for. There is one exception to this: balloon loans. Balloon loans must be paid off in full before a certain date. These dates are known at least five years in advance, but some people insist upon leaving it to the last possible instant. Don't do this. If you have a balloon loan, start the the refinance process at least ninety days in advance of the balloon date.

If you're unable to refinance your balloon in time, lenders whom you ask for forbearance will generally will give you at least some time in extension of the old loan, but at a much higher interest rate. This is very kind of the lenders because they don't have to give you an extra minute under any terms. The agreement ran out last week and you didn't pay them; they are entitled to foreclose if they want to. Good thing that the lender usually doesn't want to.

If you're doing a purchase, loans are taking 45 to 60 days now. Or more. That's just a fact of life. The agent who writes a purchase contract for less than 60 days in escrow is not your friend if there is a loan involved.

However, I also need to say that if purchase money loans fall apart, it's a real good idea to re-confirm that you can afford this with some independent expert. It's not a red flag, precisely, but it is definitely a yellow caution signal. Ask "Why did the loan fall through?" Make certain it isn't something to do with basic affordability or needing cash you don't have. Loans do fall through for stupid reasons (I had a loan I had to move from one lender to another not too long ago because they first lender wouldn't give them the usual credit for 3/4 of the rent because the tenant in their rental property had paid the deposit in cash despite the tenant having been there for nearly a year, showing rental checks, etc, and without that rental income, my client's other income fell short of qualification). Loans also fall through because the basic checks show you cannot afford the property. Loan qualification is there for your protection as well as the lender's

However, loan providers will generally not admit that loans fell apart before the last minute, even if they were rejected out of hand back on day three. Actually, that's a trick they pull quite often; tell you about loan A intending to deliver loan B, and then at the last minute tell you that you don't qualify for A but you can have B. This keeps you from having time to shop around after you discover what a rotten loan they really have for you. They knew about what loan you would and would not qualify for within a week unless they are hopelessly incompetent, but their advantage lies in keeping mum until you have no choice but to accept loan B. In another amazing coincidence, loan B usually has a long prepayment penalty, and buying it off - if you can - costs two percent on the rate, and they'd have to send it all the way back to underwriting to see in you qualify, and that will take weeks, so why don't you just sign for this loan right now. They may even say, "We'll fix it later." Yes, they will volunteer to get paid again after you've spent several thousand dollars on that prepayment penalty. I had a guy come to me quite recently, trying to fix one of those after the original company failed to do so. Unfortunately, the coals he'd been raked over, and with his credit score, there was nothing I could do and he lost the property.

So it's now day thirty-one of a thirty day escrow, you've got a $10,000 deposit on the line, as your loan contingency expired back on day eighteen. What now? I used to tell people to apply for a back up loan, but nobody can do them any more. Well, the situation isn't necessarily lost.

First, call your seller, or actually, have your agent call their agent, and find out if they'll extend escrow. If it's a hot seller's market and they won't, you're hosed, but in a buyer's market, they will if they're smart. Most sellers, even in a buyer's market, will want you to pay extension fees and that is to be expected. The reason escrows are usually limited days is so they don't have to keep spending money on you if you can't qualify, and they do spend money on the transaction. This may cost you an extra $100 per day for up to ten days, but when the alternative is losing $10,000, that's very worthwhile.

Loan providers who admit in the first week after you've given them standard qualifying information that you're not going to qualify for the loan they initially told you about are almost certainly honest, and likely thought you really would qualify. Because they could have put off telling you, but didn't, I would bet serious money they're honest, and it's worth giving them another shot. But the longer it goes, the less likely it is they intended to deliver the original loan. I might believe someone like that in the second week - but I wouldn't believe that story from anyone in the third week after applying, even if they were backed up by affidavits from everyone from Diogenes to George Washington.

Loans fall apart all the time. Locally, the percentage of purchase escrows that fall apart because the buyer cannot in fact qualify for the necessary financing is around forty percent. So take precautions to make certain that situation does not happen to you.

Caveat Emptor

Original here+

How do you transfer house ownership after someone dies and leaves you the house in a will?

The will must be probated. Once all debts of the estate are paid and the court agrees to a final disposition of assets, the executor will then create a deed giving whoever the heir is title to the property. It may or may not be part of the executor's job to record the deed with the county - so make certain it gets done yourself if you are the inheritor. It may cost some money, but it prevents huge problems down the road.

Note that if there's a loan or other liens in effect against the property, the mere fact that your predecessor died does not render them in any way invalid. Most specifically, Trust Deeds still have the power to foreclose if the payments are not made in a timely manner. Sometimes the estate has the money to pay them off; more often it does not and somebody better keep making those payments during probate, which lasts a legal minimum of 9 months, or the issue will be academic before probate is resolved. Nor can estates, in general, secure financing, so refinancing the loan can be difficult. Relatively few dead people earn significant amounts of money.

On the other hand, if your property is in a Trust, then there is no probate on that part of the estate. Title to the property remains in the trust, which didn't die. Control passes basically immediately to the successor trustee, who must comply with whatever instructions are made in the trust with regard to the property, but is otherwise free to do with it as they will within the limitations of the law. Among other issues encountered in probate but not here, this permits refinancing in whatever name happens to have the income to keep making the payments.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

"Contractor's Specials"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caveat Emptor

Original article here


The answer is "Yes." You don't have to lose your home in bankruptcy. I've done loans for many clients who kept their homes through bankruptcy. But they kept their mortgage payments current, or close enough to current.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have seen people fresh out of Chapter 7 bankruptcy qualify for an A paper loan. It's unusual, but it does happen. What usually causes it to happen is that they have one or two lines of credit, often business related, and they file bankruptcy promptly, rather than spending months getting their credit dinged because they're in denial, and they keep everything else current. It's uncommon that someone who keeps their mortgage payments current will even have the home encumbered further during bankruptcy due to the difference between secured creditors (ones with a specific asset pledged as collateral) versus unsecured creditors (ones where the loan is not secured by any specific asset). Compromising the interests of secured creditors is something the law is reluctant to do.

But if you keep your mortgage payments current, whatever else happens, frequently you will emerge from bankruptcy with your property. The issue that most people are having right now is that their home loan, which is a secured loan with the property as collateral, is what is more expensive than they can afford. That's the exact opposite of the case I'm describing here, where the home loan is affordable but there's something else that's causing the basic problem of financial insolvency.

Be advised: I'm not a lawyer in any state. Consult one for all the gory details, especially for how they apply to you.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

I get occasional questions about the difference between these three kinds of activity. Well, there are subjective parts to the answer, but here are some general guidelines:

A true flipper is looking for a quick turn on the property, usually without much work done to really improve the property. They don't typically keep the property and rent it; they're not willing to accept the work of being a landlord. They make their money off of desperate sellers and getting a very low price for a property. Typically, their profit comes from how far down they can drive a desperate seller.

A fixer is someone who is looking to make a profit by making the property more attractive. By making it more attractive, they are able to sell for more money. There is both an art and a science to fixing, so that you don't spend more than you make. Fixers typically sell when the renovations are done, although many will wait for a full year to gain better tax treatment. They do not typically rent the property out, although they may live in it while it's being renovated.

An investor has the idea of buying and holding for a certain period of time, usually leveraging rent to make the payments, sometimes breaking even, preferably with positive cash flow, usually while eventually hoping to cash in on capital appreciation, but always holding for periods that start at two years and go up from there.

Now I've heard a lot of folks who are really fixers call themselves flippers, but I've never heard a flipper call themselves a fixer. Why? Because the general perception admires flippers more, because they theoretically make money by their wits instead of by the sweat of their brows. It's more status to call yourself a flipper, although why people think it's better to tell people they make their living by shorting people who really have no choice, instead of by actually creating value by improving the properties they purchase, is beyond me. But due to the huge long swell of the last seller's market, many people got addicted to the fact that it enabled people who didn't really know what they were doing to buy properties for too much money, and six months later sell for a profit despite not having done anything to improve the property.

Right now, the local market is able to support flipping again. However, more than one flipper lost their shirt in the downturn. Indeed, I know of a couple of properties out there on the market that went through more than one sale from desperate flipper to optimistic flipper, and then the optimistic flipper gets desperate and sells to another optimist. With those values having stabilized, fixers who know what they're doing are doing well again, although the market has changed how best to make a profit. It's no longer a gamble as to whether fixing will yield a profit after expenses in the usual fixer's time frame, but the margins are both thinner and lower. There are quite a few out there that are suitable, and many more that are not.

Investors pretty much always do well, mostly because they're not subject to time limitations. If market conditions aren't right to sell, they keep the property until market conditions are right. When there are a lot of desperate sellers out there, and so long as investors have got positive cash flow in a sustainable situation, all they've got to do is wait for the market to move in their favor. Until then, they are making money every month. Real investors never turn into desperate sellers, because they always have the option of hanging on to it. It might not be their most preferred option, but it is there.

I love working with fixers. It's a lot more work to find suitable properties right now, but that's fine. And, of course, families who buy for a personal residence in the current market (despite the very frustrating frenzy) will do very well in the longer term.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

I got an ill-mannered complaint email about how an evil loan officer from another company ordered the appraisal without waiting for the inspection to be done, and it turned out there was a minor problem that the seller likely could have had repaired, but this clown chose to walk away, and as a result is griping about having to pay for the appraisal.

First, that appraiser did the work based upon your representation you wanted the property. You signed a purchase contract saying that you were intending to purchase the property. You submitted a mortgage loan application, and as a result of that someone acting on your behalf ordered the appraisal, which has to be done if you're going to get a loan. That appraiser did the work. They are entitled to be paid.

Second, scheduling an appraisal promptly protects you. The longer the entire process takes, the worse the loan you are going to get. If they didn't order the appraisal right away, the loan officer is gambling with your money. But rate locks aren't free, and they are for definite periods of time. The longer a rate lock is, the more you will pay for it. Furthermore, if you go beyond them you're either going to pay a tenth of a point for five days, or a quarter for fifteen (both assessed in full on the first day of extension) or pay worst case rates. The person who ordered the appraisal was acting in good faith to protect your interests based upon the representation that you wanted the property. If you didn't, why did you make an offer and sign the purchase contract and submit a loan application? Speed is important in getting a loan done, and even if in some instances people like you end up paying for an appraisal when they cancel escrow, the people who actually want the property benefit by having everything done right away. Appraisals are around $350. A tenth of a point of $400,000 is $400. A quarter of a point is $1000. Or you can pay a quarter of a point more - $1000 - for a longer rate lock in the first place.

The assumption when you sign that purchase contract and loan application is that you want the property and loan, which means the appraisal has to get done, and you want the lowest rate, which means the shortest practical lock time. People get sued - successfully - for not ordering the appraisal right away. This person was doing exactly their job, and in the best possible way for a buyer who really wants the property.

I have stated before that I will bet money, based upon no additional information, that a loan done in thirty days or less will be a better loan than one that takes sixty or more. Due to all the new regulations and procedures delaying the loan, add thirty days to those numbers but the principle is still valid. Ordering all of the services: inspections, appraisal, disclosures, zone report, etcetera, right away is part of how a good loan officer - and good agents - get a transaction to close fast, on time, and to the loan quoted. For the buyers who carry through on their intention, as evidenced by that signed contract, doing this is the only correct way to do business. Delaying the appraisal until after the inspection adds to the time it takes to get the loan done. In the vast majority of cases, the inspection is going to reveal something you didn't know. Sometimes it's trivial, and sometimes it's major, and all gradations in between. Most people manage to deal with it like mature adults and negotiate something reasonable. I recently negotiated some sellers to pay $20,000 plus to hook up a sewer connection when the septic was shown to be failing, something I had no way to know when I checked out the property. The repairs were made, the deal closed, my clients are in the property and very happy. But this person who wrote me to complain canceled and walked away from something far more minor. How do you think the seller feels about everything they had to pay for, now that this person who said they wanted to buy the property flaked out?

A purchase contract should not be something you enter into lightly, thinking you can get out of it easily if the slightest thing goes wrong. This is part of the reason for buyers agents. They should explain to you that this is a binding contract, and you are agreeing to purchase that property, and in many cases the seller can sue to make you buy the property. A buyer's agent will also spot a lot of problems before you make the offer. Don't think of them as building inspectors; few agents have that license (and I'm not one of them). But there is nothing that says that I can't spot potential issues and bring them up. In the particular case of the person who emailed me this question, it was a trivial issue that I spot and tell my clients about on a regular basis before they make an offer, and as a result, we have dealt with the issue before the contract is agreed to.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

Lenders and Insurance Proceeds

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The question that inspired this was

can a mortgage company use the flood insurance claim money towards homeowners mortgage loans?

This is equally applicable to every other form of insurance on your home - earthquake, regular homeowner's insurance, and any others that you may have or require.

The short answer is yes.

The reason that the lender requires being added to every policy of insurance you have on your home is so they have a claim on the policy proceeds. Let's say you buy a $500,000 home for nothing down, and the value of the structure is $150,000 while the value of the land is $350,000. Let's say the house burns down next week. If they weren't on there as beneficiary, you could theoretically take that check for $150,000 and head off to Tahiti, leaving them with a $500,000 loan that they're maybe going to net $270,000 for by selling the property that secured it - after all the time for foreclosure, et al, which means they're out all those costs plus thousands of dollars in interest. If you're a lender, you're going to suffer this loss once at most before you decide not to trust anybody.

This is also a reason to keep your insurance updated, to the full value of what it's going to take to replace your property. It's a bummer to own a $500,000 house that burns down, and you're only insured for the $150,000 you owe the lender. Insurance is not a "Get out of trouble free" card. If you're not paying the insurance company for a policy large enough to cover a loss of the item, don't be surprised or angry when what they pay you doesn't replace it. In this case, you told them it would only take $150,000 to replace the asset, and that's how much coverage they sold you. They're not to blame if that's not enough.

On the other hand, the lender doesn't want the property or a partial repayment. They want the loan repaid in full. What they're going to do is sit on any funds they get and make certain they're used to rebuild, unless they have some reason to believe that rebuilding is a bad risk. Banks don't throw good money after bad, so if this is the case, they're going to keep the money. On the other hand, if you've been keeping your payments up, they're going to want you to rebuild. Their taking custody of the money is a way to make certain that you do, too.

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Original here

Why doesn't real estate just sell for the asking price instead of having to go thru all the paper work...? Wouldn't it be easier to just put a price on it and sell it for that price? We don't go thru all of that when purchasing cars or anything else. Where did this practice start?

This practice started millennia ago. The practice of buying stuff off the shelf at the marked price is the recent practice. Only when stores started selling so much they couldn't haggle over price was that practice invented. It's easy, but it's not suitable for transactions larger than the utterly routine. If Supermarket A has better prices than Supermarket B, people will tend to drift there over time - unless B has different merchandise A doesn't carry. This is the model for a couple of major chains. But every parcel of real estate is different from every other.

Land is important, it is immovable, they are not making any more, and it is uniquely identifiable by location. It is used as a basis for taxation, and social status. Not too long ago, the vast majority of the population worked by farming land. It's big enough, and expensive enough, to be worth extended negotiations, as even small percentage differences will be a large amount of money by the standards of any other transaction.

Precisely how much land goes with a parcel, and precisely what the boundaries and limitations are, is critically important. Taking just a few square feet away can mean that it cannot be used for a given purpose. Rights of easement are important to everybody served by that easement. Wars have been fought over simply the right to pass over a piece of land. Zoning disclosures are a real issue with at least twenty percent of all properties, as well as any number of other issues about the condition, permitted uses, boundaries, and appurtenances.

Because of its importance, its permanence, and its value, there has been a lot of fraud committed over land, therefore the systems of title and escrow. Misrepresentations and just keeping silent about very salient defects can be worth tens of thousands of dollars, so people do that (or try it) regularly. Add that to the fact that land is taxed by most governments, and you have all the reason needed for public records systems.

Because of its permanent and immovable nature, lenders will loan money secured by land on better terms than anything else. But since a fair number of people over the years have gotten money for land they don't own, or gotten more money for land than it is worth, the lenders have instituted safeguards such as the appraisal, inspection, and lenders title insurance. It still happens, by the way. Just before I wrote this, I looked a a property in a fantastic location, but really old and badly run down. By the market, I'd say it was maybe worth $600,000 - but the owners convinced someone to loan them $1.8 million dollars on it.

Every part of the process has a reason it is there. There is no need for anyone who is not a professional to learn them, but the reason those professionals exist is so that you don't have to know what they know - and that runs true for everyone from the escrow officer to the title officer to the agent, and trying to shortcut the process is a recipe for disaster. Nor is it pure information, in a lot of those cases, but experience and knowledge and judgment acquired over time, and the one that most people misss: how to put it in context. Just ask the people who got burned, and whose cases are the reasons for all that paperwork and hassle you have to go through to buy or sell a property. And people still get burned today. Most often, it's the people who try to shortcut the process to save a few dollars. "You don't need that appraisal! You're paying cash!" "You don't need that inspection! Solid as a rock!" "You don't need an agent! Trust me!"

There are good solid reasons why you don't want to cut any corners, and why you want a professional working for you every step of the way. Proper disclosure will save you from lawsuits most people wouldn't believe. Proper investigation will stop you from walking in to the problem in the first place, or at least get you some serious concessions if you have a good buyer's agent on your side. And if they fail to do their job properly, it gives you the right to go after their insurance and their broker's bond. This is all critically important. Professions such as real estate and all the allied professions exist for your protection, If they fail to protect you from the things they are supposed to guard against, then it is only moral that you be indemnified for that failure.

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Original here

do mortgage companies usually seek a deficiency judgment on home foreclosures

Depends upon whether it is a recourse loan or not. A recourse loan is one where the lender can come after you for any excess amount of money you owe. Whether a loan is recourse or non-recourse varies with the state you are in, whether it was a purchase money loan or a refinance, and always, what it says in the Note.

For a non-recourse loan, that's it. If something happens and the property does not fetch enough money at sale to pay the lender off, that lender is out of luck whether they want to be or not. These are often used in reverse 1031 exchanges, where the accommodator is going to hold title to the property for a while but is usually unwilling to shoulder the risk that the lender may be able to come after them for a deficiency. Due to the fact that the lender cannot come after the borrower for the difference, these are riskier loans and therefore carry a higher rate-cost trade-off than recourse loans. This is nothing more than any rational person would expect.

The law is different everywhere, but I don't think have never seen a cash out refinance that was not a recourse loan. In short, take the money now, but if you don't pay it back, they are going to come after you in court and with a multitude of tools to get that money back.

Note that just because a loan is non-recourse does not mean that the lender will necessarily approve a short payoff. In fact, it is usually harder to get those approved because the lender knows that this is the only chance they have to get their money, whereas with a recourse loan they can attach other assets to pay for their loan. However, note that just because your loan is non-recourse doesn't mean they can't try for a deficiency judgment. If you don't show up in court, they win by default. If you did something to invalidate the non-recourse protection, such as fraud in obtaining the loan, the lender can and probably will win in court.

Finally, it is to be noted that just because a lender does have recourse and can attach other assets does not mean that they will. If you're down to $0.47 to your name, they'd have to be pretty silly to waste a lawyer's time doing so. However, just because you don't have it now doesn't mean that you will never have it. Statute of limitations also varies, but if you receive a financial windfall within the first few years, don't be surprised if the lender who you thought forgave the difference is standing right there, demanding their metaphorical pound of flesh.

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

Welcome to Unintended Consequences 101.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

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

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

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

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

Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) is not a good thing, but it may be the only way to get the loan in the current environment, as I discuss in 100% Financing or Low Down Payment or Low Equity: PMI May Be The Only Option. 100%

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

(In the zeal to scapegoat brokers and make life better for their campaign contributor major banks, Congress has passed a law that Yield Spread must legally be treated as a cost to the consumer in defiance of all accounting, mathematics, and logic. Without Yield Spread, zero cost loans and minimal cost loans cannot be done, much to the detriment of the savvy consumer. If that doesn't point you to exactly what Barney Frank's and Chris Dodd's priorities really were, there isn't much hope for you)

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

Caveat Emptor

Original article here


I recently received an email asking about a Good Faith Estimate on a $200k loan. The person asking my opinion attached the actual "estimate" to the email. In addition to a point of origination and a point of discount and $3000 in other closing costs plus $2500 in alleged government charges separate from the $3500 in FHA's initial mortgage insurance premium, it just assumed a 6% seller credit of $12,000 which made it look like the loan wasn't going to need much more than the down payment money to close the loan. They just automatically assumed that the seller would offer that much or be willing to pay that much, because the FHA says they will permit the seller to do so.

Ladies and gentlemen, the FHA allowable limit on seller-paid closing costs may be 6%, but that doesn't mean every transaction has 6% concessions - or any at all, for that matter. I don't think I've heard about any where the seller concession was maxed out - and I have heard of a couple FHA loans recently where they was no seller concession. Keep in mind that on FHA loans there is no mandatory concession, unlike VA Loans which prohibit the veteran from paying some very real and necessary transaction costs that buyers and borrowers traditionally pay. Nor does it change the fact of how expensive the loan is. If you had a less expensive loan, it would be even less net money out of the seller's pocket.

It also makes it appear as if their loan was less costly because of lowered requirements for cash to close. People are often stupid about cash, because they understand that this is real money which they accumulated in their bank account little by little. Loan amounts, not so much - at least not until they've been paying on them for a while. This has the effect of low-balling the cash necessary to close, and the buyer possibly ending up shy on cash to close.

The loan referenced was a damned expensive loan, but by playing "let's pretend someone else is going to pay this" with the consumer and pretending that consumer weren't going to have to pay these costs, they hope to assuage consumer skepticism. But you always pay these costs. If there's a $10,000 seller concession for whatever in the cost, any well-advised seller would also take $10,000 less with no concession, as they will end up with more money in their pocket. This loan officer was pretending to give with the right hand while taking with the left - the standard lender game of making it appear as if their loan is lest costly than it is so you sign up with them and not the competition. By subtracting that 6% of the sales price off the loan cost, they are making their loan look more attractive than it really is.

Except for VA loans, I would advise people to never accept estimates or figures that assume a seller concession. Even with VA loans, you're paying for it one way or another, so I would want to know the real cost of the loan without seller concessions. After all, if the seller is going to pay $5000 more of the proceeds if he accepts my offer than if he accepts someone else's offer, he's going to want at least $5000 more in sales price in order to accept my offer over the other guy's. That is, assuming his agent has anything like a clue - and I never assume the other side is stupid or clueless until they prove it. Even if there are no competing offers, they should accept an offer of $5000 less without the $5000 in costs you're asking them to pay. I get the same amount of money to start, but then I don't have to pay for higher commissions, higher title and escrow fees, or anything else. Subtracting the amount of the needed concessions from your offer and submitting it without a demand for such is always superior to an offer that may be for the higher amount, but has more givebacks to compensate. Seller concessions cost the buyer/borrower money - it just might not leap off the page in black and white.

The higher purchase price necessitated by seller concessions in this manner has a possible consequence that may completely torpedo your loan: If the property doesn't appraise for the required amount. Something between forty and fifty percent of all purchase transactions are hitting this iceberg right now. Sometimes it can be fixed by the buyer coming up with more cash, occasionally by the seller agreeing to take less money. I haven't been hitting the issue where I'm the buyer's agent for several reasons, but it still could happen. There is also the issue of the higher purchase price causing your property taxes to be higher.

Finally, unless you have a fully negotiated purchase contract, you have no idea whether a given seller will actually be willing and able to give those concessions. Many times, the lenders in short sales will disallow them even if the purchase contract price reflects those concessions. Asking for closing costs says two things to those in the know - you don't have a lot of cash and there is a high risk the transaction won't actually close. Neither one of those is a signal you want to send to sellers or listing agent if you can help it. On lender owned properties, it can cause the lender to bypass your offer in favor of a lower offer without that request, because the one thing that costs them even more money than accepting a lower offer is accepting an offer that doesn't close. Even on "regular" sales, a competently advised seller is going to know they're risking a lot of money because of the likelihood of you not having enough cash to close.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

Scapegoating mortgage brokers or anyone else is not the answer, nor is prohibiting yield spread. We've been here before (in the early 1990s), congress did something remarkably similar except a little bit more sane. It didn't work then. Why would we expect it to work this time? Among many other problems with the bill, if prohibiting yield spread being used by brokers to pay loan costs and their own compensation is a good thing, why not get the whole of the problem and prohibit lenders from selling notes above face value at all? The differences are two: The premium that lenders make from selling loans above face value is more than yield spread (usually double yield spread or more; and present in far more loans than yield spread) and whereas yield spread is disclosed to consumers, the premium a loan will sell for on the secondary market is not. Proposals to outlaw yield spread are a payoff to lending industry campaign supporters, in order to make it more difficult for brokers to compete, not any kind of solution to the actual problem. Nor is there any legal requirement for a lender to offer yield spread. If lenders feel it is being abused, they have the ability to refuse to offer yield spread. But of course, then the lenders that continue to offer it will attract more business from brokers - an incentive for individual lenders to make more money by breaking ranks with their competitors. Lest you not understand, if individual lenders can not legally do this, the lenders as a whole will make more money, and consumers will lose. The only way to make this kind of collusion work is to get the government behind it, giving individual lenders no option but to comply.

I've also seen proposals put forth that federal licensing, a la the NASD, will solve the problem. Preposterous. There's lots of counter-evidence on this one. Black Monday 1987. The dot com bubble of 1996-2000. John Corzine, who outright stole $1.6 billion from customer accounts. Pretty much everybody in the securities business is multiply licensed, and it didn't prevent any of these. The securities business may be a little tighter than the real estate business, but that doesn't make it something to emulate, nor does it mean that licensing will solve problems, as I have illustrated with these two well-known examples, and could illustrate with many others, less well-known but no less telling. If we're going to have licensing requirements, I favor toughening those requirements, but not for this reason.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

However, the 1% was a nominal rate only. You were allowed to make payments "as if" your actual loan rate was 1% or something similar. That was not your actual cost of interest for one single solitary second. The actual cost of interest was somewhere between seven and about nine percent, depending upon the situation. This while I had thirty year fixed rate loans in the low 6% range without points, and lenders were going out advertising to convince people who had gotten 5% thirty year fixed rate loans to refinance into Negative Amortization loans. You're only writing a check based upon a 1% rate, but they're charging you 8%. That payment is $643 on $200,000, but they're actually charging you $1333 per month in interest to start with. The difference ($690 the first month!) goes into your loan balance, where they can charge more interest on it next month! Then, when you hit recast (within 5 years at the very most), which in this case we will pick to be when the loan gets to be 15% larger than at inception, which happens in month 39, and your monthly payment jumps from that $643 to $1756, a 170% increase, and you discover that you now owe $230,000, and the property was only worth $212,000 when you bought it, and you discover it's worth less than that now. You have severe difficulty refinancing to something affordable, even if you didn't trigger a pre-payment penalty. Once again, the lender made the qualification decision based upon the debt to income situation computed using the minimum initial payment! And until the customer is completely unable to pay, the lender is booking all that income from deferred interest. That's what their financial statements write up as income! That bank executive looks like a genius (temporarily!) for getting you to sign up for a loan with an interest rate 2% higher than you could have had, or 3% higher than the one you did have. I read an interview conducted with one of those executives back near the beginning of 2007, who basically said, "The people who sign up for these are all idiots, but I've made a lot of money off them," to which I thought, "No you haven't. The accounting just looks that way right now on paper." Twelve months further on, that company was in bad trouble (and now it's dead). To make matters even worse, both this loan and the 2/28 were also offered on a stated income basis!

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

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

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

In the overwhelming majority of cases, however, that loan officer knew exactly what loan they would be able to deliver, at exactly what real cost, before the borrower signed the loan application to begin the process. They knew exactly what the terms would be, and exactly what the cost would be, exactly what the final loan amount would be, and exactly what the payment would be, not only now, but for the rest of the loan. This is all easy math, and the only thing more difficult than what a third grader needs to know to get into fourth grade is computing the payment once you have the total. Some of it may be subject to revision if you find out the client had their current balance or whether there was a prepayment penalty wrong, but you should be able to get the math right in the first place. It is one of the lending industry's big dirty secrets that the lender who underestimates the real figures by the largest amount will win the business. The one that tells a given consumer the best fairy tale gets their signature on a loan application. Despite the fact that these fairy tales are not binding in any significant way without a Loan Quote Guarantee, rare indeed is the consumer who will penalize the lender who lies to get them to sign the application, by not signing the final loan documents thirty or sixty days later. Furthermore, the lenders don't like brokers who offer loan quote guarantees, to the point where they have made it unaffordable for mortgage brokers to offer them.

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

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

Let's detail what I'm talking about.

Instead of the joke that is the current Good Faith Estimate (Mortgage Loan Disclosure Statement in California), let's require prospective loan providers to tell the whole truth about a loan before the client commits by signing up. Nor are the new HUD-1 and Good Faith Estimate going to help in any material way - they're only going to make the steps to lie to consumers a little more complex. It's not difficult for a loan originator to figure out what the real costs are going to be, and what the rate really is going to be. We've already established that if they don't know all of the characteristics of a loan before they try to sell it, something is wrong. So the loan originator really should know everything about a loan as soon as the prospective consumer furnishes basic information. Let's make it mandatory to tell the consumer the truth of all of those neat little details when they sign up, rather than when they sign final paperwork. Let's start with a real accounting of the new balance: "This loan will cost you 1 point of origination and 1 point of discount. Administrative costs to finish the loan will be $3022, including all third party fees. You have indicated that you will/will not be adding the cost of one month interest to the loan in order to skip one payment. There will/will not be an impound account set up to pay property taxes and homeowner's insurance, requiring an initial amount of $n/a, which will be paid by check/adding it to loan balance. Starting from your initial balance of $200,000, this leads us to a final balance on your new loan of approximately $208,186. If this balance is not correct within $100, your loan provider must present you with an updated estimate via this form at least ten calendar days prior to final loan documents." This puts an honest accounting of what the loan is really going to cost in the consumer's hands right away. It removes the incentive for low-balling, because the client is going to know about any changes ten days in advance - enough time for their competitors to get the loan done (at the update, ten days aren't enough to do any loan any more, because of regulatory changes that delay the whole process to take 45-60 days. Once more way the government pretends to help consumers while in fact tying them to unscrupulous lenders). Here's an article discussing how much it's legal to low-ball a loan quote, and the lenders keep pretending that quote is real, even though they know it isn't, right up until loan signing, where the consumers usually have no choice but to sign the documents for the loan they were lied to about all along.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There can only be one answer to that question.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

Hello, I've been reading your website for awhile now, and have found it very helpful as I'm learning to navigate this crazy loan process! I had a question I was wondering if you could write about/answer.

We currently have a mortgage and a secondary line of credit on our condo (we didn't have a down payment, so we had to do it like this). We have been here one year, and the home values in our complex have gone up about $70,000 - $100,000 in that time period. (We live in Southern California.)

Recently we got a notice in the mail telling us that they can reduce our monthly payments ("by as much as $1,500!)" if we refinance with them. Frankly, it sounds way too good to be true, and I have a feeling they're not really telling us the truth in this notice. But it did raise a question in my mind: would it be wise to attempt to refinance, in the hopes that our higher valued home would allow us to refinance with only one mortgage, instead of two? I'm not even sure if that's possible...I'm having a hard time understanding how refinancing works. I should mention that we are currently in an interest-only loan, with no prepayment penalties. Our first loan is 4.75%, and our secondary line of credit is 6.375%.

Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Your feelings that they aren't telling the whole truth are justified.

Refinancing is the process of replacing one loan for another on the same piece of property. The idea is that the terms of the new loan are more advantageous to you than the terms of the existing loan. There are three main issues that you need to be aware of, however. The first is that there are always costs associated with doing the new loan. The second is that there may be a prepayment penalty to get out of the existing loan. The third is to make certain the terms you are moving to are enough better, for your purposes, than the existing terms to justify the costs associated with the first and second issues.

You state that you're in California, which is where I work. Realistic costs of doing the loan are about $3500 with everything that is necessary. This doesn't include origination, to pay the loan provider for the work they do on the loan, or discount, to pay for a rate the lender might otherwise not offer. I explain those costs, the difference between them, and many of the games lenders play in my article on Good Faith Estimate, part I. There will also be the possibility of you having to come up with some prepaid items, explained in Good Faith Estimate Part II.

Note that not every loan has points. I actually think that, given most client's refinancing habits, it's usually better to pay for a loan's cost, and the loan provider's compensation, through Yield Spread rather than out of pocket or adding it to the mortgage balance. Yield spread can be thought of as negative discount points, and discount points can be thought of as negative yield spread. Discount points are a fee charged by the lender to give you a rate lower than you would otherwise have gotten. Yield Spread is a premium paid by the lender for accepting a rate higher that you could otherwise have gotten, and can be used to pay the loan provider and/or loan costs. Each situation must be considered upon its own merits, of course, but most people don't keep loans long enough to recover the higher costs required to buy the rate down. There is always a tradeoff between rate and cost of a real estate loan

Now, let's take a look at your specific situation. Your current first mortgage is at 4.75% interest only. You don't mention what sort of loan this is (updated via email: it's a 5/1 Interest Only ARM), but there is no such thing as a thirty year fixed rate interest only loan. At most they are interest only for a certain period, usually five years, before they begin to amortize over the remaining twenty-five. On the other hand, you said you bought one year ago, and that rate didn't exist on thirty year fixed rate loans then and it doesn't exist now. (Via later email, the first mortgage is a 5/1 Interest Only ARM). Your second loan is a line of credit at 6.375. I'm also guessing that either you, or the person who sold to you, paid a good chunk of change in discount points to buy the rate down, and I'm hoping it wasn't you.

There's no way that this is a loan that's going to serve you indefinitely at that rate. When I first wrote this, there wasn't a 30 year fixed rate loan comparable to that available, with any lender I know of, no matter how many points you paid (at this update, it's trivial). So what you have is at most a hybrid ARM (Yes, 5/1 Interest Only). No worries; I love hybrid ARMs. They are the only loans I consider for my own property in most circumstances. But they do have one weakness. There is likely to come a time when it is in your best interest to refinance, because after the fixed period the rate on them adjusts every so often, based upon a stated index plus a contractual margin, and the sum of these two is likely to be significantly higher than the rate for refinancing into another hybrid ARM.

Now what are they offering you? They're talking about cutting your payment by $1500 or more. But there just aren't any rates that much lower than yours available. Nothing even vaguely close. So how are they going to cut your payment?

The only hypothesis I can come up with that is not contradicted by available evidence is that they are offering you a loan with a negative amortization payment. I explain those in these articles:

Option ARM and Pick a Pay - Negative Amortization Loans and Negative Amortization Loans - More Unfortunate Details

There is more information on marketing games with this loan type in these articles: Games Lenders Play (Part II) and Games Lenders Play (Part IV).

Finally, there are a few more issues that may not be relevant to everyone in these articles: Regulators Toughen Negative Amortization Loans? and Negative Amortization Loan Issues on Investment Property

One thing to understand is that when lenders are sending out advertising, they are not looking for Truth, Justice, and the American Way. They're looking to get paid for doing a loan, and most lenders will do anything to get you to call, and then to get you start a loan. The creative fiction on many Good Faith Estimates and Mortgage Loan Disclosure Statements is only the start of this. If you find a loan provider who will pass up loans that they could otherwise talk you into because it doesn't put you into a better situation, keep their contact information in a very safe place, because you've found a treasure more valuable than anything Indiana Jones ever discovered. A valuable treasure that you can and should nonetheless share with friends, family, and anybody you come into contact with because you want them to stay in business for the next time you need them. Most lenders and loan providers could care less if they are killing you financially - what they care about is that they get paid. A negative amortization loan pays between three and four points of yield spread. Assuming your loan is $300,000, they would be paid between $9000 and $12000 not counting any other fees they charge you for putting you into a loan where the real rate is at least 1.5 percent higher than the rate you're paying now, and month to month variable. Warms the cockles of your heart, right? Didn't think so.

In short, they're offering you a teaser no better than a Nigerian 419 scam for most people in your situation. My advice is not to do anything unless you're coming up on the end of your fixed period, in which case you need to talk with someone else, who might have your interests somewhere closer to their heart than the Andromeda Galaxy.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

Whenever I go scouting in public forums, somebody is always asking, "What's the secret? How do you get rich in real estate?" The alternate to this question is "What do you know that I don't?"

These people are sure there's some magic formula for getting rich quick in real estate, but nobody is willing to share. They're a good person, they're a smart person, and in their mind, they deserve to make money as much as the next person. Why won't anyone tell them? No con artists need apply, of course.

The reason nobody except con artists will tell them is that there is no such secret. There are no mystical secrets of the universe that make you an overnight success in real estate or any other field. Like any other investment, it takes money to make money in real estate, and the more money you have and are willing to risk, the more money you can make. Leverage in real estate is a fantastic instrument, but in order to get the lender to loan you money, you have to be able to convince them you can repay it. This takes money, and it takes income. It can also be overdone, as many people have. Even if you win the bet about your property increasing in value, if you cannot make the payments you can bet on losing the whole thing.

Other people are skeptical of the value of real estate agents at all. "What do they know that I don't know?" is the question that I see asked the most, when they don't proceed directly to an assumption that the answer to this question is "Nothing," and from there the bashing begins.

Until somebody hits a real world snag, of course. "My house isn't selling. What do I do?" "A buyer offered me $X. Should I accept?" or "This happened. What do I do now?"

The issues are mostly preventable, and had even a brand new agent with the ink on their license still wet written the contract, chances are good that the potential problem would have been foreseen, and safeguards against it devised. This is, after all, what we're trained for and what we do. If people could learn your job by reading a couple books, nobody would need to pay you for whatever you do - real estate is no different. Well, I know enough about many subjects to know that I can't learn everything I need to know by reading books, and that any pretense otherwise on my part would be foolish pretension. It might be one thing for me to pull my little girl out of a 5 foot deep swimming pool when she gets in over her head. It would be something else again to try an open ocean rescue of a 200 pound adult.

And a financial lifeguard is an entirely apt analogy. It's not that you don't know how to swim, for crying out loud. It's that you got in to a situation beyond your capabilities, beyond your experience, and now that you're there, you can't get yourself out. Unfortunately for those who ignore "no lifeguard" signs in real estate, it's very difficult to go find that lifeguard while the trouble is going on. It's not like you can get a time out, and many times the fact that you are drowning may not be apparent until you breathe in water, months or years later. If there is a agent present the whole time, you can sue their insurance carrier for your losses, but most often, they will prevent the deadly misstep in the first place. Any agent with a lick of sense won't get involved when there's already an existing problem. That's where attorneys come in, and attorneys get much more expensive than the agent in a hurry.

It's not what good agents know, but what they know. Anybody can read the financial press, and it's not too difficult to understand what they're saying. But knowing it and understanding what it really means are two entirely different things. Being able to formulate a plan of action to come out as well as possible is a whole other level beyond that. What good agents understand down deep at a level of calm certainty that nobody with an expertise less than theirs stands a cell phone's chance in an IED of talking them out of, and that is a system of approaching the transaction that debunks the hype, the nonsense, and makes certain that the numbers all work and the traps are all evaded. If you're not willing to pay the agent what it takes, spend a couple of years of your life familiarizing yourself with all of the issues, and you'll still likely fall short, because it's not just book learning, but experience, and even a new agent has a supervisor with a wealth of experience to draw upon. Nor is it just "sticks". There are an awful lot of carrots out there that are very valuable if know when and how to use them, and will cost a lot of money if you do not know when and how not to.

Here is a fact: The vast majority of people who claim they did fine doing a transaction without an agent say things that inform me and everyone else who understands the way things really work that they got taken for tens of thousands of dollars. Most often they say them while attempting to brag about how well they did, when they're really saying something like, "I threw the seller (or buyer) thirty thousand dollars extra because I don't really understand what's going on!" The number of dollars wasted can quite easily amount to a third of the property's actual value - well in excess of $100,000 for middle class homes here in the San Diego area.

There aren't any huge and critical secrets. But there is a wealth of experience and understanding and little tricks that make big differences. People who do not deal with the real estate and mortgage markets every day are unlikely to have this knowledge. Whether you're a computer programmer or any of a thousand other occupations, ask yourself if someone fresh out of college could do your job correctly on the first attempt, even if that's what they spent four years studying it (which you almost certainly have not done for real estate). You know the answer. It doesn't change because you're the one who wants to do someone else's job.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

This comment was left on another entry

I got behind 5 months, in months of 01/2010 to 05/2010. Home was paid cash for in 11/2000,took out a first mortgage in amount of 75thou.House went into default, I sent in 3 thou in 05/2010, and another 1200.00 before end of 06/2010. They sent the money back, said loan was in default, could not accept monies. In June started process to modify loan, in the Making Home Affloan. Original loan was 8.25%. During time was being reviewed for the mod. loan house went to auction 08/03/2010, was postponed. It took bank from 06/2010 to 11/23/2010 to disqualify us for loan because we owned over 200,000 in stock. A few more auction postponements, we were in review for the loan. Did not receive notice did not qualify for that loan mod. till first week of 12/2010. Contacted bank, they said had other modification loans,(in house loans) sent in more financials, this was 12/06/2010, found out new auction date was 12/07/2010, they postponed sale, was in review for loan restructure. Next thing I know called them on 12/20/2010, told me was an aution date for 12/23/2010. I was told was too close to sale date to file paperwork for a new loan mod. to keep calling back to see if got a postponement. To make a real long story short, 12/23/2010, came sold our house valued at between 500,000 to 600,000 dollars for under 97,000. Then today 12/30/2010 received 2 letters from bank telling me want to work with us, keep us in our home and referenced our phone conversation on 12/23/2010, and asked for me to send more financial info, they have many programs to restructure the loan. I just want people to know what the banks are doing. If you could get this story out there, someone need to know what happened to us, ours was a rare case, but people need to know.

The salient points that stick out were:

-They owed a base amount of $75k which became $97k

-They had $200,000 in stock so they were denied for a loan modification

Given these two facts, there is only one conclusion possible: They chose not to make those payments.

Maybe it would have been uncomfortable in some way. That's simply not relevant. They voluntarily borrowed the money. Based upon their representations, the lender agreed to loan them the money. One of the conditions was that if they did not repay the money, the lender would have the right to the security interest. These people had $200,000 available to pay the lender, chose not to pay, and the lender exercised that right.

What this really looks like to me is these people tried shaking down the lender despite having the assets to pay off the loan. They were asking for a windfall via the lender just voluntarily allowing them to skate on the obligation they freely agreed to. They had the money to pay the lender, they just chose not to pay it, hoping that the lender would just let them slide on the bargain for no good reason.

Taking the right of foreclosure away from lenders would completely gut the housing market, because nobody would willingly make a loan ever again. Keeping in mind that The Mortgage Loan Market Controls the Real Estate Market, this means that housing prices would crash, and only people with the ability to pay cash would be able to buy real estate. You want to know what that would look like, go back to the late 19th century tenements of our old industrial cities. It's not a pretty picture.

I never like to hear about someone losing their property, but someone who had the money and chose not to spend it to prevent foreclosure doesn't generate much sympathy from me. Yeah, there are people working the system who haven't made a payment for two to three years. That doesn't mean it's a good thing, and that doesn't mean it was right. That lender loaned the money in expectation of having it repaid with interest. If they could not expect repayment with interest, they'd never loan it out again. If they didn't have the right to foreclose in pursuit of recovering what they should have been paid, not very many people would make their mortgage payment (even fewer on time and in full), and once again, nobody would ever loan money for a mortgage ever again.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

Every so often, another story of eminent domain abuse hits the headlines for a day or two. Someone whose property is desired by the government gets hit with an eminent domain suit and ends up forced to sell and getting a lot less than they believe the property is worth. One of the most common things about these in recent years is that the government agency condemning the land hands it over to some other private individual for some purpose or other that may not have any real public need.

Let's be clear and explicit about eminent domain abuse: The issue is money.

Every once in a while there's someone who really won't sell the old family homestead at any price. The media loves these stories. They're also somewhat less common than hen's teeth. Far more common, indeed typical, is they offer someone a price below what similar properties that happen to be vacant or voluntarily marketed ones are going for.

If an eminent-domain condemning agency were to offer these business owners the amount the property is really worth to those business owners, i.e. value plus cost of relocating their business, they'd sell in a heartbeat and no legal case happens, not to mention there is no legal delay. Everyone wins. With the cost of litigation, nobody wants to get the courts involved.

If a condemnation agency were to wait, the property would become available on the market in the course of time. How much privately held property has not been sold voluntarily in the last fifty or a hundred years? The proportion is vanishingly small.

But in the case of a condemnation, we're not talking about a voluntary sale. We're talking forced sale of a property. The property is not on the market. If it were, the condemning agency could negotiate the price same as anyone else. I should also mention that the condemning agency also has the choice of purchasing some other property that is on the market, and that would be a viable choice in a majority of cases. The current owners do not wish to sell. Most particularly, they do not wish to sell for the price offered.

However, the incentives for government agencies don't work the way they do for private individuals and corporations. Their legal budget is what accountants call a "sunk cost" not charged against those bureaucrats like operating budgets are. Furthermore, if a project takes longer because everything is tied up in court, that's okay because everyone still gets paid, and the person directing it all has more opportunity to build themselves a secure little bureaucratic empire. But cost of acquisition? That comes out of budgeted dollars and they're held responsible for those!

All too often these days, there's a politically connected private individual or corporation who is the true beneficiary of the condemnation standing behind the government agency doing the actual condemnation. These people are sensitive not only to cost, but to the cost of delay. They could afford to pay enough to induce the owner to move voluntarily. They choose not to because the cost of the delay is less than the windfall they get from the condemnation getting the property for less than it is worth.

Let's look at the Fifth Amendment. I'm going to emphasize the relevant text:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

What is just compensation?

Should not a case be made that just compensation includes the expense of involuntary relocation, since we are forcing the property owners to relocate, allegedly for the common good? Certainly in such cases if the owners were poor people from the inner city, it would be demanded the government pay over and above the actual assessed property value to compensate them for their hardship.

I submit that it is no different in the case of a "wealthy" individual or corporation.

This includes any permits the business may require to move to the new location. If the business spent lots of time and money obtaining permits that are specific to the site they currently occupy, and do not transfer to the new location - or have to be re-done when they move - That is a legitimate expense the condemning agency is forcing them to bear if they want to stay in business, and should be included in any settlement that has any claim to "just compensation"

Let's be clear on another point as well: The condemned property is neither vacant nor voluntarily marketed. If it were, we'd have a clear case of negotiation being necessary until both sides come up with something mutually satisfactory. If the owners have a higher offer, or even rejected a higher offer, obviously the condemning agency needs to pay more, not threaten to end the negotiation with a "nuclear option" consisting of "We'll take you to court and get it for less". Reduced to the essential components, that's governmental robbery of private citizens. If you don't agree that's a bad thing, check yourself into a mental hospital immediately.

Require just compensation for the owners of condemned land, in the same way and via the same methods that corporations are required to make restitution to the victims of corporate malpractice (or even alleged victims) and watch the practice of eminent domain abuse come to a screeching halt.

The people practicing eminent domain abuse don't want to pay lawyers any more than their victims do. They are simply more able to pay their lawyers than the victims are able to pay theirs. They do so because it is cost effective: They make more money utilizing this scheme of legal terrorism than they do negotiating a price that reflects the real value to the current owners in the first place.

Take that incentive away and the problem will vanish.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

This just keeps popping up everywhere, so I obviously need to explain it blatantly.

In order to be a real estate loan, there must be real property involved. In other words, land or an interest in land. It doesn't have to be what lawyers call "fee simple" and the rest of the world calls complete ownership, free of anyone else's interests, but it does have to be an interest in land.

When you buy a house, townhome, condominium, or even timeshare, what you are buying is an interest in the land it occupies. The building you want to live in comes along for the ride because it is what lawyers call appurtenant: attached in such a way as to make removal non-trivial. I know that moving even mobile homes isn't what anyone who understands calls "trivial", but it's a lot easier than moving something with a permanent foundation. Talk with a lawyer if you need a finer appreciation for what your state considers appurtenant; I'm just trying to convey a general idea.

The cleanest example of an interest in real estate is "fee simple": A piece of land in which nobody else owns any interests. It's been about a century since most urban plots had this feature, since J. Paul Getty figured out that if you separate out the mineral rights you can make more money, but there is still a lot of rural back-country where fee simple is common (although not ubiquitous. Lots of farmers, ranchers, etcetera have sold mineral rights).

Much more common today is a community development, where the neighborhood has a Homeowner's Association (hence HOA) for common area maintenance, and this HOA has rights to enforce common standards of appearance. This really empowers the neighborhood busybodies, but it does safeguard you from a neighbor who lets their property become an eyesore and drags your value down or rents his property to a fraternity with loud parties 24/7. This is still an interest in land.

Then there are Condominiums and Townhomes. These are common interest developments where the entire group shares title to the land, and all you have is the exclusive use of one particular piece of the area or volume, which is described in the initial plan. This typically includes a dwelling unit, one or more parking spaces, and perhaps a storage locker. Note that these are usually described in terms of the volume they were planned to occupy, and may not be 100% compliant with the plan document. I heard about a high-rise where pretty much every unit was at least partially above the volume originally described for that unit because there was a change in building codes requiring more height per story, but everyone understood what was intended and pretended it was all copacetic. This is still real estate, because each individual owner still has an interest in land.

The principal extends even to timeshares. Title companies don't like to do them and most lenders don't like them, but they've still got an interest, although time diluted and common interest. That's still a real estate loan.

Even leaseholds can be a real estate loan with some caveats. The lease has to run at least as long as the term of the loan or the lender will decline. No lender is going to approve a real estate loan where the real estate interest might go away before the loan is paid off, but even leaseholds are still real estate and you can get real estate loans on leaseholds. Of course, this renders said property essentially useless as an investment in many cases, but it is at least theoretically possible to get loans on them. In the East County, there are quite a few residences on leaseholds (mostly Indian land) in and around eastern El Cajon, Lakeside, and other communities.

Manufactured homes can be real estate loans, albeit with restrictions. The critical question is "What is the legal interest in the land?" If the land it sits on is an ownership interest or even a leasehold interest, it's usually at least theoretically possible to get a real estate loan on it. There are restrictions on loan to value ratio that mean a higher down payment requirement and therefore worth fewer dollars, but if there is an ownership interest in land, a real estate loan is at least theoretically possible.

What is not a real estate loan is any property where the land involved is rented space. If there is monthly space rent, it's not a real estate loan to buy the dwelling unit. It's a personal loan like buying an automobile, watercraft or airplane, and that is an entirely different department at the bank. People with real estate lender's licenses can't help you - it requires a different type of lending license and loan procedure. Most such dwellings are registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles or your state equivalent rather than the county recorder or assessor (the good news is there may not be property tax!). This isn't me or anyone else in the real estate industry trying to ghetto-ize you and your dwelling. It's not discrimination, prejudice, "raaaaaacism!", or anything else. It's what the politicians and lawyers have decided in setting up the legal structure we work in, and it applies to everyone in that situation, whatever else may be going on in your lives or theirs.

Caveat Emptor

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