July 2019 Archives

This question brought someone to my site:


If my house is going into foreclosure but the house is also in probate, can the lender actually go forward with the foreclosure sale while the house is in probate?

The short answer is yes.

The Trust Deed (or Mortgage Note), that was signed by the now deceased whomever, gives a security interest in the property to that lender in exchange for money. The lender lived up to their end of the bargain. That security interest is valid until the loan is paid off. It is not removed by the death of the person that signed over the security interest.

Probate takes an absolute minimum of nine months. During this time, the court will likely allow those members of your family to continue to live there, but they will not likely approve disposition of the asset except in an emergency, and that emergency is going to cost your heirs money for the courts, and money for the disposition. On the other hand, the lender still needs to get paid according to the terms of the contract, and they are entitled to foreclose if the terms are not being met. I'm not a lawyer, but I've never heard of an estate being permitted to declare bankruptcy, which some living folks use to temporarily stave off foreclosure, almost always to their eventual major detriment. Since the executor is claiming that the estate cannot pay its bills and rarely are dead people earning any more money, declaring bankruptcy would seem like an open and shut case of "the creditors get all of the assets and your heirs get nothing." Probably not what anybody who's part of the situation wants.

There are simple steps possible to avoid probate for major assets. A trust is probably the most flexible of these, in that the trust owns the asset and the successor trustee takes over the management and within the limits of the trust, does what needs to be done without the courts getting involved. Flexible, much cheaper than getting a probate court involved, and your heirs get control right away. But it requires planning ahead (which many people are loath to do, being in denial about the idea of death) and an upfront investment.

Given the fact that there is a loan and a Trust Deed against the property, somebody is going to have to make those payments until the loan is paid off, whether by outright payoff, refinancing, or sale. Given that in the absence of a trust, your heirs probably are not going to have access to any liquid wealth you left either as it is also locked up in probate, the odds are that your heirs are either going to have to come up with the cash out of pocket, or the property is going to be foreclosed upon.

There are some good options. If your heirs are wealthy and have the cash, perhaps some one or combination of them will make the payments in the interim if it's been agreed they will be compensated later. Not likely, I'll admit, and they're likely to drive a bargain for larger eventual replacement. In some instances, the probate judge may agree to taking out a Home Equity Line Of Credit (HELOC) to make the payments, but somebody's going to have to be able to qualify to make the payments, and a dead person is not on the list of options, which means somebody still living is going to have to do it. The rates on these are typically horrendous, and cost a lot more than a little bit of planning.

Another excellent option is life insurance. Life insurance passes (usually) tax free on death outside of probate to a named beneficiary. Therefore, it's available pretty much right away to pay bills and stuff. It's also leveraged money, so a few dollars now buys more dollars when you need them. The difficulty is that you've got to have it beforehand. There's that planning thing rearing it's ugly head again, and the upfront investment of the premium dollars for the life insurance policy. Finally, any money created by this becomes the property of those beneficiaries, and there is no way to compel them to spend the money on bills of the estate. If the beneficiary is the estate, well, the money is locked up in probate again, and you've got to get the probate judge to agree with doing the necessary.

Another option is the named beneficiary Transfer on Death feature of most investment accounts. These also transfer outside of probate to named beneficiaries. Problem is, they require the investment of those dollars beforehand, and they also require that you keep the beneficiaries current, and all of this requires, once again, planning. The money also becomes the property of the beneficiaries, just like life insurance, and if there's no named beneficiary, it gets locked up in probate.

There is no free, no-planning-necessary, magic bullet. I strongly suspect it's all part of the various Lawyers Full Employment Acts, but we've all got to take the system as it exists. At the very least, you've got to do some planning ahead, and an upfront investment is probably going to return itself several times over. Remember, everyone is going to die sometime - I know of precisely zero exceptions thus far in the history of the world. Denial of this simple fact simply digs you in deeper, and puts your heirs in line to have to lose or waste a major portion of what you would have left covering for your deficiency, as is evidenced by the person who asked this question.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

One of my favorite blogs ran a picture of a listing sign that included the caption "REDUCED But Not Stupid or Desperate." I beg to differ on the former. On the latter, time will tell.

Most successful real estate investors are really skilled desperation prospectors. They make their money when they buy the property - the actual sale only confirms the success they previously had.

Here's the really good part: Most of the folks they buy from did it to themselves, by letting irrational greed rule them.

For buyers, there are three parts to this game: Persistence, a good buyer's agent, and being willing to move on the the next if this one won't deal yet.

For sellers, there are three failures: Failure to consider your property's real position in the marketplace and price accordingly, failure to consider your resources, and failure to consider your fallback options ahead of time.

The fact is that most buyers shop for homes by the value to them. There may be an explicit budget involved or there may not, but most people have a decent idea of what they can afford. The smart ones shop by purchase price, the silly ones based upon payment. During the Era of Make Believe Loans, many got burned even worse than usual by that, but it's still around. The point of the matter is that if there's a house down the street priced at $350,000, while you want $400,000, you are going to have to convince someone who doesn't have any ego invested in the property that your property is worth the extra $50,000 to them. If they won't willingly pay the extra, you are doing nothing but wasting your time. If, on the other hand, you can get them to pay the $50,000 extra, you have won. But people don't shell out $50,000 extra for stuff that's only worth $10,000 to them. They go buy the other property, and spend $10,000 making it into what they want. This is different only in degree from the folks you see comparing different bottles of aspirin at the supermarket.

So if you're not offering something worth $50,000 extra to one particular set of buyers, you are wasting your time as long as there are any competing properties on the market - and there are always competing properties on the market. Even during 2003 when the average time on market locally got down to about three days, there were properties that spent months languishing, and never did sell. I don't think it's news to anyone that this situation has become more likely rather than less.

Now, if you've just been transferred and can't afford to keep this residence, or your loan has reset and you can't keep making the payments, or any number of other situations, you have a deadline for action. Not only that, but your backup or alternative plans are the pits. It is critical to understand that if you need to sell in this situation, all of your hopes for getting a good price hinge on the first few days on the market. If it's priced appropriately and you don't make it too difficult to view, it'll draw visitors. If if is properly and attractively maintained and presented, especially vis a vis the competition, it will get offers, and probably good ones. If any one of these four conditions fail in the current market, the property will sit unsold. Once it's got thirty days or more on the market, buyers become decidedly less interested in the property. Most of them won't even look at it on-line. The only way to get that interest back is to lower the price - and I mean significantly lower than it needed to be in the first place. The feeling on the part of most buyers is that "there has to be something wrong with it" Most people trust the collective wisdom of the market perhaps a little too much, because it ain't necessarily so, but you can't tell them that. They're not listening to you. They aren't listening to me, either, and there's nothing I can do that will change that, except for individual buyers whose trust I have earned, on individual properties. Instead of trying to change what you can't, change what you can. Most people don't want to, but that's the difference between success and failure - overcoming that reluctance. Yes, it means you agree to hope for less money, or you agree to spend money you were hoping you wouldn't, but those hopes were illusory from the first, like a short fat kid with no ball handling skills who hopes to play in the NBA. One thing I can absolutely, positively guarantee you is that prospective buyers don't care what you need to get to make a profit, or what you'd "like to get" for a property. If they did, I'd tell everyone I'd "like" to get two million dollars for that one bedroom condo in the 'Hood sandwiched between the methadone clinic and the Pawn Shop. They care about how the property and the asking price compare to the competing properties.

It is critical to understand a property niche before you put it on the market. What are the competing properties? What do they have that yours doesn't? What does yours have that they don't? Where do you fall on the pricing scale? One of the critical functions of a good listing agent is to critique your property soundly and fairly, and if you choose the agent who says only things that make you happy, expect to pay for that happiness with ten times the misery later, not to mention much less money and significantly greater expenses. The biggest red flag I know for a failed listing is an easy listing discussion. Mind you, you shouldn't end up mud-wrestling in the street and kicking and punching each other through walls, either, but if your agent isn't willing to argue with you and point out property deficiencies, and overcome your objections, how are they going to overcome the objections of the buyers and their agents?

On the buyers side, the best way to successfully mine desperation is to zig when everyone else is zagging. Unattractive presentation? I'm there. On the market for six months or serially listed? I want to see that property! Viewing restrictions difficult enough to make the most exclusive nightclub ashamed? I will figure a way to see it. Obviously overpriced? No obstacle. Why? Because each and every one of these properties is making themselves unattractive to everyone else. Some of them will lose the property to foreclosure before they do something smart, but others will deal with me and my desperation mining clients. But nobody else is going to make an offer, so barring foreclosure, eventually they'll deal with me and my clients or someone else doing the same thing.

You do need an eye for property if you're going to do this, something a good agent will help you with. There are more Money Pits than potential winners out there. Vampire properties that will suck your wallet dry without returning a profit. Neighborhoods where the surrounding properties won't support the price level you need to make a profit. I know I said that buyers don't care what sellers need - but at this point you're a buyer. If you know ahead of time that you're going to spend $40,000 by the time you're done fixing it, and the neighborhood won't support the acquisition price plus costs of selling plus $40,000 plus your profit margin, that is not the property you are looking for.

There's a very old saying, "Before you find your prince, you've gotta kiss a lot of frogs." Nowhere does this apply more strongly than desperation mining. You've got to deal with something more far more unpredictable than the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle: whether this particular seller has had the epiphany that this is about the best offer they're going to get yet. A good buyer's agent can do quite a bit to cause that epiphany, but if the listing agent is stuck in the Land of Happy Thoughts, it becomes decidedly unlikely to work. I don't have much mercy on the subject of enlightening them; they willingly did whatever it was to their client and cost that client at least tens of thousands of dollars. What's a little professional discomfort as compared to that? The ones who learn from the experience become better agents (one actually called just to thank me a while back), the ones who don't, I'm not likely to encounter very often. To be fair, I was this sort of agent once. Briefly.

But the point is that the hit ratio on these offers is not anything like the ratio on the more standard buyers who are looking for the beautiful, fresh on the market property. Famous desperation mining advice: "Some will. Some won't. So what?" There's always a fresh desperation assay to perform on another property half a mile away. There are always property owners who put themselves into the position of having no better option than to accept your offer. Whether they actually will or not right now is uncertain. Eventually, most of them will accept someone's offer and the ones that don't will wish they had. I don't resent it when they accept someone else's offer later. My clients benefit just as often from someone else's set up offer, and everybody has their limits on the number of properties they can handle and the money they have available. The supply of such properties is always being refreshed by wishful thinking and bad agents who cater to it.

How can sellers avoid this? By understanding their property and where it falls in the market, and pricing it accordingly. This number has to be modified for showing restrictions, presentation, and many other factors, almost all of which have a negative influence. The listing discussion you have with prospective agents should not be easy - that's a sign of an agent who's just telling you whatever they think you want to hear. There should be some arguments, perhaps even heated discussion, as to what is appropriate and obtainable by comparison with the competition, but trying to get more is much worse than drawing to an inside straight. You can hope for that winning card in defiance of all rationality, but if you lose that bet - and just about everybody loses it - you're setting yourself up for a far worse situation than you really can get if you act correctly in the first place. Overpricing the property is not a "no lose" event - it's a situation where a very few win an extra $10,000 or so, while the overwhelming majority lose several times that amount. Planning ahead and knowing your time-line, and being up front about it with your prospective listing agent, will also save your backside. If you can only make three more payments, or if it's already in or close to default, you need to price accordingly. Nothing happens instantly in real estate. If you need it sold inside of ninety days, with the loan times they way they are thanks to new regulation, you need a solid fully negotiated contract in under thirty days. You're most likely to get the best offer within the first thirty days anyway, if not the first week or so. Wasting your first couple of weeks or months overpriced because you "want to get more than that" is the best way I know of to end up with much less by putting yourself squarely in the crosshairs of desperation miners, because nobody else is interested in your property.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

I went to a "direct from the providers" seminar on credit reports and credit scores.

Some of this information has changed from previous information, and some of it will change in the future. Credit Reporting, FICO scores, and related items are an evolving knowledge, as they figure out how to better predict future performance of potential borrowers.

A FICO score is nothing more or less than a prediction of the likelihood of a particular consumer having a 90 day late in the next 24 months. It is a snapshot, based upon your position and your balances as reported at the exact moment it was run.

I learned a bit more about the various other credit reports besides mortgage. They emphasize different things (naturally) and score differently. Auto scores go to 900, where mortgages range 300 to 850. Landlord tenant screens are different from a mortgage score. Revolving credit screens are different than mortgage screens. Finally, and most important, the "Consumer Screen" reports you get on yourself will always have a higher credit score than the ones mortgage providers run.

What makes up your credit score? Inquiries are 10 percent of your credit score. They only go back twelve months. Whereas I've been informed in the past that additional inquiries will get you zonked, that is not the case currently. Depending upon your length of credit history, after three to five "hard" inquiries in the last twelve months, they quit counting. A hard inquiry is done at your request for reasons of granting credit. Fewer is better. Longer history of credit means they will allow you more inquiries.

Multiple mortgage inquiries, if done within the correct time frames, still only count as one, no matter how many. Automobile inquiries also count differently than other inquiries.

Types of credit used is 10% of the weight. They're looking for a reasonable balance between types. The absolute worst type of account to have is from one of those zero interest finance companies. You know the ones, "Buy this sofa now and no payments and no interest for twelve months." People who are broke but need or want stuff now do this, and that's why the hit happens. They are deferring payment on something they can't really afford. You suffer guilt by association.

15 percent of the weight is length of credit history. How long you have had revolving accounts divided by the number of revolving accounts you have had. You have three cards that have all been going for thirty years, that's a better picture than five cards of which four are brand new. As far as the credit score is concerned, however, five years is as good as forever.

I've been telling people not to close open accounts. This is confirmed as not a good thing to do. Closing an open account can cause your credit to drop by as much as 80 points in some circumstances. If it doesn't cost you anything, don't close it.

Balances is thirty percent of your score. There are significant hits at fifty and seventy five percent of your credit limit on each card. Significantly, a small balance is a little bit better than zero, even. This is one reason you want to charge something you'd buy anyway to your credit card, just make sure you pay it off when the bill comes. Some credit cards (specifically charge cards in particular, not to mention any specific names of charge card companies where the balance is due in full every month) will report your high balance as being your limit, which can have the effect that you appear to the reporting agency as "maxed out" if you've charged something big. So make certain your credit limit is being accurately reported. If your balance is incorrectly reported, in general the only way to correct it quickly is with a letter from the provider, signed and on their letterhead, saying "Your balance as of (date)is $X"

Payment history is 35 percent of your score. This is divided into three categories: within the last 6 months, 7 to 23 months old, and 24 months or older. If you have had a delinquent credit reported within 6 months, you are getting the full impact in terms of lowering of credit score. Between 7 and 23 months is a lesser impact. Over 24 months is still less impact.

Important: DO NOT PAY OFF OLD COLLECTION ACCOUNTS! It can cause a 100 point drop in your score. Here's why. You owed $X to company A, and five years ago they sent it out for collection. Now you go back and pay it off, and the date it's marked with is TODAY. It's gone from being over two years old to being current as of now, bringing the full impact to bear once more. The one exception to this is a deletion letter. If you get a deletion letter on their letterhead signed by them saying "Please delete this account," you can make it vanish off your credit report as if it never was. Note that you may still have to pay off collection accounts, but do it as a part of escrow, where the loan is done before your credit is hit.

There are tools out there that can be used to analyze and tell you how to improve your score or how best to improve it with a given amount of money.

Bankruptcy: Three things determine what kind of credit score you'll have coming out of bankruptcy. 1) Percentage of trade lines you include in the bankruptcy. More is worse, lower is better. Including half your trade lines will not hurt you nearly so bad as including all your trade lines. 2) Number of inquiries. If you've still got one or two open lines you didn't include, you may not need more after discharge and you won't go apply for more. The poor schmuck who includes everything needs more to start a credit history, and is dinged HARD for each turndown inquiry. 3) Post bankruptcy payment history: if you included everything in the bankruptcy, you have no history until you get more credit. Can you say, "Vicious Circle," boys and girls? No payment history is even worse than a bad payment history, but any reports of delinquencies after bankruptcy hits you much harder than if you were never bankrupt and had a late.

Last individual points:

Rate on credit card does not affect FICO score.

Nor does salary, occupation, employment history, title, or employer, although time in line of work is a separate criterion for mortgage providers.

Credit Repair Services cost a lot of money for things you can do for free.

If you are disputing a medical collection (and only a medical collection) it doesn't count on your score.

Caveat Emptor

Original here


This is something that many folks don't understand about the loan market.

The labels "conforming", "jumbo" or, more accurately, "non-conforming" (and "temporary conforming" when we had it) only apply to so-called "A paper" loans, largely underwritten through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac standards. The reasons for the labels are that they "conform" to Fannie and Freddie's requirements in all particulars, or that they conform in all respects except loan amount. But Loan to Value ratio, Debt to Income ratio, Time in Line of Work and everything else are according to the standards set down by Fannie and Freddie.

Government loans, VA and FHA, do not have conforming and Jumbo amounts. In the case of the VA loan, it's my understanding that they no longer have an explicit legal limit at all - just a limit on what lenders are willing to do given the limited nature of the guarantee. In the case of the FHA, there is a dollar limit, and it's usually even the same dollar limit at the upper bound as the temporary conforming limit. But to treat this as anything but a coincidence that saves brainwork on the part of the Department of Housing and Urban Development would be incorrect. In point of fact, the "regular" FHA limit is different from the conforming limit. Fannie and Freddie are now part of the government, but it's a different part than the FHA.

Subprime loans have none of this; only pricing and policy breakpoints, usually around $500,000, set by individual lenders.

So why is this such a big deal? You ask. Very simply, conforming loans get the best
tradeoff between rate and cost - what laymen think of as the best rates. It's an ambition worth having to have a conforming loan as opposed to anything else. The relationship between everything else varies over time, but you can expect sub-prime to have the highest rate/cost tradeoffs, while whether government beats non-conforming is time dependent. For about the past 18 months, government has been better, but back in 2003 for instance, non-conforming rates were generally lower than government - one more reason why government loans lost favor for several years. Conforming loans are also consistently available, and the government doesn't get involved. This was kind of a big deal several years ago when it could take four months for the government to process the paperwork needed for their loans. If I was told somebody wanted to buy my property with a government loan, there was quite a while there where I would have preferred another buyer.

Loans underwritten through Fannie and Freddie are also the most common sorts of loans out there, and they had the effect of standardizing the A paper market a couple decades back. When it was every lender for themselves, the standards varied by quite a bit. When they all want to sell to Fannie and Freddie, they all started using Fannie and Freddie's standards. Doing so meant they could loan the same money out several times per year, getting an origination bonus each time, rather than loan out the money and then only as it was repaid could they book the income. They could make far more money originating the loan and selling it to Fannie and Freddie than they could by actually holding it in their own portfolio. So-called "portfolio loans" still exist - large amounts of non-conforming loans end up being portfolio loans, which is one reason why they carry higher rates. When there's a ready, standardized secondary market for loan notes, and lenders can "turn" the money several times per year, they're willing to do the loans for less, which is a win for everybody.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

One of the things I see all the time is notations made on the listing that demotivate buyers agents, or give them a reason not to show the property. This practice has had a drastic fall off for a while, with listing agents and brokerages desperate to sell after nine months on the market, but it came back with a vengeance more recently, and it's never in the client's best interest to restrict the field, or to give other agents a reason not to show your property, but that doesn't stop some listing agents from doing it, particularly in hot markets or particularly desirable neighborhoods.

"Seller to select all services." Well, duh, if they're paying for them, which they are in the case of owner's title insurance, and half for escrow. But my client is paying for lender's title and the other half of the escrow, and to say it's not even on the table for discussion is not only a violation of RESPA, but it tells me that the listing agent or brokerage likely has their hands out behind their backs, and that's a transaction I'd prefer to avoid. Either that, or they want to steer revenue to an escrow company in which the brokerage has an interest. Escrow officers with "captive" brokerage clients have a very high percentage of cluelessness, and their motivations to give top notch service aren't exactly stellar, either. Furthermore, in such cases my client is likely going to end up paying sub-escrow fees due to splitting the title and escrow, and if that's not the most useless waste of money in the business it's darned close. Suppose my client gets cheap rates for title or escrow, or free? Suppose I've got a contract with a different company for cheaper rates? Suppose I simply know of a company that gives better rates for the same product and still has top notch providers? If you're not willing to discuss it with my client and I, there are most likely some issues going on, and unless the seller gets reduced rates or free escrow and title, something that is far more rare than the notation, there is no reason for this notation. A major variant on this is "Title and Escrow already open." This makes me ask "Why?", and the only answer I can see is that they are trying to preempt the choice. The vast majority of buyers need loans, and the title and escrow are going to be ready long before the loan. Yes, the seller could already have filled out a statement of information with them, but that's not important to my clients.

"Buyer must be prequalified" or "Buyer must be preapproved." Neither one of these means anything real. They are both garbage requests. Not too long ago, minimum wage earners could be "pre-qualified" for million dollar properties. Even "pre-approval", which is supposed to be stronger, suffers a very high fall off rate when they actually have a purchase contract. In theory, pre-qualification means that you should be able to afford the payments on the type of loan you pre-qualified for, and pre-approval should mean that the application will be approved as soon as the blanks for the specific property are filled in. In neither case is what's really being done by most loan providers even vaguely in line with the billing. In many cases, the buyers have a hidden issue that has not yet come out, but with several hundred thousand dollars on the line, you can bet that the lender will find out about it before the loan actually funds. In a large number of cases, it may look like they might be able to qualify, but their loan officer wants to make a little too much money.

These days, with lenders being far more careful who they lend money to, it's even worse than that. At the minimum, until I have a loan commitment with conditions I know I can meet, every transaction is in jeopardy. Very qualified people are having difficulty getting their loans actually funded, and until you get pretty deep into the actual loan, there really isn't any way to know. Some buyers look beautiful as far the numbers go, but there's something lurking in the background that is going to mean no lender will approve them until the bond market paranoia dies down a bit.

(That paranoia will die down. But I don't know how long it's going to take, and the Federal Reserve isn't helping matters.)

Neither one of these makes difference to the purchase offer I write. No buyers agent wastes their time working with people that they do not believe will qualify for the required loan. Once I've got a credit report, income information and a liabilities statement, I ask if there's anything else that's going to show up, and ask about any changes or bumps in their career situation within the last two years. It used to be that providing a good loan officer gets the whole truth at that stage of the game, the loan should have gone through. That has now changed in a small percentage of cases but it's not smart to give that percentage too much weight as it is completely unpredictable.

I still do the due diligence when I'm on the listing side, I just know that there's a certain percentage that are going to fall through no matter what preliminary investigation I do. I've learned the hard way never to trust a prequalification or preapproval that I didn't do, and when I'm on the listing side, I have a form I require to be filled out by their loan officer and signed under penalty of perjury. I want to be certain I get enough information to be certain I could or could not do the loan in the absence of bond market paranoia striking it down. The alternative is to be very hard nosed about the deposit in negotiations - the information is easier and has less of a dampening effect upon negotiations. If I could get the loan done based upon the information, we've got a live one. If my listing clients gets the deposit if it falls out, they come out okay. But neither prequalification or pre-approval means anything real unless it's done by a loan officer with realistic expectations and the right attitude, something a listing agent has no real way of knowing. Indeed, the request for pre-approval or pre-qualification tells me it's a lazy listing agent who doesn't understand how to separate the wheat from the chaff, or is unwilling to do so. They're just filling in a little check box to perform CYA manouevers ("It's not my fault the transaction fell apart! We had a pre-qualification!").

"Must be prequalified/preapproved with lender X": This isn't a demand I'll even consider giving in to. Indeed, under RESPA, it's illegal.

From the text of RESPA:

Business referrals No person shall give and no person shall accept any fee, kickback, or thing of value pursuant to any agreement or understanding, oral or otherwise, that business incident to or a part of a real estate settlement service involving a federally related mortgage loan shall be referred to any person.

Thou shalt not require the other party to use your lender, and even requiring a qualification with a particular lender is giving that lender a "business relationship" i.e. a thing of value. Even as a buyer's agent, I would never consider requiring a client to use me for the loan. Carrots only, never sticks. You are giving that lender something of value - a business relationship with the client. They can use this for targeted solicitation, sell the person's information to third parties, etcetera. Anybody want to argue that's not a thing of value?

In most of the cases, the lender specified is one that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. Especially not if I want the transaction to close on time. High margin providers who promise something great to get people to sign up and then show up with something completely different at closing. Agents: What do you think happens to your reputation with other agents when this happens?

In a significant number of these cases, the agent has their hand out behind their client's back. Whether it's explicit compensation or just wanting to put the buyer in a situation where they're using a lender that's indebted to that particular agent, and they refer clients back and forth. "I want the listing when this buyer goes to sell, so I'll send all the buyers to the loan officer who will refer them back to me." Agents and Loan officers go to seminars devoted to the idea of cutting out the competition, so they don't have to compete at all. It's not in your best interest to allow them to do so.

Some of them will follow the requirement they are trying to impose about being pre-approved with lender X with "Ok to use own lenders for the transaction." As if that lender doesn't have all my client's personal information. From my first week in the business, I was smarter than that. Of course, my brokers told me about the experiences of other loan officers: Their client was bombarded with multiple calls per day from that loan provider, and when the client tells them never to call again, they sell the client's information to dozens of other loan providers, and so the bombardment gets worse. A prequalification certainly counts as a "business relationship," and it's amazing how often "opt outs" aren't even offered until thirty to sixty days later. So as I said, the smart thing to do is ignore the request. "Here's an offer, take it to your client like you are legally required to do. Here's the qualification information. Ask your favorite loan provider if this is likely to fly". Many agents won't even honor that, but those agents will get caught eventually. I can understand that they want a certain transaction, but there is no such thing. If they're going to serve their clients, they should know something better to ask for in negotiations. It is illegal, no matter how they rationalize it.

Finally, it's often a way for listing agents who want both halves of the commission to discourage other agents from showing the property. If I see a demand that a client be prequalified with a particular lender, I'm either going to ignore it completely or not suggest that property to my clients. Perhaps I'll even show them the listing (usually on paper), and tell them why they should stay away or make a really low-ball offer because of how much of a pain the listing agent is trying to be. It all depends upon how good a deal I think the property might be, and whether I think the agent is desperate enough to be reasonable yet. But as a buyer's agent, I don't have a responsibility to any given seller - the listing agent does. Furthermore, neighbors talk. If George down the street gets twenty showings and four offers on a less attractive property than this agent's client, who gets only two showings and no offers (or nothing but low-balls), that listing client is probably going to ask their agent some hard questions. What comes around, goes around.

Caveat Emptor

Original Article here

Second Trust Deeds are something few real estate loan officers really understand well, mostly because the good ones don't make much money on them. Predatory lending laws in most states, limiting total compensation and total expenses to a given percentage of the loan amount, mean that brokers usually can't make enough to pay their expenses unless there's a first trust deed involved as well. Direct lenders can, because neither the premium they receive on the secondary market nor the interest rate is usually restricted. As a result, many direct lenders can get away with highly inflated rates on second mortgages. Most of the people who approach them won't know any better. I've lost count of the number of fourteen and sixteen percent rates I've seen, when eleven is a rotten rate for a sub-prime borrower. But if you will shop around, second mortgages can be found at surprisingly low rates and surprisingly low cost. If you've got decent credit and a verifiable source of income, fixed rate Home Equity Loans can be had under 8%, and variable rate Home Equity Lines of Credit can be found for 8 to 8.25%. Even sub-prime borrowers can usually find something around 11% if they'll look a little bit.

Second (and Third) Mortgages come in two basic flavors. If you get the proceeds all at once, they are typically fixed rate Home Equity Loans. These are essentially traditional loans. There are also Home Equity Lines of Credit, where you are approved for up to a certain amount, and you can take distributions any time during a draw period that varies from five to ten years in length. These work more like credit cards, albeit secured by real estate so you do get better rates. You pay interest only on the the outstanding balance at any given time. If you pay it down during the draw period, you can then take it out again.

Once upon a time, both products typically had all of the closing costs that first mortgages did. In the last few years, this has changed, largely driven by competition from credit unions, and I always suspected that second mortgages was why the banking industry was lobbying for restricting credit union membership a few years ago.

There are also two styles of obtaining a second mortgage. "Stand Alone" Second Trust Deeds are done on their own; when they are done in conjunction with a First Trust Deed, they are called "Piggyback" loans. With their popularization as a way of avoiding Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) on low down payment purchases, pretty much every lender in my database does piggyback seconds. However, only about half will do stand alone seconds. With the regulations the way they are, even the higher interest rates are not attractive enough to get them to do the loan, because it takes basically the same amount of work.

Because "piggybacks" are done in conjunction with first mortgages, everybody wants them and everybody does them. Additional lender charges can be small to non-existent. They benefit from having the first done at the same time, and since all that work has already been done for the first, the additional work is kind of minimal. Whether they're a broker or direct lender, they make enough on the first that they don't have to charge as much for a second.

Good "stand alones" are harder to find. For instance, here in California, predatory lending laws limit both total broker compensation and total costs of the loan to six percent, but it still costs about $3500 to do the loan unless the lender relaxes one or more of the traditional requirements. For brokers, this means that they can't pay for it via a higher rate to the consumer, either. If the loan is $50,000, $3500 is seven percent of the loan amount. If brokers try to make it up via yield spread (which is legally considered a cost even though it is not), Section 32 of the Real Estate Code limiting total broker compensation to six percent kicks in, and they cannot do it because theoretical costs exceed what they are legally allowed to make. Note that this limitation does not apply to direct lenders, as their eventual premium on the secondary market is not regulated, and the amount of interest they receive if they hold the note is only subject to very weak governance rules. Upshot: Stand alone second mortgages, unlike first mortgages, are a very hard area for brokers to compete well in. I've got a couple internet based lenders for higher loan amounts (about $75,000 and up), but for smaller loans than that I will usually tell folks straight up that credit unions are likely to give a better deal than I can. For first mortgages, or firsts with piggyback seconds, that situation is reversed.

In some certain situations, due to the low cost of doing second mortgages, I can actually get a client a better loan by doing a purchase money loan under a program traditionally associated with stand alone second trust deeds. With some credit unions and major lenders offering them at 8% or even under, and up to $500,000 with minimal paperwork requirements and low to zero closing costs to the client, it can be a good way to get someone who cannot qualify full documentation anyway enough money a loan for a low end property, particularly if they are making a substantial down payment. If you're buying a $150,000 condo, avoiding the $3500 to $4000 for closing costs associated with a first mortgage can cut your effective interest rate for a loan you keep two to three years by about one percent.

One final note for this update: Right now second mortgages are only going up to about ninety percent loan to value ratio, period. Absolutely nobody is doing them for situations with less than 10% equity. I was saying until recently that the only way to get a loan with less than ten percent down payment was a single loan with PMI, but even first mortgages above 90% of value are rare, not subject to much competition right now, and even so they will not go above 95% of value, leaving government guaranteed loans (VA and FHA) as the only way to reliably get low down payment loans. Many municipalities also have first time buyer assistance that takes the form of a second trust deed, but the budget for those programs is notoriously limited.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

Just got a search on "state of california fsbo questions to work directly with loan officers without a agent"

This isn't a problem. Whereas it is the same license, it is two entirely separate job functions and the government is in the process of instituting a separate license requirement for loan officers. I am one of the maybe 20% of licensees who does both, and I have no problems separating the job functions. The fact that you are or are not working with an agent has absolutely nothing to do with whether you can get a loan. In fact, if you're the seller, it's really no business of yours who the buyer gets a loan with, or where, or even whether they get a loan or pay cash. So long as you get your money, it's all the same. In fact, it is illegal under federal law (RESPA) for the seller or anyone else to require that the buyer obtain their loan through any particular provider. So just know that it's not a factor and keep your nose out of the buyer's business.

This also is not to say that some folks who do both might not attempt to trick or pressure you into signing an agency agreement. The way to deal with that is to contact your state Department of Real Estate (here's California's). In California, they do investigate all complaints thoroughly, even if the complainer later changes their mind.

This is not to say you should be looking for real estate agent responsibilities from someone acting solely as your loan officer. This happens quite a bit; If they're not getting an agent's commission, you should not ask them to do an agent's work or assume an agent's responsibility. Asking you to sign a form that says they are acting purely as a loan officer and are not responsible for anything except the loan is reasonable. Loan officer legal responsibility is minimal to non-existent anyway; it's one of the reasons the loan business is so messed up and out of control. But asking a loan officer to do both jobs for the pay of the lesser is unacceptable. You don't do extra work for free, you don't assume extra responsibility for free. Why should you expect someone else to do so?

In California, we changed the law a couple of years ago so that in certain circumstances where the firm is licensed with the Department of Corporations, the loan officers do not have to be individually licensed. I've seen a lot of abuses out of such situations; the loan officer who isn't individually licensed isn't risking their individual ability to work in the profession, no matter how egregious the violation. Indeed, many firms licensed with the Department of Corporations instead of the Department of Real Estate have made a point of recruiting people new to the profession who don't know any better, and no one will tell them until they go work for a company with better practices, which most of them never do. These folks also don't know how much the company makes per loan, so they don't have to pay them as much. Best of all possible worlds from the company's view!

I am not saying that doing without an agent is intelligent. In fact, unless you're a practicing agent yourself, it's one of the dumber ways to shoot yourself in the foot. It's just that there's no legal requirement to have an agent.

But so long as you only ask a loan officer to do the loan officer's job, there should be no problem with doing a loan on a For Sale By Owner property. After all, you don't need a real estate agent to refinance, do you?

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

This was originally from February 2007. The situation as to what loans are available has changed quite a bit since then, but the underlying advice is and will remain sound.

Shortly after the original article, things started downhill for lenders very quickly, something I'd been predicting since before I started this website, and about as difficult to predict as gravity. This was when most would-be Wile E. Coyotes looked down, but I'd seen it coming, it was only a matter of time. The lending market having the effect it does upon the real estate market, this had the effect of removing the veneer of believability even for the gullible.

On the other hand, that was then, this is now. The one constant about the real estate market is that it changes - and it usually takes a while for people to catch on because people, especially people who aren't in the industry, think what has happened recently will continue.

Hello Mr. Melson, Let me start off by saying that I am a big fan of your "Searchlight Crusade" website. I happened upon it a while back after I had already purchased my house. I've found a lot of useful information and I try to refer my friends and family to your site when they ask me home-buying/mortgage questions.

I am emailing you because I am considering a refinance. Just a little background info: I purchased a 3bedroom/2bath 1183 sq ft home in DELETED for $323,000 in Nov 2004. I am a DELETED with a credit score of 801. My wife is a part time DELETED with a credit score of 814.

I put no money down. I have my mortgage split into two loans (80/20). My first mortgage is $259K interest only with a rate of 5.375 fixed for 5 years with a payment of $1157.42. My second loan is about $64K HELOC interest only with what seems to be a monthly adjustable rate with my payments now close to $600. Both loans do not have a prepayment penalty. I've only been paying the interest every month. We plan to stay in the home for at least another three years (we are from out of state and might move back there when my son goes to high school - he's currently in the 5th grade). There is a possibility we might stay in DELETED at which point we're likely to stay in the house.

I was thinking about refinancing my HELOC so that the rate would be fixed. I spoke with my lender and I was offered a 15 yr loan with a fixed rate of 7.5% with a payment "around $600" with a prepayment penalty before 5 years.

Based on recent sales, my house is worth about $350K. Because of this I was told I could not refinance both loans into one.

Do you think it would be worth it to refinance. If so, what type of loan should I do? Or should I figure out if I'm staying in DELETED or moving back?

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

I would love to give you my business if you know of anything that will work in my situation.


My first reaction was that there is no way anyone should accept a HELOC with a five year pre-payment penalty such as described.

You are going to need to refinance your first in November 2009 if not sooner. When that happens, there are going to be issues with subordination which are likely to cause you to want to pay your new second off, especially as the lender you mention has a policy of no subordinations.

This is an excellent question. Truthfully, an 8.00 or 8.25 percent Home Equity Loan (usually 30 year amortization, with the balance due at the end of 15 years in a balloon payment) will likely do better for you. Now my calculator says that a 30 due in 15 at 7.5 will have a fully amortized payment of $447.50, while a 15 year payoff is $593.29. Don't accept approximate payments, even as a quote - exact numbers tell you far too much about what's really going on. Also, you are and should remain at or below 95% Comprehensive Loan to Value (CLTV), which makes a difference on rate.

Some seconds have smaller penalties, so that may modify the answer. For instance, one lender I do a fair amount of business with has a very low closing cost second with a $500 prepayment penalty, in effect for three years. The cost to buy it off? $500. Either one of these, combined with the costs they assume, is still far less than the closing costs of most comparable loans. However, the standard prepayment penalty would be 80% of six months interest, or about $1920. Assuming you refinance in exactly three years, that boosts your effective rate by one full percent (more if you refinance sooner).

Now I'm happy to do whatever "stand alone" seconds come my way, a "stand alone" second trust deed being one where the primary mortgage is not being refinanced at the same time, as opposed to a "piggyback" where there is both a first and a second trust deed. However, the truth is that the best source for "stand alone" second mortgages is usually a credit union. I've got a couple of internet based lenders that are very competitive for high dollar value seconds, but for stand alone seconds below $75,000, credit unions rule. It was more cost effective to do our second with my wife's credit union than to do it myself. Just has to do with the mechanics of how brokers and correspondents are set up and the way that most second trust deed lenders work.

Now you do have to be able to make those payments. But what you should really be paying attention to is the total cost of the money. How much in closing costs you have to pay to get the loan done, plus how much the loan is going to cost you in interest every month. It was only a couple of years ago that most traditional lenders would charge the same closing costs for a stand alone second that they would for a primary mortgage. For a $64,000 second, that $3500 in closing costs is almost 5.5% before you get to the actual interest charge - the equivalent of a 1.8% surcharge to the rate, assuming you kept it three years. You're better off taking a 9.5% rate that carries no closing costs than you are with an 8% rate that carries traditional ones, and that's not even considering the fact that you still owe most, if not all of that extra $3500, when you go to sell your house or refinance.

The situation, luckily for borrowers, has changed. Many lenders have very low cost stand-alone second trust deed programs, whether you are looking for a fixed rate home equity loan (HEL) or a flexible Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC). The rates are higher than first trust deed loans, but the requirements are lower. Because the rates are higher, lenders are competing for these loans, with credit unions leading the charge. If there's a first mortgage involved, things are different. Most credit unions don't really have the resources to handle first trust deeds, with dollar values having appreciated the way they have. So they partner with major commercial banks, becoming essentially dedicated brokers for first mortgages, while competing ever harder for second mortgages in their own right. Nonetheless, because lenders want second trust deed loans, the result of their competing with each other has been a drastic drop in closing costs for second trust deeds over the past few years.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

Dear Mr. Melson,

If you sign two or more non-exclusive buyer's agent agreements in your search for a home to buy, how do you avoid putting yourself at risk for a procuring cause situation from either agent, or even the seller?

Thank you,

A Fan

The first thing I've got to say here is that I am not a lawyer, so for specific legal advice for your state and your situation, consult one. That said, here's a broad brush picture of what I've been given to understand.

I am a big fan of the non-exclusive buyers agency contract. Consumers give someone a chance to get the job done, and the agents concerned have only themselves to blame if they can't. Nor does it tie consumers to one particular agent. There's no way of telling if any particular agent is any good until they've shown you some property. They could be a bozo, they could be a commission grabber, they could have any number of potential problems with a buyer's agent. Consumers who limit themselves to non-exclusive contracts can have any number of agents they want working for them, as any counting number is possible. Finally, they can fire a bad agent simply by not working with them any more. The only thing you possibly give up is the ability to buy houses they introduced you to, and if you liked any of them, you would have made offers already. Nor is even that an absolute prohibition, as we will see a little later on.

The simplest way to deal with this is to tell whomever you're working with if you've seen a property before. You tell the agent you're with before they take you out there that they're not the procuring cause. I give every client a full list of what I'm planning to show them at the start of every hunting trip - and you should insist on this anyway, for this and many other reasons. I want my clients to have ready made paper for taking notes and writing down questions they may have and answers they get, even if that answer is, "I don't know yet but I will find out." If the clients don't want to see a particular property, if they've seen it before with someone else, etcetera, they have an opportunity to say so right away. If an agent takes you to something like that knowing they're not the procuring cause, they have no grounds for complaint when they don't get the commission. The easiest way for consumers is, "Joe with the office down the street already showed us 1234 Main Street, and we're considering it. We want you to show us something better if you can." That serves notice that there is no commission there for them, and it's going to be a rare exception that bothers with that property. If they start talking it down at that point, get out of the car, and tell them that their services are no longer desired. Here they were planning to show it to you as something they thought you should seriously consider, and now they're telling you it's a bad property because someone else will get the commission? They aren't out for your best interests, and they've just told you that in terms anyone should be able to understand. Fire them immediately, without any appeal. Nonetheless, dealing with the issue in this manner is more than sufficient to stop problems before they start as well as dead simple.

Note that I said it's sufficient, which is a logician's term that means it's at least enough. It's not the minimum necessary in this case. The entire thing about "procuring cause" is that this is the agent who made you want to buy the property. Therefore, sometimes I'm willing to disregard "I've seen it before" for clients I've got a good rapport with, if they tell me that they're not interested in that property for whatever reason that seems to them good and sufficient. "Please trust me with fifteen minutes of your time, because I think I've seen something that may change your mind." The essential point is that they've given me evidence that the other agent is not the procuring cause, because they did the exact opposite of interesting them in the property - they turned them off of it. If I can turn that around because I understand something about the property and their situation that causes them to see what I see, I am the procuring cause, and I have demonstrably provided value to those clients. It's rare, but it does happen. Two elements that are always necessary before I want to show a property: That I believe it will satisfy the client's needs and there's a good chance they'll like it enough to make an offer I can sell to the owners.

I should also mention that it's bad business for agents or brokerages to sue clients for commissions. Not only is it bad publicity and a good way to scare off future clients as well as probably more money to prosecute than you'll win if you're successful and half a dozen other disasters, but I've never heard of any agent or brokerage actually winning such a case. This is one reason why the incentives are there for agents to want to tie up your business with an exclusive agreement, but from a consumer point of view, exclusive buyer's agency agreements are a disaster in progress for no gain. You're tying your ability to buy a property for the next six months to one particular agent based upon their behavior in their office? I don't think so. I wouldn't do that on a bet, and neither should you. The games that can be played when one particular agent controls the transaction are too numerous to mention. The vast majority of my clients never talk to another agent, but that's by the client's choice, because I demonstrate I've got their best interests foremost in my mind every time we talk, meet, or correspond, and that they'll be lucky if the other agent is half as good as me. The knowledge that they do have a choice is one more motivation to do the best possible job I can, and a consumer can never have too many reasons why their agents want to do their best work possible. Which do you think is likely to do better work: The agent who knows that a commission is in the bag (eventually) as soon as he's got a signature on a piece of paper, or an agent who knows that the client always has a choice to try out the competition? I put it to you that the agent who's willing to be in the latter category will not only work harder, but that they're much more likely to be a capable agent, confident of their ability to make that client happier than anyone else.

This example may be fictional, but the character portrayed has one thing in common with a good agent, or anyone who really is good at what they do: He's not afraid to be measured against the competition.

I may not be Lancelot (he's fictional. I don't have the author writing fiats in my favor), but I'm more than happy to measure myself against the competition in the only way that counts: the actual battle to make my clients happy. This is what the non-exclusive agreement allows the consumer to do - find their Lancelot, or at least Bors or Percival, instead of being stuck with Mordred. It's easy for Mordred to talk the same game as Lancelot, which is why you need to get them out in the field to observe them at work. Non-exclusive agency agreements let you do that. They doesn't bind consumers to the first agent they meet for six months that might as well be forever, because most people aren't going to wait that long if he isn't as up to the task as he might be. Furthermore, it's a lot easier to manage than trying to get out of that exclusive contract Mordred talked you into.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here


I got this question in an email, and almost blew it off, but then I realized for every person who actually asks, there are probably at least a dozen who are unclear but don't ask, and I apologize that I almost blew off the question.

This is one of those questions with a deceptively simple answer. Transactions fall out of escrow because something goes wrong with the terms of the purchase contract as negotiated. This happens in all kinds of areas, not just real estate.

In real estate, it is usually not the fault of the escrow officer. I have encountered exceptions to this rule (I had one close just before I wrote this where the escrow officer tried their damnedest to sink it), but they are rare. The escrow officer is simply a hired middleman that handles the actual exchange by verifying everyone involved has in fact done everything spelled out in the contract, and assisting in certain ways those items which cannot be accomplished until close of escrow.

It is possible to fall out of escrow on a refinance, but nobody talks about it that way because the issues are a lot more limited, so usually people describe this in specific terms, such as "Couldn't qualify for the loan," or "The appraisal came in too low." These apply to purchase escrows as well, but the phrase "fall out of escrow" enables agents to avoid finger-pointing, and agents never know when the target you point at today is going to be someone whose good opinion you want tomorrow. Ergo, the commonality of the phrase. It may make it seem like escrow is the bad guy, but that is only rarely the case. There isn't some group of Nazgul masquerading as escrow officers going around and doing evil things to your real estate transaction. There are escrow officers out there who are incompetent buffoons, but most of the time it's not the escrow officer's fault when things fall apart. "It fell out of escrow," is mostly a way of avoiding any unnecessary bad feelings from a broken transaction.

The most common way a transaction falls out of escrow is the buyer fails to qualify for the requisite loan. For the buyer, this can be avoided by making certain ahead of time that you're going to qualify, staying within budget, and - the step that many are neglecting right now - following the market while you're shopping. For sellers, it's more complex because you can't steer business, but it is doable.

The next most common way transactions fall out of escrow is that the inspection reveals something that wasn't anticipated in the purchase contract, and the seller and buyer can't agree on what's going to be done about it. This is one of the reasons why I'm so fixated on finding all the issues I can before we make an offer. Sure the inspector is probably going to find other stuff, but if it's all trivial, normal wear and tear, we don't have a threat to the transaction. Put the major issues on the table during initial negotiations, and you've already got agreement before you've invested days to weeks and hundreds or thousands of dollars into a transaction. You would not believe how much this changes your outcome for the better without trying it.

Even if you don't catch everything ahead of time, be reasonable in negotiations after you find the problem. You can't force the other side to be reasonable, but if you control what you can control, chances are better that you'll come to a mutually satisfactory amendment. Remember, you wanted this deal in the first place. For the buyer or the seller, trying to sweeten it unreasonably because of a new fact is going to lose that transaction. Furthermore, the buyer has the inspection contingency to protect them, while they can decide to carry through on the sale on the previously negotiated contract even if the seller won't deal at all. Both buyer and seller jointly have the ability to decide whether the seller is going to fix it, give the buyer an allowance (usually a small amount larger than cost of fixing to make up for having to be the one to hassle with fixing it), or whatever else strikes them both as reasonable. Either one trying to dictate to the other is a recipe for a transaction falling apart.

As you can see, none of these is the escrow officer's fault, and they shouldn't be blamed for something that's not their fault. It's not due to this (sarcasm) scary mysterious (end sarcasm) process called escrow - it's that there was an issue endemic to the situation that the principals and the agents could not resolve in a satisfactory manner. There are any number of possible issues that the escrow process is intended to prevent: Title and unpermitted additions are also common. You name it, it probably happens and agents deal with these issues regularly. The process of escrow is intended, in large part, to shake these problems out so that the buyer doesn't have nasty surprises later, and the seller really does get the money they're due for their property. Without escrow, the incidence of real estate problems would rise dramatically, as would the cost for dealing with them. If you understand escrow, you know that the reason for it, and why it's one of a consumer's most important protections from bad transactions.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

Dear Mr. Melson:

My husband and I are great fans of your Searchlight Crusade essays. Excellent work!

In today's mortgage-mess market, will lenders reject loan applications from average buyers (not investors) wanting to purchase acreage with a teardown outside the city limits, with the intent of building a new home? Obviously, preservationists and neighborhood associations who might object to interference with the "character" of the area wouldn't be a major factor in this kind of decision.

Would the mortgage needed for such a purchase have to be a combo "jumbo" loan, or what? We are in DELETED and would be using a VA loan.

Okay, let's deal with the peripheral stuff quickly. The "jumbo" and "conforming" labels don't apply to VA loans. They're for conventional A paper financing only, and VA loans having a government guarantee attached as well as the ability to go up to 103% of purchase price with no PMI, there's no need to split the loan amount or to pay PMI at all with a VA loan. I know of at least one lender who'll do VA loans up to $1.5 million.

Now as to the main question: Buying teardown property.

All residential real estate loans require two things: 1) an interest in land, and 2) a permanently attached residence where people can live. Condos and PUDs qualify, because they do have an interest in land held in common, as well as the residence itself. But bare land does not qualify for standard residential financing, because it has no residence.

So the essential question here is: Is the building actually condemned? If it is, what you have isn't a residence at all, but bare land that it's going to cost you money to scrape clean. If you hear an agent talking about "land less demolition and haul away", this is the type of situation you're in. You can't get a residential loan on it because you can't live there. You have to go to one of the other loan types, which means higher down payment and usually higher rates, as well. You've still got the utility hook ups, and you might be able to use the original foundation, so you're not starting from nothing, but property with a condemned building on it is generally less valuable than bare land, because you've got the expense of getting rid of the condemned building. Condemned buildings also have the virtue of short-circuiting most concerns of historical preservation - not always, but most of the time. If the City of Philadelphia were to condemn Liberty Hall as unsafe, I'm pretty certain that wouldn't be the end of the matter. On the other end of the scale, there's a house on the same block I grew up designated historical because it was built in 1895 and by the time anyone in the City of La Mesa looked around, it was one of the oldest buildings remaining in the City. But it wasn't really anything special at the time, so if it was ever certified unsafe, I imagine there wouldn't be much fuss about actually tearing it down.

If the building is not actually condemned, however, you do have the ability to get a residential loan on the property, but you also have to be careful it's not designated historical in any way, shape or form - and that there's no one with any interest in designating it so. Once designated historical, it's like the labors of Sisyphus to try and get permission to get rid of it, and even the attempt to designate it as historical (whatever that attempt may be motivated by) can cost years and many thousands of dollars in expenses. Just because it's outside city limits doesn't mean that nobody has an axe to grind.

People do want to tear down existing buildings for other reasons than condemnation. They want to do something else with the land, or they just don't like what's there. In the meantime, they can still buy with a regular residential loan, until they're actually ready to tear it down. In such a situation, your lender would probably have the right to call the loan, so your destruction and construction financing should take cognizance of this fact. Even if your state law and loan contract do not give the lender the right to call the loan, one should be very careful that you're not misrepresenting your intentions in any way. In other words, if you're buying with intent to demolish, don't hide it from the lender. That's FRAUD. If you refinance out of the loan before destruction begins, it shouldn't be a problem. But if you sign loan documents today, and tomorrow the bulldozers start flattening, a reasonable person is going to see it as deception.

There are also the permits to consider. No matter where it is or what you want to do, it's going to require building permits. This is often a paper trail for preservationists of whatever stripe, as well as for the lender who wants to show fraud. You told the lender by signing the loan documents that everything was hunky-dory on the 15th, but you had applied for demolition and construction permits on the 14th. That's what is called a "smoking gun." Permits for single residence construction are both costly and byzantine, and often so contorted that the only practical way to get them is to commit an illegality. (sarcasm alert!) Poor civil servants, how else are they going to live in ten bedroom mansions and take a dozen foreign trips yearly?

There are a couple of commonly used alternatives. The first is to leave one or more walls standing. When you do that, it's not new construction, it's reconstruction - the same as after a fire or earthquake - and the permit process is far more streamlined, but you're still going to watch it as far as the original financing goes. Check with experts in your particular area as to the ins and outs. The other is to retain the old residence while you build a new one, then demolish the original structure after you've moved into the new. The advantage there is you can definitely keep the original financing in place during construction and only worry about the money you need for actual construction, but the disadvantage is that you've got to deal with zoning issues, as well as being unable to use the original site for the replacement residence - so you have to pour a new foundation and clone the utility hookups, and quite often, the lot is just too small to have a second site available that meets setback requirements, etcetera.

Destruction of an existing building and construction of a new one are both difficult tasks, fraught with landmines, if you want to do it legally. One of the things many folks just never quite understand is that those costly hurdles and roadblocks they want to throw in the way of "commercial developers" apply just as strongly to the individual property owner as they do to that corporation. In fact, what the corporation may accept as a cost of doing business, thereby passing that cost along to its customers, as well as economies of scale and everything else, that corporation is much more likely to be able to afford to navigate the process than any but the wealthiest of individual homeowners. Furthermore, by artificially limiting the supply of housing, this has the effect of raising the point at which supply and demand are in equilibrium (i.e. market price) quite significantly. I've seen recent estimates for San Diego County that this cost of getting permits raises the cost of single family detached housing by anywhere from $130,000 to $200,000 over what it would otherwise be. Incidentally, for the developer who goes through the process for several hundred units, the economies of scale reduce the price of the permits to roughly $20,000 per unit. They make a profit off the situation, while the poor guy who wants to build their own property may end up spending hundreds of thousands of dollars just to get the little pieces of paper that say it's okay for them to actually start construction. So be careful, and plan ahead, and make certain that it's going to be possible within your means in the area you want to buy before you sign on any dotted lines.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

When I'm driving, and get to busy main streets, I hate turning left onto major streets unless there's a light there. Traffic is coming hard both ways, usually at high speeds, and with only intermittent breaks in each direction. If you're turning left, you've got to wait for those intermittent breaks to happen from both directions simultaneously. So for at least the past twenty years, I've employed an alternate tactic. Instead of sitting there waiting to turn left, hoping the deities of traffic are kind, or being a jerk and risking an accident by pulling into traffic and stopping, I'll turn right instead, go down a block, and shoot a U turn. At least nine times out of ten, the person who was there ahead of me waiting to turn left will still be sitting there when I go by, already on my way despite having gotten there later than him.

Real estate can be a lot like that. Sometimes the best way to get what you really want isn't the direct and obvious one. Sometimes, taking what looks like a detour can help you.

This can take various forms. Every once in a while, a question hits my site like "Lenders who do 100% financing with a 520 credit score." Three words: Not. Gonna. Happen. But there are alternatives. Raising your credit score and Seller carry-back are the first two that come to mind. Given the market right now, a seller carry-back can be the little detour that gets both of you to where you want to be, if the seller has the option of doing it, which a good agent can find out. You'll pay a more than you might have with a good credit score and down payment, but it can be done. Raising your credit score is also surprisingly easy in many cases. I've gotten people's credit score up to 660 or even 680 in a couple of months. Pay your bills on time, know how to get rid of old derogatory items, a few other tricks. It takes some time and a surprisingly small amount of cash.

Those are comparatively easy. There's a much harder hurdle: "I can't afford anything I want!" The obvious - and deadly wrong - solution is an unsustainable loan like a Negative Amortization Loan or another unsustainable loan. What those have in common is that they are short term patches to a longer term problem. There are several better alternatives.

You can make your stuff last longer. No $600 car payments or $400 per month credit card obligations means that you can afford more for a house. Pay them off and keep the cars running and don't charge up any more. Assuming a 45% debt to income ratio, I've just added back as much into your housing budget as getting a $2250 per month raise - $27,000 per year. People who keep buying SUVs as opposed to compacts must want them more than they do a better dwelling place - and if they do want to drive an new SUV instead of an older compact more than they want to own a house, they are making the correct choice. But I'd rather buy an appreciating asset than a depreciating one.

First time buyer programs such as the Mortgage Credit Certificate and Locally based loan assistance can help you stretch what you can afford. Between the two, it can make a difference of as much as twenty or possibly even twenty-five percent of your budget. They cost a little money and you have to jump through their hoops, which can include where and when you buy, but they make about the same real difference as choosing some of the more dangerous loans - and instead of a risky gamble, they turn it into something sustainable when combined with a more sensible loan.

You can find a partner. Sure, you can only afford $275,000 by yourself. Put two people who can afford $275,000 together, though, and that's a $550,000 house. That's an above average 4 bedroom house with money to spare in a lot of areas. Put three of you together, and you've got an $825,000 mini mansion big enough for the three of you to rattle around in. It takes some legal preparation to protect the partnership from a bad partner, but it's not that difficult or that expensive. And it needn't be permanent. Let's say two of you buy that $550,000 house with zero down payment (possible when I originally wrote this, but not, alas, now), instead of saving for a down payment at $500 per month each. If you were to save that money, earning 10% tax free for five years, you'd each have just over $40,000 each, or about $81,000 grand total. If the house appreciates at 5% per year (low for this area by historical averages) and you make regular amortized payments, the home is worth $702,000, you owe $515,000 if you never paid an extra cent, and net of the cost of selling, you're splitting $137,000 two ways, or not quite $69,000 each. That $425,000 3 bedroom house you really wanted to yourself has appreciated to about $542,500, but now you have a $70,000 down payment. Assuming you got annual salary increases of 3%, it's 7% more affordable now, instead of only 1% - equivalent to boosting your monthly savings to $850 - and it's unlikely you'll make 10% tax free, which that assumes. If you last ten years in the partnership, you come away with $183,000 each instead of $112,000 by investing your $500 per month tax free at 10% and the house you really want is seventeen percent more affordable instead of only five.

Another way of putting leverage to work for you is to buy what you can afford, now. If you can only afford a two bedroom condominium, better you should buy that and the kids have to share a bedroom in a property you can afford, than that you buy something you cannot afford. My uncle raised a family of four in an 762 square foot two bedroom place - and he had my grandmother living there also when his daughters were teenagers (By the way, the living frugally allowed him to purchase a large home on 400 acres and retire in his fifties from a blue collar job). Most two bedroom condos are bigger than that now. If he could do it for twenty years, you can do it for five. This is why, for example, certain Asian and African immigrants are doing very well despite being only a few years from having nothing and living in an apartment. It certainly beats the alternative. $69,000 and change net proceeds from the sale in five years, and once again you've got that 7% affordability increase after five years, and seventeen after ten - without saving one extra penny.

When you buy with a sustainable loan, you place your cost of housing forever under your own control. You step off the escalator of rising rents, and rising housing costs. The math in my examples assumes marriage, but it's more strongly in favor of ownership if you are single because the standard federal tax deduction is lower.

You can rent a storage closet for the stuff you don't use every day.

You can drive a couple miles further.

You can rent out a room.

You can take a second job, and use the difference to save money. It'll also leave you less likely to buy stuff you don't need.

You can invest some time and money and effort in improving your value to prospective employers.

What may be most difficult, you can adjust your expectations. In San Diego and other high demand areas, the price just isn't going to come down any further.

I am well aware that "settling" is not attractive to most folks. I'm also aware that some neighborhoods are less desirable, and others are considerably more so, some living conditions less desirable and others more. We live in a culture accustomed to instant total gratification. Nonetheless, if by accepting some delays and some costs you get what you want and end up in a better situation, isn't that something to consider, as opposed to crying that you can't have everything you want right now and so you're not going to do anything?

Doing nothing means that you miss out completely because the situation isn't perfect. How does that help the situation improve? Do you just wait and hope that housing values crash further? What is likely to cause such an event? Interest rates rising drastically is the only thing I can think of, but then the loans and their payments get commensurately more expensive. Instead of being unable to afford it when it costs $425,000, now you can't afford it even though it only costs $225,000. It also leaves your future subject to factors beyond your control. Suppose housing prices don't crash? Already the lenders have removed the "declining market" label. Lest you be unaware, this is a trailing indicator, not leading. We're almost thirty percent down, locally, depending upon the neighborhood. Suppose that's all the further down prices go? We've got an ongoing and increasing scarcity problem - not building enough new housing to cover the population increase. Even if rational growth policies took over all the planning commissions and departments tomorrow, do you think the environmentalists and NIMBYs are just going to roll over and play dead in court? I can hope, but that's not the way to bet.

I hope this gives all of you some you some useful alternatives to consider. There is usually more than one way to get something that you want. Sometimes it means that you have to go a bit out of your way, or do something that isn't quite as satisfying for a while. And if you're not willing to do a little bit extra, but expect it handed to you, then either you don't want it very badly, or you are extremely likely to get burned by people who put you into a situation that you were trying to avoid. I know people who've been wanting to buy real estate, waiting for affordability to increase, since the mid 1980s. It's gotten much less affordable since then, and it's not likely to get better than where it is today. You can take steps to make it happen, or you can sit on the sidelines and dream that affordability will some day be there. Which do you think is more likely to get you where you want to be, and more quickly than most people probably think?

You can usually get what you want. Sometimes it just takes intelligent planning, and a step or two in between.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

A while ago I did an article entitled Debt Consolidation Refinance - Doing it Wrong vs. Doing it Right. It's a good article, if I do say so myself. Nonetheless, I think there's more to say on the subject, not just from a point of view of cranking some numbers, but on a meta level as well.

The most concrete lure of debt consolidation refinance is cash flow. Specifically, lower payments. The trap is that you are spreading principal payments over a much longer time. You refinance your home to pay off your car loan. Instead of paying the car off over three or five years, now you're paying it off over thirty. Instead of having it paid off when you go to buy another car, you still owe most of what you borrowed, and unless you saved the cash in the meantime, now you're layering more debt on top of what you already owe. So instead of having a paid off $25,000 automobile that's still worth $10,000 and no debt, you now have the forgoing plus $20,000 of debt that you still owe, and you are still paying interest on, on a car that you aren't going to get any more use out of. The fact that the security is your home rather than the vehicle changes nothing except the exact terms of the loan. You added $25,000 to your balance and $20,000 of it is still there, you're still making payments on it, and you are still paying interest on it.

Low payment is one of the best ways to sucker people into doing stupid things that I know of. Maybe that explains why I'm not rich; I want to figure out whether I'm actually helping the situation, and by the time I've worked it through, the folks are off calling the guy who's selling them the Option ARM who doesn't mention downsides or what is really important. As far as I can tell, low payment is the entire advantage of renting, for crying out loud. People think in terms of cash flow while flushing their financial future down the toilet in the name of lower payments.

There is a reason why that Statement of Cash Flow is the least important of the financial statements corporations are required to file, and Wall Street only discusses cash flow when there's something wrong with a company. Unless they've got a large proportion of clients that don't pay their bills, the Income Statement is a lot more important. Corporations don't think of their facilities only in terms of the payments on their loans. Neither should you.

When you pay off a loan, of whatever nature, you are essentially transferring money from one pocket to another. Furthermore, once you have paid it off, you are no longer paying interest - the real cost of the money - on the balance. It's only the interest charge that you are really paying and that is costing you money. Paying off principal is paying yourself. Stretching the loan term from three years to thirty does not alter the amount of principal you pay, but it does greatly increase the amount of interest you pay. Even if you cut the interest rate from 10% to 6% and get a tax deduction to boot. Paying attention to payments is for suckers. You have to be able to make your payment, as I've said before, but so long as the payment is one you can make, concentrate on the real cost of the money - interest rate - and the cost of the loan, or how much you have to spend in order to get the loan funded. Weigh this against the benefits and how long those benefits last.

If all you are paying attention to is cash flow, and you consolidate your debt because it lowers your payment so that you can spend more money, don't be surprised if you find yourself in the same situation a little while down the line. This is a real world illustration of the law of diminishing returns. Each time you do it, you dig yourself in deeper, and there is less additional spending needed to get you to the point where you have to consolidate again. You consolidate your $1500 house payment and $40,000 in debt, and your new payment is $1800. Then you consolidate that and $30,000 in debt, and your new payment is $2100. Then you consolidate that and $20,000, and your new payment is $2400. What do you do when you can't consolidate any more, and you can't afford the payments, either?

If, on the other hand, you consolidate because it lowers your cost of interest and gets you a tax break and you still keep making the same payments as before, then you're miles ahead. If you're using debt consolidation to lower your payment, you are doing it wrong. If your choices are bankruptcy or debt consolidation, well, if you've got a nice stable home loan that you're not going to need to refinance for a couple of years, I might actually consider bankruptcy, particularly if I only need to shed one or two lines of credit. Obviously, talk to bankruptcy attorney first, but once you've rolled it into your home loan, those higher costs are a part of your life for as long as you own the property and haven't paid the loan off. If you can't afford them and you're a serial consolidator, eventually you're going to get to point where you lose the property.

If you consolidate in order to cut your interest costs, and you don't roll excessive loan fees in to your balance, and you keep making the same payment as before and don't take on any more debt until the balance on your home loan is at least as low as it was before you consolidated, then you come out ahead. Way ahead. You're a little bit ahead due to the lowered costs of interest, and you're a little bit further ahead due to the tax break from interest on home loans, and after you get to the point where you were before, every payment you make without adding new debt pays off much more of your balance. In my original Debt Consolidation Refinance article, I used the example of rolling $75,000 debt into a preexisting $300,000 mortgage. It raised the minimum payment for the mortgage by about $400 and cut the overall minimum payment by $1100. If that minimum payment is the reason you did it, you just hosed yourself. But if you cut your overall cost of interest, and kept making the same payments, you've accelerated your payoff schedule. Make the same payments as before, and you're even in less time than it would have taken to pay the consumer credit down. Keep making those same payments after you've brought yourself even, and it can pay the entire debt load off in half the time or less that your home loan would have taken. Even if you don't make it all the way to zero before you need another car, debt consolidation can set you years ahead in just a few months - but only after you have paid your balance down to where it was before. If you don't get your balance down farther than that before you refinance again, you're cutting your own throat.

In short, debt consolidation refinance is not some magic wand to get out of debt free. There are pitfalls into which the overwhelming majority of people fall, because they consolidate debt for the wrong reasons, and afterwards, they keep doing it again and again until some disaster happens and they lose the property. However, correctly handled, it can significantly enhance your financial situation. Whether it helps or hurts you depends upon how you handle it.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

what is a underwriter final "sign off" on the conditions
First off, it needs to be mentioned that a good loan officer gathers information and puts a full package, with all of the information an underwriter should need, before submitting the package to the underwriter. That's how you get loans through quick and clean. Give the underwriters all of the information you know they're going to need right up front.

Some clients (and a large proportion of loan officers) don't understand this. They want to hang back and see if the basic loan will be approved before they do "all of this work." This is a good way to have to work much harder on the loan. Give it all to them in one shot, and they only look at your file once. You get a nice clean approval. The issue is that every time that underwriter looks at your file, there is a chance they will find something else that they want documented, some little piece of the picture they are uncomfortable with. The underwriter can always add more conditions. The cleaner the package, however, the less likely it is that they will.

When I first wrote this, there were some matters it was okay and routine to bring in later. No longer. Packages not submitted complete get put on hold - lenders won't give conditional approvals to incomplete files any longer. You used to be able to submit without appraisal or title report if they weren't ready yet when you were otherwise ready to submit. It can delay a file while the appraiser contracted under HVCC takes their own sweet time, but lenders will no longer consider incomplete files.

Even if the file is complete, it's important to make sure it's really complete. If the underwriter asks for another set of paystubs, the underwriter will look at the file again once they get them, and if the income they document is even one penny less than the initial survey of the file, they will underwrite the whole thing again. A good loan officer submits complete packages, so the file only gets looked at once.

But every loan officer gets asked for additional conditions from time to time. With the best will in the world, sometimes they are going to miss something that the underwriter is going to want to see in this particular instance. Again, since first I wrote this, underwriters have gotten a lot pickier. I don't think I've even heard of a loan approved without unforeseeable demands from an underwriter in the last couple years. The principle stands: Give them everything you know they are going to want right up front.

Loan conditions fall into two categories: "Prior to documents" and "prior to funding". "Prior to docs" conditions are related to "Do you qualify for the loan?" type stuff. Income documentation, property taxes, existing insurance for refinances, verification of mortgage, rents, employment, deposits, all of that good sort of stuff. Also appraisal, title commitment, etcetera. If there's something missing in the loan package, or a real question about borrower qualification, it should be a "prior to docs" condition. These conditions should be taken care of between the loan officer and the underwriter. The underwriter tells the loan officer what needs to be produced in order to approve the loan, and the loan officer goes and gets it. If the loan officer can't produce it, there is no loan.

This is not to say that a good loan officer can't necessarily think of another way to get the loan approved. Indeed, that's a significant part of being a good loan officer, almost as big as knowing what loans won't be approved, and not submitting a loan that won't be approved. This last is a big game with many loan providers, by the way. They get you to sign up with quotes they know you won't qualify for, but when the loan is turned down (or, more commonly, the conditional commitment asks for something that the situation can't qualify for), they then tell you about the loan they should have told you about in the first place. Pretty sneaky, huh?

Getting back to the underwriter's conditions, a good loan officer knows how to work with alternatives. But at the bottom line, the loan officer has to come up with something that the underwriter will approve. It is the underwriter who has final authority. They write the loan commitment, which is the only thing that commits the money. In fact, most loan commitments are conditional upon additional requirements. The only universal to getting these conditions signed off is that the underwriter has to agree they have been met. As the underwriter agrees that the conditions have been met, one by one, the loan gets closer to final approval.

When the last prior to docs condition is satisfied, the loan officer orders loan documents. It used to be that this was also when many of the less ethical of them actually lock the loan quote in with the lender. Due to changes in the lending environment, it is now very costly to loan officers and future clients to lock a loan before they know it will close. An ironclad rule is that if it isn't locked with the lender, it's not real, but lenders are now charging so much for failing to deliver locked loans that there isn't a realistic alternative - one borrower changing their mind can effectively eliminate a broker's ability to use a particular lender.

When the loan documents arrive, the borrowers sign them with a notary and that's when the rescission clock begins. There is no federal right of rescission on investment property, and none on purchases, but on owner occupied refinancing, there is (Some states may expand on the federal minimums).

At this point we still have "prior to funding" conditions to deal with. "Prior to funding" should be reserved almost exclusively for procedural matters, and should be taken care of primarily between the escrow officer and loan funder. There are always going to be procedural conditions prior to funding, but many lenders are now moving more and more conditions to "prior to funding" as opposed to "prior to docs". Why? Because once you sign documents, you're more heavily committed. Psychologically, once most people sign loan documents they think they're all done. This is not, in fact, the case. Legally, once the right of rescission, if any, expires, you are locked in with that lender unless/until they decide your loan cannot be funded, but they are not required to fund the loan. Once rescission expires, you no longer have the ability to call the whole thing off. You are stuck.

This is not to say that an occasional condition can't be moved to "prior to funding" where it makes sense. Subordinations are probably the prime example. I've saved my clients a lot of money on Rate lock extensions by getting subordination conditions moved to prior to funding so the rescission clock will expire in a timely fashion to fund the loan within the lock period. This is less common now, as lenders want all the ducks in a row before they generate documents, but it never hurts to ask politely.

This is all well and good if the lender told you about everything and actually deliver the loan they said they would, without snags. On the other hand, I have stories. One guy I used to work with had the capper, and the reason he got into the business was he was certain he could do better. He signed documents on a purchase, and a week later - all the while he's expecting to be called with congratulations on a successful purchase any second - they called and told him he had to come up with $10,000 additional money within twenty-four hours, or lose the loan, the property, and the deposit, and be liable for all of the fees. His father had to overnight him cash, which he then took into the bank for a cashier's check.

He is only the most extreme example. The loan is not done until the documents are recorded with the county. Until that happens, the money does not have to come, and even if it does, the lender can pull it back. One procedural thing that happens with literally every loan is a last minute credit check and last minute call to the employer to be certain you still work there. If the borrower has been fired, quit, or has retired, no loan. If the borrower's credit score dropped below underwriting standards, no loan. If the borrower has taken out more credit, the lender will then send the file back to the underwriter to see if they still qualify for the loan with the increased payments. So like I tell folks, until those documents are recorded, don't change anything about your life.

The many less than ethical loan officers don't help matters any. I was selling a property a while back, and the buyer signed documents on Tuesday. If I had been doing the loan, the loan would have funded and the documents recorded the next day. Unfortunately, I wasn't doing the loan. This guy's loan officer had quoted him a loan he couldn't qualify for, and ten days after he signed documents, I got a call saying he could only qualify if I knocked $20,000 off the purchase price. I kept the deposit and went looking for another buyer. This guy learned an expensive lesson. When you sign loan documents, require your loan officer to produce a copy of all outstanding loan conditions. Don't sign until and unless you get it. This guy had signed, and was now locked in with a lender who couldn't fund the loan on conditions he could meet. I had even warned his agent about the problems I saw in the situation (I accepted the offer because I was willing to sell at that price, so I wanted the transaction to go through), but hadn't been believed. So both of us ended up unhappy.

If they give you a copy of all outstanding loan conditions, you should know if you can meet them. If you can't meet them or aren't certain, don't sign. Don't hesitate to ask for explanations. Some of this stuff gets pretty technical, but a good explanation should be easily understandable in plain English. It may be complicated, but there just isn't anything that can't be explained in plain English. If the explanation you get is gobbledygook, you've probably been lied to all along.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

A while ago, another agent in my office got an offer and brought it to me for feedback. The listing was range priced over a $30k range, and priced correctly, so there was a lot of activity on it. The offer was for $30k beneath the bottom of the range, with a note saying that this was for a single dad with three kids, and that was all they could afford, but they really loved the property, and were so excited that that they were each going to get their own room, and so on, gushing for several paragraphs.

In logic circles, this is called the appeal to pity. "Please take pity on me." However, we had every reason to believe that we would be seeing better offers on the property very soon - it hadn't even hit its first weekend on the market, and there had been roughly 15 viewings and six phone calls from agents whose clients had seen the property.

I advised them to counter hard at the high end of the range pricing. It's no concern of current owners what that buyer can and cannot afford. The first two things that ran through my mind were the large amount of activity at an early date, and the likelihood that this was a low-ball flipper's offer. It's not like there's any criminal penalties for creative fiction accompanying an offer. The next two thoughts were if they like the property that much, come talk to me about ways to stretch what you can afford. Two ideas: Mortgage Credit Certificate and Municipality based assistance programs, and both could have been applied to this property, as in it was eligible, there was available money in the program budgets, and each of them stretched the buyer's ability to pay by at least enough, let alone if applied for together. If both were already accounted for, bid on something less expensive; it's not like there is any shortage of properties for sale. Maybe somebody has to share a room; maybe there are fewer amenities, maybe they just don't love it quite as much. None of these is the current owner's problem.

Yes, I'm always looking for hidden bargains, but this time I was on the side of the owner, or rather, the owner's agent, and furthermore, the property was correctly priced and seeing strong activity. Neither of those are characteristic of hidden bargains - when I am the buyer's agent I counsel my clients to avoid such properties if they are looking for a bargain (although there are exceptions, such as buyers with few properties that meet their needs). Furthermore, appeal to pity is a bad negotiating tool.

So here's the situation: Somebody comes up to you and asks you to sell your property for far less than you can get, because they are so deserving, and you want this underdog to succeed against the odds. "Help me, I'm really in need." The appeal is no different at the root than a pan-handler's pitch.

I've given money to panhandlers in my time, too, and doubtless will again. I'm a complete sucker for the ones with kids. But that's maybe $5 or $10, possibly even $20 at the most. Panhandlers are not effectively asking for $40,000 or so out of my pocket, much less my client's pocket. My client has neither a Red Cross nor a Salvation Army Shield on their door. They are not obligated to settle for much less than they could get for a valuable property. In this case, the difference was for something like 70% of their actual net equity, and it is a violation of the fiduciary trust that my client has placed in me, and I have accepted, not to point this out. If it were several months on, and this was looking like it might be the best offer the property would get, that would be one thing. But it was a brand new listing with strong enough activity that there was even hope of a little bit of a bidding war in the strongest buyer's market of the last two decades. It's not like the prospective buyer was homeless, and even if they were, there are more logical things to do first than buy a four bedroom detached home, not to mention it would be tough getting verification of rent, which all lenders are going to want.

But I also counseled the other agent not to reject the offer completely, and not to counter until the third day. The high counter signals, in no uncertain terms, that the owner's bargaining position is very strong. It's even a good idea to explain why it's very strong. But in this market, especially, you get buyers looking for a bargain because they might be able to get one. My buyers do it. Why not others? By the third day, there might be another offer on the table. Not that the absence of other offers stops some agents from pretending that there are other offers, but I've always found that the best policy is not to lie when the truth will do, and the truth will always do, because you should tailor your response to what the truth is. This may sound strange coming from a member of the profession that describes condemned buildings as "needing a little TLC", but if you want to do well in negotiations, never overplay your hand (and tell the buyer that the building is condemned if it is, especially since condemnation is a recorded instrument, so it's not like you can plead ignorance). Real estate is almost entirely public information. If there is a dissonance between how you act, what you say, and what the public information says, good agents will pick up on it. This is not poker, and bluffing is unlikely to result in a consummated transaction. The other side can see most of your cards, and has the option of getting up and walking away from the table at any time, and good agents will counsel their clients to do exactly that if the situation calls for it. The idea is a willing buyer and a willing seller coming to a mutually beneficial arrangement.

So the other agent took the offer to the client, and jointly they decided to mostly follow my advice. The prospective buyer walked away, they got two more offers before the third day. And a couple days later, well, remember that first group of two thoughts I had? Well, we found out that that particular prospective buyer was buying with intent to flip; he had flipped at least four properties in the previous year or so. His low offer and all the histrionics surrounding it was simply a ploy for more profit. You'd be amazed how often that happens. And had the owners reached an agreement with the person, they would have been bound by it even if they discovered the misrepresentation before consummation of the sale, as none of that is part of the contract.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

(Note: This is a repeat and 100% financing is not currently available unless you are one of those with a VA loan available to you - but the article is still valid for those who have the required down payment of 3.5 to 5 percent or more. Furthermore, rates are lower now)

A while ago, I got an email asking Save For A Down Payment or Buy Now?, and I wrote a two part article on the subject. Part 2 of Save For A Down Payment or Buy Now? gave an alternative strategy to make affordability accelerate faster. But there was an obvious, related concern that I let go because it was a very complex calculation, and that was, "What's the effect of waiting to buy on my financial situation later in life?"

This wasn't an easy problem to program, even in a spreadsheet. I'm decent with spreadsheets, but for a lot of the calculations I had to do it by brute force repetition, as the calculations are what mathematicians call a convolution (really). Had I been able to do certain functions on spreadsheets that I used to do with matrices back in the really dim times, it would have been far easier, but the area I ended up using was three sheets totaling about 60,000 cells. Most of it was change one thing, copy and paste a row or column segment, then change another. It wasn't that hard mentally, but the finished product certainly makes a microprocessor work for a living!

I also had to make some simplifications to the problem. In order to make the problem manageable, I had to assume that you hold onto your home, once you have bought, at least until the end of the scenario, and also that you never refinance. I had to program it with smooth inflation, smooth appreciation, smooth increases in federal income tax standard deductions, and smooth increases in auxiliary prices. Anyone over the age of thirty ought to know how ridiculous those assumptions are. But in the long-term statistical aggregate, it's a reasonable approximation, and adding those random elements made the problem beyond the scope of what I could realistically do. I also had to postulate no major changes in income or property tax law, and I had to ignore the effects of state income taxes. Besides, the idea was to isolate the effects of the variable under consideration, how waiting to buy a home influences your financial situation down the line. I also had to choose a set period to terminate at, and arbitrarily chose 30 years. It's not that the benefits (or costs) stop accruing at that point, it's just that I did not have the time to make the simulation open-ended.

Actually, this is two discrete problems when you really look at it, and they really are disjoint, and no matter how much the folks who sell Reverse Annuity Mortgages might try to link them, they are separate cases. What happens if you keep living there at simulation end, versus what happens if you decide to sell and move somewhere else when you retire.

Nonetheless, the following simulations are all as representative as I can make them. Except for the effects of state income tax, they are in line with current and historical California computations. Actually, they are considerably less rewarding than actual historical figures to people who buy property earlier rather than later, as even with the bubble pop we're still looking at more than seven percent per year long term historical rise in values over the previous forty years, as opposed to the lower programmed assumptions.

Example 1: Suppose you're talking about a San Diego Condo. $300,000 present purchase price, no down payment but you can save $500 per month for a down payment in the future if you don't buy now, and this amount increases proportional to salary increases. The property continues to appreciate at 4.5% whether you buy or not, association dues are $250 per month and general inflation is 4%, and you can get 7.2% return, net of taxes (10% minus an assumed marginal tax rate of 28%), on the money you save for a down payment. Whenever you buy, you can get a 6% first mortgage, and a 9% second if you need it. I'm also going to assume that in order to see any financial benefit, you're going to have to sell at a cost of seven percent of value. Furthermore, you're stable in your profession, seeing a 3% compounded annual raise in income, and equivalent rent is $1400 per month currently.



Year
0
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
purchase price
$300,000.00
$313,500.00
$327,607.50
$342,349.84
$357,755.58
$373,854.58
$390,678.04
$408,258.55
$426,630.18
$445,828.54
$465,890.83
$486,855.91
$508,764.43
$531,658.83
$555,583.48
$580,584.73
$606,711.05
$634,013.04
$662,543.63
$692,358.09
$723,514.21
$756,072.35
$790,095.60
$825,649.90
$862,804.15
$901,630.34
$942,203.70
$984,602.87
$1,028,910.00
$1,075,210.95
$1,123,595.44
still owe
*
$24,489.73
$46,429.89
$67,745.37
$88,445.34
$108,534.07
$128,010.82
$146,869.63
$165,099.15
$182,682.37
$200,029.06
$217,296.63
$233,893.12
$249,747.93
$264,783.31
$278,913.68
$292,045.12
$304,074.62
$314,889.39
$324,366.10
$332,370.01
$338,754.10
$343,358.06
$346,007.30
$346,511.78
$344,664.85
$340,241.87
$332,998.90
$322,671.15
$308,971.35
$291,299.48
housing*
$1,354.26
$1,514.40
$1,659.59
$1,801.37
$1,939.80
$2,074.91
$2,206.72
$2,335.19
$2,460.26
$2,581.85
$2,702.41
$2,822.91
$2,939.80
$3,052.67
$3,161.06
$3,264.47
$3,362.35
$3,454.09
$3,539.04
$3,616.45
$3,685.54
$3,745.43
$3,795.18
$3,833.75
$3,860.02
$3,872.76
$3,870.64
$3,852.21
$3,815.90
$3,760.00
$3,680.93
waiting
$0.00
$160.15
$305.33
$447.11
$585.54
$720.66
$852.46
$980.93
$1,106.01
$1,227.59
$1,348.16
$1,468.65
$1,585.54
$1,698.41
$1,806.80
$1,910.21
$2,008.09
$2,099.84
$2,184.78
$2,262.19
$2,331.28
$2,391.17
$2,440.92
$2,479.49
$2,505.76
$2,518.50
$2,516.39
$2,497.96
$2,461.65
$2,405.75
$2,326.67
savings*
$3,186.50
$3,026.35
$2,881.16
$2,739.39
$2,600.96
$2,465.84
$2,334.04
$2,205.57
$2,080.49
$1,958.91
$1,838.34
$1,717.85
$1,600.96
$1,488.09
$1,379.70
$1,276.29
$1,178.41
$1,086.66
$1,001.72
$924.31
$855.22
$795.33
$745.58
$707.01
$680.74
$667.99
$670.11
$688.54
$724.85
$780.75
$859.82

*Still owe 1 final payment after thirty years if you buy today. "Housing" is how much your costs of housing will be in 30 years if you bought at the indicated time is, and assumes you refinance for zero cost into the same rate you have now. Waiting cost is as opposed to buying now. Finally, the savings column has to do with how much you are saving per month over what the equivalent rent will be in 30 years, namely $4540.76 in this case.

Please keep in mind that the table is the net result 30 years out; the only time variable in the equation is precisely when you bought the exact same condo. Now there is some mildly strange stuff that goes on. For instance, starting 25 years out, there's a period where, under the stated assumptions, your saving for a down payment actually starts to increase in value faster than the property. This is mostly due to the nature of the simulation - I had to choose a set ending period in order to program it. But by that point, you've missed the optimum time to buy by, well, 25 years. Keep in mind that money will be worth less than a third of what it is today in thirty years ($1 then will be worth 30.8 cents now under stated assumptions), but you are still saving significant amounts of money on your future housing payments by buying as soon as practical.

Now let's look at the situation if you decide to sell your home at the end of the simulation and go live somewhere else:



Year
0
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
purchase price
$300,000.00
$313,500.00
$327,607.50
$342,349.84
$357,755.58
$373,854.58
$390,678.04
$408,258.55
$426,630.18
$445,828.54
$465,890.83
$486,855.91
$508,764.43
$531,658.83
$555,583.48
$580,584.73
$606,711.05
$634,013.04
$662,543.63
$692,358.09
$723,514.21
$756,072.35
$790,095.60
$825,649.90
$862,804.15
$901,630.34
$942,203.70
$984,602.87
$1,028,910.00
$1,075,210.95
$1,123,595.44
net equity
$1,043,032.82
$1,020,454.03
$998,513.87
$977,198.39
$956,498.42
$936,409.69
$916,932.94
$898,074.13
$879,844.61
$862,261.39
$844,914.70
$827,647.13
$811,050.64
$795,195.83
$780,160.45
$766,030.08
$752,898.64
$740,869.14
$730,054.37
$720,577.66
$712,573.75
$706,189.66
$701,585.70
$698,936.46
$698,431.98
$700,278.91
$704,701.89
$711,944.85
$722,272.61
$735,972.41
$753,644.28
liquidation
$7,079.98
$6,926.72
$6,777.79
$6,633.11
$6,492.60
$6,356.24
$6,224.03
$6,096.02
$5,972.28
$5,852.93
$5,735.18
$5,617.97
$5,505.32
$5,397.70
$5,295.64
$5,199.72
$5,110.59
$5,028.93
$4,955.52
$4,891.20
$4,836.87
$4,793.53
$4,762.28
$4,744.30
$4,740.87
$4,753.41
$4,783.43
$4,832.60
$4,902.70
$4,995.69
$5,115.65
net benefit
$594,459.84
$531,782.24
$526,736.25
$495,140.59
$448,046.96
$435,547.19
$407,644.83
$380,733.08
$354,624.01
$329,944.53
$301,836.93
$269,957.25
$239,420.18
$210,196.49
$182,428.96
$155,944.29
$130,741.38
$106,921.94
$84,296.01
$63,087.55
$43,073.74
$24,442.68
$7,100.56
($8,932.23)
($23,548.85)
($36,736.02)
($48,455.14)
($58,627.44)
($67,101.14)
($73,746.48)
($78,651.68)
waiting cost
$0.00
$22,578.79
$44,518.95
$65,834.43
$86,534.39
$106,623.13
$126,099.88
$144,958.69
$163,188.21
$180,771.43
$198,118.12
$215,385.69
$231,982.17
$247,836.99
$262,872.36
$277,002.74
$290,134.18
$302,163.67
$312,978.45
$322,455.16
$330,459.07
$336,843.15
$341,447.12
$344,096.36
$344,600.84
$342,753.90
$338,330.93
$331,087.96
$320,760.21
$307,060.41
$289,388.54

Net equity is what you have left after 7% costs of selling, liquidation assumes that you are taking out 360 equal monthly payments based upon the same return I assumed your money could earn before you bought. Net benefit is the number of dollars difference it makes to your financial position in the future 30 years from now if you buy at the indicated time. Notice that starting 25 years out, it actually hurts you to buy from then on out, as opposed to just letting the investments you were saving for a down payment run. Waiting cost is how much it hurt your future financial position to delay purchase by that much, so if you wait five years, you end up with over $100,000 less in your pocket.

Now let's do a second example: Still in San Diego, but you're going to buy a single family residence that would cost $450,000 today. Nudge assumed appreciation up to 5.5%, cut association dues out but raise property taxes and insurance costs appropriately. Oh, and the equivalent rent now starts at $2000, and general inflation I'm going to assume to be 3.5%. Actually, based upon the past seventy years, everything that has happened has been, over time, more favorable to home ownership than this.

Once again, let's look at the situation if you keep living in the property after 30 years first.



Year
0
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
purchase price
$450,000.00
$474,750.00
$500,861.25
$528,408.62
$557,471.09
$588,132.00
$620,479.26
$654,605.62
$690,608.93
$728,592.42
$768,665.01
$810,941.58
$855,543.37
$902,598.25
$952,241.16
$1,004,614.42
$1,059,868.21
$1,118,160.97
$1,179,659.82
$1,244,541.11
$1,312,990.87
$1,385,205.37
$1,461,391.66
$1,541,768.21
$1,626,565.46
$1,716,026.56
$1,810,408.02
$1,909,980.46
$2,015,029.38
$2,125,856.00
$2,242,778.08
still owe
*
$37,403.63
$72,247.27
$107,464.64
$143,121.84
$179,283.73
$216,014.10
$253,375.62
$291,429.94
$330,237.68
$369,858.41
$410,350.66
$451,771.89
$494,178.40
$537,625.32
$582,166.43
$627,908.86
$675,787.71
$724,872.44
$775,183.89
$826,740.19
$879,556.33
$933,643.75
$989,009.82
$1,045,657.39
$1,103,584.13
$1,162,781.95
$1,223,236.28
$1,284,925.33
$1,347,819.27
$1,410,482.12
monthly
$1,151.93
$1,404.15
$1,641.99
$1,883.05
$2,127.79
$2,376.60
$2,629.93
$2,888.18
$3,151.75
$3,421.06
$3,696.50
$3,978.46
$4,267.34
$4,563.52
$4,867.37
$5,179.28
$5,499.92
$5,834.96
$6,178.89
$6,531.86
$6,894.07
$7,265.65
$7,646.73
$8,037.44
$8,437.84
$8,847.99
$9,267.92
$9,697.62
$10,137.03
$10,586.05
$11,036.15
Wait cost
$0.00
$252.22
$490.06
$731.13
$975.86
$1,224.68
$1,478.00
$1,736.25
$1,973.99
$2,178.71
$2,388.07
$2,602.37
$2,821.91
$3,046.98
$3,277.86
$3,514.85
$3,758.46
$4,013.04
$4,274.35
$4,542.51
$4,817.67
$5,099.93
$5,389.39
$5,686.13
$5,990.21
$6,301.66
$6,620.52
$6,946.75
$7,280.32
$7,621.14
$7,962.68
savings
$4,461.66
$4,209.44
$3,971.60
$3,730.53
$3,485.80
$3,236.98
$2,983.66
$2,725.41
$2,461.84
$2,192.53
$1,917.09
$1,635.12
$1,346.24
$1,050.07
$746.21
$434.31
$113.67
($221.38)
($565.30)
($918.28)
($1,280.48)
($1,652.06)
($2,033.15)
($2,423.85)
($2,824.25)
($3,234.40)
($3,654.34)
($4,084.03)
($4,523.44)
($4,972.46)
($5,422.56)

Equivalent rent would be $5613.59. Once again, the last three columns are all monthly streams, and they do have a steady worsening the entire time, mostly because your saving for a down payment does not start to catch up to the increase in property values during the simulation period. In other words, the longer you wait, the worse it gets. Indeed, affordability is monotonically decreasing the entire time. That's math geek for "Quit waiting, it only gets worse." Even though a dollar then is only worth 35.6 cents now, wouldn't you like as many 35.6 cents in your pocket as possible?

Now let's examine if you decide to sell this starter home in retirement, and go live somewhere else.



Year
0
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
purchase price
$450,000.00
$474,750.00
$500,861.25
$528,408.62
$557,471.09
$588,132.00
$620,479.26
$654,605.62
$690,608.93
$728,592.42
$768,665.01
$810,941.58
$855,543.37
$902,598.25
$952,241.16
$1,004,614.42
$1,059,868.21
$1,118,160.97
$1,179,659.82
$1,244,541.11
$1,312,990.87
$1,385,205.37
$1,461,391.66
$1,541,768.21
$1,626,565.46
$1,716,026.56
$1,810,408.02
$1,909,980.46
$2,015,029.38
$2,125,856.00
$2,242,778.08
net equity
$2,082,917.20
$2,048,379.98
$2,013,536.35
$1,978,318.97
$1,942,661.78
$1,906,499.88
$1,869,769.52
$1,832,407.99
$1,794,353.67
$1,755,545.93
$1,715,925.21
$1,675,432.96
$1,634,011.73
$1,591,605.21
$1,548,158.29
$1,503,617.18
$1,457,874.75
$1,409,995.90
$1,360,911.17
$1,310,599.72
$1,259,043.42
$1,206,227.28
$1,152,139.87
$1,096,773.79
$1,040,126.22
$982,199.48
$923,001.67
$862,547.34
$800,858.28
$737,964.35
$675,301.50
liquidation
$14,138.60
$13,904.16
$13,667.65
$13,428.60
$13,186.56
$12,941.10
$12,691.78
$12,438.17
$12,179.86
$11,916.44
$11,647.50
$11,372.64
$11,091.48
$10,803.63
$10,508.72
$10,206.38
$9,895.88
$9,570.89
$9,237.70
$8,896.20
$8,546.24
$8,187.73
$7,820.59
$7,444.77
$7,060.25
$6,667.05
$6,265.23
$5,854.87
$5,436.13
$5,009.21
$4,583.87
net benefit
$1,681,408.70
$1,527,603.06
$1,482,514.85
$1,390,228.98
$1,262,990.98
$1,218,788.65
$1,139,516.49
$1,064,002.28
$991,242.90
$921,953.98
$854,914.46
$790,327.87
$728,045.15
$667,919.78
$609,807.59
$553,566.46
$498,733.07
$440,202.91
$383,770.99
$329,344.94
$276,837.21
$226,165.09
$177,250.78
$130,021.48
$84,409.45
$40,352.17
($2,207.48)
($43,321.12)
($83,034.61)
($121,387.80)
($156,994.47)
wait cost
$0.00
$34,537.22
$69,380.85
$104,598.23
$140,255.42
$176,417.32
$213,147.68
$250,509.21
$288,563.53
$327,371.27
$366,991.99
$407,484.25
$448,905.47
$491,311.99
$534,758.91
$579,300.02
$625,042.45
$672,921.30
$722,006.03
$772,317.48
$823,873.78
$876,689.92
$930,777.33
$986,143.41
$1,042,790.98
$1,100,717.72
$1,159,915.53
$1,220,369.86
$1,282,058.92
$1,344,952.85
$1,407,615.70

Now it is to be noted, as we saw under the first table, a point in time exists starting 26 years out where you will be better off just keeping your down payment money socked away in alternative investments, as opposed to actually using it to buy your home. Once again, this is mostly due to the closed end definite endpoint way I had to program this.

I'm planning to start using this sheet with prospects, under assumptions they can set - If they think inflation is going to average 7%, or appreciation only 3%, the sheet can accommodate that. I've played with the sheet over a few dozen simulations, and due to leverage, the numbers appear quite powerfully in favor of buying the best home that you can actually afford, right now. Interestingly enough, however, these number also strongly suggest that as close to 100% financing as you can manage initially will outperform larger down payments, and that's something that seems quite counter-intuitive to the usual run of financial planning. Instead of using it for your down payment, financing 100% of your purchase if you can seems to make your money work harder. Well, I can put a lot of caveats on that, because metaphorical bumps in the road happen, and nobody knows exactly when or how these disasters will strike. If you do, you can plan for it, and could you please drop me an email in warning? When you're just looking at the raw numbers, however, the advice they give is quite strongly to buy the best property you can afford as soon as you can, putting down as little of a down payment as you can, and making the minimum payments while salting away the rest for a rainy day. But be very careful not to stretch too far, because one thing you can count on, even in Southern California, is that it will rain sometimes.

These numbers represent middle of the road, statistical average type results, given the assumptions listed in each problem. In point of historical fact, in neither of the two problems did I choose assumptions as favorable to the property owner as the historical numbers we in California have experienced. Furthermore, with the market driven well below historical average pricing trends in terms of affordability, those who buy before everybody realizes the market has turned are likely to eventually realize quite a significant adjustment due to the market returning to long term levels of macroeconomic affordability.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

The scope of the problems that exist in the United States consumer mortgage market are huge. Enormously, mind-bogglingly, "How Big Is Space?" type huge. Yet, the problems are almost entirely on a retail level, when one provider works with one consumer. The system as a whole works, and it works extremely well. Consider:

Most consumers in Europe or any other country in the world would trade their loans for yours in a heartbeat. Rates there are typically around nine percent or so. Here, that's a ratty sub-prime rate. Mexican rates start at about fourteen percent. Hard money lenders here can sometimes do better than that.

No matter where you are in the United States, you have ready access to home loan capital. It's considered almost a one of our inalienable rights. Due to our secondary markets, as long as you can meet some pretty basic guidelines, you can find somebody eager to lend to you. You can find very long mortgage terms and very short terms. You can find loans without prepayment penalties, and you can choose to get a lower rate by taking a prepayment penalty. You may end up with something that's not as good as someone else if their situation is better, and the lender wants more money to compensate them for the risk of your loan, but even so, the rates here are better than almost anywhere else in the world.

Consumer protections are also better here than almost anywhere else in the world. There are federal laws that give you time to call off a transaction if you change your mind, disclosure requirements, consumer protections against builders with teeth in them, and a tort system that, if it does go overboard some times, still gives you an excellent chance at recovering what unethical people took from you. Many states (California, for instance) go well beyond mandatory federal consumer protections.

So keep this in mind when you see me or anyone else ranting on and on about the problems with our financial markets here. Consider a capital market willing to loan the average person several years worth of wages. I can get a family making $6000 per month a loan for nearly $400,000 on an A paper 30 year fixed rate basis - most expensive loan there is in the most favorable, hardest to qualify for loan market - no surprises, no prepayment penalties, no "gotchas!" of any kind, and I can do it without hiding or shading the truth in the least. That's more than every dollar they will make for the next five years, and this family is every bit as chased after as the richest person in the world (more actually, because there are more of them). When you stop and think about it, that's a pretty wonderful situation. For all of the rants I make, the unethical things that happen, and the problems that exist in our capital markets, they are pretty damned good, and have chosen a set of tradeoffs that appears to be working better than anywhere else in the world, at any other time in history.

Caveat Emptor

Original here


And I mean that literally. Do it all yourself with no begging for free property advice, free help, free negotiations help, free real estate location services, free answers to "how do I deal with this problem?" and not least of these, nobody to blame but yourself and nobody to sue when something goes wrong because you didn't understand something important.

One of the things I do to generate business is talk about bargain properties I've found that current clients aren't interested in, for whatever reason. Maybe it's a bit too much of a fixer. Maybe the location just doesn't work for them. Maybe it just looked so interesting I checked it out despite not having a current client it may be right for. It's not like a listing agent or owner with any kind of clue is going to object to having somebody else think their property is worth a closer look!

This is one e-mail exchange I went through recently. It's not at all uncommon.

Please tell me the address of this property in La Mesa so I could drive by and I will use you as a buyers agent.

This was my reply

Good to hear from you and I look forward to meeting with you!

Here's what we do: We get together, and we both sign a standard CAR non-exclusive agency agreement, which says precisely what you just typed. If you don't buy the property, no obligation is incurred. Neither of us has anything to lose by signing such an agreement. In fact, the only way I gain is by finding properties for you that really are better values than anything else - enough so that you want to buy them.

You don't like the property, you have no obligation whatsoever. This way, neither one of us is risking anything, and if you don't like my work, you can terminate the relationship at any time.

The reply is illuminating. This is the entirety:

I sign nothing but my paycheck

Note that he still has not so much as told me his full name. No phone number either. And when I note that being able to find and recognize this sort of property might be a valuable skill, and doesn't he think that someone who 1) recognizes a valuable commodity that no one else has, 2) points it out to you and 3) enables you to get an all around better bargain deserves some compensation, this was the reply:

Just what I need another low life realtor. You guys are a dime a dozen. YOu mean years of ripping people off for every nickle that you can squeeze out of them. Get a real job I have one. Don't bother responding your trash.

Aside from his desperate need to repeat eighth grade or invest in a better word processor, the charitable interpretation of this reveals an all too common mindset: that of unconscious incompetence. Less charitable but happens constantly: This person is trying to make use of my ability to find and recognize bargains without paying the price for that expertise: Using me as a buyer's agent. And make no mistake - in either case, this person is trying to prove that agents are worthless by getting me to provide one of the major reasons you need an agent, free of charge. Suppose I asked you to work for a week without pay, or your employer volunteered you for a week of unpaid work? That's the equivalent situation. And to accuse real estate agents of being lowlifes because they won't do this is different because...?

A good buyer's agent will save you more than they ever cost by a factor of at least 3 (more likely 10 or higher), and that's not including all the hidden savings from keeping you out of properties that will not appreciate, that will suck your wallet dry, or that have other issues deadly to your financial future. It took me a while to decide to share it, but here's my own story of buying without an agent, years before I became one. I didn't make several of the more common and costly errors, and I still would have been demonstrably several times better off with a buyer's agent.

If you don't think finding and recognizing such a property is a skill - and a valuable skill at that - do it yourself. The fact is that if you could, you wouldn't be asking me to do it for you. The times when I search places other than the publicly available MLS to find real bargains are vanishingly rare. I can find bargains there because 1) I know the market and can recognize what is and isn't value 2) I know what to look for, 3) I know what to avoid, 4) I am very good at spotting problems, and 5) When I don't spot any big problems, I've got a reasonable basis to believe that this really is a bargain. If this describes you, you might not need me. Mind you, any number of people who don't need a full service agent still prefer to use one due to time and liability concerns, but if you know everything a conscientious agent does about property and negotiating and the law and the market you are looking in, why haven't you got a license of your own? That you haven't taken the test is a "fooling yourself" answer - California's test doesn't cover ten percent of what a good agent or loan officer needs to know, and is one of the harder ones. The fact is that it is much easier to get licensed than to actually know what you're doing, so if you're not licensed, how could you possibly know what you're doing? In logic, this is called necessary but not sufficient. In other words, you don't know what you're doing. if you were on a game show, you'd be being told, "Thank you for playing," as they ushered you off camera in favor of the new contestant. (Many of my articles are aimed at helping you defeat the necessary but not sufficient condition of a licensee who doesn't know what they are doing, or won't do it despite knowing).

How offering a skill for sale makes me - or anyone else - a lowlife is beyond me. If you don't need the skill, don't buy it. But if you need the skill, you are expected to pay the price. This is called commerce, and the fact that you may think it is a worthless skill does not make it so, especially as you try to trick the person into performing it for free based upon a false promise. This person, and many others, has tried to get me and other agents to perform it for free under false pretenses. Does this sound like a worthless skill when it is so apparently valuable that people try to scam you out of it? Actually, I'm not certain there is such a thing as a worthless skill, but there are skills that aren't worth anything to me. I don't need anyone to make candles by hand, and am definitely not willing to pay anything for it. This doesn't mean there aren't quite sane people willing to pay a high premium for hand-made candles, but you don't find me among them, trying to get hand-made candles for free. If you really don't think what agents do is valuable, don't try and scam them into doing it for free. Do it yourself.

I do have some small element of understanding for some of these people. The NAR and various state realtor organizations have positioned the profession as a bottleneck or a tollbooth upon a highway. Trying to make people pay the toll because it appears they don't have any choice. Guess what? People have a choice. There is no legal requirement whatsoever to use an agent at all in any state I'm aware of. I can't make you pay me and I certainly won't even try to force you, but neither will I work for free. I have to feed my family somehow, and if I can't make money being an agent, I'll go do something else - but I certainly won't work as an agent for free in my spare time! I will give you reasons why I'm worth a lot more than I make in terms of the client's bottom line, and I will certainly put myself forward as being a particularly good example of an agent and loan officer. Not only is it objectively true in my case, that's how businesses succeed. But if you don't want to pay for my expertise, that's fine. I'll keep looking for those who are willing. But don't accuse me or anyone else of being a lowlife because we won't work for free.

Here are some cold hard facts: if this guy was finding this sort of bargain on his own, he wouldn't be emailing me. He'd be in escrow, if not already moved in to the property of his dreams. If what I was offering wasn't more attractive to him than what he has found on his own, he would never consider emailing me. If he was able to recognize bargains like I can, he wouldn't be looking where I advertised. In short, everything about his response and the fact that he did respond shouts out that he does consider what I do valuable. So which is correct: The cheap ego shot when I won't give him what he wants for free, or his desire for the results of that skill? Is the skill worthless and am I a lowlife, or is the skill valuable, do his actions tell the world that he considers it to be valuable, and is his response when he can't get it for free entirely too much like Aesop's "Fox and the Grapes"?

If you really don't believe you need an agent and that you can do it on your own, you shouldn't be looking for an agent willing to work for free like this. And like any other situation where someone is pretending an answer is different from the real answer, pretending doesn't make the answer any different, political spinmeisters notwithstanding. All pretending otherwise does is give the pretense needless opportunity to damage you and everyone around you. In the case of a real estate transaction for half a million dollars or more, that's quite a bit of damage indeed.

There are those who would have you believe agents don't do anything, or don't do anything valuable enough to warrant what we make. Some of them are themselves sharks that agents protect you from. Some of them have competing products of their own to sell. Some of them just look at the raw number of dollars and don't understand what anyone could do to earn that sort of money or don't understand how much a good agent who wants to stay in business needs to do. You're welcome to believe any of them. But if you do believe them, go do it yourself. Don't try to get agents to work for free - all that says is that you do recognize the value, but are unwilling to pay for value received. And don't get upset when anyone with more than an hour or so in the business recognizes the game you're playing for what it is - a scam intended to defraud them. Finally, if you're tired of playing this game because all it does is cause frustration, stop playing it and start working honestly with one or more agents. The good ones who know what they're doing are more than willing to bet their skills and their time that they will get the job accomplished, with no upfront cost to you.

There are lots of things that any intelligent agent will happily do for free, on speculation of eventually landing a client. I certainly do. But there comes a point where there is real skill and real time and real liability on the line, and if you're not willing to sign up with them at that point, any agent with more than about an hour in the business is going to realize what you're up to.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

(This article was originally written in July 2008. The genesis was a bad experience with medical office staff, but it applies to every customer service situation there is. If the professionals themselves are too busy to handle your problem personally, that's a problem and a red flag that you don't want to do business with them)

I still don't have the tooth pulled, but as of late last night, it seemed like the antibiotic had finally caught up to the infection, and the pain went down a lot over a couple of hours. It still hurts, even with pain killers, but it's not like being actively and continuously stabbed any longer. I'm going to try moving down to the Vicodin the general dentist gave me today instead of Percocet, and maybe I won't be quite so out of it, so maybe I can write something.

This whole experience has been a real eye-opener in another way - exactly how bad alleged customer service really can get. It's a confirmation of my policy: Nobody working for me is allowed to talk to my clients. They are allowed to take a message, and they are allowed to answer simple questions where there is reason to believe the client will probably be happy with the answer. They are not allowed to call my clients without direct specific instructions that I just don't give them. Other than that, there are many reasons why every client gets my cellular number, and is encouraged to call me directly, and this article is going to talk about one of the many disasters this prevents.

My tooth had started hurting on Monday, and so I'd gotten a dental appointment on Thursday, but late Tuesday afternoon, the pain basically exploded. Unfortunately, by the time I could call the dentist, the office was closed for the day, but the dentist gave me a pain-killer and anti-biotic first thing Wednesday. Being a general dentist, Vicodin was the strongest thing he could give me, and it just didn't do more than take the very worst of the edge off for a couple of hours, and I had to wait six hours between doses. But to remove this particular tooth, he had to send me to an oral surgeon. Meanwhile, the infection kept getting worse.

By the time I got to the oral surgeon's office on Thursday, I was literally crying with pain despite the Vicodin. They gave me prescription for Percocet, but said they needed medical clearance from my cardiologist and my regular primary care doctor to pull the tooth. They were also worried about the blood thinners I'm usually on. My cardiologist sent back an answer to them promptly that said it was absolutely fine to pull the tooth, and I could stay on the medications as well, or the dentist could take me off for as long as he felt necessary. According to her, there was no need for any special precautions, but she was happy to go along with anything the oral surgeon wanted.

This wasn't good enough for the dentist's office staff. No, no, no - they had to have the cardiologist say exactly how many days I had to be off the blood thinners before and after surgery. She responded once again by saying that the answer was "zero days" as far as she was concerned. She gave clearance for the dentist to take me off the blood thinners if he thought it advisable, but she did not see such a need for me to stop those medications from a cardiologist's point of view.

Despite being the answer any reasonable person could have hoped to get, this was not a response the dentist's office staff was prepared to accept. I do not know if this was a programmed answer or if the dentist himself directed it, but I have no evidence whatsoever that the dentist was involved in any of these discussions. No, according to these bozos (remember, these are office staff - not nurses, not dentists, not even dental assistants as far as I'm aware), my cardiologist had to give a number of days before and after that I was going to be off those blood thinners before the tooth could be pulled. Keep in mind that the cardiologist - a very sharp young lady with an advanced medical degree and several years experience applying it - had twice said that this was not required. And she was being refuted by office staff. This went back and forth for two days, and I'm still in increasing pain the entire time, including the possibility of increasing complications as the situation is allowed to build.

Matters did not improve when my primary care physician finally responded, saying that she wanted me to be off the blood-thinners before surgery. Then the dental office staff went really berserk, trying to say that since there was a contradiction, both physicians had to consult with each other and issue a joint letter. I tried very hard to explain to them that they were dictating terms of practice to not one, but two highly qualified medical practitioners, and that the terms of both instructions could be satisfied by simply doing what the more stringent of the two had asked for - and since I'd stopped them on my own when this whole issue first started, that was already accomplished by this point, so how about scheduling me for that tooth extraction?

No, no, no. That wasn't acceptable at all to these little tin-pot dictators. And at this point, my willingness to put up with any more of their nonsense basically evaporated. Keep in mind that I had been at home, in pain, unable to eat anything solid, for two full days since they had made their demand, and it's 4:00 Friday afternoon, so we're looking at three more days of pain and lost work before I can even schedule an appointment, never mind actually getting to that appointment or the aftermath. Meanwhile, whatever is going on in my jaw continues to get worse. Buddha only knows what complications this delay is going to cause. I asked for the supervisor, then for the dentist. The supervisor was part of the problem, and they wouldn't let me speak to the dentist, nor have him call me back.

Ladies and gentlemen, part of the reason and necessity for any licensing program at all - and this principle applies just as strongly to agents and brokers as it does to dentists and doctors - is that you have shown qualifications and a sufficient understanding of the thing you are professionally licensed in to make decisions and accept the normal decision-making responsibility of that practice. If you are not willing to accept that responsibility, or have willfully insulated yourself from it, then you are not worthy of your license and definitely not worthy of my business. I did manage to go back and get another referral from my general dentist, but the first oral surgeon's office staff refused point blank to return my medical records - in violation of state law - claiming that "office procedure" was not to release those records. Let's see: "office procedure". I don't intend to try it, but do you think a realtor might get away with claiming "office procedure" to defuse an accusation of breaking state law or RESPA? Let's say you get pulled over for speeding. How well do you think telling the officer that "office procedure says I'm not allowed to do less than 80 mph" would work in getting you out of a ticket, or do you think the officer might be justified in doing something more than merely writing you a ticket in such a case?

Not only that, but by failing to turn over my doctor and my cardiologist's existing letters, they prevented the second oral surgeon from extracting the tooth yesterday, therefore, the pain continues, as well as everything else involved. By refusing to turn over the X-ray that my general dentist took, they were keeping records they had no rights whatsoever to keep, as they had taken it in the first place under pretense of being willing to extract the tooth, they explicitly added to the cost of the replacement for the job they agreed to do by accepting it - but didn't. Both the state dental licensing authority and the insurance company are going to get complaint letters detailing these facts. I can hope to put them out of business, or at least to cost them all of the clients they might have gotten from my insurer, and my general dentist certainly isn't going to send anyone else their way.

What is the lesson here, the applicability for my own business? Well, it's one I already knew, but it's been quite a while since I encountered jokers who were so determined to exercise their own petty power to the utmost. This is why I want to handle all client communications, and why an agent that doesn't is setting themselves and their customers up for a bad experience. Yes, it means I can't accept quite so many clients as I could if I were fobbing off as much as possible on an office staff - but I'd rather make a little bit less money and have clients that are 100% satisfied, making it much more likely that they will come back to me or send others to me. Because anyone who isn't 100% satisfied is poison to my business, and they're not likely to come back or send me anyone else, which makes letting office staff insulate me from my clients is far more costly that the somewhat lowered earnings ceiling of handling all customer communications myself.

When choosing an agent or loan officer, you want one who tells you to call them, not the office staff, and who handles your calls personally, not by telling someone else to call you back. It's perfectly fine to have staff handle communications between agents or offices or service providers. But someone who's too busy to handle your concerns and issues themselves also can't keep track of what those issues and concerns are - and it's likely to bite them and you. Considering the dollar amounts involved in real estate, I don't want to be bitten and I will do anything I can to keep my clients from being bitten. Be careful that any agent or loan officer you choose acts the same way I do.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

I just went out doing some general market scouting. Looked at ten properties, and at least three were of a sort that I've started calling "vampire properties." Vampire properties are one more reason you want a good buyer's agent, and maybe even the strongest.

Like a mythical vampire, these properties are very charming on the surface, luring in the innocent victims with brand new flooring, new roof tiles, and new paint. All the relatively cheap stuff that inexperienced buyers love. There might even be a new spa in the back yard. They call the listing agent and fall in love with the property. They put in an offer, which is quickly accepted, buy the property and move in.

Then the troubles start. Those brand new roofing tiles get ripped off the rotten substructure the first time a good wind comes up. The new owners notice that the travertine floor tiles are separating, and eventually, when one comes loose, find that there's a widening crack in the foundation that runs the width of the house. That beautiful new tile in the bathroom has to come out because they discover the green board is rotten, and the framing boards have mold as well.

It'd be better if the property was sucking your blood. At least that's covered by health insurance if you've got it. But it's got its fangs permanently embedded in your bank account, instead. None of this stuff is covered by home owner's insurance, new home warranties, or anything else. Your home owner's insurance might replace the roof tiles (pulled off by wind, which is usually a covered peril), but the rotten structure underneath is your problem, caused by the normal wear of time.

In most cases, I find it hard to believe that the previous owners didn't know about this stuff. That's what the brand new facade is about. They figured a quick surface fix - the home owner's equivalent of a cheap paint job over a rusted car body - and they unload the lemon on some unsuspecting chump and walk away. Quickly.

For any of those sort of people reading this, I've got to tell you that the lawyers will find you. But for the buyers in the situation, the lawsuit - which will take years, even assuming that they win and if the judgment is paid and that it's enough after legal fees to cover expenses - is a poor substitute for not getting into the property in the first place. Particularly if, as seems to be the usual case, the buyers stretched to the extreme limit of their budget or beyond in order to afford the property.

It is far preferable, to all parties, to have the issues dealt with before the sale is consummated.

Most buyer's agents aren't licensed inspectors, and I'm not one of the few. You still want an full-on building inspection. That doesn't mean agents can't spot stuff before you have a purchase contract, come up with a deposit, and spend hundreds for an inspection. All of this is called "buy in," and works off of a phenomenon psychologists call cognitive dissonance. You've said you want it, you work really hard and jump through all of these hoops to get it, and when you find out how bad it really is, you keep going because you are so mentally committed, because you've done all this stuff. If it's something I can spot, wouldn't you rather find out before you all of this happens and before you've spent that money?

The listing agent certainly won't tell you. They'll have you sign a standard disclaimer advising you to get an inspection. Yes, they have to help fill out the disclosures, but if they're not licensed inspectors, they can't be blamed for not knowing, can they? Their responsibility is to get the best possible deal for the sellers. They have little responsibility to the buyer. You can't blame listing agents for doing their job. You can blame them for lying about things they actually do know, but that's about it Good luck trying to prove that they knew.

It's almost inevitable that the owners of vampire properties price the property like something out of Big Al's Discount Used Car Lot. "Cream puff, baby! One owner, a little old lady who only lived in it on Sundays." They want top dollar and then some. I understand, but I'm not going along and neither are my clients if I can help it. I saw one today where the list price was $40,000 more than it should have been if it wasn't a vampire. The agents should know better, assuming they are not deliberately "buying a listing." Price it to market if you want to move, and that includes a hefty discount for not being the one who has to hassle with fixing it. If you want that money in your pocket yourself, fix the problem yourself. You'll also interest a better grade of potential buyer, not to mention more buyers than just the simpleton who happened to win the lottery.

I'd rather deal with a property where the issues are out in the open. I also found one property today that has a crack across the living room floor, out in the open due the aftermath of an obvious flood, but I can find buyers who know how to deal with that (If the lot is level, it's not such a big deal, and can often be fixed surprisingly cheap). You don't have a listing agent pretending to drool over beautiful flooring that is going to have to be replaced anyway. Furthermore, it indicates that the listing agent, at least, doesn't have their head stuck in the Land of Wishful Thinking, so if I take a client who is interested despite the flaws out to the view the property, we're all pretty much on the same page as to what's going on with the property, and we have the makings of a reasonable negotiation. If the listing agent is in the Land of Wishful Thinking, I'm wasting my time to look and the client's also if I show it to them.

Vampire properties are out there. In markets such as this one, they are both increasingly common and deadly to your financial future. You want somebody whose job it is to look past the beautiful surface to the very real issues beneath. If you buy a vampire, it's worse than a disastrous marriage, because the financial consequences are likely to follow you long after you've shed that financially abusive partner..

Caveat Emptor

Original here

What's negotiable on a purchase?

The short answer is everything.

There may be standards and traditions in your area, whether they're the same in your area as there are in mine or quite different. That doesn't mean they are not subject to amendment by specific negotiation. Once you get outside legal requirements, anything is subject to negotiation. As long as it's legal and both (or all) parties concerned agree to it, that's the way it's going to be.

This is not to say that some things aren't better left alone. For example, if I was buying a property and the seller didn't want to pay for the policy of title insurance, as is traditional, I'd certainly think long and hard before continuing with the transaction. Furthermore, such behavior would certainly cause the price I'd be willing to pay to drop dramatically. If I'm helping clients, the same applies even more strongly. I'm going to tell them that this may mean the seller may know they're not be able to deliver clear title. Without clear title, I certainly don't want my clients to pay half a million dollars or so for a property they may not really own!

This is also not to say that there may not be consequences as the result. For example, if I or my client is selling the property, and a prospective buyer asks for a $10,000 credit towards closing costs, the lowest offer I'd accept would be at least $10,000 higher, probably $11,000, maybe more. Why? Because commissions and transaction costs are based upon the official sales price, not the sales price less that rebate to the buyer. The bottom line is that it costs the seller more than $10,000 to rebate $10,000 thusly. A $400,000 offer that requires $10,000 in rebates isn't a $400,000 offer. It's a $390,000 offer at best.

In order for it to be a valid contract, the two parties have to agree in every particular. If there is not complete, total, 100 percent written agreement as to what is going to happen, there is no contract. Two parties haggling over whether one light bulb gets replaced do not have a valid contract any more than two parties haggling over whether the price will be $200,000 or $500,000.

Nonetheless, except for those very few things mandated in law, it's all negotiable. Specific negotiation can change anything that's not legally mandated, and most things with defaults specified in law. If you've got a gold bathroom faucet that you want to keep, a normal sales contract says that it stays by implication (it's a furnishing attached to the property and required for the property to function normally). But you can change this by specifying that you have the right to remove it in the contract. Now if they buyer is only buying the home because of that gold faucet, they can walk away or counter offer that it stays. Let's say you eventually agree that it will be replaced by another gold faucet. That's specific negotiation. The replacement will be required to be installed, equal in functionality and free of defects - unless you change this by more specific negotiation.

I've seen negotiation for personal property to remain, furnishings to leave, the disposition of existing tenants, allowing leasebacks to the prior owners, and just about everything else under the sun. If there's something about the standard contract you don't like, or something specific to your situation or this property, specific negotiation is how you deal with the issue. Furthermore, even if you don't want to change anything, the other side might. More properties have further negotiations due to problems or issues raised by inspections than don't. Something is revealed to be not quite right, and the seller either has to make it right or negotiate with the buyer for acceptance in the current state. Providing they still want the transaction to proceed, of course.

This is not to say that as long as the transaction records the seller is golden, by the way. If the buyer can show reasonable evidence that the seller knew of the issue but failed to disclose it, that's a bone for the lawyers to fight over whenever it's discovered. Some sellers fight a losing battle over issues like this for years - and it ends up costing them far more money in the longer term. The buyer finds out something you should have told them after the transaction, that's a bad situation for a seller to be in. Better to disclose right away and be done with it. When the seller can prove the buyer knew the full extent of the issue and bought anyway, that's much better protection.

So make sure that if there's some issue you want resolved, the purchase contract resolves it completely and unambiguously. That contract details how the transaction is going to happen - how all the possible conflicts are going to be resolved so that there is no dispute. If it's not there, you're at the mercy of the other party. They might see it your way. Then again, they might not. More often than not, they're going to require some compensation in order to do it your way, where if you had just negotiated it in the first place, it quite likely would have been no problem, or insignificant enough to ignore in light of other factors. Incidentally, failing to negotiate complete terms in the first place is one of the big mistakes people acting without a real estate agent on their side make, and it quite often costs them a lot more than any commission they would have paid.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

Loans are declined, or actually, the next thing to it, all the time. It is pretty rare for a loan to be outright rejected; I do not recall ever having had a loan outright rejected. That's a sign of a loan officer who wasn't paying attention to guidelines when the loan was submitted. What happens far more often is that the underwriter puts conditions on it which cannot realistically be met. Documentation for more income than you make is probably the classic example of this. What usually causes this is that the underwriter finds a debt that didn't show up on the credit report and that you didn't tell your loan officer about, and so a loan with a marginal but acceptable Debt to Income Ratio became unacceptable. Or the appraisal comes in low, raising the cost or lowering the cash out due to a higher Loan to Value Ratio than the loan was priced for. Sometimes there is something that can be done about it; sometimes there isn't. If your loan officer can't think of anything to do about it, he'll tell you the loan was rejected. Sometimes they'll tell you that the quote that got you to sign up was rejected, also, but they have this other loan over here "that isn't much more expensive" that you do qualify for. Telling you that a loan was rejected is one of the best ways there is for a loan officer to do bait and switch.

Unfortunately, there really isn't anything you can do to verify that your loan was rejected, as opposed to bait and switched, or just couldn't meet underwriting guidelines. (Whether it had any chance of meeting underwriting guidelines is a subject for many more essays).

The first thing to do is realize that the fact you cannot meet guidelines for the loan that got you to sign up means that it is time to start shopping around again. That loan that got you to sign up does not exist as far as you are concerned. It's not like they are suddenly going to discover that the guidelines allow 5% higher debt to income ratio. If your loan officer is not a complete bozo, they will have gone over alternatives with the underwriter before telling you about the difficulty. If there's something they can do with a little bit more paperwork or a little more income, they're going to ask you if maybe you have the paperwork, or if you make $500 per year in some other fashion. A good loan officer told you about the loan because he believed you would qualify, but you don't. A bad loan officer told you about the loan because he thought he could use it to get you to sign up, and then pull a switch on you once he had the originals of all your paperwork and control of the appraisal that you've already paid for. There really is no good way to tell for sure. In either case, you are back to square one - shopping your loan. I would also think twice about staying with the same loan provider. He's told you about one loan he couldn't do to get you to sign up. Why not two?

So being told you don't qualify for the loan you thought you were going to get is always a sign that you need to start shopping your loan around again. That's why you don't ever give a loan officer your originals of anything. Even if somebody brings me an original, a copy is just fine and I can hand the original back. The only paperwork I need the originals of is the loan paperwork - the application I fill out and have you sign, and the disclosures associated with it. Such is not, unfortunately, the case with many loan providers. Do not ever allow your originals out of your hands. Once they've got them, many loan officers will hold them hostage to prevent you taking your loan elsewhere. It is to be admitted that it's a lot of work to do a loan. But they also dangled something you didn't qualify for in order to get you to sign up. The responsible party for their wasted work is themselves.

I used to encourage back up loans. With changes in the market making it costly to lock loans before we're certain they close, I no longer know anyone who will do back up loans - even I can't afford it any longer. And I also used to ask for a written promise to release your appraisal, but with Home Valuation Code of Conduct, that is no longer permissible. The changes that congress and other regulators have made (mostly in 2008-2010) are not for the benefit of consumers.

I've also dealt with Loan Providers Who Will Pay For Your Appraisal before. One way or another, you are paying for that appraisal. If you think you are getting it for "free", not only will you paying for that appraisal, you are paying for the appraisal of everyone who canceled their loan, too, and a good margin on top of that.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

"what happens to your equity when the bank forecloses" was a question I got.

The answer is that most, if not all, will be dissipated by the foreclosure.

Let's say you own a home currently valued at $500,000, that you owe $200,000 on it, and that you have a 6% loan. Now, for whatever reason, you can't make the payments, and for whatever reason, you don't sell while you have the opportunity before the trustee's auction.

I'm most familiar with California, but expect most other states to be similar. In California, you are going to be four months behind before the Notice of Default happens. So that is four payments of $1200. Furthermore, when you are fifteen days late you owe a 4% penalty, or $48, and when you are thirty days late, the missed payments start accruing interest. So at the point that the Notice of Default is possible, you owe $204,777.83.

From Notice of Default to Notice of Trustee's Sale is another 60 days, but before that happens, the bank is going to hit you with $10,000 to $15,000 in administrative fees for going into default. Check your contract; it's in there. Let's say $12,000, and now you owe $216,777.

Add another two months of delinquent payments, and penalties as of 15 days after. So as of the time the Auction actually happens, you owe $219,447. Furthermore, to make the auction happen, they will charge you about another $15,000. This covers the expenses of making the auction happen, of which the most noteworthy is the appraisal. At this point, you owe $234,447.

The appraisal bears special mention. Not only is there zero pressure to get a good value, the bank wants that appraisal to come in nice and low. They want the property to sell at auction, and if nobody bids 90% of the appraisal price, then they own it and have to go through the rigamarole of hiring an agent and selling it. So that appraisal is going to come in as low as is reasonable, to maximize the chance of it selling at auction. Every once in a while questions about low appraisals at trustee sales hit the site. The short answer is Microsoft Standard: "It's not a bug, it's a feature!" and from the bank's point of view, it is. So even though the property might sell for $500,000 in the normal course of things, the appraisal might come in at $440,000, meaning that someone has to bid $396,000 in order to buy the property at auction. The appraisal might be even lower, but let's say $440,000.

If someone bids $396,000 at auction (assuming they actually are able to consummate the transaction), they own the property. Less transfer costs, the bank gets maybe $380,000, of which the note is now for $234,000, and $300,000 of equity has dropped to $146,000.

But that's not usually what happens. What's usually happened is that the owners have financed it out to at least $375,000, hoping to be able to stave off foreclosure, and by similar math, they now owe roughly $425,000. How much do they get when the bank only got $380,000?

If the property doesn't sell at auction, the bank now owns it. Now they have to hire a listing agent, and offer a cooperating buyer's broker percentage, and while the listing agent looks for a buyer, the money owed keeps earning interest. Let's say the property eventually sells for $410,000, and the bank spends 7 to 8 percent of that getting it sold, so that their net is maybe $380,000. Even if you originally owed $200,000, by the time everything is said and done, you might owe $250,000 or more, leaving perhaps $120,000 coming back to the original owner. Keep in mind that in this example, you started with $300,000 of equity (60% of value!) based upon the sales of comparable properties. That's not a typical example. Even before the market decline, the percentage was typically 20% at most. With the market decline we've had, things are even worse than that for most folks.

Getting back to the example, if the owners were to short-circuit the whole process by selling successfully for that same $410,000 (almost 20% less than comparable properties might sell for) before the trustee's sale happens, and if they spend that same 7.5% to get it sold, they get about $380,000, of which they'll get to keep approximately $160,000, more than it is likely they will keep under the best possible outcome if the property went to trustee's sale. It's easy to sell reasonably maintained properties for 18% less than comparable properties are selling for. (Unfortunately, most people over-price their property even in this situation, not realizing how much time is going to hurt them)

So if you cannot afford your payments, and you're looking down the road at a trustee's sale, it is usually in your best interests to get the property sold before that happens. The lenders will generally be as accommodating as they reasonably can if you ask them and keep them in touch with what is going on. They don't make money on foreclosures - they lose large amounts of it even when the sale covers the note. Lenders don't want to foreclose. Thanks to California's Home Equity Sales Contract Act, once the Notice of Default hits, you are unlikely to be able to do business with investors except on an "emergency sale for 60% of value" basis (that being about the most those "Cash for houses" folks offer), so the sooner you act, the more money you will likely come away with.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

Hello, Mr. Melson,

I am one of your legion of fans of your www.searchlightcrusade.net website, having lucked into stumbling upon it by hyperlinking from another site. It is my goal to read EVERY ONE of your archived articles before I buy a house.

Yes, I wish you were here in DELETED, where I'd pay your going rate in a heartbeat to be my non-exclusive buyer's agent; but I must content myself with your archives to learn how to navigate this shark-infested swamp of BUYING A HOUSE. (Unless your services can guide me to such an agent here in DELETED.)

In hopes you can use this for a topic of one of your essays, yes, my husband and I are the proverbial "aging baby-boomers" looking to buy a house with his VA benefits and not interested (so as to be able to sleep nights) in anything but a 30-year fixed mortgage.

What makes us different from others in this category who might be writing to you is that we have no children, no family, no heirs but The Nature Conservancy; and we view our buying rural property as OUR LAST HOME with no relevant consideration for estate taxes, amortization, refinancing, ever paying it off, or any other usual
worries.

My question, should you be able to turn this topic into an article about Vietnam-era vets using their VA benefits to buy their final home with absolutely no intention of ever moving again and being able, through employment, disability benefits, and--soon--social security, to make the payments until we shuffle off this mortal coil,

WHY SHOULDN'T WE SHOP THE LOWEST PAYMENT WE CAN GET AND NOT THE TOTAL COST, AS WE HAVE LEARNED FROM YOUR ESSAYS?

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your altruism in promoting consumer education on what has to be the most dangerous and confusing transaction any American consumer will ever undertake: BUYING A HOME.

Cordially,

Item the first, payment is trivial to lowball. Let's take a more or less standard example based upon rates back around the time I originally wrote this. I had a thirty year fixed rate loan at 6.00% for two points. Let's say you were buying a $300,000 home, and chose that 6.00% loan. $300,000 at 6.00% is $1847.16 per month. However, that transaction has closing costs of about $3500 in addition to those two points, plus the VA funding fee of half a point if you're not a disabled veteran. This gives a balance of $311,282. and a payment of $1866.30 (VA loans are allowed to roll up to 3% on top of purchase price into the loan). By pretending that $11000 plus doesn't exist, I could quote a lower payment, and most lenders do precisely because people do shop by payment. But you're either going to come up with it out of pocket or pay the higher costs. Actually, in this case, that's about $2300 cash you're going to need to make the transaction happen because you're above the 3% "roll in allowance", that they conveniently neglected to mention. Furthermore, these aren't the only games played with lowballing. Most people are amazed at how much it's possible to legally lowball a mortgage quote. Nor do the new proposed regulations change this. If you're shopping by payment, someone who writes an honest quote on the above is going to look like a more expensive loan than someone charging another point or so, who figures on cannibalizing your Good Faith Deposit and still rolling the maximum 3% into the loan, but pretends this money is going to come from out of the twilight zone. VA loans are just as subject to pretending real fees don't exist as any other loan.

VA do loans have another simplifying feature - they only come in fixed rate loans. I haven't kept close track, but last I knew, it was not allowed to get a VA guarantee on a ARM, hybrid, or balloon loan. This eliminates the trick of them telling you it's a "thirty year loan" while not mentioning that it's not a fixed rate for the entire time. And if you're looking for 100% financing, it's not like the lender is going to substitute something else, given the current lender fear of the market. But it has happened in the past that people were told they were getting a VA loan, but it turned out that wasn't the paperwork they signed.

Last issue on this point, there is the question of whether the rate was really locked, and for how long. Mortgage Loan Rate Locks are for a definite period. The longer you want to lock, the more it costs. So someone who knows it's going to take 45 days and quotes based upon a 45 day lock is going to be at a cost disadvantage to someone who pretends that a 15 day lock is going to be the same, and doesn't actually lock the loan, but lets it float. Six weeks from now when documents are ready, your rate is 6.75% because the market has shifted upwards and your loan was not in fact locked. Alternatively, they locked for 15 days and you ended up paying five or six tenths of a point in extension fees - significantly less that the upfront difference, which is usually about a quarter of a point.

At this update, lenders have made it extremely costly to lock a loan with them and then not fund it. It does not matter why; it only matters that a loan was locked and then had no loan actually funded. The way they discourage this is to levy a surcharge upon all future clients of that loan officer or office for a certain period, meaning you can't compete as well for future clients, so loan officers who want to offer low rates cannot lock until they are pretty certain your loan is actually going to fund. I get regular communications from the home office instructing me as to the consequences of locking a loan and failing to deliver it to the lender.

Item the second: People refinance, far more often than most people believe or are even willing to admit. You think that if you get that 6.00% loan today you're going to be happy forever. But then rates go down to where they can get 5.5% for that same two points, and they refinance. Or somebody comes along and sells them on a 5.5% loan that requires three or four points. There are VA loan companies that go around selling these, and they've got presentations that make it look like a good deal - which they are if you're one of the rare individuals who can resist them in the future. Problem is, they're going to be just as appealing then as they are now, and it's going to be just as good a deal then as it is now - providing you can resist future sales pitches beyond that. Let's look at how much money you've wasted if someone comes along and sells you a refinance a year from now:

Your choices: 6% for two points (plus VA funding and $3500 closing costs) versus 6.5% for zero points (plus VA funding and $3500 closing costs). Balance on loan 1 after 12 months is $307,459 Balance on loan 2 after 12 months is $301,615. You did save $740 in payments with loan 1, or $1150 in interest. The VA streamline does not require an appraisal, and can roll another 3% into your balance, so let's say you can get 5.5% for three points, which means a minimum of 1.5 points out of pocket, but you figure it's worth it to cut your payments. Your balance is now $316,680, and you spent $4700 plus in hard cash, to boot. $21000 plus in financing costs, to keep your payment low. If you get the "no points" loan to start with, your financing costs are $10650 in your balance and about $100 less out of your pocket, or roughly $15,000 - a difference of $6000, which is roughly $35 per month forever.

People really do get into this kind of refinancing loop, and actually it's worse than this because most people roll a month or two of payments in, plus the impound account. They just spend the money from the payment check they don't write and the impound account as well. I once spoke to a guy up in Riverside County who bought for just under $160,000, and the costs of serial VA streamline refinancing had driven his balance up over $230,000. This is real money. If they had just refinanced less often, or for lower costs, their payment would have been almost thirty percent lower, and he would have had sixty to seventy thousand dollars more equity in his property!

Issue the third: What happens in such a situation if you have a need for that money? It's gone. But aging people - particularly without heirs - develop needs for money. For instance, long term care expenses. I wrote a three part series on that quite some time ago, but they are still worth reading. one, two, three (The Republican congress later in 2006 repealed the so-called Waxman Amendment I reference in part two, but most states still do not have a partnership program). And it's not just long term care, either. You may have medical coverage and not need to worry about it, but I assure you that many seniors are not in such happy circumstances. You may be wishing at some point in the future that you had that equity available to you. I've met quite a few who did.

In short, there are a lot of traps lying in wait (or ready to be set) for the people who shop by payment. Whereas if you shop by the tradeoff between rate and cost, Ask the questions you need to ask. The payment is the byproduct of these more important items. Payment is, after all, determined by simple mathematics.

None of this is to say it may not be a good idea to buy the rate down as much as you can. If you have a history of not refinancing for ten years or longer, and you swear a pact in blood not to refinance ever, no matter how good the deal, it is a good idea to buy the rate down with points. It also reduces your cost of money over time, if you keep the loan long enough that you recover the cost of those points. The drawback is that this puts a lot of money into what is effectively a bet that you're not going to sell or refinance for a long time. If something about your situation changes before you've recouped the money, that money you sank into the rate is basically gone.

For most folks, this bet is a very poor one to make. It makes the odds of successfully completing an inside straight look good. The outcome is under your control, but the vast majority of people who make this bet voluntarily let the casino bank off the hook before they've recouped their wager investment. Nonetheless, it is a bet that can work out very well if you are a member of that tiny minority who does keep their loans long enough. In the example referenced above, the borrower who keeps the initial 6% loan the full term and pays it off will pay only $360,583 in interest, versus $389,042 for the 6.5% loan, a difference of $28,458, almost five times the difference in cost of procuring the loan. For your upfront bet investment of about $6200, you get your payment lowered by $61 per month and initial cost of interest by about $96 per month. If you keep the loan the full term of 360 months, you more than get your money back. But for the population in aggregate, that's a money losing investment, as the median time people keep their mortgages is about 28 months. Even if you double that, you're still on the losing end of the wager.

PS I am intentionally not taking into account the time value of money, or the alternative uses for the money, but $6000 invested at 10% per year turns into roughly $105,000 in 30 years, and $34,500 at 6%, which would, by the numbers alone, be another reason not to do it.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

RESPA (Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act) prohibits an agent from requiring you to have other services performed by specified outside companies, or by a particular associated company either. RESPA also prohibits an agent from accepting payment (kickbacks) from third party service providers. Nonetheless, these are major problems in the real estate world.

It is an unfortunate fact that many agents care far more about the little bit of extra they get from third party service providers than they do about their fiduciary responsibility to the client who helps put potentially many thousands of dollars in their pocket.

For instance, never take a real estate agent's unsupported word about a loan officer. It happens on a routine basis that I talk to people in other parts of California where I'm not set up to be their real estate agent (kind of hard for me to show someone a property in Redding when I'm in San Diego), but thanks to the modern age, I am perfectly capable and set up to be their loan officer. Approximately one real estate agent in three completely refuses to cooperate with me as a loan officer, despite the fact that I'm getting their client a better loan than the loan officer this person wants them to use. I can have written authority for the information, and they won't give it to me. Okay, so I go through the escrow company - no big deal in most cases.

I can understand and sympathize with this attitude, if what they were worried about was my ability to do the loan at all. After all, if the loan isn't ready at the end of the escrow period, this transaction they've spent so much effort on falls apart.

So I tell them this: Have your friend do the back up loan, if you're so certain I'm full of it. If they were worried about a client's best interest, they'd sign off on that in a heartbeat. If I deliver, your client is better off. If I don't, they are no worse. Either way, the client is very happy and has gotten a better loan and their interests have been served.

There is only one motivation that I can think of for what happens consistently: the agent keeps carping at my client to cancel the loan with me. Let's consider what this means.

No matter how unlikely the agent thinks it is that I'll deliver exactly that loan, with cancellation, the probability I can deliver it goes to zero. So I can now guarantee that this client to whom he has a fiduciary responsibility doesn't get the lower rate loan I was working on. Greatest possible benefit to client: zero. Downside: higher payments, higher costs, worse loan, zero leverage on other loan officer to deliver the loan he said he would.

Furthermore, no matter how good a loan officer, there's always a chance something goes astray, and for whatever reason the loan doesn't get approved. He's now exposing his client to the possibility that his friend, the loan officer, won't have a loan ready to go. If this happens, client loses house, deposit and other time and money invested. Possible benefit to client: Not paying for a second appraisal (when I originally wrote this it was only a $100 retyping fee for the appraisal saved, but Home Valuation Code of Conduct was not written for the benefit of the consumer, but rather that of appraisal management companies and their contributions to the political coffers of one certain politician). Possible downsides to client: no house, lose deposit, fees for appraiser, inspectors, etcetera wasted. Furthermore, the agent loses his prospective commission - several thousand dollars.

So what could cause an agent to want his client to cancel my loan? The only thing I can think of that explains the whole shenanigan is that this agent is in line for a payoff. Can I prove it? Absolutely not. Have I tried to think of alternative explanations that make sense? Many times, with no success. Maybe I'm missing something here (if so, email it to me), but I sure can't see any other possible benefit to the client or the agent.

Here's another thing. Title and escrow companies. There are a variety of services escrow companies are supposed to provide the transaction - but title companies are actually the ones set up to provide many of these services. So the title company charges a sub escrow fee, messenger fees, etcetera for performing those services. But, they will waive those fees (not charge them) IF the escrow company in the transaction happens to be one they own.

Hey, I think, a pretty nifty way I can save my clients several hundred dollars! Makes me more valuable to them! And since kickbacks from title and escrow are illegal as well as unethical (according to RESPA and the Code of Conduct as well as good business practice, respectively) I certainly can't see a benefit to me for urging them to choose otherwise.

(And I am truly sorry to anyone reading this who works at an independent escrow company. As far as I can determine, you're just as competent as the title company escrows, and no more intrinsically expensive. But it's really hard for your company to compete when choosing your competition saves my client money that's usually about equal to the base escrow cost. Plus the fact is that it's a violation of my fiduciary duty if I don't tell them this)

You wouldn't believe the resistance I get from agents who obviously want their client to choose one particular escrow company, and one particular title company that aren't affiliated. The sellers do have the right to choose title and escrow companies, or at least to negotiate them. But that's the seller's right, not the seller's agents. And a failure to inform them of obvious ways to save money by choosing an escrow company that will save your clients this money is a violation of fiduciary duty.

I just finished fighting one not too long ago where the seller supposedly wanted to choose an escrow company whose name just happened to be the same as the name of the real estate office that the seller's agent worked for (I.e. X Real Estate and X Escrow company). Now it may be possible that they are unaffiliated with that real estate office, and it may be possible that they are set up to handle all of the duties that cause the title company to charge those extra fees. So my client's counter-offer included the following phrase:

"Since the seller has chosen title and escrow companies unaffiliated with each other, seller is to be solely responsible for all sub escrow, messenger, and additional fees assessed by the title company above the cost of the title policy."

It even gives them an out - if the escrow company is set up to handle these services that are supposedly their responsibility, and does so that the title company doesn't charge for them, it makes no difference to either client.

The other agent didn't want to present the counter to his client. He specifically asked me to drop that wording. I knew exactly what this meant, particularly in the case of the escrow company that just happened to share the name of his real estate brokerage. No evidence admissible in court, of course. But I had to threaten to have my broker call his broker with the clear intimation that my next call would be to Department of Real Estate in order just to get him to present the offer to his client. Do you think it's possible he failed to inform his client about this trivial way to save money? How likely do you think it that there was some kind of payment going on off the books? All of this is illegal.

There are two companies that provide the vast majority of all home warranties, at least in this area. I can't even name another home warranty company off the top of my head. Each of them is affiliated with a particular title company. The policies are the same, as far as I can tell. Somebody wants to know the differences, I tell them to consult an insurance expert (The expert I consulted concurred with my opinion). But one of these insurance carriers is more expensive. If I'm representing the buyer, I don't care - his coverage is going to be pretty much the same. If I'm representing the seller, I'll tell them to please consult a licensed casualty insurance agent, but B is less expensive as far as I can tell. Why then, do I keep seeing sellers who are volunteering A? I can't believe a fully informed client is volunteering to spend more money for the buyer's benefit in order to buy coverage that looks to be the same.

The long and the short of this post is that just because it's illegal under the law doesn't mean it doesn't happen. Just because that agent has a fiduciary responsibility to you under the law doesn't mean they take it seriously.

What can you do?

Well, choose an escrow company that's affiliated with your title company, or an escrow company that's affiliated with a title company, and choose that title company too. On refinances as well, do not allow your loan provider to choose title and escrow who are unaffiliated with one another (to be honest, I haven't helped buy or sell property outside of California, so have no idea how this works in an attorney state). Look for something like "X Land Title" and "X Escrow." This will save you hundreds of dollars. They'll try to sell you on benefits like "Having escrow right here is very convenient," or "I know this escrow officer won't mess up the transaction." There are poor escrow officers, to be certain, but there are lots of good ones. Make it clear to your agent that you are unwilling to pay subescrow fees. If they want to choose escrow and title such that subescrow is going to happen, make the agent agree to pay them.

Ask not just your real estate agent, but also your insurance agent about home warranty policies. Or look in the Yellow pages under Home Warranty Coverage and call around if you're selling a property. Do this before you have an offer.

And above all, don't just go with your agent's recommendation on a service provider. It's unethical, illegal, and just plain bad business practice, but that doesn't stop a certain number from having their hand out behind your back. And it's just as likely to be the highly accredited agents at Big Name Brokerages with loads of brand awareness who are doing this. More likely, actually, as the reasons people go to that type of practitioner is to pretend they don't have to worry about details.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

There are two main sources of bargain properties. The obvious one that everyone knows about is properties fresh on the market where the owner doesn't realize what they've got. This is the largest single reason why potential buyers obsess over days on market: They think they're going to find something nobody else has, yet. Unfortunately for this mindset, everyone else has precisely the same idea. Everyone else wants to look at that fresh on the market property, hungry for the bargain nobody else has discovered yet. As a result, this sort of property is where you get bidding wars as everyone else jumps on the same bandwagon, making the owner and the listing agent both very happy.

The "It's so beautiful!" property is not where you get a bargain, especially when it's fresh on the market. Actually, it's only a potential bargain when they're overpriced and the owner won't listen to reason that they get to the point where they aren't fresh on the market. People go to great lengths to make properties beautiful precisely because they will then command premium prices, especially when they're fresh on the market. This is another one of those trade-offs: You can buy a beautiful turn-key property, or you can get a bargain. Choose one or the other - you cannot have both. Choose wisely, by what is important to you. There is no sin or mistake in choosing to spend more money for a property where the work has been done. You are essentially saying that it's worth the extra money to you, and that's fine. This mistake is choosing the fixer when it's worth the money to you to have the turn-key, or in choosing the turn-key when would rather have the money (or can't afford the beautiful property where all the work has been done!)

The second, superior source of bargain properties is usually properties that have been on the market a while. They're not beautiful, so Mrs. Average Buyer does not swoon with delight at the thought of that kitchen and that bathroom. It specifically doesn't grab prospective buyers by the throat and say, "Buy me or you'll never be happy again!" If it did that, it wouldn't have gotten to this stage; it would have been bought when it was fresh on the market.

It may be old, it may be filthy, it may be cluttered, or all three. But the basic construction is still solid. This is not a Vampire Property, it just hasn't been updated in a while. There are no cracks in the foundation, no rot in the wood, no leaks in the pipes. There's nothing really wrong with it; it's just not beautiful right now. As a result, buyers will pass it by. They're too busy looking at the surfaces, looking for brand new granite counters and travertine floors that they don't notice that's what is there is quite serviceable and usually pretty easy to update.

Buyers don't swarm these properties simply because they don't know what to look for. They see fifty year old now. They're looking at what the property looks like now, not what it will look like after some very simple renovations that cost a lot less than the difference in cost between this property and the brand new rehab that's just been put on the market down the block. Some people think they know what they're looking for in a bargain, but most of them are wrong. This is one of the many places a good Buyer's Agent comes into the process. I've been around this particular block a few times, and I do know what I'm looking for and what it looks like. Lots of buyers will tell you they're looking for a bargain, but when the time comes to make an offer on one they just won't move off the dime. They're still hoping to find something for the same price with the work already (and freshly!) done. That's not going to happen. The reason the owners did that work was to be able to get more money for the property. You can pay the extra money (and the interest on it if you're getting a loan!), or you can go shopping for properties where the work is waiting for you. The folks who just remodeled in order to sell are likely to be disappointed anyway, but until they face reality, you're wasting your time.

Don't get emotionally attached to any property, especially if you don't own it yet. I tell people that if they're going to get emotionally attached, the best time is as I'm handing them the keys when the transaction has closed. Until the transaction is done, be willing to walk if it's called for. You're making an investment of several hundred thousand dollars. If that investment is going to be a problem or the owners don't want to let it go on reasonable terms, leave it to be their problem. They're trying to sell it; that's a representation they don't want it any more. If they make life too difficult for people who want to buy, that property is still their problem unless and until that transaction closes. I'd rather find my clients something else that's not going to be that kind of problem. Go through the purchase process with the mindset of, "I think I'd like to live here." Make the offer, reach the contract, apply for the loan, do the investigations, and go through subsequent negotiations and everything else with the idea that you think you'd like to live there - and be prepared for something to change your mind. many sellers, listing agents and loan officers all take advantage of people who aren't prepared to change their minds - and not a few buyer's agents as well.

The ideal bargain property is the same one it's worthwhile to remodel: Old, unfashionable surfaces with poor lighting. Most folks won't even consider such properties, which is another reason why they go for attractive prices. Nor do a lot of sellers want to deal with the updates - putting cash out of their wallet for someone else's enjoyment. I'd say inherited property is probably the quintessential example of this. The heirs just want money; they don't want to come up with the cash that enables them to get a better price. This makes it a high supply, low demand situation. You're not going to be the envy of all your friends at the housewarming party the weekend after it closes, but you are going to have a mortgage that leaves you a lot more room to afford other things, and a couple years down the line people will be asking how you got such a steal.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

from an email:


On a related note, I hope you might have some advice for us. My husband and I just sold our condo. But we are NOT buying at the moment. Instead we are renting. (Not sure where we are going to be 6 months out and buying does not sound like a good idea until we are settled again.) So we are spending a small part of the profit off the sale on retiring the only credit card debt we still have and putting the rest in a money market to earn interest until we can use it as a down payment on our next house.

However, with no credit card debt and no mortgage (and one car loan that will be paid off in about a year) I am afraid that by the time we buy a house, we won't be considered good credit risks because of not having loans we are paying on.

We DO have a credit card that we put some charges on and pay off every month. Is that enough? Or is there something else we should be doing now to make sure we remain credit-worthy for a mortgage loan?

We will be renting an apartment. Does that show up on the credit report?

In general you want to have two open lines of credit to have a credit score. This doesn't mean that you necessarily have to have a balance on either of those lines of credit.

What you're doing seems fine and was a good idea when I originally wrote this in late 2005. Now (in 2010) I think that anyone who is in a position to buy and hasn't is crazy. It was a rough market; I probably wouldn't have bought unless I knew I was going to stay (or keep it) five years or more. In general, rent does not show up on a mortgage provider's credit report. It probably will not count as an open line of credit.

The card you use, which I gather is what you use to maintain credit, needs to be an actual credit card, which appears to be the case. If it is a debit card, it doesn't count as a line of credit to determine whether you have two open lines of credit or not. If it is indeed a credit card, you've got one existing line of credit that you've had for a while. Keep it open, keep paying it off every month. This helps your credit score even if you never carry a balance.

However, instead of closing the (other) credit card you have a balance on, may I suggest that you simply pay it off but keep it open? Unless it has a yearly charge just for having it, it costs you nothing to keep it in your safe at home. This gives you another open line of credit, and because you've had it for a while, this is better than a new line of credit (length of possession of open lines is one factor determining credit scores, and over five years is best). You might want to use it once per six months or so just so they don't think you've canceled. As long as it's a regular credit card where if you pay it off within the grace period there is no interest charge, and that's your second open line of credit.

You also currently have an installment payment operative, which is fine as long as you keep paying it on time. Depending upon how much you're getting in interest on the money market, it may behoove you to ask for a payoff. If the money market is getting two percent taxable and you're paying five on the installment debt (not tax deductible), you may wish to consider paying it off. On the other hand, if either of the two above cards is a debit card, this is your second line of credit, so keep it open long enough to get something else.

I live in San Diego, which has several big credit unions, and I've had good experiences having my clients apply for credit cards with most of them (they're also a decent source for second mortgages and home equity lines of credit - that's where they're set up to compete best - but first mortgages I can usually beat them blindfolded, because it's not where they're set up to shine). There are also any number of available offers on the internet, but check out the fine print carefully. Credit Unions may not be absolutely the best credit cards available, but they tend to be shorter on the Gotcha! provisions.

(Internet searches for credit unions in Los Angeles turn up fifty or more; in the Bay area a similar number. You need to do your due diligence and you may not be eligible to join most, but I've found it worth doing as opposed to doing business with the major banks and credit card companies that advertise like mad. The money to advertise doesn't come from nowhere.)

This should help you make informed choices as to what to do given your current situation to maintain two open lines of credit and a good credit score. Please let me know if this does not answer all of your questions or if you have any further questions.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

(click for Part 1 of Save For A Down Payment or Buy Now?, which deals with the basic question of how well saving for a down payment increases affordability)

As an alternative strategy, suppose that instead of waiting to buy that $400,000 house because you can't afford the payments now, you buy a $250,000 condo (or whatever you can afford) now - and then sell it for your down payment later. In other words, you buy what you can afford right now instead of waiting and saving until you can have the home of your dreams. Then at some later time you sell the condo for the down payment on the home you really want.

Let's look at the trade-offs for the condo. I'm going to assume that the condo's equity is the sum total of the saving you are doing, and I'm going to manipulate rents until I get $833 per month cash flow difference (your $10,000 per year savings from Part I). This yields a monthly rent of $977.46. You can't rent $250,000 condos around here for $1000 per month, but we'll stick with the situation I figured even though the argument in favor of buying the condo is far stronger. Let's also assume it costs 7% of the value to sell the property, make allowances for property taxes, HOA fees, etcetera. It'd be a bear if I didn't already have the spreadsheet done, but here are the results:



Year
0
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
Value
$250,000.00
$262,500.00
$275,625.00
$289,406.25
$303,876.56
$319,070.39
$335,023.91
$351,775.11
$369,363.86
$387,832.05
$407,223.66
Monthly Rent
$977.46
$1,016.56
$1,057.22
$1,099.51
$1,143.49
$1,189.23
$1,236.80
$1,286.27
$1,337.72
$1,391.23
$1,446.88
Equity
0.00
15,431.56
31,674.53
48,772.18
66,770.15
85,716.58
105,662.21
126,660.56
148,768.08
172,044.30
196,552.03
Net Benefit
-17,500.00
-13,443.41
-9,518.73
-5,769.20
-2,244.10
1,000.56
3,901.27
6,386.11
8,373.86
9,772.91
10,480.08

Now, I have to admit this seems marginal. You've only got an extra $10,000 in your pocket after 10 years. So you sell the condo and buy your house, and plugging these numbers into the affordability spreadsheet improves the affordability of the house you really want by 8% in only 8 years. Nonetheless, this is 2.5 times the affordability increase afforded by investing the money.

Now let's consider the situation as it really exists. That $250,000 condo rents for about $1300, which makes a big difference to what you save. It's like taking the previous situation, and adding $322 per month to your investments as well. Here's the numbers for the condo, adding the investment, and coming up with a total.



Year
0
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
Value
$250,000.00
$262,500.00
$275,625.00
$289,406.25
$303,876.56
$319,070.39
$335,023.91
$351,775.11
$369,363.86
$387,832.05
$407,223.66
Rent
$1,300.00
$1,352.00
$1,406.08
$1,462.32
$1,520.82
$1,581.65
$1,644.91
$1,710.71
$1,779.14
$1,850.31
$1,924.32
Equity
0.00
15,431.56
31,674.53
48,772.18
66,770.15
85,716.58
105,662.21
126,660.56
148,768.08
172,044.30
196,552.03
Savings
$0
$4046.11
$8515.91
$13453.74
$18908.64
$24934.73
$31591.84
$38946.03
$47070.31
$56045.30
$65,960.08
eq+sav
$0.00
$19,477.67
$40,190.44
$62,225.92
$85,678.79
$110,651.31
$137,254.05
$165,606.59
$195,838.39
$228,089.60
$262,512.11

Now let's paste these last numbers into the affordability sheet and see what we get:



Year
0
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
available
$0.00
$19,477.67
$40,190.44
$62,225.92
$85,678.79
$110,651.31
$137,254.05
$165,606.59
$195,838.39
$228,089.60
$262,512.11
price of house
$500,000.00
$525,000.00
$551,250.00
$578,812.50
$607,753.13
$638,140.78
$670,047.82
$703,550.21
$738,727.72
$775,664.11
$814,447.31
payments
$3,631.97
$3,670.64
$3,709.34
$3,747.86
$3,786.00
$3,823.49
$3,864.42
$3,928.79
$3,993.62
$4,058.65
$4,123.58
affordability
1.00
1.02
1.04
1.06
1.08
1.10
1.12
1.14
1.15
1.17
1.18

So we see that this strategy has increased the affordability of the house you really want by 12% over only 6 years, holding background assumptions constant. This is twice again the affordability increase rate from the last example (2%/year as opposed to 1), and so almost five times the affordability increase rate of just saving for a down payment. Furthermore, those payments on your condo are mandatory, and the increases in value happen of their own accord, whereas most saving programs run by individuals falter a bit over time, nor is there any such thing as a 10% return per year tax free. In short, I'm comparing a real world real estate investment with a hopelessly idealized other investment, and buying the less expensive property in the real world beats the idealized other investment. Saving for a down payment makes comparatively little sense unless you are not yet in a position to buy anything, either due to stability, insufficient income to buy anything, or because your situation does not permit financing for the down payment you have.

Taken all together, this forms a powerful argument for not waiting until you can afford your dream house, but buying what you can afford as soon as you are in a position to do so with the intention of trading up later. Delaying means you cut the later years off of the results, not the earlier. The benefits to real estate don't start until you put your foot on the ladder. If I had known this when I was in my twenties, I'd be millions of dollars better off today. So plan ahead, and start working towards your goals now. You can never go back in time with what your figure out later, or with the effort you expend later.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

An email asked a question I should have thought to answer a long time ago, and the answer may surprise a lot of folks. I've been vaguely aware of this for a couple of years, but I was amazed how strongly the numbers solidified my views!


My wife and I aren't ready to buy a property yet, but we are trying to plan how much to save for our down payment. You've mentioned that there's a spectrum from nothing down to 20+% down broken down by 5% increments, but how do you choose where to be on that spectrum? I can see that there are tradeoffs between the amount you have to save, the cost of your mortgage and the like, but I don't have a good way of thinking about those tradeoffs. And, since we're in the DELETED area, 20% down could easily get into the six figures, so it can be quite intimidating.

Given the way leverage works in even a slightly appreciating market, it is generally to your advantage to buy as soon as 1) You are sufficiently stable in your employment and expect that you're going to be in the area at least another three to five years, 2) You have enough of a reserve that the first minor bump in the road will not lead to disaster, and 3) You make enough to afford the payments. However, what usually happens is that people get a raise, a promotion, or a new job, or more often, they get married or have a baby and that is what sets their thinking on the road to buying a home.

(Note: When I originally wrote this, loans available were different than they are now. But the situation will go back to that eventually, and there are ways to make a minimal down payment work, even today, and the basic ideas I'm presenting are, if anything, more valid than when I originally wrote this)

Let's consider a $500,000 property and an 80% first trust deed with an appropriate piggyback 30 due in 15 second if needed, since that is generally returning more favorable rates than a Home Equity Line of Credit right now. When I originally wrote this, I had 5.875 for about 9/10 of a point plus closing costs, or about $7100 total cost. But there are potential adjusters - and relevant to this situation, having subordinate financing for 100% CLTV added one full discount point ($4000 in this case) to the first mortgage, or you can drop down to 6.25 for the same cost. 95% financing only adds 1/4 of a point in the same situation, or you can get a 6% even for the same cost. At or below 90% CLTV, there was no add to the first mortgage. If we're at 80% with a $100,000 (20%) down payment, the 5.875 first is all there is. Taking dead average credit scores (720) with this same lender, the closing costs are $500 (flat) when you do the second concurrently. 85% CLTV would be an 8% second on $25,000 for a down payment of $75,000 (15%) plus closing costs. 90% CLTV would be $50,000 down payment (10%) and leave you with a $50,000 second at 7.375%, benefiting from a bump down in rate for hitting a certain dollar value. 95% CLTV requires a $25,000 down payment and leaves you with a $75,000 second at 7.75%. 100% CLTV (no down payment) leaves you with a $100,000 second at 8%. It would be 8.25, but you've hit another economy of scale break point.

Here's a table:





CLTV

80

85

90

95

95

100

100

1st TD

5.875

5.875

5.875

5.875

6.000

5.875

6.25

2nd TD

n/a

8.00

7.375

7.75

7.75

8.00

8.00

Cost

$7100

$7600

$7600

$8600

$7600

$11600

$7600

1st pay

$2366.16

$2366.16

$2366.16

$2366.16

$2398.21

$2366.16

$2462.87

2nd pay

$0

$183.45

$345.34

$537.31

$537.31

$733.77

$733.77

interest

$1958.33

$2125.00

$2265.63

$2442.71

$2484.38

$2625.00

$2750.00


So you see that having a down payment is a very good thing. This is for a fairly ideal situation. If you were in a stated income situation (when we had stated income loans, which nobody does any longer), the rates were slightly higher and step somewhat more steeply. If your credit is significantly below average, the rates start higher and step up more steeply still. It gets rough if both apply.

However, this doesn't take place in a vacuum. Let's say you can save $10,000 per year, and earn 10% tax free on what you save. But while you do, housing prices are still going up in the aggregate (at least when the economy is healthy, and if the economy doesn't get healthy soon we'll have worse things to worry about then whether to buy real estate). Let's assume 5% per year on average. We will also assume that you can get a 6% loan for the first and 8% for the second whenever you buy, and taxes at 1.2% of value per year, here's the projected situation:



Year
0
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
down
$0.00
$10,500.00
$22,050.00
$34,755.00
$48,730.50
$64,103.55
$81,013.91
$99,615.30
$120,076.83
$142,584.51
$167,342.96
price
$500,000.00
$525,000.00
$551,250.00
$578,812.50
$607,753.13
$638,140.78
$670,047.82
$703,550.21
$738,727.72
$775,664.11
$814,447.31
CLTV
100.00%
100.00%
100.00%
95.00%
95.00%
90.00%
90.00%
90.00%
85.00%
85.00%
80.00%
payments
$3,631.97
$3,736.52
$3,842.45
$3,949.44
$4,057.11
$4,165.04
$4,272.73
$4,379.60
$4,484.99
$4,588.14
$4,694.16

Where payments is the total of mortgage and monthly tax payment pro-rated when you buy. Examining that column, we see that this is an argument against waiting. In fact, assuming a 3% (compounded) raise per year, the property is only 4% more affordable in year 10 with a $167,000 down payment! This neglects rises in rents and other costs of living!

I should mention that smooth raises are not the way any market works over a 10 or 20 year period. Up, down, flat, crash, skyrocket, all happen due to unforeseeable factors, as well as ones you'd have to be a politician to not see. The basic ideas remain sound as a general principle, although the actions of politicians can certainly influence them - upwards or downwards. But in general, over the long term, markets have population increases and increased demands on the land available. Real estate prices increase in the long term, whatever may happen in any individual year (or few years). leverage makes the effects of that increase have spectacular financial effects.

At this update, the only 100% financing that is generally available is if you are eligible for a VA loan, but the principles remain the same. Once you have enough to make a down payment acceptable to lenders, the numbers are very strongly in favor of buying instead of waiting for a larger down payment. FHA loans require only 3.5% down, and are available to basically everyone who hasn't defrauded the federal government.

Original here

(Here is Part 2 of Save For A Down Payment or Buy Now?, which tells one way to increase affordability more and faster)

A while ago a reader gave me a heads up that Illinois HB 4050 was hurting residents of certain poverty stricken Illinois Zip Codes. Now I have to pick on my own state:

California law generally requires special handling of sales transactions to protect homeowners in foreclosure. This law, called the Home Equity Sales Contract Act, generally applies to transactions that meet all of the following four conditions: the property is one-to-four family dwelling units; the owner occupies one of the units as his or her principal place of residence; there is an outstanding notice of default recorded; and the buyer will not use the property as a personal residence. The Home Equity Sales Contract Act does not apply if one of these four conditions is unmet. If, for example, a seller occupies a property in foreclosure, but the buyer will be occupying the property as his or her personal residence, the home equity sales law does not apply.

If all four conditions are met, however, the buyer must use a home equity sales contract, such as the C.A.R. standard form "Notice of Default Purchase Agreement" and attachments. This agreement gives the seller, among other things, a five-day right to rescind the contract. Furthermore, the home equity purchaser cannot be represented by an agent. More accurately stated, the law requires a buyer's agent to be bonded by an admitted surety insurer, but C.A.R. is unaware of any insurer currently offering the bond.

Actual Code Here

This is so brain damaged it has to be the idea of some clueless idiots out to save the world without first stopping to consider the Hippocratic Injunction to "First, do no harm." But then we are talking about the California Legislature.

Now, in the business, the term "equity sale" or "equity purchase" is most commonly used in conjunction with a sale subject to existing trust deeds. So this is a significantly different meaning to a similar phrase. Keep in mind that there are four conditions that need to be met:

1. Residential property (1-4 units)
2. Owner occupies one unit
3. Notice of default recorded
4. Buyer does not intend to occupy.

But what happens with such properties? Who buys them? Investors, that's who. Not people looking for a primary residence. Guess what? The owners want them sold - need them sold! What happens if they don't sell? They go to auction, and the owner basically gets nothing, whether the property sells at auction or it doesn't, in which case the lender now owns it.

Furthermore, they're requiring that the buyer's agent have a bond that is not available, and has not been for years. So if whether they're working with a shark or with an investor who is actually going to give the people a decent price, the buyer's agent cannot be compensated. So what are most buyer's agents going to do? Answer: Wait until after the trustee's sale! As the buyer's agent, they have no fiduciary responsibility to that seller, and no ability to get paid. But the owner wants to sell before the trustee's sale. The chances of them getting anything from a trustee's sale or afterwards are about equal to one my grandfathers giving birth to triplets. Furthermore, this creates openings for unscrupulous listing agents to set up lowball offers on the property, or buy it themselves, with even less constraint than usual.

Now, this does theoretically create an opportunity for certain people who might be willing to live in the property to buy for lower prices, since investors are (mostly) out of the picture. So we are robbing Peter (the current owners) to pay Paul (in search of new housing). There are also some truly outstanding issues. What happens if my buyer client is lying to me about whether they intend to live there? The contract is already written, the terms of the transaction set, and the buyer's agent can't back out at the last minute when the buyers change their mind about whether they're going to live there. Also, what happens if everything is fine when the contract is written, but the lender drops a Notice of Default on the sellers the day we're set to close?

In the current market, most of the folks in default do not have large amounts of equity. Matter of fact, the typical seller who is delinquent is really hoping that the lender will sign off on a Short Payoff. This is not shark investors swooping in and buying granny's $500,000 property for $80,000. With the number of people there are pushing Reverse Annuity Mortgages, that's not going to be the case any time in the foreseeable future. Granny can get a RAM, after which she can last long enough to sell for a good price. Instead, what's going on is that the properties are going to foreclosure, costing the lenders more money, adding to the fees the owners pay, and lengthening the odds against the current owners coming out of the situation with anything. They want buyer's agents on the job, finding these bargains for their clients so that the sale gets made before the trustee's sale. Keep in mind that the seller is always allowed an agent, and the seller can always say "no," to the offer. Which is preferable: Not getting as much as you might have gotten for a sale under ideal conditions, or getting nothing?

Henry David Thoreau had some words on this situation:

If I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life, as from that dry and parching wind of the African deserts called the simoom, which fills the mouth and nose and ears and eyes with dust till you are suffocated, for fear that I should get some of his good done to me -- some of its virus mingled with my blood. No -- in this case I would rather suffer evil the natural way.

As is always the case, the California legislature was determined to do good, and ended up hurting the people they were allegedly trying to help. There are very few exceptions to Thoreau's rule.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

"How do I remove PMI?" was a question that I got.

First off, a definition. Private Mortgage Insurance, often abbreviated PMI, is an insurance policy that the bank may make you buy in order to get the loan. It is a monthly surcharge based upon a percentage of your entire principal balance. You pay for it, but the bank is the beneficiary. It doesn't make your mortgage payments if you can't, it doesn't keep your credit from being screwed up, and it doesn't even keep you from getting a 1099 for income from loan forgiveness. Net benefit to you: it gets you the loan, and nothing more, ever again.

You can avoid PMI by splitting your loan into two pieces, a first loan for 80% of the value and a second for any remainder. Yes, the rate on the second will be higher, but it will likely save you money starting immediately, not to mention that it's likely to be deductible, whereas PMI is not, in general, deductible. I do not believe that with all the loans I've ever done, I've ever seen one where PMI was preferable to splitting the loan in two, from the client's point of view. Unfortunately, right now second mortgage lenders won't fund loan to value ratios over 90% because they're the ones that lose all the money if they go south.

"With all this against mortgage insurance, why does it still happen?" you ask. This is the critical question. Before the changes regarding second mortgage lenders, it was because lenders usually pay yield spread to brokers or commission to their own loan officers based upon the amount of the first loan. Pay for a second is typically (not always) a small flat amount or zero. Your loan provider makes more money by doing it all as one loan. The loan provider wants to make more money and sticks you with the bill. Doesn't that make your heart glow with gratitude? Didn't think so. But for right now, it's because there are no second mortgages available above 90% comprehensive Loan to Value (CLTV) - and most don't want to go over 80.

You can also refinance to get rid of PMI if you have the equity. Unfortunately, this means all the costs of a refinance and triggering any prepayment penalty there may be. Not optimal, unless the rates are enough better to make it worth the cost.

Now one of the things I keep seeing about PMI is the blank admonishment "don't accept PMI!" Ladies and gentlemen, whether or not you have PMI is determined by your equity situation and loan structure. If you have a single loan over 80% of value, there will be PMI associated with the loan. End of discussion. It can be a separate charge, or it can be built into the rate, and they don't even necessarily have to tell you it's for PMI - but it will be there. If you're in a situation where PMI is needed, shopping around for the lender who doesn't charge PMI is precisely the same as shopping for a liar who will hide it in the accounting.

There are two ways PMI is collected. One is as a separate charge, supplemental to your loan. The second is as an addition to the rate.

The separate charge is never deductible (or at least it wasn't until Congress passed a law temporarily making it deductible), but is easier to remove. Most states, including California, have laws requiring the bank to remove it when a Price Opinion or appraisal say that the Loan to Value Ratio goes below 78 percent (or something similar). Depending upon your state, you may or may not be required to pay for an appraisal, a cost of approximately $400, in order to have it removed. Some states require only a price opinion, others, like California, permit the bank to require an appraisal.

Just because the law says that that the bank can require an appraisal doesn't mean that the bank will require an appraisal. If the loan to value is obviously there, they might just have someone drive by to make certain the house is still basically sound. On the other hand, if loan to value ratio is close to the line, the bank has a responsibility to its shareholders not to increase their exposure to loss unreasonably. So if you just wake up one morning with doubled property values, the bank will likely waive the appraisal. If your market is gradually increasing in value and you're watching it like a hawk and make your request the instant you think the value is there, be prepared to pay for the appraisal. Around here, with PMI on a 90 percent loan being a surcharge of about one and a quarter percent per year on a $500,000 loan, you pay for your appraisal by not having PMI in one month - if you're right. If you're wrong and the appraisal comes in lower, you're just out the money.

Suppose, instead that instead of choosing the surcharge option, you choose to have PMI built into the rate. So instead of a 6.25 percent loan rate, you have a 7.00 percent loan rate. Advantage: it's usually deductible, because it's actual interest on a home loan. Disadvantage: You have to refinance (or sell!) to get out of PMI, because the pricing is built into the loan itself as part of the contract you signed. It is to be noted that by itself, this method is usually cheaper than the monthly surcharge for precisely this reason, because in order to get rid of it you have to pay to refinance, and if there's a prepayment penalty in effect you're likely going to pay that also, and so on and so forth.

So if your loan is more than eighty percent of the value of your property, you can expect to pay PMI, although it is avoidable by splitting the loan into an 80 percent first and a second for the remainder if you can find someone willing to do it, and you're likely much better off for doing so. If you're already stuck with it, contact your lender for steps to remove it providing you think the value has increased enough. If you suspect the lender is not abiding by the law, contact your state's Department of Real Estate, although lenders not abiding by the law is both stupid and, in my experience, rare. It's usually the consumer that doesn't understand the law.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

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