August 2019 Archives

What Does Escrow Do?

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This is a question that gets asked a lot.

Escrow is nothing more or less than a neutral third party that stands in the middle of a real estate transaction and makes certain all of the i's are dotted and t's are crossed. They make certain that all of the terms of the contract have been met, and then they make certain that everyone who is a party to the transaction gets what is coming to them via the contract. Given the complexity of a real estate transaction, you want this. In California, that's an eight page basic contract. Do you want to go through and verify that it's all done? Suppose there wasn't an escrow? Given a half million dollar transaction, do you think it might be possible that some people would try to arrange to be paid without handing over a good Grant Deed or clear title, or that they might try to pay with nonexistent funds? Escrow puts a stop to someone not giving what they agreed and still getting what they want.

Many times folks complain about the escrow company or escrow officer, when it's not escrow's fault and the problem lies elsewhere. The escrow company is obligated to make certain all of the terms of the contract have been followed, not just most of them. I've talked before about how if the contract is not accepted exactly as proposed in the most recent modification, you don't have a deal. There cannot be any points of disagreement, or you don't have a purchase contract. Similarly for escrow. Usually problems that the client sees are not the escrow officer's doing, but rather someone else's. Quite often, the person complaining is the person who caused the problem. The escrow officer can't do anything without mutual agreement. If the loan officer doesn't get the loan in a timely fashion, it's not the escrow officer's fault. If the agent doesn't meet the inspector or appraiser so they can get their work done in a timely fashion, it's not the escrow officer's fault. If you can't qualify for the loan, if you have to come up with more money, if you don't get as much money as you thought, it's not the escrow officer's fault. But in many cases, the escrow officer makes a convenient whipping boy for the sins of others.

This is not to say that it's never the escrow officer's fault that something goes wrong, but if one party or the other is not in compliance with the terms of the agreement, the only options the escrow officer has are to get an amended agreement or get them into compliance. Nonetheless, I have seen many transactions fall apart because the escrow officer was a bozo. The really good escrow officers are like chess masters - several moves ahead of the whole game, and when I find one, I want to use them all of the time. Unfortunately for buyer's agents, the seller often has the real control over where the escrow transaction goes, and when the seller's agent decides they want to use some bozo, that's probably where it's going. I can do all kinds of things that should move them, but the bottom line is they want to use their broker's pet escrow (who is more likely to be staffed by bozos than any other escrow company, as they've got captive clients), I as the buyer's agent cannot force them to go elsewhere. It's a violation of fiduciary duty for them as well as a RESPA violation, but if I complain to the appropriate agencies, what are the chances of my client getting this property they've decided that they want?

As the escrow process moves forward, the escrow officer collects documentation that the various requirements of the contract have been fulfilled. When they have all been fulfilled, the transaction is ready to close and record.

The loan is usually the last thing left hanging after everything else is done. There are a variety of reasons for this, most obvious of which is that the loan's conditions are likely to include everything else being done before the loan funds. Appraisal, grant deed, inspection, etcetera and ad nauseum. When the borrower meets underwriter's guidelines, they go and sign loan documents. Signing loan documents does not mean the loan will fund, and it is a major misapprehension to believe so. It is legitimate to move conditions from prior to docs to prior to funding if doing so serves some interest of the client, such as funding the loan before the rate lock expires. If they go to documents before the client's income and occupational status have been verified, that's an unethical lender looking to lock the client into their loan or none at all. Always demand a copy of outstanding conditions to fund the loan before you sign loan documents.

Once the loan documents are signed is when the real fun begins, because that's when the underwriter takes a step back and the funder steps to the forefront. The loan funder is an employee of the lender who fulfills much the same function as the escrow officer - make sure all of the conditions have been met before they release the money. The loan funder has responsibility only to the lender, though, not the borrower, not the seller, not anyone else. It's their job to ask such questions as when the homeowner's insurance got paid (and where is the proof?), has the final Verification of employment been done (assuming they aren't required to do it themselves), or work out a procedure whereby they get proof that all of this stuff is satisfied before the funds get released. If the loan officer has done their job correctly, the funder is working primarily with the escrow company. If I have to talk to the funder as a loan officer, that's usually a sign I should have worked a little harder earlier on, because my part should be done before the funder gets involved.

Once all of the conditions to fund the loan and close the transaction have been met, the escrow officer records the transaction. In point of fact, it's the title company who usually is set up to record the documents, something they will charge for. Until the transaction is recorded, the lender can pull the funds back. It's not the escrow officer's fault (in most cases) if they do this. It's because something about the borrower's situation changed, and now the lender is unhappy and unsatisfied with the level of risk of losing some or all of their money. Only rarely is it caused by a bozo of an escrow officer who doesn't understand what's going on, and tells the funder something that causes the lender to get nervous. Remember, the lenders are loaning a lot of money, and the list of reasons why lenders justifiably get nervous is fairly long, especially as a certain percentage of all mortgage applications are fraudulent.

Once the loan is funded and the transaction recorded, the escrow officer has some final stuff to do. Send out the checks to everyone who's getting one, complete with an accounting of the money. Make certain all charges relating to the transaction are paid, for which they will usually keep a small "pad" for last minute expenses, so that the buyer and seller are likely to see a small check a few days later after the escrow officer has made certain everything is paid to the penny. And so ends the transaction, and this article.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

This article was originally from April 2006 - anybody want to tell me I didn't call it? Of course, by that time it was like predicting a dropped anvil would fall but that was when the question was asked

From an email:

I've been enjoying your blog posts on mortgages. I've learned more from you about what to expect than I have from any other source, and I've gotten 10 mortgages in my life.

I was reading Larry William's website this week, and on there I saw one of his newsletters from last summer:

Larry Williams you may be familiar with, he's written many books on trading.

Anyways, the newsletter talks about buying 2nd mortgage notes as an investment. And that's something I haven't seen you write about.

With the softening of the housing market in many areas, and overextended borrowers, I suspect that the market for 2nd notes will be heating up over the next few months and years.

I'd appreciate hearing your views on the opportunities and pitfalls in this area.

Let us consider the efficiencies of the market. The Institutional lenders have economies of scale, underwriting guidelines, and a set checklist of procedures as to how to approve (or decline) loans. They have a system that makes them effective. They can do this because they have enough loans to make it cost-effective, and because of their experience, they know how to price their loans. From advertising to wholesaling to pricing to packaging and servicing, they are set up for efficient service. Lest people think I'm saying lenders are a better place to get loans than brokers, I am not. Quite the reverse is true. But the the vast majority of broker originated loans are with regulated institutional lenders.

What happens if you're not set up like that? The answer is you're either more highly priced than they are, or you're not as profitable. I've said more than once that without regulated institutional lenders, every loan would be a hard money loan. So in trying to originate loans, an individual is competing at a disadvantage. Where then, can they make a profit?

The answer is in the loans that the regulated lenders won't or can't touch. Now we need to ask ourselves why they can't or won't touch them. There are three common reasons. First is there is something wrong with the borrower. Second is that there's not enough equity. Third is that there is something wrong with the property.

Something wrong with the borrower has several subtypes. Credit Score too low, in bankruptcy, too many mortgage lates, no source of income to pay back the loan. Most of these can be gotten around in one degree or another unless they take place in combination with insufficient equity. Most single problems are surmountable by a good loan officer, providing you've got the equity required to convince the bank they won't lose their investment. You'll pay a higher rate or higher fees than you would without, but better that than no loan. It's when they take place in combination that problems arise which break the loan beyond the ability to rescue. And of course, if the property is not marketable in its current condition, no regulated lender will touch it.

What the first category reduces to is increased chance of default. The second category reduces to increased risk of losing money in case of default. The third category, something wrong with the property, reduces to you're going to get stuck fixing the property if they do default, which means sinking thousands to tens of thousands of dollars into it, above and beyond the amount of the trust deed. Furthermore, both the second and third categories are also at increased risk for default, even if the borrower has the wealth of Midas and the credit score to match.

So let's consider what happens when something goes wrong. The borrower doesn't make their payments, and it becomes a non-performing loan. You're not getting your money. If you need it every month, that's a problem. Do you know the proper procedure to foreclose without missing any i-dots or t-crossings? If you don't, your borrower can spin it out a long time. Actually, they can spin it out for a long time anyway. Well, that's what a loan servicer is for, but a loan servicer cuts into your margin, and they get their money every month regardless of whether or not you get paid. This means they're a monthly liability if the loan isn't performing. Furthermore, over half the time, some low-life attorney talks the people into filing bankruptcy to delay the inevitable. It's stupid, and it almost always ends up costing them still more money and making their final situation much worse, but they do it anyway - and now you have to start paying an attorney to have any hope of getting your money.

Suppose the property does go all the way to auction? You are second in line behind the holder of the first trust deed. They get every penny they are due before you get one penny. And if the first trust deed holder forecloses (or the government for property taxes), your trust deed is wiped out. The only way to defend against this is go to the auction with cash to defend your interest. And if the borrower isn't paying you, may I ask why you think they'll pay their property taxes or first trust deed? The answer is "they're probably not." They are going to lose the property anyway, so why make payments that don't prevent that?

(There are a lot of details in the foreclosure process. The stuff in the above paragraph should not be taken for anything more than a broad brush child's watercolor type painting of the process, as including those details would digress too far)

Now, suppose you're not originating the loan, you're just buying the right to receive payments, either on an individual loan or a package of loans, after the fact?

Well, can I ask you which loans you think the lenders are selling? If you answered "The ones in greatest danger of default" you get a star for the day! The lenders will either sell them off individually, if there are people inclined to buy, or actually repackage them thusly. The ones that are still performing, and still going according to the original guidelines will go to other regulated institutional lenders in mass packages, but those lenders won't take these, or if they will, it'll bring the price of the entire package down by more than it's worth. So they separate out the dogs before they sell the package. So unless you're buying them as part of the original loan package, this is what's happening. Now mind you, there are always those who want the non-performing loans because they know how to deal with them, but they know to only buy the ones with enough equity to cover the loans in case they need to foreclose. Those who specialize also know what these loans are really worth, and they don't pay full value - usually not even in the same ballpark.

So the aftermarket loans that are available tend to be in danger of default and without sufficient equity to cover if it goes to auction. If you're looking to lose your money, you've just found a very good way. You can also trivially spend thousands of extra dollars trying to defend your interests.

The equity issue is going to assume increased importance as prices in some overheated areas subside. If the loan was underwritten and approved on the basis of a $500,000 appraisal, but now similar properties are only selling for $420,000 and the loans total $450,000, it doesn't need a genius to understand you're not in the best of positions. Even if it sells at auction for as much as comparables are going for, you're still down at least $30,000 plus the expenses of the sale.

Now, with that said, second trust deeds can, if the equity is there, put you in the catbird seat. Suppose there's an IRS lien junior to you? Our office dealt with a $700,000 property with a $1.6 million lien against it - junior to the $28,000 second we bought. Nobody else could touch that property. The owner just wanted out - he wasn't getting any money regardless of what happened. He stopped making payments, and our clients had to step in with thousands of dollars to keep the holder of the first happy. There ended up being a fair amount of money made, although it took some serious cash for a while, because our clients had to make the payments on the first loan as well as everything else. This is not for the weak of wallet. If buying the Note had taken all of their ready money, they would have been SOL.

There are also all of the standard diversification of investment concerns. If ninety percent of your money is tied up in this deed, that's a pretty serious risk to your overall financial health. No matter how many precautions you take, some do go sour.

In short, while there is a lot of potential for gain, it's some serious work to evaluate the situation, and usually some serious work and serious cash to make it work for you when it is right.

UPDATE: something I'm running into a lot right now: Lenders that sell the note but retain servicing rights. So when the note goes south, and my client wants to buy into a distressed situation, the servicers are rejecting offers without checking with the actual investor, because they could get sued (for misrepresentation and bad underwriting) if they accept less than they loaned. On the other hand, if the property sits on the market (thereby costing the investors even more money), they don't get sued because, hey, the asking price is enough to cover the note. Now there is a legal deadline involved with lender owned properties, and nobody is going to offer enough to bail them out. But it's kind of like the old joke: "A lot can happen in a year. I may die. The King may die. And perhaps the horse will sing." Corporations don't die. Even if it were an individual investor, someone's going to inherit the right to payments. I do not think this horse will sing - it probably won't even whinny. In other words, nobody is going to offer enough to bail the lender out of their fix. Near as I can figure, those controlling the corporations holding servicing rights are evidently hoping that by that time, they will have moved on to other jobs and can't be held liable as individuals.

One more reason to be very careful investing in trust deeds

Caveat Emptor

Original here

If you don't know the answer to this, don't be embarrassed. Lots of alleged professionals forgot the answers to these questions for several years, if indeed, they ever knew. It seems like quite a few still don't know the answer

Loan qualification standards measure whether or not you can afford a loan. By adhering to them, the lenders both lower the default rates and have some assurance the loans they make will be repaid, while borrowers avoid getting into situations where foreclosure is all but certain. Lest you misunderstand, this is a good thing for both the lenders and the borrowers. It isn't like the lenders want to stand there like the Black Knight shouting "None Shall Pass!" They want to loan money - that's how they make profit. But unless you live in a cave, you may have heard of some problems with defaulted home loans of late. You may have heard they're a major problem for both the lenders and the borrowers. Guess what? They are.

From the lender's standpoint, of course, the important thing is that they prevent loaning money to people who can't afford to repay the loan, but the other isn't a trivial concern. Even if they get every penny back when they foreclose, foreclosures are still bad business, with negative impacts on cash available to lend, regulatory scrutiny, and not least important, business reputation.

Going through foreclosure is no fun from a borrower standpoint either. I don't think I have ever seen or even heard of a situation where somebody ended up better off from having gone through foreclosure than they would have been if the lender had just denied the loan in the first place. So whether you like it or not, the lenders are doing you a favor to decline your loan when you're not qualified.

There are many loan qualification standards, but the two most important ones are debt to income ratio, often abbreviated DTI, and loan to value ratio, often abbreviated LTV. The first of these is much more important than the second, but both are part of every single loan.

Debt to Income ratio is a measurement of how well your monthly income covers your monthly payments. It is measured in the form of a percentage of your gross monthly pay, averaged over about the last two years. The permissible number can change somewhat depending upon credit score in some situations, and with enough in the way of assets in others, but the basic idea is you can afford to be paying out 43 to 45 percent of your monthly income in the form of fixed expenses - housing and consumer debt service. You can cancel cable TV or broadband internet, you can cancel your movie club or book of the month - but the items debt to income are concerned with are essentially fixed by your situation. You owe $X on student loans, and you're required to repay so many dollars per month. Your mortgage payment is this, your pro-rated property taxes are that, your homeowners insurance and car payments and credit cards are these others. There's no possibility of this money suddenly disappearing - you already owe it, and you are obligated to repay on thus and such a schedule.

Loan to value ratio is not a measure of whether you can afford the loan. It is a measurement of how likely the lender is to get its money back if you do default. With appraisal fraud and similar problems, it's not any kind of a magic bullet - but it is the best they have. When values are rising quickly and holding onto a property for six months generates a 10% profit, it shouldn't surprise anyone that the lenders are willing to take more risks with loan to value ratio than they are in the reverse situation. Many properties have lost value and even if the borrowers had kept up the payments before default, they would still owe more than the property is worth.

Lenders aren't going to refinance on good terms if you're "upside down" or even close to it. But being upside down is not a big problem so long as you have a sustainable loan situation and can afford your payments. You keep making those payments, eventually you are going to have equity again. You try to get another loan after default and foreclosure, and you'll find out in a hurry that lenders are not forgiving. Kind of like the Wild Bunch in a way - mess with one, you mess with them all. Lots of folks are thinking that the smart thing to do is walk away when you're upside down. Even if they do have a non-recourse loan, they're going to find out soon enough that wasn't so smart. Making the payments on a sustainable loan lowers the balance, and values are going to come back - sooner than a lot of people think. Put the two together, and as long as you can hold out until you have equity again, you're better off making those payments.

These standards do, and always have, arisen out of "cut and try". Experience really is the best teacher - unfortunately getting that experience has a habit of being kind of rough. Experience may also be what you get when you didn't get what you wanted - in this case, a satisfactorily paid loan - but the lenders have regulators after them, and those regulators are sensitive to political pressures, and sometimes regulators won't let lenders do something they really do want to do - like loan money with a level of qualifications regulators look askance at - because if the lender makes enough bad loans, even if they survive financially, the regulators may decide they're doing something they shouldn't, and shut the lender down for predatory lending practices. It takes a long time and a lot of evidence to persuade lenders and regulators and especially investors to relax standards, while a comparatively few bad experiences will have them toughening standards. Over-tightening lending standards has major bad effects upon everyone, including causing foreclosures that would not otherwise have happened, but it's hard to point to any specific victims and there's always idiots with a political axe to grind who will claim the people hurt by over-tightening standards were themselves victims of predatory practice. Right now, both lenders and regulators have been royally burned, and so they don't want to assume any risks they can avoid. This will likely change within a few years, but for now, that's the way it is. You can learn what you need in order to qualify and get your loan approved, or you can go without. Right now, most lenders are too paranoid to care that having their standards too tight means they lose profit, because they've been burned too much, and the money they have in their accounts is not at risk from having made bad loans. When they make between six and eight percent per year on a successful loan, out of which they have to pay taxes, employee wages, facilities costs and everything else, a one in 100 chance of losing the entire investment to a bad loan is unacceptable, and although the default rates on newer loans is practically zero, they're still working through the bad stuff made during the Era of Make Believe Loans.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

I keep getting search result hits for the string "fsbo horror." It's an amalgamation because I haven't done any postings on this specific subject.

Both buyers and sellers have problems relating to For Sale By Owner issues.

For sellers, the largest issue seems to be properly disclosing all relevant items to satisfy the liability issue. There are resources available, but the question is whether the you took proper advantage of them and made all the legally required disclosures on any issue with the property there may be. If you have an agent that fails to do this, you can sue them. If you are doing it yourself, the only one responsible is you. You are claiming to be capable of doing just as good a job as the professional, and if you didn't do it right, the buyer is going to come after you. You have all the legal liability.

Now I'm going to leave the marketing and pricing negotiating questions out of the equation, because with a For Sale By Owner most folks should understand that in return for not paying a professional to help you, you've got to do it yourself. What many For Sale By Owner folks seem to fail to understand, however, is that if you haven't met legal requirements, the real nightmare may be just beginning when the property sells.

Let's say it was something fairly innocuous, like seeping water from a slow leak you didn't know about. A couple years pass, and now there's mold or settling. Perhaps the foundation cracks as a result of settling. Bills are thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Your buyer goes back and finds that your water usage went up by fifteen percent in the six months before the sale. He sues, saying that even though you didn't know, you should have known based upon this evidence. Court cases are decided based upon evidence like this every day. A good lawyer paints you as maliciously selling the property as a result of this. Liability: Steep, to say the least.

Now, let's look at it from a buyer's prospective. You have a choice of two identical properties. In one, a seller is acting for themselves, in the other, they have an agent. The price may be a little cheaper on the for sale by owner one, or it may not - usually not. The most common reason people do for sale by owner is greed. But when I'm looking at a for sale by owner, the question that crosses my mind is "Are they rationally greedy, or are they just greedy?" Are they going to disclose everything wrong or that may be an issue with the property? At least here in California, the agent has pretty strong motivation to disclose if something is wrong that they know about. If they don't, they can lose their license, and even if they keep the license, they have potentially unlimited personal liability. If they did disclose, they're probably off the hook, and even if they aren't, their insurance will pay for the lawyers, the courts, and any liability. If there's one thing all long term agents get religion about, no matter their denomination, it's asking all of the disclosure questions.

This is not the case for many owners selling their own property. Some few are every bit as conscientious as any agent. A good proportion, however, are intentionally concealing something about the property. What's going to happen when it comes to light? If there's an agent, there's a license number, a brokerage who was responsible for them, and insurance. The latter two are deep pockets targets for your suit, and you can find them. Once that owner gets the check, you can find them unless they're dead, but they may not have any money. Even if they do have money, it may be locked up and inaccessible via Homestead or any number of other potential reasons.

One of the reasons that I, as a buyer's agent, am always leery of a for sale by owner property is that I have to figure that first off, there's a larger than normal chance that this property has something wrong that's not properly disclosed. I can spot most of those, but what happens if both I and the inspector miss it? We haven't been living in the house, and it's possible to hide most such issues. When that happens, my client is going to be unhappy. When my client is unhappy, they are going to sue. The first target is the seller, but if they're gone or broke, who does my erstwhile client come after? Me. So I have to figure that not only is there a larger chance of there being something wrong, I have to figure there is a larger chance of me being held responsible for something I took every step I legally could to avoid. For Sale By Owner properties usually have to be priced significantly under the market in order to persuade me that not only am I doing the right thing by my clients by showing them them this property, where my clients have to pay my buyer's agent fee out of their pockets rather than out of the selling agent's commission, but also that the heightened risk of future problems is worth more than the price differential to my clients. Unless the answer is a strong solid "yes" that I can document in court if I have to, I'm going to pass it by in favor of the agent-listed property next door or down the street. That's just the way things are.

Caveat Emptor (and Vendor)

Original here

The easy, general rule is that legitimate expenses all have easily understood explanations in plain english, they are all for specific services, and if they are performed by third parties, there are associated invoices or receipts that you can see.

Let's haul out the Mortgage Loan Disclosure Statement (California) or Good Faith Estimate (elsewhere), and go right down them line by line. To be certain, it's the HUD 1 form that's really definitive, but you don't get that even in preliminary form until you're signing loan documents, and if it's not on the earlier form it shouldn't be on the HUD 1.

Origination is not a junk fee. It can be excessive, but it is a real fee to pay a real service. Relating to this is Yield Spread on the HUD 1, which is what the lender will pay the broker for a loan on given terms. Origination plus yield spread plus line 808 (Mortgage Broker Commission) is what the loan provider makes if they are a broker. If they're a lender, they make a lot more, and they can hide it more easily. Yield Spread and Origination and Broker's Commission are disclosed on the HUD 1, while the price on the secondary market is not disclosed anywhere, and if you're talking to a direct lender, they don't have to disclose Origination or Yield Spread because there may not be any; they can decide to be paid entirely off the premium the loan sells for in the secondary market - and then they tell you you're buying it down from there with discount points. This is why I keep telling people to shop for loans based upon the terms to you. If you evaluate it on the basis of loan provider's compensation, a broker who has to disclose compensation of $4000 is going to look like a worse bargain that the direct lender who does not apparently make anything but turns around and sells your loan for a $25,000 premium. In this example, the broker's loan is likely to be about a point and a half to two points cheaper to you, but if you evaluate it on the basis of who has to tell you how much they make, you lose.

This has gotten an order of magnitude worse as the new 2010 Good Faith Estimate treats Yield Spread (for brokers) as a cost and requires it be included in the computation of costs. It isn't a cost at all - it's now money that actually reduces your cost. But bankers used political contributions and connections to ram through a law requiring it to be quoted as if it were a cost, thereby making a direct lender loan appear more attractive than it is when compared to a broker originated loan by someone who doesn't understand this - which is to say the vast majority of the American population. Nor do direct lenders have to so much as disclose how much they are going to make selling the loan on the secondary market. The politicians have deliberately obscured actual cost to the consumer in favor of aiding one class of loan provider over another. I'm planning an article that directly compares the exact same loan done on a correspondent or direct lending basis versus a broker originated loan.

Loan Discount Fee is the fee you pay in order to get an interest rate lower than you would otherwise be offered. It is not junk, but you probably don't want to pay it, as most folks never recover the money they pay to get the lower rate via the lower payments and interest rate charges. Note that you are actually getting something for your money - lowered cost of interest over the life of the loan. It's just that it takes longer than most people realize to recover the money you spend upfront. I never pay discount points for anything except a 30 year fixed rate loan that I'm going to keep at least ten years.

Appraisal Fee is not junk. There is an appraiser who needs to get paid for doing the appraisal. Before this year, many times this got marked PFC on the MLDS/GFE, to make it look like a given loan provider was cheaper than they were. Make no mistake, there's going to be a figure in the range of $400 associated with it eventually, but because it's performed by a third party, the loan provider could (and usually did) pretend it doesn't exist as part of the charges until you have to pay it.

Credit Report is not junk. It's not free to run credit, you know.

Lender's Inspection Fee is usually (not always) junk. You're paying the appraiser. If you're smart, you're paying a building inspector before you buy, and the lender often makes you do it even if you don't want to. Every once in a while, there's a home with a documented pest or structural problem that the owner wants to refinance, and that's where this comes in as non-junk.

Mortgage Broker Commission/Fee: Is all a part of how the broker gets paid. Around here the money made is usually expressed as origination and yield spread instead, but this could be part of what a broker gets paid. Origination plus Yield Spread plus this line is the total of what they get paid. If these are larger at closing than when you signed up, that's par for the course most places, unless they guaranteed their fees up front in writing. I do it. I know one other company that does it. Those who are members of Upfront Mortgage Brokers guarantee the total of the items that are their fees, but not the rest of the form. For anyone else, they can and most will change the numbers on these forms within very broad limits (and to illustrate with an example someone recently brought into my office, the difference between one quarter of a point and three points on a $450,000 loan is over $12,000).

Tax Service Fee is not junk, unfortunately.

Processing fee is not junk but it may be negotiable. When it's imposed by the lender, it's not. When it's imposed by the broker, it's to pay the loan processor, which may be negotiated sometimes. Often, some places pretend they're not charging it, while adding a larger margin to origination or discount. It is a real fee, however.

Underwriting fee is real. Lenders charge it to cover paying the underwriters.

Wire Transfer Fee is real, because it costs money to wire money. If you don't need it, don't get it.

Prepaid Interest (line 901) is definitely not junk. This is interest, exactly the same as you're going to pay every month of your loan.

Mortgage Insurance Premium is not junk but may be avoidable.

Hazard Insurance premiums are not junk, either. This money is to put a policy of homeowner's insurance (or renew an existing policy) on the property. Lenders having been burned a few times in the distant past, the insurance policy needs to be in effect from the exact instant they commit their money - half a microsecond later is not good enough for them.

County property taxes are not junk, either (darn!). If you buy during certain periods of the year (e.g. April through June in California), you'll need to reimburse your seller for property taxes they already paid.

VA Funding fee is charged by the VA on VA loans only. Not junk, but if it's not VA, it doesn't have this. As I remember, if you're 10% or more disabled this can get waived.

Reserves deposited with lender are not junk, either. They will be used to pay your fees as they become due. It isn't the lender who owes property taxes and homeowner's insurance. It's you. They're just holding the money.

Title charges: Settlement or Closing Escrow Fee is a real charge to pay the escrow company. Like Appraisal fee, this is often marked PFC, but something like $500 plus $1 per thousand dollars is common.

Document Preparation Fee is mostly real, and actually the lenders do most of it these days. When the title or escrow company need to do it, they will charge fairly steep rates (I've seen $200 for a single sheet document), but you are a captive audience unless you discuss it beforehand.

Notary Fee is to pay the Notary. It's real. It often fell into the PFC trap, previously discussed for Appraisals and Escrow, but you really do need certain documents notarized. Sometimes you can save some money by finding a less expensive notary, but this can bring up other issues, like getting everyone to the same place at the same time.

Title Insurance is real. If it's a purchase, there will actually be two policies of title insurance purchased, one for the new owner and one for the lender. This insures against unknown defects in the title of your property, and yes, title claims happen every day. Lenders won't lend without one. Title insurance is another one of those third party fees that got marked PFC so that less scrupulous loan officers could appear to be less expensive than their competition.

I'm going to mention subescrow fees here, even though they aren't preset onto the form, and are not only junk but also avoidable if your agent did their job. The title company charges them because they are usually asked to do work that is, properly speaking, the realm of the escrow company. But if you choose a title company and escrow firm with common ownership, they will likely be waived.

Government Recording and Transfer Charges are not junk. They are charged by the county, and they are not avoidable, nor should you want to. Recording fees and tax stamps (if applicable) are just part of the cost of doing business. Beware of one provider pretending it doesn't exist while another honestly discloses it.

Additional Settlement Charges. Pest Inspection is the only one on the form, and it is not junk. You want a pest inspection if you're buying the property. The lender can require it in some circumstances upon refinance.

Now, you'll notice that of the permanently etched items on the form, there's not a lot of junk, but everybody keeps talking about high junk fees. What are these, and where are they?

Well, most of the things that people talk about as junk fees aren't junk fees. These are fees like Appraisal fee, escrow, credit report, notary, etcetera. These are, incidentally, half or more of the closing costs for most loans. They may have been hidden from you on the initial form, but they're not junk. They are essential parts of the process, and if you don't see explicit dollar values associated with them, somebody is trying to lie about their fees by not telling you about all of them. It's not like you're going to somehow not pay them. They're just pretending you're not in order to get you to sign up with them.

This has diminished significantly this year with the advent of the 2010 Good Faith Estimate. The regulators may be intentionally deceiving consumers about the costs of broker loans versus the cost of direct lender loans, but they did one thing to the benefit of the consumer - if it's not on the Good Faith Estimate, there are now fewer circumstances where the lender is permitted to raise what they disclose, so there is less pretending a loan is going to be all but free and then socking people for $12,000 in closing costs.

Nonetheless things that really are junk fees are a real problem, but the reason they're not among those listed on the form is that the items listed on the form are mostly real. It's the extra stuff that gets written into the extra lines that you've got to watch out for. It was fine and legitimate for a loan officer to write "Total of lenders fees $995" or however much it was, although the new 2010 Good Faith Estimate no longer permits this. On the HUD 1, these should be broken out into separate charges, but this way the loan officer only has to remember one number. As long as they add up correctly, no harm and no foul, and it doesn't make any difference to you whether it's underwriting and document generation or spa visits for their senior management, it's part of doing business with that lender. What is probably not legitimate is to start writing all kinds of other fees. Miscellaneous fees. Packaging fees. Marketing fees. Legitimate Messenger fees should be something you know about because you need them at the time they happen. But the majority of messenger fees are the title/escrow company trying to get you to pay for daily courier runs that happen anyway. If you choose the right title/escrow combination, you should be able to avoid them in most cases.

It is also a common misconception that all junk fees are lenders junk fees. I don't impose junk fees on my clients, and I do my best to keep title and escrow from doing so. However, coming into situations other loan officers have left behind where it's best to simply go with what's already in place, title companies and escrow companies, in general, appear to impose about an equal amount in junk fees with most loan providers. This is also changing now with the new Good Faith Estimate which makes lenders and loan officers liable for the extra fees - as a result of which title and escrow companies who don't want to lose business are cleaning up their act. I have told more than one title and escrow representative that the first time I end up paying their extra fees out of my pocket will be the last dime their company sees from my clients. Multiply this by the number of loan officers in the country, and you can see that they've suddenly gotten a powerful incentive to treat broker clients, at least, honestly.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

(This is an updated reprint of an article written in February 2007. The Era of Make Believe Loans that made it easier to qualify people for inflated loan amounts ended abruptly a few days later, but the sort of thinking that set people up for later default is still with us)

Not very long ago, a woman who was impressed by my website called because she wanted to get pre-qualified for a loan. "Great!" I told her, and proceeded to ask about her income and her monthly obligations and everything else, and came up with a figure of about $220,000 that she could realistically afford. If you're familiar with San Diego, you know that that's a 1 bedroom condo, or maybe a small two bedroom in a not so wonderful area of town. Even with prices down now, it's definitely not a house. With a Mortgage Credit Certificate, it got to maybe $260,000. If she bought somewhere there was a Locally based first time buyer program also, that would add whatever the amount of the program was, but the only one with money actually available was a place she didn't want to live. If we went so far as to go interest only, we might have boosted the base loan amount as high as $300,000. Severe fixer houses might be had for $350,000 or so - and she had the literature for a brand new $700,000 development. She had her upgrades and drapery all picked out, too. So I tried to be gentle in pointing out that the property appeared to be a bit more than she could afford.

Was she grateful? Heck no! She then asked, "How am I supposed to afford a house with that?" She was spitting mad! She acted like I was personally standing there saying "None Shall Pass!" (about a minute and a half in). "Well, if you won't qualify me for a house, I'll go find someone who will!"

I'm sure she did find someone to tell her she could have a $700,000 loan if she wanted it. Put negative amortization together with Stated Income or NINA, and there are any number of people out there who will not only keep their mouths shut about the consequences to you, but aid and abet you in staying ignorant about those consequences - at least until they've got their $25,000 commission check. And you know, I can do that loan also, if you don't mind that real interest rate adds $100,000 to what you owe over the course of three years and the payment all of a sudden adjusts to over four times what you can afford, and you lose the property and your credit is ruined for at least ten years. Not to mention the fact that rarely do people allow the mortgage payment to go south on its own.

There is no conspiracy keeping you away from home ownership. There is no smoke filled back room deal setting the price of properties such as the one she wanted out of her reach. Lest you be unaware, here in Southern California, we haven't been building enough new housing for the people who want to live here since the late seventies. Those desirable properties are highly priced because they are scarce, and the prices are where they are because that's where the supply of such properties balances the number of people who want them badly enough to pay those prices. Notice that I did not say, "The number of people who can afford those prices." This is intentional. If you want them bad enough, there are lots of loans out there, and at the time, there were lenders eager to make them, such that you could have that dream house - for a while. But the way financing works is like the laws of physics. Specifically, like gravity. It's there, all the time, pulling away, and there is no analog to the ground that holds us up. Think of it as an very tall elevator shaft going both directions from where you start. This month's interest is gravity, pulling you down. What you're paying is like the upward thrust of a rocket, pushing you up. When you make an investment (and a property is an investment), you want to go up, but if pull down is more than thrust up, you start going down instead. Furthermore, we are talking in terms of acceleration, not just velocity. If down is more than up next month, too, you're now going down even faster. And so on and so forth.

But the elevator shaft is never infinite going down, and now ask yourself what happens when you're going down, at a speed you've been building up for months and months, and the elevator shaft ends? I've been watching old cartoons on TV sometimes, and I've noticed that they usually don't show Wile E. Coyote's impact any more, but what just happened to you makes the time he got caught under the anvil, the lit cannon, and the huge falling rock look like a love tap.

Real estate agents don't set prices. The market does that in accordance with supply and demand. In southern California, there's twenty million plus people demanding housing and not enough being built. You want to change this, take it up with politicians. All buyers agents can do is try and find the best bargain out there, while listing agents are trying to get the most possible money.

Your budget is your budget. You make what you make. You spend what you spend. Your savings is what you have saved plus what it has made. You can afford more for a home if you make more, spend less, save your money, and invest it effectively. If you don't do these things, you can't afford as much. Indeed, most people kill their budget voluntarily, by spending more than they need to. It isn't my opinion that matters, or anyone else's. All of these are cold hard numbers. You know what you make, you know what you spend. If you could do better, that's something for you and your family to work with. All a loan officer can do is work with the numbers as they are.

These numbers give the payments you can afford and your down payment. The rates are what they are. The variations in available rates are smaller than most people think. Actually, the largest difference in rates and their associated costs is how much the loan providers want to make for doing your loan (and whether they will admit it). Not the only difference, but the largest one. The second largest difference is in finding the loan program that is the best fit. When you put all of these factors together, if you come up with variations of more than half a percent for the same loan at the same cost, then I will bet money that either the higher quote wants to gouge you badly, the lower rate is not quoting something they can really deliver, or possibly both. The point is this: If someone working with real numbers says that you can afford $X, any pre-qualification or pre-approval you get that's more than about 5% different should set alarm bells ringing.

So now let's revisit Ms. Eyes Bigger Than Her Wallet. She thinks all she has to do is say "Abracadabra!" and the whole thing will work out. But the interest rate is what it is, which means the monthly cost to have that loan is fixed - if she didn't bump it up by wanting something she can't afford. That lender is run by some pretty smart people, who understand all of this extremely well. They have the assistance of some very sharp lawyers in writing those loan contracts. One thing I can absolutely guarantee is that if they don't get their money - all of their money - you will be even unhappier than they are. The upshot is that the vast majority of the people who think they're solving their problems with a wave of some magical wand and the phrase, "Abracadabra!" are in fact doing something Unforgivable to their own financial future, roughly equivalent to pointing that magic wand at their own finances and mangling the pronunciation to "Avada Kedavra"

Caveat Emptor

Original article here


This has always been a portion of the market, but right now, more and more people are emphasizing it, or at least the ones who are able.

Actual Rent to Own is rare these days, a sign that the market is being driven by sellers, selling to poorly advised buyers. I can't remember the last time I heard of one happening, because there is an actual ownership interest right away, and the buyer is entitled to a share of the money put into rent, whether or not the deal is actually consummated. On the other hand, Lease Option seems to be a common Idea of the Moment, because the prospective buyer basically gets nothing if they don't want to buy, or if they cannot qualify for the loan.

Just like any other purchase contract, everything about these is negotiable, but the basics are thus: Buyer and seller reach a purchase agreement, with the date of actual purchase delayed by some amount of time. In the meantime, the agreement is for for the buyer to rent the property, usually for an above market rent. Part of each payment gets set aside for the buyer's down payment if and when the option is exercised. The difference between Rent to Own and Lease with Option to Buy is that in Rent to Own, a part of each payment is actually due back to the buyer if they decide not to buy, whereas in Lease with Option to buy, that money is just gone if the option to buy is not exercised.

Why do this?

For the prospective buyer, it's a way to engage in forced savings for a down payment. If rent is $2000 per month, with $1000 being credited to the buyer and $1000 in rent, over a period of two years, you've got a $24,000 down payment, and this is treated exactly like any other down payment, except that the seller already has it, so you only have to come up with the purchase price less this down payment money. This is useful for people with rotten credit and/or poor savings habits, especially if credit is expected to improve within the time frame of the agreement. It's horridly inefficient, and I've never seen a residential situation where it wasn't better to buy outright, but if you have a problem qualifying for a loan or saving for a down payment, this is one way to go about dealing with that problem. With 100% financing currently dead except for VA loans and a few Municipal first time buyer programs that run out of money at warp speed every time they get a fresh allocation, this is one way for people to get their foot in the door of property.

For the seller, it's a way to create a captive purchaser. These buyers have rotten credit and/or zero dollars for a down payment. Nobody else can do business with these buyers, because the buyers will not qualify for the necessary loan. They have Hobson's Choice: This one or none at all. This creates bargaining power for the seller even in the strongest of Buyer's Markets, because most sellers in such markets do not have the ability or willingness to offer a Lease with Option to Buy. They're not as powerful as offering a Seller Carryback, but they definitely give sellers pricing power they would not otherwise have. You can get an above market rent and an above market price, to boot, and the prospective buyers are more motivated than your average tenant to take good care of the property.

So why isn't everybody doing them?

First of all, the reason the seller has the property on the market is because they want or need to sell now, not two years from now. With either rent to own or Lease with Option to Buy ("Lease Option"), they aren't getting any equity out of the property now to enable them to buy their next property. Furthermore, they've still got all of the expenses of owning that property. Finally, the reason that buyer can't buy anything else is because the most generous assessment of their financial skills possible is "Needs improvement." Bad credit does not, generally speaking, happen like a lightning strike out of a clear blue sky. It happens because they don't pay their bills on time. There are some exceptions - mostly people who had major unexpected medical expenses, but there are limits to how badly one account can hurt your credit. Chances are high that they'll be late with the rent - which is money you're counting on to pay your mortgage, your property taxes, your insurance, etcetera. It takes a certain financial solvency to be able to offer these. Not to mention that until the tenants exercise the option to buy, you still own that property, which means you've got all of the headaches and obligations of being a landlord, or you're going to have to pay someone else to take care of them. Repairs, maintenance, etcetera.

For buyers, the prospective pitfalls are even worse. First, you're paying above market rent and agreeing to a price that is usually significantly above the current market. It might be below market when you actually exercise the option, but right now, it's almost certainly a goodly premium over the price that you can get similar properties for - because they're offering something extra that most sellers are not willing or able to offer, and if you didn't need it, you wouldn't be willing to pay for it, right? If you don't exercise the option to buy, the extra rent money you fork out is basically gone. There has to be equity in the agreed upon sales price, and there has to continue to be actual equity. No lender in the known universe is going to approve a short payoff for a Rent to Own or Lease Option, no matter how ironclad your contract. If the current owners lose the property to foreclosure, you're basically SOL. And it wouldn't be the first time sellers pocket the rent while not paying the mortgage, or even taking a cash out refinance. I'm not certain what the law is on this point, but I don't see a way to keep the current owners from doing any of this if that is their intention. It's a good idea to record the option, but that doesn't mean anything if the lender forecloses or is owed more money than the strike price. You can sue, but suing broke people is throwing more money down a black hole from which you're not going to recover it. Finally, and here's the rub that kills a very large proportion of the prospective buyers who enter into these agreements: You're still going to have to qualify for a loan for the rest of the agreed upon purchase price ("strike price") before the option period expires. Usually the market goes up, but sometimes it does go down, and the appraisal is less than the purchase price. If you can't make up the necessary difference between the biggest loan you can get and the strike price, you're not going to be able to buy. For that matter, if interest rates go up significantly, you could find yourself unable to afford the payments on that loan. In fact, these two phenomenon usually go together. Rates go up, therefore payments and cost of interest on the same number of dollars rises. People in the aggregate cannot afford to pay as much for real estate as they could formerly, and therefore, prices fall. Basic economics.

There usually is a significant deposit made, as well. Not as much as a regular purchase contract, but just because there's a time delay involved doesn't mean the seller isn't going to demand a deposit they can keep (maybe), or rent to a tenant without a deposit. The rules on whether they can keep a tenant's Rent To Own or Lease/Option deposit are also somewhat different and more advantageous to the current owner than California's renter-landlord law generally is (Don't ask me for details - I'm not a lawyer. I'm mostly parroting what I've been told on this point).

The prospective seller is entitled to do all the due diligence than any normal prospective seller or landlord is, and ditto the prospective buyers/tenants. Personally, I would want that inspection contingency period to run the full duration of the option period, and there really isn't an effective loan contingency period, as the owners already have the prospective buyer's money, and most Lease Option contracts are pretty solid upon the point of not getting it back. This point is negotiable, but usually that money has already gone to pay mortgage, property taxes, etcetera. What did I just say about suing broke people?

Rent to Own real estate and Lease with Option to Buy real estate are always a risk for both parties. The tricks are myriad, at the very least. This is not something to try without a very sharp agent representing your interests, and as for dual agency in this situation, I have it on excellent authority that slow roasting yourself while basting with acid is less painful for prospective buyers. With that said, if the situation is right and both parties act in good faith, it can be a way to make both sides of such an agreement very happy, when otherwise they would both have been very unhappy because neither could get what they want. The seller gets an above market price, albeit delayed, and a much improved cash flow in the meantime. The buyers can buy property, where otherwise they would not be able to.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

People ask for referrals all the time, and many folks will stumble all over themselves to provide referrals. Some of the people referred really are excellent providers. Others are not so good, but the person providing the referral has an agenda of their own, and you have to be aware of the possibility. Never give anyone your business without shopping it around just because someone referred you to a certain provider.

In many cases, the reason why you are referred to Company X Realty or Company Y Loans has nothing to do with any allegations of them being an efficient, diligent, effective or inexpensive provider of those services. Number one on the list of reasons why people tell you about X Realty or Y Loans is because company X or company Y refers business back to them. This isn't illegal, but when you ask a real estate agent for a referral to a low cost mortgage provider and you get referred to one of the ones that's competing on the basis of consumer name recognition, you should realize that the mortgage providers with national advertising campaigns are not among the low cost providers. For analogous reasons, I usually advise people to stay away from the national realty chains, even if they're not local to me. But I digress. The point is that the person who refers you to this person is effectively getting paid by referring you to them. Not exactly a sterling reason to trust their motivations in making this referral.

Indeed, this is one of the ways that lenders in particular avoid competing on price. Ladies and gentlemen, so long as it is the same type loan on the same terms, a loan is a loan is a loan. The only real difference is the tradeoff between rate and cost, or, in other words, price. But lenders do not want to compete on price, because that means they don't make very much money. In fact, they want to avoid competing on price, and the captive audience from referral business is one prime example of how they do it. Joe Realtor sends Jane Lender business because Jane refers business right back to Joe Realtor, and because the client has been told that Jane Lender gives great loans at a great rate, the client doesn't shop loan providers like they might otherwise have done, leaving Jane a freer hand to charge a higher markup.

These are not the only reasons why referrals happen. For instance, here in San Diego, many real estate agents will refer to one particular loan officer because they know that loan officer won't tell the client any inconvenient truths, such as, "You cannot really afford this house." They refer to this loan officer because that loan officer will just keep their mouth shut about the buyer's ability to actually afford the loan and figure out some way to get it through so that agent gets paid. Never mind that it's an unsustainable loan. This sort of thing happens everywhere, but particularly in markets where there are affordability issues for the average person.

Finally, explicit kickbacks are illegal, and there are limits on how often Joe and Jane can buy each other dinner out or whatever arrangement they have to transfer wealth, but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen sometimes. After all, there aren't any Department of Real Estate employees following Joe and Jane around 24 hours per day, so this kind of stuff gets hidden all the time. I've had more than one blatantly illegal offer of referrals for kickbacks since I've been in the business. Some of these folks are brazen. No, there's no percentage in turning them in, either. This is one of those situations the saying about, "No good deed goes unpunished," was invented for. One guy I knew who did turn someone in years ago told me about the thousands of dollars in legal fees he incurred, plus three years of investigation that shows up on your license inquiries as an unresolved complaint until it's over. No thank you. Sometimes, you have to content yourself with remaining apart from any illegalities, while warning people that this sort of thing does happen.

There's nothing wrong with asking for a referral. But that doesn't mean you should just blindly follow that recommendation. All too often, there's an agenda behind that referral. If the person making the referral pushes it too hard, let alone tries to make that referral a condition of their own work, the correct response is to fire them as well.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here


People always assume they'll be able to refinance later. Even most of my articles have it as an implicit assumption.

But what if you can't refinance later?

There are situations where it happens. Many situations, as millions of people are finding out now. When I originally wrote this I was getting large numbers of search engine hits from people who were looking to refinance into another negative amortization loan, but Wall Street had figured out that they weren't good investments by then. Currently, it's due to over-reaction to losses that were,at the root, the lenders and investor's own fault - but the practical upshot is that millions of people who should be able to qualify to buy or refinance cannot. But people don't pay attention to most real estate problems until they're smacked in the face with a cold haddock. With a half million dollar investment on the line, this is roughly equivalent to pigs following a swineherd to the slaughterhouse, but people still do it.

It is one thing for an investor who can afford to lose the entire investment to make a bet on the future of the market. If they win, they win. If they lose, the investment may be gone but they've still got a place to sleep for the night. It was a calculated risk where the dice came up snake eyes. Never any fun to have happen, but survivable. Furthermore, in order to be able to win, it must be possible for you lose.

It is something entirely different to counsel someone to make a bet they cannot afford to lose. If the consequences of a losing bet include homelessness, bankruptcy and might as well be permanent damage to your credit rating which makes it impossible to get started again, that's a different category of bet.

Real Estate loans, done wrong, are a "bet the farm" type bet - on something that nobody involved in the decision making process can control. Not the consumer, not the loan officer, and definitely not the real estate agent who says, "I know someone who can do the loan, and the Payments will be affordable.

There are several things that can prevent someone from successfully refinancing. Some of them may be somewhat under consumer control; most of them are not. These include:

Time in line of work: You can change employers and not fall afoul of this, but changing from employee to self-employed (or vice versa) can mean you don't qualify. Changing careers because the economy means there's no demand for what you used to do is also a turndown for at least two years - potentially forever if the new career doesn't make enough.

Documentation of income can mess you up more than anything else, often for the same reason that time in line of work does. You were getting a regular paycheck and a W-2, now you've gone to self employed, the clients have been a little slow in paying, and you've been very certain to take all of the legal deductions on your tax form. Good for your tax bill, not so hot for your ability to qualify for a loan, particularly if you've had to put more than usual on credit. Once again, the interest expense for business items may be deductible, but it can also put a huge crimp in your debt to income ratio. Not to mention that stated income loans are no longer available anywhere I'm aware of, making life difficult for the small business owner who wants to buy real estate.

Changing from owner occupied to investment property can sink you, particularly with a loan to value ratio over 80 percent. Your employer says you can keep your job, but you've got to move to Timbuktu, which means you can't live here any more, and because you can't live here, you no longer qualify for "owner occupied" loans

Loan guidelines change over time. This one has been a killer problem for a lot of folks of late, as when I first wrote this, guidelines had tightened more in the previous few months than they loosened in the previous ten years, and it's continued to the point where it's gotten ridiculous. No more stated income, no more 100% conventional financing, as neither PMI companies nor second mortgage lenders will touch it right now. The down payment assistance programs are dead. Even if you are one of the folks who still theoretically have significant equity, you may not be able to refinance into something sustainable.

Then there are market problems. If the property has lost value from when you bought, you may owe more than the property is worth. For quite a while I;ve been writing about what a pain it is to refinance when you're upside down, as well as the fact that it's not likely to be an improvement over what you've already got, even with Fannie and Freddie's 125% refinancing program.

I wrote Losing Property Value with Highly Leveraged Properties in March 2006 (updated just a few months ago), when people were still in denial about the problem, or thinking it was somebody else's problem. But the problem is always a possibility, and it's no respecter of anyone's stress level. Life is what happens while you're making other plans.

With this in mind, at least for your own principal residence, you want to have a sustainable, fully amortized loan in place, with a fixed period of at least five years. Actually, I'd be more comfortable with shorter fixed periods now that the air is out of the market. Even if we do lose a little bit more, which I don't think we will here locally, by the time three years are up, values are very likely to be at least 20% higher - and you will have paid down the loan by several thousand dollars. But most people who chose shorter fixed period loans, or Option ARMS (which have no fixed period at all) was the low initial payment allowed them to appear to qualify for the loan for a more expensive property than they could really afford. This is precisely the reverse of how it needs to be done: Figure your purchase price budget using an available thirty year fixed rate loan, and then if you want a loan with a shorter fixed period in order to save interest and closing costs, you still want to stay within the same purchase budget, not choose a loan because that's the only way you can afford the payments on this property that's way beyond your budget. Lest you now have figured it out yet, that's a recipe for personal disaster of a sort that takes many years to recover from, and some people never do recover from it.

For this reason, having an unsustainable loan, where the payments are going to adjust to something you cannot afford later, can change the answer to "Is it a good idea to refinance?" from "No - the available tradeoffs between rate and cost don't save me any money (or don't save enough)" to "Yes - I need to move to a more sustainable loan, and if I don't do it now, I may not be able to qualify later." If the market value of the property may be ripe for deflation, if your employment or income may become unstable or undocumentable, if your payments are predictably going to adjust to something unaffordable within two to three years - in all of those situations I have advised people that refinancing may not put them into what appears to be a better situation now, but if they wait, their current loan is going to become unaffordable and there is a serious chance they will not be able to qualify for another loan when it does. Sometimes the situation can be as simple as loan guidelines are likely to tighten up later - I predicted the demise of 100% conventional financing as a consequence of market deflation almost five years ago. Being temporarily "upside down" on your mortgage or having insufficient equity to refinance well under current guidelines is not a big deal if your loan is a fixed rate fully amortized loan, or even a medium term hybrid ARM. The loan is in place, on terms that you can handle. You keep on making those payments, your lender is happy, your pocketbook can handle it, your loan balance decreases, and prices will come back - sooner than a lot of people think, in the current media hullabaloo. In a year, or two, or three, you'll have equity, be able to sell for a profit, your job or income will be stable and documentable again, and the rough patch will be behind you. It's what happens when you need to refinance now and can't that gets folks into trouble.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

Dan,

Okay, so now I'm in the process of just making an offer on a house and it's already getting confusing despite all my reading. It would have been worse has I not spent all this time reading but just when I think I have a solid grasp of this process something else springs up.

The agent is saying that with the offer we have to say who the lender is and if we change lenders we have to ask the seller for permission, basically, since it's a part of the offer. Is that normal?

It's a short sale (seems like everything we look at is!) and on the home there are two loans. This is what I heard from the sellers agent. The first lender signs off on just about any offer (and so far I'm told there are offers all the way to $189k) because for the most part they're going to get all their money back. The second lender has not signed off on any offer so far but the sellers agent says if you offer X (it's $199k in this case) they'll take it. First of all, how can the sellers agent even go into details like that? (And he told ME because I called him after I talked to our agent because I couldn't believe she knew all those details about first and second loans and what the second lender would settle with.) Second, how would he know how much they would settle for and third, why would that lender tell anyone what the lowest they would take is? Seems to me this is all speculation on what that second lender might do.

Okay, so the asking price is $199k and my agent knows we have about 3.5% saved, that's it! So we go and get pre-approvals from lenders for $200k. So far so good. Then we find a house we like and the asking price is $199k. And we lean that if we offer the asking price chances are it'll get accepted (usually we learn that there are 3 offers already and we need to offer more . . . yes, even in the down market!). Once I finally get over the fears and decide to do it the agent tells me we should offer $204,500 to cover closing costs. WHAT? I'm confused again.

Any light you can shed will be greatly appreciated.

I don't know much about your local market and its current state. Some things are appropriate in some buyer's markets, but will only get the door slammed in your face in seller's markets. On the other hand, some things are necessary in seller's markets, but are giving away far too much in buyer's markets, and there is an entire continuum between buyer's markets and seller's markets. Handling offers and negotiations in a manner inappropriate for the current market will pretty much guarantee failure, either by asking for something so outrageous that the door metaphorically gets slammed in your face, or by giving away all sorts of things including money that there is no need for. To know what is and is not appropriate, you need an agent who knows your local market, who's willing to really work on your behalf, not just fax offers back and forth.

As far as the lender goes, I have NEVER named a buyer's lender in a purchase offer, and I'm not about to start, for precisely that reason - and the fact that it's none of the seller's business. But it might conceivably be part of the standard contract in your state, for reasons I don't understand, being a California boy. Some state laws are a bit, shall we say, different? On the other hand, some lawyers I'm aware of could build a serious case that this particular item is a RESPA violation, which is federal law and applies everywhere in the US.

It's easy to figure out approximately how much they owe. The original dollar amount of existing liens is public record, everywhere in the US. From there, you can make a pretty good estimate of how much they owe. Not that it's generally a good idea to focus on what is owed. Whether it's free and clear, or upside down, the property is only as valuable to you as it is. You're not going to pay $400,000 for a property that's only worth $200,000 if they're upside down. Neither is there any reason to be willing to pay less if they own it free and clear. It's still worth what it's worth, and failing to understand that, by either the seller or the buyer, is a recipe for failure. Buyers do not care what a seller "would like to get," and sellers don't care about what a buyer can afford except as it applies to the question, "Can they afford this property?"

A short sale is a short sale is a short sale. Unless there are reasons like "pretty much everything is a short sale", buyers should avoid short sales. Even done right, it's a month and a half or more process of the lender trying to beat everyone up for more money by wielding a VETO. If you do decide that you want that particular property badly enough to fight through the short sale process, I wouldn't start by accommodating the lender. They're still going to try to beat you up, only they're starting from a better point for them and a worse one for you.

As far as over offer to cover seller paid closing costs: We do live in a net world. Are you asking for seller paid closing costs? You shouldn't if you don't need to, but if you are, it's kind of like an equation. If X, a price they will accept on an offer without seller paid closing costs, equals $200k, then X plus $5000 for closing costs is $205k. Actually, since they pay commissions on the higher amount, you should feel lucky if they agree to a price that doesn't add anything more than the closing costs cost them. Some markets, however, are priced to include a certain amount of sellers paying buyer costs, and if that's not needed in your case, you should be able to get an offer that's lower by about that number of dollars to be accepted.

The critical questions I usually ask are: Suppose you get it at that price. Happy or sad? Suppose you don't get it at that price, but someone overbids you marginally and does. Angry, or don't care? Finally, how many real competitors for your business are there? Is this property head and shoulders above everything else with a comparable asking price, or are there hundreds of other properties just as good, that you could just as easily make an offer on and be happy with? The answers to these questions will help a good agent determine what a good offer is, and what it isn't. A bad offer can poison the well, and a too good offer gives away too much. You want the property on the best terms possible, but you do want the property or you shouldn't make an offer. If you're a flipper looking to score on a low ball offer, you don't care if you poison the well (you're pretty much going to walk away if they're not desperate enough to take the first offer or something close), but pretty much everyone else does care.

From your email, I'm getting suspicious there's some tendency on behalf of that particular agent to inflate the price so they get paid more, and possibly even collusion. But there's no way to be certain, and no way to tell that it's even the way to bet without knowing more about your market. Only another agent in your market would know about that, which is one reason why any specific negotiating advice you're going to read in a forum with a national audience is so much wasted breath at best. There are possible exceptions to everything I've written in this article, and I know what they are and where they would be applicable, but it all has to do with a given local market at a given temporary time or specific situations where you're going to be getting something extra in exchange for giving up something that isn't normal. For anything beyond a particular local market under particular market conditions that apply in a very time limited fashion, detailing these would be so much wasted space on the page. All of this is one more reason you want a good buyer's agent on your side before you start looking at property. Dual Agency is a recipe for disaster for buyers (and for the sellers too!).

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

I had made a request to repair that included $3700 credit for closing costs. I wanted to get things done like safety issues and more critical maintenance issues done. Our estimate said that it would be about $4900 to do all the maintenance we were looking for. The seller was doing a bit, but not all.

The seller apparently balked at giving us any credit. He felt they conceded all they could. Anyway, my agent convinced them to at least counter. I was a bit angry at the initial balk. (the emotion part of the deal). After the initial anger, I went looking for problems and found one that frightened me. My agent had given me the inspection report from the seller's purchase of the home six years ago. There were things on there that were still a problem two years later. Primarily, high water pressure in the house (with the dire warnings of damage to pipes and fixtures as the potential side affect). Secondly, ants. The report six years ago had mentioned ants. Every time I looked at the house, (we visited it 5 times), I always saw ants not many usually only 1 sometimes 2. So, my residual anger ballooned these concerns way up. My ignorance was on the pipes. I have since talked to one plumber and an extended family member who is a retired contractor, home builder and home inspector. It was his comments that alleviated my fears about the pipes and allowed me to calm down a bit. He basically said, "Wow, six years of a pressure test - and it passed. Great! We usually only do two hours." He also said, get a regulator on it, but you shouldn't have a problem.

So, emotions, ignorance and too much time to think - nearly killed the deal.


Sometimes, people get all worked up over the little stuff.

On the other hand, sometimes people don't get worked up when they should. This person wasn't clear, but I'd get upset if my agent tried to placate me with a six year old inspection - as in "Fire him and sue him" upset. If it's just compare and contrast with a brand new inspection, fine. But if someone else paid that inspector, they may not have any responsibility to you, and you want them to be responsible to you. I wouldn't accept the inspection that the previous prospective buyer had done. Sometimes, agents trying to make sure a transaction goes through will try to give you an existing inspection, because they know what problems that will show. This is always the hallmark of a commission grabber, and you should fire them and file a lawsuit and a complaint with your state regulatory agency if they won't go quietly. Then start looking for something else.

An inspection around here will almost always reveal some defect which wasn't dealt with in the first round of negotiations that resulted in the purchase contract. Usually, they're dinky little stuff. Replace one light bulb, brace the water heater, maybe replace the garbage disposal. Occasionally, however, it is major work: rotting substructure to the roof, foundation damage, etcetera.

It does not matter if it is major or minor. It needs to be fixed. The way I usually explain minor stuff to sellers is, "You don't want to lose a $500,000 sale over $30 in repair work, do you?" It does sound rather silly, doesn't it?

If it's major, it still needs to be fixed. Here's a newly discovered defect in your property that causes it to be worth less than the agreed upon price. You can often get the buyer to accept the property for a lesser price - estimated cost of repairs plus an allowance for them being the person who has to deal with it. You're not getting out of major repairs on the cheap unless the buyer's agent hoses their clients. I want a reliable contractor out there to give my buyers an estimate for major repairs plus some money for all the ancillary expenses, and you'll find that's about par for the course. As the seller, you can have your choice between fixing it, giving them an allowance that makes your buyer happy, or losing the transaction.

Lest you think, "I'll just forget about that prospective buyer," even in seller's markets the next one that comes along is likely to find exactly the same set of defects and want exactly the same set of repairs, which is going to cost - you guessed it - pretty much the same amount of money. The only differences are one, in the meantime, you've spent some money on your mortgage, taxes, etcetera, and two, the earlier offer is usually the better one. In other words, same situation, but you're out more money.

Somebody's going to ask about "as is" sales. They really don't make much difference to this fact. I'm not going to let a buyer put in an offer on an "as is" property without an inspection contingency. The inspection shows something major that we didn't already know about, the choice is going to be give us an allowance, fix the problem, or lose the transaction. It's only an actual "as is" sale if the inspection doesn't reveal anything new and major. Matter of fact, selling "as is" is a red flag that tells me the seller probably knows about something major, unless it's a lender-owned property. If it is lender owned, "as is" and "without warranty" are the ways that business is done. Otherwise, it really doesn't mean a lot beyond that you are indicating that you would rather give an allowance at close of escrow than pay for repairs.

For buyers, you don't need to freak out about every last little thing. If you're getting a screaming deal, the fact that you need to put a handrail up in the stairway at a cost of a couple hundred bucks shouldn't cause you to pull out of the deal. In fact, the general state of disrepair is probably why you're getting that screaming deal. But even there, truly major problems are grounds for new negotiation. If the owner doesn't want to make repairs, be willing to accept the cost plus something reasonable to represent your time and the decreased utility in the meantime. Don't demand triple the cost of major repairs unless you really are going to have to spend that much sitting in hotels and eating out until the work is done.

A reliable contractor is your best friend in subsequent negotiations. First off, it should tell you what it really is going to cost. If they've said that it's going to cost $7500 to fix, that's better information than any agent or inspector can give you. This does wonders for peace of mind, knowing that it's going to be $7500 to fix the problem after you're in title, not $75,000.

An allowance for construction work from the seller can be a great opportunity if you've got some cash left in your pocket after the sale. For example, if you're going to have to replace the green board in the bathroom anyway, it doesn't cost that much more to add some nice updates and upgrades. An extra $500 for better materials can really go a long way. When you go to sell, more money in your pocket. In the meantime, a much nicer bathroom. Even more to the point, one much more aligned with your personal tastes.

Every negotiation after the initial purchase contract is at least as dependent upon the good will of both parties as the initial purchase contract. If one party or the other thinks they got the worst of the initial negotiations, you can expect that to be reflected in how far they are willing to go for you when the inspection reveals defects. You want the person on the other side of the transaction to be thinking they get a decent bargain, one that they would make again. That way, they won't want to blow it off before it happens, by being unreasonable about the repair negotiations. Yes, this is one more reason that you want a buyer's agent to help with negotiations.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

Every so often, you will see references to a "pocket" listing. These are usually bad for owners, and usually bad for buyers, but good for agents.

A "pocket listing" is one where there agent keeps the listing "in his pocket" rather than advertising it on MLS. This keeps it out of sight to nearly every potential buyer! If it's not known to be available, how many people are going to want to see it or decide to make offers?

If a property is not on MLS, how do people find out about it? Why, by the listing agent advertising to buyers that there is this wonderful property available that they can only see through this agent. In order to see it, of course, that agent wants an exclusive buyer's agency agreement. This gives them a means to lock up the buyer's business as well as the sellers. Of course, limiting the potential market is a violation of the duty owed to the seller because it also lowers the sales price.

It also gives the agent a lock on both halves of the sales commission, as they're pretty much by definition the procuring cause.

There is also a very high danger to the seller: If the agent does not have your property on the MLS, their buddy the property flipper may be the only one that the property gets shown to. This person then puts in the only offer - and even if other offers get put in, the agent plays gatekeeper by tossing them in the trash unbeknownst to the their client. The flipper offers a low-ball, owner takes it because it's the only offer, flipper turns around and sells at profit. Not that this doesn't happen with properties on MLS, but it's a higher danger if the property isn't on MLS.

There is one situation I can think of where a pocket listing is acceptable: if it is temporary, in order to deal with an issue that will make it difficult to market the property for what it's worth. The owner wants the property available, but it isn't really in their best interest to put it on MLS now.

If I take a listing in December, it's usually better to keep it in my pocket until people are done with the whole Christmas holiday thing and ready to get back to business - usually the second week in January. That way the "days on market" counter isn't 30 or more the first time any potential buyers really consider it. People really do refuse to look at property that isn't fresh on the market - it's dumb, but they do it. The San Diego market usually doesn't return to the usual level of activity until mid to late February, but I can guarantee that your potential market in December is a fraction of the interest the same property would generate at any other time of year, and the lowest ebb continues until everyone is back from New Year's. This period is the best time of year to be a buyer, but the worst to be a seller - and it's completely predictable.

If the property is undergoing work to make it more salable, that is also a potentially good reason to keep it in my pocket. This gives me a chance to explain what's going on before the prospective buyers see the current state - to frame the issue, so they know what's going on, and what's being done to fix it, before they see it. Especially since most people are visually oriented, if they understand it's going to look good eventually before they see the current mess, that's a much better chance of a good offer and a sale that my client the owner is happy with. Because I properly manage their expectations, they are better able to consider the property than if they see the mess made by construction cold. That's why there's a sign in the yard, but no entry in MLS yet. People who want to live in that neighborhood will see it as they drive around, and I will happily show it to them - with or without their agent - once they understand why it's not on MLS yet.

(I also do not do dual agency - ever. If I'm showing one of my own listings, the people seeing it sign a piece of paper that says I am not their agent, and that they understand I am doing this purely because I owe the sellers my best efforts to get the property sold.)

Temporary is the only thing that can make a pocket listing acceptable. There is a reason - whose end is marked by some definite date or event - that both the owners and the agent understand and agree means it will likely generate a higher sales price if this property doesn't go onto the MLS until it's over. Once it hits MLS, the Days on Market ticker starts going and I lose my ability to frame prospective buyer's expectations, because any listing good agent wants potential buyers to be able to see that property any time with only their agent for company.

Putting a property on MLS means that everybody can see that it's available, and (if the agent has explained the owner's financial interests to them property) that the ability to come see the property is as wide open as the owners can possibly make it. This maximizes the abilities of potential buyers to know the property is available and to come and see it, thereby generating the maximum possible interest and therefore, the maximum probability of highest sales price. Sales is always a numbers game, and you get the best results by pre-loading the odds in your favor. The only possible exception to wanting the widest possible exposure are if there is a temporary reason why people might not like it as much now as they will in a few days.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here


Setting The Board, Book Three of Preparations for War, is now available!

Thumbnail image for STB book cover.jpg

Joe and his wife Asina were coming home to Hell.

Calmena was a primitive planet where descendants of abductees were enslaved by enemies of humanity, hoping to breed docile servants. It hadn't gone well for anyone.

A century ago, the Empire found the planet and began using it to trace the fractal demons back to their home. Joe and Asina's role has been helping the human slaves throw off the demonic yoke, always careful to camouflage their help as native ingenuity. In that century, Calmena has gone from isolated villages at the demons' mercy to independent towns and cities.

But the real power of the fractal demons was never on Calmena. When the fractal demons prepare to strike at the Empire, the Imperial missionaries must blunt or divert the blow, lest it completely crush the nascent Calmenan freedom.


PS: If you missed it, Book One, Preparing The Ground is on sale for 99 cents in e-book.

PPS: I do apologize that Setting The Board is Amazon exclusive for the moment. The plan (subject to change) is for it to go wide in a couple months.

One of the things that always seems to be aiming to confuse mortgage consumers is advertising based upon whether the loan is fixed rate, and for how long.

First, I need to acquaint you with two concepts: amortization and term. The term of the loan is nothing more than how long the loan lasts. How many months or years from the time the documents are signed until it is done. At the end of the term, the loan is over. In some cases, the payoff schedule (or amortization) will not pay the loan off in this amount of time, leaving you with a balance which you must pay off at that time. When this happens, it is known as a "balloon payment."

Amortization is the payoff schedule. In other words, if the term was long enough (it isn't always) how long would it take you to pay the loan off with these payments?

There are four basic types of home loans out there. The first is the "true" fixed rate loan, the second is the "true" ARM, or Adjustable Rate Mortgage, the third is the hybrid, which starts out fixed but switches to adjustable, and finally, the Balloon.

"True" Fixed rate loans have the interest rate fixed for the entire life of the loan. Loan term of a true fixed rate loan is always the same as amortization period. Until you pay it off or refinance, the rate never changes. They are most commonly fixed for thirty years, but are fairly common in fifteen year variety, and widely available in 25, 20, and even 10 year variants, and the 40 year loan is one of those things lenders bring in and out of availability depending upon how badly they need it to sell loans. The shorter the period, the lower the rate will be in comparison to other loans available at the same time, but the higher the payment, as you have to get the entire principal paid off in a much shorter period of time. I seem to always use a $270,000 loan amount, so let us consider that. Making and holding a few background constraints constant, when I originally wrote this the rates from a random lender for a thirty year fixed rate loan was 6.25% at par (no points, no rebate). The 20 was 6.125, the 15 year 5.75. The 15 sounds like a better deal, right? But where the payment on the 30 year fixed rate loan was $1662.43, the payment on the 20 year fixed rate loan was $1953.88, and the payment on the 15 year loan was $2242.11 So you may not be able to afford the payment on the 15 year loan. (This particular lender didn't have 25 or 10 year loans.)

Some thirty year fixed rate loans are available with interest only for a certain period, usually five years, and then they amortize over the last 25 years of the period. Some people do this because they expect a raise in their income over the next few years, and some just do it for cash flow reasons, planning to sell or refinance before the end of the fifth year. Using the example in the preceding paragraph, this would have you making a monthly payment of $1406.25 for the first five years, then $1781.11 for the last twenty-five.

If there is a pre-payment penalty on a thirty year fixed rate loan, it is typically in effect for five years. Considering that over 50% of everybody will refinance or sell within two years, and over 95 percent within five, this is an awfully long time for a pre-payment penalty to be in effect. Practically everyone with a five year pre-payment penalty is going to end up paying it.

"True" Adjustable Rate Mortgages, or ARM loans, are adjustable from day one. The interest rate is, from the time the loan starts, always based upon an underlying rate or index, plus a specified margin. There is no fixed period whatsoever on a "true" ARM. This makes them in general hard to sell, because people cannot plan their mortgage payments, and except for the Negative Amortization loans sold on the basis of a temporarily low payment, these loans have always been very rare.

(If someone offers you a rate that appears way below market rates, like 1%, they are offering you a Negative Amortization loan. The 1% is a "nominal" or "in name only" rate, the real rate on these is month to month variable from the start based upon an underlying index, making this a "true" ARM.)

If there is a prepayment penalty on a "true" ARM, it must therefore be for a longer period than the fixed period, which is zero. You are taking a risk that you will have to pay a pre-payment penalty because the rate did something that you did not anticipate, and you may not be able to afford the payments if the rates change but the penalty is still in effect.

Rate adjustments on ARMs can be monthly, quarterly, biannually, or annually, with monthly being most common, including for every Negative Amortization loan I've ever seen.

The third category is the hybrid loan. Hybrids are often called Adjustable Rate Mortgages, and most loan officers are really talking about hybrids when they discuss ARMs. You should ask if uncertain, but in general, everybody from the lender on down calls them ARMs (I myself almost always call them ARMs), but when you get down to the technical details, they are a hybrid. Hybrids start out fixed rate for a given period, then become adjustable. The overall term of the loan is usually thirty years, but the forty is more likely to be available for hybrid ARMs than for fixed rate. Unlike Balloons, if you like what they adjust to, you are welcome to keep hybrids for as long as they fit your needs. There is no requirement to refinance a hybrid after the fixed period.

Hybrids are widely available with 2, 3, 5, 7 and 10 year initial fixed rate periods, and they may also be available "interest only" for the period of fixed rate at a slightly higher interest rate. Two years fixed is typically a subprime loan, and while five and seven and ten year fixed periods are available from some subprime lenders, they are more commonly "A paper" loans. Three is common both subprime and "A paper". Once they begin adjusting, "A paper" typically (not always!) adjusts once per year, while every hybrid subprime I've ever seen adjusts every six months.

WARNING: I often see hybrid loans advertised and quoted as "fixed" rate loans, and you find the fact that they are hybrid ARMs buried in the fine print somewhere. Yes, they are "fixed rate" for X number of years. But this is fundamentally dishonest advertising. This is one of the reasons I keep saying that any time you see the words "Fixed rate," you should immediately ask the question "How long is the rate fixed for?" Please go ahead and ask, for your own protection. Ethical loan officers know that people get sold a bill of goods on this point every day, and so they're not offended. And you don't want to do business with the unethical ones, right?

Now, I am a huge fan of hybrid loans myself. When I originally wrote this, I went so far as to say that I would never have a thirty year fixed rate loan on my own home unless the rates do something economically unprecedented. Well, that has now changed due to the stringency of qualification requirements and how people's economic circumstances can change to make it impossible to qualify for a new loan. The benefit to hybrids is you get a lower interest rate because you're not paying for an insurance policy that the rate won't change for thirty years, without jacking up the minimum payment to something you may not be able to afford. Most people voluntarily abandon their thirty year interest rate insurance policy (also known as "Thirty year fixed rate loan") within about two years anyway. So why would I want to spend the money for that policy in the first place, when I'm likely to only use two or three or five of those years?

Nonetheless, particularly with subprime loans, you need to be careful. I have seen precisely one subprime loan in my life without a pre-payment penalty, and I've seen a lot of loans (at least thousands, maybe tens of thousands - I wasn't counting at the time - where your average real estate agent has seen maybe a few dozen, and your average bank loan officer maybe a few hundred). Many loan providers, even "A Paper" loan providers will stick you with a three or five year pre-payment penalty on a two year fixed rate loan. Why? Because it increases their commission. So if you take one of these loans, you will have a period of time when you don't know what the rate will be doing, but if you refinance or sell during that period, you will have to pay your lender several thousand extra dollars. This puts many people on the horns of a dilemma - whether to keep making payments they can't afford, or pay the pre-payment penalty. The bank wins either way.

One final point about hybrid loans. Once they adjust, they all adjust to the same rate plus the same margin. Unless you need the lower payment to qualify for the loan, it makes no sense to pay three points to buy the rate down on a five year hybrid ARM (or anything else) when it takes eight to ten years to recover the cost of your points. Why? Because you'll never get the money back! When the rate adjusts on the loan you paid three points for (IF you keep it that long), it goes to the same rate as the loan where they would have paid all of your closing costs. Judging by the evidence, most people don't understand this.

The final category of loan that I'm going to discuss here is the Balloon. This is a loan where the amortization is longer than the term. So if the amortization is thirty years, you make payments "as if" it were a thirty year loan, but since the actual term of the loan is shorter, you will have to sell, refinance, or somehow make extra payments to pay it off before the loan term expires. The thing I don't understand is that Balloon rates are typically higher than the comparable hybrid ARM, despite the fact that you either have to come up with a large chunk of cash at the end or sell or refinance prior to that. This makes them a less attractive loan. Furthermore, pre-payment penalties are every bit as common. Balloons are widely available in five and seven year terms with thirty year amortization, and I've seen three and ten, as well. Probably the most common "balloon" loan, though, is for those who do a fixed rate second mortgage, where the best loan available is usually a thirty year amortization with a fifteen year balloon. Since over half of everybody has refinanced within two years anyway, and 95 percent within five, the fact that it's got a fifteen year balloon payment just doesn't affect a whole lot of people, and it shouldn't scare anyone off.

WARNING!: I have seen Balloon Loans mis-advertised in the same way as I talked about with hybrid ARMS a few paragraphs ago. I regard this as even more misleading than advertising hybrid's as fixed. Unfortunately, many states do not have good regulations on rate advertising, and in many others, enforcement is lax. When a loan provider advertises, the entire game is to get you to call, and then control what you see and what you learn from that point on. Your best protection from this is to talk to other loan providers. Shop around, compare offers, tell them all about each others' offers. If something is not real, or it has a nasty gotcha!, if you talk to enough people, somebody will likely tell you about it. If you only talk to one person, you're at their mercy. Even if you somehow ask the right question to discover the gotcha!, the people who do this have long practice in distracting you, or answering another question that somehow seems similar enough that you let it go.

Caveat Emptor



Original here

Everybody knows that you want the lowest rate, and everybody knows that you don't want to pay any money you don't have to, in order to get it. However, not everybody makes the connection that it is always a tradeoff between the two. At any given point in time, each home lender has its own set of tradeoffs in place.

There are two components to the costs of a loan: Closing costs and points. Points have to do with the cost of the money. Closing costs relate to the work that has to be performed in order to get the loan done. These are not junk fees, although junk fees do happen.

Let us consider for a moment the home loan. You want to buy a home for your family, but don't have enough cash. Without somebody willing to loan you the difference, you cannot buy. You check with your family, your friends, your neighbors and they're all tapped out (or say they are). But there's a bank over there willing to loan it if you meet their terms.

The banks are not being altruists, of course. They're making a good chunk of change for doing so. But you would not believe the amount of complaints I hear out sympathetically about how this evil horrible bank is charging all this money and making people jump through all these hoops to get this money ("They want a pay stub! Actually they want two pay stubs! What is the problem with these nazis?"). Fact is that this bank is doing you a favor, risking hundreds of thousands of dollars on you so that you can own a home for your family. They are doing something for you that all of your friends and family were unwilling or unable to do: loan you the money to buy a home. I'd say that puts them pretty high on my "nifty list", not "Nazis", but it's your life. When you think about it, they're doing you a favor by making certain you can afford the payments on the loan (It's more than many agents and many loan officers will do), as well as insuring that if something goes wrong and you can't afford the loan, they'll get most of their money back. Real Estate is not sold on a whim. Just after the market peaked, another agent in my office had a listing of an $800,000 home. The family involved makes about $60,000 a year. Their interest alone was 76% of their gross pay, never mind property taxes and insurance. An unscrupulous agent sold them the house based upon the ability to flip it whenever they wanted, and found them a similar loan agent to get them a negative amortization loan so they've got about fifteen hundred dollars a month being added to their mortgage and they still can't make the payment. But real estate is not like stock; you can't sell it at will. The market cooled just a little bit. They lost their entire investment before they even came to us, and they came to our office to get it sold before worse things happened, and we did everything that could be done, and still nobody wanted to buy it until the price was reduced.

There's a lot of this out there. You would likely be amazed at the loans a competent loan officer can still qualify people for, and that if you understood what you were getting into, you'd drag them into the sunlight and run a wooden stake through their hearts before running away, instead of believing them to be your friend. I'd have gotten an extra client a week, at least, if I didn't sit down with the people to find out what they can really afford before I showed them the $800,000 house that's going to get me paid a Huge Pile Of Money, when I really should be telling them about 2 or 3 bedroom condominiums, or even telling them to continue renting. It's hard to get a client enthusiastic about a 900 square foot 2 bedroom condo when someone else is showing them a 5 bedroom 2800 square foot House! With It's Own Yard! No Shared Walls! and telling them they Know Someone Who Can Get The Loan! Well, I could have gotten them the loan, too, if they really wanted it, but it really doesn't help them if they can't make the payments. The world will catch up to those other agents and loan officers, and I put a certain value on the good opinion of the man in the glass.

Getting back to the issue of closing costs, there is work that has to be done before you get your loan. The people who do that work are entitled to be paid. You don't work for free. They're not going to work for free. As I have covered elsewhere, realistic closing costs without junk fees are about $3400, and can easily be higher. The bank is not just going to absorb these costs because they're going to make money off the loan. They have money, and if you want them to loan it to you, you need to meet their conditions.

Each home loan, whether the lender intends to sell it or not, has a value on the secondary market. They also cost the lender a certain amount (they have to pay for all money they lend, whether by borrowing or by opportunity cost). Based upon these two facts, the lender sets a level of discount points or rebate for each rate for each type of loan. When you pay discount points, you are actually paying the lender money in order to buy a rate that you would not otherwise be able to get. When there is a rebate, it means that the lender will pay out money for a loan done on those terms. A rebate can be thought of as a negative discount, and vice versa. Whatever the level it is set at by the lender, there's going to be an additional margin so that the broker or loan officer can get paid, even if the loan officer is an employee of that lender. This margin is not necessarily smaller by going direct to a lender - actually a broker usually has a better margin than that lender's own loan officers. As I say elsewhere, the supermarket banks often have their best rates posted, and I'm usually getting someone a better loan (lower cost/rate tradeoff) with the same lender.

But within a given type of loan, the lender always sets the loan discount higher for the lowest rate. The lower the rate, the higher the discount and the higher the rate the lower the discount. Choose the lowest rate, and pay not only closing costs but the highest discount as well. Whether it's coming out of your checkbook or being added to your mortgage, you are still paying it. Choose a somewhat higher rate, and there will be no discount points, just closing costs. There's a name for this rate where there's no points but no rebate; it's called par. Rates below par involve discount points, rates above par will get you some or all of your closing costs paid by the bank or broker.

Many people will want the lowest rate; after all that has the lowest payment. But it is (or should be) the client's choice, not a choice made for them by the loan officer. It's actually easier to qualify for lower rates, because the payment is lower. However these lower rates can be costly, because the fact is that the median mortgage age in this country is about two years, and fewer than 5% of all loans are more than 5 years old. This means there's a 50% chance you've refinanced (or sold and bought a new home) within two years, and over 95% within 5 years. The exact numbers vary over time, but I see no reason for these consumer habits to change. Furthermore, I'm a consumer, and so are you. There are people who bought a place and paid off their 30 year loan and now own the property free and clear, but they are rare these days. Much more common is the person who bought their house in the 1970s, has refinanced ten or twelve or fourteen times, and now owes ten times the original purchase price. More common yet is the person who's on the third, fourth, or fifth house since then. You might be one of the first group, or you might not be, pretend you are, and be hurting only yourself. It's likely to be a costly illusion.

Let's look at three different 30-year fixed rate loans. All of them start from needing $270,000 in loan money. Rates are lower now than when I first wrote this, but the comparison of results is still valid.

Loan 1 gets a 5.5% rate, but has to pay two points to get it, so his loan balance starts at $270,000 plus $3400 plus two points, or $278,980. He paid $8980 to get his loan. Loan 2 gets a 6% rate at par, and his loan balance starts at $273,400, because he only had to pay $3400 to get the loan. Finally, Loan 3 chooses a 6.5% loan where all closing costs are paid for him by the bank or broker. His loan balance starts at $270,000.

Your first month interest with Loan 1 is $1278.66, and principal paid is 305.36, on a payment of $1584.02. Loan 2 pays $1367.00 interest and $272.17 principal with a loan payment of $1639.17. Loan 3 is going to pay interest of $1462.50, principal of $244.08, and have a total payment of $1706.58. So far, it's looking like Loan 1 is the best of all possible loans, right? But look two years down the line when 50 percent of these people have refinanced or sold:



Loan
Interest paid
Principal Paid
Balance
Interest difference
Balance difference
Net $
Loan 1
$30288.21
$7728.21
$271251.79
$-2130.05
$+4773.36
$-2643.31
Loan 2
$32418.26
$6921.84
$266478.16
$0
$0
$0
Loan 3
$34720.18
$6237.83
$263762.17
$2301.92
$-2715.99
$+414.07

Remember, the original balance was $270,000. Loan 1 has paid $2130 less in interest the Loan 2, while Loan 3 has paid $2301.92 more. Furthermore, Loan 1 has paid down $7728 in principal, while Loan 2 has only paid down $6921 and Loan 3 still less at $6237. It's really looking like Loan 1 was the best choice.

But remember, 50% of all loans have refinanced or sold within two years. When you refinance or sell, the benefits you paid money to get stop. But the costs to get those benefits are sunk on the front end, and you're not getting them back. Look at the balance of Loan 1. The person who chose this still owes $271,251 - $1251 than they did before they chose the loan in the first place. Furthermore, his balance is $4773 higher than loan 2, and even though he paid $2130 less in interest, he's still $2643 worse off. Furthermore, whether he refinances or sells and rolls the proceeds over into a new property, the new loan is going to be for $4773 more money than Loan 2's new loan. Assume everybody got a really fantastic new loan at 5%. Loan 1 is going to have to pay $238 more per year to start with in interest expense for his new loan, simply because his remaining balance on the old loan was higher. Loan 3 is in even better shape than Loan 2. He's paid $2301.92 more in interest, but his balance is $2715.99 lower, for a net benefit over loan 2 of $414, not to mention that his interest costs on his new loan will be almost $136 lower simply because his starting balance is lower.

Now let's look 5 years out, when over 95% of the people will have sold or refinanced.



Loan
Interest paid
Principal Paid
Balance
Interest difference
balance difference
net $
Loan 1
$74007.65
$21033.41
$257946.59
$-5353.23
$+3535.98
$+1817.25
Loan 2
$79360.88
$18989.39
$254410.61
$0
$0
$0
Loan 3
$85144.66
$17250.36
$252749.63
$+5783.79
$-1600.98
$-4122.80

At this point, Loan 1 has saved $5353 in interest relative to Loan 2, while Loan 3 has spent $5783 more. Loan 1 has cut his balance difference to $3535 more than Loan 2, so he looks like he's ahead! Furthermore, Loan 3 is really lagging, having paid $5783 more in interest although the difference in balance is only $1660 to his good.

Well, loan 2 is ahead of loan 3 pretty much permanently at this point. Assuming all three refinance or sell and buy a new property with a 5% loan right now, Loan 3 is only going to get back $83 per year of the $4122.80 he's down relative to Loan 2. Especially considered on a time value of money, that's permanent. But despite Loan 1 being ahead of Loan 2 right now, Loan 2 will get back almost $177 per year. Ten years on, assuming a ver low 5% rate, loan 2 is back to even, and most of us are going to be property holders the rest of our lives. Consider also that 95% of the people who chose loan 1 NEVER got this far - they never broke even in the first place.

The point I'm trying to get across is that money you roll into your balance hangs around a very long time. And you're sinking potentially many thousands of dollars into a bet that most people lose. Yes, if you keep the loan long enough, the lower rates (at least for thirty year fixed rate loans) will pretty much always pay for themselves, several times over in many cases. The other point I'm trying to make is that most people don't keep their loan long enough for the benefits to pay for their costs to get those benefits.

As a final consideration, consider what happens if one year later interest rates are one-half percent lower. I can get Loan 3 the same loan that Loan 2 has for zero cost. He's got the same interest rate as Loan 2, whom I can't help right now, but a lower balance - neither one of his loans cost him anything. And it has happened that the rates dropped down to where I could get someone 5.5% on a thirty year fixed rate loan for zero - lender pays me enough to pay all the closing costs. Net to them, zip. Suppose rates do this again. I call Loan 2 and Loan 3, and now they've both got 5.5 %, but this doesn't help Loan 1. Now Loan 2 has the same as Loan 1, while only adding $3400 to his balance to get it, as opposed to Loan 1 adding nearly $9000, and Loan 3 has the same loan without adding a dime to his balance. Who's in the best position?

Caveat Emptor


Original article here

The short answer is not only "yes" but "damned straight"

I refinanced my house, and the lender put as one of my payoffs my Acura lease that I have 3 years left, whick equals about $19,000. I told him that was a lease and not a credit card, and he said he would take it off. I'm supposed to get my money tomorrow wired to me, but when he sent me a good faith estimate to sign today the Acura lease was still there. He said I would have to take it like that cause he forgot. I'm not gonna pay $20,000 on a 3 year lease left for a 30 year fixed rate refi!!! In the end I will have paid over $40,000 for a car I will only have for 3 more years. Can he do this to me? I need the money and signed everything else??? Please help

The first thing you have to understand is that THE most important measure of whether you can likely afford a loan is your debt to income ratio. If you make $5000 per month gross and you have to pay $3000 of it in debt service that's a 60% debt to income ratio.

Debt to income ratio is total cost of housing PLUS contracted monthly outlays divided by gross monthly income. It includes student loans, car leases as well as car purchase payments - everything you have contracted to pay out on a periodic basis. They want to measure how well you can afford to make payments out of continuing income. In the email quoted above, I see warning signs of being over-extended already.

For myself, I don't like the idea of refinancing a short term debt into a long term debt. I don't like suggesting it to clients - while debt consolidation refinance can be powerfully beneficial, there are huge traps that most people fall into. The benefits only happen if you keep making the equivalent of the same payments, and only if you keep doing it longer than the consolidated debts would have lasted. If you're doing it for reasons of cash flow, the only justification is to keep yourself out of bankruptcy. This person seems to understand that debt consolidation is generally a bad thing, but wants some cash out that they really can't afford.

That is the only reason a loan officer should broach the idea of debt consolidation. Unfortunately, it happens far too often because loan officers are paid on the basis of loan size. Larger loan equals bigger paycheck. Also, all too many consumers understand only cash flow, and that cutting their payments means they apparently have more money to spend on entertainment, travel, toys, or whatever else their personal desires point them towards.

The basic challenge illustrated, however, is that in order to qualify for the loan, this person does not make enough money - or hasn't proven they make enough money - to satisfy the underwriting guidelines on debt to income ratio. In plain English, they cannot afford the loan they are contemplating. Perhaps they could afford it if they only had the home loan, but they have car payments, car leases, student loans, credit cards, and installment payments on other goods as well. All of these are contracted monthly outlays. You must continue to pay them.

(Believe me, you don't want to tell a prospective lender you want to stiff existing creditors! They don't take it well)

The homeowners nonetheless want the money. The email didn't say why, but I strongly suspect it's a desire rather than a need. So the loan officer is trying to find a way to get it to them by qualifying them for the loan. It's within the context of serving the client's perceived "needs", and yet it rarely serves client interests. There are damned few loan officers who reflexively use this kind of red flag as a reason to sit and and consider whether the client real interests are served by the loan; after all, if the answer is "no" they don't have a loan and they don't get paid. I try, and I usually find out later that they got a worse loan from someone else because they didn't want to tell me they appreciated my concern but wanted to do it anyway. Nonetheless, if loan officers supposedly have a fiduciary responsibility (and we do) it should be an obvious requirement for situations where the client may be compromising their long term ability to afford the loan. I doubt the results of the Era of Make Believe Loans would have been so devastating if consumers in this situation had some mandatory protections in the form of counseling on the effects of getting this money. This is one thing that should have been done in response to the overextension of credit to so many homeowners, and wasn't. Might have something to do with the fact that the big banks make large campaign contributions, while homeowners, not so much.

There are tricks that enable the lowering of debt to income ratio, and debt consolidation is the chief of those. It has perils for the consumer, but it does exist. By spreading the principal payments over 30 years (and usually by lowering the interest rate), debt to income ratio can be greatly lowered. This gets the loan approved, which means the consumer gets the money they want and the loan officer and their company get paid. Win-win in the present tense. All too many of these, however, sabotage that homeowner's financial future - it just takes a while for that to be apparent.

Keep in mind, the question is not "Do they owe this money?" They do. There is no question about that. Nor are their existing debts the moral responsibility of a real estate loan officer. The question is whether a way to restructure the debt exists that both qualifies this homeowner for the new loan they want, and does not unduly compromise their financial future. The question for the lender and the underwriter, however, is even more concrete: Does the new loan or loan structure comply with underwriting guidelines such that there is a reasonable expectation of future payments being made on time? That is the bottom line. If the projected monthly payments are too high, the answer to the question is "no", so people go looking for ways to lower those monthly payments and change the answer to "yes."

A $500 car payment that would have been paid off in 3 years may add only $100 or so to a real estate loan payment. If the homeowner makes $5000 per month, that cuts their debt to income ratio by about 8% right there. For a loan officer, 8% off Debt to Income Ratio is a huge amount, and I've seen situations where debt consolidation cuts 20% off a Debt to Income ratio. When 45% is the cutoff, consolidating debt can make a huge difference in a homeowner's ability to qualify. The trick is for it not to lock the consumer into a situation where a year from now they've got to have a new car to get to work because the old one disintegrated, and there's just no way they can afford it. The lender and underwriter do not care about that. They care whether the projected monthly cost of housing plus debt service is within guidelines.

I don't know by how much, but its apparent this person is in that kind of situation. They want the money, but given their other debts, they can't afford it without consolidating their other payments into the loan. The homeowners have the right to refuse, but then the lender has the right to refuse to fund the loan. It is a strict quid pro quo: cut your payments by this much (in addition to whatever other underwriting requirements there may be) and we will fund your loan. Don't, and we won't. While declining to consolidate may be the smart thing to do in many situations, most consumers decide they want whatever benefit the loan has enough that they decide to do what the lender requires. It is the homeowner's choice, but the bottom line is that if you want the loan in such a situation, then yes you have to do it.

Caveat Emptor

Somebody asked me about a deferred payment mortgage for a purchase. The long and the short of the story is that they don't have any cash to put down, and they can't qualify for the payments under any kind of reasonable debt to income ratio.

A few years ago, in the era of Make Believe Loans, we could have gotten this person a loan. It wouldn't have been the smartest thing in the world, but we could have done it. I'm confident I would have turned him off the idea back then too, as I did many others who hated me then but may now be reconsidering. Most have figured out that the loan officers who had a policy of "just shut up and get paid for putting the loan through" were not their friends after all.

Even then, however we would have to have dealt with calculating debt to income ratio, as well as the fact that purchase money loans evaluate the property on a lower of cost or market basis, where the appraisal is the "market" and the official purchase price is "cost." Since it's the lesser of the two values that is used, there is never equity at purchase in excess of whatever down payment you make, at least as far as the lender is concerned.

A paper fixed rate loans use the fixed rate of the loan for calculating front end ratio. They are permitted to use a higher rate than actual, but not a lower one. If your rate is 6%, and they use 6.25% because the rate isn't actually locked on a $300,000 thirty year fixed rate loan, the number they will use is $1847.16. This is not an arbitrary number; it's the most important measurement of whether or not you can afford the loan. The front end ratio, which is the loan payment itself, is not generally a deal breaker if it's too high, but the back end ratio, which is the loan combined with taxes, insurance, homeowner's association, and all your other monthly debt service, is a deal breaker - as well as the most important measurement of whether you can afford the loan. Those other numbers are all fixed based upon your situation. You owe what you owe, property taxes are what they are, and you only make what you make - or actually, as far as the lender is concerned you make what you can prove you make. I've written against overstating your income from the very first on this site.

Why do they use the higher number? As insurance against available rates going higher. If rates decline and you can actually lock in something better (or for a lower cost), no problems ensue. But if that payment goes up at all when you go to lock the loan, that means the file has to go through another complete underwriting. One dollar per month or ten thousand, it makes no difference. Up is up. So to avoid that, loan officers who are not complete doofuses add a quarter percent or so to the rate they expect in order to generate a "qualifying rate" and "qualifying payment" with some room for error when the loan isn't locked. That way if things do get worse, the whole process doesn't have to start all over again. (Regular readers will understand it's really about the tradeoff between rate and cost, but a higher cost for the same rate also triggers re-underwriting, albeit focused on cash to close rather than debt to income ratio)

When you move to A paper ARMs, the allowable back debt to income ratio actually goes down, usually to 38% from 45%. Not only that, but the rate used to compute the payments is usually much higher than actual. The calculations require the use of, not the initial rate on the note, but the final, fully indexed rate on the note. They use current rate for the underlying index the ARM is based upon, plus the rate margin. Say the initial loan rate is 5.25% but the underlying index is at 4.75% plus a margin of 2.25%, they will use 7% for the purposes of determining whether or not you actually qualify for the loan. In the $300,000 example above, this means they'll use $1995.91, even though the actual rate and payment is lower - and due to lower maximum debt to income ratio, the ceiling on what you can afford at a given income level will be lower. Depending upon the lender, they may even add a bit of a margin to that qualifying rate. This makes it significantly harder to qualify for an A paper hybrid ARM than a fixed rate loan, even though the rates and payments are lower, and is certainly one reason why there aren't more of these loans out there. Nonetheless, this procedure they use for qualification does mean that someone who manages to qualify should be able to afford whatever the payment eventually adjusts to.

One of the reasons subprime loans got so popular was that they stopped using this method of determining whether an applicant qualified for the loan. The subprime lenders started qualifying applicants based strictly upon the minimum initial payment, despite the fact that they knew good and well that the payment was going to adjust upwards at a known time. Even if the initial payment was "interest only" or negative amortization. They just assumed that the people would get raises, be able to refinance with increased equity, or just be able to lift themselves up by their own bootstraps, or something else equally hope based. Three strong verses of "Kumbaya" would have been about as intelligent, but it worked so long as Wile E. Coyote didn't look down. It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that this is one of the reasons why subprime crashed so hard, especially in conjunction with stated income loans. Because this made it absurdly easy to qualify for a loan, especially a larger loan than people could really afford, subprime loans were ridiculously popular for a while, even among people who should have been able to qualify for A paper had they limited their budget to what they could afford. When the adjustments hit, it was predictable as gravity that those folks who qualified subprime couldn't make their payments. When the market values stopped rising so quickly that they supported serial refinancing, it didn't take very long for large scale problems to emerge. In the overall scheme of things, subprime loan qualification was good for real estate agents who wanted easy commission checks, irresponsible loan officers, and people with the sense to cash out of the market while things were still going crazy. For the people who applied for subprime loans, not so much.

You should want to qualify with the toughest standards you can meet, preferably A paper full documentation, and even the A paper ARM standards if you can, but this concept was a little bit difficult to get across to the people who already had their hearts set on a property that was way too expensive for them, especially when everyone else is encouraging the speculative atmosphere. It got to the point where newspapers were running articles on "What's a fair margin over index for negative amortization loans," when the correct response would have been, "RUN AWAY."

The whole situation is enough to make you understand exactly how many people outsmarted themselves in pretty much the same wise as the people pictured in this clip:

Unlike the fictional characters portrayed, however, the consequences for borrowers who get in too deep does not end when the director yells, "Cut!" You might want to bear this in mind when figuring out exactly how much loan you can really qualify for. Even the subprime lenders who survived have now figured it out, proving that even the silliest English Knight ("Ca-niggit") can learn when the pain gets bad enough.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

With the current popularity of pursuing a "green" lifestyle and some sustainability (garden plot, edible landscaping, micro-orchard, etc.) in one's yard area, I value your input about what to look for in an older subdivision with larger lots that aren't "vampire properties." And how do you factor in local ordinances? Thanks!

First off, I want to say that it's not my place to pass judgment on anyone's housing preferences. This person wants more green, so I'm going to help them with that. If someone else doesn't, I'll help them with that too.

If you're really looking to be green, there are a lot of reasons not to buy a single family detached home. In heating and cooling, materials, and most especially land use, single family detached homes are about as un-green as it comes. Talk to the sustained use experts, and they'll tell you that single family detached housing is horribly wasteful of everything involved. The "greenest" housing is high rise condominiums and apartment buildings. Not what everyone wants to hear, but nonetheless the truth.

With that said, there are degrees of "green". Small sized plots are not agriculturally efficient - that's one reason why Zimbabwe (to name the worst example) has gone from breadbasket to starving in a few years time - they broke the big farms up into little farms supporting one subsistence level family each. So you're not going to produce enough to offset what the land could do as part of a commercial farm or large public park, but you can do fairly well if you check with your local greenery experts. Locally, Kate Sessions (our most famous landscaper) was known for gardens that were both beautiful and water efficient - to the point where the City of San Diego doesn't water large portions of Balboa Park at all. Pretty much every greenhouse locally has someone whose advice to make the landscaping efficient is worthwhile. Even townhomes can be worthwhile - I know folks with dwarf fruit trees in the back yards of their townhomes, and if a homeowner's association was to make an effort, most of them would make far more more difference than a single plot owner - because while it is a common interest development, when you put them all together, you usually have several times the land available of most single family detached urban dwellings. Trees provide shade in summer and keep it cool - and they help break the wind and lower heating bills in winter. Obviously, check with someone local to you for specific recommendations because I'm pretty sure orange and lemon trees don't do so well in Minnesota winters. Grass is nice, and good for resale, but it's a big user of water - a no-no for Green living in most of the west. It wouldn't be such a big deal to water grass with 'gray' (used water, no longer potable) if lawns weren't so notoriously un-"green".

For heating and cooling, double or triple paned windows and good, tight weatherstripping are pretty much mandatory for greens. Newer housing has this sort of thing already installed, and lots of older ones homes do, as well. Given the cost, it probably is not worth the cost on a purely monetary basis to replace existing windows with modern ones for that reason alone, but that doesn't stop a lot of people. I'd think wood floors - replaceable, polishable, durable - would be superior to anything else, but I can't cite chapter and verse. I know a lot of beautiful hardwood floors that are the better part of a century old - while even travertine starts looking dingy and ready for replacement in considerably less time than that. When wood starts looking old, it can be re-polished to its original shine more easily than anything else I'm aware of. Finally, wood is a much more renewable resource. Trees grow back. Quarries do not. Petrochemicals do not.

Good insulation is a feature of eco-friendly housing as well, but be careful: Too much can actually be a health hazard, as it can cause Radon gas to build up to levels that are illegal in uranium mines.

Modern air conditioning units work without CFCs. R410a ("Puron") is what home systems are in the process of converting to, as CFCs and HCFCs are being phased out. I don't have any first hand experience with this, but if you're replacing your system, it appears to be worthwhile to consider replacing with a high efficiency modern system. The difference in price is smallish, and the difference on your monthly bill significant. The upshot is that you'll pay for replacing your prior system with a high efficiency system a lot more quickly than a low. I'm also told that simply running the ductwork underground for a certain distance can negate the need for heating and air conditioning altogether - all you need is a good fan to pull the air through. Be careful that the static ground temperature in your area will support this first - check with a local expert. Needless to say, that last suggestion about burying roughly 100 feet of ductwork isn't really an option for the owners of anything but single family detached housing, even though it needn't be in a straight line..

The square-cube law is always in effect. Heat and cold leak in and out via surface area, while you're heating or cooling cubic volume. The smaller the surface area, as a proportion, the longer it takes for heat and cooling to leak out. A featureless cube (or better yet, sphere) is more efficient than a rambling single story ranch house. Nonetheless, it's more efficient to heat a small structure than a large one, and body heat from the inhabitants helps more in winter. A 1200 square foot dwelling is more "green" than a 3000 square foot dwelling for the same family. Is that going to stop me from showing 3000 square foot dwellings to those who want them? Absolutely not. Once again, this is "other factors being equal."

If you really want to go green, especially in the west, you're going to get into recycling the water you use. Laundry water can be used for a lot of plants, as can bath water. The ultimate instances of this are pretty disgusting if you think about them, but people do go a lot further than this, and every drop of water on this planet has gone through such a cycle multiple times. It's all pretty much dependent upon how far you want to go on your own hook. My main objection to the City of San Diego's water recycling plan was that it wasn't good enough to get out all contaminants, and people weren't going to get their own discharges back, so they could drop stuff into the drain like old engine oil, and be confident it wasn't coming back to their tap.

Green construction is no better and no worse, as far as intrinsic durability and aesthetics go, than non-green construction. It can be more expensive (How many hardwood floors have been laid down these last ten years?), but quite often, you can actually save yourself money in the end if you're willing to make the up-front investment. How far you want to go is a function of your preferences, pocketbook, and your area of the country.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

Been reading some of your informative tips. I am looking at refinancing and getting a $378000 mortgage. Now in the case of having a 3 yr prepay penalty, vs paying 1.5% in points to make it a 1 yr prepay, am i right in assuming it's wiser for me to pay the points than accept a three yr prepay when i know I will sell/move within 2 yrs? Any info you can provide would be great. I'm wondering if I'm missing something here.

I think they (sic) points would cost me around $5800.

I compute 1.5 points on $378,000 as being approximately $5756.

Here in California, the maximum prepayment penalty is six months interest, and that is the industry standard nationwide for when there is a prepayment penalty. A few lenders will pro-rate it, but for the vast majority, they will charge the same penalty on the day before it expires as on day one. This is pure profit, and they're generally not going to turn down pure profit any more than most people will turn down a bonus. So if your interest rate is 6 percent, you're going to pay a 3 percent prepayment penalty if you sell or refinance before the prepayment penalty expires. For Negative Amortization loans, the prepayment penalty is based on the real rate, not whatever fake come-on "nominal" rate they told you about.

On some loans, the prepayment penalty is triggered by paying any extra money. One extra dollar and GOTCHA! But probably eighty percent of loans with prepayment penalties give you the option of paying it down a certain amount extra each year, usually 20 percent, without triggering the prepayment penalty. (That's 20% of the balance at the beginning of the year, but making a flat payment of 20% will trigger the penalty because you're also paying it down with your monthly payments).

Assuming that it is a case of you won't move in less than one year, this is equivalent to the prepayment penalty on a loan with interest rate of between 3.05% (100 percent prepayment penalty) and 3.81% (80% prepayment penalty). Since even the 1 month LIBOR was a little over 3.8 percent when I originally wrote this, it was a cut and dried case of pay the point and a half.

Of course, if there is a possibility that you will need to move in less than one year, paying these 1.5 points could well be a costly exercise in futility. I can't begin to gauge that risk without more information. But if you're in any number of professional situations ranging from the military to corporate executive, this is common.

Given that you're talking about prepayment penalties, you're likely in a subprime situation. Subprime, when I originally wrote this, had a fairly uniform rate of 1.5 points of cost equals 3/4 of a percent on the interest rate. I'm going to assume you're getting about a 6.25% rate. If you decided to buy it off via rate, you'd be looking at a 7% rate. These days, the few subprime lenders still in business are looking for "A paper" borrowers who don't realize they're "A paper" borrowers.

Let's punch in the two loans. $383,750 (balance with 1.5 points) at 6.25% gives you a payment of $2362.81. Running it out 24 months gives you a balance of $374,467. You have spent $56,708 on payments.

378,000 at 7% gives you a payment of $2514.84. Running it out 24 months gives you a balance of $370,043.00, and you've spent $60,356 on payments, while paying your balance down $7957.

Now, assume you sell the home for $X at the end of this period. The first loan saves you $3648 in interest. The second loan gives you $4424 more in your pocket in two years. The second loan, with the higher interest rate and higher payment, as opposed to the higher balance, nonetheless saves you $776 as opposed to the loan with the lower interest rate, and also leaves you more money with which to buy your next home, which means lower cost of interest on your next home loan, as well. Of course, this is subject to some pretty significantly naked assumptions as I don't know anything more about your situation. Furthermore, it assumes that your income is not marginal, and that you would qualify for both loans. It is perfectly possible that you would qualify for the lower payment, and hence the lower rate would be approved, but not be able to qualify for the higher payment associated with the higher rate (The reverse is not the case). Finally, I assumed that because you know you're going to have to move in two years, you are looking at a two or three year ARM in the first place, as opposed to a longer fixed term.

I hope this helps you. If you have any further questions, please let me know.

Caveat Emptor

Original here


That's way up there on the list of complaints buyer's agents get. Probably number one, definitely no lower than number three, and it's only going to get worse when the markets recover. There's really only one honest response:

"Well, duh."

I'm talking about the one where the owner fixed it up and made it beautiful. Those properties are the equivalent of a hot chick in a singles bar. Their owner has gone to the trouble of making them visually attractive to the vast majority of potential buyers. People are visually oriented - as you should know if you've ever watched the crowd interact with said hot chick. She may be an abusive gold-digging stone cold female dog with enough external baggage to fill an freight train all by herself, but that's not visually obvious; people see the attractive surface and they want it. In case you're female, I'm informed by some people I know that this effect is even stronger with respect to "hot dudes". So feel free to mentally switch the sex when I talk about "hot chicks", it's just as applicable.

You are always competing with other buyers. If someone else is attracted to the property to the point of making an offer, the owner is going to choose the offer that's most attractive to them. Most of the time, this will be the one for highest number of dollars. There are ways to be the offer chosen without being the high bidder, but they do not work every time or even close to every time.

The "hot chick" property is not one where you get a bargain. If everyone finds it attractive, expect everyone to be making offers. The owner and their agent are going to do their dead level best to get prospective buyers to stumble over each other fighting to put in the offer for the highest price. The only way to win that game is not to play. If you must put an offer in on such a property, make it an attractive offer, but one that you would be happy to have accepted. Refuse to bid against everyone else - offer what the property is worth to you. Look for things other than cash that the seller may be interested in. I know I'm always looking for something about the seller's situation that tells me something else is important to them. A more certain transaction, a willingness to work with special seller requirements, whatever. There isn't always such a hook, but where it is present I want to offer it to them.

The property where you get a bargain - I mean the type of bargain where you're thinking "Score!" ten years later - is to look beneath the surface. Instead of looking for the property where everything is already perfect, look for the property where the underlying basics are there but the owner hasn't put the finishing touches on it that make it obviously attractive to everyone. The solid construction with good layout in a neighborhood where most properties are more visually attractive. You make a few improvements over time, and you have a huge profit in just a few years if you decide to sell, or are the envy of your friends who ask "How did you manage to afford such a wonderful property in this expensive neighborhood?" The answer is that you were looking for the right things, where the person looking for the property that everybody wants is mortgaged up to their eyeballs and not as happy with the results because it's got some problems he ignored because it was "just so beautiful!". He managed to pick up that hot chick with all her baggage, where you went after the quieter lady with her head on straight and a healthy sense of humor. It's amazing how often such a lady turns out to be a lot more beautiful than the "hot chick" once you understand what you're seeing. This works in real estate, too.

Also just like the hot chick in the singles bar, don't waste your time making an offer on visually attractive properties. If she accepts someone else's offer, she's gone. If the beautiful property you've just got to have accepts someone else's offer, they're off the market. Period. This actually applies to any property you're interested in: Every day or every hour you delay is an opportunity for another offer to be accepted. When that happens, you're not getting the property. Yeah, it might fall out of escrow. But being a back up offer is never a good thing. And I do mean NEVER.

All of the best negotiating techniques work much better when you're the only offer than they do when there are a dozen. It's very hard to get someone to accept an offer for $20,000 or $50,000 less than another offer on the table. It doesn't work every time, or close to every time. Upon those occasions when I successfully did it, I can tell you it was by selling something else the seller was interested in.

You've got a lot more bargaining power when you're the only offer on the table. The property is on the market because the owner has decided they want to sell, that their best interest lies in selling. If the alternative is another offer that's for just as much money (or more) you're not in a strong bargaining position. If the alternative is maybe not selling, they're going to be a lot more willing to compromise with you.

The way to successful buying in real estate is to find a property you think would be good, and making an offer you would be happy to have accepted. Some sellers are not disposed to be rational. Some, like the owners of the metaphorical "hot chick" property, have a reasonable and rational expectation of better offers than other owners. If they won't take an offer you're happy to have accepted, the intelligent thing to do find another property. Getting emotionally attached and thinking you've got to have a particular property because "it's so beautiful" is a recipe for disaster - just like marrying the "hot chick" in order to secure a one night stand, and for essentially the same reason.

Caveat Emptor

Once we figure out when we are going to be ready to buy, how early is too soon to get a buyer's agent and start looking.

You are ready for a Buyer's Agent when you are ready to act on it if that agent finds you something that meets enough of your criteria. By act, I mean put in an offer and consummate the purchase. If you're not ready to act, you are just wasting everyone's time. If you are ready and willing to act, then there's no reason to wait.

If you are not willing to act, you're engaging in mental onanism. Kind of like fantasy stock market traders. Doesn't matter how well you do, it's not real. As Sir Sidney Poitier once observed, it produces nothing. If you don't understand the difference between playing with real money and playing with meaningless number scores, get a guardian.

Being unwilling to act frustrates the agent and wastes the time that they might spend prospecting for you, and productive agents have to be jealous of their time. If you waste their best efforts when you aren't ready to act, don't be surprised if you're not their top priority when you are. You avoid this trap by not approaching them until you are at least willing to act.

It does no good to store up "prospects for later." Good stuff doesn't last for months. It probably won't last for weeks. It may not last to the end of the day. It only lasts until one person who is willing to act discovers it. If you're not willing to act, you are wasting your time looking at property for sale. Six months from now, when you are ready to act, that property won't be there, the market will be totally different, and interest rates may well have moved to where you cannot afford what you could afford today.

Markets change over time. The market today where I am is a very different market than two months ago, which was different from two months before that, and also different from the market as it's going to be two months from now. This is one of the many reasons why attitude is worth more than experience in an agent, but it also means that market research you do now is worthless a few months from now. The markets vary not just with macroeconomic factors, but also with time of year. The upshot is that the market today is different than it will be in two months, different than it will be in late summer, and is already different than it was a few months ago. You try to look at your fifteen to twenty-five properties today with an eye towards buying in six months, you are doing worse than wasting your time. You are actually confusing yourself with data that is certain to be outdated by the time you go to apply it.

Furthermore, there's a well-known comedy schtick routine in the industry: Q: How often does the deal of the century happen in real estate? A: About once a week. The point of the matter is that if you are looking for a property that's a real bargain, they aren't that hard to find. The more difficult skill is recognizing them when you see them. The average buyer is looking for something that is both perfect and a bargain - and the intersection of those two sets is pretty universally null. The reason the current owners spent all that time, effort, and money fixing them up is because they expect that effort to be handsomely rewarded by buyers who don't understand or don't care about the economics involved.

You probably want to talk to someone who does loans before you talk to a buyer's agent. Find out from them what real rates are that can really be done for you. This, together with how much you make, gives you your budget. It may change, going down if rates rise or up if they fall, but this way you know how much you can afford to spend. I have said this many times, but it's a good idea to repeat it at every opportunity: Shop by purchase price, not by payment. If you shop by payment, you are laying yourself open to all kinds of games by unscrupulous lenders and agents looking for quick, easy sales. Of course, if you find somebody who does both loans and real estate, that's fine, as long as they pass the tests you'd administer to both. Among which, of course, are Questions You Should Ask Prospective Loan Providers and being willing to work on a non-exclusive buyer's agent basis.

Caveat Emptor

Original Article here

This question brought someone to the site


Can I change lenders after the loan is approved?

The answer is yes, but you need to start the loan process all over again.

Actually, you can change lenders any time you want to, just like you can refinance at any time. It may be expensive, it may be counter-productive, and it may or may not be an intelligent choice, but it is your choice. It's not like the lender can do anything about it. Deciding not to consummate a particular loan may also be the smartest thing you could possibly do, especially if you were significantly lowballed on the initial quote.

There can be external factors that prevent you from doing so. If you owe $500,000 on a property that has fallen in value to $450,000, you're not going to be able to refinance on any kind of decent terms unless you pay that loan down. If your credit is no longer as good as when you last got a loan, if your monthly bills are too high a proportion of your income, or any of a couple dozen other possible reasons, you won't be able to obtain financing as good as your current loan. This doesn't mean that you cannot legally decide to take something less advantageous. People voluntarily took out negative amortization loans right up to the moment the lenders did away with them and then people screamed they couldn't get them anymore. It didn't matter how much they hurt themselves - they wanted the low payments. It's all tied up in the freedom thing, even if it does mean you're free to make mistakes.

Just because you are free to change lenders, does not mean that there will not be consequences. That's also part of the freedom to make your own mistakes. It can be very expensive to change lenders. You are basically back to square one when you change lenders, a fact many loan providers make rapacious use of when they pull a bait and switch routine. I add that in the vast majority of these cases, that bait and switch was planned with malice aforethought, as you know if you're a regular here.

When you decide to begin the process over, you may or may not have to do everything over. If you're at a direct lender, there's no alternative. You have to do the loan paperwork all over. Credit Report and everything else, application and all the disclosures. Most folks are going to have to get a new appraisal. If you put down a deposit with the lender, you're likely to lose it. They did all of this work, and they're not getting paid for a funded loan. It's rare that lenders will refund deposits. That's why they require them, to commit you to the loan and prevent you from changing your mind. Mind you, the consequences of agreeing to a bad loan are usually much worse than losing the deposit, but people are silly about cash deposits. There's a good chance that if the lender requires a deposit, they're a lender you don't want to be doing business with in the first place.

When you change lenders even though you're staying with the same broker, the consequences are much smaller. Since the application, etcetera, should have all been done in the broker's name, the loan officer has to begin the underwriting process all over, but the basic paperwork is pretty much the same. They have to give you new copies of the required paperwork reflecting the new loan, but that's it. On the other hand, if there's something underhanded going on, it's almost certainly the doing of the loan officer, so staying with the same brokerage is likely to be perpetuating the problem. This applies to direct lenders as well.

There is always a moment of truth in every loan, when the final loan papers are presented. If they do not reflect what you were led to believe in order to get you to sign up, you probably shouldn't sign them. Many people do sign loan documents that amount to shooting themselves in the head financially. Refusing to sign can cost you money, make no mistake. But agreeing to bad loans will usually cost you more. Nor are you legally committed to that lender until, well, at least after you sign the note, and not completely until the loan is funded and recorded.

It is comparatively rare that you should sign loan papers if the loan you are agreeing to is not what you were lead to expect. There is no "Get Out of Contracts Free" card in the real world, and once that loan is funded, you are bound to all of the terms of the contract, and this includes not only high potential costs and rates, but prepayment penalties and everything else.

With that said, I should talk about one reasonably common exception: Purchase money loans. The escrow period in purchases runs only so many days, and you have to have everything done during that period, or the good faith deposit you made to hold the property is at risk. It's still usually a good idea to negotiate an extension on your purchase escrow rather than agree to a bad loan or even a less good loan, but there are cases where it can be smarter to sign the loan documents now and refinance later.

For refinancing your primary residence, just because you sign documents does not mean you are stuck. There is a federally mandated three day right of rescission when you refinance your primary residence. It's not a good idea to sign just because you can rescind later; that three days is gone before most people are realize it. The rescission period is a last chance to avoid disaster, and signing loan documents can commit you to paying certain costs and fees even if you later rescind. Better not to sign in the first place if you find a problem, and you should always look for problems before you sign.

Just because you signed and the loan funded does not commit you to it for ever and ever. You are always legally free to refinance or sell. There may be prepayment penalties, and you won't get the costs you paid to get the loan you are replacing loan back, but if you're at nine percent interest rate and you can have six on terms as good or better, it's likely to be worth going through the paperwork and paying any prepayment penalty. The math may say otherwise in specific cases, but that is once again a matter of specific situation versus broad rule. Prepayment penalties don't mean you cannot refinance, they only raise the opportunity costs of doing so. Lenders put them into contracts because they not only raise that opportunity cost, they also provide a good boost to their profit if you do jump over that raised bar.

So you can change lenders at any time. There may be reasons not to do so, but that doesn't mean you cannot do it. In every situation, the answer as to whether you should is in your contract and in the math, and it may take a good amount of informed professional judgment to help you make the choice, but that choice is always yours.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

(This is a companion article to What Sellers Need: What Buyers Should Want to Supply)

Quite often, I hear people talking about the real estate market as if it's all some amorphous blob, and buyers and sellers are no more different than they are in the stock or bond market, or for that matter, people using the bank to make deposits or withdrawals.

I cannot agree with this concept. Real Estate is not liquid, and real estate is not commoditized, and in the absence of some future world government building precisely one identical housing unit with precisely the same environment for everybody, I daresay it never will be. Since the chance of the rulers of that government limiting themselves and their cronies to the same housing everyone else has are nil, you can take it from there.

What do buyers need? They have the cash the seller (that would be you) wants, or the ability to get it via a loan, which comes to the sellers as cash - providing they can actually qualify, hence the preceding paragraph. What they need in exchange for that cash is the the assurance they will be getting a clear title, unencumbered by outside interests who may come after them later. They also need an assurance that the building - which is what the vast majority of buyers are really interested in - is going to continue standing in good, inhabitable condition for the foreseeable future. If there is a loan involved, the lender will want reasonable assurance that they can recover their investment if something goes wrong with the loan, which also requires clear title among other things. Just as seller's issues become buyer's issues, so do buyer's issues become seller's issues.

This makes delivering clean insured title imperative. If there's a possibility buyers are going to put every penny they saved for three years into purchasing a property, together with putting themselves into debt for thirty years, and end up not owning that piece of property after all, it shouldn't be difficult to figure out that the property is worth much less to that buyer - or any other prospective buyer. There is a profitable niche in clearing title on real estate, but you've got to really know what you're doing, and you've got to be prepared to lose everything invested in a given property. There's a reason the standard California purchase contract requires the seller to purchase the buyer a specific very broad policy of title insurance, and why it allows and requires negotiation as to which title insurance company issues that policy. I want a good solid company that only insures good risks, because I want them to be around and able to pay the claim if one happens - even forty years down the line, as opposed to Fly Tonight Title that disappears as soon as it has the premium payment. If a good reputable company won't insure title, there is a reason, and title insurance that isn't there and solvent years later is useless. Actually, it's worse than useless because without that title policy that turned out to be useless, nobody in their right mind would have paid that anywhere near that price for that property. So yes, a good policy of title insurance costs money. However, without that title policy the property is worth a fraction of what you might get for it with that title policy - and this fraction is well under 50%. Paying for a title policy is part of the cost of getting as much cash as possible for the property. Examined in terms of return on investment, there's nothing that even vaguely approaches it.

As far as the building's structural integrity, inspections cost money: hundreds of dollars. It's not cost-effective for buyers to perform inspections on every property they want to make an offer on, and the owners - or their tenants - might have a little something to say about an inspector invading their personal spaces for three hours or so. But it is necessary that the inspector have legal responsibility to the buyer, and that's the reason why sellers are wasting their time getting an inspection. Yeah, it can help you fix problems before you put the property on the market. But no competently advised prospective buyer is going to accept such an inspection, because if there's something wrong or something missing, that buyer has no recourse to sue an inspector that was, after all, working for the seller. If you're planning to sell, and want an opinion as to what needs fixing, get a contractor out. But if the buyer's inspection reveals problems, the buyer is going to want the ability to negotiate repairs, compensation, or to get out of the contract entirely, hence, the inspection contingency. This is one reason why sellers misrepresenting the condition of their property are not only fooling themselves, but costing themselves money as well. Furthermore, the general inspector can recommend further inspections if there is something beyond their competence. Until somebody pays you the necessary cash to purchase the property and it is actually sold, the problems that may exist aren't buyer problems - they're seller problems. Buyers can always (at least until the inspection contingency expires) choose to instead walk away and make an offer on the identical floor plan down the street without these issues. It's up to the seller and their agent to motivate them not to do that. Consider that if this prospective buyer's inspector found the problem, it's likely that the next prospective buyer's inspector will, as well. Actually, a good buyer's agent will probably spot things before it gets to the point of an offer. Until you have that escrow check in your hand for the equity, these problems are the seller's problems. Remember, that prospective buyer can simply decide they don't want the property. Until the property is successfully exchanged for cash, all of those problems are part of owning that property, and you need to find a buyer who's willing to deal with these issues in order to sell. Delivering what buyers need, a solid property without objectionable issues, is a seller concern. Good agents will help, but bottom line, it's the seller's profit or loss.

With the exception of all cash sales, a very small proportion of real estate sales, there is going to be a lender involved, and when there's a lender, the issues that buyers have with lenders become seller issues as well. It may be precisely the opposite of the inspection situation: It's always the seller's choice as to whether to work with a given prospective buyer, and buyer issues in this regard are subject to finding a seller willing to deal with them. Nonetheless, the vast majority of all buyers don't have the cash to buy your property without a loan, and if you want to restrict yourself to prospective buyers willing and able to offer all cash for your property, that's your prerogative. Doing that, however, restricts your pool of potential buyers far more than anything else. Drastically lessened number of buyers who could choose to offer all cash drastically reduces the sales price. Even those buyers who have the ability to pay all cash often do not want to, for various reasons, and this unwillingness on your part means that they will be willing to offer much less for your property.

Every loan does have the real possibility of being turned down. I can do everything from verify all the buyer's information to checking the prospective loan against lender guidelines for issues, but if that underwriter turns down the loan, or (more commonly) puts conditions on an approval that the prospective borrower can't meet, that's pretty much the end of the loan. There is one vote that counts, and it belongs to that underwriter. The loan officer can reason, wheedle, and appeal, but the bottom line is that if the underwriter can't be swayed, the loan is dead. They don't reject loans very often when a loan officer has done the work beforehand, but it does happen, and is the reason that nobody except a loan underwriter for the lender you're submitting it to can guarantee the loan will be approved. Since no loan gets to the underwriter without a fully negotiated purchase contract and no borrower ever communicates with an underwriter directly, there is always a very real possibility that the loan the borrower is counting on will be turned down. For most loans, there's other places that will do the loan, albeit upon slightly different terms. Occasionally, though, there are loans where it's this lender or nobody, as nobody else has loan guidelines that will allow that loan to be funded. These two terms add up to the necessity for a loan contingency. If the buyer can't find someone to loan them money on terms that satisfy this purchase contract, they don't want to lose their deposit, and definitely don't want to be obligated to purchase the property. If you, as a seller, do not want to allow a loan contingency, that is certainly something you can choose to do - but it's going to cost you in terms of the proffered sales price, probably a lot more than the amount of any deposit. If a seller doesn't have good evidence prospective buyers can qualify for the necessary loan, I don't know any reason why they would agree to work with those buyers at all. If they do have such evidence, I don't know of any reason why they would want to focus on the deposit instead of the purchase price. The deposit is iffy at best and takes paying legal costs to get, not to mention it's usually not going to pay for the costs of the escrow period. The purchase price, once you get it, makes those costs stop, and it's a lot more probable than getting that deposit.

What the lender is looking for (absent evidence of impending fraud) is two things: Evidence of borrower ability to repay the loan, and evidence that they'll get their investment back if the borrower defaults. It is to this end that lenders require an appraisal from a licensed appraiser who has some demonstrated ability to (insurance or a bond) to repay them if the property does not, in fact, possess that value. Now, here's the kicker: If the appraisal is too low, you can pretty much bet that any lender on earth will reject that loan. There really isn't a need for a separate appraisal contingency, and if I and my buyer clients don't see the value in the property, we're not making an offer in the first place. Even in those rare instances of "all cash" purchases, that appraisal should be nothing more than a confirmation for the lender of something I and my buyer client already know. I'm willing to counsel my buyer client to offer that much because I believe that property is worth that much for their purposes. If they're intending to "flip" the property, we should both have looked at that situation and decided we're comfortable with it before making an offer. If my client intends to hold the property some number of years, that appraisal has absolutely zero bearing on what it will be worth at some indefinite date in the future. And even if they are that rare "all cash" buyer, if the value isn't there in front of your own eyes to justify that price, why did they and their agent make that offer? Therefore, there really isn't a good reason for a buyer or a competent agent who knows what they're doing to object to dropping the appraisal contingency. When I'm listing a property, I'm very cognizant of the fact that insisting upon an appraisal contingency is a sign of an uncommitted buyer, overly cautious or overly opportunistic, who's insisting on having everything exactly their way and is likely to chip and chisel at every opportunity. Such a buyer is also likely to bolt at the first chance of a better deal. It's also usually a sign of an agent who doesn't understand the process covering themselves in CYA to a pointless degree, because they should explain it to their client when the issue comes up if not before. This kind of agent is analogous to someone who calls themselves a paratrooper because they wear a parachute - even though they've never actually used it and have no intention of making a jump. Both such a buyer and such an agent are signs of a deal that's likely to not get consummated.

Just like sellers and everyone else involved, buyers would really like a nice smooth transaction that moves from fully negotiated purchase contract to complete consummation as quickly as possible without bumps, burps, or deal killers. There will be bumps in some transactions that can't really be avoided, but most bumps are caused by problem personalities on one side or the other of a transaction. Unfortunately for sellers, there's a lot more information on their attitudes (and those of the listing agent!) in a typical listing than there is information on the buyers and their agent in a typical offer. Don't raise the barriers to a successful transaction any higher than you need to - and don't let your listing agent do so, either. Quite a lot of them will insist upon useless pre-qualifications and pre-approvals from their favorite loan officer. Not only is requiring someone to patronize a particular third party in this manner steering, and therefore illegal under RESPA, but it doesn't do you any good on determining whether or not they actually will qualify for the loan, and this notation can warn potential buyers with competent agents off your property until that property has been on the market so long that you're desperate. Listing agents will often insist for no good reason "seller to select all services." What's going on is that they want to select all services so that certain specific title and escrow companies are happy with them. You didn't tell them you wanted to select the services, did you? Even if you did, the law is quite clear that it is subject to negotiation, not that this stops that sort of agent. Wander into their office at random intervals, demand a listing agent copy of your property listing (What an agent sees has significantly more information than what a potential buyer sees, but you are entitled to such on your own property) and if it has any of these notations, fire that agent and their brokerage immediately. You've got all the justification you need in the fact that they're not only violating the law, but your best interests as well.

Now that we've gone over what sellers need, let's look at what seller's want. As any good salesperson knows, wants are far more important to making a sale than needs. People are funny that way, and one of the harder parts of a good buyer's agent's job is keeping the actual needs front and center with the wants. Most people would not believe how many buyers will ignore faults that will cause them to hate this property in about two months in favor of really neat, but unnecessary amenities.

What buyers want is the perception of a bargain. Notice I didn't say they want the bargain - but they do want to believe that the property is the best bargain they could have bought for the price they could afford. Quite often, the appearance is more important than the actuality, and I've certainly experienced more than a few people who thought they got a deal and couldn't wait to brag to me - but here's the kicker: They never want to hear the evidence against the brag they're trying to make - and there's always evidence against as well as evidence for. Every last negotiating coup I've pulled off had evidence on the other side - that's what a good negotiator uses to convince the other side to deal. If they don't want to hear the evidence against, that's a pretty good indication it's stronger than the evidence for, and that they didn't get a very good bargain.

One of the ways in which this manifests is buyer behavior. If your property is more expensive than another one that's essentially similar, those buyers are not going to want your property. You have to convince those buyers that there is a rational reason why they should want to pay more for your property than for the competing properties. If you cannot do this, your property will sit unsold. This is the reason every competent agent in the known universe counsels against overpricing a property. It's not like all the sellers in your local MLS receive offers in turn, strictly in accordance with order of listing the property for sale. Quite predictably, buyers make offers upon the properties that are most attractive to them at a given price. If you cannot convince your own agent that the property is more valuable than the competing properties, that agent is doing you a favor by telling you to reduce the price. I guarantee that not only that your agent will be kinder than any prospective buyers will be, but that they're trying to save you money as well. It's always a balancing act between too expensive to interest anyone, and not expensive enough so that you lose money you could have gotten. But remember that it's the appearance of a deal than most buyers want, far more than the actuality. Most have no clue what stuff costs and how easy or difficult it is to accomplish a given upgrade. They only know that they didn't have to deal with accomplishing it, and for that, they're willing to pay quite a lot under the right circumstances. A good agent will help you with all of this.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

(This is a companion article to What Buyers Need: What Sellers Should Want to Supply)

Quite often, I hear people talking about the real estate market as if it's all some amorphous blob, and buyers and sellers are no more different than they are in the stock or bond market, or for that matter, people using the bank to make deposits or withdrawals.

I cannot agree with this concept. Real Estate is not liquid, and real estate is not commoditized, and in the absence of some future world government building precisely one identical housing unit with precisely the same environment for everybody, I daresay it never will be. Since the chance of the rulers of that government limiting themselves and their cronies to the same housing everyone else has are nil, you can take it from there.

Let's ask: What do sellers need? Cash, the universal problem solver. As much of it as possible. Why? Because there is something about this property that no longer fits their needs, and it would be more trouble, and more cash than it's worth, to change the property. If it was cost effective to convert the property to the configuration desired, nobody in their right mind would want to go through the process of a real estate transaction twice in order to sell this one and buy something else. The only thing they can really transfer from this property to that next one is the equity. More equity means they owe less on the next property, they can afford a better property, or they have more money left over after buying the next property. Most sellers want more money than is possible or likely, going to far as to shoot themselves in critical locations in pursuit of it. If they are not ready to be rational about it, there is nothing you can do to force them. You can decide you want the property bad enough to pay the extra or you can move on to other properties. Of course, in the former case, the property wasn't really overpriced, was it?

There is nothing sellers want so much as as much cash as possible. If the transaction doesn't get completed, they don't get their cash at all - so if the transaction doesn't complete, they don't get any of what they really want: cash. In fact, they spend cash for every day that property is on the market, or in the process of the transaction. Even if you don't understand this, whether you're a buyer, a seller, or an agent, you had better act as if you do. Even if they're in a short sale or other distress situation, time is important to sellers. I would rather have no offer than an offer a buyer cannot or will not make good on. Every day that property sits unsold costs that seller money - and this time does not end with entry into escrow and a pending sign. It ends only with a successful sale.

When sellers enter into a purchase contract, they are essentially closing down the prospects of any other buyer. A real estate purchase contract gives one particular buyer the sole and exclusive right to purchase that property until it is properly terminated. It not only gives that buyer the right to buy that property, it requires the owner to sell it to them on specified terms. If someone else comes along and offers a better deal, the current owner is not free to take that deal - they are contractually bound to the existing one.

Buyers therefore need to convince property owners of two very important things: First, that theirs is the best offer that the sellers are likely to receive. Second: That they are capable of consummating this transaction, as proposed, in a timely fashion with as few uncertainties as possible. Exactly what tradeoff between these two will be optimal will vary from seller to seller, according to their situation, and buyers should be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of their offer. Many listing agents want to take this way too far, into the illegal territory of steering, but their client, the seller, does have a legitimate need to know that prospective buyers can consummate this transaction in a timely fashion. That seller is making a decision whether to grant a buyer credit, just the same as the lender. They are entitled to ask for information that paints a coherent picture of the prospective buyer in fact being able to carry through on their end of the transaction. Sellers are not entitled to steer the transaction, and unless they're agreeing to a carryback loan, they are not entitled to information of a level sufficient to enable identity theft, but they are entitled to ask for and receive information as regards actual FICO score, verified income, current debts, source of down payment. In other words, an attestation where the person making it can be held accountable for any misstatements. The average pre-qualification and pre-approval letters are a joke - not worth the paper they are printed on. I do them because lazy and irresponsible listing agents ask for them, and it's easier (and more profitable for my clients) to comply than argue them out of it. But the seller's issues become the buyer's issues, because if the prospective buyer cannot convince the seller that this is the best offer they're likely to get, the seller won't agree to sell to them.

One more thing sellers want. Actually, both sides want this: a nice smooth transaction, that moves from accepted offer to consummated transaction without any problems, hangups, or deal killers. If there's anybody who's willing to stand up and say they want all of these obstacles, I've certainly never met them. Here's the issue: Even the biggest problem personality in the known universe wants a smooth transaction. It's just that their definition is where they proceed to chip and chisel away further concessions the entire time. When a good agent submits an offer, they want it to move as quickly as possible and without the need for any further negotiations to a consummated transaction. Ditto a good listing agent on the counteroffer. Every time there are further negotiations, there is the possibility that intransigence on someone's part send the whole transaction south, and the reason you agreed to that contract in the first place was that you thought it was a good bargain to be making, and therefore, you should want it to close. There are good reasons why there are further negotiations after the contract on most transactions, but there shouldn't be multiple sessions, let alone one every couple of days when the other side thinks of something else they want.

Unfortunately, there is no method known to man that can guarantee to detect such twits before entering escrow. A good agent can know what the signs are, and at least as important, what they are not, but sometimes the warning signs aren't there, and sometimes they are there for someone who really is going to play it straight. The only real way to deal with these twits is upon confirmation of their nature. You don't want to refuse any transaction that very well might lead to a consummated sale, but you do need to be prepared to exit the transaction when such twits reveal their true nature, and if you don't understand when and how to do it, a good agent will really save your bacon - from a suit for specific performance, and paying their legal fees as well as your own.

Needless to say, you don't want to be one of these problem personalities either. So when you agree to a contract, it should be with full intent of carrying through on exactly the terms agreed - no chiseling allowed, only specific solutions for concrete issues that happen despite anyone's best efforts. The best way of preventing problems later is to come to an agreement in the first place which the other side should be pleased to honor.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

do you agree that a non recourse loan on a single family home is loaned with out financial risk to the borrower... if they do not want to keep their home when the market drops below what they owe, they can walk away with immunity to any financial loss & the most the lender can do is take back the home, & if the borrower has made all their payments on time & have returned the home in the same condition as when they moved in, their credit will not be negatively, by the lender??? my reference is http://wwlaw.com/forecl.htm

Yes, it is true that purchase money loans are largely non-recourse in California. However, I do not agree that there is no financial consequence.

First off, there are credit repercussions for up to ten years. Among other things, this will make it more difficult for the buyer to rent the next property they will live in, as well as making it more difficult to obtain financing on the next property they want to purchase, when they really are ready to join the grown-up world.

Second, just because the lender cannot seek a deficiency judgment does not mean that the IRS will not tax them for debt forgiveness. If the lender loses $50,000 in debt forgiveness, they will report it to the IRS, because they want that deduction from income. The IRS will then tax the now former owner whatever tax would be due upon the residence. Income from debt forgiveness is ordinary income, and it is fairly likely to boost the taxpayer up in tax bracket in such a case. So now they have to come up with thousands of dollars. If they had those thousands of dollars, they probably wouldn't have lost the property. So now the IRS is looking for other ways to get their money: attaching wages, confiscating other property, etcetera.

I should also note that there are significant exceptions to the law limiting deficiency judgments for purchase money loans. Fraud is one such limitation; if the buyer had to state more income than they in fact make, that would certainly prove to be an interesting case. I didn't do it, but that doesn't mean it never happens. Furthermore, just because the buyer doesn't fall into one of the exceptions does not mean the lender will not contend in court that they do. The law doesn't actually prevent the lender from seeking a deficiency judgment; what it says is that they're not entitled to one if certain conditions hold. Proving that proposition in court is expensive, and the lender can always hope that you simply default by not showing up or something similar.

There are very definitely negative consequences. Buying a property is a complex decision, and should not be done lightly, on the basis of "Walk away if it doesn't work out." The consequences, even if not direct, spread out like ripples in a pond when you drop in a stone. Real estate is a fantastic investment, properly approached. With the tax code and the way leverage works, among other things, it trivially beats anything of equivalent risk for potential reward, or alternatively, beats anything of equal potential for reward as far as low risk. But that risk is not and never will be zero. Indeed, it cannot be. Real estate isn't liquid, and you never get to play with someone else's money risk free. Those are two of the many reasons why you need competent professionals on your side.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

From an email:


I was in the process of buying and selling the house when we saw a FSBO house we liked was for sale. But sale fell through, which is a good thing anyway because of contigency on our house. But I also suspected it failed because the seller refuses to pay commission to our buyer agent.

My question is that this real estate agent that would represent us as a listing agent is also a buyers agent. However, I had another friend look into the contract and the buyer's agent agreement is valid until December 31, 2005. So that means anytime we find a house, he will be paid? We do the work to find a house and he gets paid? It didn't strike to me as ethical or fair. It will simply takes us off the real estate market until January 1, 2006 when we can start all over with a clean slate. Correct?

We don't think it should've been in effect until December 31. It should be in effect only for that FSBO house we liked, and if the deal falls through, then his job as a buyer's agent also stops.

Am I dealing with a greedy real estate agent or is this typical?

Can I have one agent to sell our house and another agent that represents us to buy a house?

This depends upon the nature of the agreement you signed with him. I use non-exclusive buyer's agreements, which basically say that if I introduce you to the house you decide to buy ("procuring cause"), then I get paid when you buy it. Others use exclusive buyer's agreements, where they get paid no matter who finds the house.

If I have an exclusive buyer's agreement with you, then I am going to get paid on any house you buy. If I have an non-exclusive agreement, I will only get paid if I introduce you to the house, and you may have any number of non-exclusive agreements in effect as long as you are careful to inform each agent you are working with that you have previously been introduced to a given property, and therefore, any commission that takes place will be paid to the other agent. All of the forms used by California Association of Realtors state that you will pay a commission to the agent if the seller won't, so an agent has comparatively little stake in which house you buy, as long as you buy one through them. This gives them the largest possible incentive to work on your behalf, without binding you to one particular agent who rather be working with another client who came along with a bigger budget, and therefore a bigger commission in the offing. When looking for homes to show, ethical agents won't seek out a For Sale By Owner (FSBO) for reasons I go into near the bottom of this article (basically, protecting your pocketbook), but these do not apply if you, the client, choose to make an offer on a FSBO.

I suspect that you signed an Exclusive Buyer's Agent Contract with him, something I would not do unless he's providing you with lists of foreclosures or something that costs him money on an ongoing basis. Once such a thing is signed, that agent is going to get paid no matter what house you buy during the agreed upon period. I would never agree to either a listing or buyer's agents period longer than six months. This gives the agent plenty of time to sell your house or find you one. So if the agreed upon expiration is December 31, 2005, then if you buy before then, that agent will be paid - out of your pocket, if not the seller's.

There are two competing factors here. One is your desire not to pay for services not provided for this particular transaction, versus the agents desire to get paid if they actually do the work anyway. If they serve as your negotiating agent, or help expedite the transaction by providing services, they are ethically entitled to be paid whether or not they introduced you to the property. On the other hand, if all they do is obstruct, there is neither a legal nor an ethical reason why they should be paid. Depending upon the nature of their obstruction and how much it cost you, you may wish to contact an attorney to recover, or your state's Department of Real Estate

Sad to say, there are agents out there looking to line their own pockets in any way they can. A better agent wants to get paid, but realizes they will make an excellent living - better in the long term - by putting your interests first. Without more evidence, I cannot say for certain, but it appears at first glance that this agent had you sign an exclusive buyer's agent agreement in order to represent you in a transaction you found. I am not aware of any regulation prohibiting this, but it does seem like it's excessive from a neutral viewpoint. It is probably not voidable, however.

There are standard California Association of Realtors (CAR) forms for both exclusive and non-exclusive buyer's agents agreements, and this applies in every state I'm aware of. Look up at the title of your copy. If it says "Exclusive", you are stuck with this person. If it says "Non-exclusive" you may do business with anyone you please, as it applies only to those properties this particular agent works on. Of course, many agents and brokers use non-standard forms for this, as the standard CAR forms are readable and understandable by anybody. If they want to throw curves, non-standard forms are one of the best ways to do it.

As to whether you are dealing with a greedy agent or if this is typical, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. As in all sales occupations, the idea of locking up your business creates powerful motivations for them to have you sign exclusive agreements. There are nonetheless, people such as myself who feel that if I am not helping you, I don't deserve to be paid, and let someone else have a shot. But if I've got an exclusive agreement with you, I should be providing daily foreclosure lists, copies of all new listings with personal feedback from having visited, or at least something that goes above and beyond sitting on my hands.

Many agents want you to sign an exclusive buyer's agent agreement before they do anything else. Unless you're getting something special out of it, you shouldn't sign one at all. Offer to sign a non-exclusive buyer's agent agreement - that way you have leverage over them, not them over you. They are motivated to work for you and find you a property that is attractive to you at a price you want to pay, because if they don't, someone else will. Even the best agent can't find stuff that doesn't exist, like a 3 bedroom home in La Jolla for $250,000, but if it does exist I'm going to work to find it first, and I will get paid for it because our agreement says I will get paid if I introduce you to it. If you have signed an exclusive agreement, there is no particular hurry for them to help you.

Finally, listing agreements for sale are (in general) individual agreements for a particular piece of property for a particular period of time. As long as there is no more than one listing agreement per property in effect at a time, you can have any number of different agents for sales, even if you have signed an exclusive buyer's agreement for purchases. Furthermore, I would never consider using the listing agent as my buyer's agent - all the agents legal responsibilities point towards the seller in such a case.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

First, I just got engaged, and my fiancee and I have been discussing what we want in a house after we get married. It will be the first house for both of us. She spent the last two years living with her parents to pay down her credit card debt.

So she doesn't have a current rental history. Given that she makes more than I do, if we purchase together, my understanding is she will be the primary borrower. Thanks to your site, I've figured out what I can afford without her, and it isn't what we are looking for.

My questions are:

1. Are lenders going to be reluctant to loan to us if she doesn't have a recent rental history? If so, how much time would a lender require.

2. Once we figure out when we are going to be ready to buy, how early is too soon to get a buyer's agent and start looking?

Yes, lenders are more reluctant to lend to you with insufficient rental history. What they are looking for there is a verifiable history of making regular payments for housing.

Used to be, A paper lenders wanted two years history of making housing payments on time, and might have waived it down to twelve months in some cases. Sub-prime generally wanted the same two years, but it's pretty easy to get it waived down to one year, and occasionally possible to get it way down. Three months in one loan I did about two years ago. All the way down to zero? Probably not.

For a while, with the general loosening in underwriting requirements, this had largely gone by the wayside. One of my favorite A paper wholesalers called as I was originally writing the article, and I asked him about Verification of Rent, and he said "We just don't require it any more unless there's something fishy about the situation." Basically, it's up to the underwriter and whether they make it a requirement for the loan. With the way the investor market has changed due to recent losses, Verification of Rent (aka VOR) has become more important again, but it's one of the few things they will still consider waiving if the rest of your credit and financial picture is strong enough. You can never count on getting it waived, but if you're strong enough otherwise, it does still happen.

There are potential ways to satisfy the requirement, even if they're being a stickler. If your fiancee has been paying rent to her folks, it's likely that the lender will accept canceled checks for six to twelve months as evidence that she has been paying rent. In the case of family situations like this, they want to see real solid evidence of the rent payments being made on time, they want to see that the checks were written and cashed at appropriate times, and they will not, generally speaking, accept a family member's word for it unsupported by paperwork. When you're renting an apartment or something from an unrelated third party, that third party has no particular motivation to paint your situation as being better than it is and they will usually accept that person's word.

I've seen people advocate this as an application for a stated income loan (when stated income loans were available) , where you qualify as a lone individual, but state your income as being enough to qualify for the property and necessary loan that you want. The thinking goes that combined, you make the money, and it's only the fact of some "obnoxious administrative rules" that you can't use her income to qualify. That much is true enough, and that such rules were relaxed when the article was originally written was one thing in their favor. However, it's still lying on a mortgage application (i.e. fraud), and that lender can make life very sticky for you if they should desire to. For one thing, you are de facto using her income to qualify for the loan without giving them a chance to scrutinize her credit record. For another, it's very possible that stating enough income is something the underwriter will challenge (which will happen if you go over the 75th percentile for your occupation), at which point you're not going to get the loan. I wouldn't want to do it without notifying the lender's representative in writing as to what was going on, and it's unlikely that they would approve and fund a loan under such circumstances, but doing otherwise is fraud. I'm sure everyone is all excited by the prospect of doing business with a loan provider who's "only a little bit crooked," right? Finally, stated income is not available from anywhere I am aware of at this update, and new regulations actually prohibit it in a lot of situations. Even if not prohibited, there's a lot less willingness on the behalf of lenders to accept stated income loans, and when they eventually return, expect them to only allow a much lower loan to value ratio, necessitating a larger down payment than most people have, especially for a first time purchase. Plus, of course, the rate is going to be much higher, impacting your debt to income ratio and therefore, your ability to qualify for a given property. Finally, none of the various government programs to help encourage home ownership has ever accepted a loan done on a stated income basis.

There is one issue I haven't dealt with that relates to all of this: Payment shock. The idea behind payment shock is that you're used to living on so much money, and people (in the aggregate) strongly tend towards living the same lifestyle over time. Payment shock becomes an issue when your new payments for housing (loan, taxes, insurance, etcetera) are a certain percentage more than you are used to paying for that same thing (rent, in your case). How much more varies from lender to lender and even according to circumstances. For instance, many sub-prime lenders will take into account all of the bills you are paying off in a refinance. Exactly what percentage increase triggers the "payment shock" used to be lender specific, but of late Fannie and Freddie have instituted payment shock guidelines.

When payment shock is a factor, they are going to require you to have some cash reserves somewhere. Typically, it's two to three months PITI, or principal, interest, taxes and insurance, on your new loan. It generally needs to be in checking, savings, non-restricted investment accounts - some form where you can get to it, not IRAs and 401s, which have restrictions on access. This needs to be left over after your down payment, closing costs, etcetera. So even though you are not making a down payment on the property (difficult currently unless you're buying with a VA loan), you can need to have the money to do so available to you.

Payment shock is one of those things that can make a situation look fishy. If you are trying to avoid payment shock requirements and state that you are paying an amount of rent that is clearly above market rates, they will want to verify it. Can you say, "Out of the frying pan and into the fire?"

Caveat Emptor

Original Article here

I thought I'd share this with you as an example of the sort of mind set to beware. This is a real email I received, with identifying information redacted.

I found you through the DELETED web site and I thought you might appreciate the following idea for GENERATING MORE REFINANCE BUSINESS:

What would happen if you sent the following email to your email list of former and prospective clients?

====================================

Subject: OWN YOUR HOME FREE AND CLEAR IN 8-11 YEARS

Dear (former or prospective client):

We recently found an interesting 23 minute video on the web that shows you how to Bring MORE MONEY into your Life, OWN YOUR HOME FREE AND CLEAR IN 8-11 YEARS - instead of 30 years, AND SAVE 66% in Total Mortgage Interest. The video is about a computer program called the DELETED (May be a proprietary name). You can view this video by copying either of the addresses below into your browser and press "Enter":

CLICK --> (DELETED!) <-- CLICK

(Please Note: Your default video player will play the video, and your browser will stay blank.)

If you like the idea of bringing more money into your life, if would like to own your home FREE AND CLEAR in 8-11 years - instead of 30 years, and if you would like to save about 66% in total mortgage interest, get back to me at (123) 456-7890. We can make it happen for you.

Best regards,

(They had the gall to sign my name to this abomination!)

Here's WHAT YOU GET OUT OF THIS as a mortgage broker:

If your client wants to go ahead, a HELOC (DM: Home Equity Line of Credit) is required to implement the program, so they will need YOU to arrange an "Advanced" (Home Equity) Line of Credit for them (earning you a fully disclosed HELOC fee). Plus, you will Earn a $900 to $1500 fully disclosed commission for each DELETED you arrange, depending on your cumulative sales of the DELETED Program. All you do is help your client save tens of thousands of dollars (or more) in mortgage interest. They can also pay off credit card and other debts more quickly at the lower (HELOC) interest rate, and be guided step-by-step to become DEBT FREE.

This MMA program is a great RELATIONSHIP BUILDER. It will stimulate discussion with your clients and get you MORE REFINANCE BUSINESS.

....................................................

As an alternative, if you don't want to send out special emails like this, you certainly talk with people every day who decide NOT to refinance, or NOT to refinance with you. What if you were to ask "one more question"?

FOR EXAMPLE: "By the way, if you don't want to refinance, I know of a way you can bring more money into your life AND own your home FREE AND CLEAR in 8-11 years - instead of 30 years, and save about 66% in total mortgage interest, WITHOUT REFINANCING. Would you like to know HOW to do this? (Yes/No)

(If yes): "Point your browser to DELETED. This will play a 23 minute video that explains how the DELETED works. Will you watch the video? As soon as you've watched it, call me, OK?"

....................................................

Some clients should not have a HELOC because they do not have the financial discipline to handle easy access to credit responsibly. The factor of financial discipline could be part of your discussion with the client.

In any event, the above email gets you into direct contact with clients you would otherwise NOT connect with, without bringing up the subject of refinancing their loan. This allows you to assess and attempt to meet the client's needs in a perceived context of genuine service.

Sounds good? Get back to me at DELETED for more information and to get started!

Best regards - for increasing prosperity all around,

NAME AND CONTACT DELETED TO PROTECT THE GUILTY

Offer some brokers a way to make money, and they won't care if it hoses their clients. Others just won't examine the program, because it looks like it helps clients while it makes them money, although in fact it does not help clients.

Their web video wouldn't run, and I wasn't going to lower my computer's security settings for SPAM. But I found their information elsewhere. It's an accelerator program combined with a debt consolidation program. It wasn't much work at all to find.

Lowlights include:

$3500 sign up fee for something that should be free, as it cuts the lender's risk factors significantly. Furthermore, as I wrote in Debunking the Money Merge Account Scam, this cost is literally never recovered, even if you keep the loan until paid off. You will pay the loan off sooner if you simply take the $3500 sign up fee and use it for a one-time direct paydown on the mortgage.

Multi-level marketing scheme. I sign up other folks to sell it, I get paid for their production. Now there is nothing intrinsically wrong with multi-level marketing, but it does serve to inflate costs. Sometimes it is less expensive than retailer's inventory carrying costs and marketing costs, but for financial services it is a dead give away that something is not right here because there are no inventory costs, and they're certainly spending enough money on marketing - $900 to $1500 commission plus over-rides per program sold. What a beautiful idea, to get the suckers to pay for your marketing!

Unrealistically low mortgage balances, and outrageously high assumptions of extras payments under the program. This has the effect of magnifying the apparent benefits. It posits extra payments on the order of what it would take to pay off the loan normally in ten years. In reality, if you could afford that level of payments, you'd have a ten year mortgage or a more expensive house. Your average total benefits will be half a months interest savings on anything deposited. So if you deposit your entire $5000 paycheck and you have a $2000 mortgage payment, that's about half a months interest on $3000. At 6%, that's about $7.50 per month gain. Certainly not worth all the hoopla, is it? Definitely not worth thousands of dollars in sign up fees, not to mention the costs of that Home Equity Line of Credit. Considering the costs involved, you'd do better to ignore the program (which has a monthly cost of more than that), and just send the lender $10 extra per month. As a matter of fact, most of the increased benefits these programs claim has to do with the bank retaining a certain amount that they claim you just end up not spending - and I can do better than 6%, even net of taxes, with that money if I invest it elsewhere. If you can't do better than 6% elsewhere, just add whatever you want to your regular monthly payments when you send your lender their money, and ask them to apply it to principal. You will come out ahead. Not to mention I don't have to take out a second or refinance to get money out of investment accounts if I decide to do something else with it!

And that's the real kicker. There is no benefit to these programs that mortgage consumers cannot do cheaper or better themselves. The real benefits obtained by these programs are comparatively small, and in no way justify sign up expenses of hundreds to thousands of dollars, or monthly fees above $1 or so. Don't waste your money. If your lender will give you one of these for free, that's one way to get five extra dollars or so applied to your loan principal per month. If they want to charge you, don't waste your money on the sign up or the monthly fees. Instead, add whatever the program's fees are to whatever amount you would ordinarily pay, and you'll be ahead of the game.

I keep saying this because it is true: mortgage lenders do not want to compete on price, so they will try offering all kinds of bells and whistles that might appear to be neat stuff but are really a distraction from what's really important. Some very big names are trying to use these to sell much higher rates than people would otherwise be able to get, by distracting people with this shiny new toy of Mortgage Accelerator Programs that don't make nearly the difference that some folks say they do. Take your time and do the math. If you can save a fraction of a percent on the interest rate, or even just cut your closing costs by a thousand dollars because the other lender's trade-off between rate and cost is a little better, you'll be better off going to the other lender. Mortgage Accelerator Programs like this are an expensive waste of your money.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

This woman made herself a victim


stayed in a hotel for 7 weeks looking for my "Dream Home." And, when I found it, even though it wasn't in my price range, I knew I would do anything I could to get it. I was vulnerable, emotional and became a victim.

Actually, that is not quite accurate - I made myself a victim.

First mistake: shopping outside your price range. Assuming that you get it, the bottom line is that you are going to have to make the payments, every month, from here on out. I can get you the loan, any competent loan officer can get you the loan (or at least we could when the article was originally written), but I would not even look at any home not in my price range. First, it's a useless exercise. You can't afford it. Why torture or tempt yourself? Second, the reason it's outside your price range is because it has something extra. So it's going to be more attractive to the average buyer than the ones you should be looking at. Many agents will capitalize on this by showing you such a property, knowing that a large percentage will fall in love with the property right there, and bingo, they've got a higher commission for an easy sale. Despite their highly touted "code of ethics" the proportion of Realtors® who do this is every bit as high as non-realtor agents. Ditto (if not worse) for every highly advertised national chain. "Well, it's just a little bit. I can handle the extra." Demand to know the asking price before you agree to view the property, and if it is outside your range, refuse to go. Fire any agent who suggests this to you more than once. I'd fire them the first time, myself.

Being self-employed, (actually at the time, I was on disability from hand surgery), the only loan I could qualify for was a Stated Income Loan. That's where you just tell them what you make, and it is not verified except through two years old tax records and your FICO score

This is not correct. You do sign an IRS 4506 form, but the whole idea behind a stated income loan is that the bank agrees not to verify your income. Maybe the lender wanted her to feel psychologically more comfortable, or something, but if you can show the income on current tax returns that's not a stated income loan - it's full documentation. And the lenders don't care what you made four years ago - they want documentation for what your making to be as current as possible - starting now and going back maybe two years. For Stated Income loans (no longer available anywhere I'm aware of at this update), they verify only that you have a source of income, and the amount you claim you make must be reasonable for someone in your profession in your area. If you can show income via two years of tax returns, that is a full documentation loan, and you get better rates (See this for information on documenting income). However, documenting income via tax returns is tougher because whereas the bank loves doing it, the number they will accept is the number that is after all the write-offs, often a significantly lower number. This is the reason for the stated income loan in the first place. Many business people, particularly small business people, are earning a heck of a good living but they find legal ways to pay for most of it with before tax dollars that they then are actually able to deduct. So they're living as if they make $10,000 per month, which they do, but the tax return only shows $3000 per month. Stated Income is intended to serve this niche, not the niche of people on weekly paychecks who don't really make enough money to justify this loan. Stated Income loans have, since the article was originally written, been essentially banned - something that's really hurting a lot of self-employed businessfolk.

six months later, when the interest rate changed, my payment went up. But I still had some disability money, so I didn't think about it - I just knew work would come.

What she is saying here is that she had to accept a short-term adjustable rate mortgage in order to get a rate low enough to qualify. Or that she was sold one on the basis of "low payment" and she didn't bother to check the fine print.

There are loan officers and real estate agents and realtors out there who make one heck of a living off the fact that people buy loans (and homes) on the basis of payment. They have short-term "interest only" and even negative amortization loans out there. During the Ear of Make Believe Loans, some agents and loan officers were doing 75% or more of their business in negative amortization loans. You should never buy a home with a negative amortization loan; it's a good way to get yourself in serious trouble. Of all the home loans I've done (and I've done a lot of loans) I've never seen a situation where I would recommend it on a purchase and the only negative amortization refinance I tried the loan was turned down by five lenders even though it met the written guidelines.

Look for terms that are going to be stable for at least a couple of years, preferably five, particularly if this is your first time in a home or the payments are going to be near the upper edge of what you're comfortable with.

I:

• Did not shop lenders (I felt I wasn't in a position to).

• Did not tell the truth about my income.

• Took the first loan they offered me.

• Didn't read the fine print.

• Did not fix a budget and stick to it.

• Bought way too much house.


Fact: If anybody tells you not to shop lenders, what they are really telling you is that their loans are not competitive and that they are afraid of the competition. The National Association of Mortgage Brokers got a law through congress a few years ago that all the mortgage inquiries within a thirty day period count as one inquiry on your credit report, so it no longer hurts your credit score to shop around.

There are issues out there with loan providers who will tell you with a Good Faith Estimate or, in California, Mortgage Loan Disclosure Statement, that they can do the loan on a given set of terms when they have no intention of and no ability to actually deliver those terms. Certainly the HUD 1 form at the end of the loan process is nothing like the earlier form. Furthermore, many loan providers cannot or will not deliver within a stated time frame, which is critical when you're buying, and still important when you are refinancing. So look for someone who's going to stand behind their quote with something that says they mean it.

(It's hard for anyone you'll actually be able to talk to to use the word "guarantee" with regards to a loan. It's not just loan providers who pull unethical tricks. People attempt fraud regularly. Furthermore, there are "nobody's fault" impediments that happen regularly, and they always change the transaction. That property doesn't appraise for enough value is probably the most common. Only an underwriter can give a loan commitment, you as a loan applicant will never talk to your underwriter, and until you've got that commitment, there is no guarantee it can be done at all. So the real guarantees from a loan officer are always conditional).

Here is a List of Red Flags, real estate and loan practices that should have you running away, and here is a list of Questions to You Should Ask Prospective Loan Providers. Those who are doing business honestly should be happy to answer these sorts of questions - it gives us assurance that we're not going to be competing with somebody blowing sunshine and wet sloppy kisses at you. Because the fact that you're asking the questions means you're not going to do business with those who give you unsatisfactory answers. Finally, here is an article on What to look for at Closing, to make certain all of your due diligence paid off.

Caveat Emptor

(and I'm always happy to get suggestions for additions to the lists)

Original here

Hi Dan,

Your blogsite is great; I stumbled on it and find you very credible and knowledgeable.

I have two questions for you, if you are looking for things to write about:

1) What are your views on the DELETED area? That market is so high, and I wonder if it will follow the pattern that San Diego sets for price adjustments in the market this year. I'm looking to relocate there from San Diego, so I've started researching that market. And I thought San Diego was expensive... the DELETED area is unreal.

2) As a law student, I've had five professors mention that it's a good idea to get a broker's license in order to represent ourselves as our own buyer's agent when buying our homes (if we can ever afford to with those huge students loans to pay off!). The upside is getting back the buyer's agent commission as a sort of "rebate." To support this, a couple of professors framed the issue as roughly: "most agents you would work with only have a high school degree and a few real estate courses under their belt... and could know nothing about property law. Do it yourself, control your own contract, save a lot of money." What do you think about attorneys who get real estate licenses to represent themselves, having lots of knowledge about legal issues and contracts, but no practical experience and training?

Have a great weekend!

In theory, it's a really great idea.

In practice, unless you're out there in the market all of the time, learning all of the tricks that get played or attempted, learning what the market is actually like, etcetera, you will fall into that group of persons known by the technical description "sucker."

Some lawyers apply for their broker's license and use it constantly. Those folks do fine. They know that being an agent is not just about that subset of lawyer functions that agents are allowed to perform, and if they learn about the rest of the business and keep their finger on the pulse, they are formidable.

Those who just use it to do their own occasional transactions, on the other hand... Let's just say I've had to explain to lawyers who took that kind of professorial advice exactly how they got "taken" more than once. Loans are also the same license, but there probably isn't enough money in the average loan to interest the kind of lawyer that does well in the real estate market, and what clue do they have who are likely to be the best lenders who give the best rate for a given client if they won't spend the time learning the loan market? Truth be told, they can make more money with the same time representing those who've been raked over the coals than they can working their own transactions.

The lawyers that the good agents know about and go to when there's a question or a problem? They strongly tend to use agents and brokers for their own transactions. My last broker did half a dozen transactions in the year I worked for him for one of the best regarded real estate lawyers in town.

Your professor appears to me to be making a "does not follow" error. By the logic of "not much education", he'd be fixing a car himself, rather than using a professional mechanic. Once upon a time I was a pretty fair amateur mechanic. I haven't done more than an oil change in twenty years. I know better. These days, mechanics have to know an awful lot - it's just not reflected by a diploma or advanced degree from prestigious institutes of higher learning. They can take courses, but they've got to learn most of their profession through practical application on the job. The situation with competent real estate agents is the same.

The real problem here is confusing general education and specific expertise.

A lot of people, many of them with advanced degrees, seem to think this translates into general competence in all areas of life. Not so. That degree means you've demonstrated expertise in that one field. You can have a doctorate in mathematics, law, or any other area, and still be a babe in the woods outside of that field. In order to be a good agent, you have to spend time constantly keeping up with the state of the market - there aren't any schools except experience for what a good agent needs to know. If you think a given property is worth less than it is, no transaction. If you think it's worth more, your client is wasting money.

It's true that some agents are just barely high school graduates. Others have MBAs. More important than level of education, more important than how much business they do, more important even than experience, is attitude. Just as important as attitude is market knowledge. And right up there with both of them is negotiating skill in the context of real estate. None of these three skills is certified by a law degree, passing the bar, or anything else in the way of formal schooling.

The result? Lawyers who work at real estate make formidable agents and brokers. Lawyers who get their broker's license because they think they're going to save themselves money by doing their own transaction are fooling themselves. The amounts at stake in real estate are large enough that items which are small differences relative to the size of the entire transaction are nonetheless, significant amounts of money. Getting paid all of a three percent cooperating broker's concession can end up costing you ten percent easily, if you don't understand the market or any of a dozen other things. And that is in addition to the costs of doing real estate (MLS access, agent keys, licensing fees, etcetera) and the economic costs of the other money you could be making if you were doing what you're really trained for. Making three percent of a $750,000 transaction sounds great at first glance: $22,500 in your pocket! But look at the other side of the equation: not knowing and understanding the market meant that you paid $60,000 too much in this particular instance (to use a recent example), and the week or two of billable hours, minimum, that you exchanged for that $22,500. It could be a lot more, since you're not using an agent to preview property, either. Not using an agent to preview also means you have a lot higher chance to miss reasons not to buy a particular property, and it could very well mean you end up with the wrong property for a trivially preventable reason. On the selling side, do you know what an appropriate price is for your property in the current market? Getting it wrong has severe consequences for your sales price, or whether you sell at all. Do you know how to market the property effectively in order to appeal to your target buyers? Do you know how to present it? Do you understand how these three major factors and a host of minor ones influence your attempts to sell the property?

When you look at the whole situation, the benefits from representing yourself in a real estate transaction don't look so hot, do they?

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

Dear Mr. Melson, I was wondering if you could offer some insight re: the other side of the equation: what to do *after* you've bought a vampire property.

We bought one, quite by accident, despite a house inspection by a certified inspector and an additional mechanical inspection. Turns out we had a huge lemon. It was a combination of inexperience and bad luck. Some things were hidden really well. The owners were drug addicts, and their agent spent $6000 making the place look nice (we learned this upon closing, when we saw that $6000 of the profit was being paid to the agent on top of her fee). For the things that were more obvious, we thought the costs of fixing them wouldn't be as bad as they were, and our inspector didn't do a very good job of explaining his findings and their implications. The mechanical inspection was a joke. Our agent didn't represent our interests very well. And we were stupid, too caught up in the process to understand the red flags. Despite some poor representation, we blame ourselves.

We're not going to pursue a lawsuit with deadbeats since collection notices for their accounts continue to come to our house. So I guess I'd like to hear a professional perspective on how to handle a house like ours. Yes, we're looking into more work and income, but we have some limitations in that arena. We can't be the only idiots! If you have any suggestions, I'm sure there are a lot of us who'd appreciate it.

This is why I emphasize the importance of education and prevention. I am once again embarrassed on behalf of my profession, and offer you loads of sympathy, but there is no way to make it not happen. Unfortunately, this kind of scenario is all too common. People get caught up in the emotion of the fact that they're Buying a House! That We Will Own! It will Be Our Very Own! and then, because they were so caught up in the emotions of the moment to really examine the situation, they ended up buying a Vampire Property that gets its fangs into your wallet and sucks it dry. Repeatedly.

Indeed, a very large proportion of my profession makes a habit of building those emotions specifically so that you won't examine the situation. Not so much that they're intentionally trying to mess with folks, just that they don't care. They want a fast, easy transaction that results in a commission check, and they just don't care very much what happens after that.

I encourage everyone who reads this site to test their Buyer's Agent for attitude. Anybody can point out nice things in a property. But the true test of the attitude you want your Buyer's Agent to have is "Are they willing to say bad things about a property?" If they don't volunteer downsides about pretty much every property they show you, you should fire them. You want a buyer's agent who works in your best interest, not one who is looking for an easy sale. You don't get easy sales by talking about downsides of property, but you do get clients who go in with their eyes open and are generally much happier down the line.

Properties that are real bargains are never perfect. Actually, there's no such thing as a perfect property. Even if it really is in perfect condition instead of a vampire, odds are overwhelming that it will be overpriced. That's why the current owners put all that work into it: They want some innocent suckers to come along and plonk down way too much money because the property is "Just soooo beautiful!"

Now, as to your situation. You're right not to sue the broke deadbeats - sue those alleged professionals who did not represent your interests despite being paid to do so. To wit, the inspector and your buyer's agent brokerage. Depending upon your state law, it may be that you even have a good shot at the listing agent and their brokerage. It's one thing if they honestly didn't know about the property's faults, but it's quite a different thing to spend $6000 hiding problems. That evidence is likely to put a good strong bit of presumption on your side. Talk to a lawyer.

Not an optimal solution, but the reason I'm so big on education before hand and preventative measures is that once it's done, there is no going back to the way things were before. A lawsuit takes a long time, and doesn't make it all better, but it may give you some of the wherewithal so that you can make it better yourselves. In the meantime, of course, you're miserable.

Now the neighborhood must have been attractive to you, and odds are that you can improve the situation with some work. It might not be wonderful, but you probably have a property you can live in while dealing with the problems as you get the time and money to do so. "Make the best of the situation" is a rotten thing to be telling someone who thought they were getting their dream home, but we're all adults in the real world here. It's going to take time and money and a lot of work and it isn't going to be pleasant, but you can almost certainly improve your situation if you make the effort.

For Buyer's agents, it really is all about attitude. I can teach newer agents everything I know about construction and negotiations and all that agent stuff a million times easier than I can teach attitude. It's about being willing to walk in and tell people "Don't buy this POS, let me find you something better," instead of trying to sell every property. That's the listing agents job. The Buyer's Agent's job is to debunk the Male Bovine Fecal Matter. It's about honest evaluation and compare and contrast the benefits and drawbacks of each property with those of similar properties, and working within the client's budget, instead of grabbing commission checks as fast as possible. Sure, I do it because I want to get paid, but when the transaction closes I want to be proud of myself, not want to take a long hot shower to get the slime off.

Preventative measures: If you know about an issue, don't take an agent's word, or an inspector's word, about what it's going to cost to fix. Get a contractor out there who's willing to give you a repair estimate during your contingency period at the latest. If someone who can fix it tells you how much they'll charge, that's better information than anything anyone else can give.

A good Buyer's Agent is not afraid to give you their best honest evaluation of the good and bad points of a property - not just for living in, but for resale when you eventually do. When I take prospects out hunting, most of them drop their jaws the first time I say something uncomplimentary about a property. How can you honestly represent someone's best interest if you won't tell them about the flaws you see? Nonetheless, many members of my profession won't. You want to avoid them, but you do need a buyer's agent whether you realize it or not. You can pretend otherwise, but it will cost you more than any possible savings.

You can sell properties by being honest about their flaws. It just takes a little more effort. And everyone except the owners of Vampire Properties are a hundred times better covered against "unhappily ever after" I don't make offers without informing my clients of every wart I see in a property. What happens if they find something else after it closes? They are going to know that it was something I had no clue about. They'll call and tell me, I'm certain, and I'll go look so as to increase my knowledge. But that will be the end of it as far as I'm concerned - they're not going to sue me. Even if they try, a good lawyer is going to tell them they're wasting their money. But they are going to know that I did my best to protect them, no matter what happens.

There is a move afoot to make being a real estate agent into being a transaction facilitator. Many agents, particularly at the big chains, are trained to make it clear that that's their job function. They are not inspectors, market evaluators, or anything else. But they simultaneously want to be paid an expert's commission. Not going to happen. If that's all you've got, disintermediation is going to eat your business for lunch. There's no reason why the same person who processes the loan can't do that for an extra $500 - as opposed to regular real estate commissions. The first question I ask discounters is why they should get paid as much as they do, because I can point to flat fee open listing services that work just as well for far less. But the average home buyer is not an expert, and is not financially equipped to undertake, or even to understand, the risk that the person at the beginning of this article was on the losing end of. The reason that I'm worth every penny of what I get paid is because I've taken the time to learn what is necessary to act as their expert, as well as coordinating the real specialists, and prevent this sort of problem before it happens.

After the above was written, I got a follow-up email:


Thanks so much for your response. I usually reply a little faster to emails, but I have a sick toddler and was in crisis mode for a couple of days. I do really appreciate your taking the time to write.

I'll talk to my husband about approaching a lawyer. I think he feels it's probably not worth the effort and money, and that given our situation, we should save what we have to fix the house. He might be correct, but we should talk to an attorney anyway.

I agree with you that it's about attitude. We asked our inspector and agent for their opinions on the house, and they both hedged. We asked because we didn't understand everything, and when we didn't get a real opinion from those folks, we tried to educate ourselves and get estimates. We didn't see the red flags, both with the house and with that type of situation.

It's a learning experience, albeit one that keeps us up at night. I'm looking for some resources/books on what to do when you're in a vampire — where to skimp or delay, where to put more effort and energy. Some of these decisions will be made for us, since things break pretty regularly. I'm also thinking of bringing in a realtor in a year or two to make suggestions (we might have to sell in 5 years) on what would make the place more appealing. If you think that's a terrible idea, I'd appreciate your thoughts.

I hope your article prevents others from making the mistakes we made. I tell everyone about what we've gone through. I know that people don't like to hear about negative things, but we want people to know that this can happen even when you think you've educated yourself & chosen good representation. In the days leading up to our closing, I had a really bad gut feeling, and I was talked out of it. People need to know that they should listen to their guts!

Not certain that it's always a good idea to listen to your gut. Allowing gut level, irrational fear to overcome reason is a recipe for disaster - or at least huddling in caves in the shadows of modern skyscrapers. But there's usually an unexamined aspect to the whole situation, that as soon as you do investigate, it becomes obvious that you were heading for the abyss, awaiting only that quintessential moment when Wile E. Coyote (Super Genius!) looks down. Since real estate transactions are so large, there are a lot of people out there hoping you don't notice the ACME logo, so that they can go their merry way with your money. Kind of like those old Medieval period maps that say, "Here be Dragons." You need a guide who, if they haven't been precisely there before, is at least a trained explorer. That's why you need someone who's determined to be the best advocate they can for you. I'll take a first time agent with the right attitude over a commission grabber with forty years of experience, every time. That newbie agent can get the guidance they need from veterans in the office. The commission grabber won't even try to spot the issues. In fact, many of them do their best to collude in covering them up, as you have unfortunately discovered.

Now, "Vampire Properties" is just a label I invented because it seemed particularly appropriate. I've never seen it used elsewhere, although it's likely that I have "independently re-invented the wheel", because it seems like such a logical, appropriate, memorable phrase in retrospect. And it's not for nothing that they say, "Experience is what you get when you didn't get what you wanted." Unfortunately, with a real estate transaction, the dollar amounts involved are large enough that this experience is more costly than just about anything else. Consider that your average automobile is maybe $20,000, and consider all the games that can be played to scam you out of a few hundred. Then multiply that by a factor of 25 for real estate. The reason why there are so many scams in real estate is because they're so profitable.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

I realized that I hadn't covered timeshares, and decided it was time.

I suppose I should define what a timeshare is, just in case. A timeshare is a property where you buy the rights to use it for a certain amount of time every year. The most typical time share is a two week period.

Timeshares are attractive to developers because they can get more money for building the same property. You might have a high-rise full of condos where the market price might be $200,000 each. But they can sell each of twenty-six timeshares for maybe $20,000 each. Because it's not such a big bite, their potential market is far wider, and more people can afford them. People are willing to pay more for vacation lodging than regular housing. For this reason as well as continuing income, developers are in love with timeshares.

Developers also make money off of the financing, and off of the monthly dues for management expenses, which are analogous to association dues in a condominium association, paid to keep the maintenance up (and usually maid service, etcetera). Furthermore, since very few lenders want to finance timeshares, the interest rate can be (and usually is) outrageous, not to mention that you should be prepared for severe interest rate sticker shock if you're financing one somewhere outside the United States. The developer can gouge because most lenders won't touch timeshares, and it's not like the buyers are going to do any better elsewhere. Title insurance companies don't like timeshares either. A lot of them won't touch timeshares.

Developers love to tell potential buyers that timeshares are an investment, because they are real estate. The fact is that timeshares are like cars - there's a large initial hit on value, the instant the transaction is final. Nor do they tend to recover. There are at least two websites that specialize in helping you sell your timeshare, because most people figure out within a year or two that they've been taken. I don't deal with them any more than I can avoid, but I have never even heard of someone recovering their investment in a timeshare (except the developers).

Sometimes the time you buy is always the same two weeks in the same unit, but this can very. Quite a few have a yearly drawing among owners of a given unit for the most desirable time frames, and a few even put all units and all owners into the same pool. Read the individual sales contract carefully for how this is accomplished. If you have or draw a time that's unusable to you, most of the same places that will help you sell the timeshare in its entirety will also help you sell or trade your time slot for the year. Nor do folks generally get back their annual cost of the unit by selling their time slot, but buying one of those yearly time slots can be a good way to buy a vacation time slot cheap if you are prudent and plan ahead.

Furthermore, of course the timeshare is always in the same place. This is great if you want to return to Honolulu every single year, but not so great if you want to go a different place every year. Many developers tout swap programs, often to swap your slot in such desirable locales as Little America for one in Tahiti. Not likely to happen, or if it does, likely to require a good deal of cash outlay in the direction of the people who bought in Tahiti.

Additional issues are that maintenance can be problematical. Since no single owner is responsible for the complete upkeep of any given unit, let alone the entire complex, the management is often lax about repairs and preventative maintenance. After all, if they put that new roof off for a year they can just pocket the money. Where even condominium owners have to deal with any problems pretty much every day, timeshare owners are there for a couple of weeks per year.

All of this is not to say that there are no happy timeshare owners. If you are going to go to Las Vegas for two weeks every year and your schedule is flexible enough that you can go no matter what time slot you end up with, more power to you, and a timeshare might be the way to go. If you need to go during the summer months because that's when the kids are out of school, or if you don't necessarily want to go there every year, not so much. I've never owned one myself, but I understand some nasty fights break out among co-owners for time slots, as well. Most people think the idea of a timeshare in Phoenix is to go there in the winter and play golf while the rest of the country is freezing, not go from perfectly acceptable weather elsewhere on July 4th to a modern day version of the La Brea Tar Pits because the temperature is 125 degrees Fahrenheit where the asphalt melts and people sink in and get trapped.

Caveat Emptor

Original here


UPDATE: Got a question:


I'm guessing by your website that you are a realtor, but maybe you can provide me into some insight about the legalities of timeshares. My husband and I have one, and like most, are not satisfied. I am willing to cut my losses, but am curious about the legal consequences of not paying the monthly dues. Is this even an area you can guide me in? Any advice would be greatly appreciated!


It varies with the laws of the jurisdiction where the property sits, but in general, failure to pay dues is grounds for foreclosure under rules not too much different than those for trust deeds. Yes, it hurts your credit as well.

I don't endorse specific providers, but you might try running "timeshare broker websites" or something similar through the search engine of your choice. You probably won't break even, but it's worth some money to get out with a clean credit record.

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