Investing in Second Trust Deeds

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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


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Ed said:


Great info on 2nds. What is the going rate these 2nd TD lenders are getting for 2nds after the 1st forecloses and they are not purchase money 2nds?


Dan Melson Author Profile Page said:

Basically nothing. The first forecloses, the second is wiped out. There is no longer a pledged asset. My understanding is that legally speaking there's still a debt, but the chances of being able to collect on it are so near zero that it might as well be zero.

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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on August 30, 2019 7:00 AM.

What Do Loan Qualification Standards Accomplish? was the previous entry in this blog.

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