November 2019 Archives

Agents rationalize this in all sorts of interesting ways, so let's just start by quoting the cold hard federal law. It's pretty damned clear:


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

Let me repeat the important part: no person shall give and no person shall accept any fee, kickback, or thing of value

Is a "business relationship" a thing of value? It seems straightforward enough - I can't find anybody who says "no" - until we're talking about prequalifying my clients with their favorite lender. Then I get all kinds of hemming and hawing about there being "no money involved," as if the relationship itself were not valuable. That lender would now have client information, the ability to contact them per that "business relationship" codified in law, and likely the ability to sell that client's information (amazing how often the ability to opt out isn't offered until after the information has already been sold). Look up the legal definitions of consideration and value: I assure you that those definitions are not restricted to transactions where money is involved.

This pretends, of course, that there might exist such a referral relationship where there's absolutely no element of "You scratch my back - I'll scratch yours" involved. I have yet to find such a relationship. I suspect that even if I were to emulate Diogenes looking for such, I would die unsuccessful. Even when I am referring folks to real estate agents elsewhere, despite the fact that I accept no referral fees, there is some possibility they will eventually refer me some business back. Even if they don't, I still get the knowledge that these folks I dealt with in some way were satisfactorily served by a competent, conscientious provider. All of these things are of value to me, and if you're a professional agent or loan officer, they should be to you, also. And the business relationship is certainly valuable to the receiver. Therefore, all of these things involve both the giving of and the receipt of value.

REALTOR Magazine

Generally, to operate an affiliated business arrangement legally, you need to:

* Disclose to consumers your interest in the affiliated company
* Tell consumers the cost of the service
* Explain there's no required use, i.e., consumers are free to go elsewhere for the service without penalty

And there's the rub. When you require that consumers use a particular service, they are not free to go elsewhere. It doesn't matter if you don't have a financial interest. The only difference if you have no financial interest is that you don't have to disclose that interest.

It is one thing if the consumer asks for a referral. Then you can tell them about any companies, any providers of services you like, so long as you disclose any financial interests you and your company may have. It is a completely different matter to require them to use your favorite loan provider - and illegal. Even "just for prequalification"

Now if you want to argue about "How do I fulfill fiduciary duty to my client by filtering out unqualified buyers rather than wasting months on transactions that will never fly," you simply need a very few pieces of information: Debt to Income Ratio, Loan to Value Ratio (which you should know yourself from the contract) Credit Score, and Cash to Close. I guarantee you this is more information than 99.9 percent of all loan officers investigate when writing a qualification testimonial. Your client is entitled to this information - they are involved in a decision as to whether to grant credit by agreeing to the purchase contract, which will cost them thousands of dollars if unsuccessful. Then take this information to anyone you choose and ask them if they could get a loan done for this borrower. You have absolutely no reason to require any potential buyer patronize any particular loan provider in order to get this information.

(Here's a letter with an example of the information required)

And here's my public service for the day, to inconvenience those ethically challenged individuals that persist in this illegal practice of requiring buyers to pre-qualify with a given lender:

report RESPA violations

You should send a written complaint describing the practice that you believe violates RESPA. The complaint should include the names, addresses and phone numbers of the alleged violators. It is preferred that you include your name and phone number in case an investigator wishes to ask further questions. You may request confidentiality. Send the complaint to:

U.S. Department of HUD
Office of RESPA and Interstate Land Sales
451 7th Street, SW, Room 9154
Washington, DC 20410

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

Having your Credit Run

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As of July 1, 2005, mortgage providers have to have explicit written authorization to run credit.

I am not certain of the political forces that made this bill, and it is still not clear to me whether this extends to non-mortgage credit providers. If it does, this is probably one of the niftiest consumer protection things to come down the pike in a long time. On the other hand, if it's limited to mortgage providers, then it's a stab at making life difficult for Internet brokerages, which may do business at a remove of thousands of miles.

An Internet broker employee is talking on the phone with a client, not physically in the client's presence. They can be some of the cheapest and best loan providers out there, if they are so minded (as I keep saying, a far more important concern is how low a provider is willing to go, not how low they can go. Internet brokerages can also be consummate ripoff artists). It becomes a real hardship on their business if they can't run credit without explicit written permission, whereas it's not a major issue with a more traditional brokerage or direct lender.

Recent changes in the business mean that this is becoming less important. Nobody is locking loans any longer before they have a loan commitment (i.e. basic underwriting approval with enumerated conditions for actually funding the loan). I still can't run your credit until I get a signed form that says you give me permission. No big deal if I'm sitting right there. A real pain if I'm in California and the client is in Florida. I'm not even certain facsimile permission (no original signature) is acceptable, as it's not something that enters into my current business. This means a delay potentially of days while the form gets back to the lender. So life for an ethical Internet broker suddenly gets a lot more difficult, while life for the crooks becomes no harder.

On the other hand, if the requirement for written permission extends to all providers of credit, then it becomes worth the game. Mind you, an adult should be aware of what's going to happen if they give a social security number to a car dealer, furniture store, or anyone else. I've never heard of anyone using it just for liar's poker ("Oooh, this is a good one - four 8s!"). If you give a merchant your social, then they are going to run your credit. Treat it as a mathematical certainty, because it might as well be.

Each time somebody runs credit, it's an inquiry - a ding on your credit. Inquiry dings are progressively damaging. They cause your score to go down, each and every time you have an inquiry, and the more inquiries you have, the more each new inquiry drives it down. There used to be a game among mortgage providers until the new rules a few years ago - see if they could be the last ones to run your credit before it went under a threshold score, and some would run it multiple times if they could. Anybody running after that would be at a disadvantage, because you no longer qualified for a given credit score's pricing level.

The exception to "a ding for every inquiry" is mortgage credit. With the new rules that every consumer should get down on their knees and give thanks to the National Association of Mortgage Brokers for getting through Congress, consumers are now actually permitted to shop around for mortgage rates without getting dinged every time their credit is run - provided they run credit under a business code that say's "inquiry for mortgage." (So if you are mortgage shopping at a bank or credit union, be sure they run your credit under their mortgage inquiry code, and not a general inquiry code). All of the times it is run within fourteen days by mortgage providers count as exactly one inquiry. This gives consumers the ability to shop as much or more for a mortgage as they would for, say, a toaster oven, without being penalized.

But if the new rules apply to non-mortgage credit grantors also, this is a good thing. Here's why: Every time I start a loan, I have a set spiel that I go through. "Don't change anything, credit-wise, even if you think it will help. Don't buy anything. Don't charge anything on your credit cards. Make your normal payments - no more, no less, unless you ask me first. And don't allow anybody except mortgage providers to run your credit for any reason. Don't even let them have your social. Because they will run your credit, I guarantee it."

On every home loan, one of the last things that will happen before your loan is recorded in official records at the county will be that the lender will run your credit again to make certain nothing has changed. And if anything has changed, you will very likely lose the loan (and the house if it's a purchase). Even if the escrow company has the money or it's actually been disbursed, the lender will pull it back, as they can do that until the deed is recorded. So there is a real need for prospective borrowers to understand that until the final documents are recorded with the county, they shouldn't so much as breathe differently.

For a certain personality type, being told she can't shop for curtains and furniture and paint for her new house is nothing short of torture, and so I've learned to be very explicit. "It's okay to look, to talk to the nice salesfolk, and to get an idea of what you want. But don't actually buy anything. Tell the nice salesman who says he just 'wants to get a head start on your order' that your mortgage loan officer said that you're right on the line, and anybody else runs your credit and drives you under the line the first consequence to the furniture or paint or drapery salesperson will be no order, because they're likely to cost you the loan.

So while you have a home loan pending, tell the nice salespersons that you're really protecting them by not giving him your social, because if they run your credit and cost you the loan you'll have to tell your uncle Bruno the mobster about it. And we all know what happens then.

Back in the real world, things are not usually quite that bleak. But it's surprising how often people end up with higher rates and higher payments and worse loans because they didn't understand this one point. Suppose your monthly payment is $50 higher than you thought it would be, in addition to what you spent on the new stuff that caused money to go into that salesman's pocket. Doesn't that make you feel all Warm And Tingly towards that salesman? Didn't think so. And a certain percentage of the time, this new monthly payment you now have because you Bought Something means you Do Not Qualify for the loan. So: No loan. No house (if it's a purchase). No lower payment (if it's a refinance). No cash out of your equity (if that's what you were trying to do). And so now you've got this stuff, and no house to put it in. Now you've got to tap the vacation or retirement account to pay for it because you're not getting a refinance on reasonable terms. Not to mention all the times these people run credit and hurt people's credit scores without real permission when there's no mortgage loan in the offing. So I can put up with one segment of my industry have a slightly higher bar to jump over if that's the carrot.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

When you have more than one loan on your property, there are some issues you should be aware of. Keep in mind the fact that some states still use the mortgage system, requiring court action to foreclose, as opposed to Deed of Trust, which does not. For practical purposes they are similar, yet I have never done significant work in a mortgage state so there may be small but significant differences.

Each loan is secured by a different Deed of Trust. Two loans, two Deeds of Trust. A Deed of Trust is a three way contract between the borrower (called the trustor), the lender (called the beneficiary), and a third party known as the Trustee, to whom title is nominally conveyed for purposes of selling the property if you default on the loan. The Trustee and the Beneficiary are often the same, and while there is no legal impediment I'm aware of to the Trustor and Trustee being the same, I also cannot imagine a lender agreeing to it.

Trustees can be changed, and this is accomplished via a document known as "Substitution of Trustee," which is required to be recorded with the appropriate county in every state I've done business in.

Each Trust Deed operates independently of all others there may be against a given property. They take priority in order of date. When a Trust Deed is recorded against an property on which there already is an active Trust Deed, it automatically becomes a Second Trust Deed, if another happens it is a Third Trust Deed, and so on.

The reason they have the ordinal is because they are paid off in the order they happened. Suppose the property is sold, and the sale price is not sufficient to pay all of the debts. The trust deeds are not paid proportionally; The First Trust Deed is paid off in full before the holder of the Second Trust Deed gets a penny. Then the Second is paid before the Third, and so on. This is why Second Trust Deeds carry higher rates than First, because they are riskier loans for the lender. As I've said elsewhere, just because the property is sold doesn't mean you're clear. If there is not sufficient money from the sale to pay all debts, you can expect the lender to hit you with a form 1099, reporting that you have income from debt forgiveness, and you will be expected to pay taxes on it. Not to mention that there may be recourse in many cases.

Now, if for whatever reason you pay off your First Trust Deed, the Second automatically goes into the first position, and any subsequent loan goes into second position. This is most common when people go to refinance the loan secured by their First Trust Deed. Even if you do not particularly want to pay off your Second Trust Deed, it may be the best thing to do. Because what happens if you just pay off the First Trust Deed (only) and get a new Trust Deed, is that the new Trust Deed will go into the second position. Unfortunately, in order to get the quoted rates for a primary loan, it is a requirement that the loan be in first position. If it's not in first position, they will not actually fund it. In short, no loan.

This is not necessarily an impasse. Many times, the holder of the second trust deed, because their loan was priced to be second in line anyway, may agree to subordinate their loan to the new loan, which is a fancy way of saying "stand in line behind the new trust deed holder".

They don't have to do this, and there is no way, other than paying off their loan in full, to force them to do so. Some companies never subordinate, while some others are never willing to stand second in line at all, and others are in both categories.

For those that will consider it, they are going to stipulate some conditions. First of all, the new loan is likely going to have to put the borrower into a position where it is easier, or at least no more difficult, to make payments and pay off the loan. So monthly payment usually cannot rise.

Second, they are going to want their trust deed to be in no worse of a position than it was when the loan was originally approved, as regards the value of the home being able to pay their loan off too if for some reason either loan is defaulted. They may even require than you agree to a higher rate, higher payments, or a different loan altogether - as I said, there is nothing you can do to force them to cooperate.

Assuming that they are willing to cooperate, they will require that the entire process on the prospective new loan be essentially complete - that is, ready to draw documents and fund when the Right of Recission expires after three days, before they will even look at it. Some lenders take 48 hours to look at a subordination request, others take up to six weeks, and it can be even longer. For any given lender, it takes as long as it takes.

There is also going to be a fee involved. They have to pay their people to look at the loan situation and make certain it still falls within guidelines. They're the ones doing you the favor, they certainly are not going to do the favor for free. Whether the subordination request is eventually approved or not, the subordination fee is likely to be non-refundable, a sunk cost that you are not going to get back even if it's not approved.

Even more important than that, however, subordination takes time. When I first wrote this, I locked every loan as soon as I could. It's more complicated now, but I still prefer to lock early rather than later. No loan quote is real unless locked, all locks are for a specified period of time, no lock is good past the original period of time unless you pay an extension fee, and if you need to lock for a longer period of time in order to subordinate, either the rate, the cost, or possibly both will be higher. Since this can add anywhere from two days under idea conditions to six weeks or more for a refinance that takes three weeks to get approved and get funded in the best of times, this means a longer lock period becomes advisable. Most often, the extra costs mean that it's more cost effective to just pay off both loans rather than subordinating the second to the new loan.

Since Home Equity Lines of Credit are always secured by a trust deed, they count as any other second mortgage would. You'd be amazed how often people do not disclose Home Equity Lines of Credit even when directly asked about them. They are only hurting themselves, but they often get angry to no good purpose when, if they had been upfront about them, the loan officer could have designed around any difficulties. Furthermore, people are often resistant to the idea of paying off and closing Home Equity Lines, despite the fact that they are easy to get. I've had people stonewall, utterly in denial that this is a Deed of Trust upon their residence until I have the title company fax me a copy of the Trust Deed, and reference it with the Preliminary Report, and ask to see the Reconveyance (which is a fancy way of saying the piece of paper proving that the trust deed has been paid off). If it's a legitimate lien, we have to deal with it. Actually, we have to deal with it if it's not a legitimate lien as well, just in a different manner. On the other hand, some time ago I had some seasonal resident clients whose ex-caretaker had managed to take out a loan against the property. It does happen, and it's a mess, but most times it's just the people themselves who weren't told - and didn't figure out - that this financing agreement they signed for the pool or air conditioner or roof was a second trust deed on their house.

To summarize then, second loan means second trust deed, if you refinance they must be paid off or subordinated, and subordination takes time such that it may be better to pay it off than go through the rigamarole of subordination.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

Temporary Rate Buydowns

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Every so often I run across a reference to a "rate buydown" I don't like to use them because they don't benefit the client, but I should explain them, what they are, and how they work.

A rate buydown is where for an upfront price, the lender agrees to give you a temporarily lowered interest rate on what is usually a fixed rate loan. 2/1/0 buydowns, where the rate is two percent lower the first year, one percent lower the second year, and then at the loan rate the third year, are the most common, but I've seen one year buydowns of two percent, two year buydowns of one percent for those first two years period, and any number of other tricks.

This isn't free. A 2/1/0 buydown usually costs three points. In fact, what usually happens is the three points go into an escrow account somewhere where they pay out the money to make up the difference in interest to the lenders as the loan goes along. When the buydown period is over, the lender who originally funded your loan then gets to keep what's left over.

Here's what this means to you. Let's make this easy. Say you would have had a $291,000 loan, fixed at 7 percent, without a buydown. But with the buydown, you have a $300,000 loan at 5 percent the first year, six percent the second, and 7 percent from there on out. In order to really understand this, let's first take a look at your loan without a buydown:

Tot Int.
Tot Prin

Now let's look at it with the buydown:

Tot Int.
Tot Prin

It is also to be noted that in the very next month, your payments go to $1982.23, as opposed to the $1936.03 they would have been in the first place, and that they will stay there the rest of the loan, all 336 months should you keep it the rest of that time. Why? Because your balance is larger than it otherwise would have been, so the payment is higher, in this case by $46.20, due to the higher loan amount.

Finally, let's look at the differences:

Escrow Acct.
Net cost

What this means is that your lender's escrow account ends up with $1850 that they get to keep, on top of everything else they made from the loan. The final column is the net cost to you, what you paid to get it less the interest it saved you. Hey, look at this! In month 21 it goes negative! You must be saving money if you keep it that long, right?

Nope. This is a temporary and illusory savings phenomenon, and I don't know of any way to make it permanent. You see, the benefits stop in month 24. They are over. Kaput. Gone. That's all, folks. But you owe $6798.14 more (at the start of month 25, not illustrated above) than you would have without the buydown. There are exactly three possibilities as to what happens. First, that you keep the loan. Due to the extra interest you're paying every month, you are in the red again in month 56, and it keeps getting worse the longer you keep the loan. After 120 months of the loan, you are $1755 down. This particular example actually peaks in month 242 at $3351 negative, then starts decreasing, but you don't get it back before the loan is paid off.

The second possibility is if you refinance the loan. Let's say you get a really fantastic deal and refinance at 5 percent on a 30 year fixed rate loan, and I'll even give you that your higher balance doesn't cost you any more in fees. Your payment is $85.35 per month higher than it would otherwise have been, your interest charges $28.32 higher (and the difference represents you paying the principal off faster if you don't pay for a buydown). Your savings is gone in less than three years, and there's nothing you can do about it.

The third and final possibility is that you sell the house. You get $6798.14 less in your pocket. This means that you don't have $6798.14 earning money for you in the stock market. At ten percent your benefit is gone in less than a year and a half. If you take the money and buy another property, that's $6798.14 higher your loan balance will have to be. Let's say you get that same fantastic 5% loan we talked about two paragraphs ago on the new property. Guess what? The same math applies here also. There is no way to win in the end with a buydown, unless someone else pays for it (for example, seller paid closing costs).

So they are a piece of garbage. Why are buydowns attractive, and why do otherwise rational people sign up for them?

The answer is "Because they lower the payment for a while". People choose loans based upon the payment. In particular, they choose loans based upon the payment in the first check they are going to have to write. Most people figure that the check they are going to have to write two or five years out isn't important. Unscrupulous lenders and loan officers know this. That's why the horrible negative amortization loans were so popular, despite them being time-delayed financial poison. So don't shop for loans based upon the payment, and if someone starts talking about ways to cut the payment as opposed to the interest rate, put your hand on your wallet and leave. If they persist, drag them out into the sunlight and put a wooden stake through their heart. It's the only way to be sure.

Before I go, I want to mention one specific group that gets targeted for these things, and that is veterans. The Veterans Administration loan, aka VA loan, has the ability to roll (not coincidentally) three points closing cost over and above the cost of the home into the loan. Most military folks are busy learning their trade, which is usually not something having to do with finance. Indeed, I've never heard of any MOS that included this type of financial training. So when the loan officer whispers sweet nothings into their ear about cutting the payments for the first couple of years, they don't know any better and they sign right up. They could have used those three points for something potentially useful, like discount points that buy you a lower rate for the entire term of a VA loan. If you keep it long enough, they will eventually net you money. The veterans could just not pay those three points, and not start out with what is basically negative equity. But rate buydowns make a loan appear attractive on the surface to someone with insufficient financial training, while costing them money in the long term and allowing the initial lender to make more money than they otherwise would.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

I got a question about what the number one obstacle is to most people qualifying for the loan on the property they want.

The answer is "existing debt." Credit cards, student loans, car payments, etcetera. It seems like more people than not have a reasonable idea of the property people making what they are making might be able to afford. Whereas I do understand people who want a four bedroom house despite only making enough to be able to afford a two bedroom condo, it seems that more folks than you'd think really do have an idea what people making what they do should be able to afford. They can be lured down the primrose path of negative amortization (or the latest scam that has taken its place), but even most folks who fall for it, know on some level that it's not real. They may not realize exactly how nasty it is, but they know it's not the whole truth.

The real hurdle faced by most buyers is that they owe too much money to too many other people for too many other reasons. Every dollar you have in existing monthly obligations is another dollar you can't afford on your house payment. People don't think about this until they want to buy a house, at which point they probably already have tens of thousands of dollars of debt, costing them hundreds or even thousands of dollars per month.

Let's say that Mr. and Ms. Homebuyer make $120,000 per year between them - $60,000 each. They are making $10,000 per month. By the calculations for A paper fixed rate loans, they can afford total monthly payments of $4500 per month. This is a forty five percent debt to income ratio. If housing is their only debt, they easily qualified for a $500,000 property with zero down payment. As of the time I originally wrote this, $2367 first at 5.875% with one point, thirty year fixed rate first mortgage, $752 second at 8.25% 30 year due in 15, $521 per month prorated property taxes, and $120 per month for a good policy for home owner's insurance. Total: $3760. They're $740 under their limit. They would actually qualify for a significantly larger loan if they had no other debt.

(When I originally wrote this, that was true. At the update, rates are lower while 100% conventional financing is not available, but this is still a valid illustration of the principle of debt to income ratio, which is what we're looking at).

However, Mr. and Ms. Homebuyer still have student loans, because everyone knows you don't pay your student loans off. Right? But because Mr. and Ms. Homebuyer owe $50,000 between them, and they're paying $180 each, for a total of $360 per month, that's $360 in monthly housing costs they can't afford.

Also, Mr. and Ms. Homebuyer both have $30,000 automobiles they're making payments on. On five year loans, Mr. and Ms. Homebuyer are paying $600 each. He has four years to go, she has two. That's another $1200 in housing costs they can't afford.

Ms. Homebuyer charged their vacation trip to the Bahamas that cost $10,000 to their credit card, and Mr. Homebuyer put the furniture he bought Ms. Homebuyer on an installment plan. The credit card is $500 per month, the furniture is $400. Net result: $900 more that they can't afford for housing payments, because they have to pay it out for existing consumer debt.

By the time Mr. and Ms. Homebuyer have paid all of the monthly payments they already owe, the lender calculates that they can only afford $2040 per month in housing payments. Now, instead of easily affording a $500,000 house, they don't even qualify for a $300,000 condo. $240,000 first at 5.875 is $1420, $466 for the second at 8.625% (below a price break), $313 property taxes and $240 in association dues. Total: $2439! They're $400 per month short!

For people who have a down payment, often the only way they are going to qualify is by spending it on their pre-existing debt. If they don't have a down payment to pay existing debts off, they are not going to qualify "full documentation," which is a fancy way of saying that the income they can prove isn't enough to qualify them for that loan. Furthermore, the manner in which you pay that debt off can be restricted. Sub-prime lenders don't really care as long you can show where you got the money and the debt gets verifiably paid off. "A paper," however, has to deal with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac guidelines, which are less forgiving. In case you're unclear, 'A paper' loans are much better. But 'A paper' guidelines are that you cannot pay off revolving debt to qualify, and even installment debt is at the discretion of the underwriter. In short, once your credit has been run, what you can pay off to qualify "A paper" is limited. A lot of folks end up stuck with sub-prime loans because of this. Higher rates, shorter term fixed period, pre-payment penalty. This was one of the big reasons "stated income," was abused so much, at least when stated income loans were available. This always was one of the markets that was tempting for homebuyers to go "stated income" for precisely that reason, but there are real reasons why it is, and always has been, a better idea to buy a less expensive home than go stated income on the loan if you don't really make the money. Lots of folks been getting a concrete real world education in that in the last few years.

However, this is probably the most common reason why people did stated income loans. However, stated income loans mean that your rate is higher, and you might not be able to use all of the money you were intending to as a down payment, because you've got to have reserves for a stated income loan. Finally, and most importantly, stated income loans are dangerous. The debt to income ratio is not just there for the lender's protection - it is also there for your protection. Stating more income so that you can get around the limits on the debt to income ratio is intentionally disabling an important safety measure, meant to keep borrowers from getting in over their heads with loans and payments they cannot really afford. You make $X, which equates to being able to afford total monthly payments of forty five percent of $X. You state that you make an additional $Y per month so that you qualify for higher payments, and you are intentionally defeating that safety precaution. You are going to have to make those payments. The people who loaned you the money want their payments every month! Where is the money going to come from? I would be very certain I could really afford the payments before I agreed to a stated income loan!

So you should be able to see some of the issues that existing debt can cause. Existing debt quite often means that you do not qualify for a property you would easily be able to afford - if only you didn't have those pesky consumer loan payments every month. It can force you to undertake a less desirable loan type, it can force you to accept a pre-payment penalty, and it can prevent you from being able to qualify for the property you want. Alternatively, it can force you to choose between not buying at all, and intentionally defeating one of the most important safeguards consumers have, the debt to income ratio. The smartest thing to do is probably to buy the less expensive property that you can afford now, but all too many people refused to do that, and are finding out right now the reasons why it would have been smarter.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

The first thing you need to understand in reading any property advertisements is that agents write them to get people to call. They are trolling for clients, not sales. Except in the case of someone who doesn't accept dual agency advertising a listing they actually have, they are written purely with the idea of dangling something out there that clients want. Since most agents like dual agency just fine because it means they get paid twice for the same transaction, understand that only a tiny percentage of the ads that are written out there are written for any purpose other that to get potential clients to call.

Keeping this fact firmly in mind, there are two sorts of places where people go to search for property: Some that are based on MLS, and others that are not.

If it's in MLS or coming from MLS, it better be good information. I can (and do) file violations on liars in MLS. So do others - every time somebody wastes our time by saying the property has something that it doesn't. Filing violations in MLS is simple, it's effective, and after a certain low number of violations, the offender's input access gets restricted. They can't put properties in MLS and they might as well be out of business. Note that they can still "puff" a property significantly; but number of bedrooms, square footage, anything with a number or a yes/no associated with it had better be right. The big violation I'm finding most of recently is advertising it in MLS as "fee simple" when it should be either "PUD" or "Condominium". If it's got homeowner's association dues, it's not fee simple - end of discussion. It may be single family detached, but it's not fee simple ownership, as that homeowner's association has rights with respect to the property.

Everywhere else, everything that is not based on MLS, take all advertisements with a respectful amount of caution - Like at least equal in weight to the building. Once you get outside the domain of MLS, there are few sanctions possible for even the most outrageous puffery - or even advertising a property that does not exist at all. Or anything remotely similar. Some agents won't put anything out there that isn't as close to gospel truth as they can make it, but others are not nearly so fussy, and you really want to avoid the latter sort.

Non-MLS based property advertisements may now be pending, it may be sold, or it may in fact never have existed. The agent put that ad in trolling for buyers. What they want is your signature on an exclusive buyer broker agreement, so they can lock your business up. Readers here know you shouldn't sign exclusive buyer's agency agreements, because that's a poor way to get a good buyer's agent, but most people don't know that and most agents are laying in wait for the ignorant.

A good buyer's agent can help you debunk the nonsense. Quite often, I have clients who should know better, as I've explained this to them - often more than once - ask me about this fantastic possibility they see from site not sourced in MLS. About as surprising as gravity, they turn out to be in some way non-factual. Claiming 2 bedrooms when it's really one, or four bedrooms when it's really two. 1 bedroom when it's really a studio or loft. And sometimes, they actually had it, at that price, six or ten years ago. And then I call the agent listed on the ad, look it up on MLS, and voila! the deception becomes apparent.

There's nothing wrong with responding to such ads, and there's nothing wrong with working with the agents who advertise them, so long as you limit yourself to a nonexclusive agreement, so you can get rid of them when it become apparent they're not guarding your interests. But even with a non-exclusive agency agreement, I'd be asking myself "If they lied to get get me to call, what else are they going to lie to me about?"

I just had a client send me three prospects from one of the non-MLS based search services. All three of them were non-existent, posted by a lead generating service as bait so they could sell everyone who responded as a lead to agents. They didn't have such a property, they never did have it, it wasn't even for sale, and hadn't been for over 10 years. But that's how they get leads, which they then sell to several agents.

Here's another sneaky trick: Services advertising themselves as "foreclosure specialists" go around to all the properties that have a trustee's sale happen. They illegally put a sign in the yard, relying upon the fact that the property is vacant, directing passersby to a phone number. On the phone number, they put the puff description from whatever the last time was that it was in MLS, whatever they can see, or something they can pull from assessor records. They say they have an exclusive listing. What they really have is nothing. I've tried contacting lenders before their new lender owned property gets listed. Even if I have a buyer willing to make an offer, they usually don't want to hear about it. What the places who claim they've got "foreclosures before they're listed" are doing is trying to get suckers to call - in other words, trolling for clients. They simply know that the lenders are eventually going to put 99.999999 percent of these on the market within a few weeks, and they can fend you off until then. They aren't offering anything real. They don't have anything real. They are doing nothing beyond trolling for clients who will generate easy commission checks. They don't have to even sell you that one. If they had anything real, when I call for a client they should be falling all over me, like the agents that really do have foreclosures. Those agents who really do have lender owned listings are falling all over themselves to get back with me. The troll services take my information and say, "We'll have to call you back," and they just don't. I call again, they do the same thing. I ask who's the listing agent responsible for a property and what number to call to contact them, they don't have an answer. Then it comes up on the MLS, and the agency that's been advertising it is nowhere in sight. This is different from people who are buyer's agents who have legitimately gone out and found bargains - because they'll tell you they want to act as buyer's agents. In the first case, they are claiming to have a listing that they do not, in fact, have. In the second case, they are claiming to have found a bargain, and are telling you quite straightforwardly that they are looking to represent buyers. That's what I do. But when you're acting as the agent for the seller, you're not supposed to say anything that violates a fiduciary relationship - in other words, a listing agent is supposed to pretend this property is the greatest bargain since the Dutch bought Manhattan, or at least as close as you can realistically get. It's in the job description, not to mention the contract.

So be aware before you respond to property advertisements that quite often, the property advertised doesn't exist. To avoid leads services, look for specific names of the agent in the advertisement. To avoid problem agents who require an exclusive agency agreement before showing, simply refuse to sign exclusive agreements. Dual Agency is a very bad idea for buyers (and it's not good for sellers, either). If they have the listing, they're going to get paid when the property sells regardless of whether you signed that agreement. If they don't have the listing, they still risk nothing with a non-exclusive buyer's agency agreement.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

Listing Agents say they hate it when prospective buyers (of their listings) make offers on multiple properties, but they keep doing things to encourage it.

It is both legal and simple for buyers to make multiple offers. All I have to do is include some phraseology about this offer will be withdrawn in the event of the acceptance of another offer. Listing agents do the equivalent thing every time they negotiate multiple offers. At least they do it if they are hardworking and smart, rather than asking everyone for their "best and highest offer," a lame, weak technique that has precisely one advantage - minimal labor for the listing agent - and a laundry list of disadvantages. But it should not surprise anyone that if listing agents can do one thing, buyer's agents can respond by executing multiple offers, especially where sellers and listing agents miss deadlines to counter, take weeks to make up their mind, don't respond to requests for information, and have to be goaded into responding at all.

A single offer is stronger for both buyers and sellers. For buyers, it says that you have singled out this one property to make an offer on. You want this one, at least if the seller can be dealt with on a reasonable basis. It says you aren't going to flake out or abandon them mid-negotiation because you have found something you like better, and if you come to an agreement, you're not going to abandon that agreement without reason. Someone making multiple offers cannot claim any of this. For sellers, all of these are valuable features of an offer - perhaps more valuable than an extra $10,000 on the offer. If your agent doesn't understand this, that's a problem.

Furthermore, encouraging multiple offers encourages both lowballing and uncommitted buyers who don't care whether they buy your property or not. There's not much emotional buy-in, but many buyers will throw out a low-ball for marginal properties just to see if they get a response. But even if you do respond to such offers, they're not going to turn into the kind of offer that makes sellers happy.

For all the complaints about multiple offers I hear, though, listing agents seem to keep doing things to encourage them. Sitting on offers for weeks is a bad idea because buyers will move on. Sitting on purchase offers without response for six weeks or more. When the sellers finally respond, the buyers are already in escrow on something else. About a month ago, I got a response three weeks after the offer, two weeks after deadline to respond, during which time the clients decided they wouldn't be happy in the property after all. Agents who delegate unlicensed assistants to check boxes on offers are a definite turn off, as well - those assistants have no idea what is a good offer and what is not. They have never seen the property, they have no idea of the market it sits in, no real clue as to general market activity - and if the agent doesn't have their hands on the situation pretty constantly themselves, neither does the assistant. When I call an agent phone number in the listing, and there is literally no way of talking to the agent, or for that matter, any actual living person, that's a situation for a throwaway multiple offer, if anything at all. They're not taking prospective buyers seriously. Put in a lowball multiple offer, if they respond in a timely fashion, great. Otherwise, let's move on with our lives.

If you want buyers to make single offers, you need to respond to them promptly and individually. You need to take the time to understand the offer and the strong and weak points, and you have to understand how it matches up with your clients needs. This takes time, and it takes an agent who knows what they are doing - not a clueless unlicensed part time receptionist who is filling in boxes. This means that in order to get the most mileage out of the offers you get, you have to have a listing agent who has the time to spare for this particular listing. The corporate transaction mills are not the way to get that. There are many reasons I advise people against so-called "top producers," and that is only one of them. If you want the best possible price, you need an agent with the ability to invest enough time in your property to make a difference. Yes, I use loan processors and transaction coordinators. They're not allowed to interact with my clients, and they don't even enter into the picture until and unless we've got a full loan package ready for submission or a fully negotiated purchase contract. They're there to dot the i's and cross the t's - taking care of the routine fine detail work that most clients never know about - not so I can disengage myself from the transaction.

If the agency real estate office is doing everything they can to take as many listings as they can, to the point where the agents cannot properly service those listings, that's a situation where you're begging for multiple, weak offers. I put deadlines to respond on every offer I type. Reasonable deadlines, minimum of three business days, perhaps five, to give the other side plenty of time to respond. Most of my buyer clients have time pressures. They don't have three weeks to wait and see if one offer responds, after which they wait three more weeks to see if another offer responds, when they're operating under any kind of a deadline. I'm working with a client who's being posted here from elsewhere a couple months from now. When we started looking , even a short sale was a legitimate possibility, which should surprise you given my general opinion that buyers should avoid short sales. Inconsiderate listing agents trying to service too many listings have eaten most of the time we had to play with, causing us to now be in the situation of needing to make multiple offers on multiple properties. Buyer degree of attachment to any given property: small. Buyer willingness to negotiate on any given offer: small. Buyer willingness to offer an attractive price in such circumstances: small. And these "top producer" megaoffices listing these properties are wondering why, despite the incredible numbers of offers being made, they're not getting the kind of increases in value we saw a few years ago? Why the offers are all petering out at a low level? Why prospective buyers who do get accepted offers are so likely to bail out on the deal? Why actual sales prices aren't increasing?

Many listings want to accumulate offers for weeks. I've read several listings that say things like "no offers will be evaluated until (two weeks from now)." Okay, if we like the property, and nothing else catches our eye, we'll consider making an offer just before then. Keep in mind, it'll be ten days between when my client saw the property and when they make their offer, it won't be a hot "right now" offer or even a lukewarm "next day" offer. It'll be a multiple offer - only fair, since that's what the seller is asking for. And if my buyers find something else in the meantime, well, there won't be any offer made at all.

Let me ask: what happens when your best offer - most often the first, almost always one of your early ones - has moved on with their life? For that matter, what happens when all the good offers have moved on with their life? You're stuck with the low-ball offer from a flipper, that's what. I'd hate to be in a situation where I told my listing client there were 8 offers - but only the two lowballs were still interested because I had my head you-know-where. But that's what these agents are setting themselves up for.

If there are competing offers and one of them isn't nearly as attractive as another, there is no harm in saying so, and saying so quickly. Either they will drop out of contention or they will increase the attractiveness of their offer. If they increase their offer, my client is happy. If they drop out, my work with them is done, and they're now out there looking at other properties. The quicker I answer, the more likely it is that this prospective buyer will respond with a better offer. I'm perfectly willing to fax over (slightly redacted) critical pages of competing offers in such situations where their offer isn't even close.

Every offer needs to get a timely response, whether it's a rejection, a counter, or an acceptance. This is not only common courtesy, but good business, and the best way to end up with a good price on the final contract, one that the buyer is both willing to and capable of meeting promptly.

Negotiate with each offer individually. Asking everyone for a "Best and Highest" offer is very weak. Any buyer's agents that are worth a damn know how to respond to that one. Individual negotiations (if you happen to actually have multiple offers) works wonders. Put the multiple offer disclaimer on it if it's appropriate, and slap it back to them same day if you can. Keep the negotiations hot. Keep the buyer's memory fresh. Increase the buyer's mental buy-in if you can. This is labor intensive, but it leads to happy clients, bigger paychecks, and more clients. I don't see how anything else can be more important than those three things for an agent. I don't see how anything can be more important than just creating happy clients.

Encouraging multiple offers by acting like you don't care about prospective buyers is a good way to be forced to settle for less money than you could have gotten. I don't encourage it, I don't recommend it, and I very definitely do not practice it. I don't understand those agents and sellers who do. You get the buyers you deserve - the desirable buyers you earn by treating them correctly. Give them respect, give them attention, negotiate with them as individuals, and one good, seriously interested buyer is all that you need to get a good price for the property.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

This is one of the hardest things to get across to many people - agents included. A property with a fully negotiated purchase contract is not one that someone else can buy. They have a legal agreement binding them to sell it to someone else. If they sold it to you, they could be sued for what is called "specific performance" - in other words, do what you agreed that you would do - and I am given to understand that you don't want to be on the losing end of such a suit.

You are wasting your time making an offer that the owner is not free to accept. I would actually argue it's worse than that: You're effectively trying to bribe someone into not meeting their contractual obligations. If your terms are worse than what they have now it's not a very effective bribe, but you're still making the attempt. If you were in the position of the accepted offer, how much would you like it?

Nor is a so-called "back-up offer" likely to get you the property on any kind of advantageous terms. Watch the property in MLS and see if it drops back to "available" rather than pending, but making a back-up offer will do nothing but weaken your negotiating position if that property should become available again.

There are ways to get out of accepted contracts. The classic one is non-performance of the other party. The other side doesn't do what they said they would do - they go past the agreed upon escrow period, they can't qualify for the loan, whatever. There are as many ways to fail in contractual obligations as there are contractual obligations. Neither side is required to cut the other side one iota of additional slack beyond what is spelled out in the contract.

With that said, if the contract isn't one you want to honor, why in the heck did you agree to it? If it doesn't put you into a better position, why did you agree to it? The only reasonable response to this that I'm aware of is "It is better than no deal, but then someone came along and offered a better one" To which the person on the other end of the negotiated contract will reply, "too late." They have now spent significant resources towards honoring their end of the deal you agreed to. If you hadn't made the agreement, they wouldn't have spent the money for appraisal, inspection, etcetera. None of these transfer to another property.

As a final word on the subject, it is possible that some agents will tell you a property is under contract when it is not in fact under contract. Perhaps they're finalizing the last few details and it's really at least in the neighborhood of true. Sometimes, there isn't an offer at all and the agent is simply filtering out offers they see as undesirable - usually from the point of view of a bad agent rather than that of their client, the seller. Unfortunately, what all of these possibilities have in common is it's rarely worth paying a lawyer to fight about. Let it go - there are other properties just as good out there, where nobody is playing these counter-productive games.

Caveat Emptor

This is a right given to buyers agents by my local MLS, and it's a good one, that I like to take advantage of whenever it is practical. The actual property owner - not the listing agent - does have the right to refuse in writing, a copy of which must be provided to that buyer's agent.

This presentation is not intended to be an argument, and the buyer's agent is not permitted to stay for discussion of the offer between the owner and their agent. Think of it as a prepared speech. What I make is very akin to a corporate Power-Point presentation - in fact, it is a Power Point presentation on my laptop when I have the opportunity to put one together. Chances are good that you have seen dozens or hundreds of presentations basically like mine, except that I can guarantee to get done in fifteen minutes or less, providing nobody interrupts and starts arguing. The presentation is not intended to be an argument. It's a sales pitch. It's intended to make a calm, rational case why this offer that my client is making is one that should be accepted. I make my case, thank them for listening, and leave. I am not allowed to be present for the discussion of the offer, so it wouldn't be very smart of me to design my presentation as an argument. Also, it would be pretty silly of me to expect an immediate response. It would be stupid to demand one.

Many people seem to feel threatened by such presentations. My best understanding is that most of these are afraid of conflict. As I said before, however, it's not an occasion for an argument. I am not allowed to hang around for the discussion, and my presentation is geared towards being perceived as the rational thing to do when the discussion starts without me there to defend it. I don't like it when presentations turn into an argument. A presentation is an opportunity for me to speak my piece directly to the seller, unfiltered by any outside influences, so that both parties have an opportunity to gauge the mental state of each other. If the listing agent has done their job correctly, we're going to be saying the same things, albeit from a different perspective. On the other hand, if the listing agent is a problem personality who "bought" the listing, wants both halves of the commission, has their hand out behind their client's back, or any number of other unsavory problems, then a seller should be grateful to that buyer's agent for providing them with evidence to suspect such. Not to mention that presenting an offer in person is the only way I know of to guarantee that said offer doesn't go straight from the fax machine to the trash can without intersecting the seller in-between. Yes, I do know agents that I suspect of this. I could name agents I more than suspect of this - and the only way I can ensure it doesn't happen is request to present offers in person. I'm calm, I'm professional, and if I get a signed note saying the client doesn't want me to present in person, they at least know about the offer. And even if you've known your agent your entire life, "trust but verify" is never bad advice.

This isn't to say bad conduct on the part of a buyer's agent during presentations should be tolerated. If the presentation is made at the listing office or at the owner's home, they have a right to insist that I leave. If we're out in public somewhere, they have the ability to pick up and leave at any moment. It is incumbent upon me to give them reasons to keep listening.

Many listing agents feel threatened by this request. If they have done their job correctly, there is no reason for them to be, because what I'm going to say is going to reinforce the critical parts of what they should have said, thereby bringing them additional credibility in the eyes of their client. If it doesn't, well then the client has to judge the situation on its merits. That listing agent has unlimited access to the client. I have this short prepared presentation limited to one subject - my client's offer and why they should accept it. If the listing agent can't make a better case that their interpretation is better than mine, something is wrong. I'm not trying to steal their client - I want to make certain we're all on the same page. And if the listing agent has done their job correctly and I'm a bozo, well, the comparison isn't going to flatter me. So I'm motivated to get it right.

I do not agree to disclose the presentation or the offer beforehand, however. I am responsible to my client to make the presentation as strong as possible, and tipping my hand short-circuits the entire purpose of the presentation. It isn't like the seller has to come up with an immediate verbal response, as if we were in court. When I'm done, I thank them for listening and walk out. They have until offer expiration to respond - so it's in their best interest to schedule me as soon as possible. I just had a request where the listing agent refused unless I faxed over the offer first - which defeats the entire purpose of making the presentation. No. There is no reason you need to see it beforehand - unless you're trying to cover for your own lack of competence. You've got the same data I do. You can figure out precisely which comparable properties I'm going to use, and propose your own. I similarly, have to anticipate this and tell why the comparables I pick are the correct ones, and make the comparisons make sense in the real world. I have a short presentation time to make my case. You have unlimited time to disagree with me, in free format. I'm not allowed to be present for discussions unless you intentionally start those discussions with me present. If I do say something you disagree with and you can't out-argue me before your own client with all of those advantages, something is rotten in your State of Denmark. Not that the presentation is intended to be an argument - but if the listing agent insists on making it one, all of the advantages are in their corner. I can't fight either a listing agent or an owner who doesn't want to be reasonable. I can't force anyone to agree with me, to sign a contract they don't want to sign, or anything else. Actually, if someone on the other side is not going to be reasonable, both me and my client are better off finding out right away. What I can do is build a coherent rational case why it is in the seller's interest to accept our offer.

Nor will I agree to limit the subject of my presentation, at least not any further than presenting the case I need to make. I'm not going to talk politics, I'm not going to display any of the internet's famous prurient material, and I'm not going to do anything else that's irrelevant. I will cover the state of the market, I will cover which properties are and are not comparables, and I will cover why this is a good offer that should rationally be accepted. I recently had a listing agent tell me that they would only agree to let me make a presentation if I limited myself to one section of the presentation I usually give - the "my clients are good people" spiel. I could have lied and told them I'd do it. Instead I told them that their condition was not acceptable. This right was intentionally granted to buyer's agents precisely because there should be checks upon the agent on both sides, and in many cases, clients trust agents in defiance of all reason because they don't understand that the agent is telling them garbage because nobody else gets to talk to them. Whether a buyer's agent makes an in person presentation isn't the listing agent's call. They can certainly counsel the client on the subject, but the decision as to whether to accept the presentation is the client's - precisely because the agents we're all trying to get rid of are going to be the ones trying to prevent anyone else from talking to their client.

I haven't really done all that many of these yet. But the format of the presentation is pretty simple: Show them I'm a good guy, show them my clients are good people, talk about their situation. Then I segue into what the market conditions are, and the property and its position in the market. I show why the property is a good match for the client and why the client is a good match for the property by market position. I show why this offer makes sense in light of market and market position. I talk about the benefits of accepting the offer. Then I close by talking about how my client really wants this property, how well my clients qualify and evidence that they will be able to consummate the transaction - why it's a good fit all around. Finally, I thank them for listening and, assuming there are no questions, leave.

If nobody starts interrupting and arguing, it all takes ten to fifteen minutes. As I said, I'm not looking to attack anybody. Attacking doesn't get me a fully negotiated purchase contract, so it doesn't make my clients happy. What I am looking for is the opportunity to make my case in person, and present all of the evidence I want presented. The reasons it's advantageous to do so are obvious, but let me add one more: You would not believe all how often listing agents (or their clueless assistants!) do not read material that is in the offer, do not understand it, or don't understand even the most obvious implications of what is there. Some fraction of this is intentional filtering - not wanting their client to see information that client is entitled to see because it is part of the offer (this is called "intentional breach of fiduciary duty" in court filings) - while some is unintentional negligence, in that they're going through motions and making checks in boxes, and they don't pull their noses off the grindstone long enough to realize what's there in the offer and why it is important. But it is in the interest of both principals that this evidence be presented, and if the listing agent is too busy to take the time to understand the offer, they've got too many listings to properly discharge their fiduciary responsibilities to them. This is what is called prima facie evidence - "on the face of it", it is obvious that they're not properly discharging those duties. By allowing a buyer's agent to make a presentation, they are relieving themselves of a lot of potential for legal difficulty down the line, because the buyer's agent should talk about all of this stuff. That's the whole point of the presentation.

It's also an opportunity that everyone should welcome: to put human faces on the transaction, instead of just these mysteriously appearing pieces of paper and voices on the phone. It gets the buyer and seller thinking of each other in terms of being real people. It very much tends to lessen the tendency of people to draw lines in the sand and issue ultimatums, it increases the probability that this will become a fully negotiated purchase contract, and it becomes very helpful later on if we need subsequent negotiations because something new happens or is discovered about the property.

Here's one final benefit of the presentation: the listing agent has this same right to present counter-offers. I have to admit to encouraging tit-for-tat in my clients for this - if the listing agent allowed me to present, I think it's a good idea to reciprocate. If they didn't, that's not a good sign for the counter presentation or the transaction for that matter, and maybe we need to find another property not represented by such an problem personality. Whatever my attitude, it's my client's call. In the final analysis, you can't win a fight with a listing agent who is determined to be a problem personality. All you can do is avoid the fight by going elsewhere. To be fair, the same applies from the other side as well.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

A while ago now, I saw a rather clever video someone did called, "That Last Dip's a Doozy!" Someone took housing prices 1890 to present and graphed them to a roller coaster ride. Just before the end, he turned the track around so that you could see where you had been and saw how high up you were. The thing was a work of genius; and yet it is still both misleading and wrong, in that a sense of "what goes up, must come down" permeates and becomes the basis for thinking.

In the physical world, this is correct. Gravity is a force to be reckoned with. Everything that does go up has to come back down to some sort of supported, stable resting position before it breaks down, runs out of gas, etcetera. Furthermore, roller coasters have to go all the way back to their exact starting point, or used coaster cars are going to start piling up somewhere!

The problem with this thinking is that the graph of housing prices takes place in a mathematical construct world, not on Planet Earth. It's a Cartesian Plane, not a jet plane. Indeed, if you'll remember all the way back to beginning algebra, we can choose any origin and any orientation we like, and the representations are still equally valid. There is absolutely no mathematical reason we can't choose today's prices as our origin. Are there then some sort of magical restorative forces then created that bring us back to our new origin of today's relatively high prices? Not likely! Or we could choose 1000% of today's median price as our origin. Would that cause prices to be inexorably drawn upwards by a factor of ten? Absolutely not. The concept of the origin is a useful one, but don't take it for more than it is. The prices of 1890 were the prices of 1890 because that's where supply and demand were in equilibrium under conditions pertaining at that time. The equilibrium that prices would attain today has precisely nothing to do with those conditions. Do you think we're going back to the days of the federal government selling land at $1.25 per acre under the Homestead Act of 1862? I don't, not even adjusted for inflation or cost of living. Those market conditions no longer apply, therefore there is no rational reason to expect housing prices to return to that state.

Nor are housing prices determined nationwide. We do not have one nationwide housing market. We have a mathematical amalgamation of hundreds of local housing markets. The amalgamation has its virtues and gives us some information, but don't exaggerate their usefulness. Just because some clever person draws us a mathematical picture of a roller coaster that's going to have to fall further than any material known to man can rescue it from and retain structural integrity, does not mean it has any relationship to the amalgamated real estate market in the United States of America, Planet Earth, or any of its component local markets. National prices are so high because people effectively bid up the price of living in desirable areas, and that happens because those areas are where people want to live. The flow of desire flows out of low demand areas like Freeze-to-Death, Minnesota and into high demand areas like San Diego because in a high mobility society, people will choose to live where things are pleasant if they can.

This is not to say that housing prices cannot slip further or go down. Some places have obviously started to recover, but other areas are years behind them in the economic cycle. The forces which decide that are purely economic ones (mostly bad loans, at this point). The only role gravity plays in housing prices is in physical structure requirements, a comparatively minor component. There is no requirement to return to the mathematical origin, nor are there restorative forces pushing us in that direction.

The big factors are, as always, supply and demand. When somebody tries to tell you something questionable that has to do with economics, go back to the basics of supply and demand and it is unlikely that you will go wrong.

Supply and Demand. We've done just about everything conceivable to stimulate the demand for housing, and just about everything conceivable to constrict the supply of housing, and people wonder why houses are so expensive?

I'm trying not to be one of their folks with their heads You-Know-Where considering the consequences of people being unable to afford housing, or just barely being able to afford it. I originally wrote The Economics of Housing Development back in 2005, and I've updated it since. But blithely assuming that this whole high housing prices thing is just some kind of bad dream and that it'll all go back to some 1950s version of normal soon, is not likely to be correct and is not likely to be of benefit to those folks who are getting priced out of housing. Indeed, basically everyone is likely to get priced out of housing at some point if we keep our collective heads You-Know-Where long enough, and that will have major unfortunate consequences.

Supply and demand. Let's go over the major factors that make up supply and demand, and see the effects they are likely to have.

Consider demand first. What are the major components of demand? Population, how desirable an area is, and how wealthy the population is. Our population is growing. We just hit 200 million in 1967, and less than 40 years later, we've got another 100 million net. That's a fifty percent gain in a generation, and most have them have been added in high demand densely populated urban areas. This is a good thing for the most part, but every time we gain a person without a corresponding dwelling being built, we price someone out of the housing market by driving the price beyond what they are willing and able to pay, and the population is growing considerably wealthier in the aggregate. The average house of the 1930s was about 700 square feet. The average house being built today is over 2000. The family of the 1930s might or might not have one automobile, while the average number per family now is over two - and for smaller size average families. Clothes, dishes, appliances, vacation time, average distance from home on vacation, every standard of living has increased, faster in the last twenty-odd years than previously. A time traveler from the 1920s would have recognized more of the lifestyle in the late 1970s than a time traveler from the seventies would recognize now. In the aggregate, we can afford to pay more for a place to live, and most of us are doing so, particularly in the more desirable areas. In fact, those areas seen as desirable or scarce have led the charge up in values. Manhattan Island most of all, but southern California, Florida, southern Arizona, the San Francisco Bay area, the Sun Belt and the coastal areas in general, and of course anywhere especially handy to some popular form of recreation. The population crowds into these places especially and demands housing, as a result of which, the average price of housing in those areas rises faster, while it has more effect on the average citizen simply because an ever larger proportion of the citizenry lives in these places. If going surfing 365 days of the year is the most important thing to someone, they'll do what it takes to live where they can go surfing 365 days a year. If you haven't noticed, a very large proportion of the population seems to want to live within an easy commute of the ocean, and seems to be willing to pay whatever it takes, both in terms of smaller less desirable housing and in terms of spending more to get it. The effect causes prices to increase far more than linearly.

Now let's talk about constrictions on supply.

Sheer room. If every available square foot has already been built on, there isn't any more housing coming without demolishing some other existing building first. There aren't many areas yet where this is a real issue. We've still got lots of open space in this country, but let's consider Manhattan Island, which is completely built over. Every buildable square foot of Manhattan is covered, almost all of it more than one story deep. Prices of Manhattan real estate have been legendary for decades. You think they're coming down to what average everyday folks can afford any time soon? I'll bet you any amount you care to name that's not going to happen. The average folks get pushed out to Brooklyn and the Bronx and Staten Island and the rest of New Jersey. The well off who control or are valued by the cream of the Corporate headquarters, and get paid hundreds of thousands or even millions per year, can afford to pay, will pay, and have been paying for decades. Because those who are financially powerful congregate there, others who are wealthy want to be in the same location. It's worth the extra money to them, and they have it to pay. The demand is not only there, supply is so highly constricted despite everything that can be done that the prices are and will remain sky high by the standards of the rest of the world.

Ability to acquire regulatory approval. If the city, the county, or the state aren't going to allow it to happen, it's not going to happen. Period. It's pointless and expensive to try and force it, and very few people try any more, while every year the hurdles to get permits are higher, tougher, more expensive.

Environmental regulations have taken on a whole new life of their own since 1973. Tests, reports, studies. It can take over a decade to get approvals to build new housing, and if it fails any of the tests, studies reveal any likely issues, or people use environmental issues as a cover for NIMBY or BANANA behavior and sue in court, the whole thing goes down the drain. I happen to agree that we need environmental regulations, but they need to be re-written with more consideration that all economic choices are trade-offs, because the way they are written right now, they form an excellent basis for anyone who wants to stop any development at all to do so legally. Every time we stop a new development, the people who would have lived there need to find some other housing somewhere else. Going along the chain of A prices B out, who then prices C who is lower income than B out of lesser housing, and so on. Every time we have a new American without building new dwelling space for them, somebody is going to end up homeless, and the price of housing goes up incrementally.

Open space requirements are a big thing in California and around here specifically. Not just open space, either, but maximum building densities. A large part of San Diego County has a maximum building density of 1 building for 40 acres. Well, if you have a maximum building density of 1 building for 40 acres, the only people who can afford to buy that property are those who can afford to buy 40 acres of land. Those who could barely afford a condo - if there were condos there - don't have that option. At some point, if you have too many people competing for too few condos, the price of condos goes up to where those people cannot afford them. And if there's no buildings at all, well it doesn't take a genius to see that nobody can afford to live there, unless it's under a bush or in a tent.

Many building materials have become much more scarce of late, as it's getting harder to obtain them. Lumber, Drywall, etcetera. Every time the materials get more expensive because they're harder to obtain, the price the builders need to charge for the same number of the final product also rises. If they can't make that much, fewer dwellings get built until they can. Nobody is going to build if they know they're going to lose money in advance. If they can make more than that, more dwellings get built. The reason nobody is building anything now, greatly discomfiting the building trade, is because there is no money to be made. When prices start going back up, things will start getting built, apartments will be converting to condos again, and if we try to stop it, there will be worse consequences than that.

Last and most importantly, Cost, which most of the others also contribute to. The more it costs to build a dwelling, the fewer that will get built. The cost of the permits isn't just the money the city charges so they can do the inspection. It's the cost of having someone fill out all the paperwork, having someone else make certain that all the requirements are adhered to before that, and of designing the requirements into the construction before that, which not only costs money for the architect, but also for the reduced benefits to the builder. All of this takes time, which means it has what economists call opportunity costs, as well as actual costs. If I can get a better return on the money doing something else, I'm not going to build housing. If I have a hundred acre parcel for dwellings, and the regulations say I have to set aside half of it for other uses besides actual dwellings, then I can only build dwellings for half as many people. If I try to cut the size of the individual dwellings in half, the plans don't get approved, people don't want them, and they don't buy. What this means is that I can only get half as much revenue as I might otherwise get. What the decreased potential revenue means is that projects which would be profitable at full density would lose money at half density - and therefore don't get built. What that means is that there is less supply, so prices are higher, so price rises until enough people voluntarily drop out of the market that there is a one-to-one match between buyers and sellers.

I've already touched upon Manhattan real estate. Coastal Southern California isn't there yet, but you can see the trend if you watch. In San Diego, there is essentially no more dirt to build on. Open space requirements, minimum lot size requirements, maximum density regulations, and we're hemmed in on about 330 degrees of the circle by four obstructions: Mexico, the Pacific Ocean, Camp Pendleton, and Cleveland National Forest. The I-15 Corridor is one of the few places new development can go, and it's solidly populated all the way to Riverside now - over 100 miles. But people still want to live here, and there are still jobs here, some of them highly paid. We can build higher density housing or we can price people out of ownership and into apartment buildings - and rent is going to get more expensive as well, to cover the increased costs to the landlords as well as their desire to make as much as practical. The highly paid professional doesn't particularly suffer - it's the $15-20 dollar per hour worker who gets stuck unable to buy, even a condominium, with an ever larger percentage of the paycheck going towards rent.

No matter what market you are in, prices are not going to come crashing back down because that is what will enable you to buy a house. Prices did get over-inflated in a lot of places for reasons I went over in Fear and Greed, or How Did The Housing Bubble Get So Big?. But just because they're higher than they should be now doesn't mean they are going to come crashing back down any further than the place were demand meets supply, and that place is higher than most bubble proponents are willing to admit. The pricing support is there for $350,000 to $400,000 starter homes in San Diego - a family earning two median incomes can afford it. A family earning less than two median incomes can afford it. Furthermore, unless our local housing policy develops a sudden massive attack of rationality, houses are going to start getting less affordable once again as soon as the excess inventory has cleared. Thirty years from now, tiny 1 and 2 bedroom condos will be going for more than that, even adjusted for inflation and standard of living, simply because nobody can build and the demand keeps going up. "Low income housing" and similar things are nice for the beneficiaries, but they are basically a band-aid on a severed carotid artery. The only effective way to fix the problem is to build more housing. There are three ways to motivate someone to leave or not to live here: love, money, and force. As long as San Diego has sun and beaches, people are going to love it here. The only way to change that is to ruin it for everyone. The second way is pricing them out of the market, which is what I'm talking about and what has been happening: People decide that their standard of living would be so much higher elsewhere that they are leaving for economic reasons. The third way is force, and unless you want to see the United States ordering people to move at gunpoint the way Arab countries kicked their Jewish populations out in 1948 (I don't), pricing is by far the preferable way to do it. Pricing people out is ugly, but it's a lot less ugly than the alternatives. Unless we decide to reverse out policies of the last thirty-odd years, we're going to get more of it, and it's going to get ugly. Until we do start building more dwellings, steadily inflating housing prices are here to stay. Especially in the highly popular, highly populated areas where everybody seems to want to live.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

(Rates were much higher when I originally wrote this)

Recently, a couple of mortgage places have been advertising "30 year fixed rate loan at 5.65%" like that's the lowest rate out there and it's some kind of great loan. It's not. I have 5.375% available to me. If you read my site, you may be wondering why I'm not pushing 5.375 for all I'm worth. The reason I'm not is that it's a rotten loan. It costs 3.7 total points retail in addition to closing costs. If you came to me with a $300,000 loan balance and demanded that loan, just to pay closing costs and points would bring you up to a balance of about $315,200. It costs $15,200 to do that loan. As opposed to the 6.25% loan I can do without points (based upon the same assumptions) which ends up with a balance of $303,500. It takes 69 months - almost 6 years - before the total of what you paid plus what you owe on the high cost but low rate 5.375% loan is as low as what it is for the higher rate but lower cost 6.25% loan, and you still haven't broken even then, because you still owe a higher balance. That higher balance is going to cost you either more money on your next loan, or mean you don't earn as much on the proceeds of selling when you invest them. According to my loan comparison spreadsheet, you have to keep your new loan 93 months - almost 8 years - just to break even on the additional costs of the loan with the lower rate. Most people will never keep one loan that long in their life.

I called one of the companies advertising that 5.65% to find out about the terms of that 5.65% loan. They admitted to it costing 3 points discount and it having a pre-payment penalty, which my loan doesn't have. They didn't want to admit how much origination they were going to charge, but they're bumping up against California's Predatory Lending Law's ceiling on total costs of a loan, because a $300,000 loan with 3 points of discount has already cost over 4.25% of the base loan amount (they're allowed no more than 6% maximum), assuming that their closing costs are no more than mine. I can look at it and tell you it's even more expensive than the 5.375% loan that I'm not pushing because the costs are so high that even the 5.375% loan isn't as good as a 6.25% loan for most folks.

The most common mortgage advertisements when I first wrote this were negative amortization loan payments. When I originally wrote this, those were ubiquitous. Now, of course, the regulators have essentially banned them because of all the foreclosures. The first advertisement I found when I originally wrote this (I actually had to look at two web pages completely at random, too, not just one) said "$430,000 loan for $1399 per month." It says nothing about the rate, which was about 8.25% as opposed to the low 6s of a good 30 year fixed rate loan with reasonable costs at the time. It says nothing about the fact that if you make that payment, next month you will owe over $1550 more than you owe today. That's not what most people think of as a real payment, and every time I look at one, I'm thinking, "I really hope they're practicing bait and switch on that," because anything else is better for their client's financial future.

Stop yourself and ask a minute: Is the sort of loan provider who uses either of these advertisements the sort of loan provider who is likely to have good loans? To compare the real costs and virtues of one loan with another? To help you similarly weigh the costs? Do either of the loan advertisements I've talked about seem like beneficial loans that you should want, or should you be running away as fast as you can? Even if they are practicing bait and switch, that practice is bad enough when you're not talking about half a million dollars, as you are with a mortgage.

Mortgage advertisements aren't honest about rate, mortgage advertisements aren't honest about cost, and mortgage advertisements definitely aren't honest about what that company intends to actually deliver. In short, the vast majority of all mortgage advertisements aren't advertising anything that an informed consumer would even be interested in. All that most mortgage advertisements are doing is trying to get you to call with a "bigger, better deal" pitch. Why? Because a loan is a loan is a loan. There is no Ford versus Chevy versus Honda versus Toyota, and few people feel any particular need to trade their loans in every three years just because they're tired of driving that loan. There is only the type of loan, the rate, and what the costs are in order to get it. If the rate isn't better, and the costs aren't paid by the interest savings, there just any point to actually getting a new loan, is there? And if you don't get a new loan, lenders and their loan officers don't get paid. But if they make it look like they're offering something better (even if they are not) you might get them paid.

Low rate, by itself, means nothing, as I have demonstrated. Rate and cost are ALWAYS a tradeoff. Every lender in every loan market has a range of available trade-offs for every loan type they offer. You're not going to get the lowest rate for anything like the lowest cost. For the vast majority of people out there, they will never recover the additional costs of high cost loans before they need to sell or decide to refinance. This is real money! If you had invested thousands of dollars with an investment firm, and upon every occasion you did so, you had failed to get back as much money as you gave them, pretty soon you would stop investing with that firm, right? Nobody brags that their investment got them a negative 20 percent return over a five year period. Why in the nine billion names of god would you want to invest in such a loan?

What the people advertising mortgages have learned works are the advertisements that offer the illusion of something free or something extra. There is no such thing, but that hasn't (and never will) stop them from pretending that there is. Since Negative Amortization loans went out the window and they can't advertise a ridiculously low payment, biweekly payment schemes have largely taken their place - neither of which is worth paying for, and both of which play "hide the salami" with hidden assumptions of extra money you're going to use to pay your mortgage down.

Nonetheless, the financial rapists continue the same old advertisements. They continue these fairy tales, and increase their next ad buy, because these advertisements work. The suckers will call in droves - or sign up on the internet, which is even worse than the same thing. If you merely call, only one company gets your phone number. If you sign up on the internet, you're going to be inundated by dozens, if not hundreds of companies, calling, mailing, and e-mailing, then selling your information when you tell them not to bother you any more. All of this makes advertising these abominations quite lucrative.

Nonetheless, now that you've read this article, you know better. You're going to understand some of what isn't being said in the advertisement, and if you do decide to respond, you're going to go in with your eyes open rather than naively believing something that might as well begin, "Once Upon A Time..." If there's one thing I can guarantee about the loan business, it's that those who go into a situation believing such stories do not end up living "Happily Ever After."

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

The bottom line on this question is always, "Whatever the courts say." Divorce law is complex, and different from state to state, and even when you think you've got a clear message in the law as written, the courts may interpret it differently, or there may be precedent that says otherwise, or even just some overarching concern you are not aware of. Even if the law is clear, it can usually be gotten around by the agreement of the parties. Consult your attorney.

With that said, there are a few rules of thumb to go over, valid in broad for most states in most situations.

Real Estate is usually owned by both partners in a marriage equally, even if one spouse acquired title prior to the marriage the second will be added by default when the marriage happens. The only thing that is usually held separate are inheritances - things that were inherited by one spouse or the other from relatives, and even those can often become joint property. Sometimes gifts to one spouse can also be held separate. One of the phrasings you learn from reading title reports are is "John Smith, who acquired title as a single man, and Jane Smith, husband and wife as joint tenants." This tells you John bought it before they were married, and Jane got added to title upon marriage by the effects of the law.

There are trusts and the like to frustrate this from happening, and most states have rules and law permitting them, but you have to talk to the lawyer, get the trust created, and most importantly, as it's the step that is most often omitted, transfer the assets to the trust in a timely fashion. I don't know how many folks I've seen who spent a couple of thousand dollars creating a trust and then didn't transfer the assets to it. Every penny they spent on that trust was wasted money.

Now, if Jane does not wish to be added to the property title, she may quitclaim it back to "John Smith, a married man as his sole and separate property." However, quitclaim deeds have this curious limitation in many states (California among them) that they only function with respect to the interest you have in the property as of the time you sign them. Since the new spouse has not yet been given the claim upon the property until the marriage takes place, the quitclaim cannot be signed until after the marriage in order to accomplish the desired goal, as Jane has not yet acquired the interest in the property. Jane can say she'll sign it after she's married, but if she changes her mind, that's a whole different legal struggle. If she signs it before the marriage, then since she subsequently acquired a claim to the property through the marriage, she now has an interest in the property through the eyes of the law. Let's even say John and Jane are ninth cousins, the only surviving family inheritors, but for whatever reason Jane quitclaims the property to John, but then they later get married. Jane now has a married woman's legal interest in the property. The quitclaim only applies to Jane's interest in the property at the time of the quitclaim, and has no effect upon any claims she may acquire later. The only way I am aware, in general, to deed away any rights you may acquire in the future is with a Grant Deed, and each state has its own laws as to how this may and may not be accomplished. On the other hand, a Quitclaim is a handy document if you may have the intention of acquiring some interest in the property back at a later time, as it generally doesn't make, for instance, buying the historic family homestead back from your wastrel brother problematic.

New Example, different situation. Now suppose John and Jane Jones get divorced, and the property was held jointly. Both John and Jane still have an interest in the property, and continue to hold an interest, even if the court orders them to sign a quitclaim, until they actually have done so. This is why it is better to get a court award of actual title rather than a court order for the other spouse to sign a quitclaim. Unfortunately, for some reason, most divorce courts are unwilling to award actual title rather than order the ex-spouse to sign the quitclaim. So whoever gets the title or possession is not able to do anything with the property without the ex-spouse's approval, unless and until that ex-spouse signs the quitclaim or the court awards the spouse in possession with clear title. I could tell stories of ex-spouses that disappeared, or pretended to disappear for years leaving the ex-spouse in possession unable to sell, unable to refinance, even unable in some circumstances to sign a valid lease. Not infrequently, the ex-spouse pops up years later wanting a better deal (that is, more money) as inducement to sign the quitclaim deed.

Until the ex-spouse signs the quitclaim, title companies will not insure either loans, whether in support of refinancing or a sale, or actual sales transactions. No lenders policy of title insurance, no loan (in most states), and that kills the refinance, or the loan financing any sale. No policy of owner's title insurance either, and I certainly won't pay my money for such a property, and advise my clients in most stringent terms not to do so.

Let's say that the ex-spouse has signed the quitclaim but is still on the existing loan, which was taken out while you were still married. This isn't really a problem for sales. In order to refinance, or deliver clear title on a sale, that loan needs to be paid off. The lender doesn't care how it gets the money, or from whom. That ex-spouse can drop off the face of the earth once the quitclaim is signed, and it really doesn't make any difference. Once they are out of the legal picture, they might as well be dead as far as title to the property is concerned.

On the other hand, if both people signed for the loan, they are both still responsible if they get a divorce. It's not like some of the mortgage is His and some is Hers - it's all Theirs. Because this is true, sometimes ex-spouses also get their credit hit when things like a short sale subsequently happen, or foreclosures. To guard the ex-spouse who is giving up the rights to the property from this happening, many times the divorce court will order the ex-spouse who is retaining possession to refinance in order to remove the spouse who no longer has a legal interest in the property from future liability on the debt. Furthermore, until this happens, it hits the ex-spouse in the debt to income ratio, as they are still obligated to make those payments and they show up on the credit report. This often makes it impossible for them to buy a property for themselves, even if they can otherwise afford to do so.

Many times, the court will order the ex-spouse retaining the property to buy the relinquishing ex-spouse out of the property, to give them some money or other goods in exchange for their interest in the property.

Often, especially if both spouse's incomes were used in order to qualify for the loan on the property, the remaining ex-spouse will not be able to qualify for the necessary loan on their own. In this case, the smart thing to do is usually sell the property. It is a real issue that because many former spouses are delinquent in their payment of alimony and child support, the lenders want to see a certain history (usually three months) of these items being paid before they will allow the income so generated to be used to help qualify the remaining ex-spouse for the new loan.

Keep in mind that all of the above are simply common concerns and happenings, and may have nothing to do with the situation you find yourself in in a divorce. I'm just covering the major basics that any layperson should be aware of. Consult your attorney for real feedback of how the law and legal precedent in your area apply to your situation.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

Adverse Possession

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It may surprise you to learn that there is a way to lose part of your property without selling it, against your will, and without the government condemning it for public use. This is the doctrine of adverse possession, and it has a history that is literally older than the United States, going back to English common law. Adverse possession flows from the Doctrine of Laches (equity), where a party, which would be the previous legal owner in this case, has lost its rights by failing to defend them. And this failing really is a pretty extensive failing, as you'll see in a moment - basically going to sleep like Rip Van Winkle for a goodly number of years. It isn't like today you've got a valuable property that you're using, and tomorrow you're dispossessed by some thief who snuck in during the night.

There are five elements to a successful adverse possession suit:

1) Open and notorious: You have to have openly used the property in question, in a manner observable to the general public, and in particular, the previous owner.

2) Actual possession: You must have occupied and used the property in question. Raised crops on it, improved it by building or improving something artificial on it, lived there, etcetera. Paying taxes on the property can be helpful to your case, but it isn't proof, and it doesn't prove you were in possession - actual physical control of the property concerned. You may have believed it was yours, which is why you paid taxes, but the legal owner had an equally reasonable belief: legal title. You have to show that you were in physical possession of that property.

3) Exclusive: You have to use it to the exclusion of the theoretical owner. No sneaking in only when they are not there. They must be absent - they cannot have been in possession, in control, or have been using the property themselves. If they come back and use the property, evict you for a while, etcetera, the time period starts all over.

4) Hostile and Adverse: You can't be using it by permission, otherwise all landlords would periodically have to evict every tenant. If you're paying rent, or just have permission to use the property, it all goes out the window, as that shows that the legal owner wasn't neglecting their rights. Someone using it by permission might get an easement by right of long use; they won't get fee title to the property.

5) Continuous holding period for a given number of years. This period varies from state to state, and can vary even within the same jurisdiction with differing circumstances. I've heard of times as short as seven years, and as long as twenty. Check with a lawyer in your area for what period applies to your situation. For that matter, check with a lawyer in your area on anything in this whole article. I'm not an attorney - I'm just alerting the public to the existence of adverse possession and its general characteristics.

Adverse possession applies only to land actually taken. Just because the legal owner ceded use of some small piece of the property doesn't mean you get the whole thing. Just because you have a successful adverse possession for a fence three feet from where the prior legal property line was, does not mean that you're going to get possession of an entire parcel.

Fence lines are the most common adverse possession suits. Either the owner of the property puts the fence inside their own property line, and the owner of the adjacent parcel takes over the land outside the fence, or the owner of the other property puts the fence line within the neighbors property in the first place. In either case, there's a pretty easy visual case to be made for who was in control of that land, who had possession, and that it was exclusive. That it was hostile and adverse is fairly easy, unless there's some written documentation that the legal owner gave permission. This leaves only the fifth condition, continuous possession, for the required number of years.

This has implications for buying property. If what you see on that fence line doesn't match the legal boundary, then there may be a legal case to be made that the fence line is what you get. Whether this is a good thing in that you can attach more property to what you are legally buying, or a bad thing in that you're not getting as much as you might think, the case can be made. In any case, consult an attorney.

It also has implications for selling a property. If you advertise that the property is a quarter acre, and someone legally removes some amount from that within some period after the property sells, they may have recourse upon you if they bought partially based upon your representation that the property was a quarter acre. It wasn't, really. I find it difficult to believe anyone really would sue over a fence line making their 10,890 square foot property into a 10,700 square foot one, especially when the fence line was clearly visible the entire time, but it doesn't have to be the real reason they want to do such. It might merely give them a legal excuse for whatever their real issue is.

Another thing that adverse possession does not apply to is use of force. You cannot gain title by holding the owners captive at gunpoint, no matter how long it is. This includes armed invasion. Were the territory gained in the Mexican-American War ever reattached to Mexico, it is my understanding that according to this doctrine, the landholdings then extant would be re-asserted, even under US law, unless they were actually sold, either by the government (i.e. Gadsden Purchase) or the private entity that held title. If Antonio López de Santa Anna personally owned your property once upon a time, and the US Government took it over after the war as spoils, his heirs might still own it if they ever found out about it and filed suit. One hopes you get the idea.

Winning or losing an adverse possession case can also have property tax implications. If years ago, you bought an 8000 square foot property, and lose 2000 square feet to adverse possession, at least you'll probably get some property tax relief out of it. If you attach that 2000 square feet to your existing property through successful adverse possession, you might well get a tax bill for it.

Adverse possession is a detailed legal field with complex rules I don't pretend to understand in full, and those rules change from state to state. But it is real, and it is successfully used to take legal title to land pretty much every day.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

(I have noticed a fair number of hits to this article that, judging by their search query, probably want the article on What Happens When You Can't Make Your Real Estate Loan Payment instead)

I got a question about legal late payments in California.

Unfortunately, there really is no such thing as a legal late payment. You borrowed the money, signed a contract, and it accrues interest according to that contract. You owe this money, and it only gets worse if you don't pay it. There is some wiggle room so you don't get unduly hit for a day or two late, or if the right to receive payments is sold, but that's about it.

The law gives you some wiggle room in the timing of the payments. First off, the laws of California and most other states give you fifteen days after the due date to pay the mortgage before a penalty can be assessed. I know of a lot of people who make consistent use of this. If it's due on the first, it's supposed to be there on the first, but many people take advantage of the fact that there is no penalty as long as it's paid within fifteen days of due date (i.e. before the sixteenth), and consistently mail their payment on the tenth or twelfth.

If you miss the extended deadline by even one day, the penalty is up to six percent of the amount due here in California. As you might guess, most lenders charge the maximum penalty, or close to it. When you compute it out, four percent times 360 divide by 15 is ninety-six percent annualized, and six percent is 144% when annualized. I had my check get lost in the mail once and the lender waived the penalty when they called me on the eighteenth because I always paid on the first or before, but they didn't have to do that. I got the distinct impression that if I were the kind of person who pays on the twelfth or fourteenth every month, they would not have waived the penalty.

There is also some wiggle room on when the new lender receives your payment if your contract is transferred between lenders. Because once upon a time some unscrupulous lenders would sell notes back and forth between their own subsidiaries because it made them more likely to get late fees, or even able to foreclose on appreciated property when there were relatively few protections for borrowers in law. Mind you, you still have to send it on time, but if it gets hung up in forwarding between lenders, that's not your issue. Within sixty days, the old lender must forward the payment promptly, and it counts as received when the old or the new lender receives it, whichever is first. It's still better to send to the new lender at the new address if you have it or know it.

In short, although there are some small period where payment is allowed to be delayed due to one factor or another, it is never to your advantage to do so. Make your payments on time.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

Cash to Close - A Basic Primer

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Cash to close has always been an underwriting standard, but more people are running into it as a reason why they cannot buy that property, why their buyers cannot perform, and why they can't get that refinance approved. With lender requirements as to what they will and will not loan on, not to mention impacted equity situations, "cash to close" has become more important than it was, when for about fifteen years it was barely on the radar. Whether you are a buyer, seller, agent for either, loan officer, or someone who wants to refinance the property you already own, you need to be aware of the requirements for "How much cash needs to be there to make this loan happen?" If you anticipate them and structure the transaction correctly, said transaction will have a lot fewer stumbling points.

During the Era of Make-Believe Loans, 100% financing was routine, and with seller paid closing costs, the buyers often literally did not need a penny to buy property. Indeed, such was one reason the real estate market got so wildly out of hand. Not the only reason, nor the main one, but when people could believably say, "You haven't got any money in it, so just walk away if anything goes wrong," they could get a lot of takers, even when that's a lie precisely equivalent to the con man's "trust me!"

Right now, the only generally available 100% financing is the VA loan. 100% stated income financing, which was the gravy train for many god-awful real estate agents and loan officers, might as well be story on the lines of a Greek myth in the current environment - stories of what they called hubris abound in Greek Mythology.

Furthermore, lenders are looking hard at seller paid closing costs. They're desperate to make what they think of as good loans, so they're still mostly giving these a pass - but there are more instances of snags with them now than I can remember hearing of at any time in the recent past.

The upshot is that you have to consider "Cash to Close." You have to remember it and keep it always just as much in mind as loan to value ratio, credit score and debt to income ratio. Not only do you have to have the money for the down payment, you've got to have all the cash you need to close the transaction. This is a prior to documents condition: the lender will not so much as generate loan documents for signature until you and your loan officer can demonstrate that you have enough cash to actually make the down payment and everything else that you are going to need to pay to make the transaction happen.

The largest component of all is usually the down payment: 3.5% or more of the purchase price for FHA financing, 5 to 20 percent or more for conventional financing, depending upon what's available to you and some choices that get made. 5% down has become more available for conventional financing again as mortgage insurers have started insuring those loans again, and these loans all require private mortgage insurance unless and until the down payment reaches 20% of the purchase price. There are exceptions in some municipal first time buyer programs, but those are not "generally available" in that they run out of money at Warp Speed whenever they do get an allotment.

Closing costs for the loan are another component of cash to close. It takes money to pay the people and companies working on your loan. For a rule of thumb, I use $3500 even though it's probably going to be less than that, excluding discount points, which are used to buy the rate down, and impound account money. Title insurance, escrow fees, appraisal, processing fees, lender fees of various kinds, government fees such as recording, and usually a charge for origination, itself usually measured in points. These all have to get paid, or your loan doesn't get done. Nobody is going to agree to pay these costs for you unless they get something for it in the form of a higher interest rate.

There is always a tradeoff between rate and cost in real estate loans - you don't get a lower rate without paying for it, and you don't get costs paid for without agreeing to a higher rate in exchange. Points are measured as a percentage of the gross loan amount. If, for example, you're paying two points to buy the loan rate down, then after you've added in all the closing costs and impound fees and anything else that applies, this amount is only 98% of your total loan amount. On purchases, you're going to have to have this two percent of the loan amount in cash if you want to buy that rate down, effectively adding to your down payment requirements. So even though I've taken this slightly out of order here, in reality, points are the last things figured into the loan, assuming that there are any.

Impound accounts are seed money for paying your property taxes and homeowner's insurance, giving the lender assurance that they will be paid on time and in full, thereby not jeopardizing the lender's interest in your property through unpaid property taxes or having the property damaged or destroyed while uninsured. Many people like having these details taken care of by just writing a slightly larger monthly check in the first place. They are your money, but the lender wants enough money to seed these accounts so that they will have enough in them to pay these charges when they are due. As I have said and demonstrated, impound accounts can be several thousand dollars, and lenders can, in many states, charge extra for not having them.

Finally, there are the buyer costs of the purchase. Around here, they really aren't much - half the purchase escrow, recording costs and a few other minor things. I generally include them in the closing costs of the loan (as above), but they really are different. In other areas of the country, however, the rules are different and the traditions are that the buyers pay more of the costs of transference. Neither way is necessarily right or necessarily wrong; it's more a matter of what everybody is used to, and the fact that the usual method for your area is what the rest of the market is priced for.

On purchases, all of this money can only come from cash in addition to the down payment, or by moving cash away from money that would otherwise be used for the down payment. For refinances, if there is enough equity then these costs can usually be rolled into your new loan amount - but do not confuse that with not paying those costs. You are not only paying all of those costs, you are paying interest on them and they are still in your loan balance until you find enough in the way of payments to pay them off. Don't Roll Mortgage Refinance Costs Into Your Balance If You Wouldn't Pay Them Cash. And to further drive this point home, as many people are discovering now that they don't have this equity on refinancing, they are having to come up with thousands of dollars if they hope to get that loan actually funded. Real refinancing is not a case of blindly rolling what may potentially be tens of thousands of dollars into your loan balance. It's okay if you have the equity and make a conscious choice that this is the best way to handle it for you; it is not okay if by doing so you merely get to pretend that it isn't real money.

Down payment plus closing costs plus impounds plus buyer costs, plus points (if any) equals cash to close. You need to have this money available in cash, and you have to be able to convince the loan underwriter of its provenance - sourcing or seasoning the funds. Where did all of this money come from? The lender wants to know that it is not from an undisclosed loan, which you're going to have to make payments on, possibly thereby putting the entire transaction into the realm of unaffordability because your debt service is now too high a proportion of your income. You are going to have to show you got the money from some source that is not a loan, or that you have built it up and saved it over time. The lender is going to ask for supporting documentation, of course. For refinancing, there is at least potentially a little more leeway, if you've got equity in the property you can borrow further against that equity as an equivalent to cash, in order to close that loan. But that is a very different thing from not needing the cash in the first place, which is a pipe dream. For purchases, this very elementary, completely foreseeable difficulty is probably at fault in at least half of the transactions that are failing to close - all because lazy agents and loan officers got used to sloppy practices and are having difficulty weaning themselves away. Cash to close is real, and it's something that everyone needs to concern themselves with, lest they be made very unhappy when the entire transaction falls apart because the cash to close wasn't there to begin with.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

This has nothing to do with the Homestead Act of 1862 that encouraged settling the western United States.

A Declaration of Homestead basically protects your equity. In many cases, you may not even have to file a declaration to receive the benefits, but whether this is so is complex. If you file, you remove the ambiguity.

A homestead declaration may only be filed upon a primary residence, and only if you own it. Rental property, second homes, and property held for business purposes is not eligible. Law between the states varies, as does the exemption amount

How it works is pretty consistent. First off, it protects no equity arising from dates prior to declaration. If you are in one of those situations where you have to explicitly declare homestead instead of it happening on its own, you have to actually declare it before the incident happens. You get in a traffic accident that's your fault, and go out and declare homestead the next day, it won't help you protect your equity against that particular lawsuit.

Note that it protects your equity, not your asset value. If the home is worth $500,000 (as is often the case in San Diego) but you owe $400,000, you have $100,000 of equity. How much it protects is dependent upon your state law and exact situation. Default protection in California is $75,000, but it can be up to $175,000 if you or your spouse are 55 or older, disabled, or have income less than $15,000 per year. Even with property values having fallen of late, the amount protected seems to be pretty minimal. If the legislature doesn't update the law, Homestead in California may soon fall under the heading of "pointless gestures," because it doesn't protect enough to be worth doing.

It can also prevent sale of the property in some, although not all situations. In California, the judgment creditor usually has to get a court order, after they have won the judgment, in order to sell the property. I'm not a lawyer, so I'm not going to presume to advise anyone on what those circumstances are. Consider this article merely a "heads up" - you need to consult a legal professional for all the details and how they apply to you.

Now, there is some question in some minds as to whether a homestead declaration inhibits enforcements of sale under Deed of Trust, so many lenders will require an abandonment of homestead prior to funding their loan. You can always re-declare as soon as the loan funds, anyway. I know that some folks have fought this issue in court, costing the lenders money to pay their lawyers, so it's hard to blame the lenders for requiring it. You can refuse to do this, but they can also refuse to give you the loan. It's their money, and they are the arbiters of how they lend it out.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

my question today is about what happens to the prepayment penalty if the loan is sold to someone else? A friend of mine told me that he called and was told there was no prepayment penalty with the new lender but I'm skeptical. Why would the terms of the loan change just because someone else is servicing it?

The terms wouldn't change, unless the state your friend lives in has an unusual law.

Your friend hasn't paid off the loan. Therefore, there will be no pre-payment penalty assessed simply because the original lender sold off the rights to receive the payments.

On the other hand, just because the right to receive payments has been sold does not invalidate or alter the terms of the contract, among which is the pre-payment penalty clause. If your friend does something which would have caused the penalty to be assessed with the original lender, it will still be due to the replacement lender.

The fact that a loan has been sold does not cause the penalty to be assessed. Otherwise, people would be assessed a penalty for something under control of the bank, not themselves. On the other hand, it doesn't let you off the hook of any penalty clause you agree to, either. The only difference when your loan is sold is who gets the payments. If there is a prepayment penalty, and you sell or refinance while it is in effect, it will be assessed exactly the same as if the loan had never been sold.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

Fake Agent Scams

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I am selling my home to this couple and from day one I wanted this to be strictly a buy-owner sale and they knew this but they brought in a Realtor and wanted me to give her 1% for paperwork all because they have been friends with this Realtor for 20 years. But when I met with their so-called Realtor she didn't seem to be a REAL legit Realtor. On her business card is only a cell number, no web site, only an AOL email address, and fax. On her business card it states Broker but after further research she is listed as an agent if this is even the same person, because I didn't pull the search by license number only by the Real estate company name. Today the purchase agreement was signed but I noticed that her license number WAS NOT disclosed no where on the home sale contract, just her name and title. Is this legal for a Realtor to fill out a sales purchase agreement without disclosing her license number. I really do not think that she's even a Realtor, just the Buyer's best friend.

First off, even if this person is a licensed agent (as opposed to Realtor®, which is roughly equivalent to an agent who is also a member of the marketing union) Dual Agency is setting yourself up to get taken advantage of in major ways. Nobody can effectively serve two masters with such wildly divergent interests. Buyers want the lowest possible price; the sellers want the highest. Buyers want everything fixed; the sellers don't want to spend any money they don't absolutely have to. If the transaction falls apart, buyers want their deposit back while the sellers want to retain it. I could go on and on. Exactly how is someone supposed to work for the best interest of two clients with such directly opposing interests? Never use the listing agent as your buyer's agent, or vice versa.

Now as to the question you asked: You don't say what state you're in, but every state that I know of has an online licensee database (the fact that you have a real estate license is public record).

The business card stuff, I can ignore. There are still agents effectively working in 19th century conditions. And unless you're a supervisory broker, lots of firms will simply list you as an agent on the roster, even if you have your broker's license.

The failure to disclose license number is more serious. State laws vary, but here in California it's required to go on basically every major document, including the purchase contract, and at this update, business cards.

Who's handling escrow? Ask them what the agent's license number is. If they don't have a license for this person, you've been scammed, and you should contact your state's department of real estate immediately, as well as a real estate attorney to see if you have a valid lawsuit. Actually, if the license number really isn't on the purchase contract, there is material there for a lawsuit, at least in California. If they don't have a license, they are probably practicing law without a license, as a real estate license allows an agent to fulfill a very limited set of functions that would otherwise require a law license. Even if it isn't automatically practicing law without a license, chances are that someone who doesn't have a real estate license has gone over the line into things that require an actual attorney. Going over the line into practicing law without a license is probably the second most common way that actual licensed agents get successfully sued and criminally prosecuted - right behind record-keeping failures in the brokerage escrow account.

I don't know why people think real estate agency is no big deal and that anyone can do it effectively. Actually, scratch that; I do know. People don't like spending large amounts of money needlessly, and there's a whole bunch of businesses trying to sell things where their sales depend upon people believing that they can do just as well without an agent. It's not true, but there's no law against trying to convince people of something that isn't true - if there were, every politician and every lawyer in the country would be in prison. To be fair, good agents who know what they're doing do cost what appears to be a large number of dollars, but that is nowhere near as expensive as buying without an agent, or selling without one. People don't know how much they don't know, and unfortunately there is no entry on the HUD-1 telling people how much the agent saved them or lack of an agent cost them.

Make sure that agent is beholden to you, and not the other side of the transaction. Go and find yourself a good listing agent (Just as if you were buying, I'd tell you to find yourself a good buyer's agent), and you won't have to worry about whether the other party's agent is licensed - if they're not, it's not your problem, and won't be your disadvantage.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

This was a comment on Real Estate Sellers Giving A Buyer Cash Back. The interesting thing is proposing hourly pay instead of commission for agents.

That makes a lot of sense. Disclosing (net) cash back to the lender changes the purchase price, which also changes the buyer's basis in the property - sorting out the tax situation nicely as well. And when a buyer is bringing a down payment to the table, they should be able to vary it as necessary to keep the LTV where they want it.

Speaking of choosing buyer's agents, though, I wonder what your opinion is of paying one by the hour (instead of via commission)? In the future day when I might be in a position to buy, there's a local buyer agency (who actually maintains a reasonably informative blog about the local market) that has the option to work that way and I'd welcome a third-party perspective on the pros and cons.

My view of them is -

1. For buyers is willing to do their own research and self-direct their search, they can get the specific parts of the buyer's agent package they want a-la-carte, without having to buy the whole package.

2. Since the agent's compensation isn't driven by the price of the property selected (or the commission a seller is offering) there's significantly greater incentive alignment between a buyer and their agent.

1. If the buyer/agent relationship doesn't work out for whatever reason, a buyer still ends up spending cash for the hours used.

He's got some good points. Here are some more that I see:

First off, when do you fork over the money? Up front? Is the up-front money refundable? How easily? This could quite easily be a tool for locking up exclusive business. They do a rotten job, but you've already got $5000 on deposit with them, so you figure you might as well get what good you can out of what you've got spent. Commissions are contingent upon an actual finished transaction. In other words, I've got to get the job done in order to get paid a commission. I don't have to get it done to get paid an hourly rate.

Second, it occurs to me that this may be something aimed at getting more money: The hourly pay on top of the commission. It never ceases to amaze me the number of people who don't realize that buyer's agents get paid out of the listing agents commission. This is called a cooperating buyer's broker (CBB) fee, and it is paid to the broker, who then sends a part of it to the agent. What happens to the buyer's agent part of the commission? Is it used as an offset, is it refunded point-blank (running squarely into the issue of fraud if there's a loan), or what? The most reasonable way would be as an offset against outstanding hourly, and the remainder rebated for closing costs only. However, 2.5 to 3% of the purchase price can be an awful lot for a buyer to pay in closing costs, even with seeding an impound account in California. The buyer is likely to end up basically using the money to buy the rate down further than is really beneficial, simply because there's no other benefit they can legally get out of that money. So I tell you not to waste your money buying the rate down too far, then I give you the choice of that or forfeiting the rest of it to no good purpose. Does anyone else see the contradiction here?

Third, what is the basis for billable hours? Is it time actually spent with the client, or is it time spent working on the client's file? If the client isn't present, how does the client verify the figures?

The time I actually spend with clients is a fairly small proportion of all the work I spend on them. Maybe 20 percent, at the very most. Consider the parable of the iceberg: What you get is a lot more than what you see at first glance. Last week, I spent six hours looking for one set of clients, and another couple hours on-line winnowing before that. It took us less than two hours to view the properties I decided were worth showing them. Do I charge based upon my time spent, or based upon actual face time?

Now ask yourself, does the basis for billable hours constitute a hindrance to effective job performance? I have thought about it, and "face time" billing would cause most agents - and their supervising brokers - to be a lot less generous with their "file time". But "File time" is what makes a good agent. If I bill based upon "file time", I've got to be able to show what I did with that time, and I'm going to be running head on into clients who won't believe I spend the time I've spent, or at least say they don't, no matter how good the documentation. But does billing by "file time" give agents incentive to pad their time sheets? It seems likely to me that it would. Does billing by "face time" give agents an incentive to go as slowly as possible? Seems likely to me that it would, when the clients incentives are directly opposite. Not all agents would abuse either one of these, but enough would.

Here's another issue: Agents don't get all of what they "make". Brokerages have expenses, and they're entitled to make a profit on what they provide. Agents individually have expenses, some of which are fixed, and some of which are variable. If we work on an hourly basis, how much do we add for overhead? Are the clients going to be receptive to it? Even if I bill by "file time" there's a lot of stuff I couldn't bill for, but is nonetheless essential to the proficient practice of real estate. As any accountant or business school graduate will tell you, you have to recover the costs somehow in order to stay in business, and the way they generally do it is by building an overhead allowance into billing. I occasionally do consulting work at $150 per hour. Even with the more efficient, longer relationship of finding a client a property, I'd need to bill at least $70 per hour to end up with a middle class living at the end of the month. I strongly suspect most folks wouldn't be inclined to pay those kind of wages without evidence of value provided in advance. This would discourage clients from signing up with newer agents or brokerages who might very well do a better job than someone long established who has gotten lazy. Without a proven track record (as in "known to them"), how are you going to persuade the average schmoe who has only been told that, "Real Estate agents don't even need any college!" to fork over $70 per hour before they've seen the work? Commissioned salespersons have to get the job done before they get paid. Not so hourly workers. I realize business people do it all the time, as I've been on both ends of that, but most folks aren't business people, and even the ones who are tend to take a different approach to their personal affairs. Finally, can I really justify billing my consulting work $150/hour while only billing actual buyer clients at half that rate? I'm not going to reduce the consulting rate. If my time is worth $150 per hour (as my consulting clients have told me it is), it's worth $150 per hour. You willing to pay $150 per hour for my expertise, sight unseen? Other people have and will again, but that enlisted military man that walked into our office this afternoon might have some difficulty. I suspect most people would rather let me keep the buyer's agent commission. What if we're billing by "face time"? I'd have to charge a much higher number of dollars per hour to pay for my preparation time. Fact.

Let's ask if most people are likely to be adult enough to pay for something everyone else is offering "free", or at least where they don't have to write a check for money they have painstakingly saved? If the abomination that is Internet Explorer doesn't persuade you on that score, I've got my experience with Upfront Mortgage Brokers to fall back upon, and I can tell you that the answer is most emphatically no, at least in the aggregate. Every time I've had somebody ask about doing a loan on the UMB mandated basis of known fixed compensation, they've ended up canceling the loan. The UMB actually lets me offer cheaper loans than my normal "fixed loan type - known rate - guaranteed costs" because the client bears the risk of late loans, somehow mis-adding adjustments, etcetera. With UMB, I agree to get the loan done for a fixed amount of total compensation - but the clients know what that number is, and it isn't what most people think of as "cheap". With my normal guarantee, I assume the pricing risks, but I have to include the costs of those risks in my retail pricing. Upshot: The loans are slightly more expensive, but people like them much better. In fact, they can't sign up for them fast enough. The only possible reason I can find for this difference is that they don't have an explicit figure for how much I and my company are making (gross - the net is much lower).

Choosing or not choosing a loan based upon the fact that it seems the loan company is making a lot of money is a great way to shoot yourself in the wallet, but you'd probably be amazed at how many people do it. People tell themselves that the loan company is "making way too much money" off their loan and end up choosing the lender who offers something at a higher rate that costs thousands of dollars more - but doesn't have to disclose how much they make. I've not only seen it in action - it's been proven by government research. here is the research paper from the FTC. (Thanks to Russell Martin of

All of the preceding are not reasons to refuse to offer hourly compensation. They are simply reasons why I wouldn't expect a lot of it. The final consideration is this: Most agents are independent contractors, not hourly employees. Would hourly compensation create a situation where the Labor Board would rule that this hourly pay pushes agents over the line into an employer-employee relationship with their brokers? Given how most brokerages require their agents to do other things that are on the list of bullet points of statutory employees (regular required meetings, etcetera), it seems likely to me that it would be enough extra that FLRB might well rule that the agents involved are now statutory employees. This would change everything about the broker-agent relationship from its long-established norm (Brokerages would have to pay overtime, Social Security taxes, minimum wage. Holidays. Minimum time off. Etcetera. They might even have to deal with agent's unions). I don't say that agents couldn't work on an employee basis, but all of these added costs to the brokerage would certainly tend to make the wall of getting started higher for new agents, and harder to negotiate, thereby artificially restricting the number of agents. This would have the effect of limiting competition. I don't think that's a good idea for consumers, although the big chains would certainly love it, as it would make it harder for independents to compete.

If you think paying by the hour is a way to get superior real estate services cheaper, I have some land in Florida. Who's going to charge low hourly rates? Unprepared, less qualified agents. It might work out to be a little less, and people who have the intestinal fortitude to move quickly without being goosed on the biggest transaction of their lives might save a little bit in that the agent or brokerage's total compensation is a little less than it otherwise would have been, but where is the level of the value they provided in order to earn that money likely to be? I submit to you that I have reason to believe it would be considerably lower in the aggregate. More than enough lower to place their patrons in the unenviable position of buying the real estate equivalent of the Yugo.

In short, I see a whole lot of drawbacks, many of which are fairly well buried, while only a few advantages, which may be obvious but are outweighed for the vast majority of the population by the drawbacks. I might be willing to do it for the right client who asks, but I'm certainly not going to advertise it.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

An email:

Greetings, I've recently been pitched the idea of refinancing my home and investing in apartments, or more precise, a four-plex. The idea is to refinance and get a negative amortization loan on my house. With the money I pull out of my home, put a down payment on a four-plex, also with a negative amortization loan. That way, I am told, my payments would stay relatively the same on my home and I can have a positive cash flow from the four-plex. Along with the pitch I am told that I can refinance after five years and get another plan, or sell outright, the apartments. Their belief is that in five years, the apartments and my home would have gone up enough to offset the interest that I will not be paying in a negative loan.

I've read, on this site and elsewhere, that negative loans are not the way to go for most people. I'd like some more input as to what to do in my situation.

Here are the specifics in my case:
Home --- owe - 200k
worth - 600k
would get around 200-215 from refi
Apartments --- worth about 900k
downpayment would be 20%, or 180k
keep the money left over from refi in savings for emergencies

loans for both properties is a five year fixed rate of 7%
paying only 4.25% of it, with the rest being added to debt

Is it too good to be true?

Now I know how Hercules must have felt fighting the Hydra. Cut off one head, two more grow back.

This situation can be called many things, but "Too Good To Be True" is not among them. It not only isn't true, it isn't good.

Let's go over what's going on in the situation as proposed.

You would have a loan on your home for about $420,000, including closing costs. This is just over the (basic) conforming limit of $417,000, but negative amortization loans are not A paper and pay no attention to the conforming loan limit. A real principal and interest payment on that loan is $2794.28, of which you are paying $2066.15. Over the course of three years, your loan balance would increase to about $435,327.16, at which point that $15,200 and climbing pre-payment penalty is no longer hanging over your head. After 5 years, you owe $447,480. Total of payments to that point: $123,969.00.

On the apartment building, you would have a $720,000 loan at 7%. The real payment on that is $4790.19, of which you would be paying $3541.98. After three years, you would owe $746,275, at which point that pre-payment penalty of $26,100 (to start, and climbing) is no longer over your head. After your planned five years, you owe $767,109. Total of payments is $212,518.80.

Now, I'm going to compare and contrast with two other loans I really do have as I'm typing this, but will be out of date by the time anyone reads it. I should mention that I have difficulty believing that the investment property, especially, would not be at a higher rate than you have been quoted. I don't believe that these are zero points loans, but I'll even assume that they are, in order to have a fair compare and contrast. I know for a fact that this isn't even the best I can do, but I'm just picking the first rate sheet that comes to hand. This is with all costs included: loans I could lock at the time I originally wrote this. A 30 year fixed on $417,000 (maximum conforming) at 6.25%, and I could even give you about $750 to help cover your closing costs, but let's say net total cost to you is $3000, and therefore your net is $214,000 when all is said and done. The payment on this is $2567.54. There is no prepayment penalty on this loan. After 5 years, you owe $389,216.30 and your payments will total at $154,052.44.

The loan on the apartment building would be bumped all the way to 7.375% because it's non-conforming, and so that the yield spread covers the adjustments for investment property and 4 units. Every lender has these charges, and these are on the mild side. So you see why I do not believe the real rate on the investment property loan would end up being 7% without they charge you some pretty stiff figure in points. I'm not sure your real rate can be bought as low as 7% on such an Option ARM. This lender does both A and Alt A, and their adjustments on the Option Arm are a half point more expensive, which means even the highest rate on their sheet only buys your net retail points to one, but let's run with our assumptions as stated. Payment is $4972.87, after 5 years you will owe $680,400 and your total of payments will be $298,371.66.

Let's look at the end of those five years.

Total paid
Neg Am
30 fixed

So you see that every dollar you saved on cash flow cost you two dollars in real terms. Lenders love this kind of math! Nor am I certain that this is really a fair comparison between the loans, but it's what I have to work with.

Now, lets do the apartments. As I said, I am as certain as I can possibly be that this is not a true and fair comparison between loans. I'm restricting myself to "no points" loans, and if that lender told you there were going to be no points on an option arm at 7% on a 4 unit investment property, I'd call him a liar to his face.

Neg Am
30 fixed

So you see that, even giving this person every possible benefit of the doubt, you come out better on the thirty year fixed, even though I don't believe their loan really exists at the rates they stated.

Now I'm have not, thus far, allowed for the possibility that you wouldn't qualify for both loans, (with all the lovely potential for gain on the apartments) with both sets of fully amortized payments. There is a pretty serious monthly income zone ($3800 wide) where you would qualify for negative amortization but not fully amortized, at least "full documentation." It is to be noted, however, that these loans can be done independently of one another, dropping the monthly income range gap where you qualify for at least one full documentation to just over $800. I am intentionally ignoring the possibility of "stated income" loans because stated income is a very dangerous game to play in these circumstances (or anything similar). Also keep in mind, however, that property values don't have to go up in five years. It's a pretty reasonable bet, especially right now, but I don't think we're going to see more than 5% annualized for a while.

(At this update, rates are lower but stated income is completely unavailable, at least for now)

People sell Negative Amortization loans based upon apparent cash flow, not based upon how wonderful they are to your bottom line. When you consider them on anything other than a short term cash flow basis, their virtues become non-existent. They are popular because they are easy to sell to most people. Most folks think of cost in terms of the check they are writing every month, and that's just not all there is to it. There are also deferred costs - costs that have the potential to step out and grab you with a bill, in this case for another $85,000 that most people won't realize they owe. This is 2003 thinking in a 2011 world: "The equity increase will more than pay the difference." Except that it isn't necessarily so. Apartments have to cash flow, yes, but they have to cash flow in real terms, not something manipulated to make it look like you're making money. They don't appreciate except based upon their rental income net, and unless you get a clueless newbie for a buyer, that's what your offer is going to be (Any resemblance between this and the bigger fool theory is purely intentional).

It's much easier to persuade people to give the bank tens of thousands of dollars in equity that they might have someday, than it is to persuade them to write a larger check or endure negative cash flow in the first place. Persuading them to write the larger checks remains the correct thing to do in 99% plus of all cases. You can't fault loan officers and real estate agents as sales folk for making the easy sale - but you can fault them to the extent they represent themselves as analysts, consultants, or advisers, and I just don't see a whole lot of people in either of my professions representing themselves as straightforward sales persons. When I originally wrote this, I had a property one of my clients was in escrow on with about eighty business cards on the kitchen counter - and mine was one of about three cards on that counter with anything like a sales representation ("Loan Officer and Agent"). Some say things like "Real Estate Consultant", while others say things like "Relocation Specialist" or "Financial Vice President". It's all very deliberate to convince people to drop their defenses, because "I'm not a salesperson," but if you are going to represent yourself that way, you have a responsibility to comport yourself in accordance with that representation - and all the evidence I'm seeing says that this is not the case. I would like to see some civil cases make their way through the courts which fault agents and loan officers on the basis of their self-representation as something other than sales folk.

Actually, let me take that back. If they're acting as your real estate agent, they do have a fiduciary duty to you no matter what they're representing themselves as. Loan Officers do not in most of the country - which is one of the reason the loan side is so messed up - but Real Estate Agents do, and if they're also doing the loan, they have a responsibility to advise you that this appears to be beyond your means, and exactly what risks you may be taking with this purchase - something I'm seeing more evidence in contradiction of than in support of.

Negative amortization loans can serve a valid purpose as refinances in certain limited circumstances. They can help people avoid worse consequences than necessary, when the numbers are right for it. But as purchase money loans, they are like playing Russian Roulette with your financial future. Sure, the market might take off like it did a few years ago - but it also might sit stagnant for the next several years, or even decline a little. Even if it goes up, it may not go up enough to pay the extra money you now owe. Of all the scenarios listed, the market taking off at 10% plus gains per year is the least likely, in my opinion, at least for the forseeable future.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

The only Pre-Approval I trust is one that I wrote myself.

I got this search engine hit:

pre-approved loan underwriter changes terms illegal

I have gone over these issues in discussing the pre-qualification.

Loan officers are salespersons. There is intense pressure on them from supervisors, brokers, stockholders and their own pocketbook to tell you what you want to hear. A large proportion of the people who ask me for a either pre-qualification or pre-approval already have a property in mind, and they get angry if I tell them it appears to be beyond their means. They should be kissing my shoes because I'm trying to keep them from making a half-million dollar mistake, or at least make certain they go into it with their eyes open, rather than just keeping my mouth shut and pocketing my commission. Most of these folks just go get their "Think Happy Thoughts" letter elsewhere.

Furthermore, if the loan officer is counting upon referrals from real estate agents for a living, if they tell people what they can really afford, they're getting the agent angry to no good purpose. This agent thinks they have a commission check all lined up, and the loan officer is trying to talk the buyer out of it, threatening that commission check. Most Real Estate Agents do not respond well to this, I'm sad to report. In that situation, I would be thinking, "Boy, I'm glad I found out now, before the default, when investigators and lawyers and courts get involved," but most agents (and their brokers) see only the immediate check that just evaporated. One such experience is all it takes before they not only stop referring to that loan officer, but try getting any clients they may have in common away from that loan officer. This may be short-sighted, but it is also human nature.

Not to mention the fact that nothing about a pre-approval or pre-qualification is binding. In fact, until the underwriter writes a loan commitment, there is nothing that says you have a loan at all. Furthermore, it's rare for loans to be rejected outright. What happens far more often is the underwriter puts one or more conditions that the applicant cannot meet on the loan commitment.

Furthermore, there is nothing about any loan that says the terms cannot change unless there's a rate lock in effect. If the loan isn't locked, it's not real. Quite often, loan officers will tell people their loan is locked when it's not. Locking paperwork can be easily faked.

Finally, while the new 2010 Good Faith Estimate makes lowballing on the costs more difficult in that it adds more hoops for the unscrupulous to jump through, it does not prevent the practice or stop it. Keep in mind that last word "estimate". Furthermore, they are not promising that you will get the loan. That requires a loan commitment written by an underwriter, and if further investigation by the underwriter reveals more questions they want answered in order to fund your loan, the underwriter can always add more conditions. None of the paperwork you get at loan sign up promises you will end up with a loan at all. You want to know why, consider that when the lender starts to verify the applicants information, they come across information indicating it's all fraudulent. This happens. It has happened to me, and it happens to loan officers somewhere in the United States every day.

Even with the best will in the world, I can't guarantee you've got a loan until I get the loan commitment from the underwriter. I can go through all the guidelines for a given program, and make certain the borrower meets every single one of them. It doesn't mean anything until the underwriter writes that loan commitment. I don't have the power to approve that loan - no loan officer does. Loan commitments are the exclusive province of the underwriter. A good loan officer can and does go through guidelines to ascertain whether there's an known reason that you will be turned down. If the underwriter rejects the loan, none of it means anything.

This is one of the reasons that I have written several articles explaining how to calculate what you qualify for, in terms of payment and in terms of purchase price, so that you will not be at the mercy of somebody who tells you, "Sure you can afford it," while qualifying you for a "stated income" negative amortization loan. The most mathematically correct and detailed of those articles is Should I buy a Home Part I, while the most accessible is How to Tell If You Can Afford This Property.

If you don't have a lock, the loan is not real, and it will fluctuate with the market - every day for A paper. Until mid-2009, I used to lock every single loan upon application, but the lenders have now made that practice financially prohibitive - a loan officer who does it can expect to pay "fall out fees" that drive their cost of business up until what they can offer consumers is no longer competitive with anyone. What I can still do is guarantee all fees except the tradeoff between rate and cost, and consult with a client upon the optimum time to lock those in, which now has to wait until after the loan commitment. Even that is not absolute, however. The loan officer cannot really promise you that loan until the underwriter writes a loan commitment with conditions you can meet. Even that can change if the underwriter discovers new information, but always remember that the loan officer is not the underwriter, and there are regulations preventing direct contact between consumers and underwriters. If the underwriter rejects the loan (or doesn't approve it), you still don't have that loan. You can choose another one, that you are likely to qualify for, or you can do without. I'll tell people that if the loan officer gets back to them within a week with a change, it's likely that they're honest and they really thought you qualified for the loan they told you about in the first place. If it takes them three weeks or longer, or if they spring it on you at closing, I wouldn't believe they were honest with sworn testimonials from George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Diogenes that they saw the whole thing, and it's not the loan officer's fault. It's not for nothing I tell people, "When There Is A Problem, It's Good If They Tell You Right Away"

Only when you have a lock agreement, loan costs guarantee, and a loan commitment from the underwriter do you have a deal going that somebody might be able to stand behind, in the sense of being able to hold them responsible if they don't deliver on exactly those terms, and even then there are limitations. Of course, what really used to happen with most loans (and still does with a large number) is that loan officers tell you about loans they have no prayer of being able to deliver in order to get you to sign up. This is despicable, but it's the way things are. There are reasons why the situation is complex, but that's no excuse for loan providers to play any additional games to obscure or confuse something that is already complicated enough. Part of the reason that I'm writing here is that I would like to change this for the better, but the power to demand real change is in the hands of consumers, not any individual provider.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

Once upon a time, I received an email about the virtues of zero interest credit cards as opposed to Home Equity Lines of Credit. I've organized both the email and my response in order to facilitate understanding:

You raise a lot of issues. Some I'm going to deal with very quickly, others I'm going to spend some effort on, but nothing as in depth as a full article would have. I'm going to keep referring to material found in Credit Reports: What They Are and How They Work

I'm going to take the email in chunks:

Turns out I made the Two-Loan choice myself, independent of your article, a couple years ago. I was motivated to get a conforming first loan (~$322K @ 5.75%), and put the other ~$45K of a prior mortgage into a HELOC (besides, the HELOC rate was lower than the 30-yr fixed at the time!).

Well, times (and HELOC rates) have changed, and I now have
~$65K on my HELOC, and relatively tight budget.

That was 2003. considering that I had 30 year fixed rate loans at 5.375 percent or lower without any points for months and 5.25 for literally zero total cost for about one month, you likely paid more than you needed to. There was a period in late August when rates spiked up, but I was calling the same clients back in December and into 2004, asking if they wanted to cut their rate for free. No prepayment penalty, no points. Those would have lowered the rate further.

HELOCs (Home Equity Lines Of Credit) have the disadvantage that they are month to month variable, based upon a rate that is controlled by the bank. On the downside, you're somewhat at their mercy. On the upside, the rate is based upon that lender's Prime Rate plus a margin fixed in your loan papers. They can't change your rate without changing everyone else's also. There is absolutely no legal reason I'm aware of why they can't set prime at twenty-four percent. There are plenty of economic reasons why they won't. Unfortunately, given the high demand low supply of money currently, the banks are competing for new business with a better margin, not a lower prime. They didn't cut rates every time Greenspan's Fed did, but they have religiously boosted prime every time the overnight rate has gone up since the Fed started raising it. Banks are making a killing in real historical terms right now with variable rate lending.

Fortunately, in most cases it's pretty easy to refinance a HELOC. Credit Unions are a great place for this; variable rate consumer credit is where they shine. There are some internet based lenders where you can obtain no cost, easy documentation HELOCs at rates right around prime, or even a bit below if you have the credit. Most HELOCs also have "interest only" options for five or ten years. Brokers really don't do a whole lot for HELOCs except keep lenders honest; there is not enough money in them to make them worth chasing and the lenders won't pay for them the same as for first trust deeds; it's too easy to refinance out of them. (Brokers can beat the stuffing out of credit unions on first trust deeds, however).

Unfortunately, your credit score is a problem now:

I have multiple credit card companies offering me low introductory rates (some 0%, some 2%) for short terms (up-to 1 year).

Why would I NOT want to take them up on their offer?

In truth, I've already done this a number of times in the past 12-18 months, always at 0%. So I've learned the "minimum payment" trade-off (and I wish congress hadn't forced CC companies to raise their minimum payment requirements!) [ last year, one fine bank only made me pay $10/month on their loan of ~$10K! Now I'm seeing minimum payments of 1-3 %]

The difference between cash flow and real cost, and the fact that each time you accept a new credit card thus, it is a MAJOR hit on your credit. Let's say you have two credit cards now that you have had for over five years, and get four new ones. Your FICO score modeling goes from over five years to about a year and a half on your length of credit history (the average of your accounts, except that five years is the maximum you get credit for an account). Open four more six months down the line, and now you have ten, with an average time open of just over a year. Furthermore, since most people move as much as they can into the new credit accounts, this gives major credit hits for being essentially maxed out on a card. Thirty to forty points on your FICO score per card, perhaps more. You say you've been doing this a while. Not to mince any words, I wouldn't want to have your FICO right now.

There are always two concerns when you're looking for the best deal. Minimize your costs, of which interest is far and away the largest, and be able to make your payments. I don't know if you have other payments here, but if so I would do everything I could to live cheaply enough, long enough to use the money I save to make a difference on both of those scores. In your position, I'd sell any cars I still have a payment on, just to get out of the payment. This is a concern I've been telling people about since 2003, when the rates on everything were so cheap. There is more than one way to do things, but you have to be prepared for the consequences of the way you chose. I had some clients up in Los Angeles about July of 2003. They wanted to cut their payments. I gave them the option of a conforming loan (like yours) with a HELOC, and they took it. As soon as the loans funded, the wife called me and said I deceived them about the loan, and they wanted me to pay for another loan. Unfortunately for their contention, I had a piece of paper in the file with their signatures saying exactly what I tell everyone else about this situation, that the rate on the HELOC is month to month variable and subject to change, and that they understood this was a risk and they elected to take it. It looks like you went in with your eyes open, but the risk didn't work out as you hoped. I'm trying to think of other strategies to help you out, but other than "live frugally for a while", it's all little stuff around the edges.

Tonight I'm "running the numbers" on whether a 2% rate (nondeductible) is better than an 8% (tax deductible). And according to my simple calculations (I'm an engineer, not a financial advisor!), it's a no-brainer (go for it!). For the $40K currently on the HELOC (other $25K is already temporarily in 0% accounts), the one-time transfer fee ($50-90/transfer) and lower interest amount (~$70/mo) is ~$200/month less than the deductible interest-only (minimum, ~$435, @ 8%) HELOC payment, AFTER adjusting for the tax deductibility (@ 30% [fed + state], ~$130 on $435).

My plan is that in months when my "income"/cash flow cannot cover all the minimum payments, I'll just use a HELOC check to cover the difference. That is, slowly transfer SOME of the debt back to the HELOC. But in the meantime, my theory goes, I'm paying down my principle faster than if I was just making "extra payments" on the HELOC.

Yes, in most cases you will make more progress, faster, this way, but at such a long-term cost as to make it prohibitive, particularly if you have to leave the credit lines open after you transfer the money out six months down the line. Lots of very silly folks do all kinds of weird and non-remunerative things because it's a deduction, but deductions are never dollar for dollar. If that were the only concern, 2% nondeductible beats 8% deductible by a huge factor. Given what's going on in the background, however, kind of a different story. All these newly opened lines of credit are going to drag you down for years. Make certain to pay it off before the adjustment hits; one month at 24% will kill almost all of your savings. Two months at 18% will more than kill it. Given what your score has likely dropped to, I'd bet that it's closer to the former than the latter.

I also finally had a 0% application turned down, due to "too much credit already, for your income level". So I imagine having all these cards may be hurting my credit score? But I'm not going to re-fi my house (or buy a new car?) anytime soon, so I think I don't care.

I imagine you're going to care. FICO scores require care and tending and time to rise back up. Close off any cards you opened for the zero interest period that you have paid off, and that will mitigate the damage. Keep only a few long standing accounts. But a large amount of damage is already done. When Credit Card companies are saying that, your FICO has dropped big time. Without running your credit, from the foregoing information, I'd guess you are below the territory where I can get a 100% loan, these days, even sub-prime (lower 500s). You might be below 500, where only hard money can lend to you.

(At this update, there are no 100% loans except VA. Given current underwriting standards, someone with a sub-580 credit score basically can't get a loan without 30% equity/down payment)

Another concern is that HELOCs have "draw periods", usually 5 years, and (at the time he was) about three years into yours. I'd be very certain to move it all back into the HELOC prior to the expiration of the draw period. Your credit card options are already getting worse, meaning that you're not getting the cards or not getting approved for enough to be useful. The HELOC's rate, by comparison, is set by a margin in an unalterable contract, and you're not going to be able to qualify for a new HELOC that's anywhere near as good while those card accounts are open. Move the money back in at least a couple months before the draw period expires and close the credit cards, and you might be able to get a new HELOC on decent terms.

Your credit is always vitally important. Guarding a very high credit score is something worth stressing about. You never know when you might need to apply for credit. Most credit cards, nowadays, can alter your rate if your score drops or if you make one late payment anywhere, not just on that card. A good credit score saves you money everywhere, from borrowing to insurance. In your situation, I'd be stocking up on pasta and Hamburger Helper while seeing what I could do to increase my income, so I could live cheap enough to pay my bills down enough that I'm not squeezed. It's your life, but that's the way I see it.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

(For full disclosure, the original email is below in a body).

Hi Dan,

While using Google to seek the wisdom of others regarding my current financial situation, I came upon an article of yours, and have now read at least a handful of others. In particular, "One Loan Versus Two Loans" caught my attention.

Turns out I made the Two-Loan choice myself, independent of your article, a couple years ago. I was motivated to get a conforming first loan (~$322K @ 5.75%), and put the other ~$45K of a prior mortgage into a HELOC (besides, the HELOC rate was lower than the 30-yr fixed at the time!).

Well, times (and HELOC rates) have changed, and I now have
~$65K on my HELOC, and relatively tight budget.

I have multiple credit card companies offering me low introductory rates (some 0%, some 2%) for short terms (up-to 1 year).

Why would I NOT want to take them up on their offer?

In truth, I've already done this a number of times in the past 12-18 months, always at 0%. So I've learned the "minimum payment" tradeoff (and I wish congress hadn't forced CC companies to raise their minimum payment requirements!) [ last year, one fine bank only made me pay $10/month on their loan of ~$10K! Now I'm seeing minimum payments of 1-3 %]

Tonight I'm "running the numbers" on whether a 2% rate (non-deductible) is better than an 8% (tax deductible). And according to my simple calculations (I'm an engineer, not a financial advisor!), it's a no-brainer (go for it!). For the $40K currently on the HELOC (other $25K is already temporarily in 0% accounts), the one-time transfer fee ($50-90/transfer) and lower interest amount (~$70/mo) is ~$200/month less than the deductible interest-only (minimum, ~$435, @ 8%) HELOC payment, AFTER adjusting for the tax deductibility (@ 30% [fed + state], ~$130 on $435).

My plan is that in months when my "income"/cash flow cannot cover all the minimum payments, I'll just use a HELOC check to cover the difference. That is, slowly transfer SOME of the debt back to the HELOC. But in the meantime, my theory goes, I'm paying down my principle faster than if I was just making "extra payments" on the HELOC.

Seems so obvious when I look at the numbers, that I cannot figure out why more people aren't doing it, or at least talking about it!

Why does a thorough website like yours not say anything about this (that I could find anyway)? Is it just to keep those low-rate credit offers coming? Am I missing something? I am really the only person to ever think of doing this? I also finally had a 0% application turned down, due to "too much credit already, for your income level". So I imagine having all these cards may be hurting my credit score? But I'm not going to re-fi my house (or buy a new car?) anytime soon, so I think I don't care.

Thanks for reading this far. If you post an article on this topic rather than replying, will I get a least a pointer to it in reply?

Again, thanks for considering a comment on my situation!

Identity withheld by request

(UPDATE NOTE: After several years of it being unavailable, I've recently started getting lender solicitations for stated income loans again. I haven't done any of these new loans yet, but as much as I don't like stated income there is a legitimate market segment that it served: The self employed and those with large amounts of business deductions, who actually could afford these loans because they got to pay for things with "before tax" dollars while it is only "after tax" dollars that are considered by traditional underwriting standards. Given the growth in the self employment segment of the economy, somebody is going to decide they want the income from serving it and figure out appropriate controls to prevent its abuse. That does not alter the basic thrust of the article, however, which is that you will save money by providing full documentation if you can)

No matter which provider, no matter what type of loan you get, nobody is going to loan you money without the appropriate documentation. The more documentation you have that you are a good risk, the better the rate you are going to get, and the lower your costs are going to be.

Everybody hates filling out forms and providing documentation. When I originally wrote this, there was a billboard two blocks from my house advertising, "Stress free loans." Actually, these signs are all over. And I'll bet they bring in a lot of business. Low documentation loans are easy money - I could do them all day and all night, and make more money, and make the lender more money, while doing less work, than I can by hunkering down and actually serving my clients best interests. Those billboards say "stress free loans" which three words look like an English sentence meaning this will be easy, but the real translation to English reads, "Hello, I am a lowlife scum who wants to take advantage of lazy people who are too ignorant to know better by making a lot of money providing loans at higher interest rates and less favorable terms than they could obtain elsewhere, and putting a large proportion of my clients into loans that they cannot afford, from which point they will inevitably default and lose the property and whatever investment they may have made"

The fact is, that for something dealing with this much money, if there is documentation you can produce to prove that you are a better risk and gets you a better rate, you should be eager to present it. If I can spend half an hour instead of fifteen minutes filling out forms and as a reward I save $40 or more every month until the next time I decide to refinance, I want to fill out the extra papers. If I refinance every two years, I have essentially been paid $960 for a quarter hour of work. That works out to $3840 per hour. I don't know about you, the reader, but even when I'm completely inundated with clients, I don't make that kind of money per hour. I don't know any job that pays that much, unless you want to include wealthy investor. And let me tell you, the wealthy investors I've dealt with are eager to spend the extra time filling out said forms. It really is a "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" situation. They know it will Save Them Money, and don't have to be sweet talked into filling out one more form or providing a little more documentation. They've got it already copied for me, and if I want their business, I'd better buckle down and get to work on finding the loan with the best terms possible. If you, the reader, wish to be wealthy, you could do worse than emulate their example.

There are, when you get right down do it, three different levels of documentation. The lowest level of documentation is NINA, which is short for "No Income, No Assets." There are other names for it ("No Ratio" being the most common, while "ninja" was the creation of a reporter with samurai fever). This is a loan where the rate you get is purely driven by your credit score (as well as other factors, such as the equity in your home or down payment you're making, but those are constants endemic to the situation, not variables about which I am talking). You're not even documenting that you have a source of income. You're basically saying, "Here I am! Gotta love me!" to the bank, and they really do love you because you're filling their coffers by paying the highest rates for your loan. Guess what? You're still filling out all the forms (or somebody is doing so on your behalf, which they can do to the same extent on other loan types!), and you're still providing all the documentation on the property - how much it's worth, proving you own it, proving the taxes are current, etcetera. Owing to identity theft and homeland security laws, you can expect to have to provide two things that basically show that you are you. You can expect to deal with problems if the county doesn't show the taxes as current, your landlord or current mortgage holder shows you as being behind or that you have a history of being behind or the county doesn't show you officially in title of record, or any of a host of other potential problems, but hey, at least you didn't have to show that you've got a source of income!

The next level of documentation is a "Stated Income" loan. This is where you document that you've got a source of income, but not that said income is sufficient to justify the loan, so you tell the bank you make that much, and they agree not to verify the actual numbers. This is going to require two additional items: verification of employment, or a testimonial letter if you are self-employed, and reserves. Reserves are quickest to explain. Industry standard is money sufficient to pay the loan, your taxes, and your homeowner's insurance for six months, in a form that is sufficiently liquid such that the money can be accessed, for a long enough period that the bank will believe it isn't borrowed - and the bank will require documentation of its availability if it's in an account type such as 401k where access may be restricted. Verification of your employment is somebody in the HR department filling out a form on your behalf and verifying it over the phone. The testimonial letter for self-employed borrowers comes from your lawyer, accountant, or tax preparer on their letterhead saying that you really do have a legitimate business. It basically reads: "To whom it may concern. John Smith is self-employed as the owner of business X. He has been doing this for Y years. Based upon information provided to me, he will earn the same amount of money this year as last year." The person providing the testimonial must sign the letter. It really is only about three sentences, but that person is putting their business on the line for you if it's not true. So they tend to require evidence if you're coming to them for the first time to get this letter written and signed.

The bank is basically looking for two years in the same line of work or at the same company to approve this one. Subprime lenders - when we had those - would sometimes accept a year or even six months, although their terms will not be as favorable. What the bank is looking for is evidence that you can really afford the loan. The thinking goes like this: "He's got a source of income, He's got a good credit score, he's making all his payments, he's got money in the bank, okay, we think he's living with his means and can afford to pay us back. We'll lend him the money." There are variants on stated income of which "stated income, stated assets" is the most common, but these carry higher rates, higher charges, or both, in many cases actually end up looking more like a heavily propagandized NINA loan than anything else.

It is a misapprehension to believe that Stated Income Loans have no debt to income ratio or income requirement. They are precisely that: You are allowed to state your income, which the lender agrees not to verify, in exchange for paying a higher interest rate. It's still got to be believable within the context of your profession and locale, and if believable amounts of income do not justify the loan, then you can expect to have it rejected. This income must also be sufficient to convince the lender that you can make the payments upon all of your known debts according to lender guidelines, mostly having to do with the aforesaid debt to income ratio. For these reasons, while you can always move a "stated income" loan to "full documentation," going the other way is forbidden.

I've heard Stated Income (and NINA) commonly referred to as "liars loans", and they are often used for such, but that is not their intended use. As a matter of fact, people get in a lot of trouble with these loans, and many times it comes back on an unscrupulous loan officer or real estate agent trying to push something through for which their clients really aren't qualified. If you can't afford the payment, am I really doing you a favor by qualifying you for the loan? I submit that I most emphatically am not. Before they push such a loan through, an ethical loan officer using it for this purpose should sit down, tell the people what the real payment is going to be, and make certain they can afford it - and not just by words, either! The loan officer has responsibility to both the lender and the borrower, and putting somebody into a loan they cannot afford harms both of those parties. On the other had, I have run into situations where they borrowers were renting and their effective cost of housing was going to go down! And in that case, I submit that I probably are helping the clients. On the other hand, if you're doing Stated Income or NINA (especially on a purchase) and the loan officer doesn't sit you down and cover what the payment is going to be within a couple dollars per month, and make certain you're okay paying it, this is a red flag in no uncertain terms!

What Stated Income is meant for is self employed people and people working on commission who really do make the money, but have write-offs such that their taxes aren't going to show enough income. Or people who had a bad year, or large losses or high write offs one year, but are still basically solid. I am going to observe that regulating stated income out of existence is doing no favors for the people it is meant for, nor the market at large. I certainly understand why Stated Income and NINA have evaporated currently and agree with those reasons due to the abuses that have been practiced. However, it doesn't do anyone except politicians any good to pretend that there haven't been people who could have otherwise afforded their loans hurt by this development.

The highest form of documentation is Full Documentation (almost everyone says "full doc" because the unabbreviated phrase is a mouthful). This does not necessarily mean I've got to prove to the bank that you make every penny you actually make, but only that you make enough to justify the loan. The proof the bank will accept is very straightforward. Self-employed borrowers are still going to need that testimonial letter from stated income. They will additionally be asked for their federal income tax packet. This is all of the forms, front and back, that you sent to the IRS last April 15th, and perhaps the April 15th before that, too. It's got to be a signed copy, and it must include copies of any w-2s or 1099s that you get. People in the construction profession, as well as those who may be w-2 employees but work on commission will also need to furnish their taxes, and the bank's underwriter can always require it of anyone. It is to be noted that banks did not have to accept your loan on a stated income basis even when it was available - the underwriter could always require that you furnish full documentation.

Those people who are hourly or salaried employees of a company can usually get by the full documentation of income requirement with just w-2 forms. If you are a company employee, the last 30 days worth of pay stubs will also be required.

The basic rationale for this is simple. Very few people tell the IRS that they make more money than they do, because the consequence is higher taxes. So the bank is willing to use tax forms to prove your income. In the case of a w-2 employee, the company is telling the IRS that those are the wages it paid you, and therefore wants to deduct your wages as a business expense, and you went and paid taxes on it, so the bank will usually accept that. Similarly, your pay stubs should have year to date pay on them. Here the bank will accept the word, metaphorically speaking, of a third party without a stake in the outcome of the loan.

A subset of the full documentation loan is the streamline refinance. As the name indicates, it is available on refinances only, not purchases. There are a lot of limits on these loans, but when I get to do one it is the easiest of all loans. Basically, it's a case where the same lender is now offering better rates, and no equity is being taken out of the home, and they'll allow you to do it because otherwise you'll take this client elsewhere. 90 percent of a loaf is much better to them than none.

Within the sub-prime mortgage world (when it existed, which it probably will again - once again, it's a legitimate market that someone will decide they want the money from servicing), those lenders would often take the deposits from 12 consecutive months of bank statements (sometimes 6 or 24), usually discounted by a certain amount, and accept that as proof of income. This is called Lite or EZ doc, although there's nothing easy about it and as a matter of experience there are more fights with the underwriter and jumping through hoops here than with any other type of loan documentation. The rates are somewhat higher than for full documentation, but not nearly the rates for stated income. Mind you, sub-prime rates are higher in the first place as well. Furthermore, many of these sub-prime lenders would advertise the fact that "EZ doc rates same as full doc!" I shouldn't have to explain to adults that this phrase translates to English as they don't give the lower rates to true full documentation loans, now should I?

So, on the subject of documentation, I think you should be able to tell that the higher the quality of your income documentation, the lower the rate that you are going to get from a given lender. If you can qualify, a full documentation loan is probably going to save you more than enough money to pay you to do the extra paperwork, the amount of which is marginal anyway. The only reason not to do the extra paperwork is if you can't supply requisite proof, which is pretty much the reason why the lesser loan types such as stated income and NINA have been so abused and I can't find a single investor offering them today.

I should probably repeat one final time that as of this update, true full documentation loans are the only thing available. The others will almost certainly make a comeback at some point, but with some changes. They were badly abused by the marketplace, but the fact that they went away caused a lot of people who really could afford their loans to be unable to refinance, or unable to get a purchase loan. Eventually someone will decide they want the profit for serving this market segment and figure out a way, but until then, lesser documentation loans are gone.

And as one final warning: If a loan officer requires originals not only of the forms they ask you to sign (A couple of the standard forms require original signatures - really!), but of your own documentation, it is a BIG RED FLAG. I can't think of any client-supplied document that lenders will not accept copies of. The only reason to require your originals is that loan provider does not want you able to apply for a loan with someone else, so they're putting an end to your shopping, and once they've got them, good luck trying to get them back (at least until the loan is done so they get paid). A good loan officer needs good readable copies - not your originals. An ethical loan officer doesn't need or want custody of your originals any longer than is necessary to make good copies, and if you hand them a good readable copy in the first place, that isn't a problem.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

When we sold our home just over a year ago we were talked into selling for a bit more than the original offer so the person could get money back to do renovations... I objected based on percentages and stuff and my realtor and the other realtor agreed to commissions based only on the original agreed to asking price. Then I could not find any other reason to object, after all, if the loan officer was willing to loan that much money, what reason was it for me to say nay?

But now I hear it is illegal to do this? Yikes? Have you heard of this?

What should I do now?

The same thing anyone should do when they discover they may have inadvertently violated the law: Talk to a lawyer.

For all of this article, please keep in mind that I am not a lawyer. I don't even play one on TV. Not in California nor in any other state, and the laws and precedents can be different from place to place. So please double check everything with someone who is a lawyer, and if there is a conflict, follow their advice.

That said, my understanding is that it is not illegal per se for a seller to give a buyer cash back. If I hand you $500,000 cash - or something worth $500,000 to you - and you hand me back title to the property and $50,000 cash, or something worth $50,000 to me, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. It's a free exchange, willingly agreed to by competent legal adults. No harm is done.

Where illegality does come into it is when there is another party to the transaction to whom it is not disclosed. In most real estate transactions, there is a lender involved. That lender is loaning what is usually a very large sum of money based upon the representations which were submitted to them. To intentionally and materially falsify those representations in order to persuade a lender to make a loan they would not otherwise make is a textbook case of FRAUD. Loan fraud is, literally, a federal offense. Go to jail for a while, and be a convicted felon for the rest of your life. Whether it's done by lying (stating something that isn't true) or by omission (failure to inform the lender of relevant facts) does not matter. Furthermore, due to the fact that fraud is a felony, there's a good likelihood of adding conspiracy in there - another federal felony offense.

The potential offense here is in failing to disclose the cash back to all parties in the transaction. If it is disclosed to the lender and issues the loan anyway, there is neither a criminal offense nor a civil tort, at least according to my best understanding.

The reason this fraud happens is because if the cash back is disclosed to the lender, then they will treat the purchase price as being the purchase price less the cash back amount. If the purchase contract says $400,000, but the seller is giving the buyer $20,000 back, it isn't really a $400,000 purchase price, is it? Net to the seller is only $380,000. Net cost to the buyer is only $380,000. That looks like a $380,000 piece of property to me, not a $400,000 one. The lender will take the same point of view, and base all of their calculations off of a $380,000 purchase price at most.

What that means is that if the buyers are not putting at least $20,000 down, they are over 100 percent of the value of the property. Which means the borrowers loan amount will be reduced accordingly. In fact, as I have said in Seller Paid Closing Costs (or, When Your Prospective Buyer Has No Money), it's better for both the buyer and the seller if they don't do this, because it is in both of their interests to use the lower purchase price that results from making the official price lower by the cash back amount.

In short, this whole charade is worse than self-defeating if it is disclosed to the lender, because if it is disclosed the lender will only lend based upon the net purchase price: "official" price less the cash back. If the cash back (or equivalent things such as paying buyer debts) are disclosed to the lender, I cannot think of a reason to do it, because whatever purpose you wanted to achieve with the cash back will be defeated. If the buyer wanted the cash to fix the property, they're either going to have to take it out of their down payment money or, dollar for dollar, out of the cash they got back, in order to have the same loan to value ratio that the loan was underwritten for. $400,000 official price minus $20,000 cash back is $380,000. So if the buyers put $20,000 down, the loan and the transaction would be doable only as 100% financing (not available as of this update except under a VA loan), and the net benefit the buyers got out of their down payment is zero. Alternatively, they can just take the $20,000 cash and apply it to the purchase price, over and above the $380,000 the lender will base their loan calculations on. Net benefit to doing all of this: Zero. Furthermore, there are drawbacks for both the seller and the buyer. It actually hurts them to do this if they disclose it to the lender.

What was the purpose of that $20,000 again? If it wasn't a down payment, the buyers will need to come up with $20,000 for a down payment from somewhere else. If it was a down payment, well, why not do the transaction "straight" in the first place? I assure you that a lender to whom this is disclosed will see it this way. Why not just reduce the official sales price by $20,000, pay less in commissions, lower fees, less capital gains, and have the buyer have a lower sales price, which translates into lower property taxes in a lot of places?

Which is precisely the reason this whole thing does not get disclosed to the lender. The buyers are trying to have their cake and eat it, too. They only want to pay $380,000 for the property, and have the lenders think that they paid $400,000, so they can borrow as if they paid $400,000. In other words, a material misrepresentation of the situation in order to induce the lender to make a loan they would not otherwise have made.

In short, FRAUD.

It is mostly the buyers, their agents, and loan officers who pull this kind of nonsense. Some of them are thoroughly blatant about soliciting this kind of crime. I don't know what they're thinking, but this is not harmless, this is not minor, and it has been explained to licensees. I can only presume a willful disregard of the rules. It can be difficult for sellers to even know who the buyer's lender is going to be, and it really isn't any of their business. Nonetheless, if the lender can show that sellers were a party to the deception (side agreements aside from the main contract are pretty much proof on the face of it), they can be dragged into the mess. Actually, sellers and their agents can be dragged in quite easily, side agreement or no, but side agreements are the equivalent of a smoking gun still in your hand while standing over a corpse. So if you're going to insist upon a side agreement, also insist that it be disclosed to the lender and proof that it was disclosed to the lender. Better still to make it all a part of the main contract. Optimum is not to give or ask for cash back in the first place. It sets you up for a criminal fraud investigation, and no matter how innocent you may be in fact, I have been told by someone who found out the hard way that they are no fun to endure. If you're a professional, it shows up in records as a complaint against your license, and I'm not even certain it comes off when you're found not culpable.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

I keep running into people who paid money for a get rich quick seminar and are looking to buy property for zero down and immediately sell it for a $50,000 profit. Somebody With A Testimonial Told Them How It Could Be Done.

Sorry folks but the people with the real secrets to getting rich don't sell them for $199 at the Holiday Inn. They didn't do it during the stock market bubble, and they're not doing it now in real estate. As I told people back then regarding the stock market, don't confuse a rising frothy market with investment genius. And that rising frothy market has now changed. Deals like that do happen, but they're always less common than the People With Testimonials will admit, and they are snapped up quickly. Usually they never make it as far as the Multiple Listing Service. Before they're even entered into the database of available properties, they are sold, and they rarely fall out of escrow because the people who buy them know what they are doing.

Consider, for a moment, yourself on the opposite side of the transaction. You're not going to intentionally sell your valuable property for less than it is worth, are you? And if you're buying, you're certainly not going to pay more than market value, are you? Remember that Wile E. Coyote ended up at the bottom of the canyon under a rock for more reasons than that the Author was on The Other Side. "Super Genius!" Says so right there on the label. But betting large amounts of money on The Stupidity Of The Other Side is a mark's game.

About the only reliable source of "quick flips" for profit are distress sales. In no particular order, most of these are people in foreclosure, estate sales where neither the estate nor the heirs can keep the payments up long enough to sell normally, and where somebody's been transferred and has to sell now. The requirements are that they have large amounts of equity, not short sales or even lender-owned property, and the need for a quick sale.

These people get mobbed by prospective buyers, and by agents looking to represent them in the sale. Everybody wants something for nothing, and one of each group is going to get it. One agent is going to get a transaction where if it gets as far as the MLS, all he's got to do is type it in and bingo, the buyers will line up. One buyer is going to get to buy below market. Usually, they're the same person. The multimillionaire brokers all usually each have at least one going on.

The issue for these buyers in distress sales that is rarely addressed until it gets to actually making the deal is that they're going to need a certain amount of cash that they are prepared to lose. Putting myself in the position of the person who has to sell, I'm not going to give this person the sole shot at buying if I'm not pretty certain he can deliver. The only way to measure this is cash - how much they can put down on the property. How much of a deposit they can make that I can keep if they can't qualify. Remember that in this case the one thing a distress seller cannot afford is a buyer who can't consummate the deal quickly - unless the seller is going to get to keep something substantial for the experience. If you don't want to buy on those terms, than at that price someone else will. The multimillionaire real estate brokers, for instance. There are a lot of people who make a very good living at foreclosures because they go around from foreclosure to foreclosure offering cash for a below market price. Matter of fact, they pretty much saturate the foreclosure market. The chances of a seller in this position accepting an offer without a substantial cash forfeiture for nonperformance are basically identical to the chances of them having a listing agent that doesn't understand the situation. And quite often, that listing agent makes an offer themselves, in violation of all that is ethical.

Get religion about this point: There is ALWAYS a reason for a low asking price. Usually, a noticeably low asking price should be even lower than it is. Unless they're a philanthropist looking for some random person to donate money to, this seller wants to get as much for the property as they can. What they're hoping for is a buyer who doesn't know what a really bad situation they're getting into. "A cracked slab? How bad could it be?" is probably the classic example of this (The answer was about $300,000 in one case, but it could be as low as $20-25k). These sellers have been dealing with the situation. They've had a reason to become intimately familiar with the problems. They're hoping for an unsuspecting buyer whose agent wants an easy transaction and will not explain to them, or simply does not know, what those buyers are getting themselves into. I could certainly keep my mouth shut and do more transactions, easier, if I didn't take the time to tell my buyers everything I know about what they're getting into. I just had a buyer who loved the floor plan so much on a property with mold infestation right out in the open that he wanted to make an offer, even after I told him "Anywhere from ten to two hundred thousand to fix, maybe more, and probably at the upper end of that because you can see how it has spread". Luckily, his wife talked him out of it. The universe knows that most of these good deeds don't go unpunished. But that's what I'm theoretically getting paid for, and as often as I do my job and it causes them to get angry and I don't get paid, it's preferable to the eventual consequences of not doing the whole job and getting paid for it.

There's a newsletter I get from the State of California every three months. It's always got a long list of people who are losing their licenses. So if your agent tries to really explain something like this, listen to them. They're not trying to talk you out of the Deal Of The Century so that someone else can get it (the Deal of the Century in real estate comes around surprisingly often if you can afford it). They're trying to make certain you go in with your eyes open. It's likely to be a better agent than the guy who thinks "Okay, I've told you that the hill is known to be unstable, so I'm covered. It's not my fault that you didn't instantly understand all of the implications."

(On the Mold House: In the meantime, I called and left a message for the agent, and she returned my call and left a very accusatory, defensive message about "What is the documentation for your accusation of mold damage?" Opening my eyes, you silly ostrich. It's clearly visible - Eeewww! - right there, and there, and there, and there's moisture coming out at the bottom of the wall downstairs. My guess is that it's coming from the standpipe in the walls of the upstairs hall bath. I look forward to seeing her name on the List of Dishonor)

The typical property where there is real potential for quick profit is going to require work. Work as in physical labor that you're going to have to do, or pay someone else to do. Not to be sexist, but "The husband died (or became disabled) and the wife couldn't keep it up," is a cliché because it is so common. Sometimes the work is easy - carpet, new paint, clean up the yard and bingo! The property jumps in value! Sometimes the work is harder, and the profit is larger. And sometimes the buyer is basically going to have to tear the house down and start over. There is always a reason why the seller didn't do the work so they could make the profit themselves. Sometimes it's because they're lazy, sometimes it's because they can't. Sometimes it's because the work was risky, sometimes because it was expensive, and sometimes it's because the seller can get some poor fool to buy it who doesn't realize that they're going to have to make an investment that isn't worth the payoff.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

I have found your blog to be very informative. I was out riding my bike and rode past a house for sale. In a few minutes of Internet research I've found out a bit about it. The property is bank owned and it sounds like a property in need of repair. However the information I have found out doesn't add up.

From a real estate web site listing recent sales in the area, I found out that the property last sold for 5% less than the asking price. Apparently the sale happened in October.

The house is now listed in the local MLS service, and the text of the listing leads me to believe that the house was listed in December. It seems from what I have read on your site a foreclosure takes at least 3 months, and this house apparently was back in the hands of the bank and listed two months after it sold.

The house is priced well below the market and within my budget, but that the bank got it back that quickly raises a giant red flag for me. Also, given that the MLS listing says the sale is as-is and that there are no contingencies allowed raises another red flag.

How if they don't accept contingencies do you do a home owners inspection? Pay for one before making an offer, and risk you'll be throwing the money away if the seller doesn't take your offer? Or do a home inspection after they accept your offer, and forfeit your deposit if the inspection covers up a big problem.

Actually, foreclosures are perfectly fine for a first time buyer if you've got the wherewithal to work with them.

Lender owned, which means it didn't sell at auction, is an entirely different story than buying at the auction. You can make offers with contingencies for inspection, usually for seven or ten days, and providing it's an attractive offer otherwise, the lender may very well accept. You're always risking the inspection money on any property, because if it comes out that the house is messed up, you still have to pay the inspector. For lender owned (REO) properties, you don't need to forego an inspection contingency. Financing contingencies are also very doable - I've got one in escrow now with both, and I'm working on another. If it wasn't possible, they would reject the offer out of hand, and they haven't. Disallowing an inspection contingency makes the property worth a lot less, because a lot fewer people are willing or able to handle the risks involved. If your particular property is specifically disallowing inspection contingencies, it tells me they know about a problem, and it's almost certainly a big one. It can still be worked, but get yourself a really top-notch buyer's agent. It's worth paying them (or paying them extra) yourself if you need to, because you'll make more on this property, and they will earn it, because there's a lot more liability for them on this kind of property.

If you're looking at an REO, be aware before you even step onto the property that there are going to be maintenance issues. More often than not, there are even sabotage issues. Furthermore, because the lender doesn't live there and almost certainly knows less about the property than an inspection will reveal, they are exempt from transfer disclosures. Lender owned properties are not for Mr. and Ms. Upper Middle Class looking for the perfect house, they are not for Mr. and Ms. Just Barely Scraping Into The Property, and they are not for Mr. and Ms. Fumblefingers, Mr. and Ms. No Time, or even Mr. and Ms. Procrastinate. But if you've got the inclination and the skill or the cash to fix it, foreclosures can be quite lucrative. Foreclosures are always a risk - the more so because the current owner literally does not know and has no way of knowing what the condition of the property really is. That lender has never lived in it, so they cannot disclose things that most owners would know and be required to disclose. Furthermore, the lender usually requires some addenda of moderate obnoxiousness or worse, aimed at getting the deposit and limiting your opportunity to exit the contract - and making the property value even lower, as such addenda are a thing of negative value to most folks. But if you've got the resources to make that risk a manageable one, you can pick them up well below the price of properties with similar characteristics.

Lender sales are pretty much always "as is." However, I have successfully negotiated repairs and allowances for repairs upon multiple occasions. They are more limited in nature than most, due to the "as is" nature and most lender's unwillingness to put more money into the property, but it is very possible if you discover defects that make the property less than fully inhabitable within the definition of the law. Hot and cold running water, working electricity and heat (Not air conditioning, however), total enclosure of the dwelling area, and active fire hazards can all be negotiated even in "as is" properties. There really is no such thing as a pure "as is" sale.

You might also want to read my article, "Why There Is Money in Fixer Properties" if you haven't already.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

Rediscovery Medium.jpg

Releasing the four novel Rediscovery series as a set today.

The e-book is available from Amazon or the Books2Read retailers (Apple, B&N, Kobo, etcetera) for $9.99 US. Essentially buy the first two, get the third for a buck and the final novel is free.

For paperback fans, Amazon couldn't handle the file as it was. The only way we could get the paperback through Amazon was to make it 8.5 x 11, and in 10 point type. The paper size is fine, but 10 point type is less readable than I'd like. The advantage is the set is $22.99 on Amazon, less than half the price of the four paperbacks individually.

The Books2Read retailers are selling a more readable 12 point type. It's more expensive at $32.99 - still $15 less than the price of the four individual novels - but much more readable.

If you're a fan of library checkouts, Books2Read includes several library services such as Overdrive and Biblioteca. Find out which your favorite library uses and ask them to order a copy!

Amazon here

Your favorite Books2Read retailer here

As a seller, a purchase offer is not money in your pocket. As a matter of fact, accepting the wrong purchase offer can cost you tens of thousands of dollars if the buyers can't consummate.

I recently dealt with clients making an offer on a property where the comparable sales run in the $350,000 to $370,000 range. The ask is $380,000, which isn't outrageous in and of itself, but Seller Paid Closing Costs are so endemic that they are essentially priced into the market, at least up to a price of half a million dollars or so where first time buyers peter out. My clients initially offered a price a bit above the lower end of the comparables, and paying their own closing costs. The owners rejected that but my clients really liked the property, so we sweetened it to what was essentially a full price offer, without any appraisal contingency, and the mechanics of my clients' offer (larger than necessary down payment) were such that there wouldn't be any obstacle to getting the loan and closing the transaction unless the appraisal had come in under $330,000.

But when I called the agent on the phone to make certain they got it, she was quite snippy, implying that they have offers for tens of thousands more. Well, I don't know that she had the greatest negotiation technique in the world, because it completely turned me and my clients off of the property.

What I do know is that people offering way over asking price are not, in my experience, coming in with large down payments. In fact, when I have dealt with them, they were mostly first time buyers who were asking for seller paid closing costs, and even sometimes Down Payment Assistance back when it was still available. Basically, the deal is "We'll give you a really great price if you pay for all the ancillary costs we don't have the cash for." And these transactions - if they actually close - result in everybody being happy and even noticeably higher commissions for the agents, as commission is paid on the full sales price.

So far, so good. But what if the appraisal is lower than the purchase price? The comparables in this instance are all between $350,000 and $370,000, as I said. Even moving up in the square footage department and adding another bedroom won't boost that much, as the property is already above average for the neighborhood - anything much more would make for a misplaced improvement.

The upshot of all of this is that the appraised value is not likely to be sufficiently high to support the loan value, unless the competing buyer has a much larger than required down payment, which they can then use the excess of to pay the amount that the sales price is over the appraisal on a dollar for dollar basis. As I've said, this isn't likely to be the case where someone is offering significantly above the asking price. People who have somehow acquired the money for more of a down payment understand that this is real money, far more than people with a minimal down payment planning on simply having higher payments.

So unless the appraiser commits fraud, the value is going to come in between $350,000 and $370,000. Let's be generous and say $370,000. Lenders evaluate value on an "LCM" or "lesser of cost or market" basis. Since the appraisal will be beneath the purchase price (if the agent's representation of higher offers was truthful), the lender will treat the value as being the appraised value, which we have posited to be $370,000. Let's say the purchase price is $400,000. For a 100% Loan to Value Ratio loan, which are not available right now, the lender will only lend $370,000. For a VA loan, which will go to 103% for veterans of the armed services, the limit would be $381,100, including loan costs, and everything else including the VA funding fee - the real limit is $375,550 for the buyer's purposes. For FHA loans, the maximum loan limit would be $363,525, and that includes the 1.75 points the FHA charges - the real limit is $357,050. For conventional conforming, the effective loan limit is either 90% ($333,000) or maybe 95% ($351,500).

So, assuming a $400,000 purchase price, to make a VA loan fly, the purchaser has to have a down payment of at least $24,500, and that's assuming they're not paying any loan charges, at least not themselves. For the FHA, they would need $43,000. For conventional, maybe they could get by with $49,000, but it's more likely they would need $67,000. All of these figures are exclusive of any transaction costs the buyer is paying, of course.

If that buyer doesn't have that cash, that transaction is not going to happen. You might as well reject it to begin with, because if you accept it, all that is going to happen is that you're going to waste six weeks or more Waiting for Godot. It is my usual experience that buyers with down payments of the size indicated understand that dollars are dollars, no matter what form they are in, and are unlikely to offer prices much over asking. There are exceptions, but not many. The reason people end up paying more than asking price is because they need something special from the seller, and therefore the seller who is willing and able to give it to them can extort a higher price for that property in return, and the most common reason why buyers need these sort of concessions is because they haven't got the cash necessary for the down payment plus closing costs. Therefore, in order to induce the seller to give them the extra they need in some wise, they offer a higher official purchase price that nets the seller what they want after the givebacks. Unfortunately, if that higher purchase price is not supported by the appraisal, the buyer then has to come up with more cash - and we just posited that they don't have it. Prognosis for the transaction: not good. So perhaps it might be a good idea to require a buyer to come up with some evidence that they do in fact have the necessary cash to make the transaction happen. When I write a buyer qualification letter, that is one of the essential parts it must contain: Evidence of cash to close. When I have a listing, that's one of the things I want to see before I advise accepting an offer: Evidence of cash to close.

I should also mention that all things being equal, it is not in the seller's interests to pay buyer costs, even if they get a dollar for dollar higher price. Why? Agent commissions, title insurance, and several other costs are dependent upon the official sales price. You net more net money from a $370,000 sale with no givebacks than you do from a $380,000 sale with $10,000 in givebacks. Furthermore, for the buyer, property taxes are based upon that official sales price. Making the official sales price $10,000 higher means the buyer pays more in property taxes. There is nothing ethically wrong with the practice of givebacks, so long as it is properly disclosed to the lender and approved by them, but it can cost both the buyer and the seller significant amounts of money.

Too many agents became used to the Era of Make Believe Loans, and don't understand yet the implications of it being over. Whether you're a buyer or a seller, you want to consult a loan officer on whether or not the loan for a given purchase offer is likely to be able to be done. Of course, if your agent is a good loan officer, you're already ahead of this game.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

You would think these nitwits would learn. You would think they'd all be out of the business. Sadly, that is not the case.

It started innocently enough. It always starts innocently.

This was an email I got (specifics redacted).

Hi Dan, I came across your blog looking for information on what to do when your mortgage loan might not go through at the very last minute. I live in DELETED, and realize your in the San Diego area, but you really opened my eyes on the subject and I had to let you know. We are in escrow with a close date of DELETED, and our VA lending agent no longer works with the company after 2 months of paperwork, assurances and promises. The newly appointed agent says they don¹t know how DELETED was going to close the loan and everything is falling apart. DELETED went as far to say he could close the loan in 5 days to use as a negotiating tool to get a contract with the seller which won us the house. We never heard of getting a back up loan or a purchase money loan? It¹s not over yet, but any advice would be GREATLY appreciated as we are 1st time home buyers and really feel taken.

My response

(name deleted),
VA loans are dead simple providing you have the following qualities:

-VA eligibility

-sufficient income to cover the payments and other debt (see debt to income ratio)

-acceptable loan to value ratio. In the case of VA loans, this can be up to 103% of the purchase price or appraised value, whichever is lower. This is the only widely available "no down payment" loan right now.

-Property that meets VA and FHA standards (No holes in walls or cracks in windows, subfloors all covered, etcetera)

-enough time to get the government bureaucrats to do what they need to.

Unfortunately, there's a lot of loan officers and real estate agents out there who still don't understand how the market has changed. I have always built client affordability and a budget into my transactions from day one, but the reason we're having problems is that a lot of my competitors didn't.

Here's what you need to do: Find out if there is a reason this transaction is not going to fly.

Obvious reasons why it definitely would not fly:

  • Can't document enough income for a long enough time
  • something wrong with the property
  • property appraises way too low
  • no VA eligibility

There are other possible reasons, but those are the main ones. If there is such a reason, bail out NOW. If there isn't such a reason, find someone who knows what they're doing IMMEDIATELY. Alas, I don't know anyone in DELETED, but I believe my company does business there. The good news is you still have almost a month, which should be enough time.

If this property doesn't work out for you, may I suggest finding DELETED or DELETED and asking one of those fine gentlemen to be your agent? They're both ethical agents who won't be searching for properties you can't afford and who do know competent loan officers. I can get their contact information if needed, but they're both easy to find online. Tell them I sent you - they both know I neither ask for nor accept referral fees, but that the occasional free client I send their way will disappear if they mistreat anyone I send.

I went out looking at property, and when I came back this email was there:

Thanks for your quick reply Dan, I know you must be busy, and I really appreciate all your information.

The only factor the new agent is citing is that we do have a high income to debt ratio. We know this. Everyone knows this, and it has not changed since we started the process 2 months ago. The first loan agent was going to get by this by paying down one of our high credit cards with seller money. We asked for 4% back from seller for this reason which they agreed to. Done. Now the new lending agent is saying that won't fly, that we can't pay down the debt we have to pay it off, and the 4% is 2000 short of our credit card debt. So she does not know how she can do it but is getting back to us today.

We have not talked to our real-estate agent yet, but we will today as well. Would you recommend we contact your mortgage company in the mean time to try to push through and cover ourselves?

Oh my.

Lions and Tigers and Bears and people trying to commit fraud. Oh, my!

My heart goes out to this person, especially as they are a veteran, but there's very little I can do beyond make them aware of some facts before things get any worse.

This is fraud. No maybe about it. I have written about this before in Real Estate Sellers Giving A Buyer Cash Back is Defrauding the Lender. If the purchase price is $400,000 but the seller is returning cash back to the buyer under the table, then the buyer isn't really paying $400,000, are they? Nor is the seller really getting $400,000, are they?

here's the legal definition of fraud:

All multifarious means which human ingenuity can devise, and which are resorted to by one individual to get an advantage over another by false suggestions or suppression of the truth. It includes all surprises, tricks, cunning or dissembling, and any unfair way which another is cheated.

Now if they don't disclose that 4% cash back, they are misleading the lender and the government into believing that the property is worth more than it is. In other words, fraud. Furthermore, the former loan officer evidently hadn't disclosed it from the fact that the new loan officer is saying the lender isn't buying off on it now.

(I should say that the Department of Veteran's Affairs apparently allows this, but they are not lenders or loan officers, and whether the lenders would accept it is another matter. They can add other requirements if they so desire, and I would not expect this to pass muster with any lender I am aware of, as it violates generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). Truth be told, I've never tried to get such a thing accepted, but I would try if the client really needed it and understood what needed to happen and the dangers to them. Even if the VA and the lender both permit it, it must be disclosed to them and approved by the underwriter in order for it not to be fraud. For standard conforming "A paper" loans, and for that matter even subprime ones, cash to the buyer from the seller, or cash to pay the buyer's debts, is strictly forbidden. Finally, considering such things from a dispassionate neutral point of view such as "are they a good idea?" or "Is the consumer likely to be able to repay the loan?" or "Is this a good risk for the lender?", I have to agree with GAAP - the answer is no, and the prognosis is that given the consumer's financial habits, this is setting them up for failure. But "good idea" and "legal" are two distinctly different concepts.)

Whatever the lender's fraud policy may be, the government comes down on people who participate in mortgage fraud that involves VA or FHA guarantees like a ton of bricks. Just because the VA permits it doesn't mean it isn't fraud if the lender doesn't, or didn't approve it in this particular case. They are going to throw the book at you. Have you ever seen the list of government regulations? Ouch, both literally and figuratively.

Let's suppose the buyer and seller do not commit fraud, fully disclosing the cash back to the lender and the government. If they do this, the lender and the government will both treat the purchase price as being the appropriate amount less than whatever cash is going from seller to buyer. As I said in When The Appraisal Is Below The Purchase Price for Real Estate, this will mean the borrower basically has to make up the difference in cash. Net result, the buyer/borrower needed that 4% cash not to pay off their consumer debt, but for the down payment on the property. Net gain to the buyer from that money: Zero. Nada. Zip. Zilch.

Both the loan officer and real estate agent and their brokerages need to hear about this, at a minimum. The loan officer for actively planning a fraudulent transaction, the real estate agent for not speaking up and putting their foot down, because they should have known better, but were keeping their mouth shut to get a bigger commission check.

Now that stated income is, to use Miracle Max's wonderful phrase, "mostly dead", there seems to be no shortage of nitwits trying this fraudulent trick to get loans and transactions through. It is not a minor violation that nobody cares about. It goes straight to the heart of the notion of property value, and the lender's expectation that if you do default, they will be able to get their money back by selling the property. This trick fraudulently persuades a lender to accept more risk than they are aware of, or worse, tricks them into taking a risk that they would reject were they in full command of the truth. That's fraud.

It also goes right to the heart of whether the client can afford the property. In this case, they clearly can not. If they could, there would be no need to commit fraud in order to generate a false picture of them being able to afford it. Debt to income ratio is there for the borrower's protection as much as the lender's.

Here's the rest of my response to the clarification:

Your loan officer has hosed you badly. I really hope it's not going to end up losing your deposit. If so, in your place I would talk to their company about paying it in your stead. Their loan officer was trying to make a fraudulent transaction fly; that's failure to supervise. If they don't promptly agree to indemnify you in writing, talk to a lawyer. Actually, talk to a lawyer anyway. But if your loan contingency is still in effect you may be able to get out of it without losing your deposit.

I don't know your situation or your state's law or the contract you signed on this, and I definitely am not a lawyer. Talk to your real estate agent about getting out of the contract RIGHT NOW because this transaction is not going to happen.

Once you're out of the contract, I'd fire that agent if I were in your shoes. He helped negotiate the contract, he should have known it was fraudulent and the requirements for making it legal and the consequences thereof.

After sober reflection several hours later, I am, if anything, madder than I was. I would be ready to do violence to these two twits for what they did to someone who not only wants to put money in their pocket, but served our country, so it's a good thing they're not here in front of me. If it were me, or some situation I had an interest in (legal standing), I'd certainly make a written complaint to the regulatory authorities. I want these clowns gone, out of business, locked up in prison so they can't attempt to repeat this nonsense with some other innocent client who doesn't know any better, and I want their enablers and those who fail to supervise them gone, too. Helping someone with their home buying is a trust, and I have no more sympathy for those who knowingly and willfully violate that trust than I do for pedophile priests.

I'm not here to act like the Black Knight, shouting "None Shall Pass!" That didn't work out too well. But you need to consider 1) Can you really afford it? 2) Is it consistent with your financial habits?, and 3) Is it fully disclosed to everyone it needs to be? That lender is loaning out hundreds of thousands of dollars based upon their understanding of the situation. If that understanding is not in full accordance with what is actually going on, that's a problem. A big problem that's likely to come back and bite you and everyone else involved.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

I've found several of your mortgage articles very helpful, and wondered if you could help me find a way to solve the dilemma I've been presented with by a loan officer at my bank. My husband is Active Duty DELETED, and is getting out in August of this year. We've found a house we want to buy in the state we'll be moving to, but when I went to the bank I was told no lender would touch him with less than a year in the service and no promise in writing of a job in DELETED. He doesn't have any credit history, but mine is fair (I haven't seen my FICO score recently but I do believe it to be over or around 620). I can provide w2s, income tax records, rental history (never a late payment), etc, but I cannot provide proof of the future. Is it true that we're simply out of luck? Where should I turn from here? I'd be very grateful for any information you can provide to me or post on your website, so far this seems to be a unique dilemma...

You have run smack into the question at the heart of every loan: How are you going to pay the money back?

This is understandably a cause for concern for the lenders. They don't want to make loans that aren't going to be paid back, and in order to pay them back, you've got to have or be able to get money from somewhere.

What they are looking for is a regular source of income, and you don't apparently have one. You're not going to keep the one you have, and you haven't (officially) got a new one.

There used to be loans for people in such situations. They were called NINA or No Ratio loans, because there is no income stated or verified, and no debt to income ratio. However, (even when they existed) NINA loans had lower allowable loan to value ratios (100% financing was impossible to find for NINA loans, and I always did think such requests were over the top) and the rates are higher than full documentation or even stated income. Full documentation shows that you have had and are likely to keep a good stable source of income, and documents that you've made enough in the last two years. Stated Income (when it existed) showed that you at least had the same stable source of income for two years, and usually that you had some money in the bank. NINA loans were driven purely off the Loan to Value situation and your credit score. You were essentially telling the bank, "Here I am! Gotta love me!" You were not providing any kind of documentation that you are able to repay the loan.

(NINA loans have been regulated essentially out of existence. "Mostly dead" to quote Miracle Max in "The Princess Bride", at least for residential consumers. Commercial loans is another matter entirely, leaving me to wonder exactly how much of a favor regulations banning the residential item are doing the consumer. Yeah, they were badly abused - but now people in your situation can't get real estate loans no matter how careful and how responsible they are, no matter how much money they have in the bank or in other negotiable assets, etcetera)

Your husband's lack of credit history and the fact that your score is only about 620 do not help. There is no evidence in your email that you are working outside the home.

Now I understand how tempting it is, especially right now, to buy a home. The two of you are getting out and looking to start your post-military life together, and you want to move right in to your new home, and start your new lives all at once.

This is, unfortunately, the kind of desire that quite often leads to disaster. Have you considered what happens if you don't get work? What if you do get it, but delayed several months? Or what if they keep promising to hire you in a few months but it just never quite happens? Meanwhile, that mortgage have to be paid, and you're not likely to be able to pay them working fast food. Meanwhile, the fact that you have this house is tying you to that location and its commuting area, where maybe you could find something that would support your family if you were able to move.

The fact is that buying real estate is something to do when you're certain you are stable enough to make those payments - as in you already have the money coming in, or solid reason to believe it will be coming in. A written offer of employment might be such reason - it isn't always. Cousin Bob saying, "Sure, we'll take you on!" isn't. Even though he's family, Cousin Bob needs to feed his own kids before he feeds you. Friends, old military buddies, former employers - I've seen more than enough examples of people who thought they had a job but didn't than you'd care to know about. You might have a job when they're willing to promise it in writing - they can be held responsible for that in court if they fail to follow through. If they haven't given you such a written guarantee, there is a reason why they haven't.

The one thing that messes up your entire financial situation, worse than anything else is failing to pay a real estate loan on time, now and for the next several years, . I have seen credit scores drop by 150 points for one thirty day late payment. If it gets to the point of a notice of default, or foreclosure, the consequences last for years. Plus you still owe the money, even though you haven't got it.

Once upon a time I wrote an article called, "When You Should Not Buy Real Estate." You fall into the third category I mention, those without a sufficiently stable income. You might also fall into the insufficient time to benefit category. As much as I like putting people into houses and such, the fact of the matter is that you buying a property right now would be very likely to mess you up financially for a very long time. Move into a rental for a little while, unpleasant as it may be. That way, if you have to change your plan, you are free to pick and leave if you need to. Having a property ties you to it and it to your wallet until it is satisfactorily disposed of, something hard to arrange on good terms right now in large portions of the country. On a $500,000 property like most around here, you are risking $500,000. With purchase money loans, there are limits on your liability and the lender's ability to get a deficiency judgment in most states. Nonetheless, to go into a house purchase with the idea of sticking the lender for the difference if it doesn't work out is at least a close cousin to fraud - and it might be fraud itself. This sort of thinking is one of the primary reasons behind the bubble in many parts of the country - and is false to boot. One way or another, you will almost certainly pay for a lender's loss. Since I'm presuming you don't want to do that, better to just not do this until you are a little more stable.

If you could afford to pay cash, this would not be a concern. But if you could afford to pay cash, the loan would not be a stumbling point. Also, some folks might ask, "what if I can make the payments off of a minimum wage job?" which is not the case anywhere in California. To be fair, being able to make payments off minimum wage does change matters, but be careful that minimum wage jobs are obtainable in your area. If there's 26% unemployment except for four weeks per year, you may not be able to get a minimum wage job, even if you've got the time for it. Furthermore, be careful that you're not biting off more in property taxes than you can chew. California's property taxes are comparatively low, ratewise. Clueless renters come here from other states and think, "Wow, they're only paying $4000 per year on a $400,000 property!" and think there's plenty of room to raise property taxes. But somebody making California's minimum wage of $12.00 per hour makes $24,000 per year - and $4000 is 17% of that person's gross wages just for the property tax. Senior citizens will lose their homes in droves if the tax rates ever rise - not to mention property values would drop like a rock, thus turning it into a self-defeating measure. Nonetheless, other states do have much lower property values - and much higher property tax rates. Clueless politicians also think "Property tax rates are too low - let's raise them!" - there hasn't been a year since Prop 13 passed in 1978 that some group of elected idiots haven't tried something or other to get around it and crash property values. This thinking that makes it difficult for investment properties to cash flow is also one of the reasons why there is upwards pressure on rents and an under-supply of rental properties.

Caveat Emptor

Original Article here

Every so often I'll say something about misplaced improvements. You may be wondering what a misplaced improvement is.

Simply put, it's something that stands out above the surrounding properties so far that they pull it down. Like having a mansion in a neighborhood of shanties. Yes, it's still a gorgeous house and yes, the functionality is exactly the same, but as soon as your walk out the front door you feel like you're in a third world country.

Repeat after me: Real Estate is only worth whatever I can get someone to pay for it. Real Estate is only worth whatever I can get someone to pay for it. One more time, with feeling: Real Estate is only worth whatever I can get someone to pay for it.

Got that? Good. Now ask yourself, would you be willing to pay more for a beautiful mansion surrounded by other beautiful mansions, or would you be willing to pay more for a beautiful mansion surrounded by cardboard boxes? The vast majority of the people out there want to look out of their beautiful mansion and see other beautiful mansions. I understand that even in the areas of the world where most folks live in shanties, the mansions of the wealthy are clustered together.

Probably the most egregious example of a misplaced improvement I've ever seen was this turkey. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, a Realtor really is making fun of a property. Beautiful brand new 2000 square foot home - actually an entire development of about 30 of them - less than a quarter mile off the departure end of the main use runway at a busy general aviation airport. That airport is open 24 hours per day, 365 days per year, and it has to by the terms of the land grant. I love small planes, and I couldn't have lived there. Plus you have to drive through a white trash neighborhood to get there, and there's now a freeway within about 75 yards. I have zero idea how the developer sold most of them. There shouldn't have been a housing development there at all. If they had to put something in, they should have run a road in off the other side and put in an industrial park or something, but I know of at least two crashes in the field where this development used to be. A travel trailer hook up would have been a misplaced improvement.

Misplaced improvements aren't always that much of a waste. Matter of fact, if a buyer isn't looking at a property for its investment value, but rather for something like housing five or six kids as cheaply as practical, they can be a good way to find a property that meets your needs less expensively than comparable properties. Why? Because everything around it drags it down, where most like properties are surrounded by other properties of comparable features. You never want to buy the best house on the block if investment is your criterion - but you might want to if you're just trying to find housing for a family of seven and you don't make two million dollars per year. The drawback is that it won't be in the best neighborhood.

For instance, I found a gorgeous 5 bedroom 3 bathroom property in a sixty year old business route neighborhood, surrounded by trailer parks and older offices and apartments. Some nincompoop had wasted at least $60,000 fixing it up to look like some big executive's entertainment house - but the chance of some big executive buying the property was nil. Across the street was an old office building with chunks out of the stairs, the neighbors all look lower middle class, and there's a trailer park entrance at the end of the block. So I can guarantee that the target market wasn't interested, which is too bad, because it really was a nice place. The guy was asking $80,000 above what I thought the market might actually support, and he eventually lost the property because he couldn't afford the payments on a vacant property and nobody was willing to pay what he wanted. If he had asked what the neighborhood would support, it would have sold quick to some working family who needed somewhere for their kids to sleep. But the brand new kitchen and travertine floors were just wasted money on the owner's part. Before you improve a property, if selling for a profit is your intention, always look around at the rest of your neighborhood to see if there's anybody else with that level of improvements and general quality of material. If not, you're wasting your money. Don't waste your money, because I guarantee you that potential buyers are going to look around before they make an offer.

Some misplaced improvements aren't as extreme. Just before I wrote this, I found a beautiful property for a couple of my clients that was nonetheless a misplaced improvement. This was beautifully refurbished 3 bedroom 1.75 bathroom home in a neighborhood where those go for $450-460 thousand. The ask was a little over 550, and let me tell you, it was gorgeous. It might have been the nicest kitchen I'd ever seen in a property of that price range, the public areas were beautiful and open, and had a nice mountain view. The bathrooms were new and extremely attractive, not to mention a downright cozy place to take baths, and the bedrooms were great, too. Everything was just wonderfully laid out, and it even had an atrium that lit up the middle of the house. The owners did everything right except one: They didn't consider the neighborhood, which really was a pretty good neighborhood, but houses in this configuration and with this square footage just weren't selling for anything like 550. I consulted an appraiser, who said that if everything was as I described, they might have been able to justify as much as 510 on the appraisal. My clients were looking for a nice place to live and entertain for the rest of their lives, and they had a large down payment, so the fact that it wouldn't appraise for 100% of purchase price was not an insurmountable obstacle, like it would be to someone without much of a down payment - which is to say 90% of everyone out there looking. Furthermore, it had sat vacant for seven months with no action (typical for misplaced improvements). We put an offer in, trying to jaw it down to something not too hugely above the neighborhood, and despite all of the evidence I cited, the owners blew us off. I understand that nobody likes to take a loss, but it's not the buyer's problem if you do, just like it's none of their concern how much you might be making. Residential properties are only worth what they are worth, and whereas this one didn't have many of the usual mandatory deductions, there really is no way to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. The neighborhood is the neighborhood, and this one wasn't Rancho Santa Fe, but rather an early sixties upper middle class development that had not updated with the times.

Misplaced improvements can be frustrating as anything to sell. Even if you do get an offer for $550,000, when the appraisal comes in at $490,000, that's all the lender will loan on. In fact, the vast majority of lenders won't fund if the total encumbrances are more than the appraisal, so even if you are in a position to offer a seller carryback for part of the price, it's just not going to work unless the down payment is at least equal to the difference between the appraisal and purchase price with a normal down payment left over. How many people do you think want to put down $60,000 of their own money just so they can go through the hassle of obtaining 100% financing (when 100% financing could be obtained), plus the additional money lenders are now requiring for a 5% or more down payment? How many people are even going to have $60,000 extra to put down if they wanted to? Vanishingly few right now. What happens to most accepted offers is they waste 30 to 60 days in "pending," and then they fall out of escrow and you are back to square one. It's just a cold hard fact that if the proposed down payment won't at least cover the difference, you almost certainly don't have a transaction.

The way appraisers find comps is not by going out five, ten, or fifteen miles to find the comparable properties. Comps almost always have to be within one mile sold within the last six months, and lenders prefer within half a mile, sold within the last three months. Further out, the appraiser is going to have to justify picking those properties as opposed to closer ones. The character of the neighborhood has to be very similar as well as the characteristics of the properties.

Often, in the case of misplaced improvements, someone suggests appraisal fraud. By some strange coincidence, this is almost always the owner, the listing agent, or both. Find an accommodating appraiser (The one good thing about the HVCC standards is that I don't get this request as often). Except that appraisal fraud is, well, fraud. Not to mention a violation of fiduciary duty, unless the buyer is stupid enough to choose to be unrepresented, and even there a good case can be made in law that this nasty seller and their agent took advantage of this poor ignorant buyer. No. Thank. You. There are reasons why there are limits to the lengths good agents will go to to make a transaction happen, and this is one of those cases where those limits are short, sharp, and crystal clear.

So we have seem that misplaced improvements are a disaster for the seller, while being a limited opportunity for a certain class of buyer, but they are tough transactions to make happen for a listing agent, and there is no glory in them. The seller is not going to be happy with the sales price, and it's almost certainly going to take longer than everything else around it to sell. I'm brutally frank with owners of misplaced improvements, because if they don't want to listen to what I tell them, they're not going to price the property appropriately or negotiate in the proper frame of mind, both of which are classic ingredients of a failed listing. Failed listings don't do anything good for anyone, and I prefer not to be a part of them. I'm not going to get paid, and everybody's going to end up angry at everyone else, which means it's likely to cost me some future clients also. I'd rather walk away before it gets started.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

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