August 2020 Archives

I've said upon more than one occasion that the factors at closing are all in the loan provider's favor. Unless they signed up for multiple loans, the typical consumer has no leverage to get the loan provider to play it straight at closing, and actually deliver what they said they would back when you signed the application. Many people never notice that their lender has taken advantage of them until they get the first payment notice, which is far too late to do anything about it. Furthermore, others never notice at all, and of the ones who do notice something is wrong in a timely fashion, eight to nine out of ten are so fed up with the loan process that they sign the documents anyway. I keep hearing sworn oaths from people who signed up with my competitors that they won't sign the documents at closing if they're not what they were promised, yet when I follow up the vast majority of them did. I can only conclude that these people actually enjoy being led on like the rats by the Pied Piper of Hamlin.

Assuming that you are not one of those people who enjoys being treated like a disposable rat by someone who's making a goodly sum of money from your business, what can you do? The first thing used to be apply for a back up loan, but the new lending environment stopped that. The loan isn't real until it's locked, and lenders have made it far too expensive to lock loans before there is an underwriting approval. If it isn't locked, the rate/cost tradeoff will change with the market's daily movements, but closing costs don't change like that. There is no excuse for not correctly disclosing all closing costs - and that includes escrow title and appraisal - at loan sign up. Rate and discount are the only things that should be able to change.

How can you tell if you've been treated right by the loan officer? There are dozens of pieces of paper that get pushed in front of you at signing. Disclosures for this and disclosures for that. Truth in lending statements. Yet more disclosures. Certificates good for a discount here and a discount there. This is partially legal requirement, partially intentional on the part of loan providers. There really is a legal requirement for most of these disclosure documents, but the loan provider likes that they are there because they all distract your attention from where it needs to be focused.

There are three documents at the heart of every loan closing. They are the Trust Deed, Note, and Department of Housing and Urban Development form 1 (HUD 1). I advise reading everything, especially any title transferring documents (Grant Deed, Quitclaim Deed, Deed of Special Warranty, etc), so the lender cannot easily throw a curve in amongst the auxiliary documents. But most don't bother trying. The three main documents are where you should be focusing your attention.

Sometimes, the Note is included in the Trust Deed, but most of the time they are separate, stand-alone documents. The Trust Deed gets recorded with the county, while the Note usually does not. Some states that I haven't worked in may use other systems (A Mortgage Note, for instance, which needs an actual court action in order to foreclose, and which California along with most other states have gotten away from because it is more costly).

The Deed of Trust is simple enough. Look over the Deed of Trust enough to see that it properly references and does not contradict the Note.

The Note requires more attention, and cross referencing between it and the HUD-1. Is the amount borrowed consistent with what you were lead to believe? Is the rate correct? Is it fixed for the correct amount of time? Is there a prepayment penalty, and if so, for how long? Check out the repayment terms, and make certain there are the payments are what you were lead to believe. The Note is a legal contract detailing what you are agreeing to by signing all of this paperwork. Make certain it reads the way it is supposed to. Take your time, read it over, do not allow yourself to be rushed. Do not think to yourself, "I've got three days to call it off" because once you are done signing the odds are long that you will not think about your loan further until your first payment becomes due, and that is too late. Read it now. If there is anything that you do not understand, ask for a clarification. Good clarifications start from a point of the wording that's on the paper, and make easy sense in English. Do not accept a clarification that you do not understand. Do not sign hoping to get a better clarification later. Do not sign period if you aren't certain you understand.

Check out the HUD-1 carefully. It is the only form that's required to give an accurate accounting of the money. Make certain the costs are what you were led to believe, and that it all adds up correctly. The numbers should start with the Old Loan (if Refinance) or purchase price, plus costs, plus reserves if you're doing an impound account, plus prepaid interest, minus any money you're bringing in (down payment, etcetera) or the seller or your broker is crediting you, and that should be the balance of the new loan. Take your time with the HUD-1 and the Note, and do not allow yourself to be rushed. Do not sign until you are certain that you understand and agree. If this takes a little longer than the signing agent planned for, tough. Many loan providers are adept at distracting you with this disclosure or that disclosure. Some companies actually provide them with training in how to distract you, and how to gloss over thousands of dollars that you didn't agree to. Stick to your guns. The Note is what you are agreeing to, the Trust Deed is there to enforce it, and the HUD-1 is the only form accounting for your money that is actually required to be accurate. The Note, Deed of Trust and HUD 1 are what the lender is going to force you to comply with in a court of law. Make certain that they are what you agreed to before you sign them. If they're not, it's probably time to start the process over with someone else instead.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

"Should People in their sixties take out a mortgage?"

The short answer is "Not if you don't have to." Now if I suddenly vanish, the explanation will be that the loan industry put a contract out on me.

Success in loans, and sales in general, is often attributable to selling people stuff they don't need. If you don't sell something, you don't eat. Getting people to call or stop by the office is expensive. The traditional idea of sales is that you have to make a sale at every opportunity, whether it really makes sense for the client or not.

The various tricks of selling a mortgage to retired folks is a case in point. "It's a cushion," "It's there in case you need it," and all sorts of other stuff to that effect. Combine this with the "If you wait until you need it, you won't qualify!" and most folks who don't know any better will cave in and apply.

This is exacerbated by the fact that most people seem to want to stay in the same home they raised their family in. This is very understandable, emotionally, and often the worst thing you can do financially.

Let's consider the typical three or four bedroom house with a yard, and the retired couple. It becomes more and more difficult, physically, for them to do the required routine cleaning, and even more difficult to do the maintenance and repairs that any home needs from time to time. Sometimes the kids are close enough and willing to help, sometimes they aren't. If their finances are tight in the first place, they get tighter and tighter over time.

Into this environment comes the guy with a Reverse Annuity Mortgage (RAM) to sell. This is a special kind of mortgage, with a special protection for the homeowner (here in California, and in many other states as well) that they cannot foreclose in your lifetime. You cannot be forced out. Well, what if you're sixty-five and live to 100, as a far larger proportion of today's 65 year olds will? That's thirty-five years they are locking this money up for, and there is always the possibility that by the time they consider the cost of selling, etcetera, there will be no equity. The interest rates are significantly higher than a regular "A paper" mortgages, higher than most sub-prime loans, even, and the pay to the loan officers who do them is much higher than a typical loan.

Lending is a risk based business, and that kind of lending carries its own risks. Who pays for the risk to the lender? You do. Especially as opposed to the typical loan where half have refinanced in two years and ninety-five percent in five, this is a long term loan they are being exposed to. Yes, the recipient could get cancer and die in a few years, but they could well survive that. The lender has no way of knowing what the interest rate environment for the money will be in a few years. So either the rate the clients get is variable, or the clients pay a higher rate to have a fixed interest rate.

Once you start taking money out of the RAM, it starts earning interest. Since in the most common forms the homeowners are typically not making payments, it's usually compound interest. If you are making payments, it makes your cash flow even tighter, and you need to take more money. In either case, your balance is increasing, faster and faster with time, until you hit the limit, at which point you can no longer get additional money. This often happens surprisingly quickly, as you have the power of compound interest working against you. This all but guarantees that the family will have to sell the home, often for less than they could have gotten had they the luxury of a longer sale time. Furthermore, if keeping the home in the family is something you would like, a Reverse Annuity Mortgage is almost certain to torpedo the hope.

Contrast this with the swap down option. Suppose instead that adult children buy a small place suited to the parents needs such as a condominium, and the parents live there, while the adult children live in the parents home. This minimizes cleaning, upkeep, and maintenance that the parents need done.

If this won't work, another option is selling the home and buying something smaller. Remember, a RAM will almost certainly cause the family to lose the home anyway. You get more mileage out of cashing in the equity by selling, and investing the equity, than you will from borrowing against the equity. Instead of working against you, compound interest is on your side. Most states have laws preserving property tax basis if that's something that is advantageous.

Let's say that with a $500,000 home, moving down to a $200,000 condo. Net of costs, you net at least $250,000 to invest, and let's say you do so at 7 percent, significantly less than a well invested portfolio. This gets you $17500 per year, or about $1460 per month, indefinitely, and you keep both the condo and the $250,000. Contrast this with taking the $1460 per month out of your equity. Even if you can find a RAM at the same 7 percent, the entire equity is gone out of your home in a little over fifteen years, and that's without including initial loan charges.

Nobody can make you do this, and there are many reasons why you might not want to. But looking at it from a strictly financial viewpoint, it's hard to find the justification for a Reverse Annuity Mortgage. In fact, I have never seen a situation where I would recommend it from a viewpoint of financial prudence. There might be family situations that make it the "least bad" solution, but that doesn't mean it isn't bad.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

For years when the market was hot, in all of my conversations on mortgages with prospects, there was one subject that came up over and over and over again (and still does), and that is the subject of payment. "But that loan over there only has a payment of $1450! The payment you are quoting is $2700! The other guy has a better loan!" Then I tiredly have to tell them about negative amortization loans and what is really going on, and why my 6% thirty year fixed rate loan was a better loan.

Usually, they didn't believe me. Over 80% of people were in denial when I was done explaining how a negative amortization loan works. They so desperately wanted the Negative Amortization loan to be a real payment, and they trusted the guy trying to sell it to them. After all, he told them all about his little girl's soccer game, or whatever irrelevancy he used (like all the good sales books tell him to) to make him seem like a trustworthy human being. So I'll tell them about what is usually my favorite loan, the 5/1 ARM, but with an interest only rider instead of fully amortized. "Now I shopped eighty lenders for real loans and real payments that you would actually qualify for. Of all those lenders, this 6% was the best thirty year fixed rate loan for no more than one total point. But I have got this other loan over here that another lender is willing to give you. It's at 5.375%, and the payment is interest only to start with, so you'll only be writing a check for about $2015. How does that sound?" They'll say it sounds better but not as good as that other loan that the other guy is offering. Then I'll tell them the downsides, "That's okay, because this loan's rate will adjust starting in five years, and at the same time, it'll start to amortize, meaning your payments will go up. If the index stays where it is now, it will jump to 7.25% that first month after five years, and your payment will be over $3250 in that sixty-first month. Furthermore, you'd have had to pay over three points discount to get that rate. So adding $10,000 extra to your balance, and suddenly having payments $1200 per month higher, is the price you pay for cutting your payment about $650 per month. What do you think the price is for cutting your payment by $1250?"

Well, as I've covered elsewhere, the price for a negative amortization loan in these circumstances, by whatever friendly sounding name they have for it, is a real rate two percent higher than you could have gotten, a balance that increases by about $70,000 over a five year period, and a prepayment penalty for the first three years, while your real rate isn't fixed even for one month, let alone 5 years.

Selling by payment is the number one trick of unscrupulous people. You go out car shopping, and someone says you can get a $20,000 car for $608 per month, while the lot down the street says you can get a $25,000 car for $303 dollars per month, that second car sounds fantastic, right? Never mind that the loan is based upon a ten year repayment, and the interest rate is two percent higher than the three year loan the first car was based upon. Never mind that the second car dealer is actually going to give you a payment of $339 after they soak you for $3000 in bogus fees simply because you are so happy you got this wonderful car for what these suckers think of as half the price, and you're so happy with that payment that you don't watch what they're doing as closely as you normally would, because, after all, you're getting this car for about half price! Except that you aren't.

Real estate, and real estate loans, are no different. You've got to be able to make that payment - the real payment, not the minimum payment. If someone's quoting you a payment that much lower for the same thing, there is a reason. But it is amazing the number of people who would never fall for the low payment line of patter out on the used car lot when they're talking about a car will fall for it the nice plush office in real estate that some of that money they soaked their suckers for bought. Those few I can get to own up admit to thinking of the mortgage loan as something akin to rent, which is kind of like thinking of your car payment like you would think of bus fare. Hey, here comes a bus that's seventy-five cents cheaper than the express bus right here - but this other bus is jam-packed, you can't get off until the driver's shift is over, and it's going in the wrong direction!

Payment is not price. Many people know this but forget to apply it. The amounts at stake in real estate are usually many times the amount at stake in any other product aimed at consumers, and the chance of banks giving away that kind of money are correspondingly lower. The great rule that applies everywhere else applies equally strongly for real estate: Sales folk who try to sell by payment are trying to get you to pay too much, and not just for the item you are purchasing, but for the loan as well. I have helped folks who first bought their houses in the seventies for forty thousand dollars, and who now have four hundred thousand dollar mortgages on the same property. They have refinanced ten or twelve times and now they need to sell and are netting $20,000 instead of $450,000 they would have had if they had simply been more careful.

One thing to remember is that you can never go backwards in time with what you know today. What is important is not just the type of loan, but the interest rate and the cost it takes to get it. Mortgage loans are not free - all of the people whose help is required do not work for free and you - the borrower - are going to pay for every penny they make in one way or another.

Your greatest friend once you have own a home is inflation, particularly if you've got a fixed rate loan. You only borrowed $X. Just because these dollars are now worth less does not increase the number of dollars you borrowed. If you have a fixed rate loan, or at least long enough to get through the period of inflation, you don't care that the interest rates on new loans are 14%. On a thirty year fixed rate loan, you've got this nice 6% loan locked in for as long as you care to keep it. Matter of fact, back in the late seventies, lenders offered these folks a much cheaper payoff to those folks who paid off such a mortgage early. But four years of ten percent inflation and that $400,000 loan is worth about $273,000 by the standards of the day you took it out, and all the folks who were laughing at you because your monthly cost of housing went from $1650 rent to $3000 mortgage are now paying $2350 rent and getting none of the deductions you are, while your costs are fixed and theirs are still riding the escalator up, and if they want to step off now, that property with a $400,000 loan is now $5100 per month!

Nonetheless, choosing a loan based upon payment is financial suicide. If you cannot afford a real loan with a steady payment on the house you want, instead of a loan that messes you up for life, consider buying a less expensive property. Yes, everyone likes house bling, and the more expensive of a house you buy, the more leverage works in your favor. But, as millions of folks are finding out the hard way right now, if you can't make the real payment on a real loan, you are at the mercy of the market, and the market has no mercy.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

PS: I actually like the 5/1 fully amortized and use it for myself. But I'm also aware of the potential downsides and understand what could happen - I'm just comfortable with the risks and like the lower rates for the same cost it usually has.

One of the things I keep getting told by people is that my loans are the same as everybody else's. When I originally wrote this, I had quoted a 5.625% with no points, and got told, "That's the same rate someone else quoted me!"

Rate, yes, but what's the cost of getting that loan? There's always a tradeoff between rate and cost, and focusing only on the rate ignores half of that very important equation.

It turned out that they other folks wanted to charge him more than a point for the exact same loan I was able to do for no points. Seeing as this was a $340,000 balance payoff, it was the difference between a new balance of $343,000, with a payment of $1974.50 and monthly cost of interest of $1607.81, versus about $346,500 with a payment of $1994.64 and monthly cost of interest of $1624.22. Don't think that's a lot? Then consider the difference of $3500 in what you owe and $16.41 per month in cost of interest, every month you keep the loan.

I've heard similar things from people I was offering a lower rate to, for less money. For instance, that was a 5.375% loan with a bit less than a point at that time. So for actually a bit less than a balance of $346,500, he could have had an interest rate of 5.375. In the interest of keeping things simple, I'll even use the same balance when it would have been a little less. That drops the payments to $1940.30 and the monthly cost of interest drops to $1552.03, saving over $70 per month! If you keep it a statistical average 28 months, that saves you $1960! If you keep it the full 30 years, that's a difference of over $19,000! But I can't tell you how many times I've heard, "Is that all you can save me?" Hello! Do you really need a better reason than thousands of dollars?

It just doesn't seem like all that much, because people think in terms of payment. Clever salesfolk will seize upon this as a method of selling inferior loans to people who don't know any better. Salesfolk, after all, get the difference in pay for the loan right away. Therefore, they understand in their bones what a big difference those small differences make over time. If you multiply it out, you should understand as well. This is all real money coming out of your pocket!

Far and away the biggest component of any new loan is what you already owe, or what you've agreed to pay to acquire the property. The fact that the base loan is for $300,000 or so can make differences seem small, but I guarantee it wouldn't seem small if someone was asking you for $3500 cash out of your pocket (not to mention most providers lying about cost)! I've said this before, but don't let cash make you stupid. $70 per month is $70 per month, every month for as long as you keep the loan, and money added to what you owe with this loan will quite likely still be there when you sell or refinance, converting it into a strict liability. That's money you won't have, and additional interest you'll pay because you don't have it! The fact that the base loan is a hundred times bigger may make the costs of doing the loan seem minor, but it doesn't make them any smaller in actual size.

The differences may appear to be marginal, but they're not. Would you rather add $3500 to what you owe, where you'll pay interest on it, or keep it in your pocket, or at least out of your mortgage balance? No, it's not paying off your mortgage entirely, but it is saving you money. Over time - and most people will have mortgages for the rest of their working lives - it makes a substantial difference. If you refinance every three years like most people have been doing for the last generation, this makes a difference of $35,000 over thirty years. Would you like that money in your pocket? If not, well I can certainly always charge you more than my normal costs - it never hurts my feelings to be paid extra. Don't like that idea? Then perhaps that money is important to you, after all.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

The answer is a modified no. The same answer applies to property that is only structurally damaged, but not condemned.

That condemnation is a matter of public record. I've seen any number of them while perusing title records. It shows up kind of prominently on the title commitment, which every regulated lender is going to require.

It is a rule of regulated lenders that they will only lend upon the state of the property right now. If a house is condemned, you can't sell it to anyone as a house. Furthermore, with a condemned house on the property, it really isn't vacant land, either. It's less valuable than bare land, as you have an expense that vacant land does not. You have to pay for demolishing the structure and hauling away the garbage. You'll occasionally hear agents (me included) talking about "land less demolition and haul-away" describing properties like this.

In the case of structurally damaged but repairable property, regulated lenders won't deal with it as a house either, although some may deal with it as if it were vacant land, less the cost of demolition and haul away. It depends upon lender policy.

The only place to get loans upon structurally unsound or condemned property is a hard money lender. They don't have the Securities and Exchange Commission to answer to, and only much smaller responsibility to the Federal Reserve Board. Many of them are individuals holding the loans in their own name. They can do almost anything they want. If one of them can be convinced that the property can be marketed for a given sum, they will typically loan based upon that sum. It's all a matter of what they want to do.

Hard money lenders will loan a maximum of only up to about seventy-five percent of whatever the marketable value of the property is, and the rates are unfriendly, to say the least. However, they may choose to lend in situations where a regulated lender can not. They can be your only option other than no loan at all. Most brokers will have at least a couple hard money lenders available to them, but your average direct lender cannot. As a final note however, before doing business with a hard money lender, you want to think long and hard and consult some experts as to whether you should - whether it's a good idea or not. It's well and good if this is a temporary thing and you can see an exit strategy to selling or more normal financing. But all too often, it's simply a way to delay the inevitable and make it worse at the same time.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

A few years ago, I wrote up a spreadsheet for buying versus renting a home.

I got reminded of it a couple days ago with a nonsense article out of an alleged financial paper, so I went back and found that, yes, indeed, I did still have a copy.

I just uploaded it for those who might want to play with the numbers themselves.

BuyHomevsRent.xls

It's in Excel 97. I suppose I could convert it forward, but my current copy of Excel had no problems with it.

It compares cost of renting and investing the difference versus a home purchase. I wrote three different scenarios into the spreadsheet: Never refinance, refinance every five years but keep making payments with an eye towards having zero balance thirty years after you originally bought, and refinance every five years and make the minimum payment on the new thirty year loan.

The sheet "Front" should be where you start, in case one of the others comes up. You enter your own values for the numbers down the left side of the sheet.

Purchase Price and down payment should be self explanatory
value adjustment was a feature I put in to adjust to what other, equivalent properties might sell for
assumed appreciation of the property
interest rate of the first mortgage (TD=Trust Deed)

interest rate of the second mortgage: given the market at the time, I assumed anything over 80% of value (Lesser of Cost or Market, i.e. lower of appraisal or purchase price) would be on a second trust deed. These days, second mortgages over 90% CLTV are not available. If you're all one loan, simply enter the interest rate of that loan in both loan rate boxes.

property tax
yearly property tax increase

monthly cost of Homeowner's Association dues plus insurance (add in things like Mello-Roos payments here too),
Assumed rate of inflation
what it would cost to rent an equivalent property instead

the cost of refinances I wrote about earlier (I assumed a standard closing cost figure - no points, no rebate from yield spread)

your standard deduction on federal taxes based on your filing status. The year I wrote this, the standard deduction for married filing jointly was $10,100. For 2020 it will be 24,200. If your status is something else, you can look up your standard deduction any number of places. The point is, you get this much of a deduction anyway - it's not accurate giving benefits from the home ownership deduction until you have actually exceeded the deduction everyone gets.

Value of your other federal income tax deductions. Just as it's not accurate giving benefits until you exceed the standard deduction, it's not an accurate comparison to withhold other deductions over the standard amount that you'd get.

Your marginal federal income tax rate - what you paid on your final dollar of income for the year. The spreadsheet does lose accuracy if your marginal rate changes due to the deduction - or would change without it - but that's a small effect and trying to compensate would have been extremely speculative, especially given how much playing with where certain deductions and credits peter out on the income scale.

Finally, the assumed rate of return of an alternative investment into which you would put 100% of the difference between the monthly payments of buying versus renting (as well as the down payment money). Speaking as someone who still had financial planning clients at that point, that's a ridiculously generous assumption, but you might be one of the exceptions.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

I recently closed a mortgage loan. The loan officer told me there would be no prepayment penalty. When the documents came there was none and the loan funded and closed.

Two weeks later I got an e-mail stating some documents had been missed and we need to sign and return them. They contained a new TIL, prepayment rider and addendum.

The original TIL states there is no prepayment penalty. I have not signed these and the lender is telling me I have to because of the compliance agreement.

Is this true?


Talk about scummy behavior!

I wouldn't sign the new documents. As a matter of fact, talk to your state's department of real estate about this behavior immediately. I hope that whoever is responsible for this loses their license to do loans in your state. You also will want to consult an attorney, as a precaution. A lender attempting to modify the contract after funding requires your consent. This strikes me as a a good candidate for fraud, depending upon the particulars of the contracts. Explain to them that you would not have signed the documents had this been presented as a condition of your loan funding, and so to attempt to alter the contract ex post facto (after the fact) is, in some cases, grounds for a prosecution based upon fraud.

That contract is a two-sided document, freely agreed to as it originally was by both parties. The fact that the loan funded is evidence of this. I have never heard of needing to sign a pre-payment agreement as a compliance procedure after the fact - except to comply with getting that lender paid more, via the secondary market. A pre-payment penalty adds anywhere from 3 percent of the loan amount up to almost ten percent to the price the lender will receive when they sell your loan, and they probably figured, "Why not try for the extra?" Or they may have intended this from the beginning, giving you a great quote to lure you in, figuring to make their margin with the pre-payment penalty they were hiding. It's amazing and disgusting how often people will sign such documents. Unlikely as this is, if it did happen, boy could you have gotten a great loan out of it.

If lenders could require this sort of thing, they could unilaterally change the agreement any way they want to after funding. So what if you signed a thirty year fixed rate loan at 5.5 percent and paid three points to get it? You new rate is eight percent, "for compliance"! According to everything I know about contract law - which is limited, because I'm not an attorney and you should talk to one - they have no legal grounds to demand this of you.

At the very least, it would be the case that signing these documents is what starts the clock on the the three day right of rescission. That the lender funded the loan before then is evidence of a severe error on their part, and when you rescinded, they would have to restore you to the situation as it existed prior to you signing the original documents. There are also legal issues with the fact that they're trying to alter the Truth In Lending form. Since the beginning of 2010, changing the APR less than seven days before signing final loan documents is an offense against federal lending law. If you get a sharp enough attorney and help from your state's regulators, it's very likely that you might get yourself some really significant loan concessions, or possibly even a settlement from the lender.

Every state's laws are different, so you need to talk to your state's department of real estate, and I do strongly recommend consulting an attorney before you draw any lines in the sand, but this is my best understanding of the situation.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

This sentence is a textbook illustration of the most effective way to lie. Tell the truth, but not all of it. Not that I'm trying to coach habitual liars, but I am going to deconstruct this astoundingly dishonest claim that I keep encountering. It's mostly used by less ethical loan officers trying to persuade someone not to shop around.

At the bottom-most level, all mortgage money does come from basically the same place. It's all investors looking for a return on their money in a historically well secured market where they are somewhat protected from taking a loss. It is the ugly surprise that this security isn't perfect that has a lot of investors in panic meltdown mode after they took it for granted for years, and now they are refusing every loan that's not essentially perfect because of the rude awakening.

What happens to it after that, and whose hands it goes through, matters a lot. Just like saying all water comes from the ocean doesn't mean it's all drinkable, just because all mortgage money comes from investors doesn't mean it's all equal. The lender and loan officer make a huge difference.

Consumers cannot, in broad, go directly to mortgage investors and request a loan. Most of the investors wouldn't know how to do loans if it bit them. They don't have the actuaries, the underwriters, the tools, and the networks to get the best value for their money. That's where the lenders come in.

I'm not going to get into all the details of CMOs and MBSes- Collateralized Mortgage Obligations and Mortgage Backed Securities - how they are sold, how to price them, yada yada yada. It's something I am not involved in, and I don't need to know as much as I do. Even when I was financial planner, the nuts and bolts just aren't that important to most investment portfolios. Two important things to note: The higher the interest rate of a loan, the better the price the lender will get from the investors, and the lower the rate, the lower the price. The higher the default and loss rates is expected to be, the lower the price, and the lower the default and loss rates are expected to be, the higher the price. Default and loss rates translate to "How tough are the underwriting standards?" As with all other things economic, it's a trade off. Low interest rates at a lender usually means very tough underwriting, and fewer people qualify. High interest rates means relatively easy underwriting, and more people qualify. However the former means that there will be a lower default rate, while the latter translates into a higher default rate. In the end, the price they get for their loan packages will be comparable as higher rate translates into more money when the lender sells the loan but higher default means less.

What you really going on here is that the banks - the lenders - are the middlemen putting investors and consumers together. For this, they get paid. They get paid enough to pay for all those fancy offices and the executives' salaries and everything else the bank might have. Mortgage lending is big business. Lest it sound like I'm saying the fact they get paid is a bad thing, it's not. It makes the market far more efficient, as most individual investors can't afford an entire mortgage all at once, and individual borrowers would have a daunting problem in finding investors willing to lend money at a decent rate in their situation.

Each individual lender tries to hit a certain market segment. It works like branding in the consumer world, in that there are clients they are aiming at, and ones who are incidental to their business. Lending is a risk-based business, and the higher the risk to the lender, the higher the rate. What will happen the vast majority of the time with the vast majority of lenders is that they will sell the loans, whether or not they retain servicing rights. In other words, just because you have a loan with bank A doesn't mean they'll keep it. It is very rare for a lender to keep the loan. Even if they retain servicing (for which they get paid - and they're not even risking any money!), so that you keep sending that lender your payment, they don't hold the actual loan. Some lenders are interested in A paper, whether conforming with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, or nonconforming but to essentially the same standards. These loans are fairly uniform and highly commoditized, but lenders put their own stamps on them. One bank might have incredibly tight standards, but offer lower rates. They will have a record of fewer defaults, practically zero losses, and get a better price on their loan packages in the bond market. Another bank might be somewhat looser in their standards, and so not do as well on selling the loans. Those lenders will charge a higher price for their loans, in the form of interest rate, in order to compensate.

This phenomenon expands out progressively farther in the A minus, Alt A, and sub-prime lending worlds. A paper has noticeable differences between lenders, while the further down the loan quality ladder you go, the more differentiation you get between lenders. Almost all of them have their own niche, or niches, that they will underwrite to, trying for a mix of rates to borrower and underwriting standards for approval that results in fewer of their loans defaulting, and thus the ability to command a premium price in the bond market over and above what mostly equivalent lenders will give.

Below sub-prime is hard money. It's called hard money because before they fund your loan, they are recruiting individual lenders and syndicates who will hold your loan for as long as you have it. This is why hard money is typically multiple points up front, interest rates of thirteen percent and up, and three year hard prepayment penalties, as well as only going to about sixty-five or seventy percent of the property value at most. Without the lenders, every loan would be hard money.

No lender has the capability of running programs that are good fits for everyone. Some of them have a few dozen, some have only ten or twelve. This sounds like a lot, but it isn't. Every single loan type is a different program. Just to cover the most standard loan types for their market is usually between twenty and thirty different programs. Back when I originally wrote this, I could point to lenders with twenty-five or more different Option ARM programs. They're gone now (quite predictably) but they sure looked like they were doing well for a while on the surface.

This is where brokers and correspondents come in. There's an old saying about how "If the only tool you have is a hammer, pretty soon all the problems start looking like nails." You walk into a direct lender's office, and they has a couple dozen programs focused on one segment of the market. You're not an ideal fit for any of their loan programs, but so long as you can qualify for any of them, they are going to keep your business rather than refer you to someone else. They're hammering nails, never mind that your problem is a threaded bolt. They get you pounded into the board. Yes, you get a loan, but you could qualify for a better one if you wandered into a different lender's office.

Brokers and correspondents have lenders wandering into their offices. Lenders who will give the brokers better deals than they give their own loan officers, because they're not paying for the broker's expenses, and the broker knows better than to be a captive audience. The fact is that brokers are usually capable of getting a deal that's enough better that they can pay their expenses and salaries, still have profit left over, and nonetheless offer the client a deal enough better than the lender's own branches as to be worth the trip. Brokers also shop multiple lenders, looking for a better fit. If you're a top of the line A paper borrower, someone that any major bank has a good program for, the broker can still get you a better loan, but maybe only by as little as an eighth to a quarter of a point. On a $300,000 loan, that's $375 to $750 in cost at the same rate for the exact same loan. If you're in a marginal A paper situation, the difference made is liable to be that you qualify A paper with a broker who knows where to shop, where you'd likely have to go sub-prime, with inferior options and a prepayment penalty, by walking into a bank office. You get into sub-prime situations, and I have seen pricing spreads of two and a half percent on the interest rate between the best lender for a given loan, and the rest of the pack. The fact that most subprime lenders are gone and the ones remaining have radically changed their business model only accentuates this. You can physically go to twenty or fifty different banks, fill out an application and furnish paperwork in each - or you can go to a broker.

(Correspondent lenders are brokers with one difference: They initially fund the loan before selling it to the lenders whose standards they met. The loan is still written to the real lender's standard, underwritten by their underwriters, etcetera)

The point is that no lender is both offering low rates and loose underwriting. As everything else having to do with money, it's always a trade off. The lenders charge higher interest rates, they get a better price for their loans. The lenders underwrite to tougher standards so they will have fewer defaults, and practically zero losses, they get a better price for their loans. The lenders need a certain margin to keep their owners happy, and a certain margin to keep investors happy, and neither one of those in the business of giving away money for less than it is worth.

The ideal thing for a given borrower is not an easy loan. Unless you're so high up on the ladder of borrowers (credit score, equity in the property, lots of documented income) that you'll qualify for anything easily. The ideal loan, where you get the best trade-off of rate and cost, is to find the loan where you just barely scrape through the underwriting process. With average loan amounts in California being about $400,000 now, chances are that any extra time and effort you spend will be handsomely rewarded when you compute the hourly costs and payoffs.

So you see the partial truth of the title statement, and the utter falsehood. All mortgage money pretty much does start out in the same place, if you want to look at it that way: the pool of investors looking to loan money. Nonetheless, what happens to it after that, before it gets to the consumer, renders the statement "All mortgage money comes from the same place" incredibly dishonest.

Caveat Emptor

Original here


A while ago, I got a call from a hard money lender, asking what I could to to "rescue" one of his clients by refinancing. He was being about as altruistic as a drowning man. What he really wanted was for me to get someone else (i.e. another lender) to voluntarily hold the bag on his money losing loan.

Unfortunately, this guy already had a Notice of Default filed on that loan. When it comes to new loans, subprime lenders would formerly sign off on 30, 60, and 90 day lates - but drop a notice of default on the property and even during the Era of Make Believe Loans the worst subprime lenders wouldn't touch it any more. Had he just held off on the Notice of Default - or even called me earlier, I could have taken care of it. Nonetheless, I have a method of dealing with even Notices of Default - "hard money" lenders. Unfortunately, the one undeniable requirement for "rescuing" someone in this situation currently is a Loan to Value Ratio below 70 percent. The current lender had a loan amount about $350,000, and represented it to me as a $550,000 plus property. Therefore, initial indications were that it could be worked with, and we set up a meeting with the owners.

At that meeting, I found out the address and characteristics of that property. That wasn't a $500,000 property. In fact, it might have been worth $370,000, absolute maximum, in the market at that time. Three words about the likelihood of any new loan: Absolutely none whatsoever. A paper, Alt A and A minus are certainly not going to touch that loan - even if the Default were to suddenly vanish, the effects on the credit score would have driven the borrowers below their minimums. Even with the ability to document enough income, subprime isn't going to touch a defaulting borrower at 95 percent loan to value ratio in the current market - and that's without rolling one penny of costs or penalty into the new loan. That leaves only other hard money lenders, and if there's one great constant about hard money, it's that they absolutely will not go over 75% loan to value ratio, ever. In fact, their limits are usually 65 to 70.

These folks could not refinance with any lender out there. They can't afford their mortgage - no way. Even had they protested to the contrary (they didn't), they wouldn't have been in foreclosure if they could have come up with the money. Unless they've got a wealthy relative who will save them, they're going to lose the property, and if they had that kind of benefactor, why hasn't he appeared before now? The only mystery about the entire situation is the precise mechanism whereby they're going to lose the property, and precisely how badly they will be hurt.

Now from some of the code phrases that the hard money lender they're already with dropped, I am pretty sure he knows this - he's just hoping for another sucker to volunteer to take his loss by refinancing his loan out. Well, I'm not going to knowingly commit that sort of blunder. Nobody sane is. Do you think even the stupidest brokers haven't figured out they're going to be liable for bad loans by now?

HVCC and other disastrous regulation imposed from without (I'm looking at you, Barney Frank) made market recovery much more difficult.

But when I asked him about waiting, he represented that "I need my money now." Well, that's fine and that is his right. However, if he needs it now, he's not going to get all of it. What he was really trying to do of course, is build a path of least resistance where I hose myself, the new lender, and the owner so that he can walk away with every penny that's technically "his." Like any sane loan officer, I'm going to decline to do that - the money I might make no in no way compensates for what's going to happen later. Questions of ethics and whether the loan should have been made in the first place aside, he willingly undertook that risk when he made that loan, and he was richly rewarded for doing so by an interest rate well into double digits. Even the stock market doesn't return that kind of money over time, and it definitely doesn't do so without risk. But evidently nobody covered that with him in "Loan sharking 101."

So when I did the logical thing and started talking to the owners about minimizing damage, he freaked out. He said I'd lured him there "under false pretenses," and that was before I had said one word about short sales. Nothing could be further from the truth; he was the one who led me to believe the situation was other than it was, and everything I had said was explicitly predicated upon the representations he made to me over the phone. But he saw his carefully constructed scenario collapsing in front of his eyes, and he didn't want to accept that collapse. Unfortunately, the consumers involved were Spanish speakers, and he spoke much better Spanish than I do. I've written about sharks marketing to a given ethnic group in the past, and this appears to be a prime example. He hustled them out of the room, no doubt intending to look for some other sucker. Unfortunately for him but fortunately for everyone else, the loan officers who were willing to do that in my area have long since been forced out of business, and even the ones who may have gotten away with it in the past are not eager to take new chances in this environment, and I think that's a very good thing.

For several years, the real estate and loan market was not much short of an ATM feeding cash out as quickly as it could. That has now changed. Instead of way too loose, loan standards have become way too tight as investors in full panic mode abandon all but the most perfect of borrowers. Many people who became used to the way the market was working in the last few years still don't understand that it has changed, why it has changed, and why it's not going back to the way things were the last several years. They're still in denial that, having bought all the rope necessary to hang themselves, they're now struggling with that rope around their necks some distance above the ground. It doesn't much matter if that distance is half an inch or several miles - they're in just as much trouble in either case.

The sooner you get out of denial and accept the damage that has already been done, the sooner you will be able to limit future damage - and the damage does keep getting worse, There are alternatives that don't hurt as bad as foreclosure. Furthermore, there are those out there who will claim they can perform miracles, but they are almost always setting you up for a scam.

Here's the bottom line: If you don't make enough money to make your payments and pay your real cost of interest, the best thing that can be said for you is that you're circling the drain. But if you'll make up your mind to get it over with, and deal with the situation based upon the facts, you'll come out with less long term damage. Not to mention more life still in front of you than would be the case otherwise. There really aren't any good reasons not to get past an unsustainable situation as fast as you can.

Caveat Emptor

Original Article here


With the state of financial education in this country, many people shop for loans by payment, figuring the lowest payment is the best loan. As counter-evidence to that idea, let us consider the negative amortization loan. I've seen them with minimum payments computed based upon a nominal rate of zero point five percent on forty year amortization. This gives a minimum payment of $1150 for a $500,000 loan - but the actual rate on that loan is eight point two percent, meaning if you were just going to pay the interest, that would be $3417 per month. If you made that $1150 minimum payment, you'd owe over $2200 more next month - and you'd be paying interest on that added principal as well. By comparison, principal and interest on a six percent thirty year fixed rate jumbo loan is only $2998 - and there's no prepayment penalty either.

Don't get distracted by payment. Look at the real cost of the money - what you're paying now in interest, versus what any new loan will cost, plus what you'll be paying in interest on it. You do have to be able to make the payment, but once that's covered, look at the real cost of any new loan, both in up-front costs and in interest paid per month. Those are the important numbers.

Let's suppose you were one of those folks who had to settle for a subprime loan a couple of years ago. You had something bad happen, but now you're past it. You've been diligent and careful with your credit these last couple years, so you're now able to qualify "A paper". On the other hand, your current loan has now adjusted to nine percent, and your prepayment penalty has expired, while there are now thirty year fixed rate loans in the sub- five percent range. When I originally wrote this I could have moved you or anyone else able to qualify A paper into a thirty year fixed rate loan at about 6% for literally zero cost, meaning there is no possible (financial) reason not to do such refinance as long as it lowered your rate even slightly. (These days, thanks to Congress trying to "protect" consumers, zero cost loans are gone.)

The only real question in such a situation is this: "Is it worth the extra money it takes to get a better rate?", because there is always a tradeoff between rate and cost. For instance, to look at the differences for someone who currently has a $300,000 loan, when I originally wrote this two of the choices were six percent for zero cost or five point five for about half a point. Both are thirty year fixed rate loans.

The six percent loan has a balance of $300,000, same as your old balance, and payments of $1798.65. The five point five percent loan carries an initial balance of $304,325, and payments of $1727.90. Lest you not understand, that 5.5% loan cost you $4325 to get done, as opposed to literally zero for the six percent loan. This isn't a matter of "keep searching for the provider who gives you the lower rate for the same cost", as this tradeoff is built into the entire financial structure. Some providers may have higher or lower tradeoffs, but the concept of the tradeoff isn't changing for anything less than a complete and radical rebuild of the financial markets. Not. Gonna. Happen. You can find different costs for the same rate, but the difference between a low cost provider and a high cost provider usually isn't going to be more than two points on the cost.

However, for spending that money all in a lump sum, you get a lowered cost of interest. You save $105.19 that first month in interest, and this number actually increases slowly for the first few years of the loan. In month 21, you've theoretically broken even, even though your loan balance is still almost $3600 higher, you've gotten the extra money you've paid to get the lower rate back. However, because you still owe $3600 more, if you refinance at this point, you're still going to end up behind as that $3600 you still owe translates to $216 per year at 6%, assuming that's the interest rate on your next loan. Maybe you sold the property and bought something else, maybe you refinanced for cash out. In either case. you owe $3600 more than you would have, which means you're paying interest on it when you get your next loan. But something like thirty percent of all borrowers have sold or refinanced by this point, and when they do, those benefits you paid for stop. Nor do you get any of the money you paid in the first place back.

It isn't until you've kept the loan 124 months - over ten years into the loan - before you are unambiguously better off with the lower rate but more expensive loan. That's how long it takes until the balances are even on the two loans. Of course, by then you have saved about $13,000 in interest - if you actually keep the loan that long. Less than one borrower in 200 does.

Real break-even is likely to be somewhere in year four in this case. After three years, you've saved about $3800 in interest, and if your balance is still that almost much higher with the expensive loan than the cheap one, we're getting to the point where time value of money will keep things in favor of the more expensive upfront costs. Of course, last time I checked Statistical Abstract, decidedly less than half of all borrowers kept their new loans this long. Something to think about, because you don't get the money you spent to get the loan in the first place back. By the end of year four, assuming we keep the loan that long, we've saved $5000 in interest, while the balance is only $2600 higher for the 5.5% loan than for the 6% loan. Even without time value of money and with a ten percent assumed rate of return, that's additional twenty years before the costs of the higher balance catches up with the benefits you've already gotten through lower interest. Considering time value of money, it's really never going to catch up.

So when you're looking at refinancing, don't just consider rate and payment. Consider what it's going to cost you in order to get that new loan, and remember what the costs are of doing nothing (i.e. you've already paid the upfront costs of doing nothing). Many people refinance every two years, spending much more than $3400 every time they do, because they'll spend two or three points to get the lowest rate. This, as you can see now, is a recipe for disaster.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

What Drives Loan Rates?

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Supply and Demand.

Now that I've given the short answer, it's time to explain the macro factors behind interest rate variations. But I'm going to keep referring to those first three words. It is a tradeoff between the supply of money and demand for it.

The most obvious thing influencing loan rates is inflation. This is a general environmental factor. If the inflation rate is higher, then other factors being equal, there will be fewer people willing to lend at a given rate, and more people willing to borrow. Who wouldn't want to borrow money if the money you have to pay back is actually worth less than they money you borrowed? All loans are priced such that a given inflation is part of the background assumptions of making it. If inflation is 4 percent, someone lending money at seven is making an effective 3 percent. If inflation is ten percent, they are losing that selfsame three percent. Which scenario would you prefer to loan money in? Which scenario would you prefer to borrow money in?

On the other hand, when inflation is high, loan rates usually rise to compensate. When the prime rate is twenty-one percent, that means that a business borrower has to make a minimum of twenty-one percent on the money just to break even. That's if they're a prime customer. Making twenty one percent is tough. The reason you borrowed ("rented") the money was because you have a use for it to make money. There's a lot fewer opportunities that make enough over twenty-one percent to make them worthwhile, than there are opportunities making enough over seven. This is one reason why inflation is a Bad Thing.

What alternatives exist is a major factor on the supply side, as well. If you absolutely must invest your money in US Government securities, that's where you're going to invest, and since you're increasing the supply of money to the treasury, the price is less. Supply and Demand. This is one of the many reasons why Congress' handling of the social security trust fund is a national disgrace. If they were private trustees, they would be held liable for not investing it where the best returns are. If, however, you think that stocks are looking more attractive now, that means that the supply of money for loans will shrink by whatever dollars you move out, and the rates will rise. The effect for any one person is small, but there are a lot of people in the market. In aggregate, it's many trillions of dollars. Supply and demand.

Savings rates means a lot, also. When there is a lot of new money coming available in the borrowers market that money is going to be cheaper to borrow, in the form of lower interest rates. This is partially why rates went down throughout 2002, and stayed down into 2003, and 2004. People who had been burned in stocks wanted nice "safe" mortgage bonds. When there is comparatively little new money coming into the market, the only source becomes old loans being paid off. Negative savings or negative investments in the bond market means that what money is coming off older loans is at least partially being used to fund the withdrawals. Competition for money gets fierce, and price - by which I mean interest rate - rises. Supply and Demand.

Competition for money is also a part of the demand side. When the government needs to borrow a lot, for instance, that increases the competition. Even on the scale of our capital markets, whether the government is breaking even or needs to borrow the odd $100 billion has a real and noticeable effect When they need to borrow $400 billion, you can bet it'll raise the cost of money. The government doesn't care, and the bureaucrats running the treasury have been told to get this money. They will do their jobs and get the money, whether it costs 4 percent, 14, or 24. Every time competition from the government drives up rates, a certain number of borrowers whose profit margin on the loan was likely to be marginal will drop out of the auction. But government spending rarely grows the tax base. It's those corporations and small businesses investing in future opportunities that grow the tax base, and they are the ones dropping out of the auctions as money gets more expensive. This is why government deficits are a Bad Thing. Supply and Demand.

The desirability of the alternatives is another factor on the demand side, as well. There's more than one way to make money for most. If it become prohibitively expensive to borrow (bonds), sell part ownership instead (stock). There is a point at which even the most die-hard sole proprietor needs the money, and just can't afford it as opposed to selling some stock to new investors. This can dilute earnings, and cause you to lose control of the company (there were multiple reasons why the high inflation period of the seventies and eighties was followed by the era of the corporate raider, but that's one major part), but better to dilute your share of the pool by ten percent while increasing the size of the pool by fifteen. That is a net win, while borrowing the money at twenty-something percent is likely not.

Now, let us consider the money supply here in this country, and thence the state of likely interest rates. We have increased government borrowing. We have the social security trust putting decreasing amounts of money into the government. We have a national savings rate that's negative (and it is the overall rate, not just working adults that we're concerned with, here). More and more people are becoming comfortable with foreign investment. And mortgage bonds are looking jittery right now, with foreclosures the way they are. Supply and Demand, remember?

Therefore, in my judgment, we are likely to see raises in the interest rate, at least in broad. If you're on a short term loan that is likely to adjust in the next couple of years, the time to refinance is now, unless you're planning to sell before it adjusts.

(If, on the other hand, you have a long term fixed rate loan, stay put. Once you've actually got the loan funded and recorded, they can't just draw the money back unless you do something like fraud or default. Even if you go upside down on your loan for a while, if you're already in a fixed rate loan, that's okay. The market price of the home only matters at loan time and at sales time. If you don't need a loan and you don't plan on selling, why should you care? Oh, and one final note to the young: home prices will rise again. Sooner than you probably think, around here.)

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The Biggest Risk

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If you've been around the financial planning business any length of time, you've likely run into the saying "The biggest risk is not taking one."

It is endemic to all financial instruments, indeed, all investments, that return is the reward for risk. It is axiomatic that the entity that takes risks gets the rewards.

Generic stock market returns are between ten and thirteen percent per year, depending upon who you ask and how you frame the question. Contrast this with the five or six percent that insurance companies will guarantee. You invest with them, and you get maybe five percent. They use your money, but they get the difference simply by accepting the risk. Sometimes they lose in the short term, but far more often they make out like bandits.

If you invest $100 per month at 5.5% from the time you are 25 until the time you are 65, the insurance company has guaranteed you about $174,000. If you annuitize that in a fixed annuity on a "Life with ten years certain" basis, you'd get somewhere between $1000 and $1100 per month if you're male. Ladies and gentlemen, that won't buy very much now, much less forty years from now with average inflation. Matter of fact, it's only about a 1.67 times overall return net of inflation.

$100 per month is a lot less than people should be investing for their own future, but it's indicative of the problem. Even if you contributed $1000 per month, which is more than most people can commit, between however many tax-deferred investments it takes, it's $1.74 Million, which goes to a payout of $10,000 or so per month if you annuitize at 65. Sounds like a lot of money today, right? But you're spending those dollars all in an environment where, at an average of 3.5 percent inflation between now and then, $10,000 per month is about the equivalent of $2500 per month now - and every year that passes in retirement, your money buys less.

Suppose, instead, you were to invest $500 per month - half what you had to come up with in the previous example - and invested it in the broader market, earning a 9 percent return, well below historical average market returns, and then in the final year you lost forty percent of your money due to a market crash? Think you'd be better off, or worse?

Slightly worse off, in raw numbers. $1.40 million ($2.34 million before the crash). For half the effort to save and despite a major investing disaster at the worst possible time. But then let's say you manage to retain your intestinal fortitude, and instead of annuitizing on a fixed basis, you simply withdraw the same $10,000 per month we had in the previous example, while leaving the rest invested and generally earning 9%. Your money keeps increasing, and if you live to age 95, you leave 2.23 million dollars to your heirs, a sum that, if not so great as it sounds, will still buy a decent house in most areas of the country seventy years from now under our assumptions.

Now let's say that you want to live the same lifestyle, equal to $2500 per month now, that you have at retirement, so your monthly withdrawals increase by 3.5 percent per year. You didn't even have this option in the fixed rate "guaranteed" examples. Your money lasts 19 years 3 months (plus a few thousand left over). Once again, for half the effort to save.

This is not wild risk taking. This is simply doing exactly what the insurance companies are doing, and assuming the investment risk yourself. Do not think for a minute that banks and insurance companies are insulated from failure if the market conditions go sour enough. They aren't getting the money to pay you from some kind of transdimensional vortex. If their investment results are bad enough so that they can't pay you, they won't. Government bailouts are also limited, and the government's guarantee programs are likely to undergo severe modification in the next forty years, as they deal with problems such as social security and medicare payouts that are much larger than what their pay ins will be. States, which generally stand behind insurance company guarantees, will not likely be in a stronger position than the federal government. Not to mention the kind of impact this sort of financial crisis will have upon government budgets.

Speaking of the banks, let us consider a hypothetical four percent CD, on a "taxed as you go" rather than tax deferred basis. Assume 28 percent federal tax rate, and 7 percent state and local. $1000 per month invested, every month for 40 years. How much does it turn into?

$842,800. As opposed to $1,044,600 just to break even with inflation at 3.5 percent per year and being able to buy the same stuff. I'd snark that you might as well bury it in a mattress, but in point of fact, that would only get you $480,000.

The point I'm trying to make here is that the so-called traditional "conservative" investments are anything but. If you aren't putting your money into investments where there is some market risk, then the only guarantee you have is the guarantee that it won't succeed, the guarantee that you will be living in poverty or forced to somehow keep working your whole life.

So in financial planning, the biggest risk is in not accepting some.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

This is a nationwide program for first time home buyers that helps them qualify for the loan by saving them even more money on their tax bill. With that said, however, the state of California accounts for more than 50 percent of all MCC Certificates.

Each individual area has its own administrator. Within the County of San Diego, for instance, there are three individual programs, although one company administers two of them. You must submit your paperwork to the correct authority, under the correct program. Each program has its own allocation of money, and if you submit to the wrong program, the application will not be approved, wasting your money.

Now, before I go through all the rigamarole of the program, what does it do for you? Simply put, it boosts the value of the mortgage interest deduction.

Here's how it works. During the escrow period, the time between the purchase contract being agreed to and the consummation of the transaction, you apply for a Mortgage Credit Certificate (MCC) through the originating lender. This means the people who take the loan application. This program is emphatically open to loan brokers. If the broker participates, it does not matter whether the funding lender participates, because it is not required that the funding lender participate, only that the originating lender participate. There is a nonrefundable upfront fee involved. This fee is paid to the authority administering the program. Some brokers may front this money on your behalf, but they will expect to be paid back several times over upon funding. Remember: There is no such thing as a free lunch. Your lender submits the application and the fee, and receives an approval from the authority on your behalf. This approval is good for up to 120 days, and in most cases, it may be transferred to another property if this escrow falls apart (albeit with conditions).

What does it actually do for you? It converts part of your mortgage interest tax deduction into a direct tax credit. 20% of your mortgage interest, to be precise. This applies to both first and second mortgages on which interest is being paid and payments are being made. It does not apply, however, to first time buyer assistance loans on which there are no payments, or only nominal payments.

Let's do some math! Let's say you're buying a property for $400,000, using 100% financing (This was valid and common at the time I originally wrote this, and likely will be again, but it isn't available right now). Of that, $320,000 is a first mortgage at 6%, and $80,000 is a second mortgage at 10%. Let us examine the situation you should be familiar with, the normal mortgage interest deduction, first. This is the situation without MCC:



loan
amount
rate
interest
first
$320,000
6%
$19,200
second
$80,000
10%
$8000
total
$400,000
blended 6.8%
$27,200

You also have property taxes of $5000 per year (California rule of thumb. Yours may vary), which are deductible. Total: $32,200. The amount over this is deducted from your income before computing tax. The net benefit to you is based upon what exceeds the standard deduction you'd get anyway. For married couples, this was $11,600 in 2011. $32,200- $11,600 = $20,600, at a 28% tax bracket, sees a net benefit of $5768. This shaves $480 per month off of your federal tax bill.

Now let's look at the situation with MCC:



loan
amount
rate
interest
20%credit
80%deduction
first
$320,000
6%
$19,200
$3840
$15,360
second
$80,000
10%
$8000
$1600
$6400
total
$400,000
6.8 blended
$27,200
$5440
$21,760

So you get a $21760 deduction and a direct tax credit of $5440. Your deductions total $26,760 with property taxes, using the same numbers from the first scenario. Less $11,600, your real deduction is $15,160, times 28% tax bracket is $4244.80. That's the reduction you see on your taxes due to the deduction. You'll also see a tax reduction due to the credit of another $5440, for a total of $9684.80 tax benefit, or $807.06 per month. That's over sixty percent more you save off of your federal taxes. What's more, is because the credit is a known number, not subject to alteration as to your deduction status or other tax situation, it can be used to help you qualify for the loan, increasing the loan you qualify for. That $5440 credit works out to $453.33 per month that can be used to help you qualify for the loan.

When I first took the training, I thought I'd have some interesting arguments with nonparticipating lender underwriters, but that has worked out not to be the case. Why? Because the money runs out so damned quickly. There are fresh allocations twice per year, and it's usually gone within thirty days at most. When the budgeted money is gone, there are no Mortgage Credit Certificates available. Oh, there is usually plenty of money for the very lowest income bracket but basically nobody in that bracket is actually able to buy a qualifying property. When a single mom who can barely afford a condo is in the "Middle income" bracket for which the money is gone two weeks after the allocation is received, how much sense does it make to reserve roughly half the money for a "low income" bracket that can't afford a damned thing?

Participation in this program is not universal. There are fees to be paid, and some cities can't or won't. Many entire states do not participate. In other cities, there is no qualifying housing. For instance, within the county of San Diego, the City of La Mesa was not participating when I first took the training, although they have since returned to the program. The Cities of Del Mar and Solana Beach also do not participate, due to the complete lack of qualifying housing within those two cities.

There are basically three qualifications, in addition to submitting your request to the correct regional program and buying a property in a participating area. First, you cannot make more than the appropriate income limits. In San Diego County in 2014, this is currently $80,600 per year for a household of one or two persons, $92,690 for a household of 3 or more persons. Qualifying income adjusts annually. Second, MCC is valid for owner occupied dwellings only. You must occupy the home, or intend to occupy it as soon as the purchase is finalized, and then you must actually occupy it. Therefore, only single family occupancy properties are eligible; no duplexes, apartment buildings, or other properties with more than one living unit. Condominiums are fine, as are manufactured homes on owned land, as these are both single family dwellings. If you move out, you will lose the benefits of this MCC. As a side note, any tenants displaced by this program are entitled to compensation from the program, so if the current owner is renting to someone other than the prospective buyers, expect the application to be refused. It must be vacant, owner occupied, or rented by the prospective purchasers. Third, and finally, the property must be within the maximum limits for size of the purchase. In San Diego County, these limits are currently $643,847 for a resale property, $643,847 for a newly built property being sold by a developer. In some "targeted" census tracts, specifically designated due to their low income, the qualifying limits for the purchase are higher: Currently $786,924 for resale, $786,924 for brand new properties. About these census tracts, more very soon.

Now, what is a first time buyer for purposes of this program? A buyer qualifies if they have not owned their primary residence for three years or more. This is proven via federal income tax returns. You may own another property off far away somewhere else, too far away from your job to commute, at least according to the interpretations I heard.

There is a way for people who are not first time home buyers under this definition to take advantage of this program. Remember those "targeted" census tracts I talked about two paragraphs ago? If you buy in one of those "targeted" census tracts, it does not matter if you're a first time home buyer or not. As long as you meet the other criteria, most particularly including owner occupancy, you are eligible. These targeted tracts change with every decennial census. We're in the middle of such a period now, so no changes are anticipated soon, but they do change from time to time.

Now, there are some financing limitations on this program. It is aimed at people who really can afford the loans they are getting, and so these loans must be done full documentation. Stated income loans or NINA/No Ratio loans are not eligible. In other words, you must prove you make enough money to justify the loan. Furthermore, the emphasis is on being able to afford the loan. Negative amortization loans are not allowed with this program, nor are ARMs or hybrid ARMs with an initial fixed period of less than three years. Interest only loans are allowed, but they must be both fixed rate and interest only for at least five years. Finally, because the money comes from the same place as the CalHFA and Cal-Vet loan, it cannot be done in conjunction with those loans. I think MCC is a better program for the vast majority of buyers anyway. For instance, the MCC can be layered with a local purchase assistance program, which those cannot.

There are two major flies in the ointment. The first is refinancing. The MCC dies when you refinance, unless you get it reissued. This involves another fee, and getting an RMCC (for Reissued Mortgage Credit Certificate), and doing so within a deadline. There are no income restrictions once you have the MCC on getting an RMCC, but if your property has ballooned in value 200% and you do a "cash-out" refinance, the RMCC will apply only to that portion of your loan that relates to your original loan amount.

The second fly is the possibility of paying recapture taxes. This program was originally established under President Reagan, and people were selling the properties for high profit in short time frames. This caused it to be de-funded, as it was painted as causing windfall profits. But it proved popular enough that they brought it back, albeit with the recapture provisions. If you actually sell, as opposed to merely moving out and renting, within nine years of purchase, there's a formula for whether you'll have to pay taxes on the gain or not. But the maximum possible tax is half the gain, and the money they get helps them keep the program going. It has to do with how much your income was versus the guideline you qualified under, plus a yearly five percent adjustment for inflation and people earning more later in life. This is based upon the maximum qualifying income guideline, not what you actually made when you qualifies. Furthermore, it is waived in cases of death or divorce. In general, avoid selling in years you get a major windfall. It is to be noted that the competing programs have this recapture feature as well.

When you weigh the advantages of the MCC against those of the competing programs, as well as against doing without such a thing, the value of this program to the middle income home buyer becomes clear. Indeed, this national program is probably the broadest brush, easiest to obtain home buyer assistance program there is. Funding is not unlimited to say the least, and here locally runs out almost immediately. Furthermore, a lot of lenders seem to sign up to lure first time home buyers in, and then direct them to loans that are not eligible for MCC; this is a major part of what motivated me to undertake the training myself. Furthermore, it's not free. But if you fulfill the requirements, the payoff is enormously better, at a cheaper price, than anything else of which I am aware.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

I love your site and you are very knowledgeable. I have one quick question for you. I bought a home, I made it through closing, I moved my family into the home. During the process I used some closing cost money afforded to me through the VA loan process and lender to pay off 3 credit cards. I never signed anything that said I had to close those accounts to qualify for the loan or get the house. Now my loan officer told me that I need to go ahead and close those accounts and send him the letters stating that they were paid in full and closed. He said that he needed them so that the loan would make it through auditing and if he didnt get them that the loan would come right back to them and his boss is not going to want to buy that loan back and then it would open up a big can of worms. I closed on the 14th of Sept. Im positive the sellers have already received their money. Which from what I have read means the loan has been funded. I believe that the lenders goal was to sell the loan from the get and me closing the accounts makes the loan more enticing to be purchased and they are trying subtly to make it seem like I could lose my home when in essence they would be stuck with the mortgage that they approved but had no intention on keeping. I just wanted your opinion.

If closing them was a condition of the loan, it should have been taken care of in underwriting or funding. If it didn't, and the brokerage has to buy the loan, it's no skin off your nose - it's their own fault for letting it get this far.

If it was a condition of the loan, it should have been on the list of conditions put into the loan by the underwriter. I don't volunteer a copy of the outstanding conditions, because I regard meeting those as my responsibility as the loan officer, but I'm always happy to give one out because it shows an involved client that I am on top of things. I do advise people to ask for one before they sign - signing the final documents commits you to that loan (after the three day right of rescission, but there is no rescission period for purchases). It's a good thing if you know what obstacles (if any) are standing in your way before you commit completely like that. There are always the routine funder conditions - verifying cash to close, etcetera, but in general there really shouldn't be anything else in the way of unfulfilled conditions. On those rare occasions there other outstanding conditions, I have previously discussed them with the client and they know what is going on.

I recommend against drawing any lines in the sand until you have discussed the matter with an attorney licensed to practice in your state. I am not an attorney, and I don't pretend to be. In general, however, any issues outstanding should have been dealt with prior to actually funding and recording the loan. Once its recorded, they can't call the money back without external cause.

There are two possible reasons for the request. One, they screwed up and don't want to be stuck with it. Understandable, but not your issue at this point. If they needed you to close those accounts, the underwriter should have made certain it was done before he passed it on to the funder. That funder should not have put the money to the loan without making certain it was done, or, more likely in the case of a payoff, closed the accounts with the payoff money. Note that closing the accounts would also have required your written permission, which should have been part of the process of getting the loan to that point. But once the loan is closed and recorded, they're telling you that you've done your part, and that everything you're required to do has been done.

I have worked in both broker and correspondent lending. In both cases, the underwriter is an employee of the actual lender - not the broker or correspondent. They may be assigned to that broker, correspondent, or even to a subset of loan officers, but they are still an employee of that lender and responsible for seeing that the lender's guidelines are followed before approving the loan. A broker's funder is also a lender employee - the lender is the one putting the money to the loan to make it work, there's not a penny of broker cash involved. A correspondent funder, however, often works for the correspondent, who actually funds the loan and hence gets a better price through the secondary market, but they are still required to make certain all of the underlying lender's guidelines have been followed. A correspondent funder should be even more hard nosed than the lender's own funder because otherwise they are risking the lender not buying the loan, and it eating up that correspondent's line of credit or cash. That has some really bad consequences to the correspondent in terms of costs. The lender not buying the loan is a real concern if the rate/cost tradeoff has gone up since the loan was locked, and may possibly mean the correspondent loses money through not being able to sell the loan for what they thought they could (although it's still not your fault). It has been my experience that correspondent funders are very anal retentive, even by comparison with other funders - which is exactly as it should be.

Since at least two cutoffs were missed, my belief is that what's more likely to be going on is that they are hoping for a better price for the loan. In other words, more money, and are hoping you cooperate in order to facilitate that. Once again, talk to an attorney licensed in your state about your particular situation, but my understanding of the general class of events is that it's completely up to you as to how far you cooperate. You did what you were required to do in order to get the loan funded and recorded. If they dropped the ball, it's not your fault, and not really your problem

Caveat Emptor

Original article here


Somebody sent me this story via e-mail: Feeling Misled on Home Price, Buyers Sue Agent

Marty Ummel feels she paid too much for her house. So do millions of other people who bought at the peak of the housing boom.

Knowing only this, I would have no sympathy. This is part of the risk you undertake with any investment - that it may decline in value. There are no guarantees that any investment is a good one. I worked hard to inform potential buyer clients about the state of the market when it was in the danger zone, and it cost me a lot of money. Quarter million dollars, absolute minimum. Most of them just went over to other agents who pretended that we could continue to gain 20 percent plus per year indefinitely, or were too ignorant to know better. Not precisely the most ringing endorsement possible, but it was hard to get people to hold off when the market was going crazy. Fear and Greed.

The situation when I originally wrote this article was 180 degrees reversed from that - the best buying opportunity in at least fifteen years, and probably the best we'll ever have from this point forward. I did everything except promise free beer to try and get buyers off the sidelines when it was in their favor, but most people look back at what the market has done recently, not where it is going. Fear and Greed has another side.

Getting back to the subject at hand, however, here's the deadly piece of information:

Ms. Ummel claims that the agent hid the information that similar homes in the neighborhood were selling for less because he feared she would back out and he would lose his $30,000 commission.

The question I want to ask is did the buyer's agent actively hide it or was he unaware of it? Not that being unaware is any excuse. If you have a fiduciary duty to someone who's buying a property, how can you not check out what sales there have been in the immediate area in the last few months, at least on MLS? This was a million dollar property, for crying out loud, but it would apply just as strongly to a "cheap" condo. If you're not willing to do the work, you shouldn't take the client. If you're never willing to do the work, why are you in the business?

If the agent was aware of these sales but actively hid them, that leaves the realm of negligence and into the realm of active malfeasance. He deserves to lose his license as well as the case, and this would be the wedge that might do it.

Now we get to the crux of the matter:

"We have seen so much misrepresentation over the last five years," he said. "So I appreciate where these buyers might be coming from: 'I'm a lowly consumer, you're certified by the state of California, you didn't do X, you didn't do Y, and I got hurt.' "

This is exactly what an agent is agreeing to when they accept the task of agency, real estate or otherwise. This isn't some pick-up game of softball where you pick your friends. Buyer or seller, you're not just picking someone who's going to get a check for thousands of dollars. If that were the case, real estate agency would have died by now. You're picking someone whom you believe is both capable of everything necessary to guard your interests, and willing to speak up even though it may cost them a commission. I get at least one e-email a week complaining about what a rotten job one agent or another did. When I respond back and ask them how and why they chose that agent, the response is always something along the lines of, "I met him and thought he was a good guy."

This isn't about who you're going to have a good time with at the football game this afternoon, which that means of choosing might suffice for. You're not choosing a date for the ball, you're picking an alleged professional who's supposed to competently guard your interests on a transaction that's probably several years worth of your earnings. Whether you pay for the property with cash or with a loan, it's still the same number of dollars, and you're still going to have to pay that loan off if something goes wrong. Treat buying real estate like what it is: putting enough money on the line to quite literally beggar you for life if you make a mistake.

I wrote an article a while ago titled Which Makes More Difference - Buyer's Agent or Listing Agent? The answer was and is resoundingly that a buyer's agent makes more difference. Yet many people who would never pick a listing agent in such a casual manner will choose somebody they meet at an open house or go without representation, trusting the listing agent to look after their interests. But the listing agent has a contractual obligation to get the seller the highest possible price - not to negotiate it as low as possible. If something is in the seller's interest but against yours, you can bet the seller's interests are going to win. It's a win for listing agents if the buyer doesn't have an agent of their own - for perhaps an hour of extra work, they get paid double, and without taking on any new liability if they're even moderately intelligent.

Picking someone you meet at an open house is nearly as bad. HELLO! Earth to prospective buyer! They're a LISTING AGENT with a contractual obligation on behalf of that seller and who knows how many others. If they're not trying their best to sell you that property, they're violating their contract with the seller - but you want an agent who's not only going to tell you about the problems, but also about what it really means to you. There is an irreconcilable conflict of interest there. A good - by which I mean competent as well as ethical - agent will not put themselves or their clients into that kind of situation. I write it into every contract that I will not represent both sides in the same transaction, and make it clear to prospective listings exactly where the line is. If I bring someone I've contracted to represent as a buyer to one of my own listings, I am breaking that fiduciary duty to one or the other of them - perhaps both. It's one thing if someone calls me out of the blue asking to see a property I have listed. It's my job to show the property. It's something completely different to bring someone I already have a buyer's representation agreement with to that listing with an eye towards possibly buying. The same objection applies if I try and get that prospective buyer who called out of the blue to agree to let me represent them in buying. Who gets less than my best efforts, and is that something you want as a consumer with hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line? That's what you're volunteering for when you pick a buyer's agent in either one of these fashions.

It goes back to the illusion of comity. Agents are salespersons, and it's much easier to get a sale, and particularly a better price, if you pretend everybody here is everybody else's friend. In fact, that's pretty much the only way to make Dual Agency appear even vaguely palatable. Give someone an obvious path of least resistance. But let's consider the nature of the item at issue: A middle of the line detached single family residence is $500,000. How many people would you trust not to try to finagle an extra 2%, when it means they make an extra $10,000 - two months gross wages - whether they are buyer or seller? To very politely and non-confrontationally slip away with an extra ten percent that means $50,000? I've seen people finagled out of forty percent of the purchase price by a sharp or lucky listing agent, and they never did figure it out. I went out and interviewed a few on purpose not too long ago on the subject of their recent purchases. Whether out of ego defense or just sheer ignorance, every single one of them was very happy with the purchase, and they told me they would do the same thing again.

Agents fall into the trap of "go along to get along" as well. It's one thing to be collegial. Two boxers each out to pummel the other into senselessness can be polite. The formality of the old code duello, governing two gentlemen so angry at each other that they're going to shed blood to settle the matter, was faultlessly polite. Often, though, agents go too far and get into you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours mode "You don't beat me up with your buyer, I don't beat you up with mine, and only the buyers get hosed, which we'll make good when they want to sell it with a whole new set of suckers buyers." The whole thing turns into a repeating cycle of suckers who don't know any better.

Well pardon me for not believing that just because you were taken advantage of in the purchase of the property does not entitle you to take advantage of someone else when you sell. Two wrongs still don't make a right, and they never have. The property is only worth what a buyer is willing to pay - if you don't like what is offered, you need to persuade me and them it's worth more - and to do that, you have to risk that I will persuade you it's worth less, because that's what negotiation is. Neither side gets to bully the other, and there are always other properties on the market. The other alternative for the seller is to find a buyer willing to offer more, which brings us back to the illusion of comity again. In this market, that's the real trick, isn't it? It's no coincidence that people find out about issues like this primarily during buyer's markets. When fear and greed are driving prices crazy, a bigger fool is very likely to materialize. When it takes something on the order of a divine command to get someone to be willing to buy, those who are willing to buy have thing much more to their liking.

To give the mass media credit where credit is due, they have managed to cover the basic point that listing agents represent sellers, and have a responsibility to the sellers, not the buyers. Thirty years ago, it's my understanding that Dual Agency was far more common, and the illusion of comity less likely to be dispelled, where now, roughly two-thirds of all transactions at least do have a buyer's agent involved.

But what if that buyer's agent doesn't understand the difference between comity and collegiality? That seems to be the most likely explanation for the situation illustrated in the NY Times article I linked at the beginning of this piece. To be fair, many agents on the listing side suffer this fault as well. The illusion seems to be essentially that as long as we keep it all in the family, nothing will go wrong. Furthermore, the buyers in the article were in exactly the same situation as the ones I interviewed on their overpriced purchases. Fat, dumb, happy - and ignorant, until something went obviously wrong. When prices fell, they went looking for someone else to fix their bad situation upon. And if prices falling was the only concern, neither I nor anyone else should have any sympathy whatsoever for them. But it wasn't just the bad luck of a down market, forseeable or not. This agent not only did a horrible job of discharging his fiduciary duty, he didn't tell his victims about relevant facts which would have made that failure obvious before the transaction was consummated. It's interesting to note that had he admitted his failure, he probably still would have gotten paid, because even if the buyers had moved on, they probably would have kept him - people do the silliest things. However, this was a real estate transaction, where pretty much everything is a matter of public records that are kept forever. The buyers or their lawyer did the work and dug into the records, and predictably, hit paydirt. The agent undertook the duty, should have understood the duty, and basically decided to act like a minimum wage worker with a fax machine despite the fact he was paid $30,000 to guard the buyer's interest. Hello! That commission check is not a reward for a winning personality! Well, I suppose in a market rising 20% per year where it's hard to do anyone lasting damage, it can be, much to the eventual distress of their client. Because no market can sustain that kind of increase over time unless the income of those able to buy the property keeps pace. I don't need to ask for a judge's ruling on that one.

People want their daily routine to be without confrontation, violence, or real argument. It's a temptation to just go along. The little stuff - a dime missing out of your change, having to sit through an extra cycle of the traffic signal - just isn't worth making a big deal out of. It's a path of least resistance thing. But when you accept the responsibility for someone else's interests, it's not your call to make, and we're usually talking months worth of wages, occasionally years. I may advise someone that the deal is about as good as I think we're going to get, but I still have to spell it all out. That's why I make the money I do for the work I do when I'm working on a full service basis - my services really are reliably worth several times what I make to my buyer clients. And that's why the agent that just sits in the office with a fax machine can rebate half or two-thirds of that co-operating broker's percentage, and why I am perfectly happy to work on that basis if that's what a particular buyer wants - if my only liability is passing along faxes, I'm making ten times more per hour for less liability. I've written about this before, but pay attention to what you're getting in services as well as what you're spending for them.

The divine only knows how many other people bought property and are now in this situation, and how many lawsuits we're going to see because of it. I have zero sympathy for the agents and brokerages involved. They have richly earned whatever judgments are rendered against them and any license action under taken by the Department of Real Estate. But the consumers involved assisted their own downfall for just taking the obvious, apparently easy path to a transaction, by not taking the time to shop for a good buyer's agent in the first place. If you were getting ready to buy a property, which situation would you rather be in this time next year? Find a dedicated buyer's agent who will guard your interests while explaining what you need to know, or just take the path of least resistance? As of this moment, the folks the New York Times wrote about are out $75,000 in legal fees, and who knows how much in property value, their own time, and the quality of their lives, because they chose the latter path. Nor does anyone know at this point how much of that they're going to get back. But speaking as someone who knows intimately the endpoints and results of both paths, I know which path I'd choose.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here


The first piece of advice I have for buyers who want to get a fantastic bargain is to find a good buyer's agent. Nothing else will make as much difference as a good buyer's agent who is dedicated to the idea of getting buyers a bargain. They spot problems before you're stuck with them, keep you from wasting time, bargain hard on your behalf, debunk all the nonsense that sellers and listing agents throw your way, and most importantly, know when and under what conditions it's a good idea to walk away.

The second piece of advice I have for buyers who want to get fantastic bargains is to be willing to zig when everyone else is zagging. The gorgeous property in a high demand area of town, the award winning new development that's selling like hotcakes, and the freshly remodeled high end property are not where you're going to find bargains. Timing is as important as location and condition. It's much harder to find a bargain in the spring and summer, when everyone else is looking to buy, than it is to find a bargain around Christmas, when nobody wants to move that tree. You find bargains by being willing to consider what relatively few others will. A buyer's market is where the buyers have all the power simply because there are so few buyers in proportion to the number of sellers. Seller's markets are the exact opposite, but it's pretty easy to get people to want to buy during seller's markets, and difficult to get people to buy in buyer's markets. The psychology of increasing prices motivates greed on the behalf of buyers, but if you want to make a large profit, buy when nobody else wants to. When everything is going bananas and prices are increasing 20% per year and everything sells in three days or less is the time to be selling, not buying.

This isn't to say that every property or every situation that everybody else is avoiding is a ripe bargain. That is not the case. Sometimes the reason why a given property isn't selling is a sane, rational reason - far and away the most common reason for a low asking price is a defect that means you can't get a loan on that property. If you don't need a loan, and the issue with the property is one you are certain you can fix, that's a real opportunity. If the property is next to an explosives factory or a maximum security prison, there's a good reason why people are giving it a wide berth. There is a reason to do due diligence on every property.

The third piece of advice I have for bargain hunters is that the beautiful, turn key property where you sign the papers, move your furniture in, and you immediately become the envy of your neighbors is not bargain priced. Those properties don't need to be bargain priced, because they appeal to everyone, and people will line up to pay top dollar for those properties. The owners don't have to negotiate much, because everyone's making offers on these. You find real bargains by being willing and able to consider what other buyers can't or won't. Bargains happen for people who are willing to make it beautiful, not for people who already want it beautiful. The prospective buyer who cannot or will not sink cash into the property can't touch it. The person who isn't willing to work - or pay to have work done - won't be interested.

This segues into the subject for the fourth piece of advice: Being on solid financial footing is worth gold to buyers - lots of gold. Not being on a solid financial footing may or may not be worth waiting until you can fix it, depending upon your market. That's a question that can only be answered on an individual basis. But people with low credit score, low to zero down payment, or insufficient ability to document income will have substantially fewer properties to choose from, and a lot less bargaining power to boot. These challenges become much more difficult if you've got more than one of them. Any one of these issues can be dealt with. Stated Income is dead, leaving you with the options of a seller carryback, higher down payment, or less expensive property. People without much of a down payment have to go through the rigamarole of a government loan - which many sellers are unwilling to put up with. People with bad credit can still get loans if they can document income and provide a down payment - or even if they can't document income with a larger down payment. But put these items together, and you're very constrained as to which properties you have the opportunity to buy. Sellers want cash, not promissory notes, which means the ones who are able to offer carrybacks have a huge lever to hold on you. You're likely to end up paying full asking price or more simply because your options are that property or none.

You have cash, or at least the ability to pay the seller in cash via a loan. The sellers have property and they want cash. Every property is not appropriate for every buyer, and I've yet to find a property that's an exception to this rule - but cash is appropriate for every seller. Your cash, my cash, Uncle Sam's cash - sellers are complete agnostics when it comes to whose cash. That dollar from your pocket is worth exactly the same as the dollar from mine. It all spends, and any seller with any pretense to rationality is going to be the ultimate agnostic about who that cash comes from. So long as they get it, it all spends. Cash is always king - but it never produces more cash just sitting there.

But you have needs and wants for the property, and unless you've got a license to run your own private currency printing press, you don't have an unlimited budget. You have to know what that budget is, and blowing your budget is the mistake most likely to cause a disastrous failure in the home buying process. One of the things I do that my buyer clients absolutely hate is I force them to sit down with me and have a talk about what's important to them in a property, how important it is, and what's not important. Furthermore, I always want to cover alternatives. If they can have two or three features of lesser importance, are they willing to give up one item that may be highly desirable but extremely expensive? People hate this because they hate any indication that they might have to "settle" for anything less than a dream home, but dream homes turn to nightmares very quickly if you don't stay within a budget you can afford. You can always move up again later, but if you can't really afford it now, you will be better off not buying it. A good buyer's agent should give you a very good idea how well your budget and your desires match up before you look at a single property. Furthermore, when looking at properties, always shop by purchase price, not payment. Never never NEVER choose a house or a loan based upon payment!

All of this reduces to one word: Planning. People hate to plan. A good working definition for human beings is, "an otherwise sentient species known for its unwillingness to plan." Me, too, except where there's something important on the line, and getting my clients a better properties at lower prices is a large part of how I feed my family. Effectively planning your purchase will save you many thousands of dollars. Several tens of thousands, around here; perhaps hundreds of thousands in places like Manhattan. I plan everything about my client's purchases except whether they'll like a particular property. There is no way in the known universe to predict that. I've found people exactly what they told me they wanted, at a price within their budget, only to be told "Show us something else." I've had people immediately fall in love with something that I almost didn't show them because it really didn't match up with the desires they told me they had. I've had people insist they wanted a property even though I gave them a dozen good reasons not to. They're the boss. I'm just the expert. Push comes to shove, people will buy what they like - it's my job to make certain they know about the warts and have a chance to avoid them. People marry people with warts and buy properties with warts all the time. Most properties, just like most people, have their warts. It's my job to make sure my clients know about that property's warts - not to prevent them from exercising adult judgment on whether it's something they can live with.

About warts: If you're one of those people that cannot accept the fact that everything in real estate is a trade-off, you're not going to do well. If you're only willing to buy a perfect property in the perfect situation at a perfect price, there are three possibilities. One: you pay a lot more than the property is worth. Two: You don't buy anything, either because nothing satisfies you or because someone else gets into escrow first. Three: You are the victim of a con where they pretend to have the perfect property in the perfect situation at a perfect price.

There are properties without metaphorical warts of any kind. They all command a premium in any market. If you want a bargain, there are going to be warts. There's going to be a reason why buyers didn't line up to outbid each other, because that's what happens with premium properties in any market. Location, surroundings, condition, size, floor plan, orientation, structure, commute, missing something it needs or has something it shouldn't. Usually, more than one of these. Some things that are a big deal to most prospective buyers are cheap and easy to fix, while other things that don't seem important at first are expensive or impossible. Some things make a large difference on resale, others don't. Some things are impossible to live with, some things trivial. A good buyer's agent will make all the difference in the property you choose, and it's not just knowledge, but attitude as well.

Penultimate item: Sometimes, there are things that are more important to the seller than some amount of cash, and if they are less important to you than that amount of cash, this is a good way to get a bargain. Sometimes there will be clues in the listing that a good buyer's agent can spot. Sometimes, a seller who wants it all their way will give away this crucial information in negotiations, usually by asking for something other than the way things are normally done in your area. Once again, it's the buyer's agent who is going to spot that and know what it's really worth in the way of other concessions. Everything that's unusual, out of place or out of the ordinary is a possible flag here. This works both ways, so if you don't have a sharp buyer's agent and the seller has a sharp listing agent, you can very easily put your foot in your mouth to the tune of thousands of dollars or even blowing the purchase altogether. Get with your agent and plan how you're going to craft your offer to get from where you are to where you want to be.

The final item, and one of the most important: Always negotiate honestly and in good faith. Never make an offer you're not prepared to have accepted. Never represent yourself as being happy when you're not, or being unhappy when you're trying not to chortle with glee. It's amazing how many people simply do not understand how likely this is to bite you. The purchase contract is not the end of negotiations - even the consummated sale may not always be the end of negotiations, but that's the way to plan. It takes two willing parties, a buyer and a seller, to get from the purchase contract to the consummated sale. One side gets too greedy or too demanding, the other side gets disgruntled and walks out. The net result is no transaction, and you're right back where you started from, except you're out the time and probably a not inconsiderable amount of money. Lose-lose, where a viable transaction is always at least commensal, and symbiotic is better.

None of this is "Buying below market." There is no such thing as "buying below market". Market is whatever the price a willing buyer and a willing seller agree the property is worth. End of discussion. If you don't understand this, don't get involved in buying and selling real estate. You would only get hurt. But it is a collection of ideas and principles that enable savvy buyers to get the real bargains - the sort where you look back in amazed satisfaction at how well you did, and if you don't know any better, you'll think it was dumb luck. And luck does happen, but fortune in real estate favors those who are prepared, who get good advice, and who are prepared to undertake reasonable risks when the probability and magnitude of a payoff more than compensate. Real estate is always a competition, and like every competition, you want to practice, you want to prepare, you want to have the best coach and the best strategy, and you have to be willing to take calculated risks. The prize isn't a gold medal - it's a property where you can be happier than in the property you didn't spend tens of thousands of dollars more for, and resell when the time comes faster and for a higher profit.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

People sometimes ask how they can improve their credit if they have old collections on their credit record.

Well, the answer is NOT to simply pay them. Paying off a five year old collection can cause your credit score to drop by 100 points.

You say that makes no sense? Well, here's the logic of it: Collections are weighted by how old they are; when your last activity was. They are weighted heaviest for the first two years, then somewhat lighter from two years to five, then lighter still after five years. If you pay it off, it's still a derogatory notation, because after all, you were way past due on it. But now the date it gets marked with is TODAY, and now you've got an absolutely fresh collection on your credit record. In other words, it comes back to bite you just as hard as it ever did, for another two years, after which it'll still be worse than it was for another three. You pay off an old collection, and it will be five years before it hurts you as little as it did before you pay it off.

So what you do is get a promissory letter of deletion. This says that *if* you pay $X, they promise to issue a letter of deletion. You need this promise in writing. Call or write the company involved, and come to an arrangement that if you pay however many dollars you agree upon, they will give you a deletion letter. Tell them to send it to you at your current mailing address. Don't pay until you do have the promissory letter in your possession, lest your credit suffer the hit I discussed above. These things are old - it is better for your credit to simply leave them sit than to pay them off and bring the delinquency date to TODAY. Many creditors apparently do not understand this. Make sure you explain it to them. "Without your written promise to delete this account upon payment, I am better off not paying this." Because that is the truth.

Once you have the promissory letter in your possession, then pay the bill. Include a copy of the letter with the bill to remind them. They will wait until your payment clears. They should then issue an actual letter of deletion. This is on company letterhead, has a contact name and phone number and an authorized signature. It should be short and sweet, reference the account, and say "Please delete this account."

You then send copies of that letter to the credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) and get your account deleted. Once the account - and the negative reference - is deleted, it's like it never existed. It is only once the account is actually deleted that your credit will see any actual benefit, and for the period between paying it off and deleting the account, your score will plummet. If you don't get to the point where the account is deleted, paying off old bills maims your credit instead of improving it as most folks would think.

If the company reneges on the deletion letter after promising to issue it, you have the legal ability to sue them. That promissory letter is a legal contract, with offer, acceptance, and consideration, for a legal purpose, etcetera. Talk to a lawyer about the details, I'm just a loan officer who's helped people with this a few times.

This entire process does take a month or two, and it can take thirty days to show up on your credit after it's complete. There is a process called Rapid Re-Score which can accelerate it, but Rapid Re-Score should not be something you plan on using - it's expensive, and doesn't result in as good a score as doing it the normal way. Optimally, deletion letters are not something to try when you already have a mortgage loan in process; it's something to do before you apply. Trying to do this while you've got a loan in process is expensive, because you're going to blow your lock period and need to extend it, sure as gravity. Thirty days of extension for your loan lock is approximately half a percent of your loan amount, so on a $400,000 loan, that's $2000. Most collections are a lot smaller, and you may have to resign yourself to the hit on your credit in some instances, in which case you will probably be better off to have it paid off through escrow at funding, where the loan will be funded and recorded before paying off that old collection hits your credit score by being brought up to the present day. Otherwise, you could find your loan denied due to credit score dropping, and discover that you're not getting another one on anything like comparable terms. Maybe you are not getting another loan at all, because your score has dropped too much. Be careful, plan ahead, and take care of old collection accounts ahead of time.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

Is there any problems with having all your money in only real estate?

That was a question I saw.

The answer is YES there are problems!

1) No diversification. The real estate market tanks and you are hosed. The more so because of the leverage attaching to most real estate investments. If you own five properties with a total value of $3.5 Million maximally leveraged, and the market loses 20% of value, you may have lost more than the entirety of your equity. If you need to get out now for some reason, the fact that prices are down hurts you much worse in real estate than any other investment except maybe commodities. If you had other investments, you likely would be able to hold on until market recovery and still make money.

2) Most people who do it get too strongly leveraged. Leverage is great, it makes your money work harder. But you've got to do some heavy thinking about how much leverage you're going to accept. If your cash flow is positive or tolerable, you can last out downturns. If you get into a situation where you can only make the payments for a certain amount of time, that can create desperation, and force you to accept an offer that leaves you owing money to the lender, and money to the IRS.

3) Real Estate is not liquid. This is the real kicker that drives the first two. You can't just call your stockbroker and get cash in seven days or less. You have to find the right buyer to get a decent price. If you need money in a hurry, this can force you to sell property for less than it's worth. If there are no good offers but you need to sell, you can find yourself forced to accept a bad one.

4) Landlord issues. The more properties you have rented out, the more likely that either blind chance or one of your tenants is going to do something to one of your properties which requires a lot of money in a hurry. If you're maximally leveraged and have no money anywhere else, where are you going to get that money? Particularly if the nature of the damage renders the property uninhabitable, in which case you're not likely to get any new loan on the property until it is fixed, and your lender might just decide to keep any insurance money in order to cut its losses.

If they're not rented out, of course, you're flushing cash every month.

Don't get me wrong. Real Estate is a great way to make money. In fact, given the phenomenon of leverage, you can make more in real estate with less risk than in practically any other investment field. But you've got to have some money somewhere else, and the larger your investment in real estate, the more money you need in other investments.

Caveat Emptor

Original here


Unpermitted additions are popular in California because of property tax implications. You see, due to Proposition 13 back in 1978, taxable assessments are based upon purchase price plus no more than 2% per year since acquisition (although if you bought prior to 1975, it's based upon the taxable basis in 1975). Let me say that this is a very good thing, because someone who buys property today has a reasonable assurance they won't be taxed out of their property, something you could not say prior to the passage of Prop. 13, where the legislature had more than tripled property taxes in the three years before it passed. Indeed, Prop. 13 has been one of the background factors leading to the elevated values today. If you bought a property for $40,000 in 1975, your taxable assessment 40 years later would be just over $88,000. In the open market, it would probably be about a $500,000 property, perhaps even $600,000, even with the market having taken its recent tumble. People who bought in the early nineties are sitting around $200,000 assessments for the same property, and even those who bought back around the time of 9/11 have assessed values of perhaps $300,000.

However, one exception to Proposition 13 is if you build an addition. New additions are assessed based upon the value it adds to the property when it is built. So in the case of the person who bought in 1975, expanding the living room or putting in a new bedroom could double the owner's property taxes. A new master suite could go much further than that. Building a second story to add multiple rooms could make your tax bill resemble a new purchase.

But if the county never finds out about it, and never updates their records, they don't make the new assessment, and the property taxes don't go up.

The way the county keeps track of all of this is via building permits. The theory is that anyone making an addition is going to get the proper permits, have all the inspections done, and happily pay their newly increased taxes.

Yes, I'll wait until you're done laughing, but it works out to be the intelligent thing to do, as we'll discover.

This is aside from all the usual headaches of dealing with your self-interested bureaucracy. Predictably, a lot of people decide that they will do anything they can to keep the county from finding out about that addition. No permits, no plans, no inspections, no bureaucracy, just do the work and enjoy the results.

Well, not quite. Licensed, insured contractors have legal and insurance based requirements to make certain any work they're involved in has all the necessary permits, inspections, etcetera. Go to Bureaucracy, Go Straight to Bureaucracy, Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect your nice little tax evasion. So this also encourages the use of unlicensed contractors, who as a group aren't precisely known for their unswerving dedication to high standards of construction and repair. Their work may or may not adhere to code, it may or may not do what it was supposed to, it may not continue to do so even if it does initially, and it may or may not even be structurally safe. Not to mention you're going to need Divine Intervention if someone gets hurt building it, or even on that portion of the property at a later time. Homeowner's Insurance companies have been known to be sticky about such details, and for excellent reason.

But if the county finds out about it, you've got all the issues you were trying to dodge right back at you with penalties and compound interest. I said if, but it's really more a matter of when.

You see, most folks want to sell the property at some point in time. When they sell it, they want to get a price appropriate for the property. They've got a 4 bedroom 2000 square foot property now, so the owners want the price 4 bedroom 2000 square foot properties are bringing in the market, not a 3 bedroom 1400 square foot price. When that happens, somebody usually notices that what they're trying to sell doesn't match county records for the property. It's one click on MLS to find out. The Era of Transparency bites everyone with something to hide. An agent I know told me he once asked someone in the assessor's office how they found out about cheaters. The answer? Mostly Real Estate Agents, but the context and way he told the story leads me to believe that the real answer is more properly "people unhappy with some other party to a transaction that may or may not have come off." It doesn't take much. Given even an anonymous tip, there isn't a judge in the world that's going to deny the assessor the right to investigate, especially given that you're on record trying to claim it had something more in order to sell it for a higher price. It's not like MLS records are private, or that the county assessor doesn't subscribe. Unless you've got some trick to make the extra room vanish when the tax man knocks on the door, they're going to find out the truth.

If the addition happens to be to code - current code as of the time of investigation, not the time of construction - you can get a retroactive permit. The process isn't too horribly much worse than if you'd done everything legal in the first place. But you're still going to pay all those back taxes, plus penalties and interest.

However, it's rarely to current code. Building codes get updated all the time, and when you get a permit legally and dot all the i's and cross the t's, you almost always get grandfathered into any code updates along with everyone else. It was fine and to code when you built it, so unless it has somehow become unsafe, you're still cool as far as the code goes. I see stuff every time I go looking at property which couldn't get approved now, but because the permits were obtained, the work was done, and everything was legally signed off however many years ago, it's still legal today.

Grandfathering doesn't apply, though, if you didn't do things the legal way. It's the code now that's important, and if it's not to code now, they can and will make you bring it up to current code standards. This often entails completely demolishing it and starting over, or simply putting things back to the way they were originally, if anyone can figure out what that was. Whatever happens, you're going to have the county inspectors looking over your shoulder every minute until the situation is resolved, and the licensed contractor you're going to have to retain isn't going to have much sympathy for what you did to yourself without paying a member of his brotherhood (most contractors are male). Upshot: It's going to be a lot more expensive and time-consuming than if you did it correctly in the first place.

It can be, and often is, worse than that. If the addition is unsafe, if you don't bring it to code within a specified period of time, they can make you demolish it. Actually, they can make you demolish the entire structure if it's bad enough. Suppose there's other stuff done there that was legal at the time, but there were no permits needed then? Nobody believes liars and cheats, and that's you at this point.

Sometimes, the additions are not compatible with zoning, set back regulations, etcetera. In that case, they're coming out, end of story, and the entire structure may be condemned. Granny flats are one common issue that often impacts setbacks and or zoning. I may not like it, but it's not like I've been elected dictator for life. We've got to deal with the law as it is, not how we would like it to be. We can work to change it, but in the meantime, it is what it is.

Now, about buying such a property: Are you really comfortable plonking down your hard earned cash (or worse, borrowing money so the seller can have cash) for a property where part or all of it may be at risk of being demolished, when (not if) the county finds out? Particularly the same price the your new neighbor paid for his fully permitted property? I don't think that's likely. Not many inmates of insane asylums are purchasing real estate, and when they do, they need to get their trustee involved. I can't see any trustee agreeing to it either.

There is one potential loophole: If you can show the property was as it is when you bought it, then the addition will be treated as part of the sales price, and you can potentially get forgiveness as an innocent purchaser, but it's still got to be to current code. See above for issues with that. There's a also time limit on this, usually two years from date of purchase is my understanding. The issue is this can be difficult to show without the cooperation of the former owner, who's going to be assessed for the difference, plus penalties and interest, and is therefore unlikely to cooperate! I understand there are other limits upon this loophole, but these are the most important ones.
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Even if you manage to unload one of these white elephants upon some unsuspecting fool, you're not in the clear. It can come back to bite you. I heard about one case not too long ago where the seller bought in 1986 and sold in 1999, and they swore it was like that when they bought, that they had no reason to suspect it was unpermitted. All to no avail. The judgment was rendered against them, and they're going to have to find the people who sold it to them to get any satisfaction in return. Good luck with that, especially if they're dead.

One final issue: In the era of make believe loans, anything went, but lenders are once again balking at lending at properties with unpermitted additions. In particular, they're not willing to lend based upon the current configuration, but based upon what's in county records if at all. As one lender fairly close to my office found out when they tried to sell their repossessed 1500 square foot lender owned property that the county records showed as 640 square feet, this can put the kibosh on the vast majority of potential sales. How good of a price do you think you're likely to get when the buyer can only get a loan for about fifty percent of value, and the lender wants to treat that as 100 percent financing? Result: It sat for eight months until a buyer came along with the resources to deal with it, and that buyer got a fantastic deal as the property was essentially ineligible for a loan.

(Question: How many "get rich quick in real estate" seminars mention that most of the very best deals happen for buyers willing and able to sink a lot of cash into the property for the time it takes to deal with the issue that's preventing everyone else from buying it?)

in short, unpermitted additions are a landmine waiting only some random event to explode, and it can do so years after you thought it was no longer your problem. They can be good news for buyers with the resources to deal with them, but they can cripple your ability to sell the property, particularly for a good price. They can actually cause you to be forced to sell for a price below what you'd get without doing any of the work at all. Looking at the costs, I find it difficult to believe that anyone considering things rationally would willingly do this, but in looking at MLS and visiting 20-30 properties most weeks, I see a lot of hard evidence that not everyone thinks these things through.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

There's really nothing mysterious about this. There are some subsidiary tricks and issues, but the most important thing is obvious. The economic games theory is crystal clear, as is the research into what really happens. But most people don't like what the theory says, and think it somehow doesn't apply to their ego wonderful property.

Price the property correctly in the first place.

Negotiating strategies are variable. In seller's markets, your optimum marketing and negotiation strategies are significantly different than in buyer's markets. But every optimum strategy, in every market, starts with the same piece of advice. Price the property correctly from the moment it hits market. That price won't be the same price it would have been six months ago, and it won't be the same price it would be six months from now. But just because it changes over time does not mean there isn't an optimum price now, and now is when you're trying to sell it.

A good listing agent can keep you from under-pricing the property, and can keep you from giving away the farm or losing the sale in negotiations. But nobody can reliably get you more than the property is really worth, and the attempt is almost certain to end up costing you lots of money.

Here's how things work if you price the property correctly. You put it on the market, you get people coming by to view it because they can afford it and the basic numbers fit. If middle class properties are priced correctly, you're going to get offers within the first two weeks - probably more than one, even in the buyer's market we have going right now. You all negotiate in good faith, you reach an agreement with one of the prospective buyers, you go through escrow in about 60 days (30 days or less if there's no loan), and within ninety days the property is sold.

But when you over-price it, here's what happens: When buyers compare your property to the others that are available and competing with yours, yours falls short. Result: They make offers on other properties, not yours. It's as if you wanted to sell a $20 bill for $50. Guess what? It's precisely the same situation with a different commodity.

Time goes on. You spend money on the mortgage, the property taxes, the insurance, and the upkeep. Plus any number of other possibilities, for instance if there are HOA dues. Even if there aren't, let's consider a median sales price in the zip code my office is in: $390,000. Let's say you've got a loan for eighty percent of the value at 6%, pro-rated property taxes at 1.25%, and $100 per month for insurance. You paid $1560 in interest charges for one month. That's cash, right out of your checking account! I don't count the cost of principal because you're paying that to yourself, but pro-rated property taxes would be slightly over $400 per month, and add the $100 per month for insurance and you're well over $2000 that not selling for that month actually cost you, plus the phantom of another couple hundred dollars principal out of your checking account that you're essentially giving the bank to hold for you until the property sells - except that extra month decreases the eventual sales price. It's worse than this if your property is highly encumbered, or caught upon the fact that prices are receding in most of the country. That $390,000 property today would have been $500-$520,000 at the peak of the market, and lots of folks were buying then and are discovering now that those prices weren't real. So if your property doesn't sell for 4 months (the average days on market locally), that's nearly $10,000 out of your pocket that you're not getting back.

Actually, it's much worse than that.

Your period of highest interest is right when the property hits the market. The longer it's on the market, the fewer people will come by. The buyers who already looked have already made their comparison and decided they're not interested. The buyers who are new to the market will see that it's been on the market for thirty, sixty, ninety days or more and the idea foremost in their minds is going to be "What's wrong with it?" What's wrong with it is a completely preventable problem - It was overpriced when it hit the market. The only cure for this problem is expensive: cut the price further than the price it would have sold for in the first place.

The higher the "Days on Market" counter goes, the less inclined buyers will be to go view the property. Remember, at this point it's all numbers as far as the buyers are concerned. You can stage the house, paint it, remodel the kitchen, replace the carpet, landscape the yard, and nobody will notice because these don't translate to attention grabbing numbers. The property is what it is, has what it has, and the counter is ticking up, and every day this property sits . The only number you can change to induce people to come back is the asking price, and guess where it has to go? That's right: down. At this point, you have to give them a reason to come back and look that has its root in numbers. If you're now the cheapest property in your class in your area (or more precisely, the lowest asking price), that has a good chance of working. Maybe if you're now the second cheapest, you'll get a smaller amount of interest. But if there are still a significant number of lower prices in your class, this won't work. Nobody comes back to look at the 18th cheapest 3 bedroom home, even if there are 1000 others in the zip code, despite the fact that these numbers say you're in the best 2%. You've got to be priced significantly below the market to drag people back, where you didn't have to be nearly that low if you priced it correctly in the first place. Furthermore, attempting to negotiate the price back upwards is extremely unlikely to work. People came to look and made an offer based upon your implicit representation that the asking price would be an offer you'd be happy to accept, and if that turns out not to be the case, expect them to walk away no matter how hot the seller's market.

Tricks exist to reset Days on Market, of course. The various MLS affiliates are wise to most of them and getting better at catching them. Not to mention that the buyer's agent is going to check back and see if it's been on the market anytime recently, if they don't happen to recognize it off the top of their head. Listing Agents are becoming correspondingly more reluctant to play games to reset that Days on Market because they can lose the ability to place properties in MLS altogether when MLS catches them playing games. Buyer's agents are tired of this game, and many of them are perfectly willing to put their competition out of business by bringing their malfeasance to the attention of the MLS operator. I haven't done it yet, but I'm becoming more tempted in a couple of cases.

I see a lot of nonsense put into MLS by owners, and by agents who know better about how high the automatic valuations, CMAs, and appraisals for a given property are. These are all worthless. For one thing, this data can be manipulated, and sellers have just a little motivation to want it manipulated in their favor. More importantly, none of these influence sales price, and representations that they do or should is worthy of ridicule. What influences whether you get any offers, and from that, sales price is how good of a deal prospective buyers think they're getting, which in turn flows from the asking prices for comparable properties, as well as recent sales. If there's only two properties available for sale in the Zip Code that thousands of buyers want, sales prices are going to be increasing rapidly. Reverse this if the opposite situation applies. Incidentally, these are reasons a buyer's agent needs to be a fount of information on both the attractive points and the not-so-attractive ones.

With this information freshly in mind, what does all this say about the competence and ethics of an Agent who accepts the listing at a too-high price "to see if we can get it"? Nothing good. They're deliberately inducing the seller to harm themselves in order to get that listing. It's hard to put a monetary value on hurt feelings of betrayal when the agent starts pressuring them to drop the price the instant they have the signature on the listing agreement, but for a lot of folks, that's even worse than all of the cash it's going to cost them.

Lest anyone mistake me, this is no way relieves the need for an agent, and a good one. How many of the comparable properties that sold in your area in the last few months were you in? How familiar are you with all of the competing comparable properties? Try and put it on the market without that knowledge, and you're basically spinning the roulette wheel as to whether you're in the right ballpark, price-wise, with completely predictable downside if you're not. Who's your target buyer? What are the effective ways to attract their attention to the property? How to convince them they need to make a better offer? I guarantee that buyers don't care about "what you want to get" for the property! If real estate were easy and obvious, anyone could do it about as well as anyone else, and that is definitely not the case. Finding a good agent isn't trivial, and their pay isn't what most people think of as "cheap" but it will more than pay for itself in time and money.

The attitude of the seller is also critical. Sellers that expect to be treated like royalty are royally hosing themselves. If everything has to be convenient for you, you won't get as good a price as if you make everything convenient for the buyer, and in buyers markets, it often makes the difference between a good price and not selling at all. What are you willing to do in order to sell your property, to make it more attractive to buyers with special issues? Especially, what are you willing and able to do if it will get a higher price? Being willing and able to offer things that other sellers are not is an excellent way to appeal to buyers with special needs, perhaps even to the point where they have a choice of your property or none at all, no matter how many properties are "for sale" where the owner can't or won't. Do you think that might induce someone to offer a good price? To use some examples I've encountered recently, are you willing and able to carry back part of the purchase price? That's one way to give yourself an advantage over competing properties in any kind of market. Are you willing to work with someone who has a need for immediate occupancy? Can you carry the property for an extended escrow period if you're properly compensated for it? A good agent can use all of these, and others, as wedges to get the property sold, sooner and for a better price, but they can't do these things for you. You have to be willing and able to do them.

There are a few other things: Have the property ready to show before it hits the market, do what you can to enhance visual attractiveness (it's amazing the difference polishing furniture that's going to leave with you can make!), and especially make showings absolutely as easy as possible. It's a better sales tactic to get the family heirlooms and other valuables out and type, "Just Go!" in the showing instructions than just about anything else (although "5 minutes notice so we can leave!" is even more effective), and permissive or restrictive showing instructions can make all the difference. If you've got tenants in the property who want 24 hour notice, you're in a world of hurt in a buyer's market, and even in a seller's market you're going to find that your traffic and final sales price will suffer because of it. If you want to sell your rental for a good price, offer your tenants something that makes them willing to cooperate or get them out.

The asking price should take all of these factors, and more into account (and almost entirely as subtractions from a theoretically perfect sales situation), but choosing an optimum or near optimum asking price in the first place will make more difference than anything else, because the money a seller ends up with is about the time it takes to sell as well as final sale price.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

It's the same reason the phone company doesn't want to compete, General Motors doesn't want to compete, Wal-Mart doesn't want to compete, Disney doesn't want to compete, and Microsoft will do everything in its power to appear as if it doesn't have to compete. They make less money when they have to compete, and they have to provide a better quality of product.

But people know that all of the above have competitive alternatives. If you don't like one brand of automobile, there are dozens of competing alternatives. Ditto retail outlets. "Kid safe entertainment" is a bit more of a niche market, but there are competitors if you'll look. Finally, we should all be aware that computer OS's are one of the biggest Drazi Wars there are. There is competition.

But many agents and loan officers make their living by pretending there is no competition, or by actively manipulating consumer choices to preclude the possibility of competition. This takes many forms, from requiring large deposits for loan officers through exclusive agreements with agents. There's nothing fundamentally evil about this - everyone needs to make a living. But there's nothing that says any particular consumer - by which I mean you - has to put up with it. Furthermore, the agent or loan officer who is confident enough to work without these devices is likely to be a better, stronger practitioner. Ask yourself who you'd more easily believe has more on the ball: Someone who tries to keep you from considering the competition, or someone who's happy to compete? If you were interviewing two applicants who want to work for you, who'd be more likely to get the job: The person who walks out as soon as they find out you're considering someone else as well, or the person who gets their act together and out-competes the other applicant? If you were interviewing with two companies who wanted to hire you, which offer would you be inclined towards: The one where you have to hide the other interview, or the one who's willing to compete head-on for your services?

Nobody's going facilitate competition for the job they want. Nonetheless, it is to your advantage to force them to compete. If you don't understand why, consider that for all the griping about various phone companies, the situation is far superior to what it was when there was only one. Here's a particularly poignant reminder of that era.

Here's the facts of the situation: If you're only going to talk to one provider, they can quote you anything they want. There is no check upon the situation. If I were the only loan provider in California, I could charge anything I wanted. I'd auction my services to the highest bidder, work a couple hours, one day a week, make as much money as I wanted and go on to spend the rest of the time having fun with my family. If anybody didn't like the level of service, that would be their problem. But that's not the case. In fact, the further it is from being the case, the harder I have to work, the less money I make per transaction, and the better the service I need to provide. It's also the case on the voluntary level, which is to say if you voluntarily restrict yourself to one potential provider, as well as the involuntary. If you only talk to one, there might as well be only one. It doesn't matter how many loan providers and real estate agents there are, what matters is how many you talk to.

People in the real estate business get told all the time that the way to success is to avoid competing, especially to avoid competing based upon price. If ever a week has gone by without some clown wanting to charge me a thousand dollars to learn how to avoid competing on price, or avoid competing, period, I certainly can't remember it. They work, by and large, on two levels - pretending you're the prospect's friend while engendering fear of the competition. "You know I'm your friend, George. You know there are sharks and cutthroats out there who will take your money and leave you high and dry, but you know I won't do that, George." And there are sharks and cutthroats out there. The guy talking to his pretend friend George here is one of them. This is the way he talks George out of checking up on him, comparing his services and prices to either objective standards or to any other provider's. Nor are women any superior - in fact, I've had a report of one of the worst sharks I'm aware of preaching a "female solidarity" line of attack to cut out her competition. Other sharks attack via ethnic or religious solidarity, or even political similarities. What these have in common is that none of them have anything to do with competence at real estate, and they may not have anything to do with conscience. I've seen people preaching the gospel about taking care of your fellow man while extorting thousands of dollars from their client's pockets. Newsflash: The sale of Indulgences went out with the Reformation, and for good reason, too. I'm certain it happens with other religions, as well, it's just that there's fewer members of those religions around here.

One of the ways I constantly see this abused is even people who should know better advising their readers to "ask someone you trust for a referral." Well, referrals are great - if the person making the referral knows what they're talking about. If they don't, it's just another goat lined up for sacrifice, willingly led in by the previous victim, If not worse. Here's an article from illustrating someone who used this process to gain victims (HT: FraudBlogger.com, who always has a relevant example of bad behavior handy). No matter how trusted the source, it still needs to be fully vetted - you need to do your own due diligence, and part of that is comparing them to some other potential service providers.

There just isn't any valid advantage from the consumer's point of view to forking over a large deposit or the originals of any documents to a loan provider. They don't need originals, and the only thing that large deposit does is give them some money to hang onto if you find a better loan. All of the better loan providers I'm aware of work on the basis of "fees at point of service," not requiring a deposit in advance. In fact, a cash deposit can induce people to accept loans that are many times the amount of the cash deposit worse than other, available loans. People understand that check they wrote out of their account is real money, where most of them are a little bit hazy about loan costs paid by rolling them into the loan balance. I saw someone pass by a loan I had that was four thousand dollars cheaper up-front and would have saved them $1000 per year they kept it because another lender already had a $1500 deposit from them. Here are a few more pointers on shopping for a real estate loan.

Admittedly, I have come to the reluctant conclusion that it is in the consumer's interest to list their property for sale via an Exclusive Right to Sell. However, this doesn't mean you shouldn't shop agents extensively before you make that commitment. This only means that you're going to make that commitment to one agent once you have done that research. Failing to do so risks locking your property up with an incompetent agent. When you ask "what's so bad about that?" ask yourself if you'd be happy taking ten to twenty percent less for the property (or worse!), after you keep paying the mortgage six more months? Around my area, with the median sale being $423,000 last month, and assuming a loan at six percent on eighty percent of value, not only does signing up with someone who can't get the job done cost you $42,000 on the sale, it'll cost you about $2200 cash for every month that property doesn't sell! Realize it or not, you're risking a lot of money on an agent, and just because you're not writing a check to them directly at sign up in no way changes this. However, I don't advise going with the agent who asks for a short term listing, either. That's an appeal to cowardice - decide by theoretically not deciding, and make no mistake, you are deciding when you sign a listing agreement for any period of time. This isn't to say you can't bargain the time for commitment down if you're willing to take a chance on a less experienced agent - it's just saying don't decide by pretending not to make a decision. That way lies disaster. Here are a few more tips about Shopping for a listing agent.

For buyer's agents, there really isn't a reason for an Exclusive Agency Agreement, except to allow an agent to wrap up your business for whatever period of time. There isn't hardly an excuse. The only place I can see it being an effective alternative for the consumer is if they're working the foreclosure market, and that agent is spending the money for all of the "quick notification" services so that the client doesn't need to. But the vast majority of the time, agents are locking in people who simply don't know any better with an exclusive agency agreement. I've seen listing agents who wouldn't show a property without an exclusive buyer's agency agreement - a clear violation of fiduciary duty to the seller, not to mention a huge Conflict of Interest if they actually want to put an offer in on that property. Non-Exclusive Agency Agreements protect the buyer's agent just fine, but they also give you the right to fire non-performers by just not wasting any more of your time. You can also use them to separate the wheat from the chaff among buyer's agents. Sign any number of Non-Exclusive agreements you want. The good agent will still do their work; while the lesser agents will select themselves out. While we're at it, here's a few more tricks to finding a good buyer's agent.

Agents and Loan Officers don't like this. It means they might not get the business when they're exposed for the buffoons that some of them are, and it means they might not make as much money for the time they put in. Nor is exercising your choices as an informed consumer simple - far from it. You also need to consider what agent services are worth how much to you. But considering the average price of real estate around here, and the cost of the loans that most people need in order to buy, doing proper diligence beforehand will save most people more money than they make in a month - perhaps more than they make in a year, possibly more. When you consider the differences in that light, the hourly pay for doing your due diligence about agents and loan officers and forcing them to compete is absurdly high.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here


Hi--I just found your site today. The best I've ever seen/read, etc. Thank You!! I do have a question I didn't see addressed regarding our current situation/dilemma:

Our present home, which we've lived in for 8 years, is worth around $180,000 (yes, it's a small town...), and we owe $105,000. My husband has been working for about 5 years now, & has a pretty good salary (around $100K) but we have a LOT of debt --mainly a result of having had 2 babies while in school. We have about $40 K in credit card debt, a $775/mo. student loan payment, & a $500/mo car loan which will be paid off in 18 months.

We've been planning on moving across town for a few years (MUCH better schools there), but had been holding out as long as we could with the idea that the longer we waited, the better house we'd be able to afford. And besides, the kids are still young, & their elementary school isn't intolerable, etc.

The problem is that the school situation DID become intolerable about 3 weeks ago, at which time I began to homeschool them, which is also intolerable! So we need to get this moving across town show on the road!

My question is this: I know we need to at least take out a home equity loan so that we can pay off the credit cards. Some of the rates are outrageous, and I'm sick of fighting with them. That would put our equity at $35,000. But since we want to move ASAP now, I assume we could just use the sale proceeds of the house to pay off the cards, & use the remainder as a down payment. Or, am I wrong? Our current debt to income ratio is so poor--will the lenders even consider our current plan to pay off that debt using sale proceeds, or will we have to refinance now & wait a period of time before pursuing a new house to show them that we're not just going to rack the debt up again? Oh, but we haven't incurred any new debt or put any new charges on the credit cards in about 3 years--does that make any difference?

Also, the houses in the neighborhoods we are looking at are around $300,000. I'd sure appreciate your advice on this. We really want to move immediately, but not if waiting until later, like this summer, would be be better...

Your situation is a classic example of the urge to hurry a situation, and how to come out better if you don't.

You don't mention how the market is in your area, or what your credit score is like, and yes, it does take a while for bills to show as paid off. It can take over sixty days. I see some options for you, all of which have drawbacks. This is a complex situation, and I don't have nearly all of the information it takes to recommend a particular solution.

You can refinance, sell, or do nothing with your current residence, and you'll want to rent it out if you don't sell. You can rent or buy a new property, although you do want to buy before long. There's some issues that need to be dealt with, and they take a little time to deal with them properly. You can rush the situation, but doing so will cost you some big bucks.

You don't mention what rents are in your current area. By the time you pay for the refinance, my guess is your balance would be $150,000, maybe a bit higher. I'm as certain as I can be without full workup information that you're in a sub-prime situation, which means you can choose a very high rate or a prepayment penalty that'll run you about another $5000 if you sell while it's in force. The high rate is the better choice, because it's only for a few months, but it also has implications for your debt to income ratio. The reason I ask about rents is that I'm wondering if they'll cover your mortgage on the place. The rate you'll get might be higher or lower, but let's assume seven percent. That's principal and interest of about $1000 per month, plus taxes and insurance. Now your husband makes plenty to afford some negative cash flow on the property if you folks have to and the rest of your debts are gone, but not a huge amount of it. You'll only get credit for seventy-five percent of the rent, as opposed to all of the expenses, but better to have it rented for a little bit of a theoretical loss than not to have it rented.

Whether you refinance or sell, it's going to take a grand total of about four months to get your bills showing as paid - about two months to get the refinance done, and two more months for your current finance companies to get off the dime and report the accounts as paid. It might be longer if you sell, depending upon how long it takes to get a good offer made and the sale consummated, then add two months. On the other hand, if your property is in good shape, vacant properties in good condition show very well. Understand that nothing happens immediately in real estate, and new regulations supposedly aimed at protecting consumers (while in reality protecting big banks from competition) have added at least a month to the time it takes to get a loan done.

With your new property, your debt to income ratio is going to sink your loan if your current bills aren't paid off. Unfortunately, A paper has an issue with paying off bills after your initial credit is run. If it's a credit card or other revolving debt, guidelines have issues with paying them off in order to qualify. If you pay off a credit card, the wisdom goes, you could turn it right around and charge it up again. Even if you pay it off and close it, the reality is that you could get another. So they qualify you based upon your current situation. Even paying off installment debt to qualify is at the discretion of the underwriter, and I have seen them turn it down. So you want to have the debt paid off, and showing as paid off, before you make the offer for a new place. That can take up to two months after they actually are paid off.

So you're going to want to wait at least two months after you pay the debt off before you make your offer on the house you want to purchase. This means either staying where you are for now, which I can see is unacceptable, or interim renting something in the area you want to live, which is likely to be better, and you might get a line on an extra-good deal if you are living in the area. Yes, you want to buy, but you don't have to do it all in one step.

So I'd most likely go rent a place - which gets you into the new school district now - while I tried to sell or refinance the current place. If you're not living there, be advised that a refinance is a cash out investment property loan, which carries higher rates and more difficulty. I'd probably try to sell instead, but that does place you at the mercy of the market, and not only do I not know your market, but (when this was originally written) we're still in the worst time of year for sellers. Which means settling for a lower price than you might otherwise get, but you will be rid of the debt without the headaches of being a landlord at a stressful time in your life. You can learn that situation later.

Now, if you sell, you get a down payment for the new place. If you refinance, you probably don't. Your credit score may dictate the sale option; I don't know. It should improve after everything is paid, but I can't guarantee that, and I definitely can't say by how much with the information I have. Better to plan on the status quo than to bet on it improving.

Now, a couple of months after the debts are paid, you'll be a a position to make an offer on a home you want to raise your family in. When I originally wrote this, If you had a semi-decent credit score (620 or above), 100 percent financing was no big deal deal, provided you stuck with a property and a loan you can document the ability to afford. If you've got serious credit issues, you're going to need a down payment. For the school year, you may want to delay until late spring or summer to give the kids some stability for the rest of the year. Worst time to buy, but you're looking at moving again in February if you get on the stick right now.

It's a real pain to move a household once, and here I am telling you to plan on moving twice. Let's look at what happens if you risk the solution that cuts the Gordian Knot.

Your husband is an attorney. I don't know what attorneys make around your area, but around here they can make several times $100,000. So somebody advises you to do stated income, state that you make several times what you do, and just make a bid right now on the home you want to raise your family in, while putting your current home up for sale. And if your credit score is decent, I could get such a loan done pretty easy at the time I originally wrote this. At this update. stated income has gone the way of the dodo and the only 100% financing generally available is the VA loan. However, let's consider what happens next in the original context.

Now you not only have your current debt load, but you also have the payments for a brand new $300,000 loan on a $300,000 house. In California, with good credit, that would have been 6.125% when this was originally written on the first, maybe a little under 10 percent on the second (Now it would be a little lower, but since second mortgages aren't going 100% loan to value, you'd have to have a down payment and accept PMI). $1460 on the first, $530 on the second, plus property taxes (California would be about $315 per month) and insurance of about $100, more or less. Total obligations added: about $2400 per month, on top of what you're paying now.

You don't say, but if you weren't struggling at least a little bit, you would have paid those debts off by now. So you are fairly close to the edge. My best guess as to your reserves: Non-existent. Now you have to come up with another $2400 per month. Where can it come from? Borrowing is the only thing that comes to mind. Charge up the credit cards, personal loans, payments start getting behind, your credit score drops - and it won't come back quickly if you start making those payments on time. Especially if mortgage payments on either place end up being late. Meanwhile everything is compounding, eating up your equity, even if the house sells fairly quickly. As I've said, we're still in the worst time of year for sellers. Its entirely possible you won't sell until Spring, no matter how good a job your listing agent does. In short, things get desperate quick. Not only is your cash flow unsustainable, you get motivated to sell for a lot loss money than you might have otherwise. With everything compounding, it's very possible that you end up selling to a shark for less than you need to get out from under your debts. This perpetuates the situation you're trying to get away from, and makes it worse because your credit is likely to take major hits.

So tempting as it is to take the situation at one go, you eliminate a lot of risk and stress by taking it in stages, and you render yourself a lot less of a target for the sharks of the real estate world. Yes, it adds something to your cash flow to go rent for a while, but not nearly so much as if you just bought straight away, and you give yourself a line of retreat if you have to take it.

There are a lot of things that could change this. As I've said, there's a lot of stuff I'd need to know before making a final recommendation for a client, but I've sketched out the biggest stuff that needs to be considered.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

In an attempt to debunk some of the slanders that are floating around out there, this article is an itemization of how lenders and brokers make money on loans.

The first method is obvious: Origination or discount points charged to the consumer. This is money that the person getting the loan is paying, or someone else is paying on their behalf. One point is one percent of the final loan amount, two points is two percent, and so on and so forth. There is an actual difference between origination and discount points, but they have become almost interchangeable in their usage by many lenders and loan officers who often claim origination is discount. Origination has to do with a fee charged for getting the loan done. It's not a trivial amount of work to get the loan done, and unless you're a close relative or have repeatedly saved their life, the person doing the loan is going to get paid somehow (and often, the family member or close friend gets rooked the most). If you're uncertain just how they are making money, you should ask. Discount points are theoretically a cost that the actual lender is charging in order to give you a rate better than you would otherwise get, but many brokers camouflage origination points as discount points and many banks also camouflage origination points as discount points. The former makes you think the bank is making the money when it's the broker, while the latter makes the consumer feel like the lender isn't charging them origination, but that you are actually getting something most consumers quantify as real for their money (This also makes you feel like you're getting something for nothing, always a good selling point to anything - suckers eat it up).

Related to this are junk fees or markups of legitimate fees that are required to get the loan done. I do not believe I've seen a fee that some lender or another hasn't tried to mark up. If in doubt as to whether there's a markup, insist upon paying it directly. If they can't explain exactly what it was for in easy to understand words, it's probably a junk fee. Again, real fees usually run to about $3400 on a loan, although many lenders and loan officers are adept at hiding this at loan sign up.

The second way that lenders and loan officers make money is in rebates, also known as yield spread. This is pretty much limited to brokers, as neither traditional lenders nor packaging houses get direct rebates from lenders. Once again, rebates can be thought of as negative discount points and discount points can be thought of as a negative rebate. There should never be both discount points and a yield spread on the same loan. It is fundamentally dishonest. If there is a yield spread, you are being charged origination, not discount. Period.

The third way that lenders make money is in the sale of the loan. This is usually far and away the largest amount of money made on a loan. It is only applicable to actual lenders, whether traditional or packaging house or correspondent. Brokers never "own" the loan, so they can't sell it. Mortgage loans, particularly grouped in vaguely compatible bunches varying from $50 million on up, are (usually) among the most secure of all investments (indeed, in terms of historical risk, only US Treasury bonds have been superior - but treasuries will have a rude awakening). Because they are very low risk, the lender makes a nice premium on them. As I originally wrote this, CMO bonds trading at 5% even were basically at par, while 6% bonds were earning about a 3 percent premium. At par means the bank gets the face value of what they're selling, whereas a 3% premium means they get a bonus - an extra $30 for every $1000 of bond value. For a $50 Million CMO offering, this is $1.5 Million. (There are other factors such as underlying quality, whether there is a pre-payment penalty, what tranches they may be assigned, and so on, but this is a basic article on the phenomenon.) By comparison, on a random fairly good "A Paper" lender's pricing sheet at the same time, 5% was not available and 5.25% carried a discount point and a half while carrying a premium on the secondary market of half a percent or so, so the lender was making two full percent on that loan at a minimum, and unlike a broker's yield spread, this is never disclosed to a borrower. Nor is there any limit as to how much this can be, but with even decent to good A paper lenders getting 2% or more, it shouldn't stretch your mind too much to find out that this number can go to 6 or 8 percent in the subprime and negative amortization markets. 6 percent on $50 million is $3 Million dollars the lender gets for selling $50 million worth of loans - this translates to about 100 regular 3 bedroom homes here in California. $30,000 each, over and above any points and fees these people may or may not have paid, and for holding onto the loan for maybe one month. Lenders are not hurting - and many even have the guts to badmouth brokers who may make $5000 while cutting the consumer's actual cost by $7500 to $10,000 and the bank still makes $15,000 per loan. (Note: these spreads and premiums used to be much larger years ago when people didn't reliably refinance or move about every two years).

What brokers do is essentially play these lenders off, one against another on a professional basis, to see which one will cut the best deal on your behalf, because brokers are never captive audiences while the lenders regard you as theirs from the time you walk in the door.

Also, the point needs to be again that cost of a rate is always inverse to the rate for precisely the reasons of yield spread and bond premium. The lower the rate, the higher the cost. The higher the rate, the lower the cost. Some lenders and brokers may have better cost/rate tradeoffs than others, but there is always a trade-off.

The last method of receiving traditional income is to actually hold the note and receive the interest. This is actually rare these days on the part of lenders. More often, what the lender will do is sell the loan itself while retaining servicing rights (for which they are paid, of course). Most often, the lender can make more money by selling the note to Wall Street - whether or not they retain servicing - than they can by holding the actual note themselves. Keep in mind that the premium they get from sale of the note is immediate, and they can "sell the same money" several times per year, as opposed to just holding on and collecting the interest as it accrues.

How can (and should) you compare a broker's offer, where compensation is disclosed, with a bank's offer where it is not? First off, make sure that they are on the same type of loan at the same rate. My questionnaire here is a good start.

(At this update, lenders have changed the market so that locking upon loan sign-up like I used to do will cost me and all my future clients large amounts of money, but I will go back to doing that immediately if the lenders change back). None of the standard federal or state forms are binding in this sense; not the Good Faith Estimate, not the Mortgage Loan Disclosure Statement, not the Truth-In Lending form, and not the application form itself. Furthermore, keep in mind that for all third party items, such as title, escrow, attorney fees, appraisal, etcetera, they are able to exclude them from the precomputed costs of doing the loan, so most lenders and loan providers do. Not coincidentally, these are the biggest items in the closing costs section of your loan. Insist upon full disclosure of each item, and ask them to guarantee the total.

And once you are certain that the loans you are being told about are actually the same loan or the same type of loan, then you can make the decision as to which is better by choosing the one that actually gives you, the prospective client, the better loan.

One more thing, the most important: Choose loans based upon the bottom line to you, not based upon how much the loan provider makes, or whether they even have to disclose it at all. If you were shopping for a refrigerator and got a price of $500 at store A versus $520 at store B for the same model, would you care that store B paid $40 more for the refrigerator wholesale, so their margin is lower? No, you'd buy the $500 refrigerator at store A. The same principle applies here. Choose the loan that delivers the best terms for you. Type of loan, interest rate, cost to get it, you need to consider all three, because there are always tradeoffs. Failure to consider any of them is a good way to end up with a rotten loan.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

It may not come as a shock to you, but loan officers, along with many other salesfolk, speak a different language than the rest of the population. What will probably annoy you, however, is the number of times they'll say something that sounds like a phrase out of English, but really is from Salesgoodspeakian, a bizarre tongue in which the true meanings must be learned by osmosis from the particular subculture's dialect, while intending to communicate something entirely different to the poor schmuck who, after all, doesn't understand salesgoodspeakian.

This post is intended partially as humor, partially as education. I'm going to start it with a few of the most common ones, and update it by adding more and reposting from time to time. If you've got a good one, either with or without translation (and whether from one of my fields or not), please send it to me along with the context, if appropriate. Even if you don't have a translation, I'm pretty good at major dialects of salesgoodspeakian. It is to be noted that these phrases are not red flags, but more in the nature of yellow flags. If they just occur on a stand-alone basis, it's something that's likely to proceed from yellow to a red flag, particularly with repeated yellows. On the other hand, if the person uttering them proceeds to issue a clarification in plain English, issues an amplification rendering the translation void, or translates and explains the salesgoodspeakian, it's possible you've just been given a real world green flag that this is an ethical person. For instance, my absolute favorite loan to do is a true zero cost to the consumer A paper loan (and no prepayment penalty!), which I usually explain as "Nothing added to your mortgage. You've just got to do the paperwork with me, and come up with the money for the appraisal, which will be returned to you when the loan funds". And it's also possible you've been given a reinforced red because they lied.

And yes, I've had clients who came to me report every one of these. Some of the translations are a little exaggerated to make the point, but the spirit remains the same.

Any resemblance or Orwellian language out of 1984 is strictly intentional.

The salesgoodspeakian to English phrasebook:

Mortgage dialect:

"Stress free loans" two percent higher than you'd qualify for with better documentation and a little more work and less greed on the loan officer's behalf.

"Won't cost you anything out of your pocket" - Six points and $5000 in well-padded closing costs added to your mortgage loan balance, though.

"Thirty Year Loan" fixed for the first two, if they're feeling generous that day, but it does have a thirty year amortization. With five year prepayment penalty of course!

"How does a 1% rate sound?" Like you're a misleading weasel trying to get me to do a loan that digs me in deeper every month with a three year prepayment penalty that keeps me trapped even after I figure it out (See Negative Amortization Loan)

"Industry standard" - Everybody else at this company does it that way, too, because the boss says to, and I don't know any better. (This is very much the "G" rated translation. Please note that there are industry standards - things that pretty much every company in the industry does. Some of these standards need to change, some just are, and some are actually beneficial).

"Everybody knows there's 2% origination fee." Actually, everybody knows no such thing. But if I told you about it in the first place, you might have gone with somebody honest.

"Brokers can charge you anything they want" - so can bankers and other direct lenders, but brokers have to disclose their compensation and bankers don't.


Found on the same billboard:

"Rates as low as 4%!" on an "adjusts every month" loan that's going to 6% next month and who knows what thereafter. With five points. While I have you on the phone, let's sign you up for it.
"No Points!" we've got no points loans. Not on the loan we quoted above. I'm really so terribly sorry you misunderstood. Now, about that 4% loan, what's your name?
"Low Fees!" compared to the multi-billion dollar graft of the stimulus or Obamacare, $23,000 is low. Now about that 4% loan, what's your social?
"Easy paperwork" but the start rate goes to 6% for the first month, adjusting to 8% next month. Still five points. Not for the rate we quoted above. I'm really so terribly sorry you misunderstood. Now, about that 4% loan, when can you come in to sign?

Real Estate Dialect:

"Sure houses are expensive, but the loan is cheap" No, this property isn't worth what they're asking for it. But since you don't know any better than to buy based upon payment, it lets us get you into a loan that you're going to think you can afford, until long after we have our commission!

Caveat Emptor

Original herezz

I've seen many new home developments with vaulted ceilings, mini-vineyards, huge houses on little tiny lots...Why can't some developer built some homes for us regular people? A normal sized home with plenty of closet space and a decent (not designer) kitchen that is set more than 3 feet from the neighbors house. I realize that they need to make money, but more people could afford homes in this state if the builders weren't catering to people who already own 2 and 3 houses.

The developer has a certain amount of LAND for a development. That's all they have, and they are not getting any more. For this, they paid a set amount of money. Furthermore, once they have it, it's likely to be years going through the permit process before the can even build. That money they invested in the project, both upfront and as the project goes along? If they wanted to invest it in say the stock market, it'd be earning income - for years - before the first spade of earth gets dug. If it's three years from purchase to completion, that's a 33.1 percent necessary return just to break even from the opportunity cost (at ten percent per year - very doable). If it's five years, as is more likely, they need 61 percent. If it's seven, 94.9 percent. To this, add property taxes as they go, the costs of environmental studies and obtaining the permits and paying for inspections and certifying everything. If there's a loan going on, they have the cost of interest going on as well. Now there are ameliorating factors as well, but given the sheer amount of work that has to be done before they nail the first two boards together, a rational person could maybe be forgiven for thinking that society wants housing to be prohibitively expensive, because that's what the evidence says.

Furthermore, it's silly, but people buy a property based upon the structure and the amenities. Well, it's not silly to make that one of the factors, but people go overboard. They will buy a 5 bedroom 2800 square foot house on a 3000 square foot lot before they'll buy a 3 bedroom 1800 square foot house on a 20,000 square foot lot. The same structure is really worth a lot more when it's on a bigger lot, and even a lesser structure may really be worth more if it's on a bigger lot, as is likely to be the case here, but for most folks, we're talking emotional appeal, not rational thought process. In other words, like many people looking for a mate, they see the gorgeous sculpted toned and tanned member of the opposite sex, and ignore the abusive personality behind the beautiful exterior. I'm not certain I've ever met someone who wanted to live in such a development, but they sure sell like hotcakes! Add travertine floors and granite countertops and the fact that it's new to the 2800 square footer, and you've got people willing to pay $800k for the first property as opposed to maybe $550k for the second. In their mind, the first property might be a "flipper's investment" while the second is "the keeper" that they are going to make improvements on for the rest of their lives, but economically, we vote with our dollars and it's looking like a landslide for the status quo. If you opened your wallet for the house where you don't have any land, guess what? You're voting for developers to keep building them. You know something else? That brand new cheek-by-jowl development isn't going to be new forever. Considering market returns, that older $550,000 3 bedroom on half an acre is a better investment, even if it needs updating. Curb appeal and house bling and "ooh, it's new!" are the best ways I know of to sucker buyers into paying too much money.

The developer knows this at least as well as your average real estate agent. The developer has all of this researched down the the last centimeter of the lot lines. They are not in business to build wonderful homes that people are going to be happy in forever; they are in business to make money, and the blinged-out houses on the smallest possible lots bring in the most money for that developer. The fact that you're the very first person to live in the house is a further attraction to the kind of person who buys new cars, which is to say, most of the population, and it's worth serious money to that developer's bottom line, although it will cost you money in the long term.

Nor is the developer alone in this endeavor. They wouldn't make the most money from homes like that if people didn't pay the most money for homes like that. You want the real culprits in this scenario, look around you in any large crowd. It's all to easy to blame the developer, but the desires of the average home buyer and the regulatory environment both played huge factors in getting the state of new housing to where it is now.

There are ways to potentially fix the problem. They start at real consumer education, easing environmental restrictions and the permit process, particularly for high density housing, which may not be desirable, but when your front yard is the size of a postage stamp and most people wouldn't use it anyway, doesn't it make more sense to put all the community lawns together in one park that someone can actually get some use out of? Say, a place for kids and dogs to play? People say they hate condos, but condos, townhomes and row homes are all that's available to the average buyer if the price of land and developing it stays where it is. Environmental regulation and slow growth policies are fundamentally at odds with affordable housing in high demand areas. I'm not saying throw them out entirely in the name of putting up cardboard shacks, but I am saying that we can certainly choose a point friendlier to low cost housing than we have chosen. I can only conclude that society must value the environmental status quo more than it values lowering the cost of housing, in which case the status quo is the correct choice.

None of this has any measurable political support. Everybody is for lowering the cost of housing, at least for the poor, but put it on the ballot against loosening environmental protections and it loses. There are a certain number of additional reasons why this happens, of course. Multimillionaire developers are not politically popular, but Least Tern environment is. Rarely do people stop to consider that by constricting the supply of housing, you unavoidably increase the price. Nor can you do anything by governmental fiat to fix the problem that doesn't price even more people out of the market. Demand is a given - it not directly controllable. There are 325 million Americans and they all want housing they can afford. Even kicking out the estimated 11 million or more who are in the country illegally wouldn't do a whole lot to really solve this problem. The only way to treat the issue is by increasing the supply, which does seem to include being nicer to those multimillionaire developers, but in this case the issue is more affordable housing for everyone, and being nicer to the developers means that you get more housing units, which drops the price of housing from whatever it would have been without being nice to the developers. Because any time someone else enters the United States, whether legally, illegally, or simply by being born, you create a housing need. Every time there is a new American without another place for that American to live, we create somebody without a home. We price somebody out of the market. We now have an American who cannot afford to buy a home.

Now how to handle this issue until such time, as any, as society changes its mind and decides to make housing more affordable? Your best bet is to find a good buyer's agent to defeat the problem on a retail level, that is, for yourself, because wholesale solutions are not likely until people get rational about solving society's problems. You can't make people build the kind of housing you say you want. But you can make informed choices between what's out there now, and a good buyer's agent will look as far out as you tell them to.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

One of the most common things I'm seeing as I roam about the East County looking for bargains: Agents not doing their jobs.

Even when there were 40-plus sellers per buyer, single family detached homes that are priced appropriately were selling, and for appropriate prices. Condominiums weren't moving unless they were brand new with lots of glitter, but appropriately priced detached homes were selling. I can find all of the evidence of this you would care to see, because I've already seen it. Willing buyers and willing sellers. It's just that what an appropriate price is has shifted.

Let's change mental gears here for a moment. Here's the real differences between sellers markets and buyers market: Competition. Specifically, which side of the sale has to compete the hardest. In seller's markets, which is the mindset most sellers and most listing agents are still in, buyers are competing to buy the properties that are for sale. Because of this it is the buyers who have to compete to look attractive - highest offer, quickest offer, fewest contingencies. They have to offer more money or a bigger deposit or something else that the seller wants and nobody else wants to do. With the buyers market, it's the sellers who have to compete, and most of them were not doing it very well.

I want to make very clear that sellers are always competing against other sellers, even in the strongest seller's market possible. It's not enough to have your property "out there." In a strong enough seller's market, the prices might catch up to unrealistic asking prices, given time. In a buyer's market, prices are not increasing, and in a strong buyer's market, they are going down. In other words, the longer it takes, the worse your property looks. You have to have some stand out aspect to your property. It can be physical attractiveness, or it can be low price. Price will get buyers in the door, but it takes a strong agent to sell a fixer to the average buyer, no matter how attractively priced. For several years, the scumbag down the street would show the buyers something more attractive they couldn't really afford, relying upon with a negative amortization loan, done stated income to make it look like they could afford the payments. Buyers who haven't had this explained to them ahead of time will think they've just gotten the Taj Mahal for the price of a dirt floor shack, except of course, they haven't (Fortunately, this particular tactic has gone the way of the dodo because those loans are no longer available, but there are other ways to be able to quote low payments that aren't in the client's best interest).

The other way to stand out is to be priced the same, but have a more attractive property. Don't tell buyers you'll give them a carpet allowance, replace the carpet. Don't tell buyers that all they have to do is spend two months and $20,000 fixing it and they'll have a property worth $20,000 more. That won't wash in a buyer's market, if it ever does. The party who does the work, even of engaging a contractor, gets the payoff. Why should your buyers take the risk and do all that work and spend $20,000 cash that most buyers don't have (and cannot be part of the purchase money loan) when they can go down the street and find all of that work already done for maybe $10,000 more - or even the same price? Some other seller just out-competed you for that buyer's business. The only good news for sellers is that most of your competition isn't trying very hard, so small bits of competition can look very attractive.

Even lenders are still in denial for their lender-owned properties, and they are the ones with the hardest issues of all. They must get rid of the property. They don't have any choice. Even if it was in the same shape as surrounding properties - which it rarely is - they have a deadline to get rid of that property, and everyone knows it. Furthermore, the property is tying up many times its value in working capital because of regulations. They also have other constraints that other sellers do not. These make the property worth less, as they rule out certain buyers and make others less willing. In a buyer's market, every buyer counts. I had two clients putting in offers on different lender owned fixers in the last two weeks. One might comp out at the asking price of $450,000 if it wasn't lender owned - which automatically makes it worth about ten percent less than the comps. Add the fact that it's an ugly fixer that would be worth maybe $400,000 at most if it wasn't lender owned, and they will be extremely lucky to see $360,000 out of it. Not supposition, not guesswork, fact. The fact is that there's a beautiful owner occupied comparable on the same block asking $459,000. It's even a bit larger. There is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that the beautiful comparable would take $450,000. Actually, when I checked again the beautiful comparable was in escrow. One owner that competed well, one that is not competing well. I told the agent for the lender's fixer this, and she said, "I've been in this business forty years and I know what I can get for that property!" I offered to bet her $10 she couldn't close escrow on it within ninety days for over $390,000 net - essentially a zero risk bet from my point of view. From hers also, if she thought the property was really worth more. She wouldn't take me up on it - declining to risk even $10 of her own money upon getting a price within 15% of what she told her client whom she has a fiduciary duty to was an appropriate asking price. Furthermore, she's violating her fiduciary duty by not explaining this to her client. Doesn't matter how long she's been in the business. What matters is whether she reacts well to this market.

About five miles away, another lender owned fixer asking $480,000 because that's what the lender is on the hook for. And you know, it is a better neighborhood. Unfortunately for them, just because you were silly enough to lend them that much when the market was peaking doesn't mean someone else will pay you that much for it when the market is in the tank. What matters is the comparable properties, and there's one just around the corner that anyone would rather have listing for $470,000. Above par house for a below par price. Hasn't gone into escrow yet, but it will go fairly soon, unless someone else lists a better property cheaper. Even in the buyer's environment we had, they got a little bit of a bidding feud on it. Fast forward a couple of years and the market has turned. Properties priced correctly are seeing bidding wars, while properties priced incorrectly are still sitting without offers. This lender owned fixer is in rotten shape and has several issues that turn the average buyer off. I initially thought my client's offer was lower than it should have been, but the more I thought about, the more I think my client came closer to the mark than I did initially. Horrible floor plan, necessitating major work to make it attractive. Yard not suitable for children, despite the fact that there's a school on the same block that the agent is using as a "come-on". These people will be lucky to get anything over $350,000 for it, but the agent sent me a blanket, "Anything less than $400,000 will be rejected without counter," despite the fact that I explained how much work it will be to bring it up to the neighborhood standard. I left her some messages, and she didn't respond. The implication to me was clear: She is in denial, and doesn't want to hear plain facts explained. She's got dozens of REO listings. Maybe she schmoozes well, but she's not dealing well with the market. I don't know if she doesn't know market conditions or just acts like she doesn't. If nobody is willing to pay enough to get past the blanket rejection, it doesn't make much difference, does it?

Buyer's markets are the times when good listing agents really earn their money, as the gentleman listing the $470,000 comparable did. It may not be the great publicity of getting the highest price ever in the neighborhood, but getting it sold quickly and for something like asking price in a buyer's market is a real achievement. Especially with as many distress situations as are out there - people that have to sell, for one reason or another. (I did very well for my buyer clients, but it's depth-charging fish in a barrel. You really find out how good someone is when the market favors the other side of the transaction.) You find out how good someone is as a lister when there are dozens of FSBO and discounter listed properties in the neighborhood, sitting on the market for months. The last six months of Canceled, Withdrawn, and especially the Expired sections of MLS have all that and more, but that one property sold quickly, and sold for a good price. That agent earned every penny he got paid before the property was in escrow or even had offers.

The person who "buys" listings, telling the people that they can get them more money than anyone else, more money than the market will support, had a nice long run. When prices are moving up strongly and there aren't many houses to be had and everyone wants one, well a monkey could sell that house at that price given enough time, because given a few months the market will catch up to all but the most egregious of overpricing.

That is not the way things are in a buyer's market. Buyers have all the power, and they know it, because buyer's agents like me have told them if nothing else. When I originally wrote this, inventory was over nine months worth of sales, more properties were coming on the market and it was the worst time of year for sales. Given these facts, What do you think is going to happen? Where do you think the market is headed, at least in the short term?

(and incidentally, what kind of bargains do you think those few buyers willing to get off the sidelines can drive?)

The longer listing agents wait to talk some sense into their sellers, the worse it's going to be. The more days on market, the further the market falls, the more the sellers will have to move to meet it - and the more unhappy they will be with their listing agents. Actually this always applies, but it applies much more strongly when the buyers are in control. The agents I respect will refuse a listing rather than ask for a price they aren't going to get except by freak coincidence. They get the same no transaction either way, but if they refuse the listing, they haven't created unreasonable expectations, they haven't failed to live up to those expectations, and neither party has wasted months finding out what that agent should have known in the first place.

I saw agents telling people that because interest rates have stabilized or even moved down, that will revive the market. This is complete and utter nonsense in buyer's markets. I initially wrote something stronger, but my internal censor really wants to keep this family friendly. Yes, payments drive the market - when it's a seller's market. Buyer's markets are driven by the bottom line, because there are lots of sellers and only a few buyers and if this seller won't cut them a deal, the one down the block who is a little more motivated will. When every listing gets three offers within a week and buyers are getting desperate, they'll bite off on another $1000, $5000, or $10000 because "It's only $10 (or $50 or $100) more on the payment. They shouldn't, but they will. When buyers have the power and they know it, they'll tell the sellers to pay that $10 per month, because they're not paying the extra in the first place. It is the sign of someone who does not understand supply and demand to think otherwise, and I certainly wouldn't want that sort of numbwit as my agent. Your agent is your expert. If they are not an expert, why are you hiring them?

When I originally wrote this, I told people that the only way to change market momentum was to clear some inventory. Inventory can clear in one of three ways: the owner finds an acceptable alternative (such as loan modification), the owner decides to get serious about competing for a buyer's business, or the lender takes it over and eventually cuts the price enough to sell it. I've mentioned that the lenders are evidently still in denial, but they have legal requirements to dispose of those properties within a certain amount of time. The closer they get to that time expiring, the more desperate they'll get. Once the regulators climb onto that lender's back, they don't climb off cheaply, nor easily. But my real point is this: Sellers can compete on the individual level any time they want to, and the sooner they want to, the better off that individual is likely to be. Eventually, the seller's aggregate is going to have to compete much harder for the business of the buyers that are out there, and for the buyers they want to lure off the sidelines. It took a long time to sink in, but the fact did sink in to prospective buyers that the market got overextended. If you're selling, you can ameliorate your expectations and come out as well as possible, you can hope for the bigger fool of a bygone day, or you can take it off the market.

Caveat Emptor

Original here


At any given time, I will usually have at least one set of clients who really need to consider a condo or townhome who nonetheless have their hearts set on a single family residence. I agree to include single family residences in their search knowing full well I am going to get phone calls like this:

"Dan, a property just popped up on our search! It's right where we want to live and it's within our budget and we like the neighborhood and we want to buy it!"

And then I'm going to look at MLS and 999 times out of 1000 there is going to be a note in there that tells me there is no way lenders will touch the property (in 99 out of 100 such properties that don't have it, it should have been there). Net result: the vast majority of all buyers can't touch it, and I have to tell Ms. Client exactly what's going on:

"I'm sorry, Ms. Client, but that property has a broken foundation which no traditional lender will loan money on. So if you can come up with about half the purchase price in cash, we have a possibility, but otherwise that property might as well be the most expensive property in the city, because while you could afford it if you could get a traditional loan, the reason it has such a low price on it is that you can't."

Put yourself in the seller's shoes: They want to get as much as possible for the property. There just aren't a whole lot of people who go looking for ways to give money away that they could have gotten. Even if they are a philanthropist, they give the money to charities, not to anonymous buyers they don't know. Therefore, there is a reason for a low asking price relative to everything comparable around them, and the reason for a major price differential is almost always some defect that prevents a normal residential real estate loan from being obtained.

Agents don't put this information in the public area of MLS or any other advertisements they do for one reason and one reason only: doing so would restrict their ability to attract buyer clients who don't understand either this or the fact that calling the listing agent is about the stupidest thing a buyer can do. I don't recall ever having a listing in this category, but I would make it absolutely the first thing I mentioned. There is no point getting my sellers worked up with showings to buyers who cannot buy the property, and my responsibility is to my clients, not to luring prospective buyers in my own front door. That is a major priority of mine, but helping me find clients is not why people sign my listing agreements.

Here is what is going on. The sellers have a property with a defect that makes most lenders unwilling or unable to risk money on a loan against the property. A slab crack is the classic example, but there are many others. Unpermitted additions are another potential deal killer. Properties that don't have a working bathroom or kitchen. Properties without hot and cold running water, or without heat. I can go on and on, but these are the ones agents see time and time again.

Because traditional real estate loans with traditional real estate lenders are out of the question, the only lenders who can touch the property are the so-called "hard money" or "private money" lenders. Traditional lenders are publicly held companies loaning Other People's Money and they have to conform to what the SEC and Federal Reserve tell them to do. Hard Money loans are individuals and groups that have gotten together specifically for the purpose of loaning money to this market. They can do pretty much what they want, but the lowest rate on a "hard money" loan that I can remember seeing is about 12%, and right now hard money lenders want to see a 35 to 50% down payment minimum.

I keep saying this but it cannot be repeated too often: The Mortgage Loan Market Controls the Real Estate Market. The vast majority of everyone needs a loan in order to buy, and if they can't get a loan on a given property, it might as well be a storage area for what comes out of a sewage filtration plant. Such a property is worth much less than surrounding properties of otherwise equivalent features simply because of this defect. In fact, most such properties are still priced too high - the asking price reduction should be larger than it is - which is yet another piece of evidence on violations of fiduciary duty most agents will commit in order to get a listing agreement.

In point of fact, probably the majority of these properties go to "all cash" buyers who fix the disqualifying problem as well as making it pretty for Mr. and Ms. Upper Middle Class at a substantial markup from what they bought, making enough money to pay their expenses plus a substantial profit as well. That is the target market the agent has to hit. The fact that a given property cannot currently qualify for a traditional loan, but can be repaired so that it does is a business opportunity. Nobody risks pumping that kind of cash into a property without the lure of a potential profit that makes it all worthwhile, and there is nobody else involved in such transactions who is not made better off by the existence of this class of short term investor.

I shouldn't have to say that if you own such a property, fixing the problem yourself if you can will usually more than pay for itself. But there are many reasons people can't do this, most common of which is "we don't have the cash and can't get it", and without the people in the previous paragraph, what we all get is an abandoned condemned property of no use to anyone. The people who owned it get nothing. The people who would have eventually bought it (and been ecstatically happy to do so) would not even have considered it. The people who fix these properties are not only making money, they are performing a public service. I get angry when people think that the money these property fixers make is somehow morally wrong. It not only is morally right, it is economically beneficial to the community as a whole and everyone else involved in that transaction.

Nonetheless, if you are a buyer without the requisite cash, the purchase is not going to happen for you. The property might as well cost ten quadrillion dollars, because it is every bit as much out of your reach as a property costing that much. People who don't understand this are taking lenders and loans for granted, and as anyone who's been involved in the real estate market will tell you, you should never do that. Yes, they make good money also. But they also take substantial risks, as any real estate market lender of the last few years can attest.

Without lenders, we'd be stuck in the era before loans. Without the standardized lenders and programs and methods of freeing up money for the real estate loan market that we have built up over the past seventy-odd years, real estate prices would be a lot lower and we'd still be stuck with mostly cash sales with the practical result that the vast majority of real estate value would go "poof" just like a cartoon illusion. It's real wealth, but it rests upon a foundation of our current system of loans being available.

When such a loan is not available for a given property however, that property goes outside the system that we have built up to make home ownership available. Until somebody fixes the property to bring it back inside that system, it really is only worth only a fraction of the value of surrounding, otherwise equivalent properties. And if you as a buyer are relying upon that system of loans to enable yourself to to become a homeowner, such a property is as unavailable to you as if it were somewhere in the Andromeda Galaxy. On the other hand, if you are someone with the cash to buy and fix the property in order to bring it within the system there is serious money to be made - but people who fit in that category already know that.

The usual comment I get from buyers when I explain the above is "Oh, that's a shame," or words to that effect. It isn't a shame and it isn't an unrelated factor - it's the entire reason for the low asking price. If the property didn't have that defect, it would never have come up in your search because the asking price would have been priced completely out of your reach.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

Expertise and attitude, not control of an informational chokepoint, is the way that things are going.

Let's analyze this from both sides of the problem. The current owner looking to sell really needs a marketer. For better or worse, most of their choices have been made; their main dilemma reducing to how to get rid of the result of those choices in the most effective manner. If I were Ambrose Bierce, I'd say their problem was how to convert their mistakes into cash, because they have that property, and they want is the person willing to pay largest amount of cash possible as quickly as possible. It's worth what it's worth; mistakes and omissions can cost them a huge percentage of what the property might have sold for but it's unlikely that even the best marketing program is going to sell the property for more than it's worth.

It's the buyer that has more need of an all-around expert on housing. They have cash or the ability to get it via a loan, and the want the property that best meets their needs for the lowest possible price. Note that nobody has an unlimited budget; despite all the attempts to pretend otherwise in the era of Make Believe Loans. Even if you're wealthier than Midas (Which many of the wealthy are, if you really think about it. Gold just sits there - it doesn't produce more wealth), you have to accept some constraints upon the property you decide to purchase, and knowledge of how those constraints compare to each other and how they work out down the road can keep you from being in the situation I joked about above, of needing to convert your mistakes to cash, later on.

But the current business models are all built around listing agency. Especially, the large nationwide chains and huge brokerages. Ridiculous as it may seem upon sober reflection, people do approach listing agents about buying property, especially the ones they have listed. I've written more than one article covering how Dual Agency is an invitation for disaster, especially for buyers, as have others, but still it happens. It's not like it's risk free for sellers, either. Some agents do get listings primarily for "buyer bait" and lose their best bait when the listing actually sells, and that's fairly benign compared to some other things that really do happen and aren't as uncommon as most people think. The entire current model of agency is built around listing, with only minor exceptions around the edges, and it's mostly oriented on the big name national chains with ongoing advertising campaigns. Those chains control pretty much everybody from the NAR on down, and through the NAR's lobbying arm mold the environment to their advantage. Due to the way the business is structured, It's very hard to succeed in real estate without listings, and it's much harder for independents to get listings than it is for the major chains. This is going to change no matter how many "campaign contributions" NAR makes, at least to a degree and possibly completely.

This whole set-up is a holdover from days when agents and brokerages could control access to market information. I shouldn't need to say this era is over, and the agent (or brokerage) that pretends they are entitled to three (or six) percent commission for access to the market is doomed, but the NAR seems to be leading the charge off the cliff, most recently with the move towards requiring agents to have hardware "dongles" in addition to a user ID and password to access the various local MLS services. They justify it as security, but what they're really trying to do is "protect agents from themselves" by making it difficult to share their MLS access with outsiders - attempting to control information. Where 99% of the information needs no access to MLS in order to obtain, this is ridiculous. Note to NAR: Most real estate information is public record, and can be obtained these days by visiting the appropriate county website. A lot of it can be retrieved automatically, via what we called "batch file" thirty years ago. There are dozens if not hundreds of places to obtain information on properties for sale, and a goodly percentage of them do not have their sources in MLS. Therefore, trying to justify what you make by creating an artificial information chokepoint is not going to succeed - all you're going to do is succeed in encouraging alternate pathways to the information.

There is no reason why any given local MLS can't have competition. The NAR doesn't own the concept - only the name. There's no reason why some smart techies can't set up their own service in competition, national or local, supported by whatever mechanism they can get to pay their bills. Furthermore, agents (Realtor or not) will line up to submit their properties to any competing service - it's fiduciary duty, after all. It's only the non-existent policing efforts of most such sites that have prevented them from taking more market share from official MLS affiliates. When this changes, so that a member of the general public can read a listing advertisement on an MLS competitor and have some confidence that it represents a real listing, these competitors will lose most of their handicap. If I had a dollar for every time a client called me asking why I hadn't shown them this wonderful bargain they found on a non-policed site, I could pay my office rent for a couple of months at least out of it (Buyer's agent recording 2201: "Because it's not a real listing - it's someone chumming for leads, and to avoid wasting your time with salespeople advertising things they haven't got is a small part of why you hired me"). It is only this lack of policing that is holding the competition back now. But sooner or later, those that are trying to be destination sites will figure it out. When they do, you can kiss MLS' dominance goodbye, and with it any illusions as to holding an information chokepoint.

Eventually, people will be able to put their properties on the market by going to a website and entering the information, or calling a toll free number if they're luddites. They'll need to show they are authorized to do so, but that will be the essential nature of the process. Buyers will be able to access the information for some very nominal price, like putting up with advertising or paying some nominal fee. That's where we're heading; the only items in doubt are how long to get there and what the exact pathway will be. Agents are in no way mandatory to this process of putting a property for sale on the internet or finding out which properties are for sale on the internet. The only way to survive and prosper as a profession will be to provide expertise that the average person has little to no opportunity to acquire. In other words, really learn things such that buyers and sellers of real estate can make a profit (or avoid a loss) by paying you, and make a living selling that expertise, not access to the system. Question 1: In the general economy, are there fewer expert consultants today than thirty years ago, or more? Question 2: Do the good ones among them command lower fees (even adjusting for inflation) or higher?

The issue lies in convincing people your advice really is that good. Holding an information choke-point won't do it, and the choke-point is going away within the next few years. But knowing what to make of that information is an expertise for which well-informed clients will pay and pay well, knowing that the system will be passing along those costs (along with a hefty markup) to those too stupid to pay. In other words, we've got to demonstrate and emphasize the fact that our compensation is an investment that returns more than it costs.

I'm not going to be saying listing is easy - it isn't. I learn more about the listing game, and how much more there is to learn, with every one I list, and not infrequently, I learn something important about listing from working the buyer's side (and vice versa, as well). As I have said in the past, I figure I'll have it completely down sometime in the next century or so. That said, the future of the listing game is easy enough to predict: How to make this property stand out amongst all the others, and how to attract the attention of the buyer who is suited to the property. Every property is unique; but for the vast majority of all buyers, there is a substantial list of properties that will serve their needs about as well. If you're any kind of a decent listing agent, you're going to be able to answer the questions of why this property is worth more to that buyer than the alternatives that are cheaper, and why the alternatives that are more expensive aren't worth the extra, secure in the knowledge that if they don't agree, they aren't the right buyers for this property and another set will be along shortly who are. If you're a top-of-the-line listing agent, you can do this without ever meeting prospective buyers. The seller's problem reduces to how to attract those suitable buyers, and the value of the listing agent to sellers lies in getting them a better offer sooner (Hint for those consumers reading this: It's not agreeing to list the property for a higher price! That's actually counter-productive on both counts).

That said, everything the listing agent needs to know pales beside what a good buyer's agent needs to take into account. I doubt I or anyone else will ever have the buyer's game completely down. It isn't that I know everything or will ever be some sort of shining exemplar of buyer's agents; I'm simply one of the best that happens to be available. I look at between 20 and 30 properties most weeks, every week of the year - 1000 to 1500 properties per year - and I learn new things pretty much every time I go looking. I learn things about the clients needs and desires by listening, and keep on listening. The future of the buyer's agent side is making sense of the information overload, debunking bogus information which lazy sellers and listing agents insist upon proliferating, and sorting better alternatives from those not so good, including knowing how to spot a Vampire Property. This starts at learning what a given buyer's priorities and needs are, and figuring out what areas they may be happy in and can best afford, and going from there to making comparisons between available alternatives.

In neither of these alternatives is simply having your real estate license and NAR membership certificate up on the wall going to help you extract an agent commission, particularly a larger one as opposed to a smaller. That license may get you in the door at the dance, but it's not going to fill your dance card. For that, you've got to bring something real to the situation, and the one thing clients are after, and always are going to be after, is expertise. Access, they're going to be able to get anywhere, but someone who really understands what's going on in this hugely complex transaction involving debt that most people are going to be paying for the rest of their life, and distills the specifics into something these clients can understand. Furthermore, agents relying upon chain affiliations to bring walk-ins to their door? The days of that happening are numbered, and the number is no more than the number of days until someone puts their ducks in the row to really compete with the MLS.

You're also going to need the right attitude. People are getting better and better at identifying shills. Even if you've got an exclusive contract, which are going to become more scarce, even those aren't forever and the chances of an agent being able to enforce it in spite of whether they helped an actual transaction or not are shrinking faster than Lily Tomlin ever did. Whether agents like it or not, it's becoming easier all the time for consumers to walk out on contracts with losers who conned them into exclusive contracts. If you want people to keep working with you, you need to demonstrate that this client's good is the most important thing in your world, and that's not something anybody can fake for very long. If they understand this and the expertise you're bringing to the table, they'll stick with you by choice unless they're con artists or agents themselves. I had one client not too long ago who admitted they'd been planning to ditch me for a part-time relative and decided not to because I was providing things they knew the relative wouldn't and couldn't. The non-exclusive contract which is all I ask for is plenty to discourage that, while leaving them feeling free to ditch me if I don't get the job done - so I'm motivated to get the job done, and they can know they're getting my best efforts risk free for them, not to mention that it would be entirely pointless for me to try and hold them to an exclusive contract they wanted out of. It's both pointless legally and bad business - so why ask for an exclusive in the first place?

However, the real estate profession has made a horrible botch out of stressing expertise and education thus far, which is one reason why discounters have thrived by offering nothing for less. The reason for this is that it would interfere with the profits of those national chains that control NAR. They can't hire newly licensed agents that used to work fast food fresh out of the local shake and half-bake real estate school, dress them up in a suit, and expect them to bring commissions into the brokerages if it's easy for consumers to sort out who has real expertise and who doesn't. The licensing exams themselves are pathetic, and intentionally so, in order for the brokerages to have a steady supply of inexperienced shake and half-bake licensees. No math more complex than a four function calculator, and you can use a four function calculator on the test in California (which is supposedly one of the harder exams). How can it be acceptable for someone who hasn't even been tested on the ability to set up a mortgage calculation on a calculator or spreadsheet to have a real estate license? It'd be bad enough if that license didn't include the ability to originate loans, but it does. There are a couple of questions on "what is this type of structure called?" but none on usages, advantages, disadvantages or weaknesses! I understand there's only so much that can be covered in 150 questions, but the NASD has 250 questions on their series 7 exam covering a far more limited expanse of material. There is no good reason why the real estate exam should not be a minimum of three full days, and requiring all previously licensed agents to take the new exam as well. No reason except that would constrict the supply of naive freshly licensed shake and bake licensees (For that matter, the most important knowledge for agents can't be tested, because it's both local and changes too quickly with time. It makes no sense to ask me about the neighborhoods and market in at the other end of the state - I not only don't know, I can't take the time to learn without forfeiting the time to create and maintain the requisite market knowledge for the area I do work). Alternatively, the state can do away with licensing altogether in favor of simple registration, and let the market develop informational resources as to the competence of a given agent. Consumers would demand it, and they'd be willing to pay for it whether directly or indirectly. Finally, don't get me started about all the "designations" NAR has cooked up that amount to a way to impress the ignorant and gullible ("Sell the agents the right to put some meaningless initials after their name to impress the marks!")

Above all, however, the future of real estate agency is going to be about accountability. If the industry won't develop real and reasonable performance metrics for individual agents, somebody else will. That's living in the age of transparency for you. Furthermore, you can't stand up and say you're the expert in their corner unless you're willing to defend your performance later in a court of law. Brokerages have a proliferation of forms that add nothing to the process except to make it more difficult for them to be successfully sued and distract clients from what is really important. But you can't tell the client you're an expert worthy of hiring, that's going to get paid however many thousands of dollars from their point of view, if you're going to ask them to sign fifty forms that say you're not responsible for the results of your work. Well, I guess some slick salespeople could and do, but it's hardly the sort of thing to inspire confidence in any rational client. We're neither inspectors nor appraisers, and especially not lawyers, but that doesn't absolve us of trying to solve those issues before members of those professions get involved, and do our best to help the clients understand and interpret when and if those professions do get involved. In my experience, ninety percent of inspector and appraisal issues should be solved by the agent before there's an offer, and about the same percentage of legal problems can be prevented by agent diligence beforehand. Especially the major ones. But if you make clients sign forms that say you're not responsible for this, what are they really getting in the way of an expert they can hold accountable? And if you can't be held accountable, what are you really selling besides your winning personality? They can get a better stand up set for forty bucks down at the local comedy outlet. Why should agents make a hundred times that if they can't be held accountable for performance later? The short answer is that we've got to make this confusing process that kills a dozen mature redwoods for pulp understandable and transparent, we've got to perform by making certain our clients can show a profit on the money spent hiring us (at least in the aggregate), and if we're not to be held accountable, what real assurance does the client have that what we have represented is true? Everything we add to the process that doesn't further one of these client goals is either obstructionism or distraction from what's really important, and a counter-balancing reason not to do business with us.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

I have said repeatedly that buyer's markets are not the time to be selling a property if you have any choice.

There is one exception: People looking to turn around and buy a more expensive property.

If you're looking to move down market, do it when things are hot. But moving up works best when the market is cold. This is because the price of the more expensive property is what influences these moves the most.

It's still better if their budget will stretch to hanging onto the current property while buying the new one, because when the market turns they'll still be able to sell the first property for more than they can now. Nonetheless, it's still a good idea to move up in a buyer's market - even if you need to sell your current property - provided you can afford to do so.

Let's do some math! I'm going to use a real example. Let's say you bought a condominium ten years ago for $150,000. At peak of the seller's market, it was probably worth about $330,000 or more. Now it might be worth $260,000. Even if you bought with 100% financing, as long as you haven't taken cash out, you only owe roughly $130,000. Less 8% cost of selling, you're netting about $110,000 from the sale. Less roughly $10,000 for closing costs, and you're looking at having a 20% down payment for a $500,000 property, and you're still a conforming loan. In my favorite zip code at this update, that buts a really nice 4 bedroom 2000 square foot detached home with a panoramic view of the city and no Homeowner's Association! Not to mention the commute is pretty darned friendly for most folks and the public schools are top notch. Total monthly outlay, for loan, taxes, and insurance: just over $2500 per month ($2507. at more typical loan rates we're likely to see soon, more like $3000). Income to qualify: Just under $5600 per month, and that's with a thirty year fixed rate loan that I could lock right now without any points to the borrower, so the closing costs for the loan and property would be well under $10,000. About half that, in point of fact.

Now, let's say you wait for the market to recover. Let's say everything is a straight linear computation, even though it won't be - I'll bet you money that the more expensive home goes up further, faster, not to mention relative bargaining positions of a condominium owner versus a detached property owner. Let's say the loan rates stay exactly the same as today, which they won't, because in a period of high demand and increasing prices, there's more competition for money and therefore, higher rates. If you waited for that condo to be worth $330,000 again, that property you can get for $500,000 today becomes a $635,000 property. Straight line proportionality. You net roughly $173,000, again less $10,000 for closing costs on the new property. Now you do have slightly better than 20% down payment, to be sure, but you've still got to borrow $471,000. You can either do so with a Jumbo loan, or via a conforming first with a Home Equity Loan on top of that. Even using the full $10,000 for closing costs, your rate ends up higher. Equivalent cost per month that way: $3760. Income to qualify: a little over $8350. For making the exact same exchange, under conditions that I'll bet money are going to be less favorable than this. At this update, the market for desirable single family residences has definitely come back strongly; the market for condos is still languishing.

If you decide to go the route of the conforming first with an equity loan on top, it's a little more favorable: Assuming a 720 credit score, you can have a rate of 8.25% on a fixed rate 30 due in 15, giving you a total of just over $3650, saving you about $100 per month and cutting your income to qualify to about $8120, as opposed to the $6650 you'll need to document to make this exact exchange right now. Some people can work a little harder or longer hours, charge more for their services, etcetera, but most people make what they make. The one is less than a standard deviation over area median income; the other is almost two and a half. That's an awfully large number of people priced out. Assuming a normal distribution of incomes and given San Diego's median and standard deviations, (via Hyperstat) we're talking about the difference between 20.46 percent of the population and 1.30 percent of the population, a factor or 15 decrease. The difference between more than one family in five and less than one in 75 being able to afford said property, holding assumptions constant.

It is to be admitted that market constraints in the latter case might keep the prices down somewhat, but that's only as a counter-weight to all of the other forces, and it is quite easy for a mathematician or economist to prove that the actual equilibrium point will still be significantly less affordable than the current state of affairs. Don't worry, I'm not going to drag you through that. Nor are we talking properties that the average family can afford with this particular example, but the principle applies to every affordability range, from a bottom of the market condo to the top of the line. Nor does it take any great mathematical skill to tell you that the affordability of a good that everybody is trying to buy right now is less than that of the same good when large numbers of people are trying to sell and very few people want to buy. Think any number of hot tech gadgets or "must have" Christmas toys. Real estate isn't that much different, economically, but people can have perfectly great financial futures without the latest tech gadget. It's unlikely they will have an equally bright future without owning at least the property they live in. In a buyer's market, property is affordable because lots of people want to sell and very few want to buy, leading to a huge disparity between the number of people who could afford a given property if they wanted, and the number of people actually willing to buy, and thence to greater affordability. When a larger number of people are ready and willing to buy, the affordability will decrease. It's all a matter of simple supply and demand.


Caveat Emptor

Original article here

(This was originally written February 16, 2006, but it's relevant still)

One of the occasional questions I get from people has to do with why the housing bubble got so big (or if you're one of those still in denial about it, how prices jumped so far so fast).

This has to do with several factors. Legislation made real estate investments more attractive. Interest rates got low, and nontraditional loans proliferated. People took their money out of the stock market because of the tech bubble popping, and wanted to invest it somewhere. The feeling that the housing market could never go anywhere but up. And I will address all of these issues in the coming paragraphs, but the largest factor is and was psychological. People were simultaneously scared that if they didn't buy now, they would be locked out of the American dream, and avaricious in anticipation of buying and flipping properties for multiple tens of thousands of dollars profit.

The first enabling factor happened in 1996. President Clinton sponsored legislation giving huge tax exemptions to grains from the sale of personal residences. There were and are good arguments for doing so, nonetheless it had the effect of making real estate a more attractive investment. When a married couple can make up to $500,000 tax free over their basis every two years, that's a major incentive to start moving into a new house every two years in order to fix it up, or at least hope for a gain in fast growing areas. By itself, this was a minor factor initially, but by making real estate such an attractive investment (literally the best there is, considered in a vacuum), it started the bubble off. Since it hasn't been repealed yet and may never be, the value increase from this aren't really a bubble component, but the value increase for what was a one time systemic shift whetted appetites, even while the dot com bubble (itself a fear and greed phenomenon) was going on.

The second enabling factor was that interest rates got low. This meant prices had the leeway to rise, as most people buy homes (and other property) based mostly upon the payment. When 30 year fixed rate loans go to 5 percent, the same payments buys a lot more house than it does at 7.5 percent. If you could have afforded a loan for $100,000 at 7.5 percent, you can afford a $130,000 loan at 5 percent. Instead of a $300,000 loan, you can afford $390,000 for the same payment. $500,000 becomes $650,000. Even though rates went up after early 2004, this helped start the phenomenon.

The third enabling factor was that people had gotten burned in the stock market as the dot com boom deflated, and the real estate market was doing well. With both sides of "fear and greed" working the equation, this amounted to quite a bit of incentive to chase returns in the real estate market. "I just took a bath in tech stocks, but look at how the real estate market is going!" This is known as chasing last year's returns, but large numbers of people do it. Consequently, quite a bit of personal wealth was dumped into the real estate market. This had negative consequences on the stock market, exacerbating that decline, and for the real estate market, dumping a couple trillion dollars into the demand side of the equation didn't exactly hurt real estate prices. Supply and demand are always working. The important trick is to separate fear and greed, which are real but have mostly short term effects, from real long term changes to the market.

The thing that really drove the whole thing from behind the scenes was that the federal government "encouraged" lenders to expand their creditworthiness criteria. Thirty agencies of the federal government got together and used the Community Reinvestment Act (as renewed in 1995) as a bludgeon to force lenders to lend to minorities at the same rates (and rates of approval) as non-minorities. Since certain minority groups are statistically less scrupulous about doing things that maintain creditworthiness and financial stability (just as other minority groups are statistically more scrupulous), that meant relaxing standards. The loan market controls the real estate market. When practically anyone could get a no income documentation loan they couldn't afford for 100% of value, macroeconomic constraints upon price vanished.

Members of my professions, meanwhile, did absolutely nothing to slow the madness. Indeed, they added as much fuel to the fire as they could. As I have said elsewhere, buying a home really is a fantastic investment, all things being equal. It literally clobbers renting and investing over the long term, with those last four words being the critical part. There are limits, and many agents and loan officers went over them and three states beyond. Anybody who takes any real estate agent's unsupported word for investments and sustainability probably needs a guardian. Reality check: Here's a person who makes thousands of dollars if they tell you you can do something, and nothing if they tell you you can't, and has very little responsibility in the law for telling you lies. They're not financial advisers, after all. What do you think the average person will tell you in this position? (And before anybody sends me email or comments about the "superior ethics of Realtors®" they were just as bad statistically and worse morally, because they were holding themselves out as ethically superior, thus using the propaganda to allay legitimate concerns. I'll believe Realtors® offer some ethical advantage when I start seeing the Boards of Realtors® imposing some real disciplinary measures upon significant numbers of scumbags that the state regulators don't. Aside from advertising to build brand awareness, I haven't seen anything that the Boards of Realtors® contribute to real estate practice, and they actively work against consumer interests in significant ways.)

So there we are, with these factors doing everything they can to drive values up. This goes on for a little while, and now psychology starts becoming a real factor. "They're not making any more land!" making a scarcity argument. "Real Estate always goes up over the long term!", making a safety argument, and ignoring any number of past bubbles and downturns. Heck, I remember four previous ones in southern California! "You can always sell for a profit!", ignoring transaction costs, which are significant, and flat out misrepresenting liquidity. Real Estate can beat anything else, investment-wise, but it is certainly the least liquid class of investment that comes to my mind, as well as being sensitive to many factors beyond your control.

Couple this with a couple of years worth of twenty percent returns, and the feeding frenzy really kicks in. There starts being a real fear factor - people get afraid that if they do not buy now, they are never going to be able to afford a home. When prices rise by 50 percent in two years and wages rise by six, who can really blame them? Most people do not have the economic background to sit back and consider who buys houses, and what controls housing prices. So the mentality of "buy now or rent forever!" took hold, further exacerbating the rise. People were willing to do literally anything they could to qualify for a home, lest they be unable to qualify forever. And with the thinking detailed in previous paragraphs, they were told that "Even if you have to sell in a year, you'll still come away with a huge profit!" Yes, that's greed again, rearing its ugly head.

Up until this point, things were within reason. But into this situation stepped the lending community, particularly the sub-prime lending community, driven by the federal government breathing down their necks. More and more lenders started being willing to loan 100 percent of the value of the home. "Hey, why risk your own money when the bank will lend theirs?" This drove market leverage to never before seen heights. Furthermore, in an effort to sustain volume, lenders started a trend of competing ever harder for the most marginal case. Stated Income, Interest Only, and short term hybrid ARMs proliferated (The most common sub-prime loan is only fixed for two years). Finally, lenders started pushing the Negative Amortization loans, for those borrowers who couldn't really make even the payments required on the short term interest only alternatives.

Lest anyone think otherwise, the community of real estate agents was fully on board with this. Always higher, and fast increasing, prices meant they made more money in commissions from selling the same number of homes, and the apparent virtues of real estate as an investment of the moment kept seducing those who did not know any better. Those few voices of sanity were drowned out, and many left the business. There just aren't that many people who really qualify to buy homes at the peak prices we had based upon the traditional metrics, even relaxed as they have become, and if you won't put them into something they can't afford, somebody else will. Furthermore, during this period, more and more real estate agents were starting to do their own loans, further isolating any voices of sanity in the loan community. Speak the truth that a client probably cannot afford a loan once, and the real estate agent will never bring you another client again, and will try everything they can to pry any clients that they can away from you. After all, you 'cost' them a commission once. Interest only, and negative amortization loans further proliferate, as agents try to persuade prospective clients that they "really can afford those payments." Forty year loans start making a comeback, where they were all but extinct, and fifty year loans are introduced. Sub-prime underwriting standards are loosened until they ignore what happens when these hybrids adjust (or Option ARMs recast) and concern themselves only with the minimum starting payment. A larger and larger portion of purchasers is forced into the sub-prime market if they want to qualify. And still property values rose.

Or, more correctly, prices rose. The actual property value certainly wasn't growing that fast, only the common perception of value, aka price. People were getting away with these terrible loans, complete with prepayment penalties, because even though they weren't able to make their payments in many cases, prices were still increasing fast enough such that even if they sold relatively cheap, in order to unload the property in a hurry, and paid a prepayment penalty, they were still coming away with money, further aiding the illusion that there was no way not to make money. When workers are making more money buying a house and holding it for two years then selling than they are at their jobs, that's an incentive to keep doing it. That's an incentive for more and more people to get in on the act. And the feeding frenzy builds. Fear and Greed. When someone holds a house for two years and sells for a huge profit despite the fact that they did nothing to enhance the home's value, that has the appearance of easy money. When people start buying with the intention of short term flipping without doing any work (We call this "Hoping for a bigger fool"), and when they'd call to see if I knew of any such properties and hang up when I'd start telling them about properties that really were good investments but needed work, I knew the end was coming very soon.

The first group to holler "enough!" was not the lower income folks who were getting priced out of stuff even at the lowest end of the market. It might be what you'd expect, but it wasn't the case. My theory is that those people simply don't know any better, and didn't think they could afford to wait. It was the better paid, more economically savvy buyer at the higher end who first called "Bull****!" At least here locally, higher end McMansions and such were the first to start sitting on the market. These prospective buyers made plenty of money, and knew they weren't on the verge of being priced out completely. If they were right, they'd buy a better property when things fell apart. If they were wrong, such is life, and they could still afford something. Meantime, they were going to rent.

Lessons here: Always separate psychological factors from real market shifts. The general rule is that once they find an investment that appears to be working right now, the crowd always overreacts. Many times you will make more money in the long term by bucking the obvious trend, particularly if that trend is Fear and Greed driven.

When I first wrote this piece in early 2006, the advice I gave was these two paragraphs:

"If you are in an untenable position with your loan right now, whether because it's negative Amortization or interest only or just about to start adjusting: Either sell now for what you can get, refinance into something fixed for at least five years right now, or be resign yourself to disaster. With the yield curve inverted right now, there is practically no spread between the five year ARM and the thirty year fixed rate loan. Even someone who is as huge a fan of the 5/1 ARM as I am has to admit that, at the moment, the thirty year fixed rate loan is looking very attractive by comparison. When you get a much better guarantee of the rate not changing, for the same price, and the the loans are otherwise identical, what's not to like? As I've said before, you can survive and prosper when you're upside down on your home, as long as you have the right loan for it.

If you can make the real payments on such a loan, I would do it now while appraisers still have the ability to appraise your property for near peak values. If you lose the ability to appraise for near peak values, then you may well be a member of that rather large group in many parts of the country where the market will no longer bear a price greater than the loans on your property. When you owe more on the property than the market appraisal, then for all practical purposes you are stuck in your current loan. If it adjusts, amortizes, or recasts, you're suddenly going to be making much larger payments. If you qualified under one of the less sustainable programs I noted earlier, when this happens you are going to be in a world of hurt, and probably unable to refinance. Most common result: Losing the home, credit ruined for years, and a 1099 from the lender that says "we lost money on you!", for which the IRS will demand taxes. If your loan is going to start asking for higher payments soon, and you can not refinance, or cannot afford to refinance, it's time to sell, right now."

Very few people took this advice then. Lots of people wish they had now. Now, my advice is significantly different, because the local market (at least) is recovering, has recovered some and would have recovered more if not for some legally required extortion and insane economic policy. I'm still not recommending Unsustainable Loans, but the time to be timid about purchases has passed. If you can afford it, now is a good time to be buying.

Caveat Emptor (and Vendor)

Original here

When and Why does a Mortgage Company Sell your Current Loan to another Mortgage Company?

Lenders sell their loans because the lender can make an immediate premium of anywhere from 1.5 percent to four percent by selling your loan to Wall Street. Yes, this is less than the six to eight percent per year interest that most primary homeowner loans get, let alone second loans, commercial loans, etcetera. Nonetheless, they can turn the money several times per year, earning far in excess of what they could earn from the interest on your loan itself, and that's why they do it.

Selling your loan doesn't just get them four percent once. It lets that lender turn around and do another loan and make more money without getting more money in deposits. Many lenders can turn the money three to six times per year or more, getting them a twelve to eighteen percent bonus in addition to anything they make those few months that they hold the loan.

There are several philosophies on when to sell the loan. The one that seems to have the most adherents currently is the pure packaging house philosophy, where they sell it off immediately upon closing, or within a few days. Given this, they can turn the money a dozen times per year if they work at it, selling the loan for a smaller premium, but getting twelve markups per year, amounting to somewhere between twenty-four and thirty percent on the money.

The second philosophy is one that is practiced by a smaller, but still significant number of lenders, who fall more into the traditional lender's model of doing things, and that is to wait until one payment has been received. Since this eliminates a noteworthy fraction of the fraud that's out there, they get a better markup for their loans. The downside is because they have to hold it an average of two months before the first payment is received, that means they can only turn the money six times per year at most, as opposed to the twelve for the previous model of lender. So they get six markups of three percent or so, maybe close to 20 percent over a year. To this, they add maybe three percent, to cover the interest they actually received from borrowers directly. Net: maybe 22 percent. Furthermore, this leaves them stuck with those loans where the first payment is late, because nobody wants to buy those. Better from their mortgage bond buyer's point of view, not so hot for their bottom line because there is a high percentage chance of those loans becoming what is known as "non-performing." In other words, default. The bond buyers got stuck with the results of default in the first scenario, which the lender views as a much better thing than dealing with it themselves. In other words, this scenario forces the lender to actually live with the results of their riskier underwriting scenarios. They actually can sell those loans, but anybody who's paying to assume that kind of risk is going to demand a commensurately lower price for it, which is reflected in a lower bottom line. So the lenders who hold a loan until after the first payment usually have tougher underwriting than those with pure packaging house mentality.

Finally, there are still a few lenders who wait until they have three payments, giving them the best prices of all when they sell. Unfortunately, it takes about four months for them to be able to do this, so they get four percent for the loan, but can only turn the money three times per year. This actually gives them a chance to fix bill paying problems that might have afflicted the second group, but on the other hand, more people have a late payment somewhere in the first three. Nobody wants to pay a good price for loans that are not current, and a little less if it has been delinquent but is no longer, as that's a flag for possible future problems. These lenders get maybe 12 percent per year in funding markup, plus four percent or so for interest actually received from borrowers, netting maybe sixteen to seventeen percent. Needless to say, this model has largely fallen out of favor by most lenders because it doesn't put as much money into the firm's bottom line, but they still get over twice what the lender who actually holds the loan makes per year.

Selling loans has been part of what has driven rates down from their rates of years previous, as lenders face increased competition from other lenders who "want in" on that twenty-four to thirty percent per year from turning the loans, and are pressured to deliver lower rates by the fact that most of their money actually comes from selling the loan, as opposed to servicing loans they do make. Many lenders actually retain servicing rights when they sell the loan, as this gives them continuing income. Indeed, may people out there whose loans have been sold multiple times are blissfully unaware of the fact, as they are still sending the check to the original servicing company.

Another thing that this has driven is the increased use of pre-payment penalties, as the entities buying the loans, which are mostly large Wall Street entities, are very attracted by the consequences of buying loans with prepayment penalties, and thus, pay more for them. If you know that you're going to get that 7% for at least three years, or get a one time stroke of three percent if you don't, you are willing to pay more for those bonds than if the people involved could just hand you your money at any time. Many times the sub-prime market will offer the same people a better rate with a prepayment penalty than the A paper market will without a pre-payment penalty. It's all well and good to save half a percent on a half million dollar mortgage, which is $2500 per year, but if you don't last the three years you are out $15,000, twice the maximum you possibly could save! Pre-payment penalties are mostly to make the aggregated mortgages more attractive to Wall Street.

Finally, I should mention that if you're totally committed to writing the check to the same lender and sending it to the same address so you're willing to pay a price for it, there is such a thing. It's called a portfolio loan, and you can figure that the interest rate will be about one full percent higher, or maybe a little more. Even there, it's not that they legally cannot be sold, it's that they are priced higher to make up for the fact that certain loans don't meet the standardized criteria for sales in packages of fifty million dollars or so, but may still be perfectly good loans. The higher interest rate - price of money to the consumer - is there to counter the lowered rate of return for the lender.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

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