October 2020 Archives


Way back when I was just out of high school, I was doing a lot of things with my time. Working, dating, competing on the fencing team, gaming of various sorts. But every once in a while, I dropped in on one of those math courses I was registered for at UCSD. One of those courses was Math 110, "Introduction to Partial Differential Equations and Boundary Value Problems" Bozemoi. That was the course that convinced me that I was not, after all, cut out for a career as a mathematician. All the other undergraduate courses, I got a handle on fairly quickly, but the way my mind works made that one course something like having those alleged brains pounded out between two large gold bricks wrapped in lemon.

I eventually got through it. But one thing I took out of that class in no uncertain terms is the form a real solution to those equations took, and the fact that if you were missing terms ("parts of the answer" for those less mathematically inclined), your answer was wrong. Not incomplete. wrong.

One of the standard ideas of internet commerce is "cut out the middleman and their fees." You can find this in lots of fields. Some of them begin far earlier than the world wide web. "Discount" brokers have been going for decades, for both stocks and real estate. The internet certainly helped them, however. Loan quote services were probably one of the first ten business ideas on the world wide web. On-line this, on-line that. Do business with the faceless on-line corporation with cheaper fees (or none!) and you can't help but be better off, right? It's easy to illustrate that difference to just about anyone. There's money they're not spending, that anybody can point to as a savings earned by doing business in that fashion. But is that the whole story?

Indeed the whole discount proposition cannot succeed without an implicit or explicit assumption that the value you receive from having paid that fee is zero. But if that were the case, these professions would never have gotten going in the first place. Who wants to pay money you don't need to? Anybody want to raise your hand? I certainly don't. The world, humankind, and even our financial markets survived for millennia without stockbrokers, real estate agents, travel agents, or any other sort of business that is now being subjected to disintermediation. Why did these professions come about? It wasn't because our great grandparents were stupid, uninformed of the alternatives, or had no choice. They could and did buy and sell stock and real estate directly. The reason these professions, and others (such as journalism) arose is because they added value to the entire process. The people who made use of these professions profited by their choice. Not necessarily directly in dollars with every transaction, but statistically, the people who spent that money emerged notably better off in one or more important respects, and therefore, our predecessors made a choice to do so until essentially everyone did so.

There you have it: An explicit refutation of the assumption underlying the entire discounter promise. It neglects an essential term in the answer as to whether you end up better off. Was the money you didn't spend really the whole answer? What if by spending that money, you end up better off?

Suppose you save three percent by not having a real estate agent sell your property. Seems like a great idea on the surface, doesn't it? On a half million dollar property, $15,000 in your pocket for what you think is a few hours of work. I'll even start by granting you the same ability to market that an agent has, which isn't the case for the vast majority. But what happens if the price you pick isn't right for your market? I've gone over that. What happens if you don't disclose everything you need to? Then let's consider negotiations. Trying to match wits against a buyer's agent whose been in everything that sold in your neighborhood in the last six months is a guaranteed lose for a seller who hasn't seen any of it. That agent's got permission to visit other stuff in MLS. Owners trying to sell their own property don't. . Do you know what's appropriate for contingent sales? What about negotiating repairs disclosed by inspection? These and many other things need to be negotiated, and just telling the other side to do it your way will result in a failed transaction. Do you know how to find out if a buyer is qualified? The two months you spend waiting to find out that your prospective buyer can't qualify costs you roughly six thousand dollars all by itself. I could go on and on.

The same applies on the buyer's side. In the current environment, any decent buyer's agent who tries can make at least a ten percent difference by suggesting the correct property, negotiating to their clients' strengths, and using the seller's weaknesses against them. Usually it's more than that. My average was running about twenty percent when I originally wrote this. Even when the market turned crazy for about nine months it stayed about 10% - when everyone else was having appraisal problems due to Home Valuation Code of Conduct, I didn't have a single property that failed to appraise for value. Sound like a good bargain to you? Spend ten to twenty percent to save three? If so, come on into my office, and I'll give you $30 for $100 until you're broke. Or you can come into my office and agree to spend that $30 in order to have a very good chance of making well over $100.

The intelligent question is: Does spending that money save you more than it costs? Most people will spend $10 to save $100. That's rational. Most people will spend $90 to save $100. That's still rational. Some people will spend more than a hundred dollars to save $100, though, and that's not rational. Not spending the $10 or even $90 to save $100 isn't rational either. Nor are all of the costs in money. How do you quantify not making a mistake that most people don't know is there until and unless it bites them, after the purchase?

That's really the whole question, isn't it? Furthermore, it has to be answered individually, because few situations really subject themselves to this kind of analysis Admittedly, with the internet, it's gotten easier for consumers and more difficult for members of those professions. But the internet can only help you with questions you actually think to ask, and you still have to do the work to make certain you debunk wrong answers to find out where the truth really lies. It's not going to tell you any of dozens of reasons why this freshly remodeled home of your dreams is going to turn into a nightmare.

When I originally wrote this, I was closing on a property where the folks contacted me with information from a popular discount model brokerage in their hand, and those were the first properties they wanted me to look at (which I did). The difference in value they are receiving for their money is such that they never went back to that discounter, because I went out and looked at properties, I gave them reasons why this property was or was not one that they were going to be happy in, I gave them reasons why this property was a Vampire while that property was not. I explained to them how the surrounding environment was going to impact them in the property. I showed them what needed to be fixed, and gave them an idea what was involved. When I found an especially good value for their money, I got them out there and told them to act fast if they wanted it - if I hadn't, it would have been gone by the weekend. I'm not going to talk about why, but I can truthfully say that I wrote an offer that the seller chose to accept even though it wasn't the highest offer they had, and the difference was a lot more than my company's three percent commission. If those kinds of services aren't worth money to you, then you're not a good candidate for my services anyway. But all that discounter had to offer was how cheap they were, while I gave my clients more value than they would have saved before they put the offer that was accepted in, and they knew it. Once the clients started thinking in terms of what they were receiving by giving up that discounter's commission rebate, the discounter never had a chance. By CMA of all comparable properties in the area at that time, my buyers saved over thirty percent, and that's just by square footage - not including all of the amenities the property had that the competing ones don't.

I'm not going to pretend this one isn't an above average bargain, even for me. I'm not going to pretend that every full service agent can make that kind of difference on every transaction, because I know it isn't true. The best agent in the world strikes out occasionally - in which case you are still no worse off than without them. But making more of a difference to the client than the three percent a full service agent makes around here is an awfully easy mark to beat for the agent who tries.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

It's a well known fact that not all factors in real estate are equally important, and not all property investments perform equally well. A critical part of successfully choosing the right property, whether it's for investment or personal use, lies in realizing that some things about a given property are completely under your control once you purchase, some things are only controllable by large groups of people acting in concert, and a few things can't be changed at all.

There are graduations among the three, in fact, it's more or less a continuous spectrum from picking up a piece of trash to weather and earth movement. Just because you can't control it doesn't mean you can't take it into account before you decide on where to spend your money. Once you've bought, of course, you're stuck with what events happen to have an effect upon that given location. Just because there hasn't been an earthquake there in 6000 years of recorded history doesn't mean it's impossible for there to be an earthquake. But if the area has a history of earthquakes, fires, landslides, you name it, or even just a known susceptibility, you're wise to take it into account. This extends into human controlled areas as well. Never been so much as loitering within ten miles? Nice, but that doesn't stop the head of the local mob from buying the house next door to yours later on, or the FBI from renting it for their Witness Protection Program (and no, that's one neither you nor I am likely to find out unless and until gunfire starts, but that doesn't stop the crooks looking for those witnesses!). One of the aspects of this being a free country is that bad people are also pretty much equally free to go where they want unless they're actually in confinement somewhere.

There are, however, all sorts of known factors about a property that you can consider, and a good agent can really hep you with. Sometimes it's a matter of capability (whether you can), sometimes of knowledge, sometimes of willingness, and sometimes, of visualization, whether you can really visualize the place with the changes made.

Knowing that difference is money.

Serious money, especially in a high cost area like mine. Knowing what you can change and what is beyond your control. Knowing what stuff costs, in general, is a really valuable piece of knowledge for an agent, and whether it's likely to be worth the money you spend.

Some stuff, like trash in the yard, paint on the walls, and carpet on the floors, is so easy to change it doesn't hardly register. Yes, good carpet costs thousands of dollars, but it's worth every penny at sale time. Paint is cheaper. Window coverings, All of this is superficial, and can be changed easily, but unless you're an experienced agent you would not believe how many times I've heard arguments against purchasing a property that amount to "I don't want to have to spend $4000 to save $40,000!" from buyers. Then they go out and buy another property for that $40,000 more, and stillspend that $4000 - or more - changing out the already good looking stuff that was already there for other good looking stuff, when they could have saved $40,000 off the purchase price by simply realizing they were going to replace it anyway, and buying the property with trashed carpet in the first place. I don't care how often I've seen it. It still blows my mind, every time. And if you're looking to sell, by all that's holy, you'll make a lot more dealing with it yourself than giving Martha Stewart Jr. a carpet allowance. The idea is that you want as much of Martha's money in your pocket as possible! By giving an allowance, sellers not only lose the money several times over in the sales price, they're also volunteering to pay some of the money they do get right out again!

Appliances. Why in the nine billion names of god are some buyers so particular about the appliances? The vast majority of appliances are personal property and are going to go away with the current owner. Who cares if the refrigerator is avocado green now? It's going away. If the owners do leave it, I know places that will pay you money for the privilege of hauling away functional appliances, and then you can put your burnt orange one in its place. Even if the appliances are attractive, unless they're built into the property, they're going away. It's not like it's going to be hard finding a stylish modern replacement. But when you're selling, it really is a good way to sucker more money out of people, and unless you build it in or agree to leave it in the sales contract - a concession the buyers will pay dearly for - you get to take them with you! How cool is that?

Surfaces are a little harder, but I do not understand why people are willing to reward current previous owners who built in things like granite counter tops or travertine floors. Actually, I do. It's all part and parcel of that same desire that Mr. and Ms. Middle Class want to have their home be beautiful, so they'll spend $50,000 more to buy the property that's beautiful now, and then they'll come along and replace all that beautiful stuff with equally beautiful stuff that's more in line with their taste. But granite counter tops, travertine floors, etcetera aren't all that expensive to put in (why do you think they're so popular with developers now?) and they do age. If you stay in the property twenty years, you're going to want to put in new ones before you sell. But guess what? You paid all of that opportunity cost, and interest on all of that cost, all of these years, and now you're having to install new ones just to come close to breaking even on what you've already spent. Smart Investors are looking for the properties where they can get those bumps up in value themselves by putting them in and flipping the property off to Mr. and Ms. Middle Class.

Similar to all the preceding examples, lighting is a relatively cheap investment that pays off. Lots of nice bright soft lumens. Some people will pay big bucks without realizing why, not to mention that light bulbs are both cheap and easy to change and the wiring lasts basically forever, so you can fix it up after you own it, enjoy it all those years you live in it, and still get the bump up in value when you go to sell. Providing, of course, you or your agent has the presence of mind to recognize the opportunity, and you don't insist on having it already in place.

Not quite so easy are windows for natural light. It's very hard to go wrong with too many windows, or too big. Just don't sabotage your structural support. And of course, you're cutting through walls. This isn't cheap; but it is often worth the money. Just like electrical lights. It'll make lots of folks willing to spend big bucks without understanding why.

This contrasts to bad or old wiring. It just won't hold the load modern dwellings need to, or doesn't have enough outlets. Back in the 1930s, one outlet per room was plenty. These days, code requires one per six linear feet of wall in new housing. The house I grew up in had a thirty five amp master fuse. That may not be enough for a linen closet, nowadays, but those houses are still out there. It isn't cheap to upgrade their wiring, but if you've got to do it, overkill isn't much more expensive. If you're running all new wiring and putting in new breakers and new outlets, the cost differential to make it way more robust than absolutely necessary is perhaps 1%. Instead of 500 amp service, consider at least doubling that. As long as you're putting in one outlet every six linear feet, make it a four or six plug outlet (with wiring robust enough to match). Point of fact, investors who flip rarely upgrade wiring - it doesn't pay off in sales price. But if you need to do it in order to make your family comfortable, overdo it. It doesn't cost any more per hour for an electrician to run bigger wires, install bigger breakers, or put in a bigger socket. So you spend $1 extra per outlet - if it keeps you from having to do it again, the money was well spent. There's been a steady increase in the amount of electrical load for the average house over the last eighty years or so. I wouldn't bet on that trend changing any time soon, and when you go to sell in five or twenty or thirty years, the electrical situation will still make buyers happy. Unless that house falls down around your ears in the meantime, you'll be glad you did. Here's another thing I don't understand: People will act like it's no big deal to upgrade the electrical service, even though it's much more costly than any of the stuff you've already read about. Maybe because they don't understand what's involved, or maybe because it's not obvious on the surface, but a house where the electrical grid will handle your requirements is easily worth $30,000 or more than one that won't - because if it won't, guess who's spending that money?

Towards the high end of the subspectrum involving personal control, you're pretty much stuck with the architecture. Put another room on that doesn't match, and people will start describing the house as "ramshackle". Houses where everything matches get more than houses where there are obvious mismatches. Short of hiring a bulldozer and starting over, your architecture is your architecture. Ditto basic construction. If it started with adobe, you'd do well to stay with adobe. If you don't like adobe, don't buy adobe.

Right at the extreme of possible personal control is the lot you're buying. Unless you can persuade one of your neighbors to sell, it is what it is. Don't count on that happening. If it's 4700 square feet, it's always going to be 4700 square feet. If it's next to a beach or next to a toxic waste dump, it's always going to be next to a beach or toxic waste dump.

Getting into things you can't control, but can influence, is the homeowner's association. If there's a homeowner's association, you can influence it by getting involved. You can't control it by yourself, and you can't make it go away, except by not buying where there's a HOA. Learn the rules, and learn the neighborhood, before you buy. If your rules aren't something you can abide by, be certain Mrs. Grundy is going to do her best to harass you into doing so. This starts at letters and goes through fines, and might even include foreclosure. If your neighbors are at war with each other before you buy, that's likely to continue indefinitely afterwards. Just because there's no war right now doesn't mean one won't start the instant you buy. The more recently it was built, and the higher end the property, the more likely it is there will be a HOA. If you buy where there's an HOA, it's more likely one of my grandfathers will give birth to triplets than that HOA will go away (FYI: if being old and male in a species where it's the female who gestates and rarely to more than one child at a time isn't enough for you, my grandfathers are dead). HOAs really are a good guardian of property values, but they sure can make an ordinary person who just wants to enjoy their property miserable.

You can't do a darned thing as an individual about the surrounding property, or the neighborhood. If all around you are 3 bedroom 1.75 bath properties that sell for $400,000, that's the mean your property will tend towards and be judged by. In some areas, $400,000 is a mansion. Around here, it's nothing nearly so grand. You may be able to get a little more if you've got a fourth bedroom, or an extra large lot, but a 6 bedroom 4 bath place will not be worth twice as much, simply because of the surroundings. In fact, it's unlikely you'll get more than 25% extra even if the property is a mansion, that being a relevant appraisal standard. Even if someone agrees to pay it (they won't), lenders won't lend based upon it. That property is a misplaced improvement. It's fine if you just happen to like the neighborhood, but don't expect that your house will sell for twice as much because it's twice as big or twice as nice. Three words: Not. Gonna. Happen. Keep this in mind when you're buying or upgrading your property, also. On the flip side, this can help properties that are below that neighborhood average. Everything around them pulls them up. But it also means that there's a sharp limit to the improvements that are worthwhile.

Traffic, whether you're on a busy street or a busy corner, parks, shopping and other neighborhood amenities, you can consider to be essentially fixed characteristics. No one individual controls them. Even if you get yourself elected mayor, you'll find yourself checked by the power of the rest of the government. There's nothing you can do to advantage yourself without disadvantaging someone else, and if you want the most primal scream of most suburban dwellers, talk to them about lowering property values. It sends people completely around the bend, mental health wise. Sometimes you get lucky and something good happens. Sometimes you get unlucky and the opposite occurs. But it's not under the control of any one person. Know this ahead of time. Acknowledge it to yourself, and worship at the altar of accepting these things as they are. By the way, if I were selling, I'd make certain your prospective buyer is aware of upcoming issues that may negatively influence the neighborhood. Even if you didn't know, if they can make a case that you should have, that may be good enough to win in the courts. It depends upon the jurisdiction. Talk to a lawyer in your area to be certain.

The geography of the land you can consider as fixed. Weather also. Even if you own a large enough parcel to move your house to a better location on the lot, or even to level that hill that's threatening to slide down on top of you every time it rains, your return on that investment is not going to repay the cash it costs you. Earthquakes, wildfires, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods. You might was well consider that the price tag includes a certain probability per year of each, be it large or extremely small.

Knowing, or learning, the difference between what you do and don't control, and what is and isn't profitable to upgrade, is a large part of the battle of finding a good property to invest in, whether you intend to flip in two months or whether you intend to live there for the rest of your life. A good agent, who's not dependent upon the tollbooth model of business, will be an immense help to the selection process or the sales process, and likely to make - or save - you enough money to pay their commission several times over, and more so if you include them in your planning process.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

Here was an idea I had: Pack a list of the most important things consumers need to know about buying real estate, as packed into the words I can say in sixty seconds without sounding like an over-clocked squirrel. Here goes:


Figure out what you can really afford before you do anything else. Shop by purchase price, not payment, and refuse to look at properties which cannot believably be obtained within your budget.

Listing agents are contractually and legally obligated to sell the property as quickly as possible for the highest possible price. They represent sellers, not buyers. If the listing agent can sell you the property for $100,000 above comparable market price, they have done nothing except their job. Never allow the listing agent to represent you as a buyer.

Buyer's Agents represent buyers, not sellers, and having a good buyer's agent will make more difference than anything else to get you a better property value for less money. Get at least one buyer's agent before you start looking. Sign only non-exclusive buyer's agency contracts, insist they cover bad points as well as good on every property, and fire any agent that won't, or any agent that shows you a property that cannot be obtained within your budget.

There is no such thing as a perfect property, or the perfect time to buy real estate. Properties in immaculate condition command premium prices because the owners can get more money. If you want a bargain, be prepared to do some cosmetic work. A good buyer's agent will help you know what's cheap and easy to fix, versus what's difficult and expensive.

How was that?

Caveat Emptor


Original article here

I know 401k contributions impact a persons Adjusted Gross Income, thus would it also affect the amount a person could qualify for? If so, I will delay enrollment for a few months...

This depends upon what documentation you use to qualify. For most of those who are salaried or hourly W-2 employees, debt to income ratio is calculated using gross pay from w-2s and pay stubs. This is more more than half of the people out there. For these people, it doesn't matter, because the computation is based upon gross pay before any deductions - even withholding. The thinking goes that you can always stop retirement contributions if you need the money now to afford your mortgage .

For those who have to use the full federal tax forms to qualify however, the computation is based upon Adjusted Gross Income. This is basically three groups: The self-employed, commissioned sales people, and construction trades, the last being notorious for periods of unemployment between the end of one project and finding another project that's hiring. Adjusted Gross Income, or AGI, is after retirement contributions from taxable income, as well as business expenses and several other things are deducted. The reason for this is those people have more expenses that statutory employees, whether those employees are cube farm dwellers, have a corner office, or whatever. Lenders are well aware of this. The only reason why they're willing to accept taxes as proof of income is very few people will tell the IRS they make more money than they do when it means paying so many cents of every dollar they didn't make in taxes.

This can make it very difficult for people in these three groups to qualify via documentable income. This is the reason why stated income loans were created and why the complete demise of stated income is a very bad thing no matter how much I hated doing stated income loans. There was an excellent reason why reason why they existed - people in this category got to legitimately deduct more on their taxes, but it hurt their ability to qualify for a mortgage. The rates were higher and the underwriting requirements were tougher, but without that, some people would never be able to qualify for a home loan, no matter how credit-worthy. As I've said before, stated income was subject to ridiculous abuse, and you'd really rather qualify "full documentation" if there's any way you can, especially once lenders and investors started suffering suffering stated-income-phobia and it always meant having to come up with tens of thousands of extra dollars down payment and pay an interest rate that might have been two full percent higher than people who can qualify full documentation would pay, but it meant there was a loan such people could qualify for.

So retirement contributions will make a difference if you're one of those who needs to use tax forms to qualify for a loan, but if you're someone who can use w-2s to qualify, it shouldn't.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

Saw a sign driving: "Negative Equity? Sell and Get cash!"

Notice that it doesn't claim that you can do so legally.

I saw another of these signs on the way to the office this morning.

When things are going sour, there are any number of scam artists who will promise the moon. We had them in the early nineties, and we have a lot more of them now.

Perhaps the largest number of these are flat out liars. They have no ability and no intention of actually delivering whatever they're dangling out there as bait. They're just putting something out there to get you to call, so they can get you into their office and try to do whatever it is that they do. Most of these are fishing for victims of a "subject to" scam. Notice that they didn't say they could do it for everyone? "Subject to" deals are illegal, but sometimes the lender will let you get away with it. Of course, if they don't, they go after the person who signed the Trust Deed, not the scamster who talked you into it. Note that if they're reasonably careful, the people who are dangling "subject to" deals are legally in the clear. Nor is it illegal (as far as I know) for them to use an advertising hook they have no intention of delivering. Even if it is illegal, it's not like anybody gets charged for the initial handmade sign by the side of the road that's long gone before there's any investigation into what happened.

Even if these people are telling the truth as far as they go, there is something wrong with this scenario.

Either 1) you weren't in a negative equity situation in the first place - you really could sell for at least what you owe on the property, or 2) You are going to commit fraud, and the lender is not going to be happy when they find out. Expect a very unpleasant visit from the FBI, large legal defense fees, and an extended vacation courtesy of Club Fed.

There is no lender in the world that is going to accept a short payoff where the borrower walks away with cash. End of discussion. That's the entire bargain you make with a lender when you borrow money. They get paid every penny they are due first - and you get only the excess, however much - or little - that may be. If their payoff is short, they will not accept you walking away with a single penny from the sale of that property. To do anything else is a violation of securities and banking regulations. The Wicked Witch of Wall Street may be politically dead, but this is one issue that the financial world has developed extreme sensitivity to.

If the lender did not know about this cash that you are supposedly getting, you are going to be committing fraud. The person who sold you this scam is very probably committing fraud as well, but you definitely are committing fraud if you do this. That lender is going to require you, the owner of the property, to sign a statement to the effect that you are not receiving any money that the lender does not know about. So let's add perjury to the list of charges against you, and quite likely conspiracy. Your defense lawyer is going to cost more than any cash you're going to get out of it.

I had someone ask me whether an agent can volunteer to just give you some money from their commission. I'm not a lawyer, but as far as I am aware, it is legal. However, if they're bringing you into their office and getting you to sign up with them to sell their house based upon such a promise while the lender ends up with a short payoff, you are still committing fraud, perjury, and conspiracy when you sign that document that says you're not getting any money from the sale from any source, and that agent is committing at least fraud and conspiracy as well. The whole set-up is pre-arranged, and that give-back is a condition of the transaction that you and the agent are both aware of, but the lender is not. This makes you guilty of those three crimes. My understanding is that In order for the "gift" to pass legal muster, it has to be a pure gift, conceived by the agent with no pre-arrangement, executed for no consideration and no exchange of value on your part. Since that is not the case - they're luring you in with the promise of cash from before they even saw you - it's not going to get past the courts. Furthermore, even if such a gift was a pure gift on the part of the agent, it's not likely that the courts or a jury is going to believe you when there are well-known scams like this going on.

People put these scams out there because they figure they've got an angle whereby they can still make money. I can think of several ways to do so off the top of my head, from using the property as bait to meet buyers (see Tina Teaser) to having you sign an agreement for a very large listing commission, and several ways in-between. All of them involve a violation of that agent's fiduciary duty to you. Show of hands: How many people would sign up with an agent who straightforwardly told you he intended to scam you, and that as a consequence of this transaction, you would be likely to spend several years in prison? Anyone?

It is kind of elegant in a way: The victim of the scam (that would be you) can't complain without putting themselves in line for several years as an involuntary guest of the taxpayers. But it's amazing how often some outside factor causes the whole thing to unravel. Actually, cancel that. It isn't amazing at all. Real estate and mortgage operations are all a matter of public record, and audits and record keeping are a part of life for anyone in either field. Failure to keep complete records is in itself an offense that practitioners can and do lose their licenses over, and the escrow and title companies have their own record-keeping requirements, and the lender will most certainly keep records. If they can show you've committed fraud - and you have if you do anything alone these lines - then any legal shelter you may have had from their ability to collect the money they lost simply vanishes. This means, among other things, that even if your loan would have normally been non-recourse, the act of committing fraud means it becomes a full recourse loan.

You don't want any of that to happen, and once you do it, you have no defense except to hope that you get unreasonably lucky, and nobody notices until the statute of limitations runs out. The only justification for doing a stupid stunt like this is if it gets you out of a worse predicament. It doesn't. If anything, it makes any existing predicament worse.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

From an e-mail:

I live in (City 1) and recently signed a work order on a semi-custom new construction house in (City 2). My wife and I make a combined 120K income and still can't afford a decent place in City 1. It was preapproved rather quickly from both the builder's mortgage company and a few outside companies and everything was moving along splendidly, until my employer decided to refuse to transfer me (something we had mutually decided on back in April). To make a long story short, the house will be built and ready to close in early November and 2 of mortgage companies are asking for a Relocation letter from my employer. Seeing as how I make 66% of the 120K combined salary, my plan is to tough it out here until I find (1) a job in City 2, or (2) a job here that will transfer me to City 2. My question is, if I can't supply them with a relo letter am I dead in the water? Do I have to scrap the loan (primary residence) and try to get a second home or investment loan? The broader question here, is how critical is any piece of documentation? Obviously W-2s and bank statements can be deal breakers, but what about the other stuff? I.E. relo letters, proof of homeowners dues, etc etc.

First off, you have an obvious potential issue with your current employer. If your work order was predicated upon a promise of transfer, you may have a case against them if you want one for the amount of any money you're out. Consult an attorney, preferably one that is licensed in both states. Obviously, this poisons the atmosphere, so you may not want to. On the other hand, you may have decided by now that you are done with them one way or the other.

Second, getting to the item of contention, the relocation letter. Every lender's guidelines are different. You didn't say how many lenders you had applied with, but few people apply for more than two loans. Any item the underwriter asks for can be a deal-breaker, especially if you can't provide it. What the underwriter is looking for is a coherent picture of someone who is going to be able to repay the loan. If the loan underwriter doesn't see a coherent picture of you being able to repay the loan under the circumstances it was submitted under, the loan will be declined. The underwriter can ask for anything they want. They can ask for proof your father gave birth to identical triplets, if they think it has some bearing on the loan. If you cannot furnish them what they want, and your loan officer can't shake an alternative or an exception out of them, the loan is dead.

They're not likely to ask for proof of something impossible and irrelevant like my example. Legally they probably could - Everybody has a biological father, so it's not discriminatory on the face of it. They're certainly not going to violate anti-discrimination lending laws by asking for something based upon race or sex. But they're in the business of making loans, which in many cases make more money for the developer than the sale. However, if the underwriter approves loans that go sour, they can expect to be held accountable by their employer, and so they require and are permitted a certain degree of necessary latitude on additional requirements in order to do their jobs. If I tell an underwriter that I make $2 million a year in the stock market, I'd better be able to furnish proof. If it's not relevant to the loan, I should keep my mouth shut about it because it's asking for trouble. Never tell an underwriter anything not absolutely necessary for loan approval.

It's a horrible lie about people from Missouri, but I tell people to think of underwriters as Missouri accountants. Their favorite sentence is, "Show me on paper." All loan approvals are based upon the potential borrower and their current status quo. In other words, the situation as it is, not as you hope it will be someday. Yes, when doing Verification of Employment they ask about prospects for continued employment, but that's just to establish that the employer isn't willing to admit they're about to fire you. They know that in the real world, people get told "Yes, we're going to keep Mr. X here forever" and next week Mr. X is applying for unemployment.

What the underwriter is looking for is a coherent picture of you occupying the property and working at your current employer. You're working in City 1 and living in City 2, which are not within daily commuting difference, but you applied for the loan as intending to make it your primary residence.

Given that they are requiring a letter of relocation, you have several options. I know it has happened in the past that employers who were not willing to relocate employees were nonetheless willing to write letters that said they were. This is stupid. This is fraud, and if the loan becomes non-performing the employer could potentially become liable for whatever the lender lost, not to mention that a lot of your protections as a consumer go out the window. Second, they could sign a letter that says you are going to be telecommuting from your new home. Yes, your job is in City 1, but you could legitimately be living in City 2 and still employed and doing your current job. Bingo, happy underwriter (probably). If your loan officers aren't complete idiots they will have asked you about this, so I presume the answer is no.

So now we're bringing in other issues as well. Now you have a husband living in City 1, while the wife and new home (and I presume wife's job) are now in City 2. Fact: husband needs a place to live in City 1. "What's that place to live going to cost him?" they ask. They take this answer and add it to the previously known total of your other monthly payments. Because you now have more in known monthly expenditures, now you may not qualify for the loan you were "pre-approved" for. Pre-approval doesn't really mean diddly-squat, and the developer knows it, so they likely required at least a decent sized deposit from you, so if you don't get the loan, you don't get the house, and you may have a substantial forfeiture. See my first paragraph at the start of the article. Furthermore, some underwriters may see a potential divorce situation here, so they may ask for some kind of testimonial from third parties that you're not getting a divorce.

Now, if you had a decent agent, he likely wrote your offer "contingent" upon your relocation. Unfortunately, if you're buying from a developer, your agent probably works for the developer, and so didn't do this. You may or may not have a case against the developer and the agent. Consult an attorney, but this is one area of many where buyer's agents really pay off.

(Even if they're inclined to trust me, I do not want to represent both sides in a sale, and will usually insist that one side go get another agent, or at least sign a release indicating that they realize I am working for the other party, not them, and have no responsibility as to their best interests. As your experience indicates, too many actions are a potential violation of fiduciary duty to one side if you do them and to the other if you don't. There are some agents who get greedy and do both sides, but usually they make their attorneys very happy. If your agent wants to do both sides of the transaction, that's never a good sign.)

However, what I suspect you really want is the house and the loan you signed up for. So I'm going to go on that presumption.

You make $10,000 per month. You may be able to get a friend to rent you a room in their home in City 1 for fairly cheap, so that there is not enough difference so you don't qualify for a loan. Several years ago before I met my wife, I rented a room out cheap to a friend who was in a situation not too different from yours. "A paper", you are permitted up to about about a forty-five percent debt to income ratio, and it can go higher if you have a high enough credit score such that DU or LP (Fannie and Freddie's automated loan underwriters) will buy off on it.

You could go to a different loan type, carrying a lower rate and hence a lower payment. Unfortunately, the debt-to-income limits on these are lower. Unlikely to work.

You could go to a "second home" loan. Unfortunately, the standards on those a a little tighter, and there may be an additional fee of a quarter point or even a half, and you're still going to have to show the underwriter a residence in City 1, which means the payment qualification issue raises it's ugly head here, also.

Finally when this was originally written you could have gone to a sub-prime lender (where maximum Debt to Income ratio can be higher) or done a "stated income" loan. Both of those options are now non-existent. If you were working with a broker's loan officer as opposed to a direct lender or packaging house loan officer, either would be no sweat - you might not even have to do another application. The broker would simply withdraw your loan package and submit it elsewhere. Unfortunately, from a subsequent email, I know that you're not working with any brokers. Well, the developer probably has a sub-prime lender on tap as well, so that may be a low stress option. On the other hand, if they are a different branch of the "A paper" lender, they may not be able to do your loan either. Or, if you're lucky, the developer is acting like a broker in the first place rather than a direct lender.

One of the great rules of the business is that you cannot go from a higher documentation loan to a lower documentation loan on the same borrower at the same lender. If I submit to lender A "full doc," I cannot then later submit it to lender A "Stated Income." The reasons for this should be fairly obvious, and this is a no brainer without exceptions across the business.

For brokers, because the paperwork is in their name and not the lenders in the first place, this means no new reports. But since you're not working with brokers, what this means is that you're likely to need a completely new set of reports from the appraiser on down in the new loan company's name. This may be done on a retyping basis if you are lucky, or you may have to pay for completely new ones.

I strongly advise you NOT to quit your job, unless someone a lot more familiar with your situation and prepared to take the consequences of being wrong tells you otherwise. Here's why: You quit your job. Now you are unemployed. It does not matter if you've been doing what you're doing for forty years. Right now you are unemployed. As things currently sit, you do not qualify for the loan. Even if you've got a written offer of employment somewhere else, many lenders will not approve the loan until you have a pay stub to show for it. Since this means waiting several weeks at least, it's almost certainly outside your window of opportunity.

One final issue: here in California, it's illegal for a developer (or anyone else) to require that you do the loan with them in order to get the property. But it happens anyway (I've been told point blank by more than one developer's agent that if the client doesn't do the loan through them, the purchase contract will be canceled. Many others won't tell you point blank, but they will throw obstacles up until you give up on the other loan), and it's a long hard slog to prove legally and it costs you thousands and you still don't get what you really wanted in the first place: the house you signed an order for. I am not certain the practice is even illegal in City 2, where you're buying (although from some things I've heard about that state's practices, I think it's probably legal). So you probably want to be certain you're not fighting the developer on this by finding your loan elsewhere. Unfortunately, you've already (probably) put a deposit down and you said in subsequent email that the home has appreciated while it was being built, so the developer has incentive to throw roadblocks in your path. Your transaction falls through and not only do they get to keep your deposit but they can turn around and sell the home for more. Preventing this kind of nonsense is what buyer's agents are for (it also gives you someone easy to sue if something goes wrong!). Unfortunately, most developers will not cooperate by paying a commission to buyer's agents for precisely this reason, which means that the average buyer will decline to pay an agent out of their own pocket and try to do the transaction on their own, which leads to situations like this.

Best of luck, and if this does not answer all of your questions, please let me know.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

Or: Please don't believe everything you read on the internet!

Rarely a week passes by that I don't get a request from someone to link to their website or article. I'm happy to link to good sites and good articles with real consumer information. Unfortunately, this is not the majority of what's out there.

I got three requests in the last day. Two were obvious spam sites, one didn't even address me by name. The third was a little harder, an article that claimed to be written for consumer benefit. Unfortunately, its five main paragraphs were wrong on every point of substance, and so vague as to be useless on everything else. But when I sent them an e-mail suggesting they improve it, I got a three letter response: LOL.

For those of you who may not understand geek speak, this stands for "Laugh Out Loud." In other words, my request was laughable to them. They wanted free links to the site, and were willing to research email addresses and such, but weren't willing to produce actually informative correct content. My primary hypothesis, which I'm not going to bother to test as it involves motivations I don't care about, is what they did write fit their own agenda better than something closer to verifiably correct. I see people writing - or who have written and are flogging - articles with similar points to that one every day.

Unfortunately, this attitude is far too common. People build these websites to optimize their chances of getting a relevant search term hit. None of the search engines tests any site for reliability of the information it contains. A search engine referral is not a guarantee or even indicator of reliability - it means they found the relevant search terms there. Testing the veracity, correctness, completeness, and usefulness of the information contained is left as an exercise for the potential reader.

I also get e-mail from consumers. One recently thanked me, saying it's easy to find real estate information, but it's difficult to find good loan information. Actually, it's just as difficult to find correct real estate information. More of what's out there is somewhere in the general vicinity, but just because it's apparently closer to the truth does not mean it doesn't contain deadly traps, made all the more plausible by association. When you're talking about real estate and mortgage loans, there's a lot of money at stake. This is all the reason necessary for some people to say whatever it takes. Remember, none of the search engines tests for reliability of the information, and failure to examine everything you read - particularly in an area where few people have competence but many people think they do - can often lead to a situation which appears to be successful until years later. Real Estate is one of those fields. When I originally wrote this, I was going through a transaction where it was more and more challenging not to speak ill of the listing brokerage as a whole. I had the buyer's end done and there was no termite clearance, no zone disclosure report, none of the other required disclosures, they took the lockbox off without informing me or my clients (itself a violation of MLS rules) so we couldn't do our walk-through, and that's not all by any means. That seller is sitting fat dumb and happy - and liable for basically everything in the known universe. Yes, the listing brokerage is a discounter. Why do you ask? Oh, right. Because I've got to do their work so that my client is aware of what they need to know before we actually consummate the transaction. But I don't have any legal liability to do so as the buyer's agent. It's simply my desire to prevent my client from unknowingly walking into a bad situation, and if I didn't, it could be ten years from now when my client discovers something, and goes to court for a fat settlement from sellers and listing agency, or even forcing them to buy the property back. Apparently successful for years, but in the end a disaster. Not to mention a couple of things that I can't talk about until the transaction records.

People have various reasons for building websites. In some cases, they're trying to sell advertisements. In fact, there's a lot of those sites, where the entire purpose of the website is to collect money from people clicking off of the site to one of their paid advertising links. I've got some of those; One direct, a couple more through AdSense and BlogAds. It pays my bandwidth charges, and usually some of my domain renewal. I'm far pickier than most about my ads, and I'd like to get to the point where I can tell AdSense to take a hike, because they don't allow me any ability to reject individual ads that may be objectionable.

Other people build their website with the explicit intent of selling something specific. I'd like to sell something specific: My services as a real estate agent and loan officer. However, I'm nonetheless doing my best not to write anything that I could not defend in an academic thesis if I were a professor and tenure was at stake. I don't get offended when people question what I write unless it's in an obvious shill way. Furthermore, I'd like to think I'm as evenhanded and complete as possible in dealing with the pluses and minuses of everything. Everything I write is designed to be tested for its veracity. In other words, if you check out what I say, whether in an actual transaction or by checking with knowledgeable neutral parties, I would be very surprised if there were substantial points of disagreement. This isn't to say I can't make mistakes, but that I try very hard to make everything I say verifiable by independent test makes me highly unusual on the internet. Some people are every bit as careful as I try to be. Others are somewhat less careful. The vast majority do not care so long as it enables them to sell more of whatever they're selling.

What I'm trying to say is that you should make every attempt to test everything you see on the internet, including my stuff, before you bet large amounts of money on whether we're right by conducting a real estate transaction in accordance with what we say (Although if I'm your agent or loan officer I become responsible for what I say financially and professionally). That's one of the reasons why I'm not hesitant to drag out a calculator or spreadsheet and show you the numbers. If it cannot be expressed in mathematics, it's not fact - it's opinion (Thank You Mr. Heinlein for teaching me that while I was still young enough to absorb it. This isn't to say that if it can be or is expressed in mathematical terms that it is true. You've got to "crank the problem" and see if everything matches). Try to debunk it if you can. Does the evidence - independently gathered - confirm directly, confirm circumstantially or tangentially, confirm with exceptions, partially confirm, fail to confirm, contradict tangentially, contradict circumstantially, or contradict directly what is said? In the absence of substantial contradiction, is what we say at least internally consistent? If there is contradiction, how far does said contradiction unravel the claims? It's very different if it contradicts the central point or points and causes everything to fall apart, versus if it only contradicts some tossed off side track. Logic and the scientific method are always your friends.

Another trick is to observe whether the source admits things that bolster an opposing case, or something against the point they're trying to make. The more opposing viewpoints or evidence against their point they entertain, the more likely they're honest. Especially if they're scrupulous in the way they handle to evidence against them. None of this helps if the central tenet of what they're telling you is flatly contradicted by a known and verified fact, but in the absence of such, honest treatment of the merits of alternate explanations is a very good sign.

The quality of the confirmation or contradiction - how credible and detailed the piece of information you use to check it - is also important. You could find yourself having to check out many different interpretations before you're certain where the truth really lies.

Absolute truth can be a difficult thing to attain, there is often room for differences of opinion, and there are many logical fallacies to which even people of good intent can fall prey. The difference between a valid and invalid argument or statement can be very fine. Please, do not take anything you read on the internet as gospel truth without thoroughly vetting it for incorrect information, false premises, and false inferences. I don't believe I'm infallible. I do see stuff on the internet every day which is thorough nonsense even though it may appear credible on the surface. Sometimes it's with malice aforethought, sometimes it's an honest mistake, sometimes it's a simple misunderstanding of source material, and sometimes it's even just viewing source material from a viewpoint that distorts the answer. For my part, I try very hard to get it right and to cover information that might disagree with what I'm saying, but there's a reason why I end every single article here with

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

One of the things that sticks out about buyer's markets is that there are two sorts of listings: Those who are willing to do whatever it takes, anything it takes, to get the property sold, and the other who apparently just likes having the property in MLS.

Many listing agents have made a habit of telling people that they can get more for the property than the next person over. Well, some can. But there really is no secret as to how they do it. They have the discussion to price the property correctly in the first place, and if the listing price isn't appropriate, they will not take the listing. I don't list many, but if someone is insistent upon a listing price that is too high for the market, I am better off not being part of that listing. Even if it does sell after two major price reductions for less than I likely would have gotten straight off, that client is going to be angry, not happy, and they will tell everyone it's my fault.

Indeed, if there ever is a market where listing agents can reliably get more than the value of the property, something I am pretty sure doesn't exist, the buyer's market is the furthest thing from it. What a good listing agent can get you is the full value of the property, but that's a very different value, and a very different mindset, in a buyer's market than it is in the seller's market San Diego had for most of the last decade.

Now, you need to ask yourself, "Why is this a buyer's market?" The answer is as simple as supply and demand. High supply and Low demand. Many people who want to sell, not very many at all who want to buy. Result: Those few buyers who are willing to be out there have all of the power. If this particular seller won't take the offer they make, the next one over, or the one after that, will.

Most sellers would agree that this is a challenge. Buyers think it's great. When I originally wrote this, sellers outnumbered buyers 44 to one. It's a real challenge to have a successful sale in such an environment.

What's a seller to do about this? Quite simply, ask yourself if you have to sell or if you have other options. If you have to sell, make up your mind that you are going to do whatever is required to make a transaction happen. This can be a lot: cleaning your house up, making it attractive, pricing it better than the competition, and not kidding yourself. The offer you are going to get still won't be anything like what you might have gotten when the market was hot, but that was when the ratio of sellers to buyers was about three to one, often less. You will be much more likely to get an offer, and remember, you decided that you need to sell.

Lest you think you aren't competing with other sellers, go find a real expert in your area to help you right now. In the entire history of United States real estate, no buyer ever bought a property because it was that seller's "turn." You are always competing against other sellers, but a buyer's market makes it far more obvious. Buyers make offers on your property because something is attractive to them where other properties are not. This can be features, this can be location, this can be willingness to do what other sellers are not, or this can be price. Usually it's a mixture. In the sort of market like when I originally wrote this - remember that 44 to 1 ratio of sellers to buyers - it's likely to be all four in great heaping gobs.

If you don't need to sell in a buyer's market, get it off the market! If you are not going to accept a much lower price than it might have gotten when the market was hot, you are wasting your time. Those few buyers who are willing to get off the sidelines are bottom feeding and bargain hunting. If you have a better choice than feeding the bargain hunting and bottom feeding buyers, take it. If your property sits on the market, then when the market does turn back, the fact it sat on the market is going to count heavily against you. The agents in the area know that it sat, believe me. I was in a half day class the day I originally wrote this with several hundred other agents. Everybody I talked to agreed that the only transactions that were happening in that market were all happening completely on the buyer's terms. If you are not willing to meet those terms, you are not merely wasting your time, but actually sabotaging your future prospects of selling for a price that you would like.

If you are not willing to do what it takes to sell, get it off the market. Not only are you sabotaging your own future plans, you are adding to all of the excess inventory that's out there as a glut on the market. Indeed, for every additional property for sale in the neighborhood, people who are willing to do what it takes to sell the property are going to have to do a little bit more. Most often, this means "settle for a lower price than they might have gotten otherwise." Just the fact that there are 238 three bedroom houses listed in the same zip code gives buyers substantially more leverage than if there were fifty, or twenty. This drops the market that you are hoping you can use to sell the property two or five years from now, and gives it further to come back, which means that the pricing level will be lower when you go to sell your property for real. Individually, extra properties on the market may not make much of a difference, but collectively, they certainly do.

If you do need to sell in a buyer's market, get all traces of the "they'll do what I want" mindset out of your head. This isn't about pride, this isn't about profit, this isn't even about breaking even. This is about stopping the bleeding. We have established that if you do not need to sell, you shouldn't have your property on the market in this environment. But you do need to sell, which makes the alternative of taking less than you think the property might be worth better than the alternative of losing it completely. For as long as buyer's markets last, that is the attitude I (or any good buyer's agent) am cultivating in my buyer clients. If you won't sell, I'll talk to your lender after the foreclosure - if someone else has not already sold to me by then. When I wrote this, in San Diego, the only power sellers really had was the power to say, "no," and if your alternative is losing the property to foreclosure, a rational, informed person will pay thousands of dollars out of their own pocket instead, accepting offers way below what they owe on the property. And if that or something similar is not your alternative, then why is your property on the market at all? Why are you contributing to the apparent glut of supply to no good purpose?

Caveat Emptor

Original here

Online Mortgage Quotes

| | Comments (0)

(This is a reprint from December 2006, with a few updates. It is instructive in the wake of a certain new mortgage quote service, launched with great fanfare. The negative amortization loan is gone, but I'm seeing lots of other fairy tales being told there - deliberate low-balling on costs and payment being most common. Heck, their automated property tax quotes are about half the real number, and there's no ability to change them.)

I got a question about what I think about those online quote services.

The answer is that they vary from okay to putrid.

There are two sorts of online quote sources. The first is where mortgage companies have their rates online, and people come along and browse. Those are pretty much a waste of your time. Here's why: Those companies have absolutely no hold and no real tracking on the people who come to browse. They might put a cookie on your machine, but it's hard to parlay those into contact information, which is their whole entire goal: Getting loans out of it. Unless they have some way of contacting you, which they don't, they need to use that forum to get you to contact them. They do this by low-balling their quotes, making it look like they are offering something nobody else has. Unfortunately for consumers, that's not even an estimate. Here in California, the one caveat is that the rate must exist, but the real costs of getting that rate can be many times the costs they quote. This suffers from all of the limitations that a Good Faith Estimate does, plus more. They can say that they've got a 3.625% rate, and as long as they have a 3.625% loan, they are in the clear. Never mind that it costs a full six points and adjusts every month, that sounds like a great loan to the uninformed (at this update, rates are actually lower than that, but this was written when a reasonable rate was in the mid fives). Furthermore, many places will quote the nominal ("in name only") as opposed to real interest rate on the negative amortization loan. When there are people apparently offering you 0.5%, that's who most consumers will call, ignoring the people who have and can really do 5.5% thirty year fixed rate loans, more so on those forums where they include a payment quote as well. I've got the same 0.5% nominal rate forty year amortization loan available to me, but it will always be a putrid loan, as the real rate is a little over 8% and the rate is subject to change every month. I should note that lenders pay a lot of yield spread to brokers who do those loans: How often do people sign on the dotted lines for mortgage rates in excess of 8% (with a three year prepayment penalty!) when rates under 5% are available on a thirty year fixed rate mortgage with no prepayment penalty at all? I'll tell you how often: Whenever people aren't smart enough to realize that that $960 payment on a $417,000 loan isn't the real rate. Indeed, they'd have to pay $2794 per month just to pay the interest - while the fully amortized payment on a thirty year fixed rate loan is hundreds less. But there are an awful lot of people who aren't smart enough right now.

Furthermore, those online forums are supposed to enforce their quotations policies. I've never heard of one that enforces real concrete penalties for violators. On two separate forums, I went straight down the line contacting every listed company, using a loan scenario that was close enough to what they were supposed to be quoting to that I should have gotten the same quote or a little bit better, if they could really do those loans. Not once did I get a rate that was within half a percent of the rate listed online, and most of them were over a full percent off, and for those quoting negative amortization loans, they weren't even in the correct ballpark. When I contacted the forums themselves, neither of them was interested in enforcement.

In short, those online quote forums tend very strongly to get business for the company that tells the biggest, most boldfaced lie. Often, the consumers are lulled by the existence of the forums into thinking they're getting a deal, and they don't bother going through the necessary steps to shop their loan around. Meanwhile, the companies that will advertise honest rates quit those forums in disgust. Since there are a lot more companies playing games with their quotes than honest ones, the forum wins by not enforcing their rules. However, since the consumer wants to find companies that really will deliver the loans they advertise, consumers lose. Matter of fact, I don't think I've ever seen a real rate on a loan I would be willing to sign up for advertised in any forum: online, newspaper, or otherwise.

The second type of online quote forum work like the advertisements plastered all over the internet. "$510,000 loan for $1698 per month!" (to use the first I found just now). They show a couple dancing happily, having a party because their mortgage payments are reduced, or so they think. Another shows a guy jumping for joy. What they don't show is those same people when they figure out all of the downsides to the negative amortization loan that they signed up for. "This is Jack calling his lawyer again, only to be told there's nothing the lawyer can do again. This is John and Jane losing their home to foreclosure."

Their come on is that you're supposed to get four competitive loan quotes. The company advertises negative amortization loan payments because more people will click on them and sign up for the service if they think they might get something so great that anyone would want it. Unfortunately, just like every other negative amortization loan out there, the payment or interest rate they quote to get you to click their ad and complete their form online is not the real payment and it is not the real rate. Yes, they will accept that as a monthly payment. But the interest you are being charged is based upon a rate of 7.87%, and you have to pay $3345 per month just to break even on the interest - that other $1647 gets added to your loan, so that next month you owe $511,647. Doesn't seem like a lot of extra, but go along for three years until the pre-payment penalty expires, and even if your rate doesn't adjust upwards, your balance is now $576,600. If you go the full five years that the minimum payments last, you owe $630,000, and now your payment jumps to $4813, and you can't refinance because you are upside-down on your mortgage, and your credit score is 100 points lower because you have that negative amortization loan!

The games don't stop here, by any means. You'll be told that there are "no costs out of your pocket," and even though they'll be rolling $23,000 in costs and points into your loan, they give you a quote based upon the amount of money you tell them you need. No, $23,000 doesn't make that much difference at half a percent forty year amortization, but it lets them quote that payment just a few dollars lower, even though they know that you want the $23,000 rolled into your loan. Nor is what they're telling you about a good loan in any way shape or form, but most people shop mortgage loans based upon payment.

Furthermore, they aren't telling the truth about four mortgage providers calling you. They may sell the lead to four different places, but those four places turn around and sell them to four others each, and each of those sells them to four more. There may be as many as six levels of this going on, and the average person who does fill out their form will be called by at least fifty providers in the first week, with others trailing out for potentially years. The lead seller doesn't care - they made their money, and they don't give refunds simply because the loan they talked about is toxic. Nor does it matter to them that the loan they talked about puts the loan providers paying them for leads in the position of either telling people - honestly - that the loan that was used to get you to sign up is a piece of garbage that causes people to lose their homes, or just selling you one of the abominations. They don't get refunds from the lead seller in the first case; they're just out the money. In the second case, they get paid roughly 3.75% of the loan amount by the bank ($19,125 on a $510,000 loan), plus whatever points of origination that they can con you out of. Finally, if they don't, they know that one of the fifty or more other companies that will be calling you will sell you one of those loans. So their motivations are not on the side of telling you the downsides of their loan. Matter of fact, their motivations are never aligned with telling you the downsides of the loan, so if you find someone willing to talk frankly about good and bad, they are a treasure and it is worth keeping their contact information, and making a habit of talking to them first about future loans.

Once upon a time, if you could cut through the morass of fifty or more companies calling, those "competitive quotes" ads were a great way to find a good loan provider. Ethical low cost loan providers could make a very good living buying those leads. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case. First off, ninety-nine percent of the leads you pay for were lured in with the promise of a negative amortization loan. You don't get refunds for those. You are just out the money, time, and phone expense of calling those folks - unless you make a habit of selling negative amortization loans, which low cost ethical providers do not. Furthermore, even on the few leads that are not lured in by Negative Amortization payments, just because you don't try and sell them a negative amortization loan doesn't mean that one of the other fifty companies won't. Having been there and done that, I can tell you from experience that trying to talk people out of negative amortization loans is usually a waste of breath - the competing company will use conspiratorial tactics like, "That's because this mortgage is too good - they don't want you to have it!" People want to believe in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and Negative Amortization Loans. Bottom line for ethical loan providers: paying these services for leads no longer works. You cannot make any money at it. Since making money is what you're about, and the payoff is too low to survive on the thin margins of good providers, you are driven elsewhere for your business leads. Since that's the type of loan provider consumers want, it's a waste of time to go to either sort of online mortgage quote service.

At this update, negative amortization loans are now long gone, but all of the old standby games are still being played. "Forgetting" about adjusters that apply, lowballing the actual rate/cost tradeoff, quoting rates for a loan there is no way the people will qualify for, (there's quite a divergence currently), quoting conforming rates when the loan should be non-conforming, and forgetting to add the costs to the loan balance when quoting payment. Anything to get you to call.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

I usually write medium-long articles, I try to write articles you can read in a few minutes, on break or lunch, but sometimes that's just not compatible with giving the readers an understanding of the subject. Part of that is because I've done all of the easy subjects, part because sound bites facilitate sloganeering, not serious thought that's likely to result in a better answer - or the realization that you've been wrong in the past.

But long articles take a lot of time (not that short ones are easy, as Mark Twain knew well). So I've been trying to come up with ideas for short articles, and one of the things I came up with was: Pack a list of the most important things consumers need to know about mortgage loans, as packed into the words I can say in thirty seconds without sounding like an over-clocked squirrel.

Here goes:

***

There is always a tradeoff between rate and cost. Never choose a loan based upon payment or APR. Shop by the cost of money and what you get - not by how much somebody is making. People refinance about every three years, so the higher rate may be better.

Ask the right questions of every lender. Lenders can legally lowball you on the initial paperwork, and this isn't changing. The new disclosure rules were intended to make this more difficult but failed, while the new market rules make it impossible to get a guarantee that means anything at sign up, and not even I can do back up loans anymore. Now more than ever, you need to have a real problem solving type discussion with prospective loan officers, rather than quote shopping, because what someone tells you to get you to sign up may have no relationship to what they actually deliver.

***

How'd I do?


Caveat Emptor

This has been significantly altered from a prior article found here

(This was originally published March 18th, 2006. I've added a couple updates, but otherwise it's as published. It's still very relevant, and if there's anyone that wants to tell me I didn't nail it, please speak up)

Somebody wrote a comment about going upside-down on their mortgage:


What happens if the property value falls and becomes far less than the loan ammount? (POP) Lets say you get a loan for $280,000 on a home that was $330,00 and then three years later is is only worth $150,000, but you still owe $250,000 on it?
(sic)

Now "upside-down" in the context of a mortgage is just slang for owing more than the property is theoretically worth. This is a tough situation to be in, and there's not much that can be done while you're in it except get through it. Before, yes. After, yes. During, no.

I've predicted that this is going to be a widespread phenomenon over the next few years, and it's going to cause a world of hurt, but it doesn't need to include YOU, unless this has already happened, and I thought Sandy Eggo, where I live, to be on the bleeding edge of bubble problems, and appraisers are still able to justify near peak values even here.

Surviving being upside down is actually pretty easy if you have the correct loan. I bought near the peak of the last cycle, and was upside down myself for little while. If you take nothing else away from this article, understand that the only time your current home value is important is when you sell or when you refinance. If you don't need to either sell or refinance, it does not matter what the value of your home is. It could be twenty-nine cents. It's still a good place to live. You've still got the loan you always did. You should be able to keep on keeping on until the situation corrects. Prices will come back sooner or later.

The key is to have a sustainable loan. I did. I had a five year fixed period, during which time the market recovered and I paid down my loan. By the time I went to refinance, five years later, things were better.

This is the real sin of the local real estate and mortgage industry. Yeah, the bubble's going to pop, and everybody knows it. Actually, it's already had significant price deflation. But if they had been putting folks into longer term sustainable loans, they'd be fine. Instead we've had about forty percent of purchase money loans being negative amortization and another forty percent being two year fixed interest only loans. The period of low payments for the former, and the fixed, interest only periods for the latter, are going to expire while prices are still down. That would be tolerable if the people could make the new payment, but if they could have made the new payment, they would have been in longer term fixed rate fully amortizing loans in the first place. What's going to happen next is kind of like when Wile E. Coyote looks down.

I've been telling people there are no magic solutions to the problem for over three years now. If you borrow the money, you're going to have to pay it back. Make the payments now or make them later, and the later it gets the worse it will be. There is no such thing as free lunch, and those who pretend that there is are not your friends. The Universe knows how much more money I could have made by keeping my mouth shut and screwing the customer. $200,000 is a conservative estimate. Instead of struggling to convince people to do the smart thing these last eighteen months, I could have been glad-handing everyone in sight and making a mint off of ignorant people. But then there would be court dates looming in my future (those in my profession who were not so careful are going to be in for a hard time, and I hope you'll forgive my schadenfreude when it happens. Those con artists masquerading as professionals stole a lot of money from me and from the people who became their clients by convincing them they could afford more house than they could, or by not admitting to the tremendous downside of what they were offering the client. "No, he just wants you to do business with him and he can't do what I'm doing." I could have gotten the loans, as I informed more than one of the clients I lost, and on better terms, but I wanted them to know the downsides. So I lost the business to the con artist who pretended there wasn't one. There were downsides, but people want to believe the con artist).

What to do if it has become obvious you're headed for the canyon? Figure out what your payment is going to do for the next several years. Determine if you're going to be able to make that payment before it happens to you. If not, refinance now if you can, sell if you can't. Pay the prepayment penalty if you have to, because given a choice between a prepayment penalty and foreclosure, the former is much better.

If you want to refinance, find a long term fixed rate loan. Minimum of five years fixed, fully amortized. Since thirty year fixed rate loans are actually about the same rate as 5/1 ARMS right now, I've been recommending the thirty year fixed for almost everyone. This is a loan that never changes, and you never have to refinance because the payment is going to jump.

(UPDATE: 5/1s are now significantly cheaper than thirty year fixed rate loans again)

The critical factor for refinancing is the appraisal. The critical factor for the appraisal is how much value can be justified by the appraiser. In order to justify the value, there have to be comparable recent sales (not more than one year old) in your neighborhood. The appraisers don't always have to choose the most recent; they have the option of choosing better matches for your home. May the universe help you if there are model matches selling for less in your condominium complex, because there the lender is going to insist on the most recent sales. All the more reason to act now, while you can, rather than wait and hope.

(UPDATE: With Home Valuation Code of Conduct the appraisal has become the source of more problems than any other aspect of a real estate or mortgage transaction)

If you're already over the chasm and prices have fallen, consult some local agents about selling. Short payoffs are no fun, but in the vast majority of cases, they're better than foreclosure if you're not going to be able to make your payments. At least when they're done, they're done. Foreclosure is a hole that keeps on draining you long after you've lost the house, and after it's cost you thousands of dollars more than a short sale (and if sale prices continue down, that 1099 love note from the lender after the foreclosure is going to be worse). As for waiting, well, if it's an honest consensus that things are coming right back, but here in San Diego the Association of Realtors had not yet admitted there's price deflation despite it going on for almost a full year. They've been playing games with reported figures to make it seem like things are rosy. There are obvious motivations for this, not all of which are explained by self-interested greed, but it's not something you can paper over and ignore indefinitely.

Who's to blame for the impending train wreck? I'm not really into blame, but here are several targets. Unscrupulous lenders and agents bear a lot of blame, but not the exclusive burden. Panic and greed on behalf of the buyers is certainly a significant part. And if several folks are telling you that the best loan they have is five and a half or six percent or even six and a half, shouldn't a normal, rational adult be suspicious of an offer that's theoretically at one percent? I can maybe believe somebody who offers something a quarter of a percent better than the competition. Half a percent might be just barely possible at the same price. Somebody who offers money, of all things, that's less expensive by an interest rate factor of five isn't telling you the whole truth. (Unfortunately, in this case, these loans are so easy to sell on the basis of minimum payment and nominal rate, it got to the point where these loans were what the vast majority of agents and loan officers were talking about)

As a final note, 125% loans do exist (UPDATE: Not really, anymore, but for a while, there was a 125% refi in place program enacted by Fannie and Freddie, if your loan was backed by them), but they are ugly. Very ugly. Not as ugly as Negative Amortization, but ugly, and the payments and interest rates aren't any more stable than the real terms on those Negative Amortization loans. They don't do stated income, either, or non-recourse loans. You stiff those folks, they will get the money out of you.

Prices are going to come back up. It's as predictable as the fact that they were going to fall. Can't tell you when, anymore than I could tell you when exactly they would start falling. (UPDATE: Housing recovery is ready to happen, whenever the government pulls it's head out of where it is right now) Doesn't mean it won't happen. The trick is to have a sustainable situation in the meantime, and this means a loan with payments you can make every month, month after month, indefinitely until the loan is paid off or you have the ability to refinance or sell. If you've got this, someday you'll be telling yourself how happy you are that you bought that property. If you don't have it, get it. If you can't get it, get out.

Caveat Emptor

(I originally published this March 18, 2006, but most of it is still highly relevant.)

from an email:

First let me say that I really learned a lot from your postings/articles/website; its awesome that a resource like yourself exists.


Now to the problem. I recently refinanced and the mortgage broker lied to me about many, many things. I was sold a negative amortization mortgage. The broker provided me a chart showing my payment schedule for 30 yrs; it showed my payment split between interest & principal. I was told that my rate was fixed for 5 yrs and that it would go up to as high as 9% after the 5 yr period. When the closing came and I inquired about the 9% highlights in the docs and the negative amortization disclosures he stated that they didn't apply to me or this loan. He pointed to the section of the doc that stated that my payments would be fixed for 5 years and that my interest rate would also be fixed for that 5 year period. After closing I received the docs from the lender which outlined the fact that I had 4 choices for payments and when I called for the explanation I almost died. The broker apparently didn't really understand the loan at all; he has now offered to refinance me without any fees...but I am supposedly stuck with the prepayment penalty. When the broker and I originally discussed the penalty he explained that I would probably want to refinance at the end of the 5 yr period anyways so I shouldn't worry about it. The broker also took my lead from a mortgage company he was working with when I originally inquired about the refinance. About 2 weeks into the process he told me that he had quit his job @ the mortgage company and was now out on his own as a broker (emphasis mine DM). Only now did I just realize that he really didn't have the ownership of my lead as his original employer paid for it & provided it to him during his employment. I'm sure that his original employer would be very disappointed to learn that he had taken the business with him when he resigned.

Now that the problems been explained my questions are as follows; Can I sue the broker to recover the refinance fees and the prepayment penalty?

Can the broker that lied to me and provided all the false info be sued or charged; can he lose his mortgage brokers license?

Any advice as to what I can do/what I should do at this point? Thanks in advance for any info you can provide. Please let me know if you respond directly to emails or if I need to go to a specific website to look for a reply.

There are several issues raised here. The largest major red flag is about the Negative Amortization Loan Disclosures. If it didn't apply to your loan, why did they present them to you? There isn't a good answer to that question. If something does not apply to your loan, you are within your rights to not sign. If they don't apply to your loan, then the lender doesn't need it. I don't have my clients sign negative amortization disclosures for thirty year fixed rate loans, or anything else to which they don't apply. There are any number of disclosures that legally have to be filled out for every loan and sometimes multiple disclosures for basically the same purpose. I had to do four "equal opportunity" disclosures for my most recent loan. But those are utterly harmless, simply informing you of your rights. A negative amortization disclosure isn't. With that, they can prove that you were told that your loan was negative amortization, and you must have been expecting it, because you signed it, didn't you? That's the lawyer's logic.

I am rapidly becoming more aware of a trend with unscrupulous mortgage lenders: Instead of putting bad stuff in the actual Note, they are adding it on as part of the all the disclosures people have to sign, hiding it in packs of supplemental stuff along with all of the standard stuff that everyone knows have to get signed. Sometimes, they are even coming back to people after funding and asking them to sign horrible things, prepayment penalties and negative amortization disclosures, among others, "for compliance." I want to see a standard booklet or checklist of forms that actually are required by law for every loan, so that innocent consumers who are trying to do the best they can know what is and isn't required by law.

If disclosures do not apply to your loan, do not sign them. They don't need it to fund your loan. There is no reason why someone who's getting an amortized, or even interest only loan, needs to sign a negative amortization disclosure. Just refuse to sign. If it doesn't apply to your loan, then they don't need it to fund your loan. If they then fund your loan and it is negative amortization, you have a good case, so they're not likely to fund it. Refusing to sign stuff that does not apply to your loan protects you.

Now, as to the broker not understanding that the loan was negative amortization: I suppose it's possible. There are people out there in my industry who are mind-numbingly stupid. But the odds are overwhelmingly in favor of the likelihood that they lied to you. There are required submission forms on every loan that most consumers will never see, but it's a requirement for the loan officer to fill them out. They are filled out and submitted with your loan package, and they quite clearly indicate all the relevant facts of your loan.

Now, as to your options going forward. There's nothing wrong with people quitting their employers and going into business for themselves, if they provide good loans at a good cost. Yes, his former employer may want to sue him for the commission he earned, and such might be one way of extracting vengeance, if such is your mindset, but it's not going to help you at all. Nor should you care about who "owned" the lead. You as a consumer are not obligated to anyone except the provider who delivered the best loan at the lowest real cost. And of course the broker who did your loan wants to get paid again with a new loan. Since they are claiming to be stupid enough to drop your state's average IQ by twenty points, you may have to give him directions as to exactly which tall building or cliff you want him to jump off of. They have proven that they are not worthy of your business or anyone else's. Please do make a formal written complaint to your state department that regulates mortgages. In most states it's the Department of Real Estate, but if it's not, they will know who to direct you to. This person should lose their license and be barred from the industry for life over this. Unfortunately, your complaint alone probably won't do it, but people who get multiple complaints do lose their licenses, and sometimes, one is enough, if it's egregious enough.

The next issue is what can the writer of this email sue for? I'm not a lawyer, but every adult in the United States should know the answer to that question is "anything at all," or even "nothing." The better question is where are you likely to recover money, and how much? Once again, I'm not a lawyer and you should talk to one, but I strongly doubt that you've got a good case for anything in civil court. He's got all of those documents you signed ("the weight of the evidence"), and even if you get some jury to agree that you are owed money, it's likely to be overturned upon appeal. This is why unscrupulous folks want you to sign all those documents.

What do you want to do? You indicate your interest rate is fixed, and it must have been low enough to be attractive. If this is the case, make your monthly payments on time, and make the fully amortized payment, usually the third payment option on Negative Amortization ("Pick A Pay") loans. However, I don't believe that is likely to really be the case. I have never once seen one of these abominations where the real interest rate was fixed, or where the real interest rate was competitive with amortized loans. The attraction of these loans is low payment, and the real interest rate is usually at least 1.5% more than I could get the same person on a fully amortized 5/1 ARM, and right now thirty year fixed rate loans are about the same as the 5/1 ARM. People who don't know any better get the low payment, the bank gets your signature on a loan that's 1.5 percent higher than you could have gotten, and people who don't know any better will line up and fight for these loans! They are easier to sell than free beer to people who don't know any better! The hard thing is selling them something else when other providers are telling them about Option ARMs. So you're probably going to want to refinance, as over a three year period, 1.5 percent rate differential will save you a lot more than the pre-payment penalty.

I answer question emails directly. It may take me a few days, but I do answer them, provided they don't get lost in the spam filter. If it's an issue I haven't covered before, or only tangentially, I do like to use questions as the basis for new articles, but I answer questions asked via email by return email. If there are already good answers on my site, I'll send you the link, because it was obviously too hard to find it. If there aren't, you'll get your question answered before any article appears.

Please ask if this does not answer all of your questions!

Caveat Emptor

Original here

I went out previewing properties a couple days ago. That particular client's situation being what it is, I was concentrating on vacant properties. But over half the vacant properties in that area had restricted showing instructions. "Call agent first," or "call for appointment to see."

When the property is vacant, there just aren't any common reasons to restrict showing. It's not like the buyer's agent is going to surprise grandma in the shower or even could make off with the big screen TV. If you're really trying to sell it, if it's vacant, it's empty, at least of your stuff, and the stager's (if there is one) had better be insured. If there really is some reason to restrict showings, it should be somewhere on that listing report. But I'm seeing this schlock on lender-owned properties, where there is exactly zero reason for it, at least as far as the owner is concerned.

Sometimes, it goes so far that they will lie about availability. I call the agent about the property, and am told it's not available. I then get a friend to call as an interested party, and they're told it is still for sale. There just isn't a way to spin that as anything other than a gross and willful dereliction of the listing agent's obligations to his client.

What the listing agent is trying to do is control access, so that people like my clients have a gatekeeper. Why? So that the listing agent has the ability to block other agents from showing the property, therefore forcing people who want to view the property to become their clients also, and keep both halves of the commission (as well as forcing people to sign exclusive buyer's agency contracts just to see it). If the offer they bring in isn't as good, or isn't as quick (thereby costing the owner money), they still made twice as much or more in commission if they represent the buyer as well.

I strongly suspect that many agents - and yes, I'm keeping track of who, even though I'll never share it - play gatekeeper with offers as well. I send over an offer, follow up, and I never hear back. I call the agent, and am informed my offer was rejected, but I never see anything with the client's signature or even initials. I don't list many, but when I do, every single offer gets a written response, even if it's just "Offer rejected!" signed by the owner. It's illegal for me (as a prospective Buyer's Agent) to contact the owner directly to confirm that they know about an offer, or I would. I could really get behind a law that said I could send a postcard to the owner that says: "Dear Mr./Mrs. X. My client made an offer on your property recently at 1234 Name Street. If you are already aware of this, please disregard this notice. If you are not, please contact your listing agent about the details. If they cannot satisfy you as to whether you previously saw it, please direct all complaints to the California Department of Real Estate at XXX-XXX-XXXX." Boy would that be a good use for postage. Agents who did their job would have nothing to fear; agents who failed would be out of the business fast.

The motivations of the seller are to show that property as often as possible, to as many people as possible. No showing means no offer. No offer means no sale. Therefore, anything which is a nonessential impediment to showing that property should be dealt with, and agent restrictions are one of these. Believe me, I understand about not wanting client phone numbers in MLS databases, because the last time I had a listing decide they wanted to postpone the listing (therefore withdrawing it from MLS), they told me they got over a hundred solicitations from agents who ignored both the "do not call" list and the fact that I still had a valid listing contract at the time, which they didn't bother to ask about. It's illegal to solicit another agent's listing in California. If it wasn't, people who list their properties would be getting phone solicitations from 8 AM until 9 PM every day, and the junk mail would kill entire forests.

But the seller, whether they realize it or not, wants their property shown as often as possible, to as many people as possible. That's how you get get good offers, or even better, multiple offers that you can play off one another. Anytime you make it more difficult for anyone to view your property, you make it less likely they will view it, less likely they will make an offer, and less likely that it will be a good offer. The sharks out there don't care about viewing restrictions. They're willing to make their low-ball offers sight unseen, albeit with inspection contingencies. And even a shark's offer is better than no offer if you need to sell.

So how does a Buyer's Agent deal with problem personality listing agents? About the only thing I can do is not waste my time and most especially that of my clients on their nonsense. The only one with the power to deal with such antics is owner of the property. Just insisting that you want to see all offers isn't enough. How are you going to know? You can ask that instructions go into MLS for making certain that you get duplicates of all offers. E-mail, fax number, address, or even a PO Box if you have one. Buyer's Agents can't bypass the Listing Agent, but they can send duplicates if the MLS instructs them to.

Even better is to insist that the Listing Agent forswear the possibility of Dual Agency, or they don't get the listing. In other words, no matter what, they will not get the Buyer's Agent's part of the commission. As I have said many times, make them pick a side of the transaction - yours - and stick to it. The listing agent can refer buyers to another agent, or the buyers can go without representation - it's not your problem. Actually, as a seller, you would prefer that the buyer go unrepresented. Not only will you get a better price from the poor fool, you get to keep the Buyer's Agent Commission. But this way, the listing agent has no motivation to not present offers from other agents, and you can give them a flat $1000 to handle the paperwork so they won't shoo suckers away. You are perfectly within your rights, by the way, to make whether you are going to pay a buyer's agent commission part of your decision making process on offers, but it isn't a good idea to make too big a deal out of it. Most of the reasonable offers you get will be represented by a Buyer's Agent of some stripe.

Nor does it demotivate them from open houses and all that. It is more likely that the people I meet at open houses will want to buy something else anyway. Oh, I do sell listings through open houses - but the one who actually buys that house due to the open house is usually a contact of the neighbor who comes in with no possibility of buying themselves. Curious neighbors at open houses may be the most likely source of the kind of sale price that makes clients happy - if you treat them correctly. Internet marketing is cheap and easy and effective enough that it's worth doing just to get the listing commission. And when the property goes into escrow and people call about the ad in the monthly magazine I put an ad in, well I just find something similar if not better to sell them. Remember that I'm always looking for bargains, and I've usually got several properties in mind where the sellers are more desperate than I ever allow my listings to get.

This isn't all of the games that listing agents play to try and get themselves a larger commission. Many try to require a pre-qualification letter from a particular lender, which is over the border into illegality, or even requiring that you use their loan brokerage, which a dead center violation of RESPA - no borderline about it. I ignore either of these requests, and I'm not above bringing the latter to the attention of the Department of Real Estate. The vast majority of all pre-qualifications are worthless. Nonetheless, the tactics I've suggested cover you against them pretty thoroughly. One more worthwhile tactic if you don't follow my advice about disallowing Dual Agency is to walk into their office at random intervals, and insist that they pull an agent report - as opposed to client report that is all the general public is usually allowed to see - for your property in your presence and give it to you. You are allowed to see agent reports on your own property (and only on your own property), as the privacy reasons that restrict agents from showing agent reports to the general public do not apply. Look at the showing instructions. Does it say what you want it to? Are the requests for making offers restrictive? If not, you may have legal grounds to terminate the listing, and you should want to, because the reason MLS evolved the way it has is to encourage the widest possible interest in your property. A listing agent who wants to restrict that so that they can receive both parts of the commission is moving you back into the days of the single listing half a century ago, and that is not in your best interest, not for price, not for timeliness of sale, and not for the ability of prospective buyers to actually qualify.

Caveat Emptor

Original here


Here's the real issue about commissions: They need to be structured to incentivize good results - rewarding those agents who do good work, and just as importantly, penalizing those who don't. The current structure, where the brokerage gets a flat percentage of official sales price - doesn't really motivate agents to perform. It really doesn't make a huge difference to the brokerage whether a property sells for $500,000 or $400,000. Assuming a 3% commission, they get $15,000 in the first case, while getting $12,000 in the second, despite that any monkey should be able to sell a $500k property for $400k. Basically, they get 80% of the reward for doing nothing (worse than nothing really), but that failure makes a huge difference for the property owners. If they owe $400,000, that's the difference between going on to their next property with about $60,000 in their pocket or coming up short about $30,000 and having to do a Short Payoff, with all of the resultant consequences to that family's future. Nonetheless, at 3% commission, all this means is the difference between $12,000 to the brokerage and $15,000. There is a dissonance between the interests of the owner, who this makes a $90,000 plus difference to, versus the agent who will still get 80% of the same paycheck if they do nothing but persuade the owner to accept the first lowball offer that comes along.

This dichotomy of interests encourages all sorts of games, from "buying a listing" (leading a homeowner to believe the property will sell for more than it will in order to secure the listing) to failing to negotiate hard to accepting too many listings to be properly serviced. If I can really service six listings, and I take ten, the individual selling prices will suffer while I make more money - ten times $12,000 is more than six times $15,000. Most agents - just like most people - will do what aligns with their personal interests.

The major alternatives - "net listing", where the consumer "nets" a certain amount and money over that goes to the brokerage, and "Flat fee listing" don't really float my boat either. The first has the advantage of pay for performance and severely discourages agents from over-promising on price; nonetheless the homeowner isn't motivated to maintain the property, and the agent is a little too motivated to wait for a better offer that isn't likely to come. As for the "flat fee listing", all that motivates the listing agent to do is get it sold - never mind the price. Whether the owner makes $60,000 by selling for a great price, or loses $30,000 by not getting so great of a price, that's all the same to the agent with a "flat fee" contract. But the owner wants it to make a difference to the agent, because they want that agent to get the best possible price, not just the first offer. As for the "flat fee in advance" listing, why should that brokerage want the property to sell at all? They've made their money already! If the property sells, now they have to do all that work and assume all that additional liability!

What we really want is a fee structure where the agent is motivated to get the highest possible price as soon as possible, the latter being more important than is generally recognized, as carrying costs eat profits very quickly, especially if the family vacates so as to show the property to best advantage and get the best price, or if they've already moved to their new home for whatever reason.

There should be several terms in this equation. It should take the form a+b+c+... For every factor the owner and the agent can agree upon having an effect upon consumer benefit, there should be a term in the compensation equation. Note that if the agent doesn't measure up in some way, any of these terms (except the one for doing the base paperwork) should be able to go negative. It's likely that good agents should be making more for listings than they are, while ineffective bozos quickly go bankrupt.

I'm not concerned with getting paid for a listing that fails to sell. In fact, I consider the concept anathema to a good agent - or any other business. If I do not get the job done, I do not deserve to be paid. Nor does any other agent or any other business. The world doesn't pay off on a good try (let alone a bad one), and my experience is that listings that don't sell aren't likely to have been a good try. I just visited a listing yesterday, a preview for a prospective client. Showing instructions said "vacant -go" Got there, it's a combo lockbox, but no combo anywhere. Spend half an hour in the front yard on the cellphone trying to get a combo from agent, listing office, the number the listing office referred me to, the number I was referred to from that, and so on. Finally gave up. How many others like me have there done that? Sounds like an agent who wants both halves of the commission to me, discouraging prospective buyers represented by other agents. Sound like someone you want to work with? Sound like someone you want to reward if you do inadvertently sign up with them?

This doesn't change the fact that if it does sell, there's a given amount of work no matter what the price is, and a given amount of liability. That's just part of being in this business. No matter how careful you are, no matter how good you are, eventually something is going to bite you. It's just a fact of life, and is the reason for E&O insurance. Just because I haven't been bitten yet doesn't mean it won't ever happen. The commission structure needs to recognize this fact of life, or it will fail. But this is not how agents should earn most of their money, and most agents don't do this paperwork themselves, but have assistants paid as little as they can get away with to do it. A flat fee of $1000 is probably about right in California. Enough to pay the rent, the utilities, and the receptionist who actually generates the paperwork off WinForms for most offices.

Performance pay is a separate issue, and should be a separate term in the equation. I'll happily pay $20 to make $100 ("here's another $20 if you bring me another $100!"). The most central idea of engaging an agent is to get a better price for the property. My client shouldn't be expected to pay me if I'm not performing services of value - enabling them to get higher price for a quicker sale and less. Any twit should be able to get $300,000 for a property that's worth $400,000. That's not a valuable service, and that's not something an agent should get paid for. If the agent can't get a good enough sale price to meet even a minimum test of benefit for the client, they should lose money. If the sale price is low enough, it should eat up even the base transaction fee, or even send the commission negative - the agent pays the consumer for so badly bungling the transaction. This is nothing unusual in other businesses. Even doing mortgages, I'm perfectly prepared to pay money out of my own pocket if I can't deliver a loan on the terms I quote (for reasons other than client not telling me the whole truth, that is!). The goal is complete consumer satisfaction, and taking money when my client doesn't benefit doesn't help my business in the long term either.

This performance pay should be steeper than current standards. Between ten and twenty percent is about what I think will do the most good. Give the agent a good solid incentive to want a higher price if they think its coming, while still reserving the lion's share of the benefit to the client. If I get Joe a price $20,000 higher than he would have gotten without me, Joe should be quite happy paying me a portion of that money by prior negotiated agreement. I would be ecstatically happy to do so in the reverse situation. And if you wouldn't happily pay it, I suggest you need a financial guardian because you're not economically sane. You want the agent to have a personal incentive to make that money for you. But it should be 10-20% of the excess or shortage relative to a base amount - whatever the seller and their listing agent think it could be sold without the agent benefit. It should also be based upon the sale price net of all negotiated "seller givebacks" not related to specific later discoveries (i.e. inspections and requests for repairs based upon them). I am talking about the NET sales price, not gross. If you have to give a buyer back $15,000 on a $300,000 sale, it's really a $285,000 sale, not a $300,000 sale. On the other hand, If an inspection shows unsuspected repairs costing $20,000 are needed, the seller would have to pay that anyway, and it's not the agent's fault that need exists. But the idea is that client benefit should translate into agent commission, and client detriment should translate into money out of that agent's pocket.

There should also be a healthy term built into the equation to reward or penalize the agent for a quicker sale or a slower one. This can be based upon a flat duration, or upon average days on market for properties in the same class. More expensive properties take longer to move - that's just a fact. But this component term should be based upon date of sale, and should be based upon a very high percentage of carrying costs for the property - about thirty to fifty percent, maybe even sixty. I'll happily pay fifty bucks if it means I don't have to pay a hundred - that is real savings! Say average days on market in a given market are roughly 120 from listing to close of escrow, and it costs $4000 per month to carry the property. So for every month above or below four months, at fifty percent carrying costs, the agent gets $2000 more or pays $2000. If it's a six month listing with no offers, the agent pays $4000 at the conclusion. This would force agents to learn what are and are not qualified offers, and force agents to live with the same kinds of tradeoffs that our clients do. No more, "Sorry that escrow didn't close. It happens," when it should be part of our business to know that that offer was pie in the sky in the first place. When it's their own pay being docked, agents will learn to do real investigation.

So far, the structure the ideal listing commission formula looks like this. $X basic commission, plus or minus $Y price performance (based upon 10-20% commission for over- or under-performing a certain price mark, plus or minus $Z time performance. Note that all of these are based upon demonstrable good for the client, and the client ends up with more money in their pocket as a result of every penny that agent is paid in incentive.

There should be one more flat component built in, contingent upon events. You don't want agents discouraging other offers, but you don't want them turning away foolish buyers who don't want a buyer's agent either. If someone is foolish enough to come in unrepresented by an agent, you don't want to shoo them away. So a fee for handling the buyer's end of the transaction is in order if there's no buyer's agent is a good idea - roughly half a percent of the sales price seems about right. Not enough that your agent is turning away offers made through other agents or pretending they don't exist, but enough so that they won't shoo any unrepresented buyers away, either.

None of this has any bearing upon the buyer's agency commission. That's a completely separate issue, and a separate article. But there are two issues you don't want happening to you. You don't want the listing agent discouraging buyer's agents so they can get both halves of the commission, and you don't want them shooing away an unrepresented sucker because it's extra work and liability that they won't get paid for.

Here's the really fun part: all of these terms need to get negotiated with every listing. Furthermore, it would tell a consumer quite a bit about whether they can really expect to get that listing price. I certainly wouldn't take a listing on terms which I wouldn't expect to get paid for, and neither would most agents.

As I've said, good agents would probably make more on this scheme, while poor ones will make considerably less, if they don't end up actually paying the client. You'd have agents advertising their average commission - paying a higher commission would do clients demonstrable good, rather than the standard "statistical studies show" argument NAR wants us to make. "Yes, I happily paid Joe $16,000 because because we agreed anyone could sell it for $250,000 in six months, and he closed a sale for $300,000 in thirty-two days." That's a five percent plus listing commission if the agent can pull it off - far more than any percentage I've ever heard of - that the seller was happy to pay because they demonstrably made more money and spent about $10,000 less in carrying costs! If an agent is that good, they can make that kind of money on every listing, and the clients won't be asking "What do you do to earn that money?" They'll be lining up to pay it! But to earn it, the has to deliver something good for the client, and if he can't help the client, he's going to end up owing the client money. Performance becomes the reason why agents are paid, individual performance for individual clients. It completely kills "buying listings", it completely kills "do nothing" agents as well as clueless ones, it discourages accepting more listings than you can service, it discourages working with more clients than you can handle, and it rewards agents who can actually get the job done better by the only universal measures - more money actually in the client's pockets sooner, with fewer carrying costs. The client benefit always leads to the agent reward - and client detriment always leads to agent penalty.

(the obstacles to it becoming standard practice are immense, because it would completely kill the idea and utility of National Brand Real Estate, or any branding above the individual agent level, and it's the big chains control the industry and lobbying - but that doesn't stop you from negotiating it for your own sale with an individual agent)

This does appear to be legal in California at least. It doesn't require any systemic changes - it all can be written into the listing contract, and it has no effect upon anyone other than seller and listing agent, meaning that if it's legal, there are no other interested parties, and a rational consumer would be as happy as a good agent to sign that listing contract, and happy to pay that commission, because it means they made even more money!

Isn't that what clients want? Isn't that what agents should get paid for? Don't you want an agent that's motivated for your benefit?

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

Found this on a public forum


I need help to stop foreclosure on my home. I need to sell quickly? I am a couple months behind on my payments and want to sell now. I am not looking to make a profit just need to get what i owe.

Boy, did the sharks swarm over that one! There were at least a dozen offers to purchase before I saw it.

Anybody will buy your house for half the market value. The mere prospect of a seller who is desperate and doesn't know any better sends these folks into paroxysms of lust - lust for the profit they're going to make on the property.

Contact an agent about selling at quick sale prices. Offer 2% or 2.5% to the listing agent, 3% or whatever is average or slightly above in your area to the buyers agent. Even a quick sale price should get you at least 80% of value. Yes, that will cost you 5%. But you'll come out with 75% of value net, instead of the fifty you'll get doing business with the sharks. If your loan balance is anywhere under 75% of the value, this puts more money in your pocket. If your loan balance is more than that, it means you'll owe less in taxes when the lender hits you with a 1099. Not to mention that trying to sell a short payoff without a good agent is an exercise in futility.

Now this is not to say that you should list it for 80% of your most fevered imagination of what it is worth. You need to sell, as in have someone offer a price that they can actually pay you, and quickly. You need offers. Ideally, you want multiple offers fast. You do this by not over-pricing the market value of your property, so that you will attract people who want to look, and they think it's a good price so they make an offer. The offer will not be full asking price, and don't waste your time hoping that you will get such an offer. Once that Notice of Default hits, everybody knows that you need to sell. To use one example I'm going through with a buyer client right now, if your property is a two bedroom place that basically looks like wild animals have been living there, and your list price is 99% of the three bedroom down the street, you are not going to get it, and you have a deadline, while your prospective buyers do not. You need to figure out what it is really worth by sales of comparable property happening right now, and then you need to discount that price by enough to make a difference. How much? Depends upon what your local market is like. That's part of what good agents get paid for.

Toss any concept of "negotiating room" or "getting what the property is worth" out of your head. Get your attitude completely out of the seller's market we had a few years ago. In this situation, all of the power is in the hands of the prospective buyers. If you won't sell for what they offer, the one down the street who is a little bit smarter, or a little bit more desperate, will. Sellers have little enough power right now without the deadline of foreclosure. People who need to sell have only the power to say no, and what happens if they don't say yes to someone? I'll tell you what happens: You get nothing. The chances are better of flying to the moon by flapping your arms than of getting some of your equity back out of a foreclosed property, even in the strongest of markets. Since your best alternative is lose everything you have in the property, that's not a strong negotiating position. This buyer does not have to have your property. They can go find a more attractive property, cheaper, from someone else. Their best alternative in negotiations is that they go find some other seller who will sell for what they want to offer. Negotiating position: Very strong. Net result, the buyer offers what the property is worth to them. If you won't take it, they only need a bit of patience to find something else that will. If you didn't need to sell, you could just hold on to the property, of course, but we've already determined that you don't have that option, and time is not your friend. A very large proportion of agents still have their heads in seller's market mode. Indeed, most of the major chains are still telling their agents to think like it's a seller's market. This kind of thinking is of no use in the present market, as residential property owners are re-discovering in San Diego County now that the things that drove the feeding frenzy have cooled off. Even during that feeding frenzy, there were properties that didn't sell. which is a warning now that the market has cooled again. When you consider the time constraints of selling under pending foreclosure, it behooves you to understand your position.

The only power a seller in this situation can get is by pricing it attractively enough that there are multiple offers that a good agent who's willing to work hard and really negotiate with all of them can leverage into something reasonable. Playing them off one against another is all you've got - and please note that the buyer who is willing to give the most is still going to get a better deal than they would have otherwise, because the thing that attracts them is that the property is a distress sale.

The sharks who buy properties for cash won't match the prices you get by selling through the normal marketplace. Ever. But even the normal marketplace does not reward you for being in a situation where you must sell.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

I am continually horrified how many people shop their loans by APR, just as I am by people shopping their loan based upon payment. Why? Because in either case, you're setting yourself up to spend a lot of money in closing costs that most people will never recover. But you shouldn't choose a loan based upon APR, just like you should never choose a loan based upon payment.

There is always a tradeoff between rate and cost in real estate loans. If you want a lower rate, you're going to spend more in up-front costs to get it. This is a law of finance on the same order as the law of gravity, or Newton's laws of movement. Some lenders and originators have different tradeoffs, for better or worse, but they are always present. The question of rate should never be asked or answered on its own, but always in conjunction with the costs it takes to get that rate. If you keep a loan long enough, yes, you will eventually get back your upfront investment, but most people don't keep their loans nearly long enough.

When you buy down a rate to a lower rate (A paper loans are in increments of one eighth of a percent on the rate), the APY should drop by a full eighth of a percent, but the increased costs will increase the difference between APY and APR. But the APR assumes you're going to pay those costs off over the full contracted period of the loan, which is utter nonsense in the case of a 30 year fixed rate loan. Over 95% of all people have refinanced before 5 years is up, which means that the APR you actually paid was much higher than the APR you were told you were getting.

(Of the few people who actually pay such loans off without refinancing, the vast majority do so well before the full 30 year term, which means they also paid a higher APR)

Let's illustrate by example. Picking a random rate sheet from one lender as I wrote the original article (rates are much lower now), I had one thirty year fixed rate loan with a rate of 5.00 percent, and assuming an existing loan payoff of $350,000, and rolling costs only into the balance, an APR of 5.484, and payment of $1993. Looks better at first glance than a loan at 5.625%, with a payment of $2056 and an APR of 5.764. As other alternatives, 6.00 percent is available with a payment of $2119 and an APR of 6.048, or 6.375% with a payment of $2184 and APR of 6.375.

But here's what may not be apparent. As a matter of fact, it isn't apparent to most consumers. That 5.00 percent loan cost 4.8 points to get, and involved paying over $21,300 in total costs to buy the rate down that far. You're almost up against California rules limiting the total costs of a loan to 6% of total loan amount. The loan at 5.625% is done with a single point, and costs a grand total of $7070 to get done. The loan at 6.00% requires no points, and costs a grand total of $3500. Finally, the loan at 6.375% is a true zero cost loan.

What this means is that that getting that 5.00 percent rate is a nonrefundable $21,300 bet that you will keep that property and that loan long enough that the money you save in interest every month will be more than that upfront cost. It takes 141 months for that loan to do that as opposed to the 5.625% loan - almost twelve years - when you consider time value of money. It takes 108 months - nine years - before it pulls even with the no points loan at 6.00, and 92 months - over seven and a half years - before it pulls even with the zero cost loan at 6.375%. The 5.625% loan (a $7000 bet) doesn't start in first place either, but it does get there a lot more quickly. It takes 55 months - four and a half years to pull in front of the 6.00% loan, and 53 months to pull in front of the zero cost 6.375% loan. That poor 6.00 percent loan for no points is the only one that's never the absolute best choice - it takes the exact same 55 months to pull in front of the zero cost loan as the 5.625 takes to catch it, but since you're only betting $3500, at least you've lost less if you refinance or sell before break even, which most people do. Last time I checked, the median age of mortgages in the United States was 28 months - just about half the time that any of the other loans takes to pull even with the 6.375% loan that doesn't cost a penny, either out of pocket or rolled into the balance.

Let's consider how much money you'll be out if you refinance after 28 months with that 5.00 percent loan (or sell the property), like approximately half the population will. Your balance is $18,860 higher than the zero cost 6.375% loan, while on the plus side you have saved $1288 in payments. On the minus side, however, if you get another loan, you still have to pay interest on that $18,860. Whether it's because you sold that property and bought another, or a refinance loan comes along that you like better, it means a loan balance $18,860 higher even if you don't pay points on the new loan. You're still paying for your old loan, while all of your benefits stopped on the day you let your old lender off the hook by selling or refinancing. Admittedly, the chance of this happening is lower as you get to lower and lower rates, but it's still a bad bet, in my estimation. People not only sell, they want cash out, they want debt consolidation, the list goes on and on. If you get another 5% loan, you're paying $943 extra per year because of that higher balance. Alternatively, if you kept the extra in your pocket and invested it elsewhere, a 9% rate of return would mean it would cost you $1697 that first additional year. So far, I haven't worried about tax deductibility, but it works against the higher cost loan, making the picture even less favorable.

I need to note that these were honest calculations. The ones you encounter won't always be. Sometimes, they're based upon the payoff balance - in other words, calculate the payment for that 5% loan as if you were going to pay all of the costs in cash, even though the loan officer probably knows that's not going to happen. This would allow them to quote a payment of $1879. It also assumes they're giving you an honest quote on your MLDS (California) or Good Faith Estimate (the other 49 states) is accurate, as the APR is calculated given that information. If the underlying document is inaccurate, and I've covered how badly lenders can legally lowball, then the resulting payment and APR calculations will therefore be too low.

The difference between the two numbers, APR and APY, can give you a certain amount of information if you know how to use it, assuming that the loan officer tells you the truth, unlikely though that may be in some cases. I'm going to assume you've got a financial calculator or can do the calculations yourself, because none of the ones I've seen on the web are up to this task. Furthermore, this is only an approximation of the actual computation method, so there will be a small amount of slop in the calculations, but much smaller than the eighth of a percent fixed rate loans quotes are permitted to be erroneous. Using the term of the loan, the payment, and the contractual note rate (APY), tell your calculator to compute principal value of the loan - in other words, the new balance. This may not be accurate in and of itself, and that will tell you there's something funny going on with the numbers. Then repeat the calculation with APR substituted, which should give you the balance less the cost of loan, albeit with third party fees (appraisal, escrow, title) still in the amount as those are excludable from APR calculations under Federal Reserve Regulation Z. The difference in the two numbers tells you the fees the lender is charging - or the ones they're willing to tell you about, anyway.

Note that the "spread" or difference between APY and APR gets larger as costs get higher or the term of the loan being contemplated gets shorter. The reason is that these costs have to be paid off over a shorter period of time. It also increases for smaller loans and decreases for larger ones. If you have to pay them off over fifteen years instead of thirty, the difference gets much larger. That 5.00 percent loan that had an APR of 5.484 with a thirty year loan term goes to 5.834 with a fifteen year loan term - not quite twice the difference, but nasty enough!

Despite the fact that the person refinances about every three years, APR is always calculated upon the consumer keeping the loan for the full term, which isn't likely. Ninety-five percent of everyone has sold or refinanced within about seven years, and this number climbs towards an effective 100% for loans that begin adjusting before that. Sure, you could theoretically keep a hybrid ARM (although not a Balloon) after the adjustment, but nobody does.

With that in mind, let's calculate APRs of each of these loans assuming you'll refinance after 36 months - significantly longer than the fifty percent mark where half of the country has refinanced or sold the property. The 6.375% zero cost loan still has an APR of 6.375 - because it has no costs to recover. The The APR on the 6.00 percent "no points" loan, which only has $1800 of non-excludable costs (see Regulation Z), doesn't go up much - to 6.391. The 5.625% loan you can have for one point jumps up to 6.643 APR, and the APR on that loan that the people shopping by APR or payment will choose - the one with a 5.00 percent contractual interest rate - skyrockets to 8.663%! If you only end up keeping it three years - beating out median age of loans in the country by better than 25% - this loan is the worst of the choices I have presented, not just by calculation of money spent, but even by calculating APR honestly.

If I had to pick a few things I could pack into a sixty second public service announcement to tell all 300 million people in this country about real estate loans, the fact that they're severely unlikely to keep the loan for anything like the full term would be one of those things. People just assume that they're going to keep a loan for the full term, but then they don't actually do it. Meanwhile, all of the calculations that are made presume that they will, even though that presumption is nonsense, and making those calculations on that basis will actually cause many consumers to make erroneous decisions, because they paint the facts as something other than what they are. If gravity was a tenth of what it is, we could all fly in the manner of Daedalus as described by myth. But those pesky facts keep getting in the way, and over half the people who take out thirty year financing don't keep it for even one tenth of the full term. If you're wasting nearly nineteen thousand dollars of your money every three years, as the people here did once, those facts will have an ugly tendency to bite you just as hard as they will any modern day imitator of Icarus.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

I've written a lot here about how to manage your mortgage so that you control it instead of it controlling you.

Let's consider what happens when that project fails.

If you don't pay your mortgage, on time, no big deal at first. The lenders don't like it, but there's a grace period built in. Make your payment within the grace period and you're golden. Fifteen days later, the first consequence is that you owe the lender a late payment penalty. It's a doozy, typically four to six percent, depending upon where you live. Here in California, it's four percent. May not sound like so much, but four percent for fifteen days is the equivalent of ninety-six percent annualized interest, over three times the most horrible credit card I'm aware of. I don't like paying ninety-six percent interest, and neither should you. Don't get fifteen days late if you can help it. But once you've paid the penalty and brought yourself current, nobody else knows and nobody cares.

Suppose you get to thirty days delinquent - one full month. At this point longer term consequences set in. First off, your lender marks your credit as being thirty days late on your mortgage. This is a big negative as far as everyone goes, and can easily make a difference of 100 points or more on your credit score. Additionally, if you are applying for a mortgage loan (or plan to), you just got a "1x30". For A paper, this means that if your credit is otherwise perfect, you barely slide through. For subprime, this makes a difference on your rate. It takes two years for this to work its way out of affecting your mortgage application, even if your credit score recovers.

Most people end up being thirty days late for several months in a row, each month hurting their credit score, before it goes to sixty days late. They missed one payment and struggle but manage to make several more before they miss another. Occasionally, they go straight to two months late. Either way, it's a Bad Thing. A single "1x60" might scrape through A paper if there's no cash out and your credit is otherwise perfect. Otherwise you are subprime for at least two years. In the subprime world, a "rolling 30" is generally not as bad as a 60 day late, but both are steps down from even a "1x30" and a "rolling 60" is worse. It gets worse yet if you pay your way current and then backslide again. And of course, you are paying penalties and interest is accruing on your loan and you're falling further behind every time you are late. This amounts to a notable chunk of change very quickly. So none of this is good.

On the other hand, depending upon the state you live in, until you get to ninety or 120 days late the situation doesn't become dire. Each state's foreclosure law is different, but once the lender has the option of marking you in default, the situation gets uglier. It is a common misconception that lenders like foreclosing. In actuality, only so-called "hard money" lenders will usually start foreclosure immediately upon eligibility, especially if you've been talking to them about your situation. If they have some real reason to believe yours will eventually become a performing loan again, regulated lenders will cut you significant slack, by and large. It costs lenders a lot of money to foreclose and there's always the risk they end up stuck with the property, so they'll usually give you as much leeway as they reasonably can. One thing I keep telling people who want a loan approved based upon the equity in the property alone is "The lender doesn't want your house. They want to make loans that are going to be repaid. The lender is not in the business of foreclosure. They don't make any money on it."

Nonetheless, even the most forgiving lender is going to eventually hit you with a Notice of Default. At this stage, things are starting to move towards a resolution that nobody likes, you least of all. At this stage, you are now liable for a large amount in extra fees that was written into your contract to cover the lender's cost of going through the foreclosure process. At this point, the lender has the right to require you to pay the loan all the way current, with all fees, in order to get them to rescind the notice. Refinancing becomes almost impossible, except with a hard money lender, and unless something about your situation has suddenly changed from what caused it to get to this point, that is only delaying the inevitable and making it worse.

As soon as that Notice of Default is recorded, your situation becomes part of public record. You are going to get calls and letters and everything else coming out of the woodwork. One category is going to be lawyers, who will typically tell you they can keep you in the house a long time without payments by declaring bankruptcy. Well, this is true as far as it goes, but it's not going to make the situation any better. As a matter of fact, it will steadily get worse. Just because you go into bankruptcy doesn't mean that the penalties and fees and interest go away or stop accruing. They are still there, and they keep coming. I'm not a lawyer, and you should consult both a lawyer and an accountant if you are in this situation. Nonetheless, bankruptcy is not something I would even consider in this situation without something highly unusual going on.

The second group that will contact you are the "hard money" lenders, looking to lend you money at 15% with five points upfront and a hefty pre-payment penalty, to buy your way out of the situation. Once again, unless something about your situation has suddenly changed, not a long term solution, and it only makes it worse.

Another group that's going to call is investors looking for a distress sale. They want you to sell it to them for less than it would otherwise be worth. This is actually something I might consider. Yes, I lose some money, but that's better than going through denial with the lawyer for a year and a half while any equity I might have left gets frittered away in interest and fees and penalties, not to mention paying the lawyer.

The final category, and one with a significant overlap from the previous, is real estate agents looking to sell the property for you. Assuming you're not deep in denial, this is probably the best option as to least unfavorable resolution. The drawback is that it depends upon whether somebody will make an offer in a timely fashion, a factor which is not under your control. No matter how great the price, no matter how hard my agent works, there might not be an offer. It happens.

Of course, you also have the option of doing nothing. It's not a good option, and if you don't do something it pretty much guarantees that you're going to suffer the worst possible fate. But it is an option. Better is to take action before it gets even this far. What the best action is depends upon your situation and whether whatever caused your inability to pay is transient and in the past, continuing, or permanent.

If you do nothing, eventually a Notice of Trustee's Sale will follow the Notice of Default. In California, there are a minimum of sixty days between Notice of Default and Notice of Trustee's Sale, and it easily be more. Seventeen days after the Notice of Trustee's Sale, the property gets sold at auction (unless you've somehow brought it current or sold the property). There are some protections in place here in California. The lender must perform an appraisal, and for the property to sell at auction, the minimum bid is ninety percent of this amount. Nonetheless, these are typically very conservative appraisals by design. At this point, the lender wants the property sold at auction, because if it doesn't sell, they own it, and they don't want to own the house. They are in the loan business, not the real estate business. So a house that may be actually worth $500,000 on the open market gets appraised at $400,000, and sold for $360,000. If the loan was for $250,000, that's $140,000 of equity you allowed to be taken from you because you were in denial, when you probably could have saved most of it. And if the loan with penalties and fees and interest was $450,000, that's worse, and not only because you forfeited $50,000 you could have gotten, and not only because they may be able to go after you in court for their loss in some situations.

You see, because the lender took a $90,000 loss, they want to write it off on their taxes. And in order for them to do this, they have to hit you with a form that says you got away with $90,000 from them. This is taxable income!. As of this writing, there's a temporary tax law repealing it, but that repeal will expire, and your state may get in on the action as well. So normally, the IRS comes after you for the tax on the $90,000. IRS liens are one of the things that is not discharged by bankruptcy, and it stays with you forever. Ten years absolute minimum for any purpose. Sometimes your lawyer, CPA or Enrolled Agent will get you an "offer and compromise" that cuts your liability, but that's technically taxable income also and may be subject to another round of this crud. It it seems like to you the system is rigged so you can't win, you're right. The loan was an obligation you agreed to, and took the money for, and taxes are on obligation of anyone who is a citizen or resident.

The smart thing to do? As soon as you realize that you can't make your payment, take a long look at your situation and decide if this is something that's going to get enough better to make a difference, or not. Then figure out how much equity in the property you have.

If the situation is likely to improve, and you'll start making your payments in thirty days because hey, you just started your new job, that's one thing. Most of the time, however, most folks lie to themselves on this issue, for a variety of reasons. Remember: Denial Digs Deeper, and makes the situation worse.

Even if selling the property isn't going to net you anything, it's still worth doing as it gets you out from under the situation. Your credit score stops dropping, you quit getting marked late by your lender, you quit getting socked with penalties and interest and fees you can't pay. The IRS obligations you are incurring stop.

Particularly if you have significant equity built up, the sooner you contact a real estate agent to sell, the better off you will usually be. You are going to lose the house if you don't sell. The sooner you sell, the lower the penalties and fees and extra interest you are charged by the lender will be. This translates into dollars in your pocket - dollars you are likely to need. If you can sell before the Notice of Default is filed, so much the better, as that's thousands of dollars right there. You don't have the luxury of taking your time about it, though. Taking the first reasonable offer is highly advised, and you have more time to get a reasonable offer if you start sooner. Once a Notice of Default is filed, it's a matter of public record and so your bargaining situation gets a lot worse because the buyer should know that you are over a barrel, metaphorically speaking, assuming their agent does their homework. Considering that it's two or three clicks of the mouse, it's easy homework to do and even the greenest new agent is going to catch it more often than not.

Trying the various delaying tactics with a lawyer is likely to end up costing you more than a quick sale. Even if you remain in bankruptcy for five years or more, within about a year and a half at most, the lender will almost certainly persuade the court to cut the home and loan out of the bankruptcy as a secured debt, and sell it. Since the loans and penalties and fees and interest kept accruing all this time, you end up with less money - or none, along with a little love note from the IRS that says "You owe us thousands of dollars! Pay up NOW!"

Every situation is different. At a minimum, consult a loan officer, lawyer, accountant, and real estate agent in your area. But when all is said and done, what I've talked about is the way most of these end up.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

Related article on "Short Payoffs".

We aren't married. How do we buy a house together?
Basically, the same way that married people do. The qualifications are exactly the same, provided that you both will be living in the property. If not all of the people who will be buying will also be living in the property, they have to show that they can afford both the place where they are living and their share of the expenses of the property. The only real difference in the paperwork is that unmarried parties cannot submit a single loan application - they must fill out separate applications. Most lenders will require that all of the disclosures also be signed and submitted individually. But that's just to keep the lumberjacks happy killing trees.


It is highly advisable that you consult an attorney as to how you want to hold title, but that advice holds true even for a married couple. To protect partners acting in good faith from those acting in bad, some kind of partnership agreement that gives the other parties rights to recover any extra they paid to keep the partnership out of trouble, if one or more of the partners can not or do not make their share of the payments on time. But that's extra, not a part of the purchase or finance processes, and you can certainly buy a property with basically anyone. It's one of the most basic of rights here in the United States. Convicted felons, jail inmates, illegal aliens, and people who have never set foot in the United States can all buy property here, as long as they have the money or can persuade someone to lend it to them.

The thing to watch out for is if the party who makes the largest amount of money is not going to be living in the property. That will mean it's treated like an investment property loan, and those are more expensive loans as well as having tighter qualifications.

The fact that people are not married means basically nothing to the loan qualification process, either. The guidelines are exactly the same either way. Yes, there are complex variables as to how you qualify, and what loan you qualify for. But people who are married but aren't going to be living together are treated the same as two random business partners, except that married people can put all of their joint information on one application. You can have any number of people on title to a property, or responsible for a mortgage. The major thing to watch out for is that they must qualify as a group, and almost always under the same set of qualifications. If one person has to do stated income, they all might as well be stated income, because they're not going to get full documentation rates anyway - or at least that was the case when we had stated income. The same thing still applies to credit: the weakest partner determines the loan qualifications you use and whether you qualify - exactly the same as if they were married.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

One of the consumer attitudes I encounter constantly is the feeling that if you cannot afford the loan, the lender will not loan you the money. This safety zone common sense sort of reliance upon lender policy as a backstop is not only false, but one of the best ways to get in trouble with real estate there is. Even with lender meltdown going on, the only thing you're safe in assuming is that the lenders want their loan to be repaid in the event of default.

Once upon a time it may have been true. Back in the dim times fifty years ago, lenders required down payments, and retained their loans for the full duration. This provided at least two levels of protection for the lender. First, if people did default upon their loan, that down payment was a cushion for the lender in that the property was genuinely worth more than the lender had at risk. All real estate loans were done "full documentation", where the borrower proved they made enough money to make the payments and repay the loan. Underwriting rules were designed to filter out those whose employment was not stable enough, those who couldn't afford the loans, and those whose creditworthiness was marginal. Of course, back then most folks worked for The Company their whole lives, too.

At the same time, however, real estate was far more affordable. The inability to get a loan on good terms meant that you were a little further away from the middle class house of your dreams, that you were going to have to save a little more, work a little harder, and perhaps settle for something less than you really wanted, but you could still have a good property. 800 square feet on a fifth of an acre, instead of 1200 square feet on half an acre. These really were typical property choices available then. You saved until you had forty or fifty percent down, instead of twenty, and then you maybe had to look a little bit harder, but it could be done, and people paid cash for their properties all the time. A three or five thousand dollar property was something that people could save the money to pay cash for, even at seventy five cents per hour.

That's not the case now. Even though people may make $40,000 per year, and the family has two incomes, they are not content with the lifestyle of fifty years ago that enabled people to save a down payment within a couple of years. Nor is employment as stable. People don't work forty years for The Company any longer.

The changes on the lender end have been even more profound. Lenders discovered making stock valuations rise as a primary method of becoming wealthy. Where once the most important thing to the stockholders was to have every single loan repaid in full, now it becomes more important to have portfolio growth, which makes potential investors willing to pay more for existing stock. Then it became unnecessary to actually hold loans until they ran their course, as investors were willing to pay more than the face value of the loan for the rights to receive payment! Those nice dependable mortgage bonds were good as gold! Matter of fact, the money the lenders received by selling the loans was (and is) several times higher than they made by holding the loans. True, they might only make three to four percent from selling the obligation, as opposed to seven percent for the obligation itself, but they could do it in two to three months, as opposed to the entire year. In fact, they could go through the process four, five, or even six times per year: Receive a loan application, provide the funds on a short term basis, and then sell to investors for a three to four percent markup. Instead of earning seven to eight percent on their money per year, they were now earning twenty or twenty five. They could even retain servicing rights and make money there, as the investors had no idea how to run the loans, and make even more money. Stock prices would show the effects of growth, as investors expected them to be able to keep in up, and current stockholders could cash out for huge gains by selling part or all of their holdings.

However, you now have a new group of stockholders, who bought - or held existing investments - in the belief that this growth curve could be maintained. They want that growth to keep going - however are they going to sell for a big profit if it doesn't? If the growth doesn't continue, how are performance awards to management going to be paid?

And so it goes. Growth begets a need for more growth. Now there's nothing wrong with growth - quite the contrary - but when the expectations shift over time from a two or three percent annualized growth curve, to eight or ten or even thirteen percent, it creates an expectation that no one wants to fall short on. Furthermore, other people with money, seeing the rewards, join in the lending business. Joe made fifty percent in two years with Bank of Nowhere in Particular! Let's all invest in that bank! They'll double our money in three years!

The fact of the matter is that there is only so much revenue growth that can be had in any given set of economic conditions. When you try to overshoot that amount, it can come from very few places. First, it can come at the expense of the competition. Unfortunately for that hope, the lending market grew ever more competitive, not less, until the last few years. Second, it can come from places that weren't a part of the market previously - in other words, people who were not good credit risks or who would not have applied in previous markets. The reason most of those would not have applied is that they are less credit worthy, and they know it as well as the lenders do. Third, growth can come through individual loans being larger, being willing to loan more money per property. This has also happened, but you cannot loan more per property without subsequently having more at risk, although the lenders have learned how to solve this. Remember that we discussed them selling the loans? Well, that's how the lenders limit their risks - by selling to someone else for cash. Let them assume the risks!

So we have increased competition for borrowers, including those who may not have been as solidly credit worthy as a previous day's client. There are more lenders competing for limited pools of borrowers, and pressure to qualify the borrowers for increased loan amounts, because, after all, that's how the bank makes money.

Furthermore, shifts in consumer habits played into this. People don't live in the same house for as long, and they don't keep loans nearly so long as they once did. Where they once lived in the same house from the time they bought it until they died, now the first house they buy in their twenties is a "starter," and then they sell that and buy a trade-up when the family expands a little, then another when they move up the corporate ladder, and this leaves out the effects of transfers and changing employers. Furthermore, they refinance and take cash out when they want a bigger SUV or a European vacation, and then they take more money out when the rates go down because they can afford a larger loan on the same payments.

The increased prevalence and availability of the stated income loan played right into this. Certainly, some people in your profession make that much, but what if you're not one of them? Simply say that you are! After all, you're in that profession, right? Furthermore, there is no payoff for telling people that they don't qualify. They've made up their mind that they want that three thousand square foot six bedroom house, and if you tell them they don't make enough, they're not going to give up their dream house! They'll just find another way to do it, so someone else will get that loan! That nice, wonderfully wonderfully large loan that means a huge commission check to the loan officer and a forty thousand dollar premium on the secondary market for the lender!

Traditionally, the check upon this was the fact that the borrower had to actually make the payments on the loan once they had it, which limits their ability and willingness to sign for more loan than they can handle. However, competition between lenders once again found a way: First, the interest only loan, and then the negative amortization loan solved that problem for a while, particularly as sub-prime lenders made their qualification for the loan based solely upon the initial minimum payment. Whereas when A paper lenders underwrite a hybrid ARM that's interest only for a given amount of time, they will base their computations upon a fully amortized loan payment, and even assume the rate will rise, that was not the case in the sub-prime world. Sure they've bought the property on a 2/28 interest only loan with a three year prepayment penalty, and they bought in a flat or declining market, and they are not going to pay the principal down any in two years, and the property isn't going to be worth any more, so it's unlikely they will be able to refinance, and they certainly won't be able to afford the payments when they adjust, so they're going to lose the house, but hey! You got a commission check and your lender sold the loan (at a fat markup due to the prepayment penalty), and your employer won't have any money at risk when they do default! What's not to like?

The Era of Make Believe Loans, as I call it, is now completely over. But how is a consumer going to protect themselves in that sort of environment? Obviously, you've got to start by figuring out a budget and sticking to it. This is hard. This is very unpopular, as far as real estate professionals go. When I sit down with people's finances and tell them what they can afford with a sustainable loan, the first words out of their mouths are usually, "I can't afford anything I want with that!" A certain percentage of them just walk out right there, sure that they can find someone else who will tell them they can afford more.

As I've just covered, they certainly can find someone who will tell them that they can afford more. However, the reason I sit down and go through the numbers, including today's rates, what they make, how much they spend, is to show them precisely what they can afford. When somebody shows you real numbers and you deny those numbers, and are certain you can afford more, you are essentially performing magical thinking. "I want it and I deserve it, and this other guy tells me I can just pull myself up by my bootstraps and fly up to get it!"

However, loans aren't magical. In fact, there is nothing magical about loans. You may get a negative amortization payment that you can afford for a while, but the money that you are not paying does not just vanish into thin air. It may be held in abeyance for a while, but it is there, and it will turn around and bite you. You wanted a $600,000 home for a $2000 monthly payment, and you got it for a little while. However, you now owe $680,000 and the property (which you put $50,000 down on) is now only worth $540,000. It doesn't take a genius to see what happens next. Even if the property increased in value by $100,000, it costs you $55,000 to sell the property and you have to pay $15,000 of their closing costs so that they can qualify for the loan, and that fifty thousand dollars you put down has turned into nothing.

A rapidly increasing market, such as we had for several years ending about the end of 2004, covers a multitude of sins and mistakes. If the property doubled in price over three years, you came away with $400,000 and you were very happy! Unfortunately, this is not the type of market we are in now, nor are we likely to have that sort of market any time again in the foreseeable future. It's always a bad idea to bet on it, because you never know it's going to happen ahead of time.

So what are you going to have to do? As I said earlier, figure out what your real budget is in terms of purchase price and stick to it. If you can't afford anything you want, then want less. Insist upon sustainable loans, and qualifying for them full documentation. Full documentation loans have better interest rates anyway. Fully amortized loans, where you are paying principal and interest, have lower interest rates, as well, and if you stick with A paper guidelines, you get better interest rates and can usually avoid pre-payment penalties.

"I just won't buy anything if I can't afford what I want!" some of you are saying. Right now, with prices retreating somewhat, it may even make a limited kind of sense for those with strong credit and stable prospects. However, the market here locally is not going to retreat that much more. Indeed, where prices are is currently being masked by a stubborn type of seller and a not very competent or honest stripe of real estate agent. It doesn't matter that three fourths of the sellers want $X for property of given characteristics, if the sales that are taking place are $100,000 lower. If this seller won't sell, someone else will, and it is the sale that actually happens that tells where the market is, not the hundred comparable properties where the asking price is $100,000 higher.

However, real estate, even in markets that are rising just slightly, is such a fantastic investment due the the effects of leverage, that I've been telling people that I do not anticipate the local market going much lower, . Indeed, very smart investors are swarming, intending to hold the property five years or so instead of flipping it. Yes, we lost about thirty percent from peak prices, more in some niches. When things turn around a turn which has been delayed by our current government's economic mismanagement, they're going to turn hard - and the longer it takes the stronger it's going to be. People who decide to sit on the sidelines because they can't afford anything that they want will discover themselves to have been priced out of what they could have afforded then. If you've got a family of three and don't want a two bedroom condo even as a temporary situation, what are you going to do when you can't afford that?

Caveat Emptor

Original here

There's a lot that gets written on this subject, mostly by loan officers looking for business. Well, don't think I'm not looking for business, but not with this post. Or if anybody calls me because of this, at least I'll know they understand how to do it right.

The basic come-on is this: Your home has appreciated in value, and is worth more than you paid for it, so now you have equity on the one hand. On the other hand, you have loads of consumer debt, which is costing you hundreds or even thousands of dollars per month, which is impacting your lifestyle. So you borrow on the equity in your home and save money on your payments as well as causing them to be tax deductible in most cases, or at least so the traditional thinking goes. In actuality, it's only the actual purchase money where the debt is tax deductible, while cash out is not. My understanding is that the IRS has been starting to crack down on this.

Let's illustrate the situation with some numbers. Let's say Arnie and Annie have a $300,000 loan on a home that they bought in 1998, and comparable properties in the neighborhood are now selling for $600,000. This is 300,000 in equity.

On the other hand, because they are American consumers, Arnie and Annie have a hard time living within their means. They've got $15,000 in consumer credit, a $10,000 home improvement loan, and two new SUVs with associated debt of $20,000 and $30,000. These are fairly typical numbers.

Arnie and Annie's mortgage payments are currently $1720 per month, because they refinanced to 5.25% in 2003 when the rates hit bottom. Their monthly payments on the credit cards are $400. The payments on the SUVs are $500 and $600 per month, respectively. The payment on their $10,000 home improvement loan for landscaping is maybe $150. Arnie and Annie are forking out $3370 per month without taking into account stuff like property taxes, insurance, utilities, etcetera. It's really cramping their lifestyle.

Suppose they consolidate these loans into one payment on a thirty year home loan? All right, so it costs them anywhere from zero to $20,000 to get the loan done. Let's split the difference and say $10,000. That's about two points plus closing costs.

This adds up to a $385,000 loan. When I originally wrote this article, that was a jumbo loan amount, but that is no longer the case. With a 30 day lock, that would have gotten you 5.875% or thereabouts when I originally wrote this on a thirty year fixed rate loan. The new payment: $2277. Voila! Despite the higher interest rate, Arnie and Annie are saving almost $1100 per month!

Or are they? On the credit cards, their monthly interest was $225; their $400 payment would have paid the cards off in less than five years. The interest on the SUVs was $333 total on the two, and their payments would have had them done in about five years. The home improvement was a ten year loan but even so their monthly interest was only $75. Now these are all thirty year debts. The monthly interest on their old home loan was $1312. The interest charges on their home loan is now $1884, where total interest was $1945 previously. So they are actually saving money on interest.

The difference is that now they're not paying the old loans off as fast - they've spread the principal over thirty years. In the meantime, the bank is getting all this lovely money in the form of interest from them, and if they refinance about every two years as most people seem to do, this is $85,000 more that they owe on their home, and that Arnie and Annie will pay points and fees on every time they refinance! Meanwhile, Annie and Arnie are quite often out charging up more debt they'll consolidate into their home loan, and they'll keep doing this trick for as long as they can.

Let's assume Annie and Arnie beat the odds and don't refinance for five full years. This puts them ahead of 95 percent of the people out there. Let's look at where they'll be five years out if they make the minimum payment. They will owe $357,700 on their home. On the plus side, they will have had $66,000 to spend on other things (and they likely will, if they are typical Americans). Total debt: $357,700.

If they had continued making their previous payments, they would now owe $272,100. Plus they would be done with the SUV's and the credit cards and would only owe $6600 on the home improvement loan which they could now concentrate on. Total debts: 278,700.

Net difference: $79,000. Subtract that $66,000 they had real good time with (and nothing to show for), and they're still $13,000 in the hole.

They might skate with a $572 per month potential additional deduction, assuming they are willing to risk the wrath of the IRS as the "cash out" is not supposed to be deductible and the IRS is getting better at picking it up. Assuming they are in the 28% tax bracket and get to deduct the full amount, that gives them $9,600 less that they owe the government in taxes. Net amount Annie and Arnie are out are out: $3400, in addition to being set up for higher fees on future loans, and having a loan balance $77,100 higher. Additional interest they will pay because of the higher balance if they can get a loan at 5 percent even: $3855 per year.

Sounds like an awful bargain doesn't it? Many consumers have done this three and four times, or more. I run across people who bought their home in the early 1970s, and have mortgage balances ten to twelve times the original purchase price.

That's doing it wrong. Now I'm going to talk about doing it right. Suppose that instead of milking our equity for cash flow, where we're trying to minimize our monthly payments, we do it differently. Same situation, same numbers, but instead of spending that $993 per month, we use it to pay down our mortgage.

Actually, let's pay $3300 per month, so we still have $70 per month to spend elsewhere. After five years, we still owe $286,600. We got $4200 to spend elsewhere. And all of our other debts are gone. In addition, there's that illicit $9600 in tax reductions. Net amount to us versus the "do nothing" option: $5800, although we still owe $8000 more, and if we get a 7% loan, that'll cost us $560 per year. Notice that at this point, the benefits, while tangible, are still fairly small. Furthermore, if we refinanced or sold before this point, as ninety-five percent of everyone does, any benefits we may have gotten in the future disappear.

But: If we keep making that $3300 payment after those five years, and don't roll anything more into the loan, then the mortgage is paid off and we are debt free - the house is paid off, and the other debts are history - in less than ten more years! This relies upon us being thrifty and keeping those old SUV's going and not charging up any more credit and not doing anything else to make the debt worse. In short, not giving in to the marketing culture, not forking over money you don't have, not running up the payments on consumer stuff again. Many people say they won't. Few actually manage it.

So you see, even if you do it right, it takes years to show the benefits of this kind of refinance. This is years of doing something that they do not have to that most folks just won't do. If you have an unsustainable cash flow situation, by all means you've got to do something about it, but don't kid yourself that it's financially fantastic. On the other hand, if you're one of those who have to ability to make the scenario in the last paragraph (or something like it) happen, it's well worth doing.

This hypothesis is highly sensitive to initial assumptions. I previously assumed that Annie and Arnie are and always have been top of the line borrowers, able to qualify for anything. Suppose they weren't? Suppose they were in a C grade loan at 7.25%, but now they qualify A paper at 5.875. With a payment of $2070 per month formerly, of which $1812 was interest, the new loan saves them $1450 per month in minimum payments and $561 in actual interest while still saving about $1209 on their taxes over five years. You'd have owed $288,000 on the old program, now even if you put in only the same $3300 per month in payments, you're $1400 ahead of where you would have been on the balance, and you still had about $400 per month to spend. On the other hand, if Annie and Arnie were A paper but now they are applying for a C grade loan, it cannot be justified on anything except "the cash flow keeps us out of bankruptcy!" because it's financial disaster.

Some alert people will have noticed I didn't explicitly include the $10,000 cost of the loan in the computations of whether you're better off. That's because it is gone, sunk, included in the computations of where you ended up. It was part of your initial loan balance if you did it, included in the ending balance, and therefore included in the computations of whether you were better off. Now, if the cost of doing the loan were lower, there would be somewhat larger benefits a little bit faster, and indeed a lower cost loan is probably a better idea for most people, even though it means the rate and payment will be slightly higher. See my article on Why You Should Ignore APR for more.

The important thing to remember is to not get distracted by the fact that your minimum monthly payment goes down, and see if you (and your prospective loan officer) can come up with a loan and a plan that really makes you better off down the line, instead of one that sucks the life out of you financially, like the vast majority of these scenarios do.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

Don Henley has a fun song off his second solo album called "Driving With Your Eyes Closed". I can't find a video performance, but here are the lyrics. It's got a chorus that ends with the line, "You're gonna hit something /but that's the way it goes."

A lot of what I read about the real estate markets reminds me of that song. Mostly, people are looking in a rear view mirror myopically, and think that's going to tell them where the market is going. Not so.

Let me tell you the most important "secret" about the real estate market - or any other market. Short term results are mostly about mass psychology. People are so into what is happening right now that they will react to it the same way as everyone else without thinking, whether it's fear and greed driving the market up or fear and greed driving it down. The short term, in real estate, is this year, next year, and maybe the year after. But the actual real estate transaction is expensive. It can cost you a couple percent just for the transaction to buy real estate, seven to ten percent to sell, so you've got to clear ten to fifteen percent higher price just to break even on the costs. Those costs will more than pay for themselves, but they are there. An average year in my market is about 5% up, and 20% up in one year is one of the best years local real estate has ever had. Short term flippers work by different parameters than most consumers, but these are the market factors most people have to deal with. It takes about three average years to break even on the costs you have to pay for the transaction.

This is enough to take the majority of real estate investing out of the frame of the short term market, controlled by mass psychology, and into the realm of the medium to long term market, where psychology is a factor, but as time goes on, more and more of your investment results are controlled by pure economics. Supply versus demand. How much people who want housing make. What the interest rate environment is like. Oh, and don't forget the effects of government and public policy. When somebody says, "The market has dropped in the last three months, therefore it's going lower" that is no more correct than the opposite: "The market has been going up - five percent in the last three months alone! Therefore it's going to keep going up!" In either case, making this sort of claim is functionally equivalent to blacking out your windshield and driving by the rear view mirror. "You're gonna hit something, but that's the way it goes!"

Furthermore, there is no such thing as a national market for real estate. It does not exist, and anybody who claims it does is either so clueless as to the nature of real estate markets that you should pat them on the head and say, "That's nice dear. Now run along and play with your Duplos," or they are actively lying. There are factors such as the interest rate environment that influence real estate markets nationally, but there is no national real estate market. In order for a given area to be considered one market, the properties within them must be functionally equivalent for the residents as to location. Let's look at the City of San Diego: No way is San Ysidro, right by the Mexican border, functionally equivalent to Del Mar Heights, twenty-five miles away along the coast on Interstate 5 just north of all the corporate buildings in the Golden Triangle, and neither is equivalent to Rancho Bernardo, which is about that same distance north inland along I-15. All three are part of the City of San Diego, and we haven't even gotten to the suburbs yet, they are three very different markets, with different demographics, different lifestyles, different building styles and all that that implies. For my real estate work, I specialize in and around the City of La Mesa, which borders San Diego on the east, and is different from all three previously described areas, and there are areas of La Mesa which are decidedly different from other areas of La Mesa. These markets are close enough physically to have market interactions, but different enough to constitute different markets - never mind Idaho, Georgia, or Vermont, which are not part of the local commuting area. Talking about a unified countywide market is occasionally a useful fiction, as there are interactions. People are able to commute from home to work and back again, no matter their respective locations within the county. Talking of a national real estate market is blatant nonsense. At most you can talk about a national amalgamation of local markets - a statistical hash of what is going on in all of the individual markets. Even when most real estate markets are in the tank, though, there will be local real estate markets that are doing very well, and others that are poised to do so.

You can talk about national factors influencing all of the local real estate environments. Interest rates, lender requirements, legislation in Congress, federal rule-making in general, all of these have a national influence. The markets themselves remain local.

For longer term analysis, you've got to talk about the economics of an area. Current supply versus demand, and where that ratio is going. What do people in the area make? What is the regulatory environment? How difficult is it to build more housing? What are the population trends? What is the economy of the area doing? What are the factors influencing rental price and availability? How likely is any of this to change in the future? It doesn't matter whether people are getting "priced out" or even how many people are getting "priced out." People have been priced out of Manhattan for decades; it hasn't stopped Manhattan real estate from rising in value. What does matter is whether enough people with the economic ability to pay the current prices are available to buy up the new inventory that hits the market. It doesn't matter that people who bought twenty years ago could not afford to buy their properties at current prices. What does matter is that enough people who can afford it will buy to more than balance out the people who want to sell at current prices.

So while you can talk about national trends, any given property sits in a particular local market, and any discussion of whether to buy a given property has to be rooted in the local market situation. National trends may have an influence upon its value. If interest rates go to eight percent, people can only afford about seventy percent of the loan amount they can afford if interest rates go to five percent, so falling interest rates are a time of rising prices, other things being equal. Of course, interest rates now are lower than when the market was going gangbusters, and prices aren't rising. The explanation is that there are stronger factors at work.

Nonetheless, if a million people want to own property in an area (say, La Jolla) and only 40,000 people can, then the price will be determined by the 40,000 people willing and able to pay the most. If twenty million people want to live in San Diego County and only three million can, the prices will be determined by the three million people willing and able to pay the highest prices. End of discussion. Not all properties in all locations are equally valuable of course, but the mix will be determined by what prospective buyers are willing to pay the most for. Note that not all costs are in dollars. Sometimes it's opportunity cost, sometimes it's any number of other costs, such as the risk of earthquake, the heat when the Santa Anas roll in, etcetera. Some people absolutely require living in a six bedroom 3000 square foot house, and if they can't afford the prices those command here, they'll go elsewhere despite the fact that they could easily afford something less expensive. Others will put up with living in a broom closet or a cardboard box so long as they can go surfing every day.

Analysis focusing on a market's short term results are largely a study in mob psychology. A few years ago when property was overpriced locally, I couldn't slow people eager to follow the other lemmings with a locomotive. When that changed, with available property prices well below historical trendlines locally, it took taken entire battalions of wild horses to pull individuals off the sidelines due to media coverage. But mob psychology is a changeable thing. A co-worker and I were talking about modifying an old T shirt just before I originally wrote this. The original version has two vultures sitting on a tree limb, discussing the negative utility of patience: "Patience MY ---! I'm going to KILL something!" (pardon the vulgarity.) We're going to change the second line to "I'm going to BUY SOMETHING!" That's the mood of the market we we're encountering then. The people who had been holding off seem to have realized that this is about as good as things were going to get for them. Maybe they're tired of waiting. Maybe they realized things were more affordable for them than they were in 2000, let alone 2004. Maybe they got "priced out" during the bubble and want to move before it happens again. Once you buy, it's not like the seller can come back and ask you for more money later because it turned out to be such a wonderful bargain - you're locking in your cost of housing. Putting it under your own control forever. The vultures were starting to swoop.

(Since then, of course, we've had the federal government ruining the economy and the machinery of lending, while pretending that things are getting better. They're not fooling anyone who's making major economic decisions - as evidenced by national housing statistics. We here in California have been hit by the double whammy of a state government that is also run by special interests and so pretends not to understand basic economics because the alternative is politically offending those special interests.)

Analysis on a local market's longer term prognosis have to ignore mob psychology. It's unpredictable on that scale, and nobody ever knows just when it will turn, or how. But there's only so long mob psychology can trump practical economics, which is the norm that any particular market will follow ever more closely the longer you run the experiment. With the recent decline in values, San Diego has dropped significantly below long term value trends and was still below them even with the aborted recovery, let alone since. This means that considering current supply and regulatory barriers to increasing it, demand of people who want to live here, the values that those people can afford to pay, and increasing demand for housing in San Diego, not to mention the changing dynamics of the rental situation (be prepared for rapid increases in rental rates), right now is an excellent time to buy, as prices are below where you would expect, given the longer term factors influencing the San Diego regional housing market.

Articles which consider only short term price fluctuations are looking backwards as we go into the future. They're looking at where we've been, not where we're going. And as always when you're effectively driving with your eyes closed: "You're gonna hit something, but that's the way it goes..."

Caveat Emptor

Original article here


First off, let me make something very plain. All a CBB (Cooperating Buyer's Broker compensation) can do is give good agent an incentive or disincentive to look at the property. A high one will not, by itself, sell the property. A low one will not completely prevent it from being sold. Buyers, being interested in their own bottom line, will persist in choosing the property that offers them the best property for their purposes at the lowest price, and agents with about an hour in the business should understand this. I not only cannot sell a buyer on a property that isn't at least as good a bargain for them as the competing properties, I won't try. It's contrary not only to my client's interest, which should be the ultimate consideration of any agent, but it's not in my interest either.

With that said, you really don't want to do is give agents a reason to sell the other property instead of yours. A cheap CBB does not motivate the agents to work. Suppose a boss told their workers "You will be paid $10 for every green widget you sell. You will be paid $15 for every purple widget you sell." Assume the widgets are identical in every way except color. How many green widgets do you think would get sold versus purple? Sure, they'll sell green if the customer wants it, but that's not going to be what they suggest first. If a customer came in the door wanting a green widget, they'd get a green widget. But if they walk in the door and aren't sure they want a green widget, the sales staff will quite predictably see if they can sell them the purple widget first. If they can, the green widget sits unseen, untried, and unsold.

In real estate, the person who sets that compensation is the owner of the property. There are lots of properties out there, even in a seller's market. When you go to sell, do you want your property to be treated like a green widget, or a purple one?

This isn't evil. Agents have to eat, pay the mortgage, pay expenses, etcetera, and we don't make as much money as people think. Even less so than most people, agents don't get to keep every dollar their company gets paid for their services, and they don't get paid instantly for waving a magic wand. It takes time, work, and expertise - I've spent six months, hundreds of hours, and over a thousand dollars just in immediate expenses working with clients to close a deal. If the company gets paid $10,000 and the agent has an 80% split (far better than most), they get $8000 gross. Less monthly desk fees, less per transaction fees, and less fixed expenses of staying in business, that's maybe $6500, and social security eats twice as much of that as normal, leaving about $5400 - and we haven't even considered income taxes or advertising yet. For a solid month or more of work, and who knows how much time looking before the clients made the offer that was accepted. With practically unlimited liability, and requiring continuous training and work to keep their edge. If it takes 3 months in all, that's barely minimum wage, and most agents work sixty hours per week at a minimum. Quite often, we've got to reduce our commission to put some money back into the transaction so it can close. Sound like a cushy sinecure to you?

Of course, most agents are working with more than one set of clients at a time, but as you can see, a $10,000 commission doesn't translate into a huge windfall for the agent. If the company only gets paid $8000, that translates into maybe $4100 that the agent can use to pay their family's living expenses and taxes. Which do you think they'd rather have, the bigger check or the smaller? Ask yourself what you'd do in their place. If it's a question of the smaller check or nothing at all, there's no question, but there are a lot of properties competing with yours for the available buyers, and more coming onto the market all the time. Do you want to give agents a reason to try and sell your property, or a reason why they'd prefer to sell someone else's property?

With all of this in mind, a screaming deal will sell. You don't have to worry about whether or not the agent is going to be on your side. Buyers will beat a path to your door, with or without an agent. However, pricing your property as a screaming deal is not something most rational owners want to do. They want to get top dollar for that property, and it takes at least ten percent below the rest of the market - more likely twenty - to get attention as a screaming deal. I've said this before, most notably in How to Sell Your Home Quickly and For The Best Possible Price, but this is twenty percent off the correct asking price, not the owner's fevered dreams of greed. The average CBB around here is three percent. So, save three percent to lose twenty? Not something I'd do. Furthermore, you're not going to put up a CBB of zero, no matter how low it's priced. I've explained before why the seller pays the buyer's agent. Finally, if you end up needing to give the buyer an allowance for closing costs to get the property sold, you're quite likely giving out with the other hand the same money you withheld in the first place, as buyers paying their agent is a closing cost. Why not put it out there in the first place, where it is likely to do you some good?

The differences a higher CBB makes for the seller are three: You don't have to worry whether buyers needing to come up with cash to close to pay their agent will impact buyer cash to close, you get more attention for your property more quickly and more consistently, and you don't have to worry about buyer's agents creating reasons not to buy your property. Put yourself in this situation: Most buyers are reluctant to pull the trigger on a half million dollars. They need some good hand-holding and reasons to buy, and instead, their agent is looking for a reasons to help convince them why they want to buy some other property instead. Do you think it might take longer for the property to sell? With carrying costs of somewhere around two-thirds of a percent per month for most properties, if a CBB a half percent higher gets the property sold three weeks faster, you are ahead of the game. The time difference will almost certainly be more than that, and - statistical fact - the longer your property sits unsold, the lower the price it will sell for.

If you want to offer a low CBB, that's your prerogative. The property had better sell itself enough better than anything comparable to still the doubters - and practically every buyer is a doubter. The lower it is, the worse it will be, the longer you'll have to pay carrying costs, and the lower your final sales price. A low CBB, especially in conjunction with other factors about the listing can advertise to buyer's agents that you aren't ready to sell yet, warning them of a difficult transaction with lots of opportunity to fall apart due to seller issues. If I can find a model match with an obviously motivated seller around the corner, why should I take my buyer to yours? We're going to get a better price on the same thing with the property around the corner, there will be fewer issues with the transaction, and the fact that I'll make more money even though my client got a lower price is pure bonus for being a good agent. Call it karma.

On the other hand, offering a significantly higher than average CBB doesn't work as well as some people seem to think it does. It definitely won't sell the property for more than it's really worth. Furthermore, it raises all kinds of red flags in my mind, and, I imagine, in the eyes of most agents. "Why do they think they need to offer five percent when the average is three?" springs to mind pretty much unbidden. Most often, the property is overpriced. Almost as often, there's something wrong with it that only an experienced investor is going to be able to deal with - and experienced investors don't pay top dollar for a property. Ever. Quite often, there's something unrepairable detracting from the value of the property. It might get the property sold much more quickly - most agents have some investors I can call if we have reason to, and if you get our attention with a high CBB, both we and our clients are happy. So if you're stuck with a property that has something seriously wrong with it, a high CBB and a low price will cause it to see a lot more action. But they have to be coupled together. High CBB won't do it on its own. On its own, high CBB is pointlessly wasted money.

An average CBB or maybe slightly higher will quite likely accomplish what you want; a quicker sale and therefore a higher sales price. If you're a half percent above average, that's not enough to raise red flags, and it will get you attention. Good buyer's agents will still require that it be an above average value for the client, but they will look, where they might not otherwise. It also stands a good chance of motivating them to really take a good long look at the property.

Short Sales are worse than everything else, as far as CBB goes. Short sales usually take much longer, are more often than not overpriced, and there's a much higher chance of transaction falling apart and the agent losing the client as a result. In my area, over eighty percent of all short sales fall apart, and there's not much the buyer's agent can do to alter the odds - it's in the hands of the listing agent. The lender is going to require the agents involved to reduce their commissions. Agents know this, and they can't really fight it. If you're out there on the cheap end of CBB before the lender wants to grab money we've earned away from us, and statistically four out of five short sales self-destruct and lose the client without closing, what reason is there to show your property, as opposed to the one down the street that's not a short sale? Cost my client money and time to no good purpose, when I can usually find them something just as good at a better price that closes faster and without the eighty percent chance of fallout. But there's always a reason for a short sale. I've never seen one yet where the owner didn't need to sell for some reason or another. Why doesn't matter; If a short sale is the least bad thing that can possibly happen to you, the one thing you don't want is for the property to fail to sell, and a below average CBB on a short sale will practically insure that the property won't sell.

If I had my druthers as a buyer's agent, I'd rather buyer's agency commission be set as a flat amount, regardless of the actual sales price, so that the agent isn't shooting themselves in the foot if they can negotiate a better price. On the other hand, it's not a crime for the seller to structure it in a way that produces dissonance between the interests of the buyer and the interests of that buyer's agent. I may not like it, but I take shameless advantage of it when I'm listing property - I advise owners to make CBB a percentage when I'm the listing agent. Just because I understand a happier client is likelier to bring me more business doesn't mean every agent does. Maybe it's because I read Sun Tzu and von Clausewitz at an early age, and military history has always been an avocation with me. Maybe it's because I took almost enough probability and statistics courses in college for it to count as a major. Maybe I'm just competitive by nature. Whichever it is, I believe in taking every opportunity to load the dice in my client's favor before they get tossed. Anytime there are large amounts of money at stake, you're either in it to win or you are a sucker. There's a lot more money involved in real estate than almost anything else.

At higher valuations, reasonable agents expect CBBs to go down. There's not much difference in the actual work between a half million dollar property and a full million dollar one. Higher liability exposure and a little more hand holding and a little more service. Furthermore, the kind of people who buy million dollar properties tend to be better qualified to do so, leading to fewer escrows failing due to buyers failure to qualify.

One of the things I don't understand is that many agents are the worst about CBB. They should know the power, and yet when it comes to their own money they disregard the facts and try and to do it on the cheap. I make a special note when I notice those listings, because it's like they're shouting, "I'm just out for a quick buck! I don't really know what I'm doing!" to those with the ability to hear it. With that information, I keep a special eye on their listings for other clients. Just part of my desire to look for opportunities to depth charge fish in a barrel. When I find one, it always results in a happier client.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here


People sometimes ask, "Why should the lender care where I got the money for the down payment? I earned it, it's mine - cash is cash!"

They're right as far as they go. In general, the lender doesn't care whether you got your cash. For all they care, it could have been by selling off your first-born child, moonlighting as a drug dealer, or embezzling the funds from your employer. It's not usually a good idea to get a real estate loan if you're facing criminal charges (and you must disclose it if you are), but if you aren't facing charges, the lenders don't really care.

What they do care about is money appearing for no known reason just prior to purchasing real estate. They want to make certain that cash is really all yours. Quite often that money is an undisclosed loan, on which you are going to have to make payments, which are going to influence your debt to income ratio. Debt to income ratio is the most critical measure of loan qualification. If you're going to be making monthly payments of $400 to pay back the person who loaned you that money, the lender is required to consider whether the money you are making is going to enable you to pay back that loan as well as their own.

So the lender is going to want to know where any sudden influx of money in the last few months came from. This is called "sourcing" the money. They want to know where it came from. Did you sell another property? Then they want evidence, in the form of a HUD 1 that shows that money. Did you get a bonus? Let's see the remittance advisory. Did you sell stock? Did you sell your collection of rare Roman gold coins? Each of these has paperwork to attest to the fact, and the lender will want to see that paperwork.

If some friend or family member wants to make an actual gift, that's fine also. What the lender will require is a letter from that person stating that this money is a gift and comes with no strings attached. What they're looking for is an explanation that doesn't involve the money being obtained through a loan.

If you've had the money for a while, or have been building it up over time, your account statements will demonstrate that fact. Six months ago, you had $100,000. Since then, you've saved another $3000, earned another $5000 on the balance, and your balance is now $108,000. This is called "seasoning" the funds. Nobody wants to have a loan sitting around longer than necessary - particularly not a loan for a significant amount of money. Seasoning the funds reassures the lender that this is not an undisclosed loan.

Suppose the money in your checking account that suddenly appeared two weeks ago is a loan? That isn't necessarily insurmountable. Let's get the loan paperwork out there where the lender can see it, examine the repayment schedule, figure out what it does to your ability to make the payments on this new real estate loan you want. If you qualify by debt to income ratio with these payments included, it's pretty likely your loan will be approved. There are exceptions, but I'm going to let those go uncovered, because I'm not real big on telling the general public how to get fraudulent loans accepted. There might be politicians reading this, and letting them know all the answers to that would be irresponsible of me.

The main reason why we have to source and season cash in every transaction is quite simply so people aren't able to hide the fact that they've recently gotten a loan. It seems paranoid at first, but it isn't paranoia if people are out to get you, and lenders have gotten burned many thousands of times over this point. People quite often don't even think it's wrong to keep silent, even though it is fraud. So if the lender doesn't require sourcing and seasoning of funds, the lender grants the loan based upon known information, only to later discover that the borrower is unable to make payments due to also needing to make payments on an undisclosed personal loan. Neither the lender nor the FBI fraud unit are very happy if that happens, and neither will you be.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

I just picked a random ZIP code in my local MLS, and out of the first twenty listings I came to, ten had explicit violations of one or more of the sections of RESPA regarding steering right there in the listing. This did not include lender-owned real estate, which has its own set of issues in this regard. All I did was count two common violations.

The first was "Buyer must be prequalified by X", where X was some loan originator. In a way, I understand this. Forty percent plus of all escrows locally are falling out, and the vast majority of them because of unqualified buyers who cannot qualify for the loan. This wastes a minimum of about a month, plus when it goes Active again, it looks like it's been on the market for longer than it really has. Bad thing all around for the seller. The justification used is that for some reason, the agent trusts that particular loan officer to render a real opinion. Perhaps occasionally, a lender owned property will even try to require prospective buyers to prequalify through them. While it might seem reasonable, here's some relevant law from RESPA

Business referrals

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

They mean that "any thing of value" bit, if you peruse down to the definitions. It's defined very literally by about a paragraph of text that boils down to four words: ANY thing of value. You refer business to them, they give you approvals you can count on. It doesn't matter if you require "only" a prequalification - they now have the prospective borrowers information, including credit information and home telephone number. This means that even if there's no application fee, no deposit, not even a credit report fee, you have still given that loan originator a "business relationship" with the borrower. That makes for legal consideration on both sides of the equation, and both the originator and agent are guilty. This is just as hard a violation of RESPA as a fraudulent HUD 1 form. It hasn't been enforced much of late, but I believe that the State of California could probably put over half the brokerages and lenders in the state out of business over loan steering. I only counted four out of twenty actual explicit requirements to pre-qualify with a specific lender this time, while the last time I conducted the exercise it was eight. Maybe it's getting better, maybe it's not, but twenty percent of a representative sample of listings having an explicit violation of the law right there for everyone to see is not something agents should be proud of. When it comes to holding someone responsible for their representations, pre-approval doesn't mean anything. If you're a real estate agent who doesn't do loans, talk to a lender you trust about necessary information to determine whether a loan is doable. I've created a special form that I send to agents making offers on my listings. Nothing in the way of personally identifiable information except the borrower's name - no social, no contact information - but it does have credit score, late payment history, income information, etcetera, to the point where I can tell whether or not I could do the loan on the terms necessary to make the transaction fly. Furthermore, it does require the loan officer to sign a representation that they aware that a decision as to whether or not to grant credit - in the form of agreeing to enter escrow - will be made based upon this information. They don't need to make representations of opinion - all I'm asking for is verified facts. Armed with those facts, I have a pretty darned good idea if this borrower is capable of consummating the transaction. Doesn't tell me whether they will or not, but that's not what wanting a prequalification or preapproval is about.

But when I'm a buyer's agent, which is most often, I simply ignore these requests that violate the law. Furthermore, this puts me in rather a strong negotiating position if the listing agent repeats the request or brings it to my attention. Now they've compromised their client's interests, by giving the other side (me) a concrete legal issue to aim at them. Game, set, match. As I said, four out of the first twenty listings in a random ZIP code explicitly violated RESPA right in the listing, without counting the ones that say "Contact us prior to making an offer," where that's usually what they want. Four out of twenty where there is precisely zero doubt that they're violating the law.

Actually, that wasn't the most common violation, either. That goes to "Seller to select all services," at six out of twenty - thirty percent. Also from RESPA:

Sec. 2608. Title companies; liability of seller

(a) No seller of property that will be purchased with the assistance of a federally related mortgage loan shall require directly or indirectly, as a condition to selling the property, that title insurance covering the property be purchased by the buyer from any particular title company.

(b) Any seller who violates the provisions of subsection (a) of this section shall be liable to the buyer in an amount equal to three times all charges made for such title insurance.

Even though in California the seller usually buys the title insurance for the buyer, I've had more than one lawyer tell me that failure to negotiate is construed as a violation of RESPA by the courts. It works like this: In the case of simultaneous owner's and lender's policies from the same company, there's a discount for the lender's policy, essentially requiring the lender's title insurer to be the same as the owner's title insurer. Since this happens on every purchase transaction where there's a loan, you have the requirement to negotiate. Seller and buyer negotiate until they come to a mutually acceptable compromise. Neither one of them gets to dictate to the other. Furthermore, failure to consider the best bargain for the client is a violation of fiduciary duty for the agent. It's not the sellers who want to choose services. Other than corporate owned property - lender owned and corporate relocation properties - there just isn't a reason for many sellers to care. The only reason is if they're employed by a title or escrow company, and their fringe benefits include free title or a free escrow. I've seen that once in the last four years.

What's really going on here is title insurance companies providing free farms, or subsidized mailings, or any number of other freebies they use to attract real estate agent business. Or the brokerage has a captive escrow company they're required by the broker to use, despite the fact that failing to negotiate this point is a violation of the law. I've had agents or their idiot assistants tell me that they get "discounted service" even when I've got a lower quote from the competition. Furthermore, the interplay of title company and escrow company is important. If there's no common ownership between the two, the title company will charge a "subescrow fee" that I've seen be anywhere from $100 to $450 (usually about $350) because they're the ones who are actually set up to accomplish some things that are legally the escrow company's responsibility. For instance, recording. What this means is that even if the actual quote is lower from unaffiliated companies, the clients are quite likely better off choosing escrow and title companies where there is common ownership, even if the quote is a little higher - because there won't be subescrow fees, and quite likely not messenger fees between title and escrow. To paraphrase an common saying, $350 is $350, even when there's a half million dollar deal happening. Make certain you get a guaranteed total fee for services quote based upon the actual escrow and title relationship to each other. I'm quite sorry for independent escrow companies - I have no reason to believe they're any less competent or charge anything more than title company affiliated ones - but they're competing at a disadvantage because the title company wants to charge more to work with them, and this is quite reasonable given that they will be performing services that are the escrow company's responsibility. They waive subescrow for their own affiliated companies simply because, one way or another, they're responsible for the work.

I've also heard all sorts of nonsense about competence of title and escrow officers. The fact is that most of them are perfectly up to your transaction. Even corporate owned relocation properties, where there may be some complex tax issues, aren't significantly more complex than your garden variety individual buyer - individual seller, and don't get me started about 1031 exchanges, which are perfectly straightforward from escrow's point of view. Any good agent's agenda is very simple - competent service providers for the lowest total price. The vast majority of the time, this means a title and escrow company with common ownership. Note that I don't care which title company and affiliated escrow company. I'll do business with anyone that hasn't hosed a client, and even if they have, I'll simply require a different title or escrow officer - just because John has a recto-cranial inversion doesn't mean Jane, another officer at the same company, does. Even lender-owned property will negotiate service providers if you approach it right - which is how it should be. Oh, you'll end up with their choice of providers most of the time, but you can get them to pay for subescrow and messenger fees, and quite likely an allowance to meet your lowest quote elsewhere - meaning your client doesn't really have a reason to care. Essentially the same product at the same price to them. Why would most clients raise a fuss about that? Indeed, the only thing worthy of most clients raising a fuss would be if you didn't negotiate for that. Explaining the whys and wherefores of the whole service provider quandry has gotten me a seller or two working at cross-purposes to their listing agent, who had someone all picked out without informing their seller. When this happens, my buyer wins. How could I not use every weapon at my disposal?

The intent of Congress on steering is quite clearly spelled out:

TITLE 12--BANKS AND BANKING
CHAPTER 27--REAL ESTATE SETTLEMENT PROCEDURES
Sec. 2601. Congressional findings and purpose
(a) The Congress finds that significant reforms in the real estate settlement process are needed to insure that consumers throughout the Nation are provided with greater and more timely information on the nature and costs of the settlement process and are protected from unnecessarily high settlement charges caused by certain abusive practices that have developed in some areas of the country. The Congress also finds that it has been over two years since the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and the Administrator of Veterans' Affairs submitted their joint report to the Congress on ``Mortgage Settlement Costs'' and that the time has come for the recommendations for Federal legislative action made in that report to be implemented.
(b) It is the purpose of this chapter to effect certain changes in the settlement process for residential real estate that will result--
(1) in more effective advance disclosure to home buyers and sellers of settlement costs;
(2) in the elimination of kickbacks or referral fees that tend to increase unnecessarily the costs of certain settlement services...
(emphasis mine)


Whatever forms those kickbacks and referral fees may take, if your agent is violating this, do you really want to do business with them?

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

Racial Gap In Home Loans

| | Comments (0)

Racial Gap in Loans Is High in California.

I can give a variety of reasons for this.

First off, especially in Los Angeles but to a lesser extent throughout the state, there is a huge "Spanish speaking only" community. When you limit yourself to speakers of a language which isn't the nation's primary business tongue, you limit your ability to find loan officers who will treat you honestly and fairly and find you the best possible loan. I speak reasonable Spanish myself, but not nearly enough to do a loan.

Second, those who speak Spanish only are ripe pickings for unscrupulous loan officers and real estate agents. Because they do not understand English, the language the regulations are written in, they have less understanding of what is a complicated and confusing process for anyone who is not a practicing professional. In fact, I can name a lot of alleged professionals who speak English and are nonetheless limited in the comprehension of the process to judge by the evidence.

Third, those who speak Spanish only have a lesser understanding of their rights under the law, and since the vast majority of all loan documents are in English (a few lenders are starting to generate a few documents in Spanish, but not every document, and it will never be the main copy of anything), they have a lesser understanding of what they are agreeing to.

(Gee, I hope the preceding helps the "Spanish only" lobby of separatists understand what they're setting up for the people whose benefit they are allegedly advocating.)

But more importantly than all of the preceding, real estate and loans are "sales connection" businesses. Because most people do not shop for homes or home loans in a rational fashion. "I can't be rational! This is far too important for that!" Seems silly, but it's true. People buy or do business with you because you have made them more comfortable, or because they think you can do something nobody else can or will for them. They do business because they connect with you on some level, not because what you're offering is the best thing out there.

Identity politics exacerbates this. There are agents out there (often but not always necessarily of the same ethnicity) whose niche market is "black folks", or "Spanish speakers" or "Koreans". Some people will do business just because you're the same, or because they feel some kind of cultural connection. Others will do business because that agent or loan officer helped their brother, or friend, whether said brother was the toughest deal in creation or the easiest thing they ever did. And if your brother had to do something, or had something happen, it's only normal it should happen to you, too - right? One of the standard phrases in the sales lexicon is "My you were tough, but we got it done! How about some referrals." This by itself is not evil. But if you've taken advantage of someone as if they were a tough loan when in fact they were not and could have gotten a better deal from someone else, you're lining your pocket at your client's expense. Everybody deserves to get paid for a job well done. But when my contacts in the escrow and title business tell me about people who only serve this ethnic market or that ethnic market who have six percent state of California limits on their compensation externally applied to every single loan they do, or how these people consistently have a sales compensation a full percent above the market, that tells me something: that these alleged professionals are taking undue advantage of their target market. Many of these people they are targeting literally have no way of knowing there is something better out there. Are their tactics illegal? No. Unethical? In at least some cases. Taking advantage of client ignorance? Definitely.

The process of purchasing, selling, or financing real estate is byzantine, with rules and regulations that get more complex every year. The average citizen has difficulty understanding the things that may be relevant to their particular transaction (I've had to explain to lawyers how they got taken in their previous transaction). To most people, the whole thing is like some immensely complicated magical ritual. Place the proper documents at the foot of the underwriting god, dance three time sunwise and four times widdershins round the appraisal every day for a fortnight, pray with the high priests of insurance, and you get your house.

It has elements in common, I will admit. But the processes of real estate sales and real estate loans are coldly, brutally, logical once you understand them. Unfortunately, the odds of understanding are stacked even further against those who are apart from the majority of society. Those who are concerned with minorities having inferior loans would have more success in connecting the people to the mainstream of society than in considering further burdensome anti-discrimination legislation.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

Banker loans are better deals - for the bank.

Ken Harney had an article Study Shows Loan Brokers' Better Side

But now a new, independent academic study has concluded the opposite: According to a team of researchers headed by Georgetown University's Gregory Elliehausen, home mortgage applicants with less-than-perfect credit pay lower financing costs when they obtain their mortgages through brokers rather than from loan officers directly employed by lenders. The same pattern holds true for African American, Hispanic and low-income borrowers.

The study was limited to subprime borrowers, but the results are not surprising:

Overall, broker loans cost 1.13 points less for first mortgages, 1.98 less for second mortgages

For borrowers in predominantly black areas, the difference was 1 point and 1.9 points, respectively.

For borrowers in predominantly hispanic areas, the difference was 2 points and 2.4 points. The explanation as to why this gap is larger is probably as simple as the fact that many of these folks limit themselves to dealing with Spanish speakers.

Skolnik added, though, that the data overall could reflect that "brokers in general operate in a much lower-cost structure" compared with banks and retail mortgage companies that carry heavy overhead and employee costs. Moreover, he said, "brokers are far more agile and nimble than retail" lenders, when pushed to compete on pricing and terms.

That and any given lender may have anywhere from a dozen loan programs to fifty, all intended to hit specific niches and priced for given underwriting assumptions. A 3/1 is different from a 7/1 is different from a 30 year fixed, stated income is different from full doc is different from NINA. That's nine programs right there, and this is A paper stuff. Subprime is even more varied. It doesn't matter if you barely meet guidelines or soar through them. If you find a program with tougher underwriting guidelines that you still qualify for, than that lender will give you a better rate on the loan, because they will have fewer of them go sour, and therefore get a better rate on the secondary market. You can go around to all the lenders yourself - or you can go to a broker.

Furthermore, even if you're one of those so slick that you fit into the top loan category of the toughest lender, brokers can typically get you a better price. Why? Two reasons. First, the lenders don't have to pay broker's overhead, making it more cost effective for the lender to do the same business through the broker. Second, and more importantly, when you walk into a lender's office, they regard you as a "captive" client. Brokers know better. Brokers are not captive to anyone, and they know that you're not captive to them. A good broker's loan officer will price with at least a dozen lenders. I had shopped fifty or more for tough loans, even before automatic pricing engines. Furthermore, there's an efficiency factor at work. After a while, a good loan officer learns which lenders are likely to have good rates for a given type of client. Which do you, as a client, think is likely to be the best use of your time and resources? Going to all those lenders yourself, or going to a few brokers?

This article of mine is also highly relevant to this article's subject matter.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

A mortgage or Deed of Trust (they're not the same!) is basically pledging an asset that you own as collateral for a debt. If you default on the debt, the lender takes your property. When you're talking about real estate in the state of California (and many others), this is generally accomplished by use of a Deed of Trust. There are three parties to a Deed of Trust: the trustor, trustee, and beneficiary.

The Trustor is the entity getting the loan.

The Beneficiary is the entity making the loan.

The Trustee is the entity which has the legal responsibility of standing in the middle and making sure the rules are followed. When the loan is paid off, they should make certain a Reconveyance is completed and sent to the trustor so they can prove it was paid off. If the beneficiary is not being paid, they are the ones who actually perform the work of the foreclosure.

One thing to keep in mind during all discussions of real estate and real estate loans is that the amounts of money involved are usually large - the equivalent of somebody's salary for several years on every transaction. The temptation to fudge the numbers or even outright lie to get a better deal, or to get a deal at all, is strong. Many people don't think they're really doing anything wrong by fudging things a bit, but this is FRAUD. Serious felony level FRAUD. Fraud, and attempted fraud are widespread. There are low-lifes out there who make a very high-class living at it (for a while). Every lender has to devote a large amount of resources to determining that each individual transaction is not being conducted fraudulently. To fail to do so would be to fail in their jobs to protect their stockholders and investors. I have told many stories about the most common sorts. But the reason everything in every real estate transaction is gone over with such a fine-toothed comb that adds thousands of dollars to the cost of the transaction is that people lie, cheat and steal with such large amounts under consideration. Every hoop that anybody is asked to jump through has a reason why it exists, and often that is because somebody, usually many somebodies, have committed FRAUD based upon that particular point.

One of the conditions I must attach, implicitly or explicitly, to every quote for services, is that this is based upon the condition that you are telling me the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth, and are being honest and forthright in your presentation of the facts without trying to hide anything and are specifically calling my attention to anything that you suspect may be a problem. And because the list of what is relevant information is long, complex, and conditional upon factors that are often opaque to non-professionals, sometimes, people quite honestly don't realize that something is a fly in the ointment so they don't mention it. I, or any other professional practitioner, have no way of knowing that said fly exists unless you, the client, tell me about it. Therefore what I tell you initially does not account for said fly. This is not unethical, it is just a due to the fact that I don't have all of the relevant information..

When you're talking about residential real estate loans there are basically two absolute requirements as to the nature of the collateral. The first is land - land as in real estate. A partial, fractional, or shared ownership of a common interest in land (as in a condominium) are each sufficient unto the task. A rented space to park your mobile home is not.

To that real estate, there must be permanently attached in a way so as to prohibit removal, or at least make it an extended project, a residence in which people can live. We're all familiar with you basic site-built house. Personally, I'm a big believer in the virtues of manufactured housing. To paraphrase Robert A. Heinlein in precisely this context, imagine a car for which all the parts are brought individually to your home and assembled on site with ordinary portable tools in an environment which was not specifically designed to facilitate said assembly. How much would you expect to pay, and how would you expect it to perform? The correct answers are "A LOT more than for your house", and "not very well, in terms of either reliability, speed, or economy."

Nonetheless, when a lender looks at a house that's been moved to the site, they see one that can be moved away from the site as well, and they are skeptical because many people have done precisely that. Furthermore, the way that residential real estate is valued is somewhat arcane. The lot itself may be worth $400,000 here in California because it has $150,000 of improvements on it in the form of a three-bedroom house on it, but take away that three-bedroom home, and the lot may be only worth a fraction of the amount. So they loan you money based upon a $550,000 value of the combination as it sits. Some time later, you back your truck up to the house and cart it off, and then default on the loan, leaving the bank a lot may only have a value at sale of $80,000. Now imagine yourself as the bank employee who made the loan. How do you explain this to your boss? Over the years, many bank employees have had to explain this to their bosses, all the way up the chain of command to CEOs explaining to investors and stockholders. Lenders know that most people are honest - but they've got a duty to make sure you are among the honest ones. And if you subsequently lose your job and can't pay your mortgage, might you not be tempted to back the truck up and haul the house off somewhere if you could so the bank can't take it? There are good substantial reasons why many lenders won't approach manufactured housing as residential real estate, and the ones who do treat it as such charge higher than standard rates, and place further limitations on lending.

When I originally wrote this, I was personally eyeing a beautiful manufactured home that more than meets my family's needs, was in the middle of the area I want to live in, and was priced more than $100,000 lower than comparable sized and lower quality site built homes on smaller lots. Yet there was a reason for that lower price. It's not like that owner just decided to list it for $150,000 less than he could get. The home carries many higher costs. If I had bought that home, I would be paying for it in the form of higher loan costs every month, and higher loan fees every time I refinance until I sold it, and fewer people able to buy the home when and if I do sell it as a result of loan constraints, and a I can expect lower eventual sales price as a consequence - which is the situation that owner was in when I was looking at it. I reluctantly decided that those costs outweigh the benefits. My decision was regretful, but until somebody comes up with a procedure that banks agree makes manufactured housing equal in every way to site built in their eyes, it is also firm.

Caveat Emptor


Original here

(And I must say that if somebody comes up with such a procedure, you will be a gazillionaire, and deserve every last penny and then some. I hereby publicly forswear all claims of compensation for the idea of such a procedure. If you can make it work and it makes you rich, I won't ask for a penny, although any contribution you care to make voluntarily will be happily accepted. I just want to be able to say you got the idea from me, as part of my contribution to a better world)

For a couple years, Mortgage Accelerators, or Money Merge Accounts, were the thing that everyone was pushing. I got so much junk mail about this from more originators (who don't know who I am) and wholesalers (who should) that I decided to take another whole go at the entire concept. The claim most often advanced is "pay off your mortgage in a fraction of the time!" In fact, typical numbers say they're only going to do a fraction of the good done by biweekly payment programs, which effectively make one extra payment per year. Money merge accounts or Mortgage Accelerators (to use the term I originally learned years ago) have been pushed and over-promised so badly of late that I hope whoever manages to do an elementary search will be able to find a voice of sanity.

These wasteful loans that waste a homeowner's money became the market's negative amortization loan as far as marketing goes. These things were being pushed hard, consumers were being led to expect far greater results from them than they are likely to achieve, with the results being that those consumers who sign up for them are wasting their money. If Mortgage Accelerators are not as bad as negative amortization loans, that's still damning with faint praise if ever there was such a thing. Not as bad as the loan that encouraged people to buy a more expensive property than they could afford, put them more deeply into debt with every passing month, ruined their credit ratings, and caused them to lose the property they over-extended to buy, as well as setting the United States as a whole up for the worst financial crisis we've experienced in the past eighty years. Well, it is kind of a high bar for lenders to get over, and they haven't done it here - but that's not due to concern for consumers.

(one way of looking at it with considerable merit was that the Era of Make Believe Loans was scamming investors, while these merely scam consumers)

What goes on with these accounts is complex, and they're not all identical. The basic idea is the same, however. You create a special account of some nature, where you deposit your entire paycheck in the mortgage account, where it lessens the amount of interest you pay on a day-to-day basis. Then you pay your other expenses of living out of the account, gradually increasing the amount back up until the next time you get paid. The idea is that by paying down the balance with your entire paycheck, less interest accumulates and people making the same regular payments will pay their balances down faster with the same balance.

Sounds like a cute idea, right? If it was free, they would be a pure gain for the consumer. Unfortunately, they're not free, and I've never yet seen one that wasn't more costly than it could possibly be worth.

Lenders like these things for a lot of reasons. Most obviously, they're getting pretty much all of a consumer's banking business. Checks come in, go out, clear or don't; all those lovely fees. In the vast majority of all cases, there's the initial cost and interest expense of an associated home equity line of credit. This also raises the bar to make it more difficult for a consumer to refinance away from their loan if someone offers them a better deal. Furthermore, there's usually an explicit charge of about $3500 to set the thing up. I'll show where this money would be better spent on a direct paydown of the mortgage.

Also, the people who sell these things have these beautifully intricate presentations. While people are watching the money whizzing about between one account and another, they're usually not considering whether those figures are reasonable, typical, or even anything like the numbers they personally experience.

Most importantly if consumers are shopping for a new loan, their attention is distracted from the most important part of shopping for a loan - getting the best possible tradeoff between rate and cost, focusing instead on this fascinatingly complex toy that doesn't make nearly the difference most of the people pushing it say it will. Taking the attention of consumers off the question of what rate they are getting, on what type of loan, at what cost, means that they don't have to compete nearly so hard to give you the most competitive rate-cost tradeoff. In plain English, their loans can charge a higher rate of interest. In fact, this difference will cost the typical borrower far more than they could ever hope to save via a money merge account. I'll go over that in this article, as well.

So, first off, let's consider what typical numbers are. Here in San Diego when I originally wrote this, the median property sale was $558,000. In order to qualify for the loan, consumers need a back end Debt to Income ratio of 45%. Front end will most typically be around 36%, with property tax, insurance, vehicle payments, credit cards, student loans etcetera. I'll be really nice and say 32% - chances are that if it's lower than that, the people would have bought a more expensive property. I'm going to assume 20% down payment or equity, which is, if anything, larger than typical. We'll postulate a rate of 6%, which is probably a hair higher than most folks with conforming loans have - and more favorable to the money merge account - and I'm going to put it all into one loan even though that's theoretically a jumbo loan amount, just to give the money merge/mortgage accelerator every possible benefit of the doubt. After all the smart thing to do is split the loan amount, which leaves roughly $30,000 out of this account in a higher interest rate loan, and so the scenario envisioned is more beneficial to the Money Merge than what happens in the real world.

This gives a loan of $446,400. At 6 percent, the payment would be $2676.40. Assuming 32% front end ratio, that's a gross monthly pay of $8365. I don't have withholding tables, so I'll use the actual tax rate for couples making slightly more than $100,000 per year with about $55,000 taxable, which is $7400, plus about $8700 in Social security taxes, plus state and local taxes which I will assume to be roughly $2000. This money gets withheld - it never comes to you in the form of a check. Since you don't get it, when your check goes into the money merge, it doesn't help you pay the interest. This leaves $81,900, or $6825 in take home pay. I'm not going to worry about other deductions like health care, or how your pay is structured, which further erode the benefit. I'm just going to assume it hits your account in full on the first day of the month, maximizing benefit, although I'm still going to assume all of the excess goes out every month. If nothing else, for investment accounts. It's pretty silly to have your money paying off a 6% tax deductible debt when you can have it earning about 10% elsewhere! The real point of this is it isolates the benefit gained from the actual Money Merge, and separates it from any benefit derived from making extra payments, which is in reality the primary way the people selling these play "hide the salami" with consumers, distracting them from what's really causing the benefit - the extra payment, which almost anyone can do, anytime they choose, for free. I'm even going to assume that you don't have an impound account, so the money you eventually spend for property taxes and homeowner's insurance goes to help the money merge as well.

So you get $6825, less the payment of $2676.40, leaves $4148.60. Over the course of the month, money goes out to pay for all of your expenses. The people who sell money merge accounts urge you to leave paying your monthly bills as late as possible to get the maximum benefit from these accounts, completely ignoring the costs of the occasional late payment this is going to cause, as well as detrimental effects upon your credit when it does happen. In fact, a certain amount of these bills are going to wrap into the next month, meaning that under the conditions we've agreed upon, you write that check to your investment account for this month and pay that bill out of your next month's pay if you're smart. Since you're going to write that particular check ASAP if you're smart, that's going to diminish the effects of the $4148.60. But I'm going to be nice and give you a $1000 "cushion" that you carry into the account from month to month (again, you won't do this if you're smart), while the $4148.60 is going to be paid out evenly over the course of the month, giving you a mean daily amount of $2074.30, plus $1000, or $3074.30 per month of temporary principal reduction. This reduces your interest paid by $10.37 that first month! I'm going to assume this is pure gain, every month, and that it continues to compound. If you do this every month for thirty years, you'll actually pay off that loan a grand total of three months early, and the last payment is reduced to a shade over $400! All of this hooting and hollering and shouting and frustration over three months of paying your mortgage off - in an absolutely optimized, perfectly favorable environment where the Money Merge account didn't cost you a penny in set up fees or monthly cost. And even in this ideal situation, with the maximum reasonable advantage compounding over the course of the entire mortgage, out of $963,000 in payments, the money merge saves you about $10,000 at the very end - just over 1% of total payments, heavily discounted for time value of money thirty years from now. That's not the "pay your mortgage off in twelve years for the same payment!" come on used by the most popular of these! Were I the regulatory authorities, I'd be looking very hard at their advertising! Yes, you can pay it off in 12 years by making massive extra payments, but people without a money merge can do exactly the same thing by simply sending in more money.

But most people don't pay their mortgage off in this fashion, and these accounts are not free - or at least I've never heard of one that was. Most people refinance or sell within three years. When they do that, the accounts have to be set up again - which requires new set-up fees. In the example given above, that $10.37 per month compounding for three years is worth $407.92 - and that's if there are no countervailing expenses.

In point of fact, most of these accounts charge a monthly fee that ranges from roughly $1 to whatever they think they can get away with. Plus, there's an upfront cost that ranges from $1995, the cheapest I've seen, up to nearly $6000 depending upon the plan, with most seeming to fall in about the $3500 range. Plus, most of them require you to use a special Home Equity Line Of Credit (HELOC), which costs money in and of itself. The rates on HELOCs are higher than for regular mortgages, forcing you to effectively pay a penalty in interest of having $2000 or $5000 or whatever it is at a higher rate of interest, by usually about 2%. Keep in mind that this is ongoing, and for the entire month. The $2.30 to $8.30 per month this costs directly soaks off a large percentage of the $10.37 putative gain you get. Not to mention whatever the initial costs of the HELOC are. Some are cheap - I've seen others that had thousands of dollars in upfront costs. The HELOC costs, both upfront and monthly, are not relevant to the few plans that don't require HELOCs, but most do.

So with a middle of the line account, you've spend $3500 just to set the money merge (or mortgage accelerator) up, versus $407.92 in benefits over three years, which is longer than most people keep a given loan. Would I do that? Not on your life or mine! Why should I expect one of my clients to do so?

Let's consider some alternatives. Remember I told you the money merge account saves you $10.37 per month in optimal conditions, which works out to just about $10,000 saved at the end of thirty years? Well, let's ask ourselves, "What would be my benefit if I just took the $2000 the cheapest one of these costs me and instead used it for direct principal reduction?" In other words, what if you added that $2000 to your regular mortgage payment once? The answer is, for the example above, that you pay off your mortgage four and a half months early, as opposed to about 3.8, saving an additional $1800! Using the upfront costs for a direct paydown instead pays the mortgage off sooner than the accelerator account, and that's for the cheapest of these that I'm aware of !

After the three years that's all most people keep their mortgage, the person who just uses a $2000 sign up fee is still $1985 and change ahead of the poor stupid schmoe who signed up for the accelerator account! For a middle of the line $3500 set up fee, the difference, mutatis mutandis, is $3780 and growing at the end of three years, to the point where that mortgage is paid off 6.7 months early, as opposed to the mortgage accelerator's 3.8, saving thousands of dollars more than the "accelerator"! This doesn't count the monthly fees most mortgage accelerators charge, HELOC set up fees, or additional HELOC interest charges that the vast majority of these accounts require, and which do siphon off the benefits as noted above.

Keep in mind that with all of this, I've been building a "best reasonable case" to maximize the money merge's advantages. I've mentioned several assumptions that I was making in the account's favor. If any of them changes, the putative benefits basically vanish entirely, or even go decidedly negative.

Now, let's ask ourselves if getting distracted by a mortgage accelerator caused us to not shop as aggressively, or not pay as much attention to the tradeoff between rate and cost as I should have, and as a result, I end up with a mortgage rate that is a mere 1/8th of a percent higher for the same cost. An eighth of one percent is the smallest rate bump in the "A paper" world, and quite often I see differences of a quarter to half a percent for the same loan at the same cost between various A paper lenders when I'm shopping a loan. What would that cost me if I could have had 5.875% for the same cost instead, even keeping the benefits of the accelerator?

The answer is $35.77 per month on the payment, but more importantly, $46.50 the first month on the interest, and this adds up to $1641.77 less interest paid over the three years most people keep the mortgage, while the $10.37 per month benefit of the money merge put the 6% loan as having a balance that's actually $20 lower. Not counting fees of the money merge account, or anything else - just pure difference on the actual cost of that loan, in the form of interest you paid that you wouldn't have had to. How does that sound: Even if everything about the money merge was free, you'd be getting a $20 lower balance over three years in exchange for having spent $1600 more on interest. If you offered people $1600 for $20, what proportion do you think would take you up on it? If you offered them $20 for $1600, how many suckers do you think would go for it, even if you personally begged ten million people?

For those of you who may be loan officers - or real estate agents - reading this, can you point to one single putative benefit that you would think worth the cost that lenders charge to sign up for these programs yourself? As I've said, I can't. There is nothing here that justifies the wild ways in which these are being marketed, and the ridiculous promises that are being made about them. In point of fact, I can think of only a few possible reasons to sell these:

  • Eyes only for a commission check (probably number one in terms of the overall market)

  • You don't understand what's going on, took some marketers word, and haven't done the numbers yourself (hardly a recommendation of your services or professionalism)

  • You just don't care about your clients welfare

When these started being marketed, I wrote about the broad outlines. Never had the urge to hose a client by selling one, so didn't really investigate any further, although I wrote another article about the benefits being quite minimal as compared to the costs. But the ridiculous promises and over-aggressive marketing these have been subjected to in recent weeks have finally motivated me to do a rigorous analysis, and what I see is not "merely" of minimal benefit in even the scenarios most amenable to said benefit, but actually costs more than any putative benefit. I can see precisely zero justification for counseling any client in any situation to pay the money that every one of these I have yet encountered to set it up, as the benefits derived from any of these programs with which I'm familiar never do manage to equal the opportunity costs.

Before I sign off, the point needs to be made that the psychology the account engenders in the consumer is likely to be beneficial, rewarding themselves psychologically for making what are extra payments on the mortgage, and as far as that goes, the account does accomplish something praiseworthy. But the vast majority of all mortgage borrowers can make extra payments of principal any time they want, for free, and when you consider these accounts strictly on the basis of actual numerical advantage over real alternatives, the costs of the program are literally never recovered.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here


There are two sorts of buyer's agency contracts, exclusive and non-exclusive. Note that this has nothing to do with Exclusive Buyer's Agents, who do not accept property for listing. I disagree with their reasoning on the virtues of doing so, but I can see a reasonable person making the arguments that they do. Despite the fact that ninety percent of my business is as a buyer's agent, I have no plans to become an Exclusive Buyer's Agent. The line their organization takes is that agents tend to work on behalf of their listing clients, neglecting buyers even when they're representing them as well. To be fair, I do see that happening in the industry. The solution is quite simply to refuse Dual Agency. I get referral business by making each individual client as happy as I possibly can, not by hosing one class of clients so that I can make another that little bit happier. I'm only on one side of a given transaction, and my clients will tell you I'm not in the least hesitant to advise them if something isn't quite like I would like it to be. Furthermore, I learn things by listing properties - things that I can turn around and use to help my buyer clients - just as I learn things by representing buyers that I can turn around and use to help my next set of listing clients. Without that feedback between the two very different tasks of representing buyers and representing sellers, I'd be a much weaker agent, whichever side of the transaction I was on.

Some states permit agents to call themselves "exclusive buyer's agents" if they work with exclusive buyers agency contracts. An exclusive buyer's agency contract, however, does not mean that all of that agent's business comes from representing buyers. It means that they require buyers to sign a contract that essentially prevents those buyers from working with another agent. An exclusive buyer's agency contract says that no matter which property these buyers buy during the period it runs, that agent will get paid. End of discussion. Since the buyers accept responsibility to pay the agent if the seller or someone else doesn't, which isn't a problem if there's only one buyer's agent, because it is in the seller's interest to pay the buyer's agent. However, what the seller pays only covers one agent, so if there's a second agent involved, the buyer has to pay that second agent out of their own pocket. This essentially constrains them to work with the agent they've given that exclusive contract to. Many very weak agents require exclusive buyer's agency contracts because they're scared of the competition - they know they don't measure up, so they cut the competition out by binding them with an exclusive agency contract. They've got good advertising campaigns in effect, good networks of people, whatever - the essential element in their strategy is that the prospective buyers talk to them first, before those buyers understand what's really going on. Not to mention that this does, in some states, allow them to designate themselves as "Exclusive Buyer's Agents." This is confusing nonsense, and not beneficial for consumers.

There is, however, an alternative. This is the Non-Exclusive Buyer's Agency Contract. This is a standard contract, available in all fifty states through the work of the Association of Realtors (self-interested dinosaur controlled by major chains though the organization is, it does do some beneficial work). In California, it's put out as a part of the WinForms program of standard forms, and I suspect the same is true elsewhere. When you strip it of all the legalese, what it says is that If you buy a property that agent introduces you to, then that agent will be entitled to a buyer's agency commission. Notice that construction, straight out of you high school geometry or logic course? If A then B. If not A, then nothing. In other words, if some other agent introduces you to the property you buy, you owe this agent nothing.

Consumers can be working with literally any number of prospective buyer's agents through non-exclusive contracts, and be perfectly safe. There's only going to be one commission due - to the agent who actually gets the job done. Because of this, consumers can sign one of these and start working with any agent, safe in the knowledge they're not stuck with that agent if they find out they're not doing the job they should. The only thing consumers are giving up is the ability to cut out the agent who actually finds the property they want to buy at a price they're willing to pay. Since this is the hardest, most difficult, most time consuming and most liability ridden part of a buyer's agency job, this is only reasonable. You don't go down to the premium mechanic, have them fix your car, and get out of the bill by paying the cheap shop on the corner. That is the real work for a buyer's agent, not the paperwork of the offer and escrow period, or the gladhanding, or even the showing. The ability to recognize and negotiate a bargain are closely related, however, so even if you get a lower buyer's agency commission by cutting out the agent who finds the bargain, or a cash rebate, you're likely to end up paying more overall for the property. How is saving one or two percent and missing out on five percent, ten percent, or more a good investment? The lowest difference I've made in the last year was over fifteen percent, by CMA of properties sold. That's what a buyer's market will do for you. But you're unlikely to find the agent who makes that kind of difference in your area first time out of the box. The non-exclusive buyer's agency contract lets you give every agent you meet the same chance to earn your business - which means consumers get to force the agents to compete on the basis of who actually does the job!

This makes signing such an agreement a bet the consumer literally cannot lose. In fact, the more such bets the consumer makes, the better it's likely to turn out for them. The weaker agents will self-select out of the process in most cases. What this means in plain every day talk is they won't exert themselves because they know they're not likely to end up with the business. The consumer who signs ten non-exclusive buyer's agency contracts might have, at most, two or three agents who actually work for the business. The others simply won't. They know they can't compete, and simply won't bother. Actually, most of them won't sign the non-exclusive agreement. They'll try to talk you into an exclusive agreement, but don't let them. For the consumer's part, they can simply keep looking for agents until they find the ones that will compete.

Indeed, it's only when signing an exclusive contract that consumers are making a bet they can lose. Not only can they, they are extremely likely to. Remember the ten non-exclusive contracts you signed in the last paragraph, out of which you got two agents who were willing to actually do the work? Look at that the other way around. Eight out of ten didn't, and the real proportion is probably higher than that. So if you sign an exclusive buyer's agency contract, those are the kind of odds you're facing. Eighty percent or more chance you're locking your business up with an agent who won't really do the most important parts of the job. I get calls from these people's victims all the time, asking me to work for them without any chance of getting paid. My answer is no. I'm perfectly willing to compete for the business, but I'm not willing to work without pay so that someone else can get paid. I'm eager to make the bet that I can out-compete other buyer's agents, but if someone else has already been awarded the gold medal, I'm not going to so much as head for the stadium for that particular event - I'm looking for stadiums and events where the gold medal is available to me. How hard do you think the person who has been pre-emptively awarded that gold medal is likely to really work for you? If the answer you got is, "not very" then you understand why you shouldn't sign an exclusive agency agreement. But buyer's agency is one competition where "time in the competition" doesn't control who wins. If you don't award that gold medal before the competition is held, good agents will compete, and they'll work all the harder because if they don't measure up, you can always find some more agents who will. Isn't that what you really want as a consumer?

Caveat Emptor

Original article here


The answer depends upon what they're doing for you.

If you contact them because they're the listing agent for a property, they shouldn't ask you to sign an agreement at all. They have a fiduciary duty to that seller to get the property sold. If the act of asking to sign the agreement causes you not to buy, or not to view the property - something that cannot be known in advance - they have violated fiduciary duty. They've just caused potential buyers to be discouraged. That's as hard a violation as it gets. It doesn't stop a lot of agents, as I've written before about Tina Teaser and Sherrie Shark, but it is a straightforward, no nonsense, no kidding violation of fiduciary duty. It is also a marker for the informed buyer that this is a awful agent. You don't want to do Dual Agency, as I've written on many occasions. There are many reasons why you want a buyer's agent representing your interests, especially if it's a new development. There are all sorts of issues that will bite people without buyer's agents ten to a hundred times or more frequently. Issues that arise directly because of Buyer's who don't want buyer's agents are about nine of the top ten reasons why buyers get burned, including the top three or four.

If all an agent is doing is setting up an internet gateway, or search, that's no big deal either. MLS will allow me to have something like 120 client gateways at a time. I've never had half that at any one time. I can't serve that many people. I can only work with an absolute maximum of about six sets of full service buyers at a time - and that's if I don't have any listings. A smart agent will quite happily set up an internet gateway on the speculation of getting a transaction out of it. I'll call or email these folks periodically to see if they want to look at anything, or anything has caught their fancy. I'm not investing any significant time with them; they don't count against my (self-imposed) limit of six clients at a time. In fact, I make a lot more per hour with these clients than any others. Indeed, those of these folk who only want me for the paperwork will ask me for a contract that says I will rebate part of any buyer's agency commission at that point in time. If my liability is less and I'm not putting in anything like the time I need to for a full service client, I'm perfectly willing to work for a lot less money.

If you come to me to put an offer in, I don't need a contract there, either. The purchase contract specifies that I'm the buyer's agent - I don't need another one. Some agents use this moment as an opportunity to "lock up the business" by insisting people who want to make an offer through them sign an exclusive buyer's agency contract, but there is precisely zero need for any kind of agency contract at that point in time. The agency is created for this offer by the purchase contract itself, either explicitly (as in the California standard contract) or implicitly, by agency law. There's absolutely nothing wrong, ever, with an agent who asks you to sign a non-exclusive buyer's agency contract. You can walk away from a non-exclusive agency agreement at any time, but an exclusive agency contract requires that you stick with them even if this transaction falls apart. Suppose they do something to sabotage the transaction? It happens.

It's a rare client who requires something I have to pay for, but It does happen. Mostly, it's fresh foreclosure lists when it does happen. I haven't been subscribing consistently, as right now the well-aged ones (at least four months old) are mostly better, but I know the ones that work for when I do have clients that want them. I can get them starting that day, and going back. I don't charge for this - but that's the only time I ask for an exclusive buyer's agency contract. Not only am I putting out a significant stream of money for their benefit, these people do count against the limit of six clients at a time I can work with - they count double! Working the fresh foreclosure lists is a lot more demanding than anything else I do, because it's all time critical. I can't put it off a day, and often not even an hour, even if there's something else going on with another client - it's got to be done NOW, and there are a lot of misses for every hit. It's kind of like being married to the ultimate high maintenance spouse. If that spouse is not willing to give just as much, nobody rational wants any part of that relationship. If you want an agent to put in that kind of work, you're going to have to commit to that agency relationship.

But the one common time a good agent will ask for a buyer's agency contract is when someone wants a real full service package. Property scouting is far too time intensive to do on speculation that you might want to do the transaction with me after I invest the time to find a real bargain. The agent has to invest usually weeks of time up front, culling out the bad prospects in favor of the better ones. This is, by the way, far and away the hardest work of the transaction, and the work that gets done has most of the liability of the process. A good agent - one who knows how good he or she is - will still only ask for a non-exclusive contract here. I'm perfectly willing to bet that I'm going to find you something you want to buy, and if I don't, then you owe me nothing. I'm eager to make that bet, as a matter of fact. I am not frightened of people who want to work with multiple agents. I know that the vast majority of other agents won't get out of their offices to go look. But if I do find something you want to buy - I take the time and do the work, and my experience and training spots a superior value - then I'm not going to countenance you then taking the transaction to some other agent. Kind of like a mechanic who gets the problem fixed - and then you decide to take the car to another mechanic. You're still going to have to pay the mechanic who actually solved your problem, and you're still going to have to pay the agent who finds the bargain. You don't think the agent did anything to deserve getting paid? Then don't buy that bargain property they found for you! But if you want to buy the property they found, then there is, by obvious fact, something particularly valuable, both about their property and about their work in finding it! If that were not the case, you wouldn't want to buy it.

So it's reasonable to be asked to sign a non-exclusive buyer's agency contract. As a matter of fact, agents that actually do this work have learned that if they don't get you to sign it, a very large percentage of people will then go to a discounter or rebate house, or even just buy the property "without an agent", thinking they'll get a better bargain that way. Not only will you get a better bargain through the agent who understands the property and the market, that agent can then stay in business for the next time you, your friends, or your family wants to buy real estate. That's a win-win. But trying to cut out the agent who found the bargain is a lose-lose. You'll get a cookie cutter transaction from someone who doesn't understand the market and can't bargain as well - you'll end up paying more, and if there comes a point where you should walk away, they won't know it and won't tell you if they do.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

First off, let me say that your site has been very informative and helpful. I stumbled across your blog looking for information on ARM vs. 30 year fixed loans and ended up reading every article.

One issue I have never really seen addressed is joint loans. When a couple, married in this case, gets a loan, which FICO score do they use?

Right now, my wife is a nursing student, when she graduates in August we want to buy a new home that is significantly more expensive than our current home. Our combined salaries at that point should be somewhere around 120K. I have been told by a mortgage professional in our first phone conversation that being a student counts for "years in line of work", but we would have to wait until she receives her first paycheck from her new job before we could count her income. We just accepted an offer on our current home last week, and will have enough cash to put down 10% in the price range we are looking at (200-300 K). If we want to buy before she is employed, but has an offer so we know her salary, what are our options? It seems to me that we would be in a situation where we are doing a Stated Income type loan.

The answer to this is that whoever make more money is the primary borrower. This works with a couple as well as other arrangements. It's a very simple answer, but you'd be amazed how often I have to repeat it for trainee loan officers. Of course we all want to use whichever score is better, but it's the person who makes more money whom the lender will consider to be the primary borrower. It's their income that's providing the main source of income with which to pay back the loan.

As far as A paper goes, it's kind of academic. If you want to use both incomes for the loan, you both have to qualify. This can be an issue when one spouse forgets to pay bills and the other is as retentive as I am about it. Over time, spouses credit reports tend to track one another more and more closely, as they switch from single credit accounts to joint accounts. If it's a joint account, doesn't matter who forgot to pay the bill - you both take the hit. On the other hand, even long-married spouses don't tend to have exactly the same score, and in many cases they have intentionally segregated the credit accounts for precisely this reason, that one spouse is better about paying bills. So one spouse has a 760, and the other spouse has a 560. Ouch.

It is to be noted that the superior solution is to have the responsible spouse pay all of the bills, which results in two high credit scores. Why is this important? If one of you has a 760, they may qualify A paper. If the other has a 560, you have a choice: go sub-prime (if you can find it), or have the high scoring spouse be the only person on the loan. In other words, when you're talking about A paper, you both have to meet the credit score minimums, or you don't qualify as a couple.

This has implications. Suppose you have a 760 score spouse who makes $3000 per month, and a 560 score spouse who makes $5000 per month, you have a choice: Qualify based upon $3000 per month, go stated income (assuming it ever comes back), or drop to sub-prime (if you can find it).

$3000 per month doesn't qualify for a lot of house most places. So if you're thinking 3 bedroom house, you can be stuck with small one bedroom condo - if you want the best rates. Most people don't want to accept that.

The second alternative is going stated income. As of this update, stated income is essentially extinct. It's not quite illegal, but nobody actually does it because they can't sell the loan and the agencies that rate financial assets consider it a junk asset. This only works if the necessary income for the loan is believable for someone in that occupation. Even if it comes back someday, somebody who makes $3000 per month is not likely to be in a profession where $8000 per month is a believable income, and most people tend to overbuy a house rather than under-buy, regardless of the fact that under-buying is a lot more intelligent in most cases. Furthermore, you are committing fraud if the lender finds out and wants to prosecute.

The third solution is to go sub-prime, where you'll qualify, but get a higher rate and almost certainly a prepayment penalty. At this update, sub-prime lenders who will lend to someone with a lower credit score are difficult to find, and the down payment requirements are stiff. Furthermore, a single borrower with a 760 credit score gets a better loan, with proportionally less of a down payment, than the couple in this case - the primary borrower has a 560 score, remember - but they just won't qualify for as large of a loan because they can't afford the payments. Most people want to buy the more expensive property with a crummy loan rather than buy the property one spouse can afford, but it's just not on the list of options for most folks right now. The down payment, particularly for low credit scores, tends to be a major issue. Except for VA loans, 100% financing or anything close to it is very difficult to get.

Once upon a time, you might also have gone NINA, which is a "here I am - gotta love me!" approach where income is not verified, nor employment history. The loan you get is based totally upon your credit score and equity picture (how much of a down payment you make, in the case of a purchase). The rate was higher than stated income and the restrictions on equity were greater, but sometimes it was the best loan people could actually get. Unfortunately for those people, NINA went away even before stated income.

Now, as to what you were told, student does not, in general, count as time in line of work. Sometimes, exceptions are made for advanced professional degrees - medical doctor and lawyer and nurse - and have actually gotten easier than since I first wrote this. Even so, the lender is going to be careful because many folks get their degree and their license, then end up finding they can't stand the work. That's one of the main reasons for the two years line of work requirement. As a question to make why this more clear: How are you going to compute her average monthly income over the last two years? That is the way full documentation loans are justified. Some sub-prime lenders will accept it (not the better ones), or the person who told you this could just be planning to substitute a stated income loan based upon your income. The fact is, that unless you're talking ugly sub-prime, they're not going to accept your wife's income until there's some time actually working it. Many people graduate school and never work in the field. They don't pass licensing, or they decide soon after they start that it's not for them. When this happens, they generally end up not being able to afford the loan - and that's not something the lender wants.

As I keep telling folks, there are a lot of shysters out there in the mortgage profession. The easiest way to get people to sign up is to promise the moon, and until you get the final loan paperwork you have no way of knowing whether they intend to deliver what they said.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

Copyright 2005-2020 Dan Melson All Rights Reserved

Search my sites or the web!
 
Web www.searchlightcrusade.net
www.danmelson.com


The Book on Mortgages Everyone Should Have
What Consumers Need To Know About Mortgages
What Consumers Need To Know About Mortgages Cover

The Book on Buying Real Estate Everyone Should Have
What Consumers Need To Know About Buying Real Estate
What Consumers Need To Know About Buying Real Estate Cover

Buy My Science Fiction and Fantasy Novels!
Dan Melson Amazon Author Page
Dan Melson Author Page Books2Read

The Man From Empire
Man From Empire Cover
Man From Empire Books2Read link

A Guardian From Earth
Guardian From Earth Cover
Guardian From Earth Books2Read link

Empire and Earth
Empire and Earth Cover
Empire and Earth Books2Read link

Working The Trenches
Working The Trenches Cover
Working the Trenches Books2Read link

Rediscovery 4 novel set
Rediscovery set cover
Rediscovery 4 novel set Books2Read link

Preparing The Ground
Preparing the Ground Cover
Preparing the Ground Books2Read link

Building the People
Building the People Cover
Building the People Books2Read link
Setting The Board

Setting The Board Cover

Setting The Board Books2Read link

The Invention of Motherhood
Invention of Motherhood Cover
Invention of Motherhood Books2Read link



The Price of Power
Price of Power Cover
Price of Power Books2Read link

The Fountains of Aescalon
Fountains of Aescalon Cover
The Fountains of Aescalon Books2Read link



The Monad Trap
Monad Trap Cover
The Monad Trap Books2Read link

The Gates To Faerie
Gates To Faerie cover
The Gates To Faerie Books2Read link
**********


C'mon! I need to pay for this website! If you want to buy or sell Real Estate in San Diego County, or get a loan anywhere in California, contact me! I cover San Diego County in person and all of California via internet, phone, fax, and overnight mail. If you want a loan or need a real estate agent
Professional Contact Information

Questions regarding this website:
Contact me!
dm (at) searchlight crusade (dot) net

(Eliminate the spaces and change parentheticals to the symbols, of course)

Essay Requests

Yes, I do topic requests and questions!

If you don't see an answer to your question, please consider asking me via email. I'll bet money you're not the only one who wants to know!

Requests for reprint rights, same email: dm (at) searchlight crusade (dot) net!
-----------------
Learn something that will save you money?
Want to motivate me to write more articles?
Just want to say "Thank You"?

Aggregators

Add this site to Technorati Favorites
Blogroll Me!
Subscribe with Bloglines



Powered by FeedBlitz


Most Recent Posts
Subscribe to Searchlight Crusade
http://www.wikio.com

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from October 2020 listed from newest to oldest.

September 2020 is the previous archive.

November 2020 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

-----------------
Advertisement
-----------------

My Links