How to Tell If You Can Afford This Property

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Note: Since this article was originally written, there have been changes in the loan marketplace. The negative amortization loan is no longer available and the damage it did has finally become obvious to everyone with pretense of a functioning brain. Nor are stated income loans available, and what few subprime lenders survive have changed their tune. Nonetheless, it's still a good article for today.

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Cold Hard Fact for today: The average Real Estate Agent or Loan Officer is not motivated to tell you that you can't afford your property.

For the agent you are trying to talk people out of a property after they have already fallen in love with it, and then the argument becomes, "Why did you show it to me?". Let's face it, if it's higher in price, it should have features that lower priced properties do not, and it should have fewer things that consumers do not want. Indeed, one of the easiest and most common ways unethical real estate agents sell properties is by showing you several lower priced properties, fixers which lack those attractive extras, then show you the blinged out immaculate property while whispering sweet nothings like, "I can show you how you can afford the payments!" (which is not the same as being able to afford the property!)

All agents learn that by telling the client "no," or anything that sounds like "no," they are likely to lose that business. Good ones know that putting a client into something beyond their budget is a good way to have the transaction come back to haunt them. But for most, the temptation of the easy sale that made itself if too strong. They want that commission check. Nothing wrong with commission checks. If they provide real value to the client, they are a way of showing the world that you have done something valuable, same as a doctor, carpenter, or computer programmer. It's when you use your position of trust to sabotage them that problems start - and the agent who causes a client problems should experience problems. Many agents have not been around long enough to understand flat or declining markets. In truth, I wasn't in the business the last time we had one, either. But I am old enough to remember, and careful enough by nature that I refuse to assume that a rapidly rising market will save my bacon, as many agents have become used to.

And for the foreseeable future, rapidly rising markets are unlikely to save anybody's bacon, because the market isn't going to be rising rapidly until all the distressed inventory has cleared. Inventory is high, long term rates are set to rise, and we're just seeing a wave of problems caused by over-the-top practices of the last few years. I think we're past the price decline locally, at least as far as properties that are actually selling, but conditions aren't there for a return to the market we had most of the last decade.

Lest you be wondering, the loan officer is even more unlikely to counsel you on whether you can really afford the property. Between Stated Income, Negative Amortization Loans, and loans that are both of these, you can get anybody with an income and a not too putrid credit score into the property. In fact, I heard some real howls of outrage from certain brokers when lenders tightened their recourse on brokers in 2006. Even so, the paycheck is now and certain, the risk of default vague and indefinite, and for most loan officers, there's another concern as well.

You see, most loan officers cultivate some friends who are real estate agents, and that's how they get their business. That agent brings them business because they have a history of getting the loan through, so that agent gets paid. Sometimes they may have their hand out for a referral fee as well, but the important thing for you to know as a consumer is that referral you get from an agent to a loan officer has nothing to do with how great their rates are, and everything to do with how creative they are in getting some sort of loan approved so that agent gets paid for the house they think they just sold. Tell just one prospect who has made an offer on their dream house that there is an issue with being able to really afford that loan, and the word will get around the real estate community in no time. Result: For causing one agent to not get paid, Joe Loan Officer not only will not get any referrals from them in the future, if the client does find Joe Loan Officer on their own, the agents are going to do their best to talk them away from Joe, who, from their point of view, "stole their paycheck" by telling the client that they really could not afford the loan that was necessary to make the transaction work! Even if they took that transaction to some other loan officer who got it closed, Jane Realtor doesn't want her clients to have anything to do with Joe, lest she lose another potential commission check!

So what can you, the consumer, do about this? Well, I can't tell you all about the special cases, and I lack the programming capability to embed a spreadsheet and loan calculator. But I can give you some good general rules of comparison, and guidelines laid down by lenders as to whether or not you can actually afford that loan.

Start with your total monthly gross income. Assuming you printed this out, write that number here:






Loan Type

A Paper ARM

A Paper fixed

sub-prime general

sub-prime severe

sub-prime extreme



Multiply Income by (DTI*)

0.38

0.45

0.50

0.55

0.60


Result

_______

_______

_______

_______

_______



Notes

A,B

B













*DTI: Debt to Income Ratio

Notes:
A: use fully indexed rate for qualification purposes. This means the underlying index plus the margin after it adjusts, assuming current values.

B: If interest only, use fully amortized rate for qualification purposes.

Any four function calculator will do this much. This is the largest number you will qualify with. As you should be able to see, it's more difficult to qualify for A paper, even though that is where you want to be. But we're not done. This is total housing and debt service, the so-called "back end ratio." So from that number, you need to subtract your monthly debt service: Car payments and other installments, and minimum credit card payments. You pay this much already. You obviously cannot afford to pay it out for housing also - that would be double counting! Your lender won't believe you can afford to spend the same dollar twice.

So add up your credit card, car payment, and other monthly debt obligations. Subtract it from your numbers for back end ratios, computed above. This will give you a set of five numbers that tells what you can afford for housing costs, depending upon how far you want to go. But we're not done! This is total cost of housing; the so-called "PITI payment." It includes not only principal and interest on the loan, but also property taxes, homeowner's insurance, Condominium Association dues, and Mello-Roos assessment districts (or their equivalent outside of California, if applicable). So from this, you need to subtract all of the known stuff or stuff you can make a close approximation on, like Association dues and insurance and taxes, to arrive at how much of a loan you can afford. Please note that for Negative Amortization Loans, loan officers may use the minimum payment for qualification, but you are still being charged the real interest rate! Still, it should become obvious as to why Negative Amortization loans were so popular in high priced areas. Not only would the lenders pay between 3.5 to 4 percent commission for them, not only do they allow lower payments to be quoted, but they make it look like you qualify for a bigger loan than you can afford, which means the real estate agent gets a bigger commission from selling you a more expensive property, and the loan officer gets paid more, also, because now you have applied for a larger loan! I have heard every rationalization under the sun from loan officers and real estate agents on this score, but they are still inappropriate for the vast majority of people who have them. I can get a better interest rate on a better loan for less cost, every time, but then I have to tell the client about the full amount they are really being charged every month, and they might have to content themselves with a less expensive property, meaning that real estate agent is going to have to do some real work. Go out onto the web and look for some loan calculators (Auto loans use slightly different assumptions, so don't use those calculators), or if you have a financial calculator, use it! Use the real interest rates that are available, and if the number you get comes out much higher than your quoted payment, they are trying to snooker you with a negative amortization loan. There is no magic about loans, and a healthy skepticism will help you prevent problems from happening in the first place.

Now add the down payment you intend to make to the loan you can afford, and that tells you whether or not you can afford the property. If you can't, don't make that offer. If you're already in escrow, do what is necessary to get out. I'd rather forfeit a deposit now than a much larger amount later. And if you already own it but can't afford it, the time to sell is now.

Caveat Emptor

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on November 16, 2020 7:00 AM.

What Happens When You Over-Price Real Estate? was the previous entry in this blog.

Why You Want To Price Your Property Correctly From Day One is the next entry in this blog.

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