May 2021 Archives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now let's talk about constrictions on supply.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

(Rates were much higher when I originally wrote this)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caveat Emptor

Original here

Adverse Possession

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

There are five elements to a successful adverse possession suit:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

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

I got a question about legal late payments in California.

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

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

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

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

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

Caveat Emptor

Original here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

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

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

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

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

Note that it protects your equity, not your asset value. If the home is worth $500,000 (as is often the case in San Diego) but you owe $400,000, you have $100,000 of equity. How much it protects is dependent upon your state law and exact situation. Default protection in California is now $300,000 (as of 2021), but it can be up to $600,000 if your county's median sale price is that high. Even the new exemption amounts do not protect much of the value of the property in highly desirable urban areas. When I originally wrote this, I said, "If the legislature doesn't update the law, Homestead in California may soon fall under the heading of "pointless gestures," because it doesn't protect enough to be worth doing." That's no longer the case, but even the higher exemption amounts are no silver bullet.

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

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

Caveat Emptor

Original here

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

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

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

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

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

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

Fake Agent Scams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

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

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

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

My view of them is -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

An email:

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

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

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

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

Is it too good to be true?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Total paid
Neg Am
30 fixed

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

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

Neg Am
30 fixed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

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

I got this search engine hit:

pre-approved loan underwriter changes terms illegal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

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

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

I'm going to take the email in chunks:

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

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

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

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

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

Unfortunately, your credit score is a problem now:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caveat Emptor

Original here

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

Hi Dan,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again, thanks for considering a comment on my situation!

Identity withheld by request

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caveat Emptor

Original here

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

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

What should I do now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In short, FRAUD.

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

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caveat Emptor

Original here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

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

It started innocently enough. It always starts innocently.

This was an email I got (specifics redacted).

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

My response

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

-VA eligibility

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obvious reasons why it definitely would not fly:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh my.

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

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

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

here's the legal definition of fraud:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caveat Emptor

Original Article here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

The original article was written when rates were higher. Rates are lower now so the answer is slightly different, the thought process to make that decision is the same.

I have an adustable rate mortgage (5.875) which is set to adjust in DELETED. My prepayment penalty I'm told expires DELETED (same time). My first goal is to lock in a fixed rate asap. My second goal is to cash out any equity, but not necessary. I've recently been hearing horror stories about people losing their homes over their rate adjustment. Should I refinance now and bite the bullet on the prepayment penalty? or Attempt to refinance quickly as soon as the penalty expires?


my credit score is 712. My current mortgage is 244,000.00 and homes of the same model are selling between 255 - 265,000.00. What more can you tell me?

The answer to this depends partly upon stuff I don't know, and partly upon stuff nobody knows yet.

5.875 is good enough that you probably don't want to give it away before you have to, especially since you're going to pay $5700 to $7200 in penalties. 6.25 is about where A paper 30 year fixed rate loans with no points rates were when I originally wrote this, so over the next year, and it will cost about another $1000 in interest between now and then, as well.

The problem is that nobody knows what rates will be like when your fixed period and prepayment penalty expire. Nobody knows what your property value might be then either. Nor do I understand your local real estate market well enough to even guess (it's a long way from Southern California!).

It's going to be hard to get enough back in 18 months to pay for a pre-payment penalty. On the other hand, this could be balanced out if rates end up being much higher then, or if your equity situation is likely to deteriorate.

One thing I can tell you for certain is that there's no easy answer yet. Every answer I give is going to depend upon things nobody knows yet.

Let's assume rates are going up. Otherwise there would be no point to this conversation. If rates are the same or lower than they are now, any money you spend on refinancing or a prepayment penalty now is wasted.

But if we postulate a rate of 7% when your pre-payment penalty expires, that will cost you roughly $17,100 per year on $244,000. 6.25% of $250,000 (your loan with your penalty added) is roughly $15,600. You save approximately $1500 per year on your interest by refinancing now, if this assumption on interest rates is correct. However, refinancing now will cost you about $7000. $7000 divided by $1500 per year is roughly 4 years 8 months after that to get your money back. I wouldn't do it. That's about six years you've got to keep your loan to break even on the cost of refinancing now, and it's conditional upon things happening that nobody knows.

You don't have a whole lot of equity currently, and if your market falls further, you could be upside down, in which case you're going to have to pay your loan down in order to refinance. If there's no way you could come up with that money, that's another reason to consider refinancing now. However, you would be guaranteed to use up pretty much all of your equity by refinancing now. At this update, refinancing at 100% loan to value ratio isn't going to happen except for a VA Interest Rate Reduction Refinance Loan (IRRRL), and the person writing the original question was not in a VA loan because as far as I'm aware, they only permit fixed rate loans.

In your position, I'd just sit tight. Of course that's very hard psychologically, because you are leaving yourself open to the vagaries of the market, which are not under anybody's personal control. Otherwise the federal Reserve Board and company would lower rates every time they wanted to refinance their own personal loans, and that's just not the way it happens, because that's not the way it works. But spending that much money now and over the next eighteen months just in case rates go up and it saves you enough money over the next six years to break even just doesn't make financial sense. Most folks don't keep their loans that long, which means you've wasted whatever portion of the sunk costs you haven't gotten back.

Just one word in closing: There is not and never has been a legitimate reason for a loan officer to stick someone with a credit score over 680 with a prepayment penalty. The only excuse I can come up with is that the borrower requested one in order to get a slightly better tradeoff between rate and cost. You can choose to accept one if you want, but my experience says that most folks end up paying them, and the penalty is a lot more than you're likely to save by accepting one.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

Just got a search "how can I tell if my prepayment penalty applies to selling my home"

Read The Full Note. You need to do this before you sign it. I know that many people are just thinking "Sign this and I get the house!" or "Sign this and I get the money!" but a lot of loan providers - often the very biggest - scam their customers by talking about one loan with very favorable characteristics, and when it comes time to sign they actually deliver a completely different loan with a prepayment penalty, burdensome and unfavorable arbitration requirements (I've seen stuff that amounted to "the bank chooses the arbitrator"), and any number of other unfavorable terms, not to mention having a higher rate and three times the cost, and being fixed for two years as opposed to the thirty they told you about.

Any loan officer can make up all sorts of paperwork along the way to lull you into a sense of security. The only paperwork that means anything are the papers you actually sign at closing with a notary present. The Trust Deed, the HUD-1 form, and the Note. Concentrate on these three items. The HUD-1 contains the only accounting of the money that is required to be correct (things like do you need to come up with more money than you were told?). And the Note contains all the other information on the loan that your provider might actually deliver. Notice that wording - I said might deliver. Just because you sign the Note doesn't necessarily mean you get any loan, let alone the one that Note is talking about, but these are the terms you're agreeing to now, and most Notes do actually fund. They can't change the terms without getting you to sign a different Note. But once you sign and the Right of Rescission (if applicable) expires, you are stuck.

Get that other loan - the one your loan provider has been talking about up to now - out of your head. This is the moment of truth as to what they actually intend to deliver. The majority of the time, the loan they actually deliver is significantly different from the loan they were talking about before now, and this document is where the truth lies. Amount of the loan (does that match what you were told?). Length of the loan. Period of fixed interest. What the fixed rate is, and how the rate will be computed after the rate starts adjusting. The Payments: how closely do they match what you were told? Payments are a lot less important than the interest you are being charged, but if the payments are $5 more than you were told (or if the interest rate is different), you were basically lied to. If the real loan was available and the principal correctly calculated, the payment should be within $1. $20 off gives the loan provider literally thousands of dollars to soak you for extra fees in, even if the rate is correct. A competent loan officer knows what loans are really available and whether you are likely to qualify, and can calculate pretty closely how much money it takes to get the loan done. From this flows the payment. Payment is a lot less important than most people think, but you do need to be able to make it, every month. Furthermore, that's how most people shop for loans and how unethical loan officers sell bad loans. Shopping by payment is a good way to end up with a bad loan. Many loan officers will tell you about this nice low payment, and conveniently neglect to mention the fact that if you make this low payment, you'll owe the bank $1200 more at the end of the month than you did at the beginning.

So take the time to read the entire Note before you sign. There are all sorts of things lenders slip in. I worked for a very short period at a place that trained its people in how to distract you from the numbers on this and the HUD-1 and the Trust Deed. This is a legally binding contract you are entering into, you are agreeing to everything it says, and there aren't a whole lot of methods of getting out of it if you don't like what it says later. Once the loan funds, you are stuck with the terms, the costs, and everything else. The only way out, in general, is to refinance, which means paying for another set of loan costs and quite likely the prepayment penalty on this loan. Prepayment penalties are multiple thousands of dollars. So don't allow yourself to be distracted. Read The Full Note. If somebody else is in a hurry, for whatever reason, that's their problem. Take all the time you need.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

I've written articles on when you can't make your mortgage payment and how to react if you see foreclosure coming in time to do something about it, and even on Short Payoffs, but all of those are owner (seller) oriented. This is intended as a basic buyer's guide to getting a bargain from people who bit off more than they could chew, with emphasis on the current local market but applicability anywhere.

There are essentially four phases in the foreclosure process. The first is pre-default. They've made late payments or none at all, and there's no way they can keep the payments up, but they won't do the intelligent thing, which is sell for what they can get. Many people who own properties headed for default are deep in Denial. Yes, this is often because something bad happened to them for reasons beyond their control. I'd be happier if those sorts of things didn't happen, but the amount of rescuing that's going to get done is not as much as I would like - if you don't qualify for a loan modification, you are on a course for disaster. There are very few White Knights running around, and the ones who claim to be White Knights are usually blackguards. Unless the seller knows of some factor that is going to change, this is the smart time to deal with the problem. Before the Notice of Default is recorded, nobody really knows but the owner and the bank. Once the Notice of Default hits, all the sharks come out because everyone knows the owner is in Dire Circumstances. Let's face it: most folks will make the payments on their home even if they let every other bill slide. When someone can't make their mortgage payment, and it's public information as a Notice of Default is, everybody and their pet rock knows that you don't have any choice but to sell. They'll flood you with offers, but they won't be good offers.

If you're looking to buy at this stage, the thing to do is examine the Multiple Listing Service. "Motivated seller" and similar phrases are often code for "These people can't make their payments!", particularly in the current market with prices declining somewhat and many people who stretched beyond their means. It would be great to be able to get a list of properties that are sixty days or more delinquent, as this would include the folks in denial, but it just isn't going to happen. The only folks who know are the banks and the credit reporting agencies, and they are prohibited by privacy laws from disclosure. So at this point all you have to deal with are the people who are not in denial. When the market is rapidly appreciating, this is a good place to find a bargain, because once the Notice of Default hits, the sharks swarm, so if you can find these people before that, you're in a strong bargaining position if you correctly suspect they can't make their payments. The taxes being delinquent is often a good indicator of this, but there is no way to know for sure unless the people or their agent tell you, and the agent who tells you has just violated fiduciary duty. This can mean prospective buyers overplay their hands in negotiations, which is fine if you intend to move on if you can't get a "Manhattan for $24" type deal, but if it's a property you want and can make money on, overplaying your hand can poison the atmosphere. There aren't many "Manhattan for $24" type deals out there. There are a lot more good opportunities for someone willing to pay a reasonable price and hold the property a while or make improvements. Deals so good that they instantly make oodles of money, someone will usually come along and offer the poor schmoe on the other end a better deal, and if the poor schmoe has a decent agent who's looking out for their interests, they can switch to the other offer. Buyers and escrow companies don't like it, but it can be done. It's extra work for the listing agent, so they may not want to, and they may not have done the best set-up, but it can usually be done anyway.

The reason it's smart for sellers to sell at this time is that this is when they are going to get the best deal. The mere act of entering Default is likely to cost thousands of dollars. Furthermore, this is the phase with the most opportunity to find a property at a better than usual price for buyers, because most of these don't get to actual default. Someone will come along and make an offer, and a listing agent who gets an offer on one of these is likely to advocate taking the first reasonable offer, reasonable being defined as "anything vaguely in the neighborhood of the asking price," and the asking price itself is likely to be lower than it otherwise would be.

The second stage of the foreclosure process is default. The Notice of Default has been filed, and because it is a matter of public record, the sharks instantly react to the blood in the water. The seller is going to get dozens to hundreds or even thousands of solicitations. Also, once the property is in default, the bank can require the owner bring the Note entirely current in order to get out of default. Whether or not the property is listed, they're going to have agents offering to sell it for them, individual buyers who want those Manhattan for $24 deals, and lawyers offering to "protect" them by declaring bankruptcy. By the way, I've never heard of anyone who came out better in the end by declaring bankruptcy, so you probably don't want to do it if you're in this position. I know it's your home, and you're likely extremely emotionally attached to it, but declaring bankruptcy doesn't mean you don't owe the money when it comes to a Trust Deed.

Every single one of these folks, lawyer, agent, or prospective buyer, knows that you're in default. Some owners are still in denial at this point, but all denial means at this point is that such an owner is not likely to take the best offer they'll get. It's at this phase that most "subject to" deals happen, usually with highly appreciated properties with significant equity over and above the trust deed. If the owners owe anything approaching the value of the property, that's a silly situation to do a "subject to" purchase for buyers, and most of the prospective buyers (those with decent advisors or agents or experience) won't do it if the equity is less than a certain amount or proportion of the value.

The third phase of a foreclosure is the auction. This is typically a very short period. Five days before the auction date itself, the owner loses the legal right to redeem the property, although the bank will usually let them until the last possible instant. There is also a legal requirement to vacate the property before the auction. "Subject to" deals can still go through as long as the bank will accept redemption. Buying at the auction itself requires cash or an acceptable equivalent. You don't go to the auction and then get a loan later. At the very least you have to have the loan prearranged and a check for the proceeds in hand. This can mean that the rate is significantly higher, and it can be difficult to refinance within the first year.

The fourth phase is after the auction. In California, if the property does not get a bid for at least ninety percent of appraised value, it does not sell and becomes owned by the bank. The bank doesn't want it; they're not in the real estate business and in fact, they are legally required to dispose of it within a certain time. In the current market, this can be the best place to acquire a property. The bank knows they're taking a loss, and the longer it goes, the bigger the loss. Mind you, because the bank usually takes a loss, few properties go to this stage. Not only do they take a loss, it also ties up a lot of their working capital - money they could otherwise use to make a profit, but can't, because this property is a non-performing asset. The lenders will usually do anything reasonable in order to avoid auction, but once it goes to auction, they want to get rid of it. They usually require a substantial deposit, but the purchase price can be the best of all.

One thing to be wary of in foreclosures is they are often in less the ideal condition, to say the least. These people know they are losing the house, and usually that they are going to come away with nothing in the best realistic case. They have no incentive to take care of the property, and many actively work to mess it up - I have been in more than one where they ripped the copper plumbing out of the walls for sale and took a hammer to everything else. This is cause for care in purchasing them, and inspections, because not all of the damage may be obvious. Furthermore, many of them may have been unable to afford proper maintenance for some time before they lost the property. Purchasing a foreclosure often means you will need a large reservoir of cash in order to fix up the property to habitable condition.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

"overpriced house offer rejected what next"

(Before I get started, I want to make it clear that I am using the same definition of worth found in this article. The property is worth what the seller can actually get a buyer to pay.)

Well, the seller obviously didn't feel that it was overpriced. Given that they were unwilling to sell for that, consider the possibility that you didn't offer enough.

It's human nature to always want to blame the other side. Given the state of real estate prices here in San Diego, I have considerable sympathy for buyers these days. On the other hand, if you look at the sales log, sales are still being made. This means willing buyers and willing sellers are coming to an agreement that both feel leaves them better off, and they are doing it - by definition - at market prices.

Even if you made what really was a good offer, you can only control yourself - you can't control the other side of the negotiation. You have to decide how much the property is worth to you. Is it valuable enough to you to warrant a higher better offer? In some cases, properties offering something you want (or need) that is rare can command a premium over what a dispassionate analysis suggests.

The fact is, there are always at least two possibilities when an offer is rejected, and the truth may be a mixture of the two.

First, that the seller is being unreasonable. This happens a lot - usually around a third of the listings in my market are significantly overpriced. Somebody thinks their property is worth more than it's worth. The agent may be encouraging it in order to get the listing, but that doesn't make the property actually worth more. When people can buy better properties for less, they're not going to be interested in yours. In this situation, you're not likely to get any good offers. You'll get people doing desperation checks - coming in with lowball offers to see how desperate you really are, and if you're desperate enough yet. A very large proportion of these are people in my profession looking for a quick flip and the profit that comes with it, or other investors. Anybody looking at properties priced where this one should be priced is likely not even going to come look.

Second possibility, the buyer is the one being unreasonable. Properties like that one really are selling for the asking price, and you offered tens of thousands less. Some buyers do this because it's all they can afford. Some buyers do this because they want to get a "score". And some are just the standard "looking to flip for a profit" that I talked about in the previous paragraph. There is a point at which I tell all but the most desperate sellers that they're better off rejecting the offer completely than counter-offering. It saves time and effort, and the prospective buyer either comes back with a better offer, or they go away completely. Someone offering $250,000 for a $350,000 property is not likely to be the person you want to sell to. Even if you talk them up into a reasonable offer by lengthy negotiations, they're far more likely than not to try all sorts of games to get it back down as soon as you're in escrow. Better to serve notice right away that you won't play.

Now some bozo agents think that starting from an extreme position, whether high list price or lowball offer to purchase, gives them more leverage, or that somehow you're eventually likely to end up in the middle. This is b*llsh*t. A transaction requires a willing buyer and a willing seller. Price the property to market if you want it to sell. Offer a market price if you want the property.

Now, the Quickflippers™ have had a distorting effect on this, and for several years a disconcerting percentage of the properties being offered for sale were owned by people who bought with the intention of the quick flip for profit, rather than buy and hold. Many of those looking to buy still fall into this same category, and I suspect this is much the same in other formerly hot housing markets as well. They've become addicted accustomed to the market of the last few years, when a monkey could make a profit on a property six months after they paid too much money to purchase it. That is not the market we face today. This market favors the buy and hold investor. Actually, if you remember the spreadsheet I programmed a while back, I've pretty much confirmed that the market always favors the buy and hold investor, it's just been masked by the feeding frenzy of the past few years, where John and Jane Hubris could come off looking like geniuses when it was just a quickly rising market and the effects of leverage making them look good. It's just that the support for the illusions of Mr. and Mrs. Hubris has now been removed.

Now, what to do when your offer has been rejected. There are two possibilities. The first is to walk away. If the home really is overpriced, and there are better properties to be had for less money, you made a reasonable offer and were rejected, you're better off walking away. I don't want to pay more for a property than it's comparable properties are selling for, and I certainly don't want my clients to do so either. The sort of people who go around making desperation check offers walk away without a second thought with considerably less justification.

The second is to consider that the property might really be worth more than you offered. Okay, a 3 bedroom 1 bath home did sell for that price in that neighborhood, but when you check out the details, that was a 900 square foot home on a 5000 square foot lot and the one you made an offer on is a 1600 square foot home on a 9000 square foot lot, and in better condition with more amenities. It's a more valuable property, and you can refuse to see that from now until the end of the world and you're only fooling yourself. The reason you thought the property was attractive enough to make an offer was that it had something the others you looked at didn't, and most of these attractors add a certain amount of value to the property. The more value there is, the more folks are willing to pay for it. This is why one of the classical tricks of unethical agents is to show you a property that's out of your price range, then figure out a way to get a loan where the payment makes you think you can afford it - for a while. This property is priced higher because it has features that add more value and a reasonable person would therefore conclude that other reasonable persons would be willing to pay more for that property than others. Landscaping, location, condition, more room, amenities. There's something that the seller thinks reasonable people would be willing to pay more for. It's kind of like taking someone who can afford a $10,000 car and showing them a $25,000 one, then telling them they can get interest only or negative amortization payments to get them into it. You only thought you could afford the $400,000 home, but they've got a way that you can get into the $600,000 home, which obviously is going to have many things that the $400,000 home lacks. They manipulate the payment until it appears as if you can afford it, and consumer lust does the rest. Cha-ching! Easy sale, and the fact that they've hosed the client doesn't come out until long after those clients made a video for the agent on move-in day when they're so happy they've got this beautiful house that they didn't think they could afford (and really can't), and they gush gush gush about Mr. Unscrupulous Agent, who then uses this video to hook more unsuspecting clients - never mind that the original victims in the scam lost the house, declared bankruptcy, and got a divorce because of the position Mr. Unscrupulous Agent put them into. You want to impress me with an agent, don't show me happy clients on move-in day. When I originally wrote this, emotional high of being brand-new homeowners aside, any monkey of a loan officer could get anybody with quasi-reasonable credit into the property. What happens when they have to make the payments? More importantly, what happens when they have to make the real payments? Given the environment at the time, the question was not "can I get this loan through?" but "Is it in the best interests of the client to put this loan through?" You want to impress me with an agent, show me a happy customer five years out "My agent found this property that fit within my budget, told me all about the potential problems he saw, got the inspections and loan done, and it's been five years now with no surprises, and the only problem I've had was one he told me about before I even made the offer."

Of course, the real value of the property may be beyond your range or reach. If your agent showed you something you could not reasonably acquire within your budget, you should fire them. I accept clients with a known budget, I'm saying I can find something they want within that range. If it becomes evident I was wrong (eyes bigger than wallet syndrome) the proper thing to do is inform the client that their budget will not stretch to the kind of property they want, and suggest some solutions, starting with "look at less expensive properties" and moving from there to "find a way to increase the budget" and finally to "creative financing options." That's a real agent, not "Start with creative financing options but somehow 'neglect' to mention the issues down the road."

There is no universal always works strategy for rejected purchase offers. It's okay to do desperation checks, but be aware that most sellers aren't desperate and that it's likely to poison the environment if the seller isn't that desperate. Poisoning the environment is okay if you're a "check for desperation and then move on" Quickflipper™, but if you're looking for a property you want and have found something attractive, it's likely to be counterproductive so that you may end up paying thousands more than you maybe could have gotten the property for if you'd just offered something marginally reasonable in the first place. Make a reasonable offer in the first place, and you're likely to at least get a dialog. And if the seller rejected what really was a reasonable offer for an overpriced property, the only one to lose is them. Move on. Their loss is someone else's gain.

Caveat Emptor (and Vendor)

Original here

my prorated property taxes came were paid at closing but now I'm getting a delinquent tax bill

You mean they were supposed to be paid at closing.

There are two major possibilities:

1) They were not, in fact, paid

2) They were paid, but were miscredited, or they were properly credited, but your county goofed anyway.

In the first case, the county did not get the money they were supposed to, which means you still owe it. There are any number of explanations for why this happened. Some of them are innocent, some are criminal. But you owe the county money that they don't have, in which case you need to pay it, and precisely what happened to the money that was supposed to pay those taxes originally is not the county's problem - it's between you and your escrow provider.

Investigate this promptly. Look at your HUD 1 form. Lines 106 and 107 are for buyers reimbursing sellers for taxes. Lines 210 and 211 are for tax liabilities incurred but not yet paid. Line 1004 is taxes and assessment reserves, and I've also seen extra lines in section 900 used. If it is listed as paid, contact your escrow company to determine if it was paid in truth. Sometimes the escrow company messes up. If the escrow company tells you that taxes were paid, double check with the county. Sometimes the payment was misapplied to the wrong parcel, sometimes it was correctly credited, but due to the fact that government bureaucrats get paid the same whether the job is correctly done or not, they just aren't correct or up to date. Sometimes time will repair the problem, but it's not something to count on. Get a statement from the escrow officer that it was paid, receipt number X or in conjunction with escrow number so and so, thus and such date, in the amount of $X. In some cases, you may have to get a copy of the canceled check or wire transfer to prove that it was paid to the county's satisfaction.

Do not allow this problem to sit. It will only get worse, and you could find yourself facing tax liens, tax foreclosure, or a situation where the lender then pays the taxes to protect their interest, and follows up by presenting a bill to you. They'll charge you interest for any amount they pay in defense of your interests and theirs, plus a fee for the trouble they were put to. I've never had it happen to me or a client, so I don't know how high the interest is, but it's not cheap.

Property tax liens take first priority over basically everything. It takes a while - potentially years in California - before they can condemn the property for unpaid property taxes, but once they do start the process, all of the protections you have against lender foreclosure are much weaker against property tax foreclosures. Lenders are therefore understandably nervous about delinquent property taxes, and they typically want to take action pretty quickly. Don't let it get to that stage. If you have to, you're better off paying them a second time and applying for a refund than letting it get to the point where the lender feels obliged to step in to protect their interests.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

Got a search for that, and it occurred to me that it is a valid question. The answer is yes.

The degree varies. You can simply contact the bank to make yourself responsible for payment. They are usually happy to do this, although unlike revolving accounts you typically will not receive back credit on your credit score for the entire length of time the trade line has been open. Nonetheless, if the bank reports the mortgage as paid as part of your credit, it can help you increase your credit score, so long as the mortgage actually gets paid on time every month. One 30 day late is plenty to kill any advantage for most folks. This is typically free. Hey, the bank has one more person to pay the mortgage! This is often used as a way to start rebuilding credit after a bankruptcy or other financial disaster. A friend or family member qualifies for the loan, then adds the person looking to recover to the loan later.

If you want to go one better than that, you can actually modify the deed of trust to make yourself responsible for payment, although it really has no measurable benefit as opposed to simply agreeing to be responsible, and it costs money to negotiate, notarize and record the modification.

Unless you can get a better loan by doing so, I would advise against a full re-qualification for the mortgage just to add someone. It's a lot of hassle and expense for no particular gain. If you want to get me paid, I'm cool with that, but there are better ways to accomplish the gain to your credit at far less expense.

A Caveat: One thing some people want to try is "trading" borrowers. For instance, a woman who wanted to remove her ex-husband from the loan and add her new husband. That doesn't work. In order to let someone off the loan, the remaining borrowers must qualify on their own without the person to be excluded. In short, a full refinance is required to let someone off the hook. But adding someone can only benefit the lender.

Often, you may run across the "I want a commission" mentality. Someone who wants the commission money more than they want to do what is in the best interests of the bank they work for. The bottom line for the bank is they have money at risk from an outstanding loan, so anything which increases the probability of it being repaid (like adding someone else who's responsible for that money) is a Good Thing from the bank's viewpoint. You want to add another person to the list of those responsible for repayment? That's great as far as management is concerned. Nonetheless, many employees will tell you to do what causes them to be paid a new commission.

Caveat Emptor

Original here


Time was, a few short years ago, when I could reliably do a purchase money loan in two and a half weeks. That has now changed. There are three separate delays of one to two weeks that have been built into the process since then. I can usually get purchase loans done in 45 days - but it's not a solid bet.

The first delay is due to the Home Valuation Code of Conduct. I keep hearing rumors of repeal and efforts to repeal, but it's still there. Loan officers no longer have any control over the appraiser - who it is or who it isn't. Net result: the appraisal gets done when it gets done. Three days used to be a very long time. Now, I might get it in three days if I put a rush on it and am very lucky. Seven to ten is about what I expect, and if it's fifteen, that's what it is. Neither I nor any other loan officer has any control - or working relationship - with appraisers any longer. The appraisal is now a source for at least 20 times the problems it was a few years ago, and the new standards didn't stop what they hoped they would stop, but hey, this is the result of government work we're talking about here. The politicians got paid to create a new way to make more money off the consumers - and they did so.

I should also mention that where lenders would formerly accept loan packages with a pending appraisal, and even grant underwriter approval on them with a "prior to docs" condition for an acceptable appraisal, they are now generally requiring the appraisal be in the loan package before they will accept the package. Why? Because it didn't take them long to figure out how many problems the appraisal was now causing. Why should they do all that work when it's so likely the appraisal will render the whole thing moot?

The second delay has to do with underwriting. To cut right to the point, the current underwriting environment is super-paranoid. Underwriters are encouraged to dig for reasons you might not qualify. The lenders are judged and paid by the secondary loan market based in part upon default rates. If you've been paying attention, you know that there have been an awful lot of defaults lately. The lenders are determined to get the default rates down. Wall Street adds its own nonsense to the mix - many of the secondary market buyers have added requirements to the mortgages they will consider buying. Since the lender wants to be able sell these mortgage anywhere, they add all the requirements to their loan underwriting. Net result: Lots of delays to get to your file, extra hoops to qualify when they do look at it, and a very high proportion of rejected loans - many for absolute nonsensical reasons.

The third delay has to do with more direct government nonsense - Regulation Z and redisclosure of APR. Specifically, changes to the rules arising out of Dodd-Frank and a couple other congressional actions that claim to have been for the consumer but were in fact made to advantage large campaign contributors. There isn't a lender out there that doesn't force a recalculation and redisclosure of APR with a mandatory regulatory 7 day delay built in before you can actually sign loan documents. If they don't, they can be sued - but if they do they are legally covered - even if the old number was closer to what the correct answer is. Furthermore they can generate lock extension fees out of it, while incurring no costs. Nor is this the only possible delay caused by new government regulation - but this one hits Every. Single. Loan. Other potential regulatory delays can add three additional weeks to the time it takes to get your loan.

If I do my job correctly and manage everything just right, I can and usually do close loans in six weeks or a little less - those that aren't rejected in unpredictable ways, that is. However, that's a far cry from the under three weeks it used to be, and there are things beyond my control that can kick it over the 45 day mark. Furthermore, I have one of the lowest average closing times out there - the industry average is better than half again mine and a lot of the high volume places are more than double that 45 days it takes the good ones.

When I'm wearing my Realtor hat, I really hate this (actually I hate it as a loan officer too), but it's the way things are. I tell my buyers to write a 60 day escrow period into the contract. I'd rather the offer be rejected upfront due to the escrow period than have it accepted and lose the deposit when the buyers can't perform on time because the loan isn't ready. On the rare occasions I list one, I tell my sellers it's going to take sixty days for any buyers to qualify for a loan, and while the all cash buyer is certainly nice, restricting yourself to all cash offers will result in a lower sales price and less money to the seller. Furthermore, an offer written that includes both a loan and a shorter escrow period is a red flag in no uncertain terms that there is something wrong with the agent. Any agent who hasn't figured out that the 30 day escrow isn't going to work by now (at least for purchases with a loan involved) is incompetent or actively plotting something. There really is no third option. Sometimes I can tell which right off the bat, other times I need to call the agent. So if there is a loan needed to consummate, plan on a 60 day escrow for your purchase or sale of residential real estate.

Caveat Emptor

With housing prices having crashed in most of the higher cost areas of the country, many people who were formerly priced completely out of the market have become interested once again in purchasing property. The drawback is that because lenders are scared of zero down payment programs right now, if you haven't got a down payment you are just as solidly locked out of property as if you could not afford the payment. So I thought I'd go over the down payment requirements for purchasing real estate. Keep in mind as you read that these are minimums. If you have more of a down payment, that's better. You cut the amount you need to borrow, thereby cutting the payment and increasing affordability still more, and you also likely improve the loan you are eligible for.

More mortgage insurance companies are becoming willing to go 95% loan to value ratio, but the catch is they want to see at least a decent credit score (680+, with the best rates not coming until 740 or so) and a slightly lower debt to income ratio than if you had a larger down payment. If this isn't you, I would plan on having 10% of the purchase price for a down payment with conventional conforming loans - especially if you want to split your loan to avoid PMI. On a $400,000 property, 10% is $40,000, which is quite a chunk of change for most folks. This is the "no government involvement necessary" loan, up to $417,000 of loan amount (not purchase price, a critical distinction to make!). If you're putting 10% down on a $450,000 property, what you have is a conventional loan amount - $405,000 - not nonconforming, but a full on conforming loan, assuming you qualify on the basis of credit score debt to income ratio and loan to value ratio.

95% financing for conventional loans has become more available, making it more likely to work. When all that's available is one program from one lender, it can be withdrawn at any time, or you can fail to qualify, and that's it. Things that only one lender offers can vanish at any time, and there is no Plan B. If that lender pulls the program while we're in escrow, that's not Monopoly Money my clients are risking. But when there's multiple lenders and a couple different insurers, that's less likely to vanish like faerie gold. 5% of $400,000 is $20,000, which is a lot easier to get than $40,000.

FHA loans now require a 3.5% down payment as opposed to 3%. On a $400,000 property, that's $14,000. On the plus side, the funding fee (Currently 1.75 points) can now be added back in to the loan amount, yielding a 98.25% loan to value ratio when everything is said and done, but you need a 3.5% actual down payment or the deal is off. Furthermore, they have a financing insurance charge of 0.5 or 0.55% on top of your note rate, but better to pay the charge and get the loan you need than not pay the charge and not get the loan.

VA loans really have become the magic bullet. Not only do they not require a down payment at all, but closing costs of the loan (including the VA Funding Fee, if it applies) can be rolled into the loan on top of the purchase price. Furthermore, there's no financing insurance charge, and only very minimal loan adjustments, if any at all.

The good news, to counterbalance the increased down payment requirements, is that prices are much lower. The bad news is that if you wait for the lenders to lower down payment requirements again, prices will be much higher then. You see, it's the difficulty in finding people who can get a down payment that is partially fueling the fall in prices. They're not going to stay this low when that changes.

So how do you take advantage now? Where can you get the money for a down payment quickly?

I'll skim over the obvious and simple candidates: Savings, investment accounts, sell some of your stuff. If you have a spare Ferrari lying around you're not using, that's probably a peachy down payment for just about anything. Just because folks were all wanting to buy without a down payment, to the point where it became unusual for folks to actually have a down payment there for several years, does not mean that doing so is in any way mandatory. But if you are in one of these categories, you probably don't need to hear me tell you that money you have stashed away could be used for a down payment for the purchase of real estate. I'll bet you can figure it out on your own.

So let's look at the non-obvious ways.

Let's start at the least painful, at least personally: Retirement accounts. The tax code allows you to withdraw up to $10,000 from certain IRAs for the purpose of a down payment (talk with your accountant for details). Put two spouses together, and you've got $20,000. That may have been only 3% when properties were $600,000, but when the property is $300,000, $20,000 is almost 7 percent - more than enough for an FHA loan or even traditional financing now that PMI companies are back at 95% financing.

Second option: 401k and its siblings and cousins 403b, 401b, 457, etcetera. These are group retirement plans where you cannot withdraw the contributions for so long as you work for the company, government, or non-profit. But the majority of these have plan documents that allow those who have previously contributed to take out loans from their balance in the plan and repay those loans from future contributions. Let's say you've contributed $30,000 which has grown to $50,000. The mechanics do vary, but if you take a $30,000 loan and repay it $200 every two weeks from your normal 401 contribution, that's mostly a wash in most cases. Be careful for rules on interest rate charged and method of repayment, but the federal government's Thrift Savings Plan (among many other employer sponsored plans) allows loans for this purpose. Meanwhile, your original contributions may even continue growing. Once again, it depends upon your plan document and everything it lays out. There is a drawback: If you leave that employer, the loan may become immediately due and payable, or it may be converted into a heavily taxed withdrawal. Again, consult an accountant for details

If your family (or your spouse's family) wants to give you a gift for the down payment, that works. FHA rules specifically allow up to a 6% gift from family members, VA rules are similar even though they don't require a down payment, and even conventional lenders make it easy enough to use family gifts for a down payment. This may seem like a no-brainer, but many times Junior wants so much to do it on their own without help, that they refuse to see a very obvious solution even though it is the best and most painless way under the circumstances. You can always save up the money to pay them back even though it was a gift. Just because it's a gift doesn't mean you can't give them a gift back later; it just means that it cannot be a loan masquerading as a gift.

Many locally based first time buyer programs exist. There programs lend (not grant) you the money for a down payment. In some cases, 20% or more of the purchase price. Most of these take the form of a "silent second" mortgage where there are no payments due, and it you hang onto the property for a certain amount of time, the loans can even be forgiven. The drawbacks are several, but the usual elephant in the room is that these programs run out of money at Warp Speed every time they get a new allocation. I've heard of people who had tried three, four or more times at intervals separated by six months and still couldn't get into these programs due to budget limitations. It can be very difficult to get in on these programs. I applied for one back in April for some clients. Despite the fact that we were less than two weeks out of the starting gate from when the budget allocation had been received, there was nothing left in the program. So even though your loan person may be eager to participate in such a program, the fact that your application is competing with those of many other people may preclude it actually happening.

The final possibility is a personal loan. These can be either from banks and credit unions issuing a fully underwritten loan with market rate interest, or from family members deciding to make a below-market rate loan based upon the fact that they like you. Lenders take a truly large number of precautions to prevent the down payment money from being borrowed unbeknownst to them, but a fully disclosed personal loan, not secured against the title of the property, is perfectly acceptable in most cases. If does impact debt to income ratio, because you've got to make payments on the personal loan as well as the real estate loan, so it does constrict what you could conceivably afford in the way of purchase price. On the other hand, it does put the purchase money in your bank account today, when you need it, rather than two years from now, when there is an excellent chance prices will be much higher by then.

So there you have them, half a dozen possible ways to get a down payment quickly, while it really makes a difference to the home you can afford the payments for because prices are down. Which they are, in part, because people with down payments available to them are so difficult to find. If you need a down payment to buy and neither these not any other method of acquiring one will work, you're just going to have to wait it out until the guidelines are relaxed, or until you do manage to save up the money for the required down payment.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

Quite a while ago, when loan standards were other than they have become, I wrote an article with the title Is a VA Loan a Good Deal? Back then, if you could qualify for a loan that was both A paper and full documentation, I could get you a better loan as measured by cost of interest for the same closing cost, maybe even if you didn't have a down payment. Lenders were eager to make loans at 100% loan to value ratio, and since conventional conforming rates have always been the lowest for a given cost, they could beat VA loans despite not being designed for the same situations.

That is no longer the case.

100% financing for ordinary conventional loans has completely self-destructed, at least for now. I am firmly of the opinion that it will be back for full documentation borrowers who can prove actual income via tax returns or W-2 forms, but for right now, it is gone. FHA loans only go to 96.5% Loan to Value ratio, and the down payment assistance programs that formerly enabled people to get FHA loans without a down payment have been put out of business by legislation. This leaves the VA loan as the sole loan program available that currently allows purchase of real estate without a down payment. Not only do VA loans allow over 100% financing, they have absolutely no ongoing mortgage insurance charges. There is a half a percent funding fee charged by the VA, but this is eligible to be rolled into the loan itself, and the funding fee is waived if the veteran has 10% or greater service related disability.

Not everyone is eligible for a VA loan. You must have earned it via time in the armed services. Currently active-duty service-folks are potentially eligible, providing they have met the criteria. In some cases, a spouse of a deceased service person is also eligible for a VA benefit. This still isn't as many people as was true formerly. Thirty years ago, far more people served in the military than currently do. Even though San Diego is a military town, most veterans seem to leave when their tour is over, so the population of discharged veterans is lower than might be expected. They're here, but they have mostly come back because of civilian employment or following spouses who are themselves in the military, rather than choosing to retire here.

Indeed, Active duty service members have an advantage over retirees. They are able to draw a housing allowance if they do not live in military housing - a housing allowance that can pay their mortgage instead of rent, and when reassigned, they can rent the property to another military family, knowing the military family receives that same allowance. A military family that exercises due diligence can retire owning five or more properties, all with positive cash flow, and most likely with huge amounts of equity, if not owned outright. Current BAH allowances for San Diego won't purchase a mansion, but they will cash flow out for quite reasonable properties in desirable parts of town. Since VA loans are all fully amortized, this will eventually pay the mortgage off, leaving them with only property taxes and maintenance for the expense of owning the property.

For a decade or more, VA loans were pretty much useless in high cost areas because of loan limits too low to purchase desirable properties. There for a while, they were only useful for one bedroom condominiums here in San Diego because the price of housing had so far outstripped VA loan limits that that was all that could be bought with them. That has now changed, both because prices have fallen and because VA loan limits have risen dramatically thanks to new legislation. Recent legislation has extended VA loan limits above "regular" conforming loan limits..

The one limit to VA loans is a good one to have: They require documentation of earning enough income to be able to afford the payments, either through tax returns or w2 form. This prevents something that has happened all too often for several years, real estate agents and loan officers selling someone a property that there is no way there are able to afford in the longer term. This was another reason VA loans were often bypassed for about a decade there, but I actually like this protective feature. Debt to Income Ratio is more important to protect the borrower than it is to protect the lender!

So even though not everyone is eligible for a VA loan, if you are one of those who has earned eligibility through service to the country, the VA loan has become the best "magic bullet" currently available to assist you in buying real estate. By not having a mortgage insurance requirement, or boosting the basic rate through adjustments as other loans have, and by requiring full documentation of income, they not only aid the veteran in affording the property, but have a significant protective element.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

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