December 2022 Archives

Real Estate Loans Require Land

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This just keeps popping up everywhere, so I obviously need to explain it blatantly.

In order to be a real estate loan, there must be real property involved. In other words, land or an interest in land. It doesn't have to be what lawyers call "fee simple" and the rest of the world calls complete ownership, free of anyone else's interests, but it does have to be an interest in land.

When you buy a house, townhome, condominium, or even timeshare, what you are buying is an interest in the land it occupies. The building you want to live in comes along for the ride because it is what lawyers call appurtenant: attached in such a way as to make removal non-trivial. I know that moving even mobile homes isn't what anyone who understands calls "trivial", but it's a lot easier than moving something with a permanent foundation. Talk with a lawyer if you need a finer appreciation for what your state considers appurtenant; I'm just trying to convey a general idea.

The cleanest example of an interest in real estate is "fee simple": A piece of land in which nobody else owns any interests. It's been about a century since most urban plots had this feature, since J. Paul Getty figured out that if you separate out the mineral rights you can make more money, but there is still a lot of rural back-country where fee simple is common (although not ubiquitous. Lots of farmers, ranchers, etcetera have sold mineral rights).

Much more common today is a community development, where the neighborhood has a Homeowner's Association (hence HOA) for common area maintenance, and this HOA has rights to enforce common standards of appearance. This really empowers the neighborhood busybodies, but it does safeguard you from a neighbor who lets their property become an eyesore and drags your value down or rents his property to a fraternity with loud parties 24/7. This is still an interest in land.

Then there are Condominiums and Townhomes. These are common interest developments where the entire group shares title to the land, and all you have is the exclusive use of one particular piece of the area or volume, which is described in the initial plan. This typically includes a dwelling unit, one or more parking spaces, and perhaps a storage locker. Note that these are usually described in terms of the volume they were planned to occupy, and may not be 100% compliant with the plan document. I heard about a high-rise where pretty much every unit was at least partially above the volume originally described for that unit because there was a change in building codes requiring more height per story, but everyone understood what was intended and pretended it was all copacetic. This is still real estate, because each individual owner still has an interest in land.

The principal extends even to timeshares. Title companies don't like to do them and most lenders don't like them, but they've still got an interest, although time diluted and common interest. That's still a real estate loan.

Even leaseholds can be a real estate loan with some caveats. The lease has to run at least as long as the term of the loan or the lender will decline. No lender is going to approve a real estate loan where the real estate interest might go away before the loan is paid off, but even leaseholds are still real estate and you can get real estate loans on leaseholds. Of course, this renders said property essentially useless as an investment in many cases, but it is at least theoretically possible to get loans on them. In the East County, there are quite a few residences on leaseholds (mostly Indian land) in and around eastern El Cajon, Lakeside, and other communities.

Manufactured homes can be real estate loans, albeit with restrictions. The critical question is "What is the legal interest in the land?" If the land it sits on is an ownership interest or even a leasehold interest, it's usually at least theoretically possible to get a real estate loan on it. There are restrictions on loan to value ratio that mean a higher down payment requirement and therefore worth fewer dollars, but if there is an ownership interest in land, a real estate loan is at least theoretically possible.

What is not a real estate loan is any property where the land involved is rented space. If there is monthly space rent, it's not a real estate loan to buy the dwelling unit. It's a personal loan like buying an automobile, watercraft or airplane, and that is an entirely different department at the bank. People with real estate lender's licenses can't help you - it requires a different type of lending license and loan procedure. Most such dwellings are registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles or your state equivalent rather than the county recorder or assessor (the good news is there may not be property tax, at least not directly.). This isn't me or anyone else in the real estate industry trying to ghetto-ize you and your dwelling. It's not discrimination, prejudice, "raaaaaacism!", or anything else. It's what the politicians and lawyers have decided in setting up the legal structure we work in, and it applies to everyone in that situation, whatever else may be going on in your lives or theirs.

Caveat Emptor

Minorities get higher rates.

They add that the fact minorities are more likely to borrow from institutions specializing in high-priced loans could mean they are being steered to such lenders or that some lenders are unwilling or unable to serve minority neighborhoods.

What they describe is called redlining. It is illegal. HUD (correctly!) really gets their panties in a bunch over it, too. Mostly what actually happens is that the lenders simply aren't chasing certain kinds of business. If any comes to them, they deal with it like anyone else. This is standard marketing procedure. Figure out who you're trying hardest to serve, and really chase that segment. If anyone else wants to come to you, that's wonderful and you serve them the same as any other customer, but they're still not someone you're going out of your way to attract.

One thing that the article explicitly said: This does not include or compensate for credit scores. Working with people in the flesh, I have experienced the fact that there is a difference between how various groups handle credit. Often, the urban poor have some difficulty in meeting the requirements for open and existing lines of credit. They are more likely to have failed to make the connection between credit reporting and future qualifications for credit, having at some point made a decision not to pay a creditor. On the flip side, often they are more poorly educated about their options or think they're a tough loan when they're not. This extends into the general population, although it's less prevalent. I have a friend I went to high school with. He and his wife make over $160,000 per year between them in very secure jobs they have held for over a decade each. Their credit score is about 760. The loan officer they were originally working with told them they were a tough loan to try and scare them into not shopping with anyone else. The reality is that the only question is what loan is best for them because they easily qualify for anything reasonable. This is far more common than most people think. When I originally wrote this, if you had two or three open lines of credit and your credit score is above 640 - sixty plus points below national average - I could have gotten 100 percent financing, and the possibility didn't disappear completely until you went below 560 (whether it's smart was a question for the individual situation, but I could have gotten a loan done if it was). 100 percent financing is now gone (unless you're a veteran!) but if you've got a five to ten percent down payment and stay within your means, a loan can be done for credit scores down to 620 for conventional A paper, and with a 3.5% down payment down to 580 and perhaps lower than that with an FHA loan. With increasing equity, I can usually get a loan done even for credit scores down to 500 (two hundred points below national average!), albeit with prepayment penalties. Now, the better your situation, the better your loan (e.g. rate, terms, closing costs, etc.) will be, but the question is not usually "Can I do a loan for these folks?" but "Can I find them better terms than anyone else?" and "Should I do this loan or is it really putting them in a worse situation than they're in?"

Quite often, the loan provider that urban poor go to is the one who advertises where they see it - basically, the lender who chases their business, usually by advertising in that area or in that language. Every other lender is still available to them, but they go to the place whose advertising they see. They think "This guy wants my business. He does business with people like me all the time. He can get me the loan." The problem is that all too often, this loan provider has chosen to chase this market precisely because the people in it, most often urban poor, do not understand they've got other choices, and do not understand effective loan shopping, and so this loan provider makes six percent (the legal limit in California) on every loan plus kickbacks and arrangements under the table. They make more on one loan than I do on half a dozen for roughly the same amount of work each, and the loan they do are not as good for their client as others that can easily be found.

Most people are better loan candidates than they think they are, and qualify for better loans than they think they do. It's more often the property they have chosen and the fact it requires a loan bigger than they can afford that creates an untouchable situation than the people themselves.

(I got a ten minute lecture a while back from a nice young couple telling me they "deserved" a rate of four to five percent on a 100% loan for a manufactured home sitting on a rented space, because it was "the same rate everyone else is getting". Well, if it had been on a regular house sitting on owned land I could have gotten them that loan on very desirable terms, but nobody ever did 100 percent loans on manufactured homes, and if there's no ownership interest in the actual land involved then it's a loan secured by personal property, not real estate, and it becomes a personal loan, for which the rates are much higher.)

So keep this in mind if and when you're in the market for a real estate loan, and shop multiple lenders, and shop hard. Remember that all of the times your credit is run in a two week period for mortgage purposes only counts as one inquiry, whether it is just once or whether it's five dozen times. A loan provider does not have to run credit themselves to get a quote, but the information must be complete, accurate, and in a form they can use.

Keep in mind that the loan market changes constantly. A quote that's good today almost certainly will not be good tomorrow. When I originally wrote this, I wrote "If it's not locked, it's not real, and a thirty day lock is not valid unless extended on the thirty-first day, for which you will pay an extension fee if necessary." That is still valid, but lenders are making it very expensive to loan officers and their future customers for locking a loan without it closing, so it has become too expensive to lock loans before there is pretty concrete assurance it will close. So shop hard, with a real sense of urgency, get it done quick, and make your loan provider get it done quick. Any additional stress will more than pay for itself (and the longer the loan takes, the greater the opportunity for stress, too). Loans are taking longer now than they used to due to new regulations that have the effect of delaying every loan for 3-4 weeks, so 45 days is about the fastest you have a prayer of actually getting a loan funded. But I will bet money that a loan done in sixty days or less from the time you say that you want it is a better loan than the loan that takes ninety days or more.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

Note: This article was originally published November 2007, when rates were higher than currently

I had been corresponding irregularly with this gentleman during his hunt. It happens he lives outside of California, and I only work inside California, so I wasn't professionally involved. However, when he sent me the email telling me how it all worked out, I thought it it would make a good case study to show how several things I write about actually happen, how to deal with them, and that even if you don't do everything I write about, you can still get quite a bit of benefit out of this. I obtained his permission to run it with identifying details removed. I'm going to break it up into more digestible blocks, and comment upon what he did right and what he could have done better, had he wanted to spend the effort.

Hello Dan,

Thought I'd drop you a note and complete the circle so to speak. We've corresponded a handful of times since about May. I'm in DELETED, sold my $200K townhouse and contracted to have a new house built. I used your site a lot to come up to speed on mortgage matters, I've only had 1 mortgage in my life which was for the townhouse 8 or 9 years ago. That one was an FHA ARM I assumed so this new one was a new deal entirely for me.

Research is always good. That puts him ahead of at least 90% of everybody, right there.

We signed the contract to build around May 1 and closed on a nice shiny new 3,100 square foot, 5 bedroom house on a .31 acre lot on October 1. It's been a wild month what with moving and all but we're now firmly in and very happy with the new digs. Mortgage wise we went with the builders affiliated lender, it's a moderately large regional builder not one of the publicly traded ones. I would have liked to have had the opportunity to shop around a lot but the way they write these contracts makes their lender pretty enticing with a $15K credit towards closing costs.

A $15k credit towards closing costs? On a $200,000 loan? Real is $3000-3500, plus whatever you decide to pay in points. That's about 6 points of buying the rate down. And 6.125, what he ended up with, is available in my neck of the woods for less than a point. Rates are down from where they were in the summer, but even then, I think 1.2 points was as high as I got for that rate. Real, effective savings for using the builder's lender: about $6000. Not exactly chicken feed, and at least it was a net savings. All too often, people let cash make them stupid about real estate, and this is one of the biggies. We didn't cover whether the builder's loan had a pre-payment penalty, but the builder's loan having a prepayment penalty would have eaten all those savings and more, besides.

A better way to handle it is as a direct credit on the sales price of the house. Of course, you need to have already negotiated your best bargain before you bite off on that, or they'll give you $15,000 with one hand, while taking $20,000 away with the other.

So here is how it all worked out. Initially we got a GFE from the lender which is of course worthless at the start since you can't lock a rate 4 months ahead of time. The initial GFE was for 5.875%, 30 year fixed with a single point origination fee. Then over the summer the whole subprime mess hit the mortgage market hard. My loan was never going to be a problem with a loan amount of $215K against a purchase price of $430K but we were sweating bullets over the rate for a while . I got my initial firm rate lock the last few days of July at 6.5% with the same 1 point and 30 year fixed term. That was just under 75 days from the initial closing date of 10/8, I believe (you'd know ;)) the 75 day locks are a little more expensive than the shorter term ones. This lender lets you lock at the first opportunity and for my loan type that was 75 days, then they'll let you re-lock once between then and closing at no extra charge. I watched the rates every day and I was subscribed to DELETED daily rate alert so I could see the daily trends as the bond market did all sorts of gyrations up and down .

The longer the lock is for, the more expensive it is, yes. That said, for A paper loans, it's not very difficult to lock for up to 270 days out. On the other hand, for longer locks, you're likely to make a non-refundable deposit. It costs money if you lock and don't fund. The only question is whether you pay for your own risk of this, or whether the originator theoretically pays, but makes up for it by charging a margin that not only pays for everyone who doesn't fund, but has a tidy sum left over.

This is also describing the "float down" option that lenders have, and which may or may not be included with a lock at a direct lender - their way of luring in customers, and that's fine. Broker clients don't get this (at least I've never heard of a broker who could offer it), but brokers can pull the loan and resubmit elsewhere, no matter how much lenders try to stop the practice (It's so rare that ways they try don't do much good). What they're doing with the float down is getting people committed without having them feel committed. You're committed. Here's the proof of that pudding: What happens if they completely hose you on the loan? Who else is going to parachute drop in with another loan ready to sign? Answer: Nobody. Therefore, you're committed to that lender.


My closing date got moved up to 10/1 at some point and then we got to September. On 9/7 (I think this was the week) which was a Friday bonds had had a rally that week anticipating fed action. The DELETED rate had dropped from 6.5 to 6.375 to 6.25, I checked with my Broker and he offered 6 & 1/8. I held off till Monday since the bonds had rallied even more on Friday thinking it might drop a smidge more. No dice, Monday had the same 6.125 so I re-locked at that rate, 1 origination point and 30 year fixed - or so I thought.

If he's working for the broker, he wouldn't be working for the developer. He might be a loan officer, but he's not a broker. I've never made $15k on a single loan - ever. My company has never made half that amount, even on loans several times the size and apparent difficulty. That builder is not offering you $15k of incentives to use his lender if they're only making a couple thousand that a broker would from that loan. That builder is getting the direct lender's stroke from selling that loan on the secondary market.

That said, this is pretty good work on the lock.

Now, at every turn in this process I'd see other options. Initially he asked me if I had any interest in interest only, "certainly not" was my reply. Each time I receive a GFE there were blocks for the interest only option. I know in the past they've done A LOT of interest only 5 year fixed period loans. But I wanted a 30 year fixed, the rates are hardly any different these days and I do want to actually payoff my loan eventually! :-)

Oh, you will pay off your loan eventually. That's one feature all loans have. Lenders use interest only to make the payments seem a little more affordable for a while. Of course, when the interest only period expires, your loan amortizes over a shorter period, and the payments are even less affordable than they would have been.

Unless you can afford the property with a fully amortized loan, you're well advised not to buy it with an interest only. They always bump the rate/cost tradeoff for interest only loans, and usually it's grounds for a loan originator to make a little more money, or at least try to. Even if you can afford the fully amortized payment when it does adjust, only go with an "interest only" loan if you have a plan that's going to make you more money than it costs you.

So closing day arrives. We trundle over to the brokers office and meet the person from the title company who is serving as the closer. She begins reviewing docs, might have been the first piece of paper of maybe the second - "and here is your note, 6.5% rate with interest only for 5 years" Wait, STOP - that isn't my loan, my loan is a 30 yr 6.125 rate!!! So she calls the broker and they look it over . Oh, so sorry, someone dropped the ball and drew up the papers incorrectly. It took them an hour to redraw the entire package up the way it should have been in the first place. The broker was very apologetic and did offer, without me asking, to waive their document processing fee which was a few hundred bucks. All's well that ends well but it makes you wonder. The loan they prepared in error had the slightly higher rate and no origination point so the costs were a couple thousand less for the higher rate. So I don't think they were trying to screw me totally but the fact remains it was a totally different loan from what we had discussed all along.

6.5%, even interest only, on a 5/1 would have made them something like 2.2 points of yield spread, had they been a broker, more in secondary market premium if they're direct or correspondent lending. It makes a difference of something between 3 and 4% of the loan amount on the secondary market. That's why no origination on that loan. If you had signed those papers, they would have sent out for caviar! That and of course, the fact that they were giving you a $15,000 allowance which you weren't close to using all of. That said, always judge and compare loans by what is best for you. If someone can make more money while delivering me a loan with a better bottom line, they've earned every penny of whatever they make. Lender compensation is not something for consumers to worry about except as it ends up costing them more money than another loan they could have had.

This is very good, that you caught the difference and stood your ground, however. Yes, your signing agent made it easy on you, but you still did it. People don't believe this really happens, but it happens all the time, and over fifty percent of all people it happens to do not notice, and something like 85% of those who do notice won't stand their ground.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

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