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

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

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

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

The salesgoodspeakian to English phrasebook:

Mortgage dialect:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Found on the same billboard:

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

Real Estate Dialect:

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

Caveat Emptor

Original herezz

For a period of several months when the market started imploding, I got mass messages from basically every lender I do business with, saying it's time to "get back to basics". My favorite A paper lender became the last to do so. This is a company that to the best of my knowledge, never offered a negative amortization loan, never had a stated income loan for 100% of value, and was steadfast about avoiding all the problem loans that the rest of the industry dived headfirst into. As a result, not only could they offer beautifully clean underwriting and rates that varied from pretty darned good to absolutely unbeatable, but still rock solid today, The differences to their bottom line since market peak are all attributable to declining values that are a background to the industry rather than loose loan practices on their part.

My response to each and every one of these messages, however, has been, "What do you mean, back to basics?"

The dynamics of how to create a happy customer never changed. Oh, you can make them happy right now by getting them into the beautiful McMansion they have no prayer of really affording. But debt to income ratio isn't just for the lender's protection. If you use one of the many tricks available to circumvent it, you can video-record them jumping up and down with excitement and crying for joy on move-in day, but they'll also remember you all through the long process of losing the property, and by the time it comes to move-out because of short sale or foreclosure day, they'll know that you failed to do your real job. What do you think the prospects of referrals and repeat business are? Well, maybe referrals to attorneys and repeat business from the FBI fraud unit, but those aren't things most of us want.

Many people, sometimes surprisingly sophisticated people who should have known better, were ignoring critical factors about finance and economics because after six to ten years of the housing markets going crazy, it must have seemed as if the laws of economics had been somehow repealed. Nope. Not ever going to happen. They're a bit more complex than physics such as gravity, and they are subject to distortion through mass psychology in the short run, but the bottom of that canyon is still waiting, no matter when Wile E. Coyote looks down. You'd think people would learn something through experience after a few repetitions.

Yes, most people want the huge mansion on 64,000 acres. People want hot and cold running servants and manna from heaven, too, but very few people get it. But there are reasons things like that are beyond the means of the average person, particularly in high demand urban areas where all the jobs are. Most of us have budgets that won't stretch to any of the above, and we're better off understanding this fact from the start. As real estate agents and loan officers, it's part of that fiduciary duty we learn about getting licensed to make them aware of these facts as they pertain to real estate and mortgage loans, not encourage them to stretch beyond their means for a property and a loan they can't really afford.

During the era of make-believe loans, it became possible to pretend that somebody was able to afford a bigger, more expensive home than they really could. Many alleged professionals, both agent and loan officer, became aware that they could make the easy sale and a much higher commission check by fudging a number here and a key fact there. They made quite a good living by doing so, rationalizing that if they didn't, somebody else would. Those agents and loan officers who stayed on the right side of things lost a lot of business to people who didn't. It's always possible to talk a "bigger better deal", but what actually gets delivered is a whole different issue. The last few years have taught those of us who don't talk like that how to deal with those miscreants. But whether you believe in karma or not, stuff like that will come back around to bite you. It's one of those laws of economics that can't be repealed by the legislature. One way or another, their time of reckoning is coming. We all know what happens to those hogs at the trough.

So it's not "back to basics." Basics have always been there. Basics has always been the way to make the clients happy, not only on move-in day, but for the rest of their lives - long after the neighbor who didn't pay attention to basics has lost their home and their financial future to the foreclosure process. Basics, and explaining how they benefit the client, is how you build a real book of business, instead of one-time scores that are going to have you fighting lawsuits from jail. This has never changed, and it never will. Basics are the world we all live in, and when you understand them, you understand why.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

Scapegoating mortgage brokers or anyone else is not the answer, nor is prohibiting yield spread. We've been here before (in the early 1990s), congress did something remarkably similar except a little bit more sane. It didn't work then. Why would we expect it to work this time? Among many other problems with the bill, if prohibiting yield spread being used by brokers to pay loan costs and their own compensation is a good thing, why not get the whole of the problem and prohibit lenders from selling notes above face value at all? The differences are two: The premium that lenders make from selling loans above face value is more than yield spread (usually double yield spread or more; and present in far more loans than yield spread) and whereas yield spread is disclosed to consumers, the premium a loan will sell for on the secondary market is not. Proposals to outlaw yield spread are a payoff to lending industry campaign supporters, in order to make it more difficult for brokers to compete, not any kind of solution to the actual problem. Nor is there any legal requirement for a lender to offer yield spread. If lenders feel it is being abused, they have the ability to refuse to offer yield spread. But of course, then the lenders that continue to offer it will attract more business from brokers - an incentive for individual lenders to make more money by breaking ranks with their competitors. Lest you not understand, if individual lenders can not legally do this, the lenders as a whole will make more money, and consumers will lose. The only way to make this kind of collusion work is to get the government behind it, giving individual lenders no option but to comply.

I've also seen proposals put forth that federal licensing, a la the NASD, will solve the problem. Preposterous. There's lots of counter-evidence on this one. Black Monday 1987. The dot com bubble of 1996-2000. John Corzine, who outright stole $1.6 billion from customer accounts. Pretty much everybody in the securities business is multiply licensed, and it didn't prevent any of these. The securities business may be a little tighter than the real estate business, but that doesn't make it something to emulate, nor does it mean that licensing will solve problems, as I have illustrated with these two well-known examples, and could illustrate with many others, less well-known but no less telling. If we're going to have licensing requirements, I favor toughening those requirements, but not for this reason.

The causes of this mess are not simple, and a real solution will not fit in a sound bite.

The problem was one of responsibility. Responsibility in law and legal responsibility in fact.

Lending practices had become decoupled from responsibility. Not only had the lenders become insulated from the consequences of offering ill-considered loan programs, mortgage originators had become insulated from the consequences of making an unsustainable loan, the agent from the consequences of selling clients a more expensive property than they can afford.

The point of immediate failure was the loans associated with real estate, and so I'm going to focus there for this article. It wasn't buyer cash, or the price of housing. You can do anything you want with your cash, and the worst thing that can happen is that you don't have it for something else. If the day after you buy a million dollar property for cash, the market collapses and it's suddenly only worth fifty cents, you've still got that property, you just don't have the million dollars for other uses. Whatever the purpose it was going to be used for, it can still be used for. There are no issues with being unable to make monthly payments, no need to refinance when you're upside down because you can't make those payments, and you're not on the hook for money you probably don't have and can't get by selling the property. That's part of money management for adults. But for loans, you're making payments on existing debt with money you are theoretically going to earn in the future. The most critical factor is not the immediate payment. It's the cost of that money - the interest on the loan and the initial costs to procure that loan. Some people still don't understand that these are not the same thing. People tried to pretend that the real cost of the money didn't matter, only the monthly cash flow - until the real cost of the money rose up and bit millions of people in denial. It was the money for debt service that gave people difficulty, and the inability to pay the real cost of that money that financially crippled the vast majority of those that got hurt, and those who are going to get hurt in the coming months.

If I had to look at one place to stop future problems like this before they start, it would be in the loan. One area alone won't completely stop abuse, but the loan is by far the most important. How many people would be in difficulty today if lenders had been unwilling to make the loan? That real estate agent can preach for months about how great this house is, Mr. and Ms. Wannabe Homeowner can pine for it all they want, and Mr. and Ms. Seller can proselytize about how wonderful an investment the property is. The fact remains that if the buyers cannot qualify for a loan large enough to buy the property (in combination with their cash on hand), it's not going to happen for those buyers at that price. If they've got the price in cash, there isn't a problem. As I said, the worst that can happen is that they don't have that cash for something else.

The entire lending process was so skewed that it's difficult to communicate to someone who's not a professional in the field. Let me start by describing three of the leading poster children loans that led to the housing meltdown.

100% loan to value ratio loans done on a stated income basis. Stated income loans were an early enabler of the housing boom, and they do have legitimate uses. Their traditional niche is persons who are self employed business persons, who are allowed any number of tax deductions not allowed to the corporate employee, because congress wants to encourage the next Microsoft, the next Google, or the creation of legal, medical, and accounting firms, among others, to foster the competitive element in those professions. If there really were only four accounting firms, they could get together, section the country off, and charge anything they wanted for any quality of service they wanted to deliver - not exactly conducive to happy consumers of these services - and congress gives the owners of those businesses certain tax advantages to encourage the formation of these firms. However, since income is documented via federal tax return, this causes them to be unable to document the same income that someone working as an employee of a larger firm who really is making the same money. Hence, the stated income loan, where someone "states" their income, and in return for a higher interest rate, the bank agrees not to demand documentation of that income. The problem is that if the consumer really doesn't make that income, they're still going to have to pay that same cost of money.

The traditional control upon the stated income loan was nobody did them for 100% of purchase price. And today, we're back to that traditional state of affairs. When you have to put twenty-five percent of the gross purchase price into the transaction in the form of your hard-earned cash, not only is the lender insulated from losing money if you default, but most people are going to do some hard investigation to make certain they really can afford it and aren't putting that money at risk. Before I write a check for $100,000, I'm going to make darned certain that what comes after is going to enable me to protect that investment. Nor was stated income ever a blank check: You had to be working in a field, and with a job title, where people really do make the income you "stated". Even though the bank wasn't verifying it, it had to be believable. But for several years, these were available for people with credit scores as low as 600 who didn't put anything down. To many people's minds, these consumers weren't really risking anything. here's my rebuttal to one such alleged professional who wrote me an email asking for an endorsement of his program. To this way of thinking, this loan removed risk from the prospect of the reward. After all, the consumer wasn't putting any of their hard earned money into the deal, so if it should just not work out for any reason, the consumer could just walk away, whereas if it did, the consumer was in the money! The thinking of these people (who were looking to get paid for their alleged wisdom) was that the consumers weren't risking anything with these loans, so there was no reason not to do these loans and these transactions. As I said then, investment risk is not and never can be zero. There is no such thing as a risk-free investment. Risk can be camouflaged or hidden, but it's still there. Good investment consists of managing that risk. Furthermore, these alleged professionals sold people property and the associated loans based upon this false assessment. Whether a given individual was truly unaware of these consequences, or maliciously lying in order to get a commission, the result should be the same: I put it to you that they are unfit to practice either real estate or loan origination, and they should be permanently barred from the entire real estate industry, after making restitution and serving some appropriate period as involuntary guests of the government.

The 2/28 interest only loan is one of the more common examples of what I have been calling short term adjustable loans. Unlike the 100% stated income loan, which was offered by many A paper lenders for a while, this loan is explicitly subprime. The way this loan, and others of similar mien such as the 3/27 interest only loan, work, is thus: There is an introductory period, during which the loan rate is contractually fixed at a set rate, and the borrower pays only the interest that accrues every month on the loan. For example, if the loan is at 6% for $200,000, the monthly payment is $1000. The attraction is that the payment, and hence, the perceived cost of money, is lower than the same loan fully amortized, for which the payment is $1199. But now let's get to the reason why it was the subprime loan that was offered, instead of the A paper equivalent, various hybrid ARMs such as the 5/1 ARM or 10/1 ARM: Because qualification standards in the subprime world were written to allow borrowers to qualify on the basis of Debt to Income Ratio for the loan payments at this initial level of payment, rather than based upon the fully indexed payment after this initial period and with a lower maximum debt to income ratio to allow for the fact that that underlying index might well rise, as A paper standards require. Furthermore, thirty year fixed rate loans are available subprime, albeit at higher rates. The net effect of all this was to allow people to qualify for a larger loan than they could really afford, and made sellers, real estate agents, and lenders very happy, and buyers happy for a certain period of time. After all, here they have this house that they didn't think they could afford, much nicer than the one they thought they could afford. It must have been a great bargain, because the apparent cost, or in terms they understood, the payment, was the same!

Unfortunately, that temporary payment is not the real cost of that money. Well, actually it is to begin with in this case, but if that cost changes, and since in this instance we know it will, then good risk management means we need to plan for it. In this case, we know from the start that on day 731, that interest rate is jumping to 8.2%, the underlying index plus a margin stated in the contract, and assuming that the index stayed the same, that's what we'd be going to in two years. Bad enough in the case of an amortized 2/28, where we know the payment is going to jump to $1437, a roughly 20% increase over $1199. It's tolerable to do these loans on a refinance for people whose credit just needs a couple years breathing space, after which they'll be eligible for A paper (provided, of course, they know that's what's going on before they sign the application). But for the interest only variant, the payments jump from $1000 per month to $1521, a 52% increase, and that's assuming the underlying index (in this case, the 6 month LIBOR) stays exactly where it was back then.

The most egregious loan of all, the negative amortization loan, should never be a purchase money loan for a primary residence. If you need a negative amortization loan to qualify, you shouldn't buy that property. Period. But it was marketed under all sorts of friendly sounding alternative names, like "Option ARM", "Pick a Pay", and the ever popular "1% loan." Who wouldn't want a loan with a cost of interest of 1%? Sign me up for that!

However, the 1% was a nominal rate only. You were allowed to make payments "as if" your actual loan rate was 1% or something similar. That was not your actual cost of interest for one single solitary second. The actual cost of interest was somewhere between seven and about nine percent, depending upon the situation. This while I had thirty year fixed rate loans in the low 6% range without points, and lenders were going out advertising to convince people who had gotten 5% thirty year fixed rate loans to refinance into Negative Amortization loans. You're only writing a check based upon a 1% rate, but they're charging you 8%. That payment is $643 on $200,000, but they're actually charging you $1333 per month in interest to start with. The difference ($690 the first month!) goes into your loan balance, where they can charge more interest on it next month! Then, when you hit recast (within 5 years at the very most), which in this case we will pick to be when the loan gets to be 15% larger than at inception, which happens in month 39, and your monthly payment jumps from that $643 to $1756, a 170% increase, and you discover that you now owe $230,000, and the property was only worth $212,000 when you bought it, and you discover it's worth less than that now. You have severe difficulty refinancing to something affordable, even if you didn't trigger a pre-payment penalty. Once again, the lender made the qualification decision based upon the debt to income situation computed using the minimum initial payment! And until the customer is completely unable to pay, the lender is booking all that income from deferred interest. That's what their financial statements write up as income! That bank executive looks like a genius (temporarily!) for getting you to sign up for a loan with an interest rate 2% higher than you could have had, or 3% higher than the one you did have. I read an interview conducted with one of those executives back near the beginning of 2007, who basically said, "The people who sign up for these are all idiots, but I've made a lot of money off them," to which I thought, "No you haven't. The accounting just looks that way right now on paper." Twelve months further on, that company was in bad trouble (and now it's dead). To make matters even worse, both this loan and the 2/28 were also offered on a stated income basis!

Lest this be in any way unclear, nobody was coercing lenders into offering these products. They were completely free not to. In fact, I can name a couple of household names that hung back, and never did offer negative amortization loans. But with the huge although false incomes lenders and mortgage investors were reporting upon these three types of loan (and others), there was a mad stampede for a while to see who would offer the most over the top loan program. For that matter, mortgage brokers were free not to participate, and real estate agents were free to limit themselves to real loans their client could afford, and more than one did, no matter how they suffered professionally while their competition got rich offering make-believe head-in-the-sand math. But so long as that mortgage broker and their client was following the rules set down by the lender, the only people the lenders can blame is themselves. So long as the mortgage broker and real estate agent made certain their client could in fact afford that loan, there is absolutely nothing wrong with having your client buy a property with a stated income loan for 100% of value. If the program the lender offers falls apart in the aggregate on loans that were precisely as presented, they is no one to blame but the lender themselves. No broker ever forced a loan program or a loan onto a lender. In fact, I threw at least a dozen lenders representatives who wouldn't talk about anything but these awful loans out of my office.

The problem is that disclosure and transparency were nowhere to be found in the vast majority of these loans. I can imagine otherwise sane adults signing off on all this sort of problem loan even if they were fully informed, but not in the numbers that are causing all of the problems. There are rational reasons why someone might do every single one of those loans. These loan programs are not new - it was the way they were marketed and sold that led people to sign up without understanding the consequences. Lest anyone be unaware, bad consequences hitting large numbers of borrowers always translates to bad consequences for lenders holding those notes, something that the lenders themselves had forgotten.

Lack of real disclosure is at the heart of the problems with our entire system of real estate in general, and of loans in particular. Lack of disclosure of what is going to happen should the consumer stay in that loan. Lack of disclosure as to what is really going on. Lack of disclosure - really a lack of transparency - in the entire loan process. I know - every good loan officer knows - what loans are available and what loans are potentially deliverable to a given applicant. It really doesn't take much in most cases. Credit report, income documentation, purchase contract. Every once in a while there's something unusual going on that prevents the loan you thought you could do, but for the vast majority of loans out there, that's enough to tell a competent loan officer what you qualify for. Furthermore, if a loan officer doesn't know all the salient points of the mortgage loan they're trying to persuade someone to sign up for, I don't think anybody sane would argue that wasn't gross negligence. "I can't tell you what this loan is going to do, but I think it's a really great loan for you!"

In the overwhelming majority of cases, however, that loan officer knew exactly what loan they would be able to deliver, at exactly what real cost, before the borrower signed the loan application to begin the process. They knew exactly what the terms would be, and exactly what the cost would be, exactly what the final loan amount would be, and exactly what the payment would be, not only now, but for the rest of the loan. This is all easy math, and the only thing more difficult than what a third grader needs to know to get into fourth grade is computing the payment once you have the total. Some of it may be subject to revision if you find out the client had their current balance or whether there was a prepayment penalty wrong, but you should be able to get the math right in the first place. It is one of the lending industry's big dirty secrets that the lender who underestimates the real figures by the largest amount will win the business. The one that tells a given consumer the best fairy tale gets their signature on a loan application. Despite the fact that these fairy tales are not binding in any significant way without a Loan Quote Guarantee, rare indeed is the consumer who will penalize the lender who lies to get them to sign the application, by not signing the final loan documents thirty or sixty days later. Furthermore, the lenders don't like brokers who offer loan quote guarantees, to the point where they have made it unaffordable for mortgage brokers to offer them.

I've already discussed the major ways in which people were qualified for loans they couldn't really afford, and the ways that were available to a competent loan officer to make it appear as if a given client could afford a given loan. And people who don't understand what was wrong with these are still looking for them. I got a search hit yesterday for "1% loan 120% of value." I get comparable search hits most hours of most days. People think these loans are good for them because they enabled them to buy a more expensive property than they could really afford (or "cash out" refinance for toys when they shouldn't have). But the real cost of the money was there and lurking all along, and none of this was explained to them. Furthermore, the vast majority of people whom I explained it to proceeded to go ahead and do it anyway, because it was so attractive to them now. They didn't do it with me, despite the fact that I told them if they were certain they wanted to do it, I could get it done. They went out to someone else who pretended the downside wasn't there. The downside was there, but by pretending it wasn't, these providers persuaded millions of people to do loans where they were cutting their own throat in slow motion. But people didn't want the truth - that they were heading towards an inevitable disaster - they wanted to pretend that everything was hunky-dory, and they richly rewarded those who pretended it was so.

How do we prevent this from recurring? Three answers: mandatory and full timely disclosure, a more transparent process, and more responsibility in fact. None of these are present currently. The lending and real estate industries and their lobbyists will fight all three of these, but they are all necessary if we really want to deal with the problem.

Let's detail what I'm talking about.

Instead of the joke that is the current Good Faith Estimate (Mortgage Loan Disclosure Statement in California), let's require prospective loan providers to tell the whole truth about a loan before the client commits by signing up. Nor are the new HUD-1 and Good Faith Estimate going to help in any material way - they're only going to make the steps to lie to consumers a little more complex. It's not difficult for a loan originator to figure out what the real costs are going to be, and what the rate really is going to be. We've already established that if they don't know all of the characteristics of a loan before they try to sell it, something is wrong. So the loan originator really should know everything about a loan as soon as the prospective consumer furnishes basic information. Let's make it mandatory to tell the consumer the truth of all of those neat little details when they sign up, rather than when they sign final paperwork. Let's start with a real accounting of the new balance: "This loan will cost you 1 point of origination and 1 point of discount. Administrative costs to finish the loan will be $3022, including all third party fees. You have indicated that you will/will not be adding the cost of one month interest to the loan in order to skip one payment. There will/will not be an impound account set up to pay property taxes and homeowner's insurance, requiring an initial amount of $n/a, which will be paid by check/adding it to loan balance. Starting from your initial balance of $200,000, this leads us to a final balance on your new loan of approximately $208,186. If this balance is not correct within $100, your loan provider must present you with an updated estimate via this form at least ten calendar days prior to final loan documents." This puts an honest accounting of what the loan is really going to cost in the consumer's hands right away. It removes the incentive for low-balling, because the client is going to know about any changes ten days in advance - enough time for their competitors to get the loan done (at the update, ten days aren't enough to do any loan any more, because of regulatory changes that delay the whole process to take 45-60 days. Once more way the government pretends to help consumers while in fact tying them to unscrupulous lenders). Here's an article discussing how much it's legal to low-ball a loan quote, and the lenders keep pretending that quote is real, even though they know it isn't, right up until loan signing, where the consumers usually have no choice but to sign the documents for the loan they were lied to about all along.

Then let's have a section on characteristics of the loan: I don't like 2/28s, but let's use one for an example, just to show how well undesirable terms should stand out: "The initial interest rate will be 6%. This will be fixed for 24 months. After this initial period, your interest rate will be determined by 6 month LIBOR plus a margin of 2.8%, determined every 6 months. Should this index remain where it currently is, your interest rate will be 8.2% upon full adjustment. This loan is fully amortized/interest only for a period of n/a months/negatively amortized for up to n/a months, after which, it will fully amortize. If this loan features negative amortization, your balance will increase by $n/a if you make the minimum payments for this period. Should any of these numbers other than the value of the applicable index change, your loan provider must present you with an updated estimate via this form at least ten calendar days prior to final loan documents." This lets the consumer know exactly what they're getting into, before they have no choice but sign the documents or lose the deposit, while still have time to shop for something else.

Let's disclose the effects of any prepayment penalty, as well! "This loan does/does not include a prepayment penalty. Should you pay it off within 24 months of funding, you will be required to pay a penalty of 100% of six (6) months interest upon the loan. At current values, this is approximately $6245.58. If any of these values changes by 1% of the estimated value, your loan provider must present you with an updated estimate via this form at least ten calendar days prior to final loan documents." Let's put a dollar figure on that pre-payment penalty, so people know what they're risking. It's not like this is Monopoly money!

Now, let's disclose the payments, and the real costs of keeping the loan: "The initial monthly cost of interest on this loan will be $1040.93. Assuming the underlying index remains constant, the cost of interest will be $1422.60 per month at full adjustment. The minimum initial monthly payment will be $1248.19. Assuming the underlying index remains constant, the monthly payment will be $1543.14 at full adjustment. If any of these values changes by 1% of the estimated value, your loan provider must present you with an updated estimate via this form at least ten calendar days prior to final loan documents."

Next, a little bit of transparency: "This includes a rate lock of 30 days, and is subject to change until such time as the lender accepts the rate lock. Your loan is/is not currently locked. If it is locked, your lock expires n/a (date) and the loan must be funded by that time in order to receive this rate. Should any of these numbers other than the value of the applicable index change, your loan provider must present you with an updated estimate via this form at least ten calendar days prior to final loan documents.

Now, some real transparency! Let's tell the consumers what it will take to qualify: "This loan requires full documentation of income/stated income/no income requirement. It requires a debt to income ratio not exceeding 50%, and a loan to value ratio not exceeding 80%. This quote is based upon a FICO score of 640, with the following mortgage delinquencies in the preceding 24 months 2x30 0 x 60 0 x90, and the following non-mortgage delinquencies n/a x30 n/a x 60 n/a x90. Based upon known debts service of $1643 per month, of which $1483 will be replaced by this loan, and prorated monthly property taxes of $166 per month and prorated insurance costs of $72 per month and other monthly housing costs of $230 per month, you will need an monthly income of $3753 to qualify for this loan, and the property must appraise for a minimum of $260,250 in order for this loan to be accepted by the underwriters. If any of these values changes by 1% of the estimated value, your loan provider must present you with an updated estimate via this form at least ten calendar days prior to final loan documents. Note that misrepresentation of your financial position or of the property value is a felony punishable by up to five years in federal prison, and conspiracy is a separate felony offense also punishable for up to five years in federal prison, and you may also forfeit legal protections afforded most consumers" Most people can look at this and tell if they qualify. No more loan providers baiting someone with a loan they know they're not going to qualify for! There could even be a standard list of common "loan busters" attached. Finally, it lets people know that they need to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth in order to receive all of those nice protections the law has granted consumers against lenders. Furthermore, other people, such as agents and sellers, can look at this and see something that really tells them whether or not these people are going to qualify for this lean. No stringing other people along for two months before they find out the loan isn't possible!

My point is this: Both consumers and those who are honest loan providers will benefit from moving the moment of truth forward from final loan documents. The only people that will be hurt are those who make a habit of low-balling their estimates - telling people about loans that there's really no way they can deliver. The current situation, where consumers are likely to sign up with the person that tells them the best fairy tale, even if they shouldn't get a loan at all. The current situation encourages telling fairy tales in order to get people signed up. I don't think anyone will argue that's a good thing. The replacement should encourage people to understand how loans really work.

I've discussed disclosure and transparency. Now let's consider responsibility. The best laws do no good unless they're enforced, and enforcement has to start getting tough for real. Furthermore, for many years a lot of large companies have gotten away with saying they train their people to follow the law, when in fact they let it be known they'll wink at violations so long as you bring in a little more business because of it, if not actively encouraging violations when the regulators backs are turned. They'll make their people sign off on a piece of paper that says the company told them about violating the "do not call" list, or that soliciting other agent's listings is illegal, or any of dozens of other violations, while letting it be known that the company will wink at violations if not actively encourage them. And I'm just talking about things that are flatly illegal here, never mind things that may be unethical but not illegal, such as telling people they have a $400,000 loan for $1287, encouraging people who already have loans at 5% to exchange them for negative amortization loans at 8%, where the minimum payment may be less for a while, but the real cost of the money is $2700 per month, as opposed to the under $1700 of their current loan. Just forgetting to mention little things like that.

Nor can the hunt for responsibility stop at the first broker supervisor up the chain. Companies that make it clear they want you to follow the law don't have nearly as many difficulties. If more than a very small percentage of loan officers or agents working for a given chain do something they shouldn't have, it wasn't likely to have been spontaneous disregard of the rules. The big chains know that under the current set up, they'll lose the occasional low level victim to the regulators, but nobody important will ever be prosecuted. That needs to change. At one point in time, I was waiting to interview at a loan place which shall remain nameless, and heard someone described as a "national vice president" giving a class that was not only incorrect as to the facts of the matter, but intentionally misleading in such a was as to make it easier for the loan officers he was instructing to rationalize putting a client into a bad loan. But if the only penalty such companies face is a slightly higher turnover of underlings, while they're permitted to keep the increased level of business that results, that is not the way to encourage good, ethical, responsible behavior. Nor is it sufficient to train the people you're allegedly responsible for in legal CYA maneuvers and declare training complete.

Let's consider advertising for a minute. Currently, it over-promises the moon, just in order to get people to call. "$400,000 loan for $1287 per month!" to use the example of one web advertiser I've seen way too much of. The cost of that loan isn't $1287 per month. That's just the minimum payment. The real cost of that loan is $2700 per month, and increasing if the borrower makes that minimum payment. Net result: Millions of people who gave up good loans for lies, and have now lost their homes, or are in the process of losing their homes, because of it. Advertising needs to be required to focus on the real cost of the money. The interest rate, and how much in dollars it will cost to get that loan done. If they had to advertise a rate of 8.2%, they wouldn't get nearly so many gullible people signing up. If those people who make a habit of advertising a loan with a low rate instead of a low payment, then they're going to need to explain that that $400,000 loan at 5.5% will cost $24,000 to get it done. There's always a Tradeoff between rate and cost, except when they can sucker someone into applying for a loan that has a high rate and high costs.

Enforcement needs to be faster. There is no reason why every HUD 1 that gets filed cannot be checked for compliance by a computer program, and flag for human evaluation those that fall outside of set parameters. It needs to be compared to the earlier paperwork the client was given, and checked for compliance with the law, not wait until someone actually loses their property before the government starts to act. Swifter, more certain punishment will deter more of the unethical and illegal acts before they happen. Elementary psychology. Sadly, there are those that can only be deterred by confiscating their license permanently and sending them to Club Fed for several years, but the rest of us are better off without them in the business, but the sooner we confiscate that license, ban them from the industry, and put them away, the fewer people that will get hurt as the result of their actions.

Another thing: For as long as real estate agents and loan originators are the same license, it's time to stop pretending that one doesn't need to know the basic job functions of the other. Professionals who deal with real estate every day are much better equipped to recognize malfeasance, and stop if before it gets to the point where their client is getting hurt. If you don't warn your client of any issues you see, you have violated fiduciary duty, and nearly as deserving of punishment as those who commit it. No, you can't recognize everything that happens before it does. But there's no excuse not to have an affirmative requirement to investigate, not to turn someone in to state regulators, but to inform their client that all may not be as it seems. This may meet resistance from loan officers and agents who want the other to continue to share business, but who is really entitled to more protection: The person who leaves you open to charges that you failed your client, or that client, who really does directly and measurably put money in your pocket?

There can only be one answer to that question.

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what if i sign all the paper work for a house at a title agency, can i back off the house?

Depends upon the laws in your state. The Federal three day right of rescission only applies to refinancing your primary residence.

(here's an article about that in case this is a refinance, because refinancing your primary residence has a mandatory three day right of rescission.)

In most states, for purchases and purchase money loans, there is no right of rescission whatsoever - you have to go through the courts, and prove something actionable, to get out of the purchase. The person handling escrow could theoretically fund and record a purchase immediately upon signing, although in practice you can figure it happening next day, providing everything really is ready to go.

If the escrow officer has not yet funded and recorded, then by amending those escrow instructions, giving the escrow handler new instructions not to continue with the transaction, and making them aware of amending instructions, you can almost certainly get them to stop if they're not yet finished. However, there are likely to be legal consequences and cancellation fees and all of that stuff. Talk to a lawyer in your state if you want to know all about this dismal subject.

But once you sign the basic documents, there is no legal impediment to finishing a purchase transaction. So you want to be darned certain before you sign that all is as it should be. TAKE YOUR TIME. If the signing agent is in a hurry, that's their problem. Concentrate on three items for the loan: The Note, the Trust Deed, and the HUD-1. Any funny business with the loan has to show up on at least one of those, and usually two. Forget what you were promised - these papers are what you are signing a legal commitment for, and control the terms from here on out. If they are different from what you've been told up until now, that's simply the way it is once you sign. So don't sign unless those papers are something you're willing to live up to.

For the property, make certain they're not trying to slide any last minute disclosures that you weren't aware of ("You didn't know that they're building a chemical factory on one side and a stockyard on the other?" "You didn't know that the foundation is cracked and the roof leaks?"). It's disgusting how often I hear about things buyers should have known before they made an offer being presented to them at the final signing. That's not an agent who was looking out for your best interests - that was an agent who hosed you engaging in legal maneuvers to cover their backside after the fact. An uncommonly large proportion of the ones I find out about are in Dual Agency situations, where the agent is pretending they can serve two diametrically opposed interests at the same time.

There's a blortload of paperwork at signing for a loan, just by itself, and adding a purchase at the same time doesn't exactly cut it down. Quite often, the less scrupulous will use that, trying to hide something that should kill the deal (at least as written) in amongst the blizzard of paperwork you're asked to sign. You need to understand everything you sign. If they tell you a given form doesn't apply to you, there is no reason why you should have to sign it. Set it aside in a separate stack under your control, so they can't ask again. If you don't understand it, read it until you do. Ask questions. If there's a problem, get it dealt with before you sign. Do not accept, "Just sign now, and we'll deal with it later." Once you have signed, you are stuck.

I always call the signing "The Moment of Truth," because if there's an issue you should be concerned about, whether it be property or loan based, it can be hidden until then, and often is, because at the signing your average person has their eyes on the prize, and they're thinking "all I have to do is sign all of this and we're done!" So many unscrupulous sellers and agents and loan officers will hide things until then, knowing that industry statistics say something like half of all the people won't even notice changes at signing, and of the ones that do, eighty to ninety percent will sign anyway, not knowing enough to realize they shouldn't. You shouldn't be discovering anything for the first time at signing. If you are, it's a sure sign that someone didn't do their job, and quite often, indicative that they actively hid things from you. I cannot tell you absolutely that you should cancel the entire transaction if you discover something you didn't know at signing, but you should always go to signing mentally prepared to cancel. You always need to keep a sense of perspective in real estate, but if you discover something you didn't previously know at signing, especially if you don't immediately understand all the consequences, chances are good that you should cancel.

A good agent or loan officer has absolutely nothing to fear from someone going into signing ready to cancel if something is not as they were led to expect. Oh, occasionally a loan officer you've never worked with before will bite a good agent, and vice versa. This is one reason I try very hard to get my buyer clients to apply for a loan with me, and why I really want my purchase money loan clients to work with me as a buyer's agent (While carefully emphasizing that it is their choice as under RESPA it's a serious offense to try and force people to do this). That way, whatever happens is all my fault and I have nobody else to blame - but also I can make sure nothing goes wrong with either side by making sure my client knows everything well in advance. Nothing that my clients see at final signing should be a surprise. Ever.

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My husband and I are on title and loan to a piece of property with 4 homes on it. We want to add 3 people to title. Can we do this if they are not on the loan? Also, any advice as to where I can find information as to how to hold title? Each party wants their percentage to go to next of kin and not to the rest of us on title.

This is a property that my family all live on. Basically we all bought it but we couldn't put all of them on loan for various reasons. We do have a sort of "operating agreement" going for maintenance and stuff like that, so I just want to know if they can be added to title so it's all official.

There are significant perils in this, especially since you're the only one on the loan. I can envision half a dozen scenarios where you end up liable for the loan even though you no longer own the property, or end up only owning a smaller piece of the property. Nobody likes to consider ending up in court opposite a family member, but family members are much more likely a legal adversary than complete strangers. This stuff happens every day. Partition suits aren't exactly uncommon. I suspect a certain number of them may even be manufactured, because a multi-residence property may be more valuable as multiple legally separate lots. But even if you manufacture such a suit, there's no way to insure that the other party will remain loyal to you.

Quitclaiming is easy, and requires no permission from anyone, but you really need to understand the consequences of what you intend to do before you do it. Furthermore, there's more than one way to hold title, each of which means different things. Joint Tenants, Tenants in Common, trust, corporation, partnership, etcetera. You need to choose a form of ownership that protects you, while still serving your needs.

I'd suggest getting a partnership or corporation agreement executed first, and quitclaiming to that entity, but you really need to pay a real estate attorney for some advice, first, and you'll be better off following their advice than mine.

Not that I'm a big fan of lawyers. But the hour of time you pay for now has a good chance of saving you at least a million dollars down the road, from the type of property you're talking about. Ounce of prevention and all that.

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Original article here

This is going to be one of those occasional posts that gets expanded and reposted from time to time. This list is not exhaustive, although over time it is intended to become closer. If you have one, send it to me (dm at)

Any of these is sufficient reason, all by itself, not to do business with that company or person, to cancel your loan if in progress, or to go get another backup loan.


Any actual lie

Up front application fees, or sign up fees.

Up front lock fees.

Up front appraisal fees, as opposed to at the point of appraisal. (NOTE: With HVCC now in effect, this has changed. Consumers are no longer allowed to pay the appraiser directly, so the lender now needs to collect it until and unless HVCC is removed)

Any up front fee beyond credit report (or for now, appraisal).

Requiring the originals of your documents.

Trying to sell you a Negative amortization loan, under any of its names, without explaining in detail all of the gotchas

I used to say "not locking your rate, or letting it float." This is another thing that has changed now with changes in the business. Every loan we lock that doesn't close for any reason is now costing all of our clients that do close extra fees, so we have to wait until there is a reasonable assurance of closing before locking. I'm not happy about it, but I have to do business the lender's way or leave the business

On stated income or NINA loans, not giving a real idea of what the payment is going to be, and making sure you can afford it. (Stated income is almost non-existent now).

On full documentation or EZ documentation loans, needing to document more money than you make.

Requiring you to pay an "in house" appraiser (Who is receiving a salary)

Not allowing you to choose an appraiser if you want to. (Another change with HVCC - this is not allowed now)

Consistently using the same phrase in response to a question. "Nothing out of your pocket" ($30,000 added to your mortgage) and "Thirty Year Loan" (note the absence of the words "fixed rate") are two that are sufficiently pervasive as to merit special mention.

An answer to a question that is somehow similar, instead of to the question you asked. Especially if said obviously intended to distract and mollify you, or is a pat phrase you've heard them use before.

You check their calculations on a couple of calculators and the numbers are both consistent and different from what you were quoted as a payment. (Some web calculators lie, but they usually lie in slightly different ways, although note that an auto payment calculator uses different first payment assumptions).

(Yes, regulations have been put in place that make it extremely difficult for the more ethical providers)

Buying:

Use of non-standard forms when standard forms are available

Asking you to sign an Exclusive Buyer's Agent Agreement before they've shown any property.

Asking you to sign an Exclusive Buyer's Agent Agreement at all without furnishing you something special (i.e. daily foreclosures lists, or some service you would otherwise have to pay for).

Not finding out what your budget range is and sticking with it. For example, if you've got $30,000 for a down payment and closing costs, can qualify for a $270,000 loan, they shouldn't show you anything that you cannot get for $300,000 total, including all costs you need to pay.

Not finding out what you actually make, and what your current monthly obligations add up to. This lets me, as the real estate agent, know what I'm really dealing with here, even though I have no real need to know if I'm not doing the loan. In case you haven't gotten the idea, there are a lot of mortgage folks out there who may not have your best interest at heart, and "stated income" loans allow for a lot of sins. You can get offended at invasion of privacy if you want, but I'd be grateful - This is one part of the system checking another, looking out for you, when they could just grab their commission and bow out of the picture.

Promising to find houses below market value. I do my best, but so does every other agent out there. This is something nobody can guarantee, and most require taking risks or putting all cash into the transaction, and they're usually gone before the public even has a chance.

Telling you about "money in your pocket" when you ask about closing costs

Selling:

Use of non-standard forms where standard forms are available.

Excessive pressure to sign listing agreement immediately (Some pressure is normal and to be expected)

Not being upfront about their business model. I've got an article about business models in the real estate industry (there are 2 basic, and many variations). Each has situations they are best for, and situations they are not so great for. You want to know if it fits your situation.

Not explaining what properties in your area are selling for before they ask for the listing.

Promising to get more for the property than the market will support. If there is a competing property on the market cheaper, or a better property on the market for the same price, buyers will choose that one instead of yours.

Putting the property on the market before it's ready and available to show.

Not holding at least one open house on a weekend date within two weeks of listing. Sometimes this is tough during the holiday season, but there's no excuse for the rest of the year. Especially during the summer, if they want to take a three week vacation, there should be someone else there to take up the slack. Perhaps it might be unproductive if you live in a thinly inhabited area, but anywhere within the commuting area of a major city, this is a minimum.

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On a regular basis, I get emails that ask me what I think of a particular company. When I check out public forums, I see questions about particular companies every time. "What do you think of X Realty, or Y Mortgage?"

Reputation has a certain value of course, but in my experience, these people are overvaluing reputation. These people are looking for a "silver bullet" solution to their situation that lets them pretend they don't need to do diligence upon their own behalf, and there aren't any. They want to be taken care of without doing the mental work of figuring out whether the person is really doing a good job. "This is a great company, and great company would never take advantage of me, so I must be getting a great bargain!"

This utterly leaves aside any number of issues. Suppose the Mortgage or Real Estate Firm of Dewey, Cheatham, and Howe were paying me a fee for every referral. Most people might have justifiable concerns about whether my recommendation was motivated by that fee or by the desire to get them a great loan. Well if you're chumming for a recommendation, you have no idea if the anonymous person recommending the firm of Dewey, Cheatham, and Howe is a virtuous benefactor - or one of their employees. The bigger the firm, the more employees they have. Huge National Megacorporation can have hundreds of their loan officers or agents log on to the internet forums anonymously and all endorse National Megacorporation's loan programs for some mysterious reason. Suppose the person isn't affiliated with Dewey, Cheatham, and Howe, but does work for a similar firm. They could be trying to build demand for the same sort of operation that feeds them, so when people read about Dewey, Cheatham, and Howe's methods being recommended, and then encounter this similar firm, they are ready to do business.

Suppose the person answering is a complete babe in the woods? They just plain have no idea. They've never gotten a loan, or if they have, they got took just as badly as anyone else in the history of the world, and worse than most. Does the possibility of such a anonymous recommendation for the Mortgage firm of Dewey, Cheatham, and Howe seem like a thing you want to follow? Unless you audit that person's transaction and compare it to other similar transactions going on at the same time, you have no real idea whether this person would recognize a scam if it bit them. Even if you do audit their transaction, that doesn't necessarily mean anything, good or bad, for your situation.

Suppose the reason this person thought Dewey, Cheatham, and Howe did a good job was because they didn't pay attention. They've read every single one of my articles, and they understand all of the things that could go wrong, and they actually know how to read a HUD 1 form, but they just didn't bother because their Uncle Joe works for Dewey, Cheatham, and Howe, and they trust Uncle Joe completely, and Uncle Joe would never take advantage of them. This ignores the issue that their Uncle Joe is unlikely to be your loan officer, and even if he was, Uncle Joe may have compunctions about his family that do not apply to you. Furthermore, a very large fraction of the most unethical stuff I've seen since I've been in this business was Uncle Joe (or Brother Moe, or Sister Sue, or Cousin Lu) raking people over the coals who they knew would not shop around for a better deal. But even if they are completely unrelated, they decided to trust Joe, and didn't do the diligence that would have told them whether Joe was doing a good job, let alone the best possible job.

Most importantly, in both the loan and in the real estate business, service is provided by individuals, not companies. It's the guy you're sitting down talking to right here that decides how much of a margin they are going to work on, not some mysterious exalted Chief Operating Officer in New York City. That COO may lay out base requirements that say "no more than X, no less than Y" ("no less than" is a lot more common than "no more than"), but it's the person doing your loan, or the agent doing your transaction, that decides where in that spectrum you fall. And I shouldn't have to point out that if they say "The corporate president says we have to make at least two points on every loan!" and somebody else offers you a better loan for you, that's their problem, not yours. They are not getting, or at least they should not get your business if you know of a better possibility. You don't owe anyone your business.

Finally, every situation is unique. People ask me what I think of a particular lender, and I'm thinking about the clients they'll do well with, or the clients where that particular lender's programs are most competitive. The lender with the best thirty year fixed rate mortgage in the business is not a lender I would use for an 80/20 short term piggyback on someone with a 600 credit score. That particular lender never wanted to touch 100 percent financing, and refuses to do business at all with anyone whose credit score is less than 620. The lender I'd most likely use for the latter borrower has a rate and cost tradeoff for their loans that knocks them completely out of contention for the A paper full documentation 80 percent LTV thirty year fixed rate loan with no prepayment penalty. They're not competitive for that borrower, and both that account executive and I know it. They'd be grateful to me for placing the loan with them, and they'd certainly get it done, but my wholesalers and I have an understanding: The lender who has a program that can actually fund the loan with the lowest rate cost tradeoff on the best terms for the client gets the business. There are any number of constraints and possible aspects to a client situation that can cause me to turn away from one lender and to another lender, based upon how that particular lender treats that particular situation.

Lenders don't want to compete on price, but a good loan officer forces them to do precisely that. And if the wholesaler is one of those who refuses to compete on the basis I want them to compete on, there are plenty who will. Don't BS me about service. Everybody should have great service. If you don't have great service, we're not meant for each other, and the lenders I already do business with all have great service. What I want is a great loan for this client that you can actually deliver on time. If you've got that, we may have some business. If you haven't got that, we don't. This point, incidentally, is one of the reasons you'll end up with a better loan from a good brokerage or correspondent than you will from the best lender. A broker or correspondent loan officer knows how to shop loans better than any ordinary consumer. This is one reason why bankers are trying so hard to drive them out of business.

(Note: At this update, there are no generally available 100% financing programs. Every such 100% financing program that's currently available has significant restrictions, based upon factors like whether you're a veteran, where you want to live, whether you're a first time buyer, whether there is money in the budget, etcetera. I'm confident that 100% financing programs for the general public will come back, but they're not here right now)

This isn't to say you should just trust a broker. Indeed, my point is that you shouldn't trust anyone. Shop around, compare what's available, ask them what for written guarantees (insofar as they are available in a different and changed lending environment), verify everything, and don't give them your dollars to hold hostage until they've actually delivered. That's why I put out the yardsticks for measuring performance I do, that's why I give you the strategies for finding the people who will do a better job, and for forcing them to actually do a better job. I give you the tools to judge by the only reliable yardstick there is - their behavior. You can't know if something is a good bargain except by comparison with something else like it, or several somethings. Given the amount of legal wiggle room there is, unless you pin a loan officer or real estate agent down with specific guarantees and conditions in writing, what they actually deliver is completely dependent upon their good will. If they have good will, you don't need to work nearly so hard, although comparison shopping would still be a really good idea. But if a decent proportion of agents and loan officers had goodwill, there would be a lot fewer problems with the industry.

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I got a search for how one spouse could sign while the other was out of town, and act on their behalf. Since both spouses usually need to sign real estate papers, this is a real concern.

Actually, almost anybody you designate can sign for your real estate transaction, whether or you're available. The usual thing is you're out of town for some reason when closing happens, and so your spouse signs for both of you, themselves in their own right, and you by Power of Attorney. This actually covers all kinds of situations, not just real estate.

It is to be noted that real estate documents can usually be signed anywhere in the United States, so long as there's a notary available. I've had documents sent across the country multiple times. It's only when the principal is out of the country that life becomes difficult, as there's a requirement for the documents to be signed in the United States. The only way I'm aware of to have that done abroad is at an US embassy, where according to international law, the grounds are US territory. The chances of a US embassy having a notary are excellent, as they are employees of the US State Department, after all, and such services are part of the ones they exist to provide, but they're typically on a forty hour week Monday through Friday schedule and their fees are higher than most. I have done one such transaction, and I do have to report significant potential stumbling blocks.

The document required for someone else to sign documents on your behalf is called a Power of Attorney. You must sign it and have it notarized that it was really you that did so. In the case of real estate, it will be recorded along with the document it enabled your representative to sign. In it, you designate one particular person who has the right to undertake an action or group of actions, and they then act on your behalf, as your "attorney" for this matter.

Powers of Attorney can be made for all sorts of things, not just real estate transactions. For instance, pretty much everyone should have a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. Powers of Attorney can be broad and ongoing or limited to one specific action in a limited range of time. You set this up at the point in time when you execute it. Whatever terms you set up when you signed it are binding, both upon you and the person you designate. Most stationery and office supply stores have ready made ones where you just fill in a few blanks and you're ready to have it notarized. I've seen ones with check marks, but those are dangerous in my opinion, as when a particular check mark was placed on there is a matter for considerable legal dispute. I'm not an attorney, but you don't have to be an attorney to be able to understand the potential problems there.

It is a misconception to believe that this person must always be an actual licensed attorney. In general, they need not be an actual attorney, only a competent adult. I'm sure there are circumstances when being an attorney is necessary, but it is not necessary most of the time. There may be circumstances where you may want a licensed attorney even where it is not legally necessary, but there's a major difference between being legal and being smart.

I've seen not only spouses used, but other relatives, close friends, and professionals such as accountants and attorneys. Note that the person you designate does not have to accept, and does not have to act on your behalf even if they accept. The idea is to get their consent first, and make certain they know your mind in the matters you designate them for.

Extremely important: You really need to trust the person you designate to act in your best interest, as well as to make certain they understand everything they are signing. If they sign something that you would not have, you must honor the contract, as long as it is within the mandate of that power of attorney. Whatever contract they signed on your behalf, you can be legally forced to live up to the terms. Your designate doing something you would not have is a side issue between you and the person you designated. That person with your power of attorney designate's signature on a contract can force you to live up to that contract, which is how it should be. Otherwise, nobody would accept powers of attorney as valid, and they would be regarded as one more way to run a scam. They're not supposed to be a scam at all, it's intended to be a way for one person to do another person's business legitimately. If they weren't as enforceable as the contract you signed yourself, nobody would accept them, and the business would have to await your ability to deal with it in person.

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I just got a google search where the question asked was "What if the mortgage is recorded in the wrong county?"

I've never actually seen this (and San Diego County, once upon a time, included what is now Riverside, Imperial and San Bernardino counties), but if it's the mortgage on your loan, no big deal. You should get a copy of the recorded trust deed, and the county recorder's stamp should tell you the county it was recorded in. You probably want to record it in your own county, as when the document is scanned in both recorder's stamps will appear, thus making it obvious that these two documents are one and the same. There may be better ways to deal with it. Since the error was (everywhere I've ever worked) your title company's, they should be willing to repair it to eliminate the cloud on your title. If and when you refinance this loan or sell the property, make sure that the Reconveyance is recorded in both counties, and references both recordings.

More dangerous is the issue of what if it's the previous owner's loan that was wrongly recorded. The previous owner is obviously no longer making payments on the property. The lender may or may not have been paid off properly; if they were there may not be any difficulties. It could just disappear into some metaphorical black hole of things that weren't done right and were never corrected, but just don't matter because everybody's happy and nobody does anything to rock the boat. However, unlike black holes in astronomy, things do come back out of these sorts of black holes.

If the previous lender was not paid off correctly, or if they were paid but something causes it to not process correctly, they've got a claim on your property, and because the usual title search that is done is county-based, it won't show up in a regular title search. Let's face it, property in County A usually stays right where it's always been, in County A. There is no reason except error for it to be recorded in County B. Therefore, the title company almost certainly would not catch it when they did a search for documents affecting the property in County A; it would be a rare and lucky title examiner who caught it.

In some states, they still don't use title insurance, merely attorneys examining the state of title. When the previous owner's lender sues you, you're going to have to turn around and sue that attorney who did your title examination for negligence, who is then going to have to turn around and sue whoever recorded the documents wrong. If it's a small attorney's office and they've since gone out of business, best of luck and let me know how it all turns out, but the sharks are going to be circling for years on this one, and the only sure winners are the lawyers.

In most states, however, the concept of title insurance has become de rigeur. Here in California, lenders don't lend the money without a valid policy of title insurance involved.

Let's stop here for a moment and clarify a few things. When we're talking about title insurance, there are, in general, two separate title insurance policies in effect. When you bought the property, you required the previous owner to buy you a policy of title insurance as an assurance that they were the actual owners. By and large, it can only be purchased at the same time you purchase your property. This policy remains in effect as long as you or your heirs own the property. The first Title Company, which became Commonwealth Land Title, was started in 1853, and there are likely insured properties from the 19th century still covered. If you don't know who your title insurance company is, you should. Most places, the company and the order of title insurance are on the grant deed.

The other policy of title insurance is a lender's policy of title insurance. This insures your lender against loss on that particular loan due to title defects, and when the loan is paid off (either because the property is sold, refinanced, or that rare property where the people now own it free and clear), it's over and done with. Let's face it, most people are not going to continue to make payments if they lose the property. If you take out a new loan, your new lender will require a new policy of title insurance. You pay but they are the ones insured by the policy. Their money; they set the terms for lending it out.

To get back to the situation, what happens when you order title insurance is that a searcher and/or an examiner go out and find all of the documents they can find that are relevant to the title of the property. These days, they typically perform an automated search, and sometimes documents are indexed and cross referenced incorrectly and therefore they do not show up when they should. Nonetheless, the title company takes this list of documents and tells you about known issues with the title, and then basically says "We will sell you a policy of title insurance that covers everything else." This document is variously known as a Preliminary Report, PR, or Commitment.

It shouldn't take a genius to figure out why you want a policy of title insurance. Around here, the average single family residence goes for somewhere on the high side of $500,000. You're committing a half million dollars of your money on the representation that Joe Blow owns the property and that if you give him that half a million, he'll give you valid title. I would never consider buying property without an owner's policy of title insurance. Even with the best will in the world and my best friend whose family has owned it since the stone age, all kinds of issues really do crop up (Another agent in the office had a client who bought a property via an uninsured transfer - and there was an unrecorded tax lien. Ouch. Say bye-bye to your investment). The lenders are the same way. No lender's policy, no loan.

So what happens when this old mortgage document is uncovered? Well, that's one of the hundreds of thousands of reasons why you have that policy of title insurance. You go to your title company and say, "I have a claim." Since they missed that document in their search, they usually pay off the loan (there are other possibilities). After all, if they hadn't missed it, it would have been taken care of before Joe Blow got paid for the property and split to the Bahamas.

None of this considers the possibility of fraud, among many other possibilities, but those are all beyond the scope of this article.

So when buying, insist that your seller provide you with a policy of title insurance. When selling, it really isn't out of line for your buyer to require it - it shows that you have a serious buyer. Some places may have the buyer purchasing his own policy, but most places that use title insurance, the seller pays for the owner's policy out of the proceeds. Of course, anytime there is a loan done on the property, the lender is going to require you pay for a lender's policy. If the quotes you are given do not include this, be certain to ask why. There really isn't a good reason for not including that quote - they are going to require it, you are going to pay it. Better to know about it ahead of time, don't you think? That way you can make a fair, accurate comparison between the loans you are shopping.

Caveat Emptor

originally here

I don't do rental agency, but I do I work with people to get them to the point where they are ready to buy. I recently got this email from a single mother I'm trying to get into a position to buy

Hi Dan,

An opportunity came up for a 4 bedroom house to rent. It's actually a "too good to be true" opportunity. The rent is only $1400 (only $150 more than what I am paying already) and it is in DELETED. I would still be able to save some money to buy a house plus we would be comfortable in the process. Anyways, I was hoping you could read the response from the owner and tell me what you think. I was also hoping you had a way of checking to make sure this house isn't in foreclosure. That would be a nightmare. To move into a house and then get evicted or worse.

As always thank you for your time and generosity.

The email is below. I'm sure you'll agree it has all the hallmarks of those Nigerian 419 scammer emails.

Hi Thanks for the email. I DELETED owns the house and also it is situated and also want you to know that it was due to my transfer that makes me and my family to leave the house and also want to give it out for rent and looking for a responsible person that can take a very good care of it as we are not after the money for the rent but want it to be clean all the time and the possible tenant will see the house as his or her own. We have left the US and we are currently in the West Africa for a program called 'World Conference Against Racism Youth Summit, Empowering youth for combating racism, HIV/AIDS, Poverty and Lack of Education, the program is taking place in three major countries in Africa which is Sudan, Ghana and Nigeria. It as been a very sad and bad moment for me, the present condition that I found myself is very hard for me to explain. If you will be the right tenant to our house, we will get the keys and documents of the house sent to you via courier services as soon as all terms are settled.

HOUSE ADDRESSES : DELETED. 4 Bedroom, 2 Bath, 2 Car attached garage. Nicely upgraded house on a Cul-De-Sac in quiet Santee neighborhood. Remodeled kitchen with Granite countertops, Refrigerator, Microwave, Dishwasher, and Gas Range included. Remodeled master bathroom and fireplace with marble tile. Mirror closets in all bedrooms. Laminate wood and tile floors, carpet in the bedrooms. Central A/C. Large backyard with a nice view of the mountains and city lights. Close to shopping centers and schools.

All types of pet allowed and Additional monthly charge of $80 for pets.....You can drive down there to take a look at it and also Available now!.

I will be online through out to get back to you as soon as you are able to get back to me. I would want to know how soon you would want to move in, as I will be taking a 2 month upfront payment which mean the first and second third months you will be staying in the house including some utilities (Electricity, Water, Internet and Garbage). I am asking for $1400 and I believe we should be able to help ourselves. I am accepting $1400 including utilities because I want you to take a very good care of the house while I am away.

I am looking forward to hear from you ASAP so that i can forward you an application to fill out and discuss on how to get the house rent over to you so that I can get the keys and papers sent to you via FedEx or ups e.t.c, also are you ready to rent it now or when? Await your reply. I will be willing to send the inside view of the building if you demands for it.

I could let you remain in the house till I come back if you are a good tenant and
you can reach me on DELETED PHONE NUMBER.

Thanks and God bless you..

My response:

The name given is the name of the actual owner of record. There is no Notice of Default flag in that portion of the public records I have access to via MLS (it's been known to be mistaken, but is most of the time it's spot on).

With that said, I don't practice rental agency, but my understanding is the maximum they can collect up front is the deposit plus one month rent.

Furthermore, a situation like this where they are "out of the country" is rife with potential for fraud. There is a lot of rental fraud out there right now. Run "rental fraud" and "landlord fraud" through a search engine for articles. It's just as easy for scammers to look up who the owner of record is as it is for anyone else. They also can get the information from legitimate ads. My advice to you is to ask for their local agent, make sure they have agency authority (the document is easily understandable) and are licensed and bonded, and deal with that agent.

Otherwise, you could very easily find yourself in a situation where you have wired several thousand dollars to a scammer in another country. This situation and the email you got rings all of the alarm bells of any 419 scam. It could be legitimate, but everything I am reading tells me BEWARE!

Yes, you might lose a sweet deal. But you also have thousands of dollars at risk in a situation rife with opportunity for fraud. This is not a subject where I am really competent to advise.

The lady emailed me back

Hi Dan,

There have been a lot of conflicting stories since I wrote you earlier today. Last night we drove by the house and it was obvious that someone is living there. I received a second email from the "owner" telling me that the house is vacant. I drove by there tonight and got up the nerve to knock on the door. The new tenants were living there and had been living there since March 1. I think what happened was someone saw the original posting on Craigs List, used that info to create a dummy listing. This is truly heinous. I'm glad I'm smarter than the crook that is doing this scam. I'm going to back to Craigs List and report them before they cheat someone out of thousands of dollars.

Happy ending for this one, but every day people get taken by scams like this one. Your protection against this (when the owner is not local enough to meet and show the property themselves) is to use a licensed bonded rental agency. Yes, insisting upon this protection might possibly mean that you miss out on a really sterling rental deal, but it's far more likely to mean that you miss out on wiring several thousand dollars to a scammer you'll never be able to track down when it turns out they had no authority to rent the property.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

"Trust Deed Incorrect Legal Description" was a search hit I got.

There are all kinds of legal descriptions. Lot, Block and Subdivision Map, or just Lot and Map, are probably the most common for residential property. Sectional portions (Portion A of Section B of Township C, Range D) are probably next most common, followed by "metes and bounds", and often the two are mixed. Finally, in some areas of the country (like Southern California) there are remnants of prior systems here and there, like the Ranchos here, Parishes in Louisiana, etcetera. What they all have in common is descriptions of the boundaries of the parcel concerned. Condominiums are based upon cubes of airspace exclusively with an undivided common interest in the communal property.

There are technically incorrect legal descriptions, and there are significantly incorrect descriptions. There are three main categories.

1) Descriptions that describe the land with some technical difference. Missing an easement, missing part of a defined lot, something like that. This is by far the most numerous of these errors and basically means nothing. The land the trust deed describes was pledged as security. Practically speaking, these might as well not have the imperfection, and if you fight in court, you're probably wasting your money. If the legal description is missing part of the land, but the whole thing is only one legally zoned lot, they're going to get the whole thing, by and large. If it's out in the country somewhere and not covered by things such as lot regulations, they might split the part that was covered by the description off from what wasn't covered. Obviously, only part of the property was pledged as security, right? But most of the time, the lot cannot legally be subdivided anyway, and the lender is likely to get the whole thing in the case of foreclosure.

2) Descriptions that partially describe the property. There are three main subcategories: a) they describe part of the property, but not the whole thing b) they describe part of the property and part of some more, and c) they describe the entire property and some extra besides. Subcategory a, that describes part of the property but not the whole thing, usually count as the "technical difference" category, and for the same reason - the law usually forbids dividing that parcel. In other words, no big deal. Subcategory b, where they describe something extra as well, is only of special note if you also owned the other piece of property at the time the Trust Deed was signed. Otherwise, you deeded property you didn't own. Your neighbor may end up defending his title in court and coming after you for his expenses, but you can't deed away what you don't own. It's the part that you own that's important. Subcategory c, like b, is only interesting if you own the extra property as well. Then the lender might get a little extra! Otherwise, you can't deed away what you don't own.

3) Descriptions that describe another property. You can't deed what you don't own, so unless you owned the other piece of property as well, the lender is basically out of luck. It is to be noted that they're still going to do their best to come after you, and your neighbor may come after you for his expenses in defending his title, and law enforcement may be interested in you if they think you intended fraud.

Of course, the law varies and you should check with your lawyer and it's the court's decisions that are final. Your mileage may vary; these are just some rules of thumb.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

Have a "looking for cheap" attitude, especially on services meant to protect you.

It's great to have a "looking for value" attitude. If I cost more than someone else, it is in your best interest to ask why, and ask me to justify what I make in terms of value provided to you. I don't resent people that are looking for value. If I can't show them something they agree is more valuable to them, then I can't blame them for going with the person who may not offer everything I do but works cheaper, and truthfully, I'm probably not the agent they should use. There's plenty of room for all levels of service in the industry.

But to have the attitude that "cheaper is better" presupposes that there is only one possible level of service, and therefore, anyone who provides it any cheaper must therefore be a better value. This is preposterous. I just finished a transaction where my brokerage made about $7000 grand total for the purchase of a condominium and the associated loan. Somebody else might have rebated close to half of the buyer's agency commission - but somebody else didn't get my client a condo for $75,000 less than a model match in the same complex that sold six weeks previous - over a 25% difference in price. Furthermore, that $7000 was the grand total of what the brokerage made. That's not what I got to put in my personal bank account. That's got to pay office rent and electricity and all the costs of staying in business for the brokerage. Once I get my share, I've got to pay taxes and mileage and licensing and continuing education and all the costs I have as an individual of staying in business.

You may get the idea that what's left over isn't as much as most people assume it is. Now you know why discounters cannot afford to provide the same level of service a full service agent can. There are full service agents out there providing discounter service for full pay, but there are no agents providing full service benefits for discounter pay. Even if they were doing twenty transactions per month per agent, they simply aren't making enough to stay in business by doing it that way. Full service agents - the ones providing the type of service which sees results like that - aren't doing twenty transactions per month. Maybe four, possibly five, more likely three. Not twenty.

If you're working with an agent who doesn't have the time to do the same due diligence (and may not have the expertise), you're either going to deal with it yourself or hope that the other side of the transaction isn't intending to do anything unethical. Even if they're not intending to do anything, that doesn't mean that nothing will have happened on its own. Sometimes, it really is nobody's fault. When I originally wrote this, I was working on a transaction where the septic tank failed the inspection and the inspector said it needs to be replaced. The seller is out roughly $20,000 in order to be able to sell the property. It was fine a few months ago, but isn't now. Nobody's going to buy the property if they can't flush their toilets, so this needs to get taken care of. If I hadn't done my full due diligence, my clients would have had a nasty surprise that cost over twice the total check the brokerage got for the transaction.

It's not just agents. Appraisers and inspectors are two allied professions where spending just not quite enough can mean they missed what you were paying them to find. Or the appraiser charges you $50 less, but takes three weeks to get it done, during which time you're out four tenths of a point in lock extension fees. On a smallish $200,000 loan, that's $800.

This also applies to loans. It's trivial - and legal - to low ball people who want to know what sort of loan they're likely to get. The lenders who want to low-ball know all the loopholes. Are they quoting what they actually intend to deliver, or are they just getting into the spirit of a game of what amounts to liar's poker where the only way to call the bluff is wait until the end of the process? In such a situation, there's no real reason not to say you've got, "Ten nines," but nobody really has ten nines - I just looked and dollar bill serial numbers are only eight digits long. But if there's no proof until final documents are ready, what happens when they deliver a loan that's pair of ones? I'll tell you: Most people are still going to sign those loan documents. I've gone over how much lenders can legally low-ball quotes in the past. If they can't deliver their quote, they can't deliver it, and it gets you no benefit. I get many people hitting the site every day asking questions that indicate to me that their lender presented them with an entirely different loan than they initially told them about to get them to sign up. Unpleasant consequences to the lender: Zero. Consequence to the borrower: Now you have a choice between signing the documents for this loan, or doing without. Chances are that you're going to sign their papers anyway, which means that lender will be rewarded for lying to get you signed up, and the attitude of "looking for cheap" is what did it to you. I dealt with any number of people who metaphorically plugged their ears and refused to listen to the downsides of the negative amortization loan. It doesn't change the fact that there are enormous downsides, or how bad they are. It just means you don't know about them. But they sure did have that low payment (for a little while). I'd say it was too bad that so many of them lost their property and their investment, but it wasn't coincidence - it was baked into the recipe from the start.

In real estate, breaking the law is only the second best way to create problems for yourself. Since in the current environment, you can count on law breaking being discovered, that should tell you how bad looking for cheap is.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

Most days I get loan wholesalers coming into my office. I'm always happy to talk with them, providing they want to talk about what I want to talk about. They usually want to talk about this gimmick and that gimmick and the other gimmick. They feed me lines about service and fast turn around and quick approvals and loan commitments. Ladies and gentlemen, these are all things that every lender should be capable of, and if someone hoses one of my clients, I'm no longer interested in doing business with them. Everybody makes mistakes, it's how they deal with mistakes that I am interested in. I'm very forgiving if they make their mistake good, completely unforgiving if they do not.

What I want to talk about is two things. The first is loan programs nobody else has, or that nobody else has in that category. Suppose a lender has a program to deal with people in default just like everyone else with only a small penalty. If they have something special, I'm all ears, and I make certain that goes into my database. I expect the rates for the underlying program to be higher, but that's cool. I'll price loans with them anyway, and if they're the best I can do for the client, I'll use them. Next time I have somebody in default, though, they get my first call, because they've got something nobody else does, or very few do. At this update, however, with the federal government controlling and tightening all the major loan markets and regulating all the competing private products out of business, it's rare that a wholesaler has such a program.

The second thing I want to talk about is price. A loan with given terms is the same loan no matter who is carrying it. So long as they are both legal, my client sees no difference between National Well-Known Megabank and Unknown Lender from Nowhere. The loan is the same. If the rate is the same, what's important to my client is how much they have to pay in order to get it. This comes back to The Trade-off Between Rate and Cost. If one lender's par pricing is a little bit lower, I can either get the client the same rate cheaper, or I can get the client a lower rate for the same price. There is otherwise no difference between standard loan terms for the standard loan types. I can always get the client a lower rate for the same price if they'll accept a prepayment penalty. If they want a true zero cost loan, the rate will be higher. How much higher or lower? That varies with time and the lender involved. But except for the rate printed on the contract and the cost to get that rate, these loans are the same.

Wholesalers don't want to talk about price, and they don't want to compete on price. If they're competing on price, they're making less money in the secondary market. Less money for the same work. I can't blame them. Suppose I walked into your office and proposed cutting your pay by somewhere between twenty and fifty percent? Somehow, I don't think most of you would appreciate it. But turn that around, because you're in my office now, as consumers, shopping for a loan, and you want the loan with the terms you want at the best price possible. If I get a lower price from the lender, I can pass it on to you. I can maybe even make a little more money while still saving you some money. Aren't you entitled to a bonus when you make money for your company or their clients? Ask yourself this: If I saved you $1000 and $20 per month over the next best quote, would it break your heart if I made an extra couple hundred? It shouldn't. When I'm out shopping, it doesn't bother me at all. By delivering the item on better terms to me, that company has earned whatever money they make.

This doesn't mean I necessarily look for the lowest price. When I'm shopping for myself, many times I'll buy something that is close to the top of the line. Why? Because it has something worth more than the extra money to me. What is worth extra money in real estate? Getting you a better bargain. You spend three percent instead of one, but your $500,000 home sells for $25,000 more, or it sells when it perhaps would not sell under a less aggressive marketing plan. $25,000 minus the 2% difference in commission ($10,000) is $15,000 in your pocket because your agent can afford to market and negotiate more aggressively on your behalf, never mind the difference between selling and not selling. Can a full service agent guarantee a better result? No. But I can tell you through personal experience that I find it much easier to get a better bargain for my clients who are buyers from someone who listed with a discount brokerage or flat fee place, and my clients are probably going to think I'm superman by comparison before the deal is done. But note that the difference in price does have to be justified. A loan is a loan is a loan, as long as it's on the same terms, but buying and selling real estate is an entirely different ball game.

A couple days before I originally wrote this, I got an email calling my attention to someone calling me an "alarmist", and furthering that with an accusation that I was trying to paint everyone else as a crook. Nope. There are a large number of basically honest practitioners out there, and a significant number of scrupulously honest ones. But there are also a fair number of people out there who, like my loan wholesalers, don't want to compete on price, don't want to compete on service, basically just expect to make money by virtue of the fact that they've got a license. Do I blame them? In most cases, no. As I said the day I launched this site, this is the way they were trained and they don't know a better way is possible. Plus they want a larger amount of money for the same work rather than a smaller. Many of them resist changes for the better for the consumer because it means they will make less money for the same work. Seems like every day there's a seminar advertising that they'll teach agents and loan officers how to attract clients without competing on price. This is what is behind the rise of the corporate agent. You see their billboards everywhere, saying how great they are, but that doesn't make it true, any more than agents working at Biggest National Chain With Large Advertising Budget are better than the agent who doesn't. It's all a matter of individual performance. Find an agent who will spend the time to get you the best service themselves - and this is not the corporate agent who spends all their time running their office and whom you will never actually talk to once you have signed the dotted line on the listing.

Well, suppose someone makes enough money per transaction to be happy, even though they are competing on price? Then what they want to do is attract more business, which is a part of what I'm trying to do here. More importantly, I'm trying to give you, my readers, the tools necessary to get yourself the best possible bargain. Nor am I trying to tell you that I'm purer than the driven snow, and I don't think I ever have. That is for you to judge with the tools I put out, and there's no way to know for sure unless and until I do a transaction for you.

How far you want to go with these tools is up to you. Real Estate transactions are the biggest transactions most folks undertake in their lives, and as a consequence, small percentages tend to be a lot of money by the standards of lesser transactions. If you only want to do a few easy things, they should save you some money or net you a better result. If you want to do the work for the whole nine yards, they should save you a lot more. But when you have the tools, you are better armed consumers, more likely to get bargains that are better for you, given your situation. Like all tools, they are to be evaluated on the basis of how well they do the job. If they are used properly and nonetheless fail you, you are right to fault them. If there are tools that do a better job, you are right to use those instead. But to say, essentially, "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!" is not the optimal response to the issue. Through issues clients and potential clients have brought me, I have encountered every single issue I raise here. There not only is a man behind the curtain, you need to keep your eyes on him and you need to learn how best to deal with him. That is what this site is about.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

Every once in a while I get someone who is unhappy with required paperwork for privacy reasons. There are three forms that are the driving force behind this.

The first is the standard form for a mortgage loan application, known in the business as the 1003. Admittedly, the form does ask for rather a lot of information. It's comprehensive, and intended to paint your complete financial picture, so lenders can make a decision on whether or not to grant the loan. It also asks for irrelevant items like ethnicity so that the government can track whether the lender is discriminating (and they are dead serious about requiring ethnicity. If you decline to state, whoever takes the application has to make a guess). This also means it asks for a lot of information that a lot of people would, justifiably, rather not give out. Plus it's a pain to fill out. So some people don't want to, and quite frankly, I understand where they are coming from. Unfortunately, this is a government mandated form, designed to collect not only the necessary financial position data but also additional government mandated information. If you want a real estate loan, filling one out is is a legal requirement. There are only two ways to avoid filling out this form completely and accurately. In order to avoid filling it out completely and accurately, you must either 1) Lie or 2) Buy the property without a loan from any regulated entity. Lying is not recommended. It is a very bad idea. Lying on a 1003 is perjury, and there's likely to be a charge of fraud added into it. You are told point blank on the form that the information required to make a decision on your request for a loan. Misrepresenting your financial position in order to induce someone to lend you money is pretty much textbook fraud. Or you could do without a loan - buy the property for cash, by trade, for services rendered, etcetera. There really are all sorts of possibilities, but even if you put all of them together I don't think they amount to one percent of all transactions. Finally, you could get a loan from an unregulated entity. Basically, this means individuals. Borrow the money from Mom, from the mafia, or from a hard money lender. Unfortunately, even if Mom has the money, she may not lend it to you. And the latter two possibilities charge a lot more interest than the regulated banks, as well as other potential problems.

The second form that often become the issue is form 4506. This is the one that says your lender has a right to look at your tax returns (or a transcript with Form 4506-T). When "stated Income" loans still existed, many people thought that this meant the lender was violating the terms of a so-called "Stated Income" loan whereby they say what their income is, and the bank agrees not to verify the amount, but only the fact of the source of income. Well, the lender always has the right to insist on tax forms for documentation of income, and sometimes they do. But this is a method used to spot fraud after the fact. They don't often use this form to verify income, and it isn't to your advantage to force them to use it. As the form states, the IRS typically takes 60 days to respond to this request. You and everyone else concerned want the loan done before that. If the lender wants your information, they're going to require it whether you've signed this form or not. In either case, if they want the information, it's better for you to furnish it directly and immediately.

If you refuse to sign the form, they are well within their rights to deny the loan. So they are going to require you to sign the form as a condition of getting the loan. I can commiserate with you all you want, but it won't make any difference. Options to get around this are basically the same as for the Loan Application: Friends, family, or Lenny the Loan Shark. One of the 4506 forms is almost a universal requirement for lenders, especially in the aftermath of the Era of Make Believe Loans.

The final form that causes resistance is the Statement of Information. Like the Loan Application, this form has a lot of detailed information, and sometimes people don't remember all of it. This form has nonetheless become a routine requirement, but of title companies, not of lenders. The reason for this is fairly easy. Let's say your name is John Smith. Let's say you live in Los Angeles County. There are going to be a large number of documents in the public database in which John Smith or some close variant (e.g Jack Schmidt, Eoin Smythe, or Jon Smitt, among others). Any one of these could have an effect upon the policy of title insurance. Some of them, like a child welfare lien, never go away. Back when I worked for title companies, I could tell you about having to go back forty years, and in some cases further, looking for documents which might pertain to the person in the transaction. In populous counties, the list of documents alone can go to a hundred pages of single spaced stuff, and the title company has to be certain that 1) it isn't you, or 2) it doesn't effect the transaction for some reason, before they agree to issue the policy of title insurance. Guess what? The reason the document list is so long is because of the commonality of the name, so the long lists come up a lot more often than the short ones. Even if your name is something truly unusual (mine is uncommon), they've got to check out all close variants, anglicizations, and whatnot. So to toss out as many documents as they can, as quickly as they can, the title company requires a Statement of Information. Without that, it can be prohibitive to even run through the preliminary check. These people they are paying to do these searches rapidly become skilled and fairly high paid employees, even if they start out cheap. So the title companies want you to fill out the Statement of Information. It's one of those forms you don't want to lie on or conceal information on as well.

Don't want to do it? The title company will tell you they don't want your business. No policy of title insurance, either owners or lenders. That's your choice if you don't need a loan on the property and you're willing to take the seller's word that they really do own it and that there are no title issues. I wouldn't be. I've dealt with too many properties where there were known title issues. Nor are lenders nearly so glib about it. In order to get the loan, they require a lender's policy of title insurance, and whether it's a purchase or a refinance, you need a lender's policy of title insurance. If you're dealing with Lenny the Loan Shark, he doesn't care that you've lost the property to the forgotten first wife (via a three day marriage) of Mr. Jones, three owners before you, whose brother apparently inherited and sold the property in thirty years ago, but then the former Mrs. Jones just found out about it and sued for possession. If she (or her heirs) can prove her claim, she's going to be awarded the property. So you want title insurance.

Now, there are some protections you have under law. In California, I cannot use information obtained by real estate loan applications to sell your information to third parties. It's illegal, even if I wanted to, which I don't. Once the loan is closed, however, the lender can share your information with sister companies. Heck, I've had lenders I was placing a loan with take the information I've gathered and call the client to offer them a direct deal. Cancel the transaction with me, they say, and they'll give the client what they think is likely to be a better deal. Pretty sweet, huh? Steal my payment for the client I spent my time, money, and effort to find, and then brought to them. Unfortunately for these lowlifes, I do loans cheaper than they usually expect, and instead of canceling, the client reports it to me. Needless to say, these lenders don't get any more business from me. Title and escrow companies can similarly share information for marketing purposes. I always tell people who are concerned to write that they opt out of all marketing on the first form the title or escrow company wants them to sign or fill out. That puts the onus on them not to share your information.

Caveat Emptor

Original 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

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