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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

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Adverse Possession

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

There are five elements to a successful adverse possession suit:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

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

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

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

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

Note that it protects your equity, not your asset value. If the home is worth $500,000 (as is often the case in San Diego) but you owe $400,000, you have $100,000 of equity. How much it protects is dependent upon your state law and exact situation. Default protection in California is $75,000, but it can be up to $175,000 if you or your spouse are 55 or older, disabled, or have income less than $15,000 per year. Even with property values having fallen of late, the amount protected seems to be pretty minimal. If the legislature doesn't update the law, Homestead in California may soon fall under the heading of "pointless gestures," because it doesn't protect enough to be worth doing.

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

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

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

You mean they were supposed to be paid at closing.

There are two major possibilities:

1) They were not, in fact, paid

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

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

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

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

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

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Original here

The inspiration for this article came when I checked my referral logs and found an article where somebody was essentially saying "If you want to be depressed, go read this site and then go rent somewhere for the rest of your life".

I can understand where the sentiment is coming from, particularly if they were of the sort of person who wants to meander around occasionally looking at houses until they find one they like, then sign a couple of papers and move in. Lest it not be obvious to you, these are the elements of disaster. I would never put an offer in without looking at at least ten to fifteen properties in the area, without aggressively shopping the mortgage market, or without taking positive steps to insure that I have at least as much leverage over the service providers as they do over me.

The fact is that for most people, the largest transactions of their life are all going to be real estate related. When the average transaction is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and those transactions are so complex as to defy understanding by non-professionals (and some alleged professionals), you have the elements for a system that's going to suffer abuses. Many past abuses have been corrected through the passage of legal impediments, but many others remain, and some are illegal but keep happening anyway (See my article on "What to Beware in Third Party Services).

What I am trying to do here is give you the insider's appreciation for what goes on (although not the professional's specialized knowledge. It may not be "rocket science", but to pretend you can pick up everything a working professional learns and gets exposed to every day by reading a few articles would be false, and of no service to you, the multi-billion dollar "self help" press notwithstanding). With this information, you can debunk the worst of the nonsense that you are told and get a better bargain for yourself no matter who your real estate agents and loan providers and financial planners and whatnot are. I am writing about knowledge that you need to have to understand the system, and I'm not pulling any punches about what goes on, anywhere in the transaction. I'm trying to show you limitations and blind spots in the information you may receive, and show you strategies that put you in a stronger position. Most of the articles I have written thus far pertain to real estate and mortgages, but I've written a few articles pertaining to finance as well (RULE: The best time to buy is when there is metaphorical blood in the streets of the financial world).

If you're the sort of person who prefers to go on in an "ignorance is bliss" state of mind, the education may be disturbing. Indeed, many people seem determined to go about their real estate (and other) transactions in this state of mind. They resist when I attempt to educate them in the realities of the market, figuratively in the same vein as people who put their hands over their ears and say "la-la-la! I am not listening! la-la-la! I am not listening!" It's like they want to get conned, or at least not having to think about it is worth more to them than the money they're being taken for. Since the money they're being taken for can easily go into five figures whether it's a purchase or a refinance, and can be six figures for a purchase or sale, I find this difficult to believe. If you're making that much, you shouldn't need a loan, for one thing, let alone be concerned about minimum down payment. Nor would you be concerned about affordable housing and getting the best deal possible for your money. You would be so wealthy, and your time so valuable, that it would make economic sense to buy the first property that met your needs - and you'd be buying properties in the unique custom home range ($2 million dollars or so around here).

Nobody does loans for free. Nobody does real estate for free (nobody does financial planning for free, legal advice for free, etcetera). "Free" is likely to be the most expensive service of all (This is different from at such a rate that yield spread pays all costs, or the custom that sellers pay the costs of both agents - but the only source for those funds is the money the buyer brings to the table). If something about a loan, a real estate deal, or some aspect of financial planning seems "too good to be true," that should set alarm bells ringing right there. If the payment or interest rate on a prospective loan is nothing like what everyone else is talking about, they are looking to pull a con job on you.

If you're of the school that forewarned is forearmed, what you're reading here should give you the information you need to guard yourself against the deceits in the system. I've done lists of "red flags," warning signs not to do business there, "Questions to ask" that you can print out and take with you, "Salesgoodspeakian to English Translations," debunking of pat phrases used to mislead you and what they really mean. I've given you strategies that, if adhered to, give you more leverage right down the line. I've gone through what real closing costs are, what points are, and warned you of the dangers of shopping for loans or real estate by what they tell you the payment will be. Most importantly, I've shown you how to keep control of your transaction by being aware at the start of the process what the likely bumps are going to be.

Not everyone in the business does everything I've warned you against. There are ethical providers out there; people like myself who will walk away from business or tell clients the pitfalls if something is not in the client's best interest. You can find us if you look, but we can't help you if you close your ears to the things you don't want to hear. Nor are those who practice otherwise necessarily evil, and there is an entire range of practice from best to worst. Real Estate, financial planning, and many other fields are set up such that someone new in the business learns from somebody experienced. In many cases, they've been told "This is the way things are," and they just don't know any better. The person who taught them didn't know any better. It is my aim to ensure that people "know better." The change is not going to come from within the industry - the system is set up for the practitioner's best advantage, and any one agent or loan provider unwilling to toe the industry line is at a competitive disadvantage, and their business is likely to fail. It's kind of the tragedy of the commons: their own individual behavior shows them nothing to gain, and everything to lose, by full truthful disclosure, and where there are people who do it anyway, we are comparatively few. Therefore, the change must come from outside the industry. So by being knowledgeable consumers and helping yourselves, you provide impetus for practitioners to reform their practices for everyone. It may take a long time, and it may never be complete, but if it's never started I can guarantee that things will not get any better.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

One of the things I have to deal with on a continuing basis is people calling me because they like something they saw on one of my websites, but they have no intention of doing business with me.

Most common is would be buyers calling me, "Just tell me the address of that Hot Bargain Property." That's not how it works, as I explain in literally every one of those posts. It isn't luck I find those properties. It's dedication and skill. I spend a lot of time looking, not just in MLS, but in public records and physically going out and looking at them. I've spent a lot of time learning what to look for and how to look for it in all three places. Maybe, if I had personal need of their professional services, I might consider a barter - mine for theirs. But in point of fact, I suspect a large percentage of the calls I get of being lazy agents (A receptionist answering the phone in the background saying the name of a certain major chain is a dead giveaway).

There is a reason these properties are of interest. I'm going out and finding properties that are noteworthy bargains. If it could be done by any random person with MLS access, anybody who could type could do it. I can do it, in large part, because I make a habit of doing it and most others won't. It is work. If George digs a ditch, you don't pay Charlie. You pay George. Same principal here. The reason I'm worth more than the discounter, in terms of what I find, how well I negotiate, and everything else, is a function of all of the work I do that helps me find good properties, spot problems, know the micro-markets I work in, understand what is critical and what is not. If you find the property yourself without any help from me, yes I'll discount my services for negotiation and facilitation because you're not getting the largest part of the value I provide, and I'm not risking the largest source of agent lawsuits. Otherwise, I am providing more value to you than the discounter and am therefore worth more pay. And I'm providing it, not that discounter. I'm not going to give out the locations of the special bargains I find to anyone not willing to work with me. Like I said, George digs a ditch for you, you pay George, not Charlie. You want to pay Charlie, get Charlie to dig the ditch. But in this case, he not only can't, he won't try.

Borrowers will call about my Real Loans for Real People. They want to know what lender that's with. Well, I hate to break it to you, but the loan I have is the loan I have. Credit Unions, National Megabank, etecetera may use the phrase "cut out the middleman" to try to get you to avoid brokers, but that's not the way it works. Even if I gave you the name of the lender, very few of them give their captive loan officers rates as low as brokers get from their wholesale division. Why? Because they're not paying my overhead, and my clients aren't captive to them. They regard their clients as captive because comparatively few people shop loans effectively. They go to big name lenders, who have no more programs than other lenders, and comparatively little imagination. They may or may not have the most appropriate loan program for a given client. Usually not. Big lenders mostly compete on the basis of name recognition and consumer comfort. A broker may be a middleman, but we function more like discount outlets. And the specific stuff I get is for my clients. If you want it, you've got to be one of them. If you weren't interested, you wouldn't have called.

What I'm trying to get at is this: Trying to cut out the person who provides the value you're interested in is counter-productive. Even if I told you what lender a particular loan was with, rates change at least every day, and it's unlikely they will offer as good a deal through their dedicated loan officers, even if they are the right fit for your loan. Trying to cut out the person whose market knowledge and work enabled them to recognize a bargain means that even if you know what property it is, you're in a weaker position on negotiations. Net result, you get some money back, but you also paid a higher price than you needed to in order to get it. The latter is almost certainly more than the former - probably several times more. Once again, if you want George to dig a ditch for you, or if you want George's ditch, pay George, not Charlie. You'll come out better, even if George wants a few bucks more than Charlie. If Charlie's ditch was something you wanted, you wouldn't have needed to get George involved. Chances are, even if you buy Charlie's ditch, you're going to want George to fix it, so the money you paid Charlie is wasted. Actually, it's worse than that, because in real estate, once something is screwed up, there are no shortcuts to fixing it. Once a real estate transaction is done, unwinding it or fixing it becomes far more expensive and difficult than doing it right in the first place.

Caveat Emptor

Original Article here

People ask for referrals all the time, and many folks will stumble all over themselves to provide referrals. Some of the people referred really are excellent providers. Others are not so good, but the person providing the referral has an agenda of their own, and you have to be aware of the possibility. Never give anyone your business without shopping it around just because someone referred you to a certain provider.

In many cases, the reason why you are referred to Company X Realty or Company Y Loans has nothing to do with any allegations of them being an efficient, diligent, effective or inexpensive provider of those services. Number one on the list of reasons why people tell you about X Realty or Y Loans is because company X or company Y refers business back to them. This isn't illegal, but when you ask a real estate agent for a referral to a low cost mortgage provider and you get referred to one of the ones that's competing on the basis of consumer name recognition, you should realize that the mortgage providers with national advertising campaigns are not among the low cost providers. For analogous reasons, I usually advise people to stay away from the national realty chains, even if they're not local to me. But I digress. The point is that the person who refers you to this person is effectively getting paid by referring you to them. Not exactly a sterling reason to trust their motivations in making this referral.

Indeed, this is one of the ways that lenders in particular avoid competing on price. Ladies and gentlemen, so long as it is the same type loan on the same terms, a loan is a loan is a loan. The only real difference is the tradeoff between rate and cost, or, in other words, price. But lenders do not want to compete on price, because that means they don't make very much money. In fact, they want to avoid competing on price, and the captive audience from referral business is one prime example of how they do it. Joe Realtor sends Jane Lender business because Jane refers business right back to Joe Realtor, and because the client has been told that Jane Lender gives great loans at a great rate, the client doesn't shop loan providers like they might otherwise have done, leaving Jane a freer hand to charge a higher markup.

These are not the only reasons why referrals happen. For instance, here in San Diego, many real estate agents will refer to one particular loan officer because they know that loan officer won't tell the client any inconvenient truths, such as, "You cannot really afford this house." They refer to this loan officer because that loan officer will just keep their mouth shut about the buyer's ability to actually afford the loan and figure out some way to get it through so that agent gets paid. Never mind that it's an unsustainable loan. This sort of thing happens everywhere, but particularly in markets where there are affordability issues for the average person.

Finally, explicit kickbacks are illegal, and there are limits on how often Joe and Jane can buy each other dinner out or whatever arrangement they have to transfer wealth, but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen sometimes. After all, there aren't any Department of Real Estate employees following Joe and Jane around 24 hours per day, so this kind of stuff gets hidden all the time. I've had more than one blatantly illegal offer of referrals for kickbacks since I've been in the business. Some of these folks are brazen. No, there's no percentage in turning them in, either. This is one of those situations the saying about, "No good deed goes unpunished," was invented for. One guy I knew who did turn someone in years ago told me about the thousands of dollars in legal fees he incurred, plus three years of investigation that shows up on your license inquiries as an unresolved complaint until it's over. No thank you. Sometimes, you have to content yourself with remaining apart from any illegalities, while warning people that this sort of thing does happen.

There's nothing wrong with asking for a referral. But that doesn't mean you should just blindly follow that recommendation. All too often, there's an agenda behind that referral. If the person making the referral pushes it too hard, let alone tries to make that referral a condition of their own work, the correct response is to fire them as well.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

(This article was originally written in July 2008. The genesis was a bad experience with medical office staff, but it applies to every customer service situation there is. If the professionals themselves are too busy to handle your problem personally, that's a problem and a red flag that you don't want to do business with them)

I still don't have the tooth pulled, but as of late last night, it seemed like the antibiotic had finally caught up to the infection, and the pain went down a lot over a couple of hours. It still hurts, even with pain killers, but it's not like being actively and continuously stabbed any longer. I'm going to try moving down to the Vicodin the general dentist gave me today instead of Percocet, and maybe I won't be quite so out of it, so maybe I can write something.

This whole experience has been a real eye-opener in another way - exactly how bad alleged customer service really can get. It's a confirmation of my policy: Nobody working for me is allowed to talk to my clients. They are allowed to take a message, and they are allowed to answer simple questions where there is reason to believe the client will probably be happy with the answer. They are not allowed to call my clients without direct specific instructions that I just don't give them. Other than that, there are many reasons why every client gets my cellular number, and is encouraged to call me directly, and this article is going to talk about one of the many disasters this prevents.

My tooth had started hurting on Monday, and so I'd gotten a dental appointment on Thursday, but late Tuesday afternoon, the pain basically exploded. Unfortunately, by the time I could call the dentist, the office was closed for the day, but the dentist gave me a pain-killer and anti-biotic first thing Wednesday. Being a general dentist, Vicodin was the strongest thing he could give me, and it just didn't do more than take the very worst of the edge off for a couple of hours, and I had to wait six hours between doses. But to remove this particular tooth, he had to send me to an oral surgeon. Meanwhile, the infection kept getting worse.

By the time I got to the oral surgeon's office on Thursday, I was literally crying with pain despite the Vicodin. They gave me prescription for Percocet, but said they needed medical clearance from my cardiologist and my regular primary care doctor to pull the tooth. They were also worried about the blood thinners I'm usually on. My cardiologist sent back an answer to them promptly that said it was absolutely fine to pull the tooth, and I could stay on the medications as well, or the dentist could take me off for as long as he felt necessary. According to her, there was no need for any special precautions, but she was happy to go along with anything the oral surgeon wanted.

This wasn't good enough for the dentist's office staff. No, no, no - they had to have the cardiologist say exactly how many days I had to be off the blood thinners before and after surgery. She responded once again by saying that the answer was "zero days" as far as she was concerned. She gave clearance for the dentist to take me off the blood thinners if he thought it advisable, but she did not see such a need for me to stop those medications from a cardiologist's point of view.

Despite being the answer any reasonable person could have hoped to get, this was not a response the dentist's office staff was prepared to accept. I do not know if this was a programmed answer or if the dentist himself directed it, but I have no evidence whatsoever that the dentist was involved in any of these discussions. No, according to these bozos (remember, these are office staff - not nurses, not dentists, not even dental assistants as far as I'm aware), my cardiologist had to give a number of days before and after that I was going to be off those blood thinners before the tooth could be pulled. Keep in mind that the cardiologist - a very sharp young lady with an advanced medical degree and several years experience applying it - had twice said that this was not required. And she was being refuted by office staff. This went back and forth for two days, and I'm still in increasing pain the entire time, including the possibility of increasing complications as the situation is allowed to build.

Matters did not improve when my primary care physician finally responded, saying that she wanted me to be off the blood-thinners before surgery. Then the dental office staff went really berserk, trying to say that since there was a contradiction, both physicians had to consult with each other and issue a joint letter. I tried very hard to explain to them that they were dictating terms of practice to not one, but two highly qualified medical practitioners, and that the terms of both instructions could be satisfied by simply doing what the more stringent of the two had asked for - and since I'd stopped them on my own when this whole issue first started, that was already accomplished by this point, so how about scheduling me for that tooth extraction?

No, no, no. That wasn't acceptable at all to these little tin-pot dictators. And at this point, my willingness to put up with any more of their nonsense basically evaporated. Keep in mind that I had been at home, in pain, unable to eat anything solid, for two full days since they had made their demand, and it's 4:00 Friday afternoon, so we're looking at three more days of pain and lost work before I can even schedule an appointment, never mind actually getting to that appointment or the aftermath. Meanwhile, whatever is going on in my jaw continues to get worse. Buddha only knows what complications this delay is going to cause. I asked for the supervisor, then for the dentist. The supervisor was part of the problem, and they wouldn't let me speak to the dentist, nor have him call me back.

Ladies and gentlemen, part of the reason and necessity for any licensing program at all - and this principle applies just as strongly to agents and brokers as it does to dentists and doctors - is that you have shown qualifications and a sufficient understanding of the thing you are professionally licensed in to make decisions and accept the normal decision-making responsibility of that practice. If you are not willing to accept that responsibility, or have willfully insulated yourself from it, then you are not worthy of your license and definitely not worthy of my business. I did manage to go back and get another referral from my general dentist, but the first oral surgeon's office staff refused point blank to return my medical records - in violation of state law - claiming that "office procedure" was not to release those records. Let's see: "office procedure". I don't intend to try it, but do you think a realtor might get away with claiming "office procedure" to defuse an accusation of breaking state law or RESPA? Let's say you get pulled over for speeding. How well do you think telling the officer that "office procedure says I'm not allowed to do less than 80 mph" would work in getting you out of a ticket, or do you think the officer might be justified in doing something more than merely writing you a ticket in such a case?

Not only that, but by failing to turn over my doctor and my cardiologist's existing letters, they prevented the second oral surgeon from extracting the tooth yesterday, therefore, the pain continues, as well as everything else involved. By refusing to turn over the X-ray that my general dentist took, they were keeping records they had no rights whatsoever to keep, as they had taken it in the first place under pretense of being willing to extract the tooth, they explicitly added to the cost of the replacement for the job they agreed to do by accepting it - but didn't. Both the state dental licensing authority and the insurance company are going to get complaint letters detailing these facts. I can hope to put them out of business, or at least to cost them all of the clients they might have gotten from my insurer, and my general dentist certainly isn't going to send anyone else their way.

What is the lesson here, the applicability for my own business? Well, it's one I already knew, but it's been quite a while since I encountered jokers who were so determined to exercise their own petty power to the utmost. This is why I want to handle all client communications, and why an agent that doesn't is setting themselves and their customers up for a bad experience. Yes, it means I can't accept quite so many clients as I could if I were fobbing off as much as possible on an office staff - but I'd rather make a little bit less money and have clients that are 100% satisfied, making it much more likely that they will come back to me or send others to me. Because anyone who isn't 100% satisfied is poison to my business, and they're not likely to come back or send me anyone else, which makes letting office staff insulate me from my clients is far more costly that the somewhat lowered earnings ceiling of handling all customer communications myself.

When choosing an agent or loan officer, you want one who tells you to call them, not the office staff, and who handles your calls personally, not by telling someone else to call you back. It's perfectly fine to have staff handle communications between agents or offices or service providers. But someone who's too busy to handle your concerns and issues themselves also can't keep track of what those issues and concerns are - and it's likely to bite them and you. Considering the dollar amounts involved in real estate, I don't want to be bitten and I will do anything I can to keep my clients from being bitten. Be careful that any agent or loan officer you choose acts the same way I do.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

One of the things the place I work does to attract clients is advertise foreclosure lists to our clients. Several times a week, people call and ask for the lists, and we say, "Great! Just come on down, fill out a loan package and an agency agreement, and we'll get them to you fresh every morning, and when you see one you might be interested in, we'll help you get it!"

Before the end of the sentence, over 95% of the people have stopped us, saying they are already working with someone. "I just want the foreclosure list. Can't I get it?" Well, we pay money for that. Why should we give it to someone who is not our client and has the ability to pay for it on their own? Why didn't the agent they're already working with get it for them? (Everyone can get a weekly list for free from the county - but that list is worthless except as a time waster, because that list is three to ten days out of date and they've already been swarmed.) If they want to work the foreclosure market, they should have signed up with an agent who has daily foreclosure lists. They haven't even found a property they are interested in yet, and already they know their agent isn't cutting the mustard for their purposes. But they are still stuck with them.

Another trick high margin ("expensive") people use is social groups. Nothing wrong with social groups and using people you know there, but make certain you're not paying three or five times the going rate for a loan, and that your agent really knows what they are doing before you sign on the dotted line. Church groups, soccer coaches, scoutmasters - I can't tell you all of the social acquaintances I've rescued people who became my clients from. These predators look at other members of the group as a captive audience. It isn't so, of course, those people have the option of going elsewhere - it's just difficult socially, and many of them are unwilling to make the effort.

One of the worst of these is family. Your brother, sister, aunt, or nephew is in the business, and your family makes it difficult not to choose them. "You simply must use your sister Margaret!" Well, if subsidizing Margaret to the tune of two points more than anyone else would get is your cup of tea. Around here, that's $8000 or so for the average transaction. You are not writing the check for the extra to Margaret directly, but you're paying her just the same.

Lest I be misunderstood here, there is nothing wrong with using friends, family, members of your social group. Please do check with them. The mistake is not in giving them a shot; it lies in giving them the only chance. That's what you call a monopoly situation, and the chances of you getting the best possible treatment are horrid. But if Aunt Marge or Uncle Bob know you're shopping around, they have more incentive to do their best work. If they know you're not, well I hate to break it to you, but the average person is looking for a bigger paycheck for the same work, and this includes friends, family, and social acquaintances, particularly because you are not the one writing the check, but you will pay for it, guaranteed. The worst mess I've ever had to clean up was caused by my client's uncle, who had been in the business twenty years, and was trying to extort just a little too much money for the deal to work.

On the other hand, when my cousin calls me out of the blue, I can cut him a deal because here is a transaction that I didn't have to spend time and money wrestling it in the door; it walked in of its own volition. This is far and away the toughest part of any transaction, and one of the most expensive to any real estate practitioner - getting a potential client into your office. It's why the "big names" spend so much on advertising nationally, and give their folks half (or less) of the cut a smaller place will give them. (Hint: just like in financial planning or any other service, what's important is always the capabilities and conscientiousness of the individual performing the service, not the company).

So here's how you live up to the social expectations. Give them a shot, but not the only shot. If you are looking to buy and they are an agent, sign a non-exclusive buyer's agreement with them. This gives you free rein to work with other folks as well; just don't sign any exclusive agreements. Most agents, unfortunately, want to lock up the commission that your business represents and so they will present you with an exclusive agreement. The harder they argue for an exclusive agreement, the more you should avoid them. All that an exclusive agreement does is lock you in with one agent. If they are a lazy twit, you either have to wait until the agreement expires, use them for your transaction anyway, or hope you can get them to voluntarily release you. There is no way for you to force them to let you go. I get search phrases like "breaking an exclusive buyer's agreement" hitting the site every day. The only two ways to break an exclusive agreement are 1) wait for it to expire, or 2) get them to voluntarily let you go. I've never heard of the latter happening. So don't sign an exclusive agreement in the first place. Sign a non-exclusive agreement. This puts all of the motivations for work on your side, where they belong. The one who finds the property you are interested in will get the commission, but they have to work for it, as your business isn't locked up.

This also gives you an out if Aunt Marge or Uncle Bob doesn't cut the mustard. You can tell anybody who gets their nose out of joint, including them, that you gave them the opportunity to earn your business, and somebody else did a better job. The other guy saved you money, the other guy found you the property you wanted, the other guy got you a better loan. You wanted to do business with them, but they didn't measure up. Case closed, and Aunt Marge or Uncle Bob will drop it if they are smart, because the more stink they raise, the more likely it is that another family member, friend, or social acquaintance will pass them by in favor of "Could you give me the name of that guy who helped you?"

The only exception to the non-exclusive buyer's agreement is if they are giving you a service that you would otherwise have to pay money for. I am not talking about Multiple Listing Service - those are free and plentiful. I'm talking about real time information not available to the general public - like daily foreclosure listings. Our office pays hundreds of dollars per month for that as a way to bring in business. It is reasonable for someone working the foreclosure market thusly to be asked to sign an exclusive agreement, because otherwise there may be no way to determine who introduced you to the property (Lawyer's Full Employment Act strikes again!)

For sellers, unfortunately, you've got to make a commitment to list with one agent. It's just the way it has to be, economically, in order to get them to commit to spending the kind of money it takes to get a good result. But you can interview more than one agent. What are they going to do to sell your property for the highest possible price? Put it in the contract when you do sign. Everybody can put it in the MLS, and during the bull housing market we had for years, where unless the property was obviously overpriced you'd get multiple offers within a week, a lot of monkeys masquerading as agents made a good living doing that and only that. That doesn't cut the mustard any more. I work more with buyers than sellers, but there are venues that sell the property, venues that bring people to open houses, venues that generate people looking for the cheap bargain (which you don't want) and venues that generate people looking for property like yours in your neighborhood (who is your ideal buyer). Especially in a major city, these are all different venues, and the agent who knows which one is which is worth more than you will pay them, and the cheap agent who doesn't is likely to cost you a lot more money than their cheap asking price saves you.

For loans, I've written about this before, but shop around, ask the same questions of every loan provider you interview, beware of red flags, and stick to your guns. Until very recently, I used to volunteer to do back up loans when I knew the prospective borrower was being sold a bill of goods by someone else. The question I asked myself before volunteering to put in the work of a backup provider. "Could the loan they are telling me about be real?" If the answer was no, I volunteered to act as backup. Every single time, it was my loan the person ended up getting. I can't do this any longer due to changes in loan lock policy from all the lenders, but it used to work very well. Your prospective loan providers should know the market if they are competent. Make use of that knowledge. And lest you be tempted to quote something at those loan officers that is not real, it's a self-defeating strategy. Honest loan officers will tell you point blank they can't do that, while the scamsters are going to get into the spirit of the situation, by which I mean saying anything it takes, no matter how fanciful, to get you to sign up. And those who are knowledgeable about the state of the market always know what is likely real and deliverable, and what likely is not.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

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