Recently in Buying and Selling Category

This question:


What real estate office can I trust to help buy below market house in (location) California?

brought someone to the site and I have not previously written a real answer to the question.


The short answer is "nobody."

This doesn't have to do with trust. It has to do with the facts of life and bad assumptions.

What is the definition of market price? It is the price at which a willing buyer and a willing seller exchange a property. In other words, what you buy it for is by definition the market price.

Everybody wants to buy real estate for less than it's really worth, just like everyone wants to sell it for more than it's really worth. Mathematically speaking, at least fifty percent of each have to fail, and the fact that you're even asking the question indicates that you have made incorrect assumptions.

Real Estate is not like stocks or bonds. No matter how big or how small your transaction, it's always a "one of a kind" transaction. Every property situation is unique. If you are selling, you need to find one buyer willing and able to buy that property for a price you are willing to sell. If you are buying, you need to find one property attractive to you where the owner is willing to sell at a price you are willing and able to buy it at.

This is not to say that the general market is irrelevant. If someone is pricing a more desirable home lower than you, you've overpriced your property. If the identical condo next door to the one you bought sold for ten percent less, you probably overpaid. But it's not for nothing that the mantra about the three most important things in real estate being "location, location, and location." No two properties are ever identical. Think condos, even. Which would you rather have: The one right next to the parking lot, the mailboxes, and the swimming pool, or the one way in the back where you have to walk a quarter mile from your car, and further from everything else but have no disturbances? I assure you that a goodly portion of the population would choose the one you think of as less attractive. It's the choice of the individual buyer, and a real estate agent has to learn how to get the attention of the person who's most likely to be interested in that property.

I keep telling people that getting a good price at sale time is nice for both the buyer and the seller, but the really important thing for the quality of investment is your amount of time in the investment. Let's go back a few years. Homes in my neighborhood were worth maybe $180,000 at the time, and condos were worth maybe $65,000. Had people going around making low ball offers on everything. Offered maybe $55,000 for the condos, $150,000 for the homes. Nobody who wasn't desperate wanted to sell, of course, and that's just what they were checking for - desperation. Had they offered something vaguely reasonable, say $60,000 for the condos or $170,000 for the detached homes, they likely would have gotten a property. At least one group of these people ended up not buying anything. Fast forward five years. Those same condos were worth $275,000, and those same homes were selling for $500,000. If the thought of missing out on $210,000 profit for the condos because you couldn't make $217,000 bothers you, then you seem pretty rational to me. If, on the other hand, the thought of missing out on an extra $20,000 you're not going to get for the single family residence makes you want to just throw $330,000 base profit (tripling your money!) out the window, please go waste someone else's time.

This update allows me to make yet another point: those same properties are now selling for $150,000 for the condos and $380,000 for the detached homes. What's the difference? There are two actually. One is inventory. More people want to sell now, fewer people are willing and able to buy. The second is the loan environment controls the real estate market. When anyone with a pulse can get 100% financing, prices rise quickly because it's not real money to those buyers. When it's difficult to qualify for a loan, as it is right now, that holds the prices down. As a reaction to loan investor losses (aka closing barn door and adding five more after horse has already escaped), it's more difficult to qualify for a loan right now than any time since I have been an adult - thirty plus years. What happens to market prices when loan restrictions start easing back to some happier medium, as they will?

There is nothing wrong with desperation sales and offers that are desperation checks, so long as you are willing and able to then proceed to something more reasonable, or just as happy to move on. Nobody wants to sell to somebody looking to flip a property, but they do want to sell for a reasonable price. That's why the property is on the market. Somebody offers me (or my client) fifteen percent less than comparable market sales, I usually counsel my client to write something like "offer rejected. Why would I (my client) want to give you fifteen percent of my investment's value?" and append a list of comparable properties. Counter-offering just wastes time when the offer isn't even in the right ballpark. The ones who can come back with a reasonable offer want the property, or they wouldn't have made the offer. The ones just looking for the desperation sale aren't going to bother.

Now some potential buyers are only interested in desperation scenarios. I've got a couple clients like that. That's fine, but you're going to work awfully hard and put in a lot of offers before you get one, and the ones with the most potential for quick profit are going to be the ones where there is a lot of work to be done. Additionally, right now the market just won't support CondoFlippers Inc.

Yes, I believe in hard bargaining. Judging from evidence I see around me, I'm one of a small percentage who does. But I'm willing to come from a reasonable starting position. As I've said before, bargaining room is nothing. Bargaining strength is everything. I do love it, though, when my clients decide they want to put an offer in on a discount agent's listing, because the client I'm acting as buyer's agent for is going to think I walk on water when the transaction is over, while the sellers are going to find out first hand the truth of the adage "You get what you pay for".

Lest you think that your negotiation discount equals your profit, it isn't. It's a small part of your profit. Let's say you get the property for $250,000 or you won't buy it at all, even though comparables are selling for $275,000. Let's say you intend to flip for $290,000, not that that's going to happen in this market, but let's say you succeed anyway. Your net is something like $268,000, after spending $253,000 or so to buy, and you spent about $5000 making the payments on the mortgage even if it did sell right away (more likely, given the current realities, that you spend the entire "profit" on the mortgage payment!)

Now let's say, instead, that the market collapses twenty percent the day after you buy, down to $220,000. If you have a sustainable mortgage and bring in a tenant, your cash flow should be even or positive. Hold on to the darned thing for five years, and at historical seven percent average per year, the property is worth $308,000. Hold it ten years and it's worth $432,000 under the same assumptions. The first number gives you as much profit as the flipper even has a theoretical chance for, while the latter blows the flipper out of the water. Even after a price collapse, and because you've been in a sustainable situation this whole time, it really isn't critical how long the prices take to come back, because you're not under the gun of a deadline. So long as you have a sustainable cash flow, the risk is essentially nonexistent. It's when you have an unsustainable cash flow that you've got to worry. Say like, an empty unit where you've got to make the mortgage payment without rent because you're trying to flip it.

In fact, given a sustainable cash flow, unless property values collapse and stay down forever, the question is closer to when you're going to cash out and how much, rather than if. Southern California Real Estate has always moved in cycles. What's down today is up forty percent five years from now. The trick is being able to bridge the gap between now and then. Having the fortitude to buy when nobody else wants to, and sell when things are ripe for a fall, will make you more money than anything else.

If some of the above seems like I'm attacking the "bigger fool" theory of real estate, consider this: Somebody's always the last, biggest, fool in line, and until you find a buyer and consummate the sale, that person is you*. It should be an agent's responsibility to see to it that their clients aren't the only ones without a chair when the music stops. For all too many agents and loan officers, their thinking stops at the receipt of the commission check. I may not sell a house every day of the year, but my clients don't get foreclosed on. That isn't an accident.

Caveat Emptor

*- if you are buying a place to live, the bigger fool theory is limited in its application. You've got to have a place to live. If you never sell, it's not nearly as important what the property is worth. The only times the value of the property is important is when you sell or when you refinance.

Original here


There have always been real estate transactions that fall apart. The reasons why they fall apart are as varied as the people who enter into the transaction in the first place. Let's get back to the very basics for a moment. An offer to purchase is a representation that a given prospective buyer would be at least willing to purchase the property on the terms you are offering. Accepting that offer to purchase means that the seller is at least willing to sell it on the same terms that the buyer is offering to buy upon. If one or the other of these parties is not willing to consummate the deal on those terms, why was there both offer and acceptance? There was offer and acceptance, or there isn't anything more than negotiations to fall apart. People fail to reach agreement all the time. That's not what this article is about. It's about what happens to prevent the transaction from being completed after you have a valid contract.

The last credible figure I heard was that 50 percent of all escrows in San Diego County are falling apart. This means that one out of every two contracts don't happen. A few years ago, the proportion was a small fraction of that - I can't find it online, but I seem to remember 11%. This increase is both outrageous and preventable.

The first reason transactions fail is new information. It isn't cost effective or a good negotiations tool for a buyer to spend money on inspection and appraisal before there is an acceptable contract. When this information comes in, you can expect there to be a reassessment of the transaction, because you can expect there to be something about the property that does not conform to reasonable expectations. I certainly can't remember any transactions I've had where the inspections didn't reveal anything new. Most of the ones where I was buyer's agent, what was revealed was trivial enough to ignore, but never a one where there was nothing. Transfer disclosures from the current owner to the prospective buyer are another of the possibilities for new information to crop up.

All of this new information can indicate a need to subsequent negotiations when it comes to light. If the buyer thinks it's small enough that they are willing to accept the transaction "as is", they can choose to let the transaction continue on the track it's on. If it's big enough that they're unwilling to deal with the situation, they can also choose to walk away. The vast majority of the time, the sanest response is some new negotiations based upon the new information. This isn't normally about things like overall sales price, it's about getting the property into the condition and functionality that the buyer thought they were getting in the first place. Either party can be obstreperous and unreasonable at this point, effectively killing the transaction.

There's also the issue of cold feet, and the related issue of "grass is greener" syndrome. Either one can apply to either party in the transaction. In the first, the buyer decides they don't want to buy or the seller doesn't want to sell after all. In either case, they weren't really "sold" on the benefits of the transaction to them. "Grass is greener" is where they still want a deal, just not this deal. Those happen when markets are asymmetric in power. A few years ago, it was sellers who wanted to bail out of contracts they had duly negotiated because someone offered them a higher price. More recently, it's been buyers trying to pull out because they think they've found a better deal somewhere else. Both are vile. It's not a sin to want the best possible deal, but once you enter into a legal contract you should be prepared to honor your representation that you want that deal. Both of these phenomena are the fault of poor agents, and both are a good way to waste a lot of money in legal expenses when their clients are sued for specific performance. I don't want any part of agents that don't take appropriate steps to prevent either one of these in their clients, and I take note when I hear about them. It's also a reason not to take an attitude of "no quarter!" in negotiations. My client signed that offer or contract because those terms will make them happy. If the other side decides they need to bail out because the terms are odious, my client isn't happy.

Closer to the point is ability to perform. This can be a seller who can't or won't or doesn't meet their obligations in a timely fashion. Delivering good title to the buyer is kind of important to the transaction, and it does occasionally happen that the seller can't do this. Or they don't have the money to make needed repairs, or just won't get off their backside to actually do it.

But far more commonly, it's the ability of the buyer to perform their obligations under the contract that kills the transaction. I have heard about occasional buyers who couldn't or wouldn't or didn't perform on other scores, but the most central of these in the current market, and the reason for at least 90% of the rise in failed transactions, is that the buyer cannot qualify for the necessary loan.

The Era of Make-Believe Loans is over, but judging by the evidence, there's an awful lot of people who haven't figured this out yet. That's the first thing I want to find out when I get a new buyer into my office: What's the evidence of their ability to qualify for the necessary loan? How much do they make, what are their other payments, what is their credit score, how much do they have for a down payment, and is there anything about their situation which might be a cause for concern during the loan process? I don't want to give them the third degree, but I want to be confident I'm not wasting their time or mine, and that I'm not setting them up for a failed transaction. Failed transactions don't make clients happy, they waste the client's money, and they aren't any good for my business, either.

A few years ago, if somebody came into my office with a 580 to 600 credit score and two years in the same line of work, chances were excellent that a loan could be done - even 100% financing. That is not the case currently, and the time to plan the loan is before the clients fall in love with the property they can't afford.

Lest I be unclear: except for VA loans,100% financing is completely gone (at least for right now). The same thing applies to Stated Income loans. Purchase contracts not written in concordance with current loan underwriting standards are going to fail and that is as predictable as gravity. Write the purchase contract wrong, and you have killed the deal before it begins because there's something there that's not going to be acceptable to the lender, and sometimes it can prevent other folks from signing off on the deal as well. Furthermore, if the required steps in the contract are going to cause the seller to balk, you're better off finding out before you've got a contract.

The loan environment, especially for loans above 80% loan to value ratio, has changed drastically in the last few years, and all of the changes thus far have been in the nature of making qualification more difficult.

Even the government programs like VA and FHA with their low down payment requirements have their stumbling blocks. Not only do they require a buyer to qualify via full documentation of income (as do ALL government-based loan programs), but there are subsidiary requirements as well. Some properties are not eligible, period. Some people (and some companies) can't be involved, period. Investment property and second homes are iffy to doubtful with the VA and practically non-existent for FHA. It's a real good idea to know if you're going to hit one of these roadblocks before you are sixty days into a transaction that's not going to happen, and now we're all going to pay lawyers to fight over the deposit.

When I list a property, I want real information that tells me a loan is doable for this borrower before I advise my client to accept a given offer. Pre-qualification is a joke and even pre-approvals aren't anything to put stock in. The only examples of either that I trust are ones that I wrote, because I know what went into them. However, Steering is illegal. I can't require the buyer to get their loan through me or even to talk to me (or anyone else of my choosing). What I can do is require their loan officer fill out my form and provide documentation that enables me to determine whether a loan is doable or not. If I can't find a lender that can fund that loan, we've got a problem. When I'm the listing agent, it's kind of important to know this before we counter.

Unfortunately, we've had ten years where loan money was easy to get, no matter how ridiculous the transaction, and it's left a very strong imprint on many agents. Many have literally known no other environment, and they're finding it hard to make the necessary mental changes. I haven't been in the business ten years, either, but I do understand how the loan environment has tightened up and its effects upon my clients. Even the agents who have been in the business much longer may have no real grasp of the loan environment and often they're just checking off the box that says, "pre-qualification" on the checklist because that shows they did their due diligence. That isn't going to fly anymore. It may or may not help them when they're defending against a lawsuit, but it certainly isn't going to make their future ex-client happy about the thousands of dollars they lost, either because they couldn't qualify or because their prospective buyer couldn't.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here


For at least the last thirty years, I've been hearing "affordable housing" advocates yammer about the high cost of housing, and how working families can no longer afford "decent" housing, which they apparently consider to be the three or four bedroom, two bathroom detached home. They go on and on about what is necessary to create more of this type of housing and our "moral obligation" to create more of it. In light of the current situation, I'm going to make a conscious effort to continue my occasional series on factors that influence the overall market for housing. I'm going to examine the broad macroeconomics involved, the assumptions necessary, whether it is or is not long term sustainable, and the choices we face in sustaining or curtailing it.

Today's topic is how the housing market of today came about and what sustains it. A century ago, roughly eighty-five percent of the population did not live in major cities, but rather in small farming communities which more or less blanketed the nation. Suitable land for housing could be anywhere, and so it was much more readily available and much cheaper. When the criteria is "anywhere there's land I can farm," you can choose any arable parcel and build a house on it. Even if you don't live on a farm but in one of the small towns, when you can walk the length of the town in five or ten minutes, it's a lot easier to arrange housing for everyone. If one particular town becomes too crowded, the next one over became attractive. If you need a place for a few more people, one of the farmers whose land immediately surrounded the town could usually be persuaded to sell some land. The cities were dense affairs, much more like european cities than is the case today. Indeed, the few large cities we had built up before World War II still retain that urban core with dense multistory housing that is characteristic of the period. The typical pattern of the day was that young women, in particular, would continue to live with their parents until marriage. Young men of marriageable age would most often live in rooming-houses or boarding houses once they became gainfully employed. Apartment dwelling was only somewhat expected for young couples just getting started and urban dwellers who might have been together for many years, yet could not afford anything better in close proximity to their profession. Urban housing was tight-packed because the land was very expensive by standards of the time, and urban transportation was communal to a far greater extent than today. It is much more common today for even people in Manhattan to own and drive cars than it was before World War II. The use of steel as a building material was a big deal for those urban centers because it meant that it was possible for them to build further up. San Diego is very much a post war city, but even we still have areas that were built in those times - packed in tightly, cheek by jowl, extremely dense living. Once upon a time, before reliance upon military work and bad policy ruined it, San Diego was a major west coast port and the base for the largest fishing fleet in the world - two of my aunts married tuna fishermen. Even further out, in what were before WWII the "newly urban" areas of North Park and National City, the housing very much resembled classic "company town" housing - 600 and 800 square foot one and two bedroom cottages sitting on 3500 square foot lots. These were the era's predecessor to the exurban bedroom community of today, usually owned by members of the skilled trades or young professionals. The core suburbs today such as La Mesa were still economically speaking, farming communities. Even Mission Valley was mostly farms until the early sixties. During this time frame, only the comparatively wealthy lived in larger houses within city limits. If you go to Mission Hills above Old Town, or Grant or Banker's Hill (and here and there in other neighborhoods) you can still see a very few of the large houses for the well-to-do of that era.

Indeed, the three bedroom, two bath detached house in an urban setting for the working class is almost entirely a creation of the post World War II mood in this country. For several years, very little housing had been built, and now these men who had gone off to war and saved the world as seventeen and eighteen year olds who had traditionally remained with their parents or moved on to boarding houses until they got married were now returning as twenty-two and twenty-three year olds who were traditionally married and starting families by that point in their lives. The women to marry them wasn't a problem; the housing to put the new families in was. These folks had several years of savings (war bonds, the wartime sacrifices, etcetera), and the traditional apartments were considered a poor and at best temporary inconvenience until that new modern post-War marvel - tract housing - could be built in sufficient numbers. And if such housing was horribly inefficient in terms of land, utilities, and transportation, nonetheless we were the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, and accommodating their desires for such was the least the nation could do for our valiant warriors. Furthermore, with the aforementioned savings they had accumulated during the war, the young men and their new wives could afford to pay for this new housing. If you're wondering about "It's a Wonderful Life," keep in mind that most of that 1946 movie takes place well before the war, and even by the time of its release, the country hadn't yet shifted very far from the way things were done pre-War.

The land was available and largely vacant then, and certainly could not and can not be covered effieciently by public transportation, but the newly affluent families (through savings during the war and better jobs after) could afford far more automobiles as well. For the first time, women were staying in the work force in significant numbers until motherhood. There was plenty of land available. As a young child in the early sixties, I can still remember when there was space between all of the suburbs, even when we drove to Los Angeles to visit family members or Disneyland. I-5 was brand new thanks to President Eisenhower, and from the point we got out of the Pacific Beach, there weren't any towns visible from the road, just widely separated houses, until we passed Oceanside and Camp Pendleton, at which point there wasn't anything more until San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano, then another good long way past that before there was anything more again. It wasn't until just before Disneyland that we saw more city. The I-5/405 split in the middle of present day Irvine was out in the middle of nowhere back then. My parents almost bought a 320 acre farm just east of the Del Mar fairgrounds the year I was born. One of my best friend's parents had considered a farm in Mission Valley, despite the fact my friend's father was in the navy. If you clicked on the images, you know none of these are empty land any longer.

Why not? Suburban housing and to a lesser extent, support services have eaten it up. The only open area between the Mexican border and the Tejon Pass is the stuff that's been held aside for other reasons, such as Camp Pendleton, which the Marines badly need. Los Angeles with 3.8 million people has an area of almost 470 square miles, while by comparison cities of similar population elsewhere such as Ahmedabad in India, Alexandria in Egypt are a fraction the physical size. If we're going to keep doing the same thing, we're going to run out of places to put everybody. In fact, in Southern California we have essentially done so. New development is taking place in Hesperia and Victorville, or out past Banning, or out in Hemet or eastern Murrieta, all of which are an hour and a half minimum trip time from the center of the urban areas they service, even if you're driving it at an hour when there's no traffic. Nobody wants to drive an hour and a half each way to work - especially not in stop and go traffic when gas is this expensive.

This also creates a lot of logistical problems. Most inhabitants of the cities concerned would have no trouble naming the most salient problem, which is transportation. When you have that many people that spread out, and you need to move them all significant distances at pretty much the same time, it takes a massive amount of transportation infrastructure to do so. US 395, the predecessor to I-15, was one lane each direction from Escondido until just a few miles south of present day I-10. But it isn't just transportation. Utilities are a much larger headache to supply than sixty years ago as well, and the logistics of keeping that many people supplied with groceries and gas and everything else make the transportation and utilities problems seem easy.

Finally, there are legal and political barriers to continuing to build housing in this manner. Environmental concerns are the most obvious of these, but building codes, zoning, and other concerns form significant obstacles to its continuation, as does the consumption of land. Once upon a time Southern California was some of the most productive farm land there was. My wife's uncle was a well-off citrus grower until the developers bought his land for millions of dollars. I can remember (barely) large tracts of citrus in El Cajon and Lemon Grove and Escondido. The only reason the hillsides north of Escondido are still relatively uninhabited avocado farms is because they're steep enough to render development difficult. The same applies to all of the other agricultural land remaining.

All that aside, I would like for housing prices to be affordable, and for everyone who's going to grow up in this country for the next century to be able to afford the type of housing they want, where they want. Absent some major changes in public policy and employment practices, it's not going to happen. The land no longer exists, we can't afford ongoing losses in arable land (look up how few countries in the world are net exporters of food), the transportation networks are saturated, environmental regulations are restricting development as are legal hurdles such as necessary permits (which add roughly $20,000 per unit to the cost of new housing, but over $100,000 to the price due to constricted supply), and lets not forget legal challenges from NIMBYs, BANANAs and environmentalists who already have their 3 bedroom 2 bathroom suburban home, and whose property values just happen to increase in a manner directly dependent upon how far they can constrict the supply of new housing. In short, the current situation does not appear to be sustainable absent major societal changes.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

Must you sell if you list at a specific price and the broker comes up with a qualified buyer?

in the US in general, no you do not have to sell, but you could still be liable to the broker for their commission. You might also need to justify why your decision was non-discriminatory (assuming that it wasn't), but if (for instance) your broker brings you someone you have had business dealings with in the past, and they have tried every maneuver possible to scam you after reaching agreement in those past dealings, you are (usually) quite justified in refusing to do business with them.

Talk to a lawyer, but generally speaking, if you do not have complete and perfect agreement between the parties on the contract, you do not have a valid purchase contract. If you didn't want to do business with (say) Bill Clinton or George W. Bush, such is your right as long as you refuse to do so on the basis of them being a particular individual, not based upon them being members of a class protected under anti-discrimination law.

In general, nobody can force you to sell unless you've agreed to a fully executed purchase contract. But I'm talking about legal force here, not economic. It can be expensive not to take a particular offer. I am not familiar with any cases where a real estate agent, listing or buyer's, was awarded a commission even though there was no transaction consummated, but that doesn't mean it couldn't happen. And lest the general tone of this article be mis-interpreted, refusing to sell on the basis of race, sex, religion, sexual orientation, lifestyle or any other legally protected reason is setting yourself up for a lawsuit.

List price is a representation that you would be willing to accept that price, but there are other proposed terms of the contract to consider. As I have said before, if you're still arguing about who replaces a given light bulb, you don't have a valid contract any more than you do if you're $100,000 apart on the price. I can't imagine stressing about a light bulb like that, but the point is just because someone offers you full list price does not mean you have to accept their offer. If the other terms proposed are onerous, if it comes attached with conditions you don't care to accept, or if it is merely from an individual who you have done business with in the past and are unwilling to be involved with again, you are usually within your rights to refuse the offer.

Or instead of an outright refusal, you can return a counter-offer back to them, which is usually the smarter thing to do.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

One of the concepts I keep seeing without a decent treatment is the concept of leveraging an investment. Real Estate has this like no other investment. You go talk to a bank about leveraging eighty to ninety or even one hundred percent of your investment in the stock market, or the same percentage of a speculative venture, and see what happens. Be prepared for laughter, and they're not laughing with you. But for real estate the lenders will do it. Why? Because it's land. It's not going anywhere, and they're not making any more.

The fact is that real estate has the potential for leverage like no other. This is due to the interplay of two factors. One is the fact that you can rent the property out to pay for the expenses of owning it, and even if you use it yourself, you're able to save the money you would be paying in rent. Everyone's got to live somewhere, and every business needs a place to put it. The other, more important factor is leverage, the fact that you're able to use the bank's money for such a large portion of your investment. The bank will loan you anywhere from fifty to one hundred per cent of the value of the property. Yes, you've got to pay interest on it, but you're paying that through the rent - either the rent you'd save or the rent you're getting - and there are tax deductions that make such costs less than they might appear.

Now here are some computations based upon the situation local to me. Suppose you have a choice as to whether to buy a three bedroom single family residence for $450,000 (to pick the figure for a starter home) or rent it for $1900 per month. Let's even allow for the fact that the home may be overpriced by $100,000. You have $22500 - a five percent down payment. More than most folks, and you would invest that and the difference in monthly housing cost, and earn ten percent tax deferred if you didn't buy the house. Let's crank the numbers and see what they say.






Year

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

22

23

24

25

26

27

28

29

30

Value

$450,000.00

$374,500.00

$400,715.00

$428,765.05

$458,778.60

$490,893.11

$525,255.62

$562,023.52

$601,365.16

$643,460.72

$688,502.98

$736,698.18

$788,267.06

$843,445.75

$902,486.95

$965,661.04

$1,033,257.31

$1,105,585.32

$1,182,976.30

$1,265,784.64

$1,354,389.56

$1,449,196.83

$1,550,640.61

$1,659,185.45

$1,775,328.43

$1,899,601.42

$2,032,573.52

$2,174,853.67

$2,327,093.43

$2,489,989.97

Monthly Rent

$1,900.00

$1,976.00

$2,055.04

$2,137.24

$2,222.73

$2,311.64

$2,404.11

$2,500.27

$2,600.28

$2,704.29

$2,812.46

$2,924.96

$3,041.96

$3,163.64

$3,290.19

$3,421.79

$3,558.66

$3,701.01

$3,849.05

$4,003.01

$4,163.13

$4,329.66

$4,502.85

$4,682.96

$4,870.28

$5,065.09

$5,267.69

$5,478.40

$5,697.54

$5,925.44

Equity

22,500.00

-48,406.32

-17,287.01

15,999.55

51,604.93

89,691.37

130,432.52

174,014.27

220,635.59

270,509.51

323,864.05

380,943.34

442,008.77

507,340.18

577,237.20

652,020.69

732,034.20

817,645.65

909,249.05

1,007,266.37

1,112,149.54

1,224,382.64

1,344,484.16

1,473,009.54

1,610,553.79

1,757,754.34

1,915,294.15

2,083,904.97

2,264,370.91

2,457,532.19

Net Benefit

-31,500.00

-110,236.00

-94,761.88

-77,990.23

-59,828.07

-40,176.54

-18,930.59

-4,021.36

28,797.71

55,524.07

84,333.56

115,367.22

148,774.35

184,712.85

223,349.64

264,861.00

309,432.96

357,261.61

408,553.54

463,526.08

522,407.72

585,438.30

652,869.38

724,964.38

802,381.90

885,736.68

975,442.55

1,071,939.93

1,175,697.38

1,287,213.19


The Net Benefit Column is net of taxes, net of the value of the investment account. The cost of selling the property is also built in. Now most people won't really do this, invest every penny they'd save. I have intentionally created a scenario that contrasts a real world real estate investment where you bought in at a temporary top, with a hopelessly idealized other investment.

There is a potential downside, and it could be big. This is a real risk, and anyone who tells you otherwise is not your friend. Look at the beginning of years numbered 2 through 5 in the equity column. You haven't gotten your initial investment back until sometime in the fourth year. Look at years 1 through 7 in the net benefits column. You're immediately down $31,500, due to me assuming it would cost you seven percent to turn around and sell the property. A year later, due to me assuming the bubble has popped, you're down by over one hundred ten thousand dollars, as opposed to where you'd be in you put it in the idealized ten percent per year investment. There is no such thing, but for the purposes of this essay I'm assuming there is. This is the illustration of why you need to look ahead when you're playing with real estate - a long way ahead. A loan payment that makes you feel comfortable for a couple of years isn't going to cut it. You need something viable for a longer term. If you'll look at projected equity at the beginning of years five and six, it goes between fifty odd thousand and eighty some thousand, assuming you've been making a principal and interest payment. You have plenty of equity to refinance there if you need to. If you need to do something in year three, however, you're hosed. If you've been negatively amortizing, you're hosed. You owe more than the property is worth. The payment adjusts, you can't afford it, you can't refinance, and you have to sell at a loss, as well as getting that 1099 love note from the lender that says "You Owe Taxes!"

But now look ten years out. At the beginning of year 11, you have $323,000 in equity, and if you sell at that point, you are $84,000 ahead of where you would have been if you invested that money in the idealized investment I've posited. That's four times your original investment, and I only assumed real estate went up seven percent per year, whereas the alternative investment went up by ten percent per year. How could that possibly be right?

The answer is leverage. That $450,000 was almost entirely the bank's money. The appreciation applied to this entire amount. But you only invested $22,500. The bank isn't on the hook for the value; their upside is only the repayment of the loan. If the property goes to a value of $481,500 and then $515,205 (normal seven percent appreciation in two years), then that extra money is yours. Think Daffy Duck shouting "Mine! Mine! All Mine!". Daffy's got to pay some money to get the property sold, as real estate is not liquid. Then the bank gets all of its money. The bank always gets all of its money first. After that, however, then the extra belongs only to the owner, not the lender.

The lender gets none of the appreciation. This is all fine and well with them, by the way. They've been well paid whether the property increased in value or not. This money from increased value is all yours. This applies even, as in our example, if the property lost value for a while. Yes, if you had had to sell in year two, you'd have been up the creek. But you didn't; you kept your head and waited until the property increased again. Given that you didn't, the only numbers that are important are the numbers when you bought it, and when you sold it. The rest of the time is completely irrelevant to the equation, a fact that is true for any investment, by the way. Doesn't matter if the value is ten times what it was when you bought on paper, it only matters that when you actually sold, it was for a loss. Doesn't matter if the value goes to zero the day after you buy, and stays there for thirty years. If in the thirty-first year it rebounds to fifty or a hundred times the original purchase price and that's when you sell, then you really were a genius. Get it? Got it? Good.

So when the property appreciated back to $688,000 and change at the beginning of year eleven, and you only owe $364,000 and change, that's $323,000 in equity. You're almost fifty percent owner. Even after you pay seven percent to sell the property, you come away with $275,000, as opposed to a little over $191,000 that you'd have in the idealized but unleveraged investment.

Keep in mind this whole scenario is a hypothetical. Every Real Estate transaction is different. Every property is different, every market is different, and the timing makes a critical difference. That's why you can't just call your broker to sell it and get a check within seven days, like you can with stocks and bonds. That's why a decent agent is worth every penny, and a good one is worth more than you will ever pay us. But properly executed, a leveraged investment pays off like nothing else can, and real estate is the easiest way to make a highly leveraged investment that is stable until such time as it is favorable to sell.

Caveat Emptor

Original here


The buyer's deposit is always at risk. This is just a fact of real estate transactions. I could pretend it's not so, but that wouldn't keep the deposit from being at risk - it would just make me a liar. Nonetheless, because it's cash that the buyer had to forego spending that money in order to painstakingly set it aside a few dollars at a time, they understand that the deposit is real money in no uncertain terms, where most don't have that same understanding about a loan that's probably fifty times bigger and just as real. It may be comparatively rare that the buyer's deposit is actually forfeit (As of yet, I haven't lost one), but by recognizing that it is at risk and planning for it, I can protect a client's deposit far more effectively than anyone who pretends otherwise.

The first rule is to be careful writing the offer. I want to make certain that all offers (and counteroffers) consist of something my client qualifies for and that I can make happen. This is one of the best reasons why real estate agents want to know enough that they could do loans, even if they don't. If I wasn't a loan officer, I'd consult a loan officer before writing an offer. Review client qualifications and necessary loan guidelines before the offer is written. If the issues of whether the client can qualify and what needs to happen so they do qualify have already been solved, you start the transaction with the largest part of the road to successful completion already paved.

Related to this is the issue of a client getting cold feet, which is one of the most common ways to lose a deposit. The best way to solve this is by showing them enough properties that they really understand the value offered by this one. Some agents believe in pressure sales and glossing over problems with the property. I believe in meeting these issues head on. One thing I tell every buyer client at our first meeting is that there is no such thing as a perfect property. They need to decide what they're willing to live with and what they aren't, and how much they're willing to pay for not doing so. It's my job to make certain they understand what the issues are with a given property, and that they'd be happy paying the necessary price to live there. All of an agent's nightmare scenarios start with talking someone into buying a property they don't like, so I'm not going there ever. This also solves the "cold feet" before we make an offer, where someone who doesn't understand these issues is going to be in danger of cold feet at every bump in the road.

The main issue with all of the buyer contingencies is time. You have a certain number of days to deal with those contingencies. When I get them done well before the time limit, the time limit isn't a problem.

For the loan contingency, I want an automated underwriting decision ASAP. Usually, there are reasons not to do this before we've got that fully executed purchase contract, but once we have that contract, there's no reason whatsoever not to do it that day.

I also want to order inspection and appraisal immediately, to meet those contingencies. I've got seventeen days for those. If I've got the appraiser and inspector out there the next day, I should have their report within two to three business days after that. Any subsequent negotiations needed due to those reports, I can start on right away. If the seller isn't going to be reasonable (or reasonable enough), we can find out about it right away and if the buyer decides to walk away based upon these reports or subsequent negotiations, we're in a much better position to argue that they should retain the deposit than if it were twenty-five days into the transaction and now the deposit is in jeopardy regardless of whether the contingencies have been released in writing or not. All parties agreed the contingencies ran for seventeen days in the purchase contract, and if that period is up, there's an argument to be made that the deposit is forfeit. I'm not a lawyer, so I don't know if it's a good, valid, legal argument, but if the whole issue is moot because we're done on day ten, the argument never gets started.

While this is all going on, I'm getting any final loan stuff together. This includes Preliminary Title Report and Escrow information. That complete loan package should be submitted before I go home on the day I get the appraisal. If it's not done by then, something major is wrong. I can submit loan packages with the appraisal "to follow", but it's better to submit them complete in the first place, even if it does mean I've got to pay for color copies. Every time an underwriter touches a file, they can add conditions. Those conditions can effectively make a loan impossible, and far more loans are approved with impossible conditions than flatly rejected. Also, submitting a loan with minimal information is itself one of the best ways to raise red flags in an underwriter's mind, or would be if raising red flags in the underwriter's mind was a good thing. It isn't. Once red flags get raised, expect them to throw as many roadblocks at you as they can. Better to submit a clean, complete loan package as soon as possible. Doing the extra work right off the bat really does save you a lot of future work.

This has become even more important of late. When I first wrote this, underwriting was a lot less paranoid than it is now. Even when refinances were running several weeks, purchases were usually no more than two days for underwriting. If you submitted a clean complete file, any prior to documents conditions you do get would be minimal and trivial, and the funding conditions were just the absolutely standard cookie cutter stuff. That has now changed. Fannie and Freddie and the Federal Government have now added all kinds of new twists to lending. I have lately started saying that we need to extend the default loan contingency period on purchases to 30 days on purchase contracts, because it has become difficult to get a real loan commitment in seventeen, and even forty five day escrows are becoming a thing of the past because the new requirements mean that loans take longer - adding three weeks or more to the process in some cases. I don't like getting anything other than the routine funding conditions that happen on every transaction, because it means I have to get those conditions and wait a couple of days for the underwriter to get back to the file. I originally wrote that this waste of time is my fault if it happens, but with the best will in the world, it will happen to you a pretty significant percentage of the time. In the past year that percentage has increased in the last year to nearly 100%, and there's nothing that can be done to change this because giving unnecessary information to an underwriter is the Number One way to get the loan essentially rejected.

I believe in giving the seller and their agent a reasonable amount of time to hang themselves, but once the loan is submitted, I'm going to be asking about their responsibilities if I haven't gotten evidence they're done yet. Allowing them to hang themselves doesn't mean letting them hang my client. I want to see that termite inspection in particular before the end of seventeen days. The standard contract has the buyer responsible for section 2 work. It's never happened to me, but it's very possible that there's enough section 2 work needed to call the transaction into question. After seventeen days, this becomes more difficult for the buyer.

As soon as possible, I order the closing documents and get them signed. Even if you're not ready and able to close the transaction as a whole, this is a good idea. Something that's already done correctly isn't going to be an issue if my client gets called away on business - particularly out of the country as does happen. Notary work becomes a real issue outside the United States - it must be done at a US Consulate or Embassy. There is no exception for "Buyer had to leave the country" (or even just "go out of town") written into the time frames and contingencies on that purchase contract. I suppose you could ask for one, but it will make most sellers more than a little nervous, for tolerably obvious reasons. Better to know and plan in advance, but life happens. Better not to be bit if it does.

If I can get all the ducks in a row before the contingency period expires, not only does this preserve my buyers rights and give us an advantage in subsequent negotiations, but preserves as much as possible of my client's options to exit the transaction while preserving their right to recover the deposit. If I can close the entire transaction before the end of the contingency period, that makes me very very happy, and not just because I get paid sooner. It means that the issue of my client losing the deposit for walking away never comes up..

By finishing everything before the end of the contingency period, I've also preserved as much as possible of the right of specific performance in case the seller gets cold feet. It happens. Not so much right now, but a few years ago in the crazy seller's market, it happened because sellers decided they could get a higher price. If my buyer client is happy with the state of the contract as it sits, their lawyer can quite likely argue specific performance of the contract, and maybe recover legal costs too. Not my place to say whether or not, as I'm not a lawyer. I only know that lawyers seem to be much happier with agents that keep this information in mind.

If I can't close it before the end of contingency period (and I recently had signed loan documents sitting at escrow for two weeks while we waiting for the sellers to finish termite work), I still want to get together with my clients before the contingency period expires, put the evidence in front of them, and have them make a choice to continue or abort the transaction. Just because the contingencies haven't been released in writing is no reason that a seller's lawyer can't argue that they were released anyway. Much better if the argument never comes up because it's a moot point.

There is nothing I can do that generates an ironclad, foolproof guarantee that my client won't lose their deposit. But doing things the right way, quickly, can certainly make it a lot less likely than pretending that tje deposit isn't at risk. Lawyers and judges are the only ones who can answer the question of whether it has been forfeited, but it the issue is resolved without them getting involved, everybody is going to be happier. Neither party should have signed the purchase offer if they didn't want the transaction to happen on those terms set forth in the contract. Therefore, making it happen quickly, reliably, cleanly, and before the deadlines have passed is the best way to prevent making anyone unhappy.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

That's one of the questions I've been asked, and it deserves an answer. Know that there is some flexibility to the answer, as there are embedded trade offs. You don't need as much of an income, or as high of a credit score, if you have a larger down payment. A sufficiently high credit score can also mean that you can afford a more expensive property, as higher credit scores get better interest rates, and therefore, lower payments for the same property. On the flip side, if you have monthly bills that consume a large amount of your income, you cannot afford to pay as much for a property. When I originally wrote this, there was another tradeoff involved in whether you can prove sufficient income via the traditional means of w-2s or income tax forms, as the alternative loan forms do not give rates as good, and most have higher down payment requirements. However, stated income loans are gone, at least for now. Finally, most of this only applies if you want or need a loan. If you intend to pay 100% of the price with cash, you can buy anything legal that you desire with your cash, and the hurdles become much smaller. So admittedly this only applies to 99.9999% of first time home buyers.

The first thing any buyers need if they want a loan for the property is a source of income. If you want a loan, you've got to have money coming in from somewhere to make the payments. Preferably, it's a documentable, regular source of income, such as paychecks or income from a business on which you report taxable income. I suppose I should mention that tax cheats have difficulty getting good quality home loans, because I have dealt with a few people I suspect of that. Don't worry, I'm not an IRS employee and I won't turn you in. But all lenders must report loan transactions, and every real estate transaction is a matter of public record. If you make a major purchase or take out a major loan, the IRS can take an interest in you. Just saying.

You income, together with whatever amount you have for a down payment, gives you a budget for a property. The vast majority of the loan is driven off two ratios, debt to income and loan to value. These two ratios together will determine minimums for everything else about your loan. If your credit score was not horrible, a down payment was pretty much optional for several years during the Era of Make Believe Loans, although it has since become essentially mandatory as the VA loan is the only loan out there where most lenders are willing to fund loans without a down payment.

You will need at least a few thousand dollars for a good faith deposit, and probably another thousand at least for appraisal, inspections, and miscellaneous stuff. The once-upon-a-time rule of thumb about a 2% earnest money deposit has long gone by the wayside, but a good deposit is often evidence that you are serious about your ability to consummate the deal, and might get you a lower price in negotiations. I will argue against my listing clients accepting any offer, no matter how good, without a deposit, and most sane real estate agents agree with me.

The larger the down payment, the lower you can expect the needed income to be, and the better the interest rate you are likely to get at any given time. In order to make a difference on the terms of your loan, the required down payment generally goes in increments of 5%. 3.5% for an FHA loan is the absolute minimum for most people currently, but you will get a better deal from conventional loans that require a minimum of 5% down (But as few lenders as will do that, they can charge higher rates than others). 10% will get you better terms than you would get for 5% down, 15% will get you better terms than ten, and the really major differences happen if you can put 20% down. More still will get you better terms yet, but 20% is the big dividing line.

If you want to take advantage of a governmental first time buyer assistance program, either the Mortgage Credit Certificate or a locally based buyer assistance program, you need to be very careful about staying within what you can prove you can afford via tax forms. Stated Income, or documenting your income via bank statements, is not an option on any of those programs and never has been. Using creative financing options, such as negative amortization loans, with such programs is similarly forbidden. First time assistance programs are not designed to encourage irresponsibly buying a more expensive property than you can afford; they are designed to help you stretch what you can afford just a little further. Know what you can afford in terms of sales price, because agents and loan officers can too easily manipulate payment quotations. Rules of thumb based upon income (2.5 times income, four times income, whatever) are garbage, and the entire concept is a good way to get into trouble. This article will help you compute what you can afford, once you know the approximate rates for current thirty year fixed rate loans.

You will need to be able to document a two year history of housing payments. Since you have never bought before, this means rent. No fun to have had to enrich someone else for a couple of years, but there are valid reasons why lenders require a history of regular housing payments on time. If you can document that you've been paying regular rent to your parents, grandparents, or what have you, that can count, although lenders will usually demand copies of the canceled checks rather than accepting their word for it.

You will also need a history of credit payments. Mortgage lenders want to see evidence that you have the habit of paying your debts on time regularly. The usual criteria is three total lines of credit, one open for at least 24 months, the other two for at least six months. These can be revolving lines of credit such as credit cards, or installment debt such as car payments or student loans. Note that they do not necessarily have to still be open, but whatever balances and monthly payments you still have will be counted against your debt to income ratio.

Also, you generally need at least two open lines of credit in order to have credit scores reported by the major credit bureaus. Ideal is two long term credit cards with very small balances. The way I handle this is to charge one thing per month for about $20 or so that I would normally pay cash for, and pay the bill in full when it arrives. You will need an appropriate credit score for what you are trying to do. What score is sufficient will depend upon the exact characteristics of your transaction. Better scores will lower your rate, and therefore your payments, but the best thing that can be said about a 580 credit score (which some lenders will accept for FHA loans) is that it isn't putrid. Unfortunately for those who want to buy now without any cash, the lenders have now figured out that them being on the hook for 100% of the value of the property is a good way to lose money. I do anticipate 100% financing returning eventually, but "eventually" could be years, and even A paper has introduced differentials to the tradeoff between rate and cost based upon credit score, where until recently, as long as you staggered over the line into qualification, you'd get the same rates and costs as King Midas.

The last things I will mention that will stand you in good stead are also optional: An educated layperson's knowledge of the process (I would like to think being a regular reader here will help with that), a investigative attitude, and the willingness to shop effectively for services, both loan and real estate. There seems to be popular resistance to this, but getting a good buyer's agent will not only save your backside, it'll make a real difference to the quality of the property you end up with as well as to how much you pay.

Caveat Emptor

Original here


Many agents seem to answer this question differently depending upon whether their client is the prospective buyer or seller, according to what they think will make the client most comfortable. When their client is making an offer, "No, your deposit could never possibly be at risk," while when their client is evaluating an offer, "And besides, if they renege or can't bring it off, you get to keep the deposit." Both of these are false, misleading, and practicing law without a license.

The cold hard fact is that the deposit is always at risk, but there is absolutely no guarantee that a jilted seller will get it, either. The answer to "Is the deposit at risk?" from a real estate agent can never honestly be anything other than "Yes."

For buyers, the deposit is "at risk." Otherwise, what would be the point of having it? If it couldn't be lost, why would it need to go into escrow? Just to prove the buyer has a couple thousand dollars to their name? I can do that with a Verification of Deposit. The only reason to make a deposit on a purchase offer is that it is at risk, and no listing agent in their right mind is going to accept any purchase offer where there is no deposit - even if the buyer is doing a "one dollar down" VA loan. That seller is risking a minimum of a full month of all carrying costs (usually much more) upon your representation that you want the property, and they are entitled to keep your deposit if certain conditions are met. For sellers, no you don't automatically get the deposit if the buyer flakes out. There are burdens upon you and your agent, and contingencies, aka escape clauses for the buyer, built right into the purchase contract. You don't want to allow those clauses, that's your choice, but you'll severely restrict the number of people willing to make offers as well as the price you will actually get. Even if the seller negotiates the payment of the deposit to them as part of the contract, the buyers can still sue to get it back. This is the real world and an offer is being made with real money and real consequences to that money. If you're unable to come to terms with that fact, stay a renter, because that fact is not going to change. For agents, if the only way you can make a sale is to misrepresent the deposit, it doesn't take a great fortune teller to see a courtroom in your future.

For buyer clients, I can do a lot to keep a deposit from being forfeit - any agent and loan officer can. Get out in front of all the contingency issues and any other reason that my client might decide they don't want to purchase the property, and get them dealt with right away, during the contingency period. Loan, appraisal, inspection, I want them all done before their contingency expires, or at the absolute minimum, a loan commitment with contingencies I'm certain we can meet. As of this writing, I have not yet lost any buyer deposit money. Nonetheless, since no agent can honestly guarantee the deposit will not be lost, I cannot and will not pretend that I'm some kind of exception to the law. The only way I could make such a guarantee is by putting up my own money as a surety, and if my client lost a deposit for a reason that was in any way my fault, I hope I would reimburse them (Until it happens and I'm facing an actual choice, there's no way to be certain). But it's not my investment, and if the investment succeeds, I'm not going to share in the proceeds (I'm given to understand that's illegal, at least in California), and one of the essential, unchangeable facts about investment is that there is no such thing as a risk free investment. If you don't understand this, any money or assets you may have can be considered a temporary thing, and you have no business in a profession with responsibility for other people's money. Anyone willing to say that there is no risk is either a fool or a crook. Nor is it likely your agent or anyone will reimburse you, especially for situations beyond their control, or if you misrepresent your situation or miss deadlines.

For listing clients, the same thing applies: Get what I need to done right away, and keep after that buyer's agent to remove contingencies in a timely fashion. If they won't remove contingencies when they are supposed to be removed, it tells me all I need to know. It's my client's call, but I know what my recommendation is going to be. I want the transaction to work, but I also want my client to get that money if it doesn't. Incidentally, Deposit issues are one reason of many that nobody should ever be willing to accept dual agency.

The bottom line is like something out of quantum physics: Schrodinger's Cat. Ideally, you want the sale to go through and record and for everybody to be happy because it all turned out exactly as agreed. Unfortunately, that's not perfectly predictable or knowable in advance. If it was, no real estate transaction would ever blow up, and the deposit would not be an issue. There are laws and procedures, and things agreed to in the purchase contract, that you have to be a real estate lawyer to offer an informed opinion about, and the judge, arbitrator, or whatever making the decision to make a definitive ruling. Escrow has custody of the money, but they're not going to do anything without mutual agreement of the buyer and seller. Either side can potentially decide to be stubborn and force the matter to arbitration, court, or whatever is appropriate, and all the consequent expenses of the legal system (which additional money is also at risk as the usual agreement is that prevailing party is entitled to legal expenses). And the legal system runs in incomprehensible ways for unpredictable reasons - the one thing that seems to be a constant is that if the judge wants the ruling to go a certain way, they can probably find a precedent to justify it if they try.

The point is this: The deposit is at risk. It is not "safe", and it does not necessarily belong to the seller either. Since this is cash, people understand that it is real money, because they had to scrimp, save, and set every single dollar in it aside from other uses, so they get understandably nervous about it. It represents a great vacation, a down payment on a new car, or something else very desirable that they're giving up, and they're putting at risk of forfeiture. Against this, the seller wants it if the transaction fails. There are ways to protect it, and ways to endanger it, and you've got both agents working to their client's advantage. As with any other competitive or potentially competitive situation, that makes the result indefinite until the game is complete. It isn't common in my experience that the deposit is forfeit, but it does happen. And anybody who tells you otherwise is either lying or hopelessly incompetent. Nonetheless, real estate is such a powerful investment that you are well advised to come to terms with the risk, because it's a necessary risk in order to buy real estate.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

For Sale By Owner Issues

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I've been taking a long look at the world of For Sale By Owner and similar concepts lately. With the digital revolution, you always want to be watching the tide to figure out if you're in a business that's about to go the way of milk delivery and diaper service - a few left, but only a tiny fraction of the size they were. Since blogs and online magazines replacing or at least greatly supplementing mainstream journalism is one thing I'm constantly reading about, it might be good information to know if my real career is about to go the way of journalism.

At this point, I'm not worried about needing to change professions. The world of For Sale By Owner (FSBO) does seem to be figuring out the legal ramifications fairly well. There are resources available to get most, if not all, of the legally required disclosures for sellers to avoid future liability to the buyers. I'm going to go on record as believing from the things that I have read and seen that they are not as assiduously practiced as they are by people with real estate agents working for them. Reading the groups, I am seeing all kinds of whining about "Do I have to disclose X?" "Do I really have to disclose Y?" Sometimes, the stuff is minor and inconsequential (leaky toilet, drippy faucet), but a lot of times it's pretty major as well (water leak in/under slab, lead based paint, asbestos, "minor" cracks in the slab). Mind you, I've heard similar whining from real estate agents, particularly new ones. But the real estate agents at least want to be in business (and not sued) for a long professional career with many transactions every year, and so have motivation to disclose everything they find out about, lest one transaction cost them their license. Many individual owners, it seems, even the ones who have been made aware of the legal requirement to disclose, are hoping to get through the one transaction unscathed. After all, they hope they're going to be long gone when the problem crops up. To this, I say, don't count on it, and failure to disclose can often make your legal liability worse than it needs to be.

Needless to say, this is a big "let the buyer beware," when dealing with FSBO properties. You're standing across the table from someone with an immediate motivation to not tell you about whatever metaphorical bodies are buried in the property because once told you may not still want to buy, and most particularly you may wish to reduce your offering price. They have only a hazy motivation to tell you - the indefinite threat of perhaps some legal action sometime in the future, when they may or may not have assets you can even go after. If that doesn't make you uneasy, something is wrong.

One area FSBO is falling short in is picking an appropriate asking price. By the evidence, this is not only lack of information but also homeowner ego speaking here. Some people are not aware of what their home is really worth, or if they are aware then they are ignoring the evidence. Speaking from personal experience, persuading people to put an appropriate asking price on their property is one of the most difficult parts of the listing interview. Also significantly, in the long seller's market we had, many real estate professionals were making a lot of money buying "For Sale By Owner" properties that were under-priced, and immediately "flipping" them for $30,000 to $50,000 profit, often more. Here's the math for a property that sells for $460,000 but should have sold for $500,000: In the latter case, assuming you pay a standard 5%, you paid a $25,000 commission, split between the buying and selling brokers. But you come away with a net that's $15,000 higher. I personally know of several sales where an agent purchasing a FSBO property then sold it again before escrow was even completed for profit of $75,000 or more.

There is still some of that going on, but the problem with most FSBO properties seems to be over-pricing the market, rather than under. Their neighbors house sold for $500,000, and by god they are going to get $525,000. Never mind that the neighbor house has an extra bedroom, an extra bathroom, 800 more square feet, sits on a corner lot that's twice the size, and most importantly, sold when demand was high and supply was low. They are going to get that price, come hell or high water. So they put that out as the asking price, and they wonder why the one or two people to express enough interest to look vanish as soon as they've seen it. The reason is simple: They've priced themselves out of the market. There are better homes to be had for less money. In a fast rising market, this may be a survivable defect. When prices are rising as fast as they were, the market would catch up to anything that was vaguely reasonable. That has changed now. It's bad enough with people who have a real estate agent for their listing. Two of the hardest fights with listing clients in this market are keeping the property priced to the market, and getting them to accept what in today's market is a good offer rather than hoping for previous years' "bigger fool." Seems that most people who don't have an agent are just in denial. There's a FSBO two doors down the block from a corner listing we had where I held an open house. Even with me drawing the traffic to him, he didn't get a single offer because his asking price was too high. That's fine if you would be happy and able to stay if the property doesn't sell. If you're not in that situation, it's not.

Another area where FSBO properties are falling short is in marketing. They've got an internet advertisement and a sign in the yard. Maybe they've got an advertisement in the paper (usually the wrong one), and maybe they are holding open houses. All of these are nice. None of these are optimal. First thing is that internet advertisement you have is often on one site where even internet savvy buyers don't necessarily see it. Even if that is free, it's probably worth money to list on a co-operating network of sites. For Sale By Owner signs in the yard are more bait for agents than a prospective buyer. I'll put a sign out there when I get a listing also - it does catch a few people, and a sign with an agent or broker's name on it keeps other agents from bothering you. But it's a long shot at actually selling the property.

There are places to advertise your property to actually sell it, and there are places where agents advertise their business to attract new clients. Most of the FSBO ads I see seem to be in the latter sort of place. I don't think I recall a "For Sale By Owner" ad in the places where I'd expect it to generate significant actual interest in buying that particular property. There are reasons for this. The ones that are likely to generate interest require more lead time. I don't mind spending the money (especially amalgamating my listing with other listings in the office). Even if it sells before then, it helps the office generate more clients we're going to go out and show similar properties with, and I get a certain proportion of those. But For Sale By Owners tend to balk, as they are thinking one transaction. There are also resources that make an Open House effective, but are not cost effective for somebody looking to sell one house.

Number one resource for actually selling the property is the Multiple Listing Service (MLS). Put it out there where the agents who the buyers come to will see it. My primary specialty is buyer's agent. I know they are ready, willing and able to buy a property. Do I even take them to look at "For Sale By Owner" properties? Not unless I know ahead of time that the seller will pay my commission. Nor does any other buyer's agent I know of. Before you "For Sale By Owner" types start cursing us, remember first, we've got to make a living so we'll be there for the next buyer. Second, we're actually living up to our fiduciary responsibility when we do this, as I've got their signature on a piece of paper that says they'll pay me if you don't. So unless your property is priced far enough under the market to justify the expense on my client's part, your property is not a contender, and I'd better be prepared to justify the expense on my client's part in court, so your under-pricing the market has got to be by more than my commission. Furthermore, going back to legal requirements, I've got to figure that there is a higher than usual chance that the seller will not make all the necessary disclosures, or perhaps won't tell the complete truth and nothing but the truth on them. This puts my clients, and through them, me in a bind: Sure my clients can and will sue you, but if you don't have the money my insurance is likely going to end up paying out, because even though I've done everything I reasonably could have done, you didn't have an agent.

Given that the Multiple Listing Service is far and away the best tool for selling any given property, if you're not on it, you're missing out on buyers. If you don't have a selling agent's commission listed on Multiple Listing Service that is at least what is specified in the default Buyer's Agent Agreement in your area, you are missing out on buyers. If you don't have an agent at all, you are missing more buyers. Because I, like other buyer's agents, want to be certain we're not wasting our time. I've done a real pre-qualification or even a preapproval on my buyers (if the transaction doesn't actually go through, I don't get paid by anyone). Compare that with Mr. P, whom I sent away the night before I finished this essay. He's out there looking at houses he wants to buy, but the fact is that given the situation he should continue renting. A competent loan officer such as myself who was less ethical could maybe get him the loan anyway, or maybe not. It would certainly be an uphill fight. So he's out low-balling "For Sale By Owner" properties on his own today. The one who's desperate enough to sell at that price needs the transaction done with the first buyer who comes along, and is going to spend at least a month finding out there's only a small chance of the transaction actually going through, a month that they likely don't have to spare. The other For Sale By Owners are likely to get mightily annoyed with him, but he's the customer they're most likely to get.

There are also issues of timeliness and context and negotiations to consider. Putting your property on the market for the wrong price is a recipe for disaster, because by the time you figure out that the buyers aren't interested at that price, your "days on market" counter is so high that they're not interested, period. Agents know - because they're dealing with the issues all the time - what is a good response in this situation to a given event, and the good ones understand a lot more about keeping negotiations appropriate, so as not to lose what really is a good offer.

Caveat Emptor (and Vendor)

Original here

First of all I love the information on the site. I've done some research into buying a home and have talked to several people who have bought homes and I can never believe the stories I've heard. My response is always "why didn't you just walk out . . it's only a $2000 deposit . . . you're paying that in the first year with the difference in interest you are getting now" but after reading your site it seems to me you would have to get lucky to find a good mortgage broker and get a good loan where what you are told is what you get. The rule seems to be if you want a house "getting screwed" is just a part of the process. In this market (DELETED) you would need to be especially lucky to find someone who is willing to be honest . . . it's a risk and, again, it seems to me being honest is will just lead all clients to the fibbers who, frankly, tell people what they want to hear.

Anyway, back in May 2003 I was looking for a house and a friend of mine was looking to invest $70,000 (that he got from another land sale) so he wouldn't have to pay taxes on it. We ended up buying a $150,000 home where I live now. By "we", I mean "he" because my name couldn't be on the loan for tax purposes (at least that's what they told us . . . it's hard to get good information). And, I know, I know, I have no rights and he can do whatever he wants and I understand that. If anything I've had a place to live where the rent was relatively low (but it sucks that I didn't get a house when they were affordable). I've been living in this house and paying the mortgage for more than 3 years now. I'm in a much better financial situation now and I'd like to buy the house from him. He also has another $70,000 from another land sale (I'm not sure of the details but suffice to say he is thinking about paying off the mortgage). Anyway, once all this happens I want to buy the house from him at a price way below market (similar houses are now around $300,000 but there is no way I'm paying $300,000 when I could have gotten it for $150,000 when I moved in). My question is: can a seller also be a lender? Where do I start? I've talked to a few people and they won't touch it . . . in fact, they have no advice whatsoever beside for me to move out and get my own house (which they would be happy to help me with). What are the tax implications of all this?

Thanks again.

If it was inevitable that you would get screwed as part of doing a real estate transaction, most of the information on this website would be useless and pointless. Furthermore, if it was inevitable, I'm not certain it would be appropriate to call it "getting screwed," if it happened on every transaction - it would simply be the way things are. But that is not the case - better outcomes are possible, and not uncommon. What I'm trying to do here is give folks the tools to get correct relevant information, make rational informed choices, find honest competent service providers (it is not as difficult as I may make it seem sometimes, but neither is it easy!), and in general have a better outcome, which is the target you really want to hit. How much effort you want to spend is up to the individual reader. If you want to do only the easiest and most basic items, it should still make a significant difference. If you want to go whole hog, you should see much larger benefits.

Now, as to your specific situation, here are the issues I see:

First off, I have never heard of a situation where you cannot be on the title "for tax purposes." The only tax purposes that would serve is allowing the other person to get the entire deduction, which he would anyway from being the only person on the loan. As soon as the loan is recorded, there is no reason why there could not have been a quitclaim from him to him and you (in whatever manner you desired to hold it, most likely tenants in common in this case). This would have started the clock on having you on title, and since you cannot refinance for cash out within six months of having your name put on title via quitclaim, this constrains your options as well as putting you at your friend's mercy. You may have been paying the mortgage, but even if you can prove it this is unlikely to give you any legal rights if your friend decides not to play it straight. That's what I'm told anyway - talk to a lawyer in your state to be certain.

The next issue, relatively minor, is that you have no verifiable history of paying either rent or mortgage payments at this point. Those checks you have been writing to pay the mortgage in your friend's name? Well, that mortgage is being reported as paid, but your name is not on it. Rent? Not there either.

However, assuming this really is a friend who intends to play it straight with you, this situation is very workable. If it was someone who wanted to work you over, you would be well and truly hosed. You bought for $150,000, of which your friend furnished $70k. The loan for the remainder that you have been paying for sure looks like your contribution to me! By my reading, this makes him approximately 7/15ths owner, and you 8/15ths, but if your friend has been playing it straight, he's done you a pretty big favor not just by tying up his money in the down payment, but by allowing his credit to be used for your loan. This has effects on his debt to income ratio if he wants another loan, among other things. I wouldn't mind ceding him a larger share of ownership were I in your shoes.

Whatever the amounts of ownership you agree upon, however, you are also going to need to agree on a method for valuation. Assuming you're not actually going to sell the property (in which case the net sale price would be the value) I'd probably agree to something like the average of a Comparative Market Analysis of sold properties in your area, and an appraisal. Appraisals are not what you could get on the market in the current conditions, and don't try to think that they are, but both measurements can be manipulated. Pay for each of them in equal shares. As compared to each of your investments, it's small potatoes, and a worthwhile guard.

You have an agreed valuation, and an agreed upon share of ownership. Out of that, you currently have a loan on your share, but that should probably be your issue, not the partnership's. So from that, you can figure what your friend's current share of ownership is, and therefore what he is due upon buy out. You should still have a pretty good ownership equity, roughly $80,000 by the rough amounts and ownership shares in the previous paragraph. So you need to come up with about $80,000 to pay off the current loan, plus about $140,000 (again, by the computations as to ownership share above, subject to revision per your agreement) to pay off your friend. Total owed: $220,000.

Your friend actually want to go from owner to lender, and I don't know of anything wrong with that, although in all truth I've never encountered it before in this context (seller carrybacks happen all the time in this market). Furthermore, he wants to invest an additional $70,000 in being the lender. Whereas this will not qualify for 1031 tax deferred treatment as far as I can see (consult a tax professional), this means you are going to have two loans on the property, one from a regular lender, and one from your friend. The specifics of this are difficult to see without more information, and shopping your situation around (I'm not licensed in your state, so I can't put my wholesalers through that for no potential pay off!). It could well be that your friend's loan ends up in second position, but it strikes me as more likely appropriate for a first, as the guidelines for Home Equity Loans and Home Equity Lines of Credit are more likely to have this whole situation be acceptable to your lender for the balance.

As to the structure of the transaction, it's going to look like a sale, but don't expect real estate agents to want to work through that without a commission, which you are probably not going to want to pay, because all of the hard work to the transaction is kind of irrelevant in your case. On the other hand, good loan officers do these all the time. However, the commission structure for Home Equity Loans and Lines of Credit leaves them not making a whole lot of money unless you agree to pay them a flat fee for going through all of this, and for all the times I tell people that transactions aren't as difficult as some loan providers would have you believe, this is a very difficult transaction. I normally work on less than one point of total compensation for loans but I'd probably want to see about $6000 in order to put this transaction through, and that's if everything else is perfect. I don't know about your state's predatory lending law (most states have one, limiting total loan costs to a certain percentage of the loan), which may well prevent them from getting paid enough to make the transaction worthwhile for them. By comparison, on a loan of about $80,000 plus transaction costs, which is what the computations above suggest, California's predatory lending law limits total cost of the loan (and also total lender compensation via another law) to $4800. In most cases, direct lenders can basically ignore this by jacking the rate up so that they can sell the loan for more on the secondary market, but brokers cannot. And whereas that's way more than plenty in most situations, in this case it is not.

On top of everything else, this is a related party transaction. You are effectively selling from a partnership to one of the partners. That is going to mandate shopping lenders not only for price, but for willingness to do the transaction based upon the situation.

When I first wrote this, the loan was difficult but possible in that way. Today, I wouldn't even try without an upfront compensation agreement. You're going to need a very flexible lender. A paper Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac is right out, and due to changes in the market flexibility in lending standards is mostly a thing of the past. I might be able to find a portfolio lender that'll do it, or maybe not. We are going to have to document an awful lot of stuff, and there are a number of points on which the loan can fall apart. You're also probably going to want this to be a short term loan without a pre-payment penalty, so that you can refinance after you've been on title six months or so, because you'll be able to get a better rate then (unless rates have skyrocketed). All this stuff adds to the complexity, and whether the loan will get funded or not is not something I can control by paying attention to underwriting guidelines like I can in other cases. This requires a lender who's willing to issue some waivers and exceptions, and I might have to submit this loan several times to different lenders over a period of months before it actually funds. That's probably the reason nobody wants it: They can't get paid enough to make it worthwhile. The predatory lending law may have good intentions, but in this particular case it's making life difficult for the consumer because brokers and correspondents can't get paid enough to make it worth their while, and any given direct lender (especially the ones that consumers see, which tend strongly toward the A paper cookie cutter loan tailored to the pickiest of secondary market guidelines) is unlikely to have sufficiently flexible guidelines. You could go to a hard money lender, of course, but those rates are about fourteen percent or so, which causes most consumers to say, "Never mind!"

There is one other alternative. He could use that cash to buy you out, at which point he is left with basically his current loan, and I think this might even qualify for 1031 deferral (but consult a qualified tax professional before doing anything). If he can't rent it out for enough to have a positive cash flow under those circumstances, something is very badly wrong. He verifies that you've been paying rent/mortgage/whatever, and away you go with $70,000 or so in your pocket and all the leverage a qualified buyer has in a very strong buyer's market, and yours becomes a very easy transaction. I think you could do very well for yourself, given what little I know of your particular market at this point in time.

Caveat Emptor

Original here


I got this email the other day, responding to one of my Hot Bargain Properties posts on my other site:


I am currently working with a coworker with no agreement. However, she has offered to rebate 50% of her commission. Are you negotiable with your commission?

I am very ready to buy a place at a bargain or discounted price. I have been pre approved by DELETED for $550 but I do not want to spend more than $525, preferably around the $450 range.

I have sufficient liquid funds for 10% down and have an excellent credit score...score 3 months ago was 752.

Let me know.

I do have lower cost and commission rebate packages for when buyers bring me transactions that have the property at least settled upon. The reason is that not only is there much less work to be done done, but I'm providing a lot less value in those circumstances. I'm not going out and going over dozens of properties, eliminating eighty percent of them before taking them around to see the good stuff. I'm not doing background checks on all those properties, looking for issues. At the point that the property is settled on, at least half of the value a good buyer's agent brings in is already moot. We've already dealt with the issue of which property (or properties) are worthy of making an offer on. Now we're down to negotiations, where I still provide a lot of value, facilitation of the transaction, which any real estate agent worthy of their license can do, and looking out for problems, which starts earlier when I'm locating the property, but when you have title companies and building inspectors and appraisers getting into the act and getting paid, it becomes easy. It's no longer a matter of spotting the issue before an offer is made, it's a matter of dealing with the issue if and when it pops up. Much easier, much less time consuming, and much less liability on my part. When you've decided to make an offer before I even come into the picture, there is no issue with whether my representations caused you to make an offer on the property when you would not otherwise have done so. I haven't been sued yet, but that's the number one cause of real estate lawsuits. Sometimes it's an unscrupulous agent telling the folks that the airport is going to close, but sometimes it's also people who think the agent said something they did not in fact say, and sometimes it's people who make something up due to buyer's remorse. If you've already decided to make an offer, that whole issue is gone. Liability? Much less. Amount of work done and time invested? Way less. Amount of value provided to buyers? Also much lower. So yes, I'll work for less in those situations.

When I'm responsible for finding the property, I retain the entire commission.

Yes, consumers getting half the buyer's agent commission seems like a good idea on the face of it. One to 1.5 percent of a purchase price in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. But how much value do those agents really provide? Consider: Did that agent find them something as interesting as the property they emailed me on? If the agent they were working with was finding them properties like that, there would be no need and no interest in working with me, and they wouldn't be asking about this property I found. If that agent spent enough time shopping the market that she even knows what is and is not a bargain, this person would never have contacted me. Does she look for problems and issues or does she just say "Here is the living room," and try to talk you into making an offer on every property? What value is that other agent providing you? If the answer is, "not much," then no wonder she's willing to rebate half the commission! As far as she's concerned, the half she does keep is free money for going around and looking with you. My goal is that my clients end up with at least 10% they would not have had without me - either a better property for the same money, or the same value property for a lower price, or some combination of the two. Now, if getting half of a two point five percent commission via rebate sounds better than saving 10% of the value of the property, or getting a property 10% more valuable for the same price, by all means keep shopping agents who rebate commission. If getting a property that is worth more, or paying less for the same property, is what you are after, you need someone who is likely to deliver that, and those discounters business model does not allow them to invest the time and energy to do so. Quite frankly, if they don't make a habit of it, they aren't likely to have the necessary expertise, even if they wanted to.

You may ask about how this squares with my attitude about loans. Yes, I'm one of the deepest loan discounters there is. That's because a loan is a loan is a loan, as long as it's on the same terms, and most folks qualify for better loans than they get. A thirty year fixed from National Megabank is the same loan as a thirty year fixed from the Bank of Nowhere in Particular, provided the rate, costs, and terms are the same. Only difference is who you make the check out to.

Real estate is on the polar opposite end of that scale. No two properties are alike. Especially in the current market, the difference between shopping smart and not doing so is multiple tens of thousands of dollars, far more than a commission rebate. I don't rebate buyer's commissions because I provide more than that in value. In my estimation, and that of the people who are working with me, it's money well spent. You get what you pay for.

Good buyers agents make a habit of looking for real bargains, whether or not they have a client it's appropriate for. It's called market knowledge. With market knowledge, a good agent can not only identify the ones that are bargains, you are able to negotiate better terms on those bargains. Good buyer's agents usually have bargains they know about that they just haven't found the appropriate client for yet. If you'd like to work with them and get shown these bargains, or have them go looking for bargains specifically for you, there is a price to be paid, and that price is that they make a little more money than the do-nothing discounter. You don't pay it, at least not directly, the listing agent does, and through them, the seller. If you believe that the final price might be somewhat higher to reflect that, you would have some justice on your side, provided you don't consider the value in locating the bargain property, the value in negotiating for a better price, and the value in avoiding problems before they happen, or dealing with them in initial negotiations rather than at the end of escrow. If you don't see the value, then not only are you saying that you don't see the solution, but that you don't understand that there is an issue. This indicates someone on the first level of competence: The unconscious incompetent. Not only do you not know how to do it, you don't realize that there is acquired knowledge and acquired skill involved.

Now a good agent who knows they provide value should have no difficulties asking only for a non-exclusive buyer's agent contract. if you don't like what that agent does, if you do not agree that there is value in that agent's approach, this leaves you free to stop working with them at any time and go work with someone else. If the agent doesn't perform, as in find and deliver a property that you agree is more "bang for the buck" than you would otherwise have gotten, by all means go work with the bump on a log who splits the buyer's commission with you.

If you want a Yugo agent that breaks down in the middle of the transaction and leaves you stranded, that's no skin off my nose, but you are not the client I'm looking for and the bargains I find are for my clients. I am neither obligated nor inclined to share them with people who want to use some other agent. Go find them yourself if you don't think I'm providing value. Just the knowledge that something like that is available should be a large amount of help. But if you can't, perhaps you might consider that perhaps I might be providing a certain amount of real value for my pay?

Very few people reading this are likely to be receiving minimum wage for their employment. If you are not prepared to concede that it is possible for more skilled, more knowledgeable people to deliver a more valuable product, whether that product is service or commodity, what possible justification do you have in making more than minimum wage? For that matter, unless you are one of those people whose work has to be done on site, why isn't your job being done by some subsistence level worker in a Fifth World hellhole? Even if we limit ourselves in the application of this principle to qualified and licensed people here in the United States, my guess is that your boss could probably hire other people to do your job more cheaply, but his additional investment in you probably makes him more money than that cheap replacement worker would save, and that's the reason you are worthy of your pay. This very same reason is why I am also worthy of my pay.

By the characteristics they are claiming, the person with the email at the top of the article is a very qualified buyer. Don't you think that should be working with someone who knows how to use that as leverage to get them a better bargain? Suppose they weren't so qualified. Don't you think it might be in their best interest to have an agent who knows how to structure a transaction so that it can work, and can help avoid wasting time and money on properties and transactions where it can't and sellers who do not have the option of working with them in the requisite way?

Or you can pay full price for a mediocre property, and console yourself with a rebate for much smaller amount of cash, that when you consider the entire situation, is a fraction of the money that came out of your pocket but didn't have to. Pay too much, and get a check back for at most a fifth of it in cash. Sound like a good deal to you? Maybe you didn't pay cash for the property, but then you've got a loan, and you paid additional fees based upon the size of that loan, and interest because you borrowed that money, and more in property taxes because you paid more than you should have. All of this eats away at money you would otherwise have in your pocket and equity that you would otherwise have in the property. Just because there's no explicit dollar figure on it doesn't make it any less real. How would you feel about writing a check drawn directly on your net worth for some unknown amount? Not so hot? That's what you are doing by using some bump on a log discounter who basically allows you to keep a percentage of what they provided no real value to earn. This is one of the largest transactions of your life. Scrimping on the compensation of the person who has the knowledge and skills to save you many times what they cost is almost as intelligent as OJ Simpson hiring a cheap lawyer. Even though I hope that you haven't been accused of murder, using a less skillful agent means you wasted money. Even though that's not a crime and you did it to yourself, it's still nothing beneficial to your overall financial picture.

Caveat Emptor

Original here


No, I'm not a David Letterman watcher, for reasons having to do with turning into a pumpkin before his show starts. I'm going to treat it a little more seriously than he does, as this is a serious subject, but I'll do my best to inject a little humor into it.

10. Surrounding Environment - These are environmental factors arising from areas beyond your property, and therefore, beyond your immediate control. Freeway noise 24/7, being downwind of a hog or chicken farm, being next door to a strip club with a huge neon sign constantly flashing, "LIVE NUDE GIRLS" - all of these and many more neighborhood factors can prevent people from even looking at your property. They see what's around it, and decide they're not interested in living there, or that the investment potential for the property is limited (to be charitable). The only real way to fix problems of this nature is not to buy the property in the first place. Look at all of the issues. Just because it doesn't bother you now doesn't mean it won't bother prospective purchasers later. Blame your buyer's agent. If you didn't have a buyer's agent, that leaves only one candidate for blame. You'll find them hanging around any mirror you might check.

9 HOA: This is closely related to surrounding environment, and condos and PUDs are the poster children of what a lot of people don't want. People want the property to be theirs to do with as they please. It's a sad fact of life that in an increasing number of places, they are going to be disappointed because they can't afford anything without a homeowner's association. Homeowner's Asssociations really are a good guardian of property values, but they have a tendency to give way to much power to the busybody and the would-be dictator. Unfortunately for a lot of people, the newer developments they crave all have homeowner's associations because while everyone knows that they personally can be trusted to maintain the property, those horrible neighbors who can't be trusted won't trust them. Unfortunately, the only way to appeal to people who don't want an HOA is not to have an HOA. Once again, blame the buyer's agent that "helped" with your purchase.

8. Zoning: Zoning restrictions, lot constraints, etcetera are all parts of this category. If you've got a two bedroom property and setback requirements keep you from building a third bedroom, your property is not likely to appeal to people who need a three bedroom place to live in. Once again, the only way to fix this issue is not to buy where it is an issue. Over-restrictive zoning is a real economic problem for a lot of reasons, but while people like to be able to cause everyone else in the neighborhood problems by not having enough parking for their apartment house or mini-dorm, they don't want everybody else turning the tables and causing them problems. Yeah, maybe you can get the zoning changed sometimes - but that's not the way to bet.

7. Schools: If you buy in an area that includes the right to attend a great public school, that's a gift you give yourself that keeps on giving, at least until the neighborhood starts voting against additional property tax bonds. Or if you can cause a school that heretofore taught only "hanging out with a GPS tracker on your ankle," to start teaching the kids some economically desirable skills, you can expect a windfall in the form of property value. I think that shackling kids to a particular neighborhood public school is slow motion suicide for society, but evidently at least fifty percent plus one of teacher's unions feel it's beneficial to getting union leaders more money and power. Once again, this is just a fact of life, and once you have bought a particular property, you're locked into whatever the local educational insanity might be.

6. Clutter: If you're tripping over knick-knacks, carnivorous house plants, and cannot eat meals as a family because the table is six feet deep in stuff, it would be a real good idea to do something about it. There are a lot of easy options here: Trash, charity, storage rental, loan or give it to some family member who's not trying to sell their house. If you're trying to sell, engrave the saying, "A place for everything and everything in its place" upon your soul for the duration. If there's any doubt as to whether you need it in your day to day life, the place for it is "elsewhere." If the place is so full of your stuff, people worry about whether there's going to be room for their stuff. Believe me when I tell you I understand how difficult this is: I've got two young kids and two dogs, all four of which are highly efficient entropy generators, but getting clutter under control and keeping it there is critical to selling for a good price.

5. Staging: Absolutely empty is better than "chock full of clutter," but then people wonder how their stuff would fit. I still have trouble believing this one, but I have to admit the facts. Most people have a hard time picturing their couch and their TV in the living room. A small amount of furniture gives them a reference point, scale, and a starting point for their mental decoration. It helps them figure out how their stuff is going to fit. A bare minimum of vanilla furniture shows better than even a vacant, empty property. Even most stagers seem to want to put too much stuff in the place, for some reason. Seriously, keep it to a bare minimum. A bed in the bedroom, a couch in the living room, a dining set in the dining room. Maybe one nightstand in the master bedroom, a coffee table and placeholder for the TV in the living room. That's it. If the place is not vacant, and you are still living there, that's still the target you should aim at. If you don't absolutely have to have it every day, get it out of there. This especially applies to family heirlooms, anything expensive, and anything irreplaceable. Get. It. Out. People want to be able to see their stuff in the place, and they can't do that if there's too much of yours. By the way, this applies to you, too, at least while prospective buyers are looking at it. Don't follow them around your property like you're worried they're going to steal the silverware. Get out. If there's anything you're worried about them stealing, get it out also, and keep it out until the property is sold. For everything else, your listing agent should have a record of who has been in the property, and you should be insured even if you're not trying to sell the property.

4. Condition Is it clean? Is it neat? Is it attractive? Here's an example for you: Carpet is at most $40 per square yard, installed, with a good pad. If you've got a hundred square yards of carpet that needs to be replaced, call it $4000. Not replacing it will probably cost you at least $10,000 on the sales price. More likely double that, and it'll take longer to sell and you'll end up giving a carpet allowance to your buyers out of what you do get. Dirty floors, chipped tiles, all that stuff is unbelievably costly not to fix. Believe me, I understand what a pain it is. My newest family member loved to chew drywall when she was a puppy. It costs far less to fix it yourself than you're going to have to give up to sell the property. Get a cleaning service in if you don't want to scrub everything yourself. It's stupid, but opening the blinds or drapes so that prospective buyers see all that light as they're walking in is worth serious cash, not to mention much broader interest. The point is this: Many prospective buyers have the imagination of a rock, and their agent isn't any better, because they don't want to say anything that would give the people they're supposed to be helping (but aren't) grounds to sue. You can choose to market only to the people who are visualization's answer to Albert Einstein, but it really does narrow your potential market, and hence, cost you money and time (and therefore more money) when you're trying to sell.

3. Showing Restrictions: If people can't see your property when they have the time, they're not going to make an offer on it. Cold hard fact. Since the time of highest interest is the first few days its on the market, if you haven't gotten an offer withing thirty days, not only is something wrong but it's cost you some serious cash in the form of lowered selling price. Showing instructions are easy to fix. "Just go!" is absolutely the best, but (unless you're an international supermodel), prospective buyers don't want to catch you in the shower or in bed any more than you want to be caught there. One bad experience in this area is all any agent needs, and I've had mine (believe me, you don't want details). Asking for a few minutes notice so you can evacuate is reasonable. Telling prospective buyers to avoid a time slot is also reasonable. But the more restrictions you put on showing, the more likely it will be that you've raised the cost for viewing your property too high. Asking for four hour notice - let alone 24 - is almost guaranteed to prevent prospective buyers from viewing your property. And if someone does ask that far in advance, for crying out loud get back with them and be as accommodating as you possibly can. I actually laid out a trip "day before" last week, and of the seven people who wanted advance notice, precisely one got back to me. That gives me quite a bit of information as to how interested they really were in selling the property, which is to say, not very. Even if you don't really care if the property sells, act like you do.

2. Price: I really hope you weren't expecting this to be number one. Buyers choose properties to look at based upon asking price. They choose which property to make an offer on based upon how well your property compares to others of similar asking price. If your property is clearly outclassed by properties of equivalent asking price, you're doomed. It is to be noted that just about every sin in the list is forgivable if the price is low enough, but the more sins there are, and the worse the violation, the lower the sales price is going to be, and most of the rational world wants the highest possible net from the sale. Trying to make believe that any problems that exist aren't there will only prevent the property from selling at all.

1. The Agent Plain and simple, you've chosen a bad one. Either they don't market the property effectively, they don't explain how things work to you, they make it difficult for other agents to show the property, they discourage offers represented by other agents, they don't return phone calls, they evidence a bad attitude, they're using your property to troll for buyer clients and don't want it to actually sell - the list goes on and on. They're effectively raising the price to make an offer on your property. Just because you've signed a listing agreement doesn't mean you're on cruise control. You need to monitor agent performance. At least, if you want to know whether they are performing or not. Are they forwarding all offers? Are they discouraging people from making offers because that offer might mean they don't get a kickback? All of these sins and many others really do happen.


Bonus Super Deluxe Reason. Homeowner Attitude About sixty percent of all listings I read leave me with one very strongly negative conclusion: That the owner of this property does not really want to sell. Maybe it's the agent's fault in some cases, but if you won't find - or pay attention to - an agent who won't tell you unpleasant truths, you're hurting only yourself. I tell my buyer clients that there is no such thing as a perfect property, but the same warning is equally important to sellers. There is no such thing as a perfect property, and acting like you own one is a great way to drive buyers and their agents off. You are not doing buyers a favor by putting your property on the market. You have real estate, the most illiquid investment there is, you want the cash those buyers have, and you're not going to get it by giving them reasons why you're too difficult to do business with. If you didn't want what buyers have (cash), you wouldn't have the property on the market. Buyers, their agents, anybody who comes to look at that property is helping you get what you want. I believe that people who look at the property you're trying to sell are doing you a favor. Even if they just want to look at it, in the middle of the best seller's market there has ever been. If the property doesn't show, you won't get offers - guaranteed. If you don't get offers, you are highly unlikely to consummate a successful sale. The property is only worth what someone is willing to offer for it - end of discussion. If the most you can get someone to offer is thirty-nine cents, that's what it's worth. You can choose to sell, or not to sell, for that price, but trying to tell yourself or anyone else that the property is "worth $400,000" when nobody is making offers that high is a waste of energy, and quite likely, of a buyer and an offer that really are offering the best you're likely to get.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

In many transactions when I originally wrote this, the buyer has absolutely no money, or an amount that was not sufficient to pay the costs that they would traditionally be expected to pay in order to close the transaction. Today, unless they're eligible for a VA loan, there is no such thing as a "no down payment" loan, but the trick is to stretch the cash they do have to make the transaction work. In a buyer driven market, often the seller still wants to do business with them.

The usual way it's handled is in Seller Paid Closing Costs. The Seller gives the buyer an allowance to cover their share of the costs

Lenders have become somewhat tolerant of the practice, at least so long as the appraisal comes in at or above the official sale price. Many of them were starting to revert to the treatment this trick traditionally got, which is to say, if the sale price included a rebate to the buyer, then the sale price as far as the lender was concerned was the official price less the rebate. In other words, seller's net. Remember, lenders value real estate the same as accountants, on the LCM principal - Lesser of Cost (which is to say purchase price) or market (which is to say the appraised value). If the seller is giving the buyer money back, then the official price listed on the transaction isn't really the price, is it? Do advertisers tease you with the gross price of stereo or computer gear before the rebate, or the net price after the rebate? Same principle here. The lenders traditionally took this stance, although it has been more relaxed in the highly competitive lender's market of late, and although they were starting to change back, the dearth of qualified buyers with extra cash has made them reconsider that. The lenders are (typically) not going to lend more money than the lesser of those the two variables, cost and market, and they will base the loan parameters on whichever is less. You can always buy a house for more money than the value, as long as you have the cash to make up the difference.

The Sellers get their house sold. That and the ego thing of the official sale price seem to be the benefits to them. I would certainly rather sell for the seller's net in the first place, if I'm a seller, without an allowance, because I have to pay commission on that higher amount. A $10,000 allowance (as has become common here) costs the seller $700 to $800 or so in increased costs - agents commissions, title insurance, escrow fees, transfer taxes - even if the sale price is $10,000 higher because of it. This is neglecting the potential effects of taxes due to exceeding the $250,000 (or $500,000) maximum gain exemption from the IRS code Section 121. I recommend against it for sellers unless there is a substantial deposit, as it is often indicative of a not very qualified buyer. Even then, it's a real good idea to talk to your tax person. Furthermore, with the lenders in full blown panic right now, the only loans being accepted with little or no down are VA and FHA, both of which carry government guarantees. VA can do true 100% financing, but buyers eligible for VA are uncommon. For FHA, the zero down enabling down payment assistance programs are dead, but having 4-6% down for an FHA loan is a lot easier than 10%+ for anything conventional.

The Buyers get a deal, or so it appears at first blush. A piece of property without having to save for closing costs. When I originally wrote this, in many cases they didn't have to put a penny down, either. Pretty cool, eh? Get a house and actually skip a month of writing a check (due to the allowance covering prepaid interest), so effectively putting cash in your pocket. Keep in mind, however, that a competently advised seller is going to inflate the sales price to match, where (if they were smart) they would rather have accepted the net sales price without rebate. Furthermore, at least here in California, property taxes are based upon official original sales price, so you'll be paying for it as long as you own the property. Finally, because your purchase price, and therefore your loan, is going to be higher, your payment is going to be higher, you'll pay higher loan costs every time you refinance, and your eventual net on the property will be lower. If it is the only way to get into the property, and the deal otherwise makes sense, that's fine - but don't kid yourself that you got free money. Chances are that you're going to pay far more than the amount of any allowance because you got it.

If it's bad for the seller, bad for the buyer, and risky for the lender, why does it keep happening so much?

Well, it's a sale for sellers. The property has now been disposed off. It's also an ego defense for sellers. Instead of $470,000, they can tell everyone they got $480,000. So long as they don't mention the allowance, it sounds like a far better price to their friends, family, and soon to be ex-neighbors. In short, bragging rights. Buyers, it gets them into the property, formerly often without coming up with a penny in cash and still allowing them to save one month's rent or payment, effectively putting cash in their pocket. Mind you, that unwillingness is going to be costing money for as long as they own the property, but that's their choice.

Real Estate and Mortgage folks, get bigger commissions. $10,000 in sales price gets translated to $100 per 1 percent of commission. This is anywhere from an extra $100 to an extra $300 or $400 for each of the offices, buyer's, seller's, and loan. Furthermore, I know of loan agents who extract larger commissions because "it's such a hard loan." It does make the loan harder, but not by another point of origination's worth. Wouldn't you like to have extra money for essentially the same work? I assure you that your average real estate agent and loan officer are no different than most folks.

These days, the spoke in the wheel that prevents this from happening is usually the appraisal. With Home Valuation Code of Conduct, most agents in most transactions no longer have the option of steering business to the appraiser who will inflate value as much as possible. I'm not having problems on my purchase money transactions because if appraised value isn't likely to be there, I advise my clients of that fact. But it's putting a real crimp on the transaction mills.

There is nothing wrong with the practice of seller paid closing costs, so long as everybody knows what's going on. But it's certainly not something you want to do if you have a choice.

Caveat Emptor

Original here


As with anything you find on the internet, the critical thing to keep in mind with internet real estate is that it is subject to input control. In plain English, you only see what they want you to see. If they don't want you to see it, it's not going to be put into the internet so that you can see it there. The vast majority of the time, there is no check upon this simple fact of life. If the owner or listing agent don't want you to see something, it's not going to be available to you on the internet. You're going to have to get out and look at the actual property.

What is put onto the internet is a representation. It could be a good accurate representation or it could be an intentionally distorted representation. The online information is never all there is to see. Kind of like a facade - front facade, back facade, and now, internet facade. Online pictures, home for sale websites, virtual tours - they're all subject to any number of tricks that alter how the property is perceived.

You should never put an offer in without having looked at the property in person. I'm very good at what I do as a buyer's agent. Nonetheless, it is most disconcerting on those rare occasions when someone sounds like they might be intending to put an offer in without looking at it themselves in the flesh. Since I originally wrote this article, I have now done so - very successfully according to the family I did it for - but it was a very special set of circumstances and even so I was so nervous I couldn't sleep until they did manage to make another trip to physically see it. I have had to talk other people out of doing this. There is no such thing as a perfect property, and it's very difficult to point out all of the things I believe buyers need to be aware of when they're not there to see me point.

A lot of the most important things are never online. Even if there is a floor plan (rare), it's very difficult for people who are only looking on-line to get a good grasp of internal sight lines. It's also very hard to convey the full sense of the external environment. What can you see? What do you hear? Are there other environmental distractions? Do airplanes fly right over the house on departure when the wind changes? What's the neighborhood like, are there any obviously disturbed neighbors, what are traffic patterns like, how close and how good is freeway access, where is (are) your grocery store(s), and anything else that might be important to you? How accessible is the neighborhood via public transport? Note that some of these questions are double edged swords by definition. Public transport means your friends who don't have a car can get there, as well as making any public transport excursions you may have need far more bearable - but public transport is also a common conduit for undesirable visitors.

Nor can you really only visit one or two properties. The key to relative value is how the various properties on the market compare to each other, and that includes that whole list in the previous paragraph. No matter how much you make, if you figure you're going to visit an absolute minimum of ten properties before you put in any offers, the probability is pretty much 100 percent you'll end up glad you did.

The internet can profitably be used to narrow your search, by throwing out all of the obviously unsuitable properties. Doesn't have what you need? Asking price way too high? From the pictures, there's no way your family could live there? There's no reason to waste time and gas going to see those properties. You still need to go out and look at not only the properties that are left, but enough properties to give them context. I don't know how often I've heard from people who only wanted to view one property, but in such cases it always seems to be a property I wouldn't buy if the owners paid me to take it off their hands.

The internet can also make it easy to find properties to look at. It certainly beats driving around all the neighborhoods you might like to live in trying to find "For Sale" signs. But it cannot replace physically going to look at properties that might fit the bill. If you're short on time, might I suggest a buyer's agent (or several)? That time is their job, the mileage is a business expense, and nothing is so precious as the time people give us to look at property. It's quite likely that a good buyer's agent will narrow your search a lot more, because going out and looking at property gives a lot more information than the internet, and we do it constantly. Getting a good buyer's agent first will make more difference than anything else to how happy you end up (Here's how to find a good buyer's agent)

Property always needs to be evaluated in the context of the area it's in. A lot of what might sell for $500,000 in my area might be less than $100,000 in other locales. This doesn't mean San Diego is overpriced. It means that there's a lot of people who want to live here very badly, these people make comparatively large amounts of money, it's hard to get permission to build, and the prices for the area reflect those factors. If you've decided you want to live in a particular neighborhood you're going to have to pay about the prevailing prices if you want housing. A good buyer's agent can make a big difference, but nobody can find you something that doesn't exist, and in order to really understand what a good bargain is, you've got to go and actually look at some properties that aren't bargains before you understand what a bargain looks like.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

The general public may not understand this, but the most critical parts of a listing agent's job all take place before the property hits the market.

The most difficult task of an agent who wants to successfully list property is one of those. No, it isn't the pricing discussion, although it's closely related and usually done at the same time. It's educating the owner as to what a good offer for their property would be.

The weaker the overall market, the more important this is. In a strong seller's market, if you blow off a good offer, you're likely to get another almost as good. In a buyer's market, telling a good offer to get lost is a great way to lose lots of money. I'm paid on commission. Believe me folks, I'd like to be able to get two million dollars for a not particularly attractive five hundred square foot condo in "the 'Hood" . The fact is that buyers look for the best property at the lowest price. I can market in such a way as to catch the attention of the people likely to be willing to pay the most, but I can't get more than those people are willing to offer. You can try to sell a property for more than it's worth, but it's not going to happen, and trying is the best way I know of to fail to sell at all, or to be forced to sell for a lot less than you could have gotten, and have to pay the carrying costs for the property for a much longer time than if you know a good offer when you see it.

You can't really have the pricing discussion until the owner understands what a good offer would be. The correct asking price is central to a successful transaction. People look at properties based upon asking price, and you are competing with other properties of roughly the same asking price. If you ask too much, your property will be competing out of its league. The people who are looking for something in that price range will have superior alternatives. If the choice is your property or, for the same asking price, a freshly remodeled house with an extra bedroom and bathroom and a lot that's twice as big in a better location, which do you think the average buyer is going to make an offer on? Ladies and Gentlemen, even if your own mother is looking for a property and knows you need to sell, that's going to be a hard sale for your property. On the other side, if you're not asking enough, people will line up to buy, but then you (and your agent) end up with less money in your pocket, and that's not going to make anyone happy except the buyer.

Furthermore, you've got to understand the market you're trying to sell in. In a strong seller's market, you can probably afford blow off offers below a certain threshold. In a strong buyer's market, you need to try and work with anything even vaguely in the right ballpark, to see if you can talk them into something more in line with reality.

Some agents won't do this. They'll either accept whatever the owner wants to ask or even actually inflate the asking price. This is called "buying a listing," because owners who don't know any better get dollar signs in their eyes and sign up with that agent. It isn't really "buying" anything - it's more like a political candidate's insincere campaign promises to repeal laws of economics and give voters everything their little hearts desire. Anybody old enough to vote should know better than to believe this, but it works, for the same reason Nigerian 419 scamsters are driving around in Ferraris: People want to believe in easy money. In point of fact, as I have written before, this actually sabotages any chance of actually getting the best possible price. Your time of highest interest is right when it hits the market, and the longer the property is on the market, the lower the sales price is likely to be, and when you over-price real estate, you're not only going to end up getting less money in the end, but you'll have to pay carrying costs for the property for a longer period of time. In short, this approach reliably costs sellers money. Large amounts of money. There is no reason but greed and ignorance to do this, but many rotten agents make a very good living conning people who don't know any better. One of the reasons why bargains are hard to find is that the definite majority of the listings out there have been the victim of such an agent. The property isn't going to sell for that price, or anything like that price, but by over-promising on the listing price, they get a signed listing contract, and when all these properties eventually sell for tens of thousands less than they really could have gotten, that agent gets paid (when the agent who tried to tell them what the property was really worth doesn't), and the con artist even looks like a "top producer."

Waiting until the property is on the market is too late. Everybody has already seen that initial asking price. Not to mention the owner still believes the nonsense they've been sold in the above paragraph. Waiting until you have an offer is definitely too late. The agent has been telling them up until this very moment to expect tens of thousands of dollars more, and now the agent is going to try to talk them into accepting what really is a good offer? Not likely to work, and not good for the relationship even if it does. Furthermore, one of the things you learn in this business is that the first offer you get is more likely than not to be the best. Oh, it's not rare or even that uncommon for a better offer to come later, but the most typical pattern is for each subsequent offer to be successively lower. And now you've lost what is likely to be the best offer you're going to get because your agent couldn't explain to you what a good offer was? Run that one by me again: Why are agents supposedly getting paid? I get paid for listings because I really do know how to sell them more quickly and for a higher price than any "for sale by owner". But why in the world would you want to pay someone who doesn't do that, and makes the sale take longer and causes you to have to settle for a lower price? I understand why it happens. I just can't understand why people would want to, other than a combination of ignorance, laziness and greed. Somebody once said, "Too bad ignorance isn't painful." Ignorance is painful, but it's financial pain, and the kind most of those burned by it never realize they felt, because they couldn't recognize the symptoms, and they have no idea how much better they could have done.

For a successful listing that's going to fetch an optimum sale, understanding what a good offer looks like, so the owners know how to react when they get it, and setting the correct asking price so that you do get such an offer, is critical. Failing to do so will put you in that group of people who don't get what they could have for the property, and since you don't understand how and why the problem happened, you're likely to repeat it every time you decide to sell a property. When the market rises rapidly for many years, as the San Diego area among many others did, you can even delude yourself into believing that you were "successful." But when the market returns to something more closely approximating normality, believe me when I tell you you that you'll find out in a hurry that you weren't as successful as you thought.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

Copyright 2005-2014 Dan Melson All Rights Reserved

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