What Lenders Talk About Isn't Important, It's What They Deliver

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I'll keep hitting this and hitting this until everybody understands this critical point.

From email:

First of all, I love your website. It is just a plethora of information for first time buyers like me who wants to be an educated buyer. Although there will be some things that I won't be able to understand completely, I try my best to learn the things I need to and have to.

I am located in DELETED and a first time buyer. We went with DELETED for our lender after shopping around for quite sometime. Our closing date is (23 days from now). There has been tell tale signs that they might be charging us junk fees. Please tell me if this is just my imagination or if I have the right to feel this way. When we got the first Good Faith Estimate from them they listed their lender's fees and all the other fees. Now when we got the paper work to sign begin the loan approval process new fees showed up on the lender's fees. I know this is an estimate but should their fees be constant on all of the Good Faith Estimates? Second, I was told to believe that the rate they will quote us will be based on the middle credit score between the three credit score bureaus. They used the lowest credit score. I am worried that come closing day that new lender fees will pop up on the loan papers and god knows what else. Is there a reason for me to worry about this lender?

Yes, there are reasons to worry about this lender. There are reasons to worry about most lenders. To be perfectly fair, there are reasons to worry about most brokers, as well.

There is a fact that it is critical to understand in order to be a well-informed loan consumer. If you ever lose sight of this fact as a loan consumer, you are likely to be setting yourself up to get rooked. Conned. Taken. Lied to. That fact is that there are all kinds of incentives for loan providers to tell you about a better loan than they can deliver in order to get you to sign up, and there is a huge upside and no real downside to them for telling you about something better than they can really deliver.

Let me haul out a rate and cost sheet for one of my favorite lenders (This sheet will be outdated by the time anyone reads this) and favorite title and escrow companies. If you are buying a $400,000 property with 20% down, then with this lender I can lock and deliver a 30 year fixed rate loan at 6.00% with zero total points to the borrower and total real costs of $3022. That's the grand total in costs. Lender's fees, broker's fees, appraisal, escrow, title, notary, recording, etcetera. For traditional purchases, where everything is like the default ways of doing it, the seller would also pay a $750 escrow fee and a $1253 policy of owner's title insurance. There would be prepaid interest on the loan of $160 for every three days remaining in the month ($53.33 per day), and the costs of an impound account if you wanted that. If you were in my office ready to lock that loan as I write this, that's what I could guarantee in writing to deliver. If you wanted to buy the rate down, I could deliver 5.75% for about 0.8 total points, which translates to about $2600 in dollars. If you wanted to buy it down further, I could deliver 5.50% for 2 points total, or about $6500. That's what's real. I can prove it, because I could write a loan quote guarantee that says if the rate is higher or the cost is more, I pay the difference.

Now, let me illustrate how far it's legal to low-ball. First off, all "third party" fees mysteriously disappear, as do the lender imposed fees, and now I'm quoting total costs of $610 plus four things marked "PFC" on the Good Faith Estimate. If I decide to tell you about those lender imposed fees in order to make it "feel" more real, that changes the costs to $1405, plus, of course, those four pesky PFCs. Or three PFC's plus $1530. Sounds like a lot less than $3022, doesn't it? But it's going to be $3022 PLUS any "junk fees" I try to sneak past you. Make no mistake: You are going to pay for that appraisal, that escrow, and that title insurance policy. It's a fact of life, inflexible as gravity. But I don't have to tell you about it initially.

Now, let's start playing games with the rate, and I must emphasize that these are legal. I would face no penalty for any of them. First off, I can have a legitimate belief that rates are headed downwards, and I could use the rates that include a 15 day lock instead of thirty. A fifteen day lock costs less. So I could tell you that you're actually getting a rebate of an eighth of a point to pay your closing costs. Many loan officers will tell people this. However, when the loan takes twenty-five days to fund, now the clients are paying that eighth of a point due to extension fees. I can actually hit fifteen days most of the time from a standing start if the buyer and seller cooperate, but it's not something I can promise because if they don't cooperate in a timely fashion, there's nothing I can do to force either of them to work faster. So I don't use fifteen day locks.

But that's only the first game. Let's say I think rates are going down, so I don't lock, but I do tell you what I think rates will be when I have to lock, and I tell you that I can do 5.75 for zero points. Once again, I'm thinking the rates will go down that much, and also thinking about getting to use the fifteen day lock. Lest it be unclear to you, my entire justification for this is raw naked optimism. But it's legal raw naked optimism. Actually, in order to cover myself, I'll say one tenth of a point net cost to you for the rate. That way, I haven't told you it's a no points loan when it may not be. By the way, I'm going to do my darnedest to keep a dollar figure from being associated with any points quote. Why? Because 5.5% for $1405 plus "two of those points thingies" sounds an awful lot cheaper to the average person than the real fact that 5.5% will cost them roughly $9500 altogether. Same loan for the same set of facts, but one way of putting it certainly sounds cheaper, doesn't it?

But suppose my raw naked optimism does not come true in the real world. Suppose the rates end up staying where they are now. This is actually better than what often happens, because you get 5.75% delivered for about three quarters of a point, because they don't lock the loan until they're ready to print final documents, and so they can use the fifteen day rate. Pretty cool, eh? You saved about 5% of a point, or roughly $160, off what the quote was. But remember, they did not, in fact, lock your loan. Suppose rates are higher in fifteen days, which is what I really do expect. Let's take a WAG and say that 5.75% gets delivered for 1.2 points, and the loan officer says, "Sorry, that's the best I could do." Now, failing to lock cost you four tenths of a point, or about $1300, and I've seen it much worse than this. In fact, since the loan officer didn't guarantee their quote, they then blow it up to 1.5 points, and they've just put an extra $1000 in their company pocket.

Now, type three games: Don't tell you about the pre-payment penalty they're sneaking in so that they can get paid more. Two year pre-payment penalty gets them roughly $1900 more in the company pocket if they're a broker, $6500 if they're a direct lender. These numbers go up for longer penalties. But when you get transferred in a year and a half, it costs you $6500 extra for that penalty when you have to sell your property. I can even give you a small part of that to make it look like my loan is better than the competition. "Sure, I'll pay for the appraisal," or give you tenth of a point back to reduce closing costs, while hiding this $6500 salami in your loan papers or even coming back after the loan has funded and asking you to sign a prepayment rider "for compliance."

There is a type four game: Games with the loan type. Suppose I tell you about a "thirty year loan at 5.5% for 1 point total." Sounds much better than any of the preceding, right? Except that what I'm talking about is a 5/1 ARM, not a thirty year fixed rate loan, and I'm still able to play all of those type one and type two games with this quote. I could be talking about a 3/1, a 1/1, or even a three month LIBOR loan with those words. Point of fact, I actually can lock, guarantee, and deliver a 5/1 at 5.5% for 1.2 points with a thirty day lock while I'm writing this, and a 5/1 is something you should probably consider very strongly, but it's not the same thing as a thirty year fixed rate loan.

Let's take it up a couple more notches. How does a "Forty year loan at 0.5% with a fixed payment of $735.70" sound, especially when the payment for that 6% thirty year fixed rate loan I talked about is actually $1918.57? Pretty good? And the forty years explains why the payments are so low? Well, congratulations! You've just signed yourself up for a negative amortization loan at a real rate of 8.2% right now, and not fixed at all. The payment is fixed, all right, but the interest rate isn't. Oh, and by the way, if you keep making that payment of $735.70 for three years, you'll owe $59,000 more while under threat of a pre-payment penalty that starts at $10,500 and gets bigger until it expires. Refinance then, and your payment goes to $2272.27 if the same thirty year fixed rate loan is available them. May not be too bad for some folks, but if you couldn't afford the $1918.57 in the first place, why would you think you can afford 20% higher payments than that in three years? I'd say it's more likely that you can afford $1918.57 now than $2272.27 then. But everything I actually told you about that loan was not only legal, but also true.

Enough horror stories for now. What can you do about this? Keep it in mind that the prospective lender has every incentive to play these sorts of games, and very little in the way of concrete incentives not to. People sign up for loans based upon who tells them about the best deal, and if that lender can't get you to sign up, there is an absolute ironclad guarantee that they don't make anything. If that loan officer is paid on commission, and the vast majority of all loan officers are, the choice is probably get money in their pocket or definitely no money in their pocket. But the cold hard fact is that without a written guarantee, none of the initial paperwork means a damned thing. Furthermore, most lenders are quite adept at avoiding giving you a guarantee. "We're a large ethical company that's been in business for 100 years and we honor our commitments." Sounds great, right? But neither a Good Faith Estimate nor a Mortgage Loan Disclosure Statement in California is any kind of a commitment. None of the forms you get at the start of the process is. Both forms say right on them that they are estimates. They could be accurate estimates or they may not be. The only thing that's required to be accurate is the HUD -1 form, and you don't get that, even in preliminary form, until you are signing final loan documents.

Now, some facts and industry statistics to illustrate why the incentives are there to tell you anything it takes to get you signed up. First off, the only universal guarantee in this whole situation is that if you don't sign up with them, they make nothing. Zero. Zilch. Nada. They've got bills they need to pay, same as you do. So you sign up, and they work on your loan for three weeks, and now it's time to sign papers, and they're not quite what you were led to expect. But you don't notice the difference. In fact, industry statistics say that over fifty percent of people don't notice at signing, and a substantial fraction of that never figures it out. I understand why; it wasn't easy for me to learn what's important, and I have an accounting degree. These forms are confusing to the uninitiated. Furthermore, the loan officer keeps you busy with a line of patter, and is talking about how much you're going to enjoy your new home, or what you're going to do with the money you're saving from the lower payment. This makes it more difficult to concentrate on those numbers swimming on that unfamiliar form. Some companies actually train their loan officers in how to distract the victims. I worked for one such company for about a month, until my loans started being ready to close and I discovered what they were up to when they showed me how to distract these people who were putting money in my pocket from how badly they were getting gouged.

Now, let's say you do notice. The situation is not the same situation as when you've signed up. If it's a purchase, you no longer have thirty days to get your loan. Indeed, your loan contingency has expired and you'll not only lose the purchase escrow, but your good faith deposit as well, if you don't sign those loan documents. You've been building up your emotions for the last three weeks thinking you're getting ready to move. You've put in your thirty days notice, you've packed up all your stuff, you've got the moving van reserved and the friends lined up, not to mention that you and your spouse are totally ready and emotionally psyched up to be owners!, and to be moving into this property. Darned few people will not sign purchase loan docs, even if they do notice the discrepancies. Industry statistics say less than 5%.

In a refinance, the motives are not as strong to sign loan documents that are less than it was indicated earlier. Most of the time you've got the house and you've got a loan you could keep, you just thought this one was better. But you've been told about this lower payment, or lower rate, or you need that cash out for your vacation that's starting next week or the remodeling contract that you've already signed. Your loan officer quite likely rolled thirty days of interest into the loan and told you that you would be "skipping a payment" (You never skip a payment, as I've explained many times), and so you've gone and spent the cash on a long weekend in Las Vegas. Now you don't have the money, and if you don't sign these documents, you won't have the money for your payment, never mind the kitchen remodel the contractor has already started or the nonrefundable tickets you put on your credit card. Finally, quite often the lender required a deposit that you're going to lose if you don't sign those loan documents. Industry statistics say that about 80% of refinances who notice major discrepancies in their final documents will sign anyway. All they have to do is sign their name, and it will all be over.

Now, whether you noticed and signed anyway, or didn't notice, you have just rewarded that loan provider for lying about that loan in the first place. They lied, you signed up, they got paid. Wow! It's like a license to print money! Not only that, but if they just play the game a little bit carefully, there's no legal liability or responsibility to you. I should note that there are a significant number of loan providers who do go over the top into illegal territory and liability, but it's not difficult to tell what is for all intents and purposes a huge whopping lie and stay legal (it is slightly more difficult if they're acting as your real estate agent for a purchase as well).

Now, what can you do about this? The absolute smartest thing you can do is apply for a back up loan at the same time you apply for the one you think you're going to actually get. This way, you can use the existence of another loan being ready to go to get leverage your bargaining position into a better deal for you. Now loan officers don't want to be back up providers - unless they think there's a real chance they'll end up with the business. In order to persuade them there is a real chance, for the business, you have to give them a real legitimate shot at being the primary provider. As my article on Getting a Loan Provider to Agree to be a Backup Loan says, if you're already signed up with someone else when you approach a loan officer about being a back up, you should expect to hear something that contains the word, "No." Failing that, I want to be paid something for my work, or I don't want to work. I'll want a deposit that I can keep if you don't do my loan.

The second best thing, which is an excellent supplement to the above, is a written Loan Quote Guarantee. Any quote that's backed up by a real guarantee is much stronger than one that's not. I don't care if the difference is three percent on the rate (and it won't be that high). I'd take the guaranteed quote over the one that isn't guaranteed, every time.

Finally, you can always insist upon answers to the same set of Questions for loan providers before you sign up. They can lie, and they can evade, but they are good and necessary questions to ask.

Caveat Emptor


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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on March 8, 2007 10:00 AM.

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