Housing Bubble Death Trap
That was the wording of a search engine hit I got. It's not literally a death trap, of course, only much financial pain. But the hyperbole is forgivable in today's modern society and the state of the current market.
Other people may have other definitions of "housing bubble death trap," but when I'm talking about stuff like that, I'm talking about someone who bought too much house with an unstable (or insufficiently stable) loan.
I just picked a couple random streets in older lower middle class neighborhoods, and looked back a couple of years. I found a couple of homes that have sold twice or are on the market again.
A 3 bedroom home sold for $487,000 at the end of last year. It's back on the market now for $425,000. A condo sold for $285,000 at the end of 2004, and again just recently for $265,000.
Now just in case you don't understand, the owner doesn't get the full sale price, but they paid the previous sale price to buy it. Usual seller's expenses run about seven percent or so. So for the 3 bedroom home, the owner is only going to get about $395,000 to pay it off, even if they get full asking price. For the condo, the owner only got about $246,000.
Now, let's consider the sales involved. Either their down payment when they bought the home will cover it, or it won't. If it does, the homeowner is out about $92,000 in the first case, about $39,000 in the second. This doesn't include any prepayment penalties there may be or negative amortization it may have undergone, not to mention the cost of any payments they may have missed, etcetera, etcetera. There's always a reason people sell for a loss, and it's usually because they have no choice. They can't make the payments (and never could) or they have been transferred, have to get housing elsewhere, and can't make the payments. And what if the down payment won't cover the deficit? Well, at the end of the year they are likely to get a 1099 form that says they got income from forgiveness of debts. As I understand it, this is ordinary income, and it can knock you up to higher tax brackets, both federal and state, if your state has state income tax.
So why didn't the folks just refinance into something stable, you ask? They couldn't afford the payments on a stable loan. Furthermore, they couldn't refinance due to their situation. If you bought with anything close to 100% financing, and you lose $55,000 of value, well, banks don't like lending money for more than the property is worth. There's no security in it. Now there are 125% loans out there, but the rate is high and the terms are ugly. If you can't afford the rate at 100 percent, or 95 percent of value, you certainly can't afford the rate for over 100 percent. There are only two times that the value of a property means anything. One is when you buy or sell, and the value is whatever you paid for it, or your buyer pays. The other, alas, is when you refinance, and if you owe $480,000 on the property when similar properties are selling for $425,000, the odds of you getting a better loan with a lower payment are essentially non-existent.
Now if the folks are in a stable loan, and can make the real payments, it doesn't really matter what the property is worth right now. You're doing fine, whether you refinance or not. Refinancing might put you into a better situation, but if you can't refi, you're still doing okay. Yes, the prices are down and they're likely to go down more. It just doesn't matter if you don't intend to sell and don't need to refinance. Your cash flow is what it is, and if you really were okay with that to start with and the loan is stable, you're likely okay with it now. If you got a loan that was stable for three or five years long enough ago to worry about loan adjustment now (or soon), you've likely got plenty of equity in the property now. If, on the other hand, you did a 2/28 interest only a year and a half ago, then you're potentially looking at a payment adjustment in the next few months that's suddenly two percent higher and fully amortized, which could be thirty or forty percent difference in the payments. Ouch. Out of such scenarios are losing a property to foreclosure constructed, with consequences even worse than the ones I talk about above. Just the act of lender filing a Notice of Default usually adds thousands of dollars to what you owe, never mind any payments you may have missed or been late.
This then, is what I call the Housing Bubble Death Trap. People who bought too much house with unstable loans, then had the market recede a little on them. Now they are upside down (owe more on the property than it is worth) with a loan they cannot refinance and cannot afford, and they can't sell for as much money as they paid.
What are the loans to watch out for if you're buying. Anything like stated income, where you're not documenting that you make enough to qualify for the loan. Stated Income has legitimate usages, mostly for small business folk and those paid on commission, but should not be used nearly so often as it has been, of late. For all the people who have claimed otherwise (and used them for such), I have never seen a situation where I'd recommend any kind of negative amortization loan for the purchase of a property that you intend to live in. Stated Income Negative Amortization loans should scream out to anyone "WARNING, WILL ROBINSON! DANGER! DANGER! DANGER!" Short term (2 year) interest only loans are less clear-cut, but often a bad idea. These are sub-prime loans. I did a lot of 2/28 loans at six percent a couple of years back. They were intended as short term loans until folks' credit improved, and that's the way I explained them, emphasizing that fact that they have to make certain their credit score actually improves during those two years. They're going to be around 8 percent the first six months they adjust, and a $300,000 6 percent interest only has a payment of $1500 per month. If it adjusts to 8 percent and starts amortizing with 28 years left to go, that's a payment of $2240. I have a firm rule of no prepayment penalties longer than the fixed period of the loan, but I'm definitely the exception rather than the rule there among loan officers. If you were paying principal and interest all along, like most of my clients, you've got some breathing room (equity) in your property and the "payment shock" won't be nearly so bad, not to mention that if your score actually went up, you likely qualify A paper now.
Three year (or longer) fixed rate A paper probably gives you enough breathing room in all but the worst of all market collapses, and I prefer at least five, with thirty year fixed actually being my favorite loan right now, due to the fact that depending upon the lender and the client, I may actually be able to get them cheaper than anything else. This, however, is a short term phenomenon of the moment, due to the yield curve being inverted, and once it straightens out, I'll be doing more hybrid ARMs again.
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