Real Estate Sellers Giving A Buyer Cash Back

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When we sold our home just over a year ago we were talked into selling for a bit more than the original offer so the person could get money back to do renovations... I objected based on percentages and stuff and my realtor and the other realtor agreed to commissions based only on the original agreed to asking price. Then I could not find any other reason to object, after all, if the loan officer was willing to loan that much money, what reason was it for me to say nay?

But now I hear it is illegal to do this? Yikes? Have you heard of this?

What should I do now?

The same thing anyone should do when they discover they may have inadvertently violated the law: Talk to a lawyer.

For all of this article, please keep in mind that I am not a lawyer. I don't even play one on TV. Not in California nor in any other state, and the laws and precedents can be different from place to place. So please double check everything with someone who is a lawyer, and if there is a conflict, follow their advice.

That said, my understanding is that it is not illegal per se for a seller to give a buyer cash back. If I hand you $500,000 cash - or something worth $500,000 to you - and you hand me back title to the property and $50,000 cash, or something worth $50,000 to me, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. It's a free exchange, willingly agreed to by competent legal adults. No harm is done.

Where illegality does come into it is when there is another party to the transaction to whom it is not disclosed. In most transactions, there is a lender involved. That lender is loaning what is usually a very large sum of money based upon the representations which were submitted to them. To intentionally and materially falsify those representations in order to persuade a lender to make a loan they would not otherwise make is a textbook case of FRAUD. Loan fraud is, literally, a federal offense. Go to jail for a while, and be a convicted felon for the rest of your life. Whether it's done by lying (stating something that isn't true) or by omission (failure to inform the lender of relevant facts) does not matter. Furthermore, due to the fact that fraud is a felony, there's a good likelihood of adding conspiracy in there - another federal offense felony.

The potential offense here is in failing to disclose the cash back to all parties in the transaction. If the lender knows about it and issues the loan anyway, there is neither a criminal offense nor a civil tort, at least according to my best understanding.

The reason this happens is because if the cash back is disclosed to the lender, then they will treat the purchase price as being the purchase price less the cash back amount. If the purchase contract says $400,000, but the seller is giving the buyer $20,000 back, it isn't really a $400,000 purchase price, is it? Net to the seller is only $380,000. Net cost to the buyer is only $380,000. That looks like a $380,000 piece of property to me, not a $400,000 one. The lender will take the same point of view, and base all of their calculations off of a $380,000 purchase price.

What that means is that if the buyers are not putting at least $20,000 down, they are over 100 percent of the value of the property. Which means the borrowers loan amount will be reduced accordingly. In fact, as I have said elsewhere, it's better for both the buyer and the seller if they don't do this, because it is in both of their interests to use the lower purchase price.

In short, this whole charade is self-defeating if it is disclosed to the lender, as they will only lend based upon the net purchase price. If it's disclosed to the lender, I cannot think of a reason to do it, because whatever purpose you wanted to achieve with the cash back will be defeated. If the buyer wanted the cash to fix the property, they're either going to have to take it out of their down payment or, dollar for dollar, out of the cash they got back. $400,000 minus $20,000 is $380,000. So if they put $20,000 down, it's doable, but it's a 100% loan, and the net benefit they got out of their down payment is zero. Alternatively, they can just take the $20,000 cash and apply it to the purchase price, over and above the $380,000 the lender will base their loan calculations on. Net benefit to doing all of this: Zero. Furthermore, there are drawbacks for both the seller and the buyer. It actually hurts them to do this if they disclose it to the lender.

What was the purpose of that $20,000 again? If it wasn't a down payment, the buyers will need to come up with $20,000 from somewhere else. If it was a down payment, well, why not do 100% financing in the first place? I assure you that a lender to whom this is disclosed will see it this way. Why not just reduce the official sales price by $20,000, pay less in commissions, lower fees, less capital gains, and have the buyer have a lower sales price, which translates into lower property taxes in a lot of places?

Which is precisely the reason this whole thing does not get disclosed to the lender. The buyers are trying to have their cake and eat it, too. They only want to pay $380,000 for the property, and have the lenders think that they paid $400,000. In other words, a material misrepresentation of the situation in order to induce the lender to make a loan they would not otherwise have made.
In short, FRAUD.

It is mostly the buyers, their agents, and loan officers who pull this kind of nonsense. Some of them are thoroughly blatant about soliciting this kind of crime. I don't know what they're thinking, but this is not harmless, this is not minor, and it has been explained to licensees. I can only presume a willful disregard of the rules. It can be difficult for sellers to even know who the buyer's lender is going to be, and it really isn't any of their business. Nonetheless, if the lender can show that sellers were a party to the deception (side agreements aside from the main contract are pretty much proof on the face of it), they can be dragged into the mess. Actually, sellers and their agents can be dragged in quite easily, side agreement or no, but side agreements are the equivalent of a smoking gun still in your hand. So if you're going to insist upon a side agreement, also insist that it be disclosed to the lender and proof that it was disclosed to the lender. Better still to make it all a part of the main contract. Optimum is not to give or ask for cash back in the first place. It sets you up for a criminal fraud investigation, and no matter how innocent you may be in fact, I have it on good authority that they are no fun to endure. If you're a professional, it shows up in records as a complaint against your license, and I'm not even certain it comes off when you're found not culpable.

Caveat Emptor

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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on April 26, 2007 10:00 AM.

Hot Bargain Property April 25th, 2007 was the previous entry in this blog.

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