September 2007 Archives

How Loan Providers Make Money


In an attempt to debunk some of the slanders that are floating around out there, this article is an itemization of how lenders and brokers make money on loans.

The first method is obvious: Origination or discount points charged to the consumer. This is money that the person getting the loan is paying, or someone else is paying on their behalf. One point is one percent of the final loan amount, two points is two percent, and so on and so forth. There is an actual difference between origination and discount points, but they have become almost interchangeable in their usage by many lenders and loan officers. Origination has to do with a fee charged for getting the loan done. It's not a trivial amount of work to get the loan done, and unless you're a close relative or have repeatedly saved their life, the person doing the loan is going to get paid somehow (and often, the family member or close friend gets rooked the most). If you're uncertain just how they are making money, you should ask. Discount points are theoretically a rate that the actual lender is charging in order to give you a rate better than you would otherwise get, but many brokers camouflage origination points as discount points and many banks camouflage origination points as discount points. The former makes you think the bank is making the money when it's the broker, while the latter makes the consumer feel like the lender isn't charging them origination, but that you are actually getting something most consumers quantify as real for their money (This also makes you feel like you're getting something for nothing, always a good selling point to anything).

Related to this are junk fees or markups of legitimate fees that are required to get the loan done. I do not believe I've seen a fee that some lender or another hasn't tried to mark up. If in doubt as to whether there's a markup, insist upon paying it directly. If they can't explain exactly what it was for in easy to understand words, it's probably a junk fee. Again, real fees usually run to about $3400 on a loan, although many lenders and loan officers are adept at hiding this.

The second way that lenders and loan officers make money is in rebates, also known as yield spread. This is pretty much limited to brokers, as neither traditional lenders nor packaging houses get direct rebates from lenders. Once again, rebates can be thought of as negative discount points and discount points can be thought of as a negative rebate. There should never be both discount points and a yield spread on the same loan. It is fundamentally dishonest. If there is a yield spread, you are being charged origination, not discount. Period.

The third way that lenders and loan officers make money is in the sale of the loan. This is only applicable to actual lenders, whether traditional or packaging house. Mortgage loans, particularly grouped in vaguely compatible bunches varying from $50 million on up, are among the most secure of all investments (indeed, in terms of historical risk, only US Treasury bonds are superior). Because they are very low risk, the lender makes a nice premium on them. As I'm writing this, CMO bonds trading at 5% even are basically at par, while 6% bonds are earning about a 3 percent premium. At par means the bank gets the face value of what they're selling, whereas a 3% premium means they get an extra $30 for every $1000 of bond value. For a $50 Million CMO offering, this is $1.5 Million. (There are other factors such as underlying quality, whether there is a pre-payment penalty, what tranches they may be assigned, and so on, but this is a basic article on the phenomenon.) By comparison, on a fairly good "A Paper" lender's pricing sheet (the first one I grabbed), 5% is not available and 5.25% carries a discount point and a half while carrying a premium on the secondary market of half a percent or so, so the lender is making two full percent on that loan at a minimum, and unlike a broker's yield spread, this is never disclosed to a client. Nor is there any limit as to how much this can be, but with even decent to good A paper lenders getting 2% or more, it shouldn't stretch your mind too much to find out that this number can go to 6 or even 8 percent in the subprime and negative amortization markets. 6 percent on $50 million is $3 Million dollars the lender gets for selling $50 million worth of loans - this translates to about 100 regular 3 bedroom homes here in California. $30,000 each, over and above any points and fees these people may or may not have paid, and for holding onto the loan for maybe one month. Believe me, your lenders are not hurting - and many even have the guts to badmouth brokers who may make $5000 while cutting the consumer's cost by $7500 to $10,000 and the bank still makes $20,000 per loan. (Note: these spreads and premiums used to be much larger 30 years ago when people didn't reliably refinance or move about every two years).

What brokers do is essentially play these lenders off, one against another on a professional basis, to see which one will cut the best deal on your behalf, because brokers are never captive audiences while the lenders regard you as theirs from the time you walk in the door.

Also, the point needs to be again that cost of a rate is always inverse to the rate for precisely the reasons of yield spread and bond premium. The lower the rate, the higher the cost. The higher the rate, the lower the cost. Some lenders and brokers may have better cost/rate tradeoffs than others, but there is always a trade-off.

The last method of receiving traditional income is to actually hold the note and receive the interest. This is actually rare these days. More often, what the lender will do is sell the loan itself while retaining servicing rights (for which they are paid, of course). Most often, the lender can make more money by selling the note to Wall Street - whether or not they retain servicing - than they can by holding the actuial note themselves. Keep in mind that the premium they get from sale of the note is immediate, and they can "sell the same money" several times per year, as opposed to just holding on and collecting the interest as it accrues.

How can (and should) you compare a broker's offer, where compensation is disclosed, with a bank's offer where it is not? First off, make sure that they are on the same type of loan at the same rate. My questionnaire here is a good start. Note that the last explicit question, "Will you guarantee this rate at this cost and cover the difference, if any, yourself?" should be answered in writing, and if the answer is "No," that's a red flag as to what their business practices are. They know what it's really going to take to get the loan done. They know what rates are available for locking today, right now. If it's not locked, it's not real, and they're playing games with your loan. As to prospective loan providers who won't guarantee their Good Faith Estimates, I have a retort I use with potential clients to whom somebody else has sold nonexistent pie-in-the-sky: "Well, if he's not going to guarantee you a 5.75 30 year fixed rate loan with one point, how about if I don't guarantee you a 5.5 30 year fixed with no points?" If it's not personally guaranteed in writing, chances are they are jerking you around to get you to sign up. None of the standard federal or state forms are binding in this sense; not the Good Faith Estimate, not the Mortgage Loan Disclosure Statement, not the Truth-In Lending form, and not the application form itself. Furthermore, keep in mind that for all third party items, such as title, escrow, attorney fees, appraisal, etcetera, they are able to exclude them from the precomputed costs of doing the loan, so most lenders and loan providers do. Not coincidentally, these are the biggest items in the closing costs section of your loan. Insist upon full disclosure of each item, and ask them to guarantee the total.

And once you are certain that the loans you are being told about are actually the same loan or the same type of loan, then you can make the decision as to which is better by choosing the one that actually gives you, the prospective client, the better loan.

Caveat Emptor

Yes, I've always kind of liked Paul Simon. But this post was inspired by something I ran across from FATCO. And just to make certain you know, it's fifty ways to lose your money if you don't have title insurance.

You don't want problems from prior ownerships to interfere with your rights to your property. And you don't want to pay the potentially ruinous cost of defending your property rights in court.

A title insurance policy is your best protection against potential title defects, which can remain hidden despite the most thorough search of public records and the most careful escrow or closing.

For a one-time premium, a title company agrees to reimburse you for loss due to defects existing prior to the issue date of your policy, up to the policy amount. And, should it be needed, the policy also provides for the cost of legal defense of your title. The standard coverage policy protects you against such potential defects as:

I'm going to star the ones I've got personal experience dealing with.

*Forged deeds, mortgages, satisfactions or releases.

*Deed by person who is insane or mentally incompetent.

Deed by minor (may be disavowed).

*Deed from corporation, unauthorized under corporate bylaws or given under falsified corporate resolution.

*Deed from partnership, unauthorized under partnership


*Deed from purported trustee, unauthorized under trust agreement.

Deed to or from a "corporation" before incorporation, or after loss of corporate charter.

*Deed from a legal non-entity (styled, for example, as a church, charity or club).

*Deed by person in a foreign country, vulnerable to challenge as incompetent, unauthorized or defective under foreign laws.

*Claims resulting from use of "alias" or fictitious namestyle by a predecessor in title.

*Deed challenged as being given under fraud, undue influence or duress.

*Deed following non-judicial foreclosure, where required procedure was not followed.

*Deed affecting land in judicial proceedings (bankruptcy,

receivership, probate, conservatorship, dissolution of

marriage), unauthorized by court.

*Deed following judicial proceedings, subject to appeal or

further court order.

Deed following judicial proceedings, where all necessary

parties were not joined.

Lack of jurisdiction over persons or property in judicial


*Deed signed by mistake (grantor did not know what was


*Deed executed under falsified power of attorney.

*Deed executed under expired power or attorney (death, disability or insanity of principal).

Deed apparently valid, but actually delivered after death of

grantor or grantee, or without consent of grantor.

*Deed affecting property purported to be separate property of grantor, which is in fact community or jointly-owned


Undisclosed divorce of one who conveys as sole heir of a

deceased former spouse.

*Deed affecting property of deceased person, not joining all


Deed following administration of estate of missing person,

who later re-appears.

Conveyance by heir or survivor of a joint estate, who

murdered the decedent.

Conveyances and proceedings affecting rights of service-member protected by the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act.

Conveyance void as in violation of public policy (payment of gambling debt, payment for contract to commit crime, or conveyance made in restraint of trade).

*Deed to land including "wetlands" subject to public trust

(vesting title in government to protect public interest in navigation, commerce, fishing and recreation).

Deed from government entity, vulnerable to challenge as unauthorized or unlawful.

*Ineffective release of prior satisfied mortgage due to acquisition of note by bona fide purchaser (without notice of satisfaction).

*Ineffective release of prior satisfied mortgage due to bankruptcy of creditor prior to recording of release (avoiding powers in bankruptcy).

*Ineffective release of prior mortgage of lien, as fraudulently obtained by predecessor in title.

*Disputed release of prior mortgage or lien, as given under mistake or misunderstanding.

Ineffective subordination agreement, causing junior interest to be reinstated to priority.

*Deed recorded, but not properly indexed so as to be locatable in the land records.

*Undisclosed but recorded federal or state tax lien.

*Undisclosed but recorded judgment or spousal/child support lien.

*Undisclosed but recorded prior mortgage.

*Undisclosed but recorded notice of pending lawsuit affecting land.

Undisclosed but recorded environmental lien.

*Undisclosed but recorded option, or right of first refusal, to purchase property.

*Undisclosed but recorded covenants or restrictions, with (or without) rights of reverter.

*Undisclosed but recorded easements (for access, utilities, drainage, airspace, views) benefiting neighboring land.

*Undisclosed but recorded boundary, party wall or setback agreements.

*Errors in tax records (mailing tax bill to wrong party resulting in tax sale, or crediting payment to wrong property).

Erroneous release of tax or assessment liens, which are later reinstated to the tax rolls.

*Erroneous reports furnished by tax officials (not binding local government).

Special assessments which become liens upon passage of a law or ordinance, but before recorded notice or commencement of improvements for which assessment is made.

Adverse claim of vendor's lien.

Adverse claim of equitable lien.

Ambiguous covenants or restrictions in ancient documents.

Misinterpretation of wills, deeds and other instruments.

Discovery of will of supposed intestate individual, after probate.

Discovery of later will after probate of first will.

*Erroneous or inadequate legal descriptions.

*Deed to land without a right of access to a public street or road.

Deed to land with legal access subject to undisclosed but recorded conditions or restrictions.

Right of access wiped out by foreclosure on neighboring land.

Patent defects in recorded instruments (for example, failure to attach notarial acknowledgment or a legal description).

Defective acknowledgment due to lack of authority of notary (acknowledgment taken before commission or after expiration of commission).

Forged notarization or witness acknowledgment.

*Deed not properly recorded (wrong county, missing pages or other contents, or without required payment).

Deed from grantor who is claimed to have acquired title through fraud upon creditors of a prior owner.

The ones below this require extended coverage from a title company

Deed to a purchaser from one who has previously sold or leased the same land to a third party under an unrecorded contract, where the third party is in possession of the premises.

Claimed prescriptive rights, not of record and not disclosed by survey.

*Physical location of easement (underground pipe or sewer line) which does not conform with easement of record.

*Deed to land with improvements encroaching upon land of another.

*Incorrect survey (misstating location, dimensions, area, easements or improvements upon land).

"Mechanics' lien" claims (securing payment of contractors and material suppliers for improvements) which may attach without recorded notice.

Federal estate or state inheritance tax liens (may attach without recorded notice).

Pre-existing violation of subdivision mapping laws.

*Pre-existing violation of zoning ordinances.

*Pre-existing violation of conditions, covenants and restrictions affecting the land.

Post-policy forgery against the insured interest.

*Forced removal of residential improvements due to lack of an appropriate building permit (subject to deductible).

Post-policy construction of improvements by a neighbor onto insured land.

Damage to residential structures from use of the surface of insured land for extraction or development of minerals.

Many people talk themselves out of title insurance, claiming it won't happen to them. They think they've just saved hundreds to a couple of thousand dollars. And they have, if none of the above things (as well as others) happens. But the reason you carry insurance to insure yourself against losses that you cannot afford. If you lose that bet, you've potentially lost the entire property, and many times this is precisely what happens. Mr. Jones owned the property for many years before he died, and his estate sold to Mr. Smith who lived in it for fifteen years and then sold it to you. But Mr. Jones had a quickie marriage before he went off to World War II, forgotten but never legally dealt with. That woman's son finds the marriage certificate and checks to see if Mr. Jones left any property. Guess what he finds. Guess who may really own "your" property?

If I am buying a property, I demand a policy of title insurance from the seller. If necessary, I will pay a second time to make certain there's a policy of title insurance covering me. This stuff happens.

Caveat Emptor.

Buyer's Markets

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One of the phenomena that I am encountering is fear of the market in buyers. They are concerned that prices are falling, and that they will lose some or all of their investment.

Well, the first thing to understand is that buyer's markets are not the time for "flippers". You are not going to buy the property and make a profit after the expenses of selling in six months. That's a seller's market, and we don't have that now. Two years ago, most prospective buyers were using the f-word. Now, those people who were buying to flip are caught flat-footed by a market that has turned, like deaf kids in a game of musical chairs. The signs were there, but they were just a little too greedy.

Nonetheless, a buyer's market is the best time to buy for everyone else, and here's why: Inventory. Turnover Rate. Market Saturation. Supply and Demand. Instead of being the kings of the world, sellers have now turned into the beggars. The ratio of sellers to buyers locally is approximately 36 to one and climbing, as 960 properties were listed but only 397 purchase agreements were reached last week. Imagine you're in an environment where there are 36 people of the opposite sex for every one of yours. I'm assuming you're interested in the opposite sex, but even if you're not, you should be able to understand the implications. That one woman with 36 men to choose from is going to be able to get just about anything and everything she wants. Even the woman who would be completely ignored is going to have multiple, attractive suitors. Alternatively, the one man with 36 women to choose from is going to end up pretty darned happy, even if he is short, fat, ugly, middle aged and balding.

Now the sellers in this market don't really have the option of choosing other sellers, as it doesn't help them. They have real estate, they want cash. Just like how that short fat ugly balding middle aged guy does pretty well for himself when there are 36 women for every guy, so does the buyer who has cash, or can get it via their power to get a loan.

Prices are likely to drop for a while, but you will never again have this ratio of sellers to buyers, and the market could turn at any time. If you wait for the market to turn around before you put in a bid, you will be much less sought after. Right now, the power of the market puts buyers in control of the transaction. If this seller isn't quite desperate enough to do what you want them to, the one down the street or around the corner is. Like the 36 men to every woman scenario, if this man isn't able or willing to meet the woman's full wish list, she can move on to someone who is.

Buyer's markets don't last long. The last one was less than a year, and only about two months that buyers had the power that they do now. If you buy for a little more than market bottom, so what? The only time value of the property is important is when you sell and when you refinance, and I've already told you this is not a flipper's market. But once other potential buyers get the idea that there are bargains to be had, they will come out of the woodwork, and the vast majority of your purchasing power will be gone when the ratio of sellers to buyers drops to four to one. And soon after that, they turn back into seller's markets. When that happens, watch the prices - and the profits - shoot back up.

Miss the window now, and you'll pay for it later.

Caveat Emptor.

Remodeled Inside, Great Neighborhood!

General: Urban East County, 3 bedroom 1.75 bath. Asking price between $425,000 and $450,000. I think $400,000 net might get it sold!

Why you should be interested: Doesn't look like much outside, but as soon as you walk in you're going to want that kitchen! Bathrooms are modern, as well!

Selling Points: Very nice inside! Great Location - shopping within five minutes, close enough to walk for a lot of people. Excellent schools! Central to everything, but it's a quiet street!

Why I think it's a potential bargain: Too many people will judge it by the nondescript outside,

Obvious caveats: I am a little concerned that some stucco has been patched. Roof is getting older.

Why it hasn't sold already: It was priced way too high to start with. Now that the owners have gotten a clue, they're desperate, but it's been on the market too long to interest most folks.

Monthly Income to Qualify: (assuming no down payment and average credit on a thirty year fixed rate mortgage, full documentation, one total point or less) $6490 gross. If you have a down payment or want to buy the rate down more, it will be less.

If you keep it ten years and it averages only 5% annual average appreciation per year: Based upon a purchase price of $400,000 the property would be worth approximately $650,000. If you held it those ten years before selling, you would net about $300,000 in your pocket (not including increased value from updates!), assuming zero down payment. As opposed to renting the $2000 per month most comparable currently available rental and investing the difference at 10% per year tax free, you would be approximately $170,000 ahead of the renter, after the expenses of selling.

Fact you should be aware of: California room smells like someone used it as a smoking room.

Obvious way to enhance value or appeal of property: Replace the carpet in the bedrooms, or give it a really thorough cleaning. Fully enclose the California room if you're feeling ambitious.

This property does not appear to be eligible for a first time buyer Mortgage Credit Certificate provided your family income is not more than $82,800 or $96,600. Ask me for more details, on this or any other property.

I'm a buyer's Realtor®. I am looking to represent buyers, so I find places like this that can be gotten at bargain prices. I save you money while getting paid out of the listing agent's commission, not costing you a penny. Nor are these the only bargains I find. In order to protect everyone's best interests, I require a Non-Exclusive Buyer's Agent Agreement. This is a standard California Association of Realtors form that leaves you are free to work with other agents, but if I find the property you want, I'm the agent you'll use. That's fair, and there is no reason not to sign such an agreement unless you're an agent yourself. If your current agent was finding properties like this, you wouldn't be interested.

Contact me: Action Realty 619-449-0723, ask for Dan or email danmelson (at) danmelson (dot) com. Ask me to find a bargain that fits you!

What Drives Loan Rates?


Supply and Demand.

Now that I've given the short answer, it's time to explain the macro factors behind interest rate variations. But I'm going to keep referring to those first three words. It is a tradeoff between the supply of money and demand for it.

The most obvious thing influencing loan rates is inflation. This is a general environmental factor. If the inflation rate is higher, then other factors being equal, there will be fewer people willing to lend at a given rate, and more people willing to borrow. Who wouldn't want to borrow money if the money you have to pay back is actually worth less than they money you borrowed? All loans are priced such that a given inflation is part of the background assumptions of making it. If inflation is 4 percent, someone lending money at seven is making an effective 3 percent. If inflation is ten percent, they are losing that selfsame three percent. Which scenario would you prefer to loan money in? Which scenario would you prefer to borrow money in?

On the other hand, when inflation is high, loan rates usually rise to compensate. When the prime rate is twenty-one percent, that means that a business borrower has to make a minimum of twenty-one percent on the money just to break even. That's if they're a prime customer. Making twenty one percent is tough. The reason you borrowed ("rented") the money was because you have a use for it to make money. There's a lot fewer opportunities that make enough over twenty-one percent to make them worthwhile, than there are opportunities making enough over seven. This is one reason why inflation is a Bad Thing.

What alternatives exist is a major factor on the supply side, as well. If you absolutely must invest your money in US Government securities, that's where you're going to invest, and since you're increasing the supply of money to the treasury, the price is less. Supply and Demand. This is one of the many reasons why Congress' handling of the trust fund is a national disgrace. If they were private trustees, they would be help liable for not investing it where the best returns are. If, however, you think that stocks are looking more attractive now, that means that the supply of money for loans will shrink by whatever dollars you move out, and the rates will rise. The effect for any one person is small, but there are a lot of people in the market. In aggregate, it's many trillions of dollars. Supply and demand.

Savings rates means a lot, also. When there is a lot of new money coming available in the borrowers market that money is going to be cheaper to borrow, in the form of lower interest rates. This is partially why rates went down throughout 2002, and stayed down into 2003, and 2004. People who had been burned in stocks wanted nice "safe" mortgage bonds. When there is comparatively little new money coming into the market, the only source becomes old loans being paid off. Negative savings or negative investments in the bond market means that what money is coming off older loans is at least partially being used to fund the withdrawals. Competition for money gets fierce, and price - by which I mean interest rate - rises. Supply and Demand.

Competition for money is also a part of the demand side. When the government needs to borrow a lot, for instance, that increases the competition. Even on the scale of our capital markets, whether the government is breaking even or needs to borrow the odd $100 billion has a real and noticeable effect When they need to borrow $400 billion, you can bet it'll raise the cost of money. The government doesn't care, and the bureaucrats running the treasury have been told to get this money. They will do their jobs and get the money, whether it costs 4 percent, 14, or 24. Every time competition from the government drives up rates, a certain number of borrowers whose profit margin on the loan was likely to be marginal will drop out of the auction. But government spending rarely grows the tax base. It's those corporations and small businesses investing in future opportunities that grow the tax base, and they are the ones dropping out of the auctions as money gets more expensive. This is why government deficits are a Bad Thing. Supply and Demand.

The desirability of the alternatives is another factor on the demand side, as well. There's more than one way to make money for most. If it become prohibitively expensive to borrow (bonds), sell part ownership instead (stock). There is a point at which even the most die-hard sole proprietor needs the money, and just can't afford it as opposed to selling some stock to new investors. This can dilute earnings, and cause you to lose control of the company (there were multiple reasons why the high inflation period of the seventies and eighties was followed by the era of the corporate raider, but that's one part), but better to dilute your share of the pool by ten percent while increasing the size of the pool by fifteen. That is a net win, while borrowing the money at twenty-something percent is likely not.

Now, let us consider the money supply here in this country, and thence the state of likely interest rates. We have increased government borrowing. We have the social security trust putting decreasing amounts of money into the government. We have a national savings rate that's negative (and it is the overall rate, not just working adults that we're concerned with, here). More and more people are becoming comfortable with foreign investment. And mortgage bonds are looking jittery right now, with foreclosures up. Supply and Demand, remember?

Therefore, in my judgement, we are likely to see continued raises in the interest rate for some time. If you're on a short term loan that is likely to adjust in the next couple of years, the time to refinance is now, unless you're planning to sell before it adjusts. And if you had asked me a year ago if I'd ever be recommending thirty year fixed rate loans, I would have said, "Not likely". I'm recommending them now. When it's the same rate or higher to get a 5/1 ARM, there is no reason not to choose a thirty year fixed rate loan instead.

(If, on the other hand, you have a long term fixed rate loan, stay put. Once you've actually got the loan funded, they can't just draw the money back unless you do something like fraud or default. Even if you go upside down on your loan for a while, if you're already in a fixed rate loan, that's okay. The market price of the home only matters at loan time and at sales time. If you don't need a loan and you don't plan on selling, why should you care? Note to the young: home prices will rise again.)

Caveat Emptor

Affordable Home - More Than Meets The Eye!

General: Urban East County, 3 bedroom 1 bath. Asking price between $325,000 and $350,000. The owners might come down some, but not a lot.

Why you should be interested: This is a solid family home, in a good neighborhood with good freeway access, close to just about everything, and it's priced fifty thousand below everything similar around it.

Selling Points: How many houses do you find this cheap, with a real back yard, within fifteen minutes of downtown or Mission Valley? Not to mention the park and little league field across the street! The back yard is nice, with a California room and a covered patio and mature shade trees!

Why I think it's a potential bargain: Priced fifty thousand below everything else in a good solid neighborhood, and the schools are above average.

Obvious caveats: A lot of the house is straight out of the fifties. The third bedroom was originally a garage (There's a new detached garage in back)

Why it hasn't sold already: It was priced $50,000 too high. Now that the owners have gotten a clue, they're desperate, but it's been on the market too long to interest most folks.

Monthly Income to Qualify: (assuming no down payment and average credit on a thirty year fixed rate mortgage, full documentation, one total point or less) $5550 gross. If you have a down payment or want to buy the rate down more, it will be less.

If you keep it ten years and it averages only 5% annual average appreciation per year: Based upon a purchase price of $340,000 the property would be worth approximately $550,000. If you held it those ten years before selling, you would net about $260,000 in your pocket (not including increased value from updates!), assuming zero down payment. As opposed to renting the $1700 per month most comparable currently available rental and investing the difference at 10% per year tax free, you would be approximately $130,000 ahead of the renter, after the expenses of selling.

Fact you should be aware of: The bathroom needs an update

Obvious way to enhance value or appeal of property: Paint inside, new carpet. Update the bathroom. Install another bath and fully enclose the California room if you're ambitious.

This property does not appear to be eligible for a first time buyer Mortgage Credit Certificate provided your family income is not more than $82,800 or $96,600. Ask me for more details, on this or any other property.

I'm a buyer's Realtor®. I am looking to represent buyers, so I find places like this that can be gotten at bargain prices. I save you money while getting paid out of the listing agent's commission, not costing you a penny. Nor are these the only bargains I find. In order to protect everyone's best interests, I require a Non-Exclusive Buyer's Agent Agreement. This is a standard California Association of Realtors form that leaves you are free to work with other agents, but if I find the property you want, I'm the agent you'll use. That's fair, and there is no reason not to sign such an agreement unless you're an agent yourself. If your current agent was finding properties like this, you wouldn't be interested.

Contact me: Action Realty 619-449-0723, ask for Dan or email danmelson (at) danmelson (dot) com. Ask me to find a bargain that fits you!

The negative amortization loan is a very popular loan with certain kinds of real estate agents and loan officers. It has two great virtues as far as they are concerned. First, it has a low payment, and despite the fact that people should never choose a loan - or a house - based upon payment, the fact is that most people do both, and the negative amortization loan enables both sorts to quote a very low payment considering how much money their client is borrowing. Furthermore, because it has this very low minimum payment, it enables these agents and loan officers to persuade people to buy properties that they cannot really afford. When someone says, "I'll buy it if the payment is less that $3000 per month," this brand of agent goes to a loan officer that they know will reach for a negative amortization loan, without explaining this loan's horrific gotcha, or actually, gotcha!s. Instead of someone ethical explaining that the real rate and the real payment are way above $3000, and this is only a temporary thing, they keep their mouth shut and pocket the commission.

This commission is, incidentally, far larger than they would otherwise make, and that's the second advantage to these loans from their point of view. When the pay for doing such a loan is between three and four percent of the loan amount, with most of them clustering around 3.75%, and they can make it appear like someone can afford a much larger loan, that commission check blows the one for the loan and the property that this customer can really afford out of the water. When they can make it appear like someone who really barely qualifies for a $400,000 loan can afford a $775,000 loan, and the commission on the $400,000 loan is at most two percent of the loan amount, that loan officer is making over twenty-nine thousand dollars, as opposed to between four and eight thousand for the sustainable loan, and that real estate agent (assuming a 3% commission per side) is making over twenty-three thousand dollars as a buyer's agent for hosing their client, as opposed to $12,000 for the property the client can really afford. Not to mention that if they were the listing agent as well, not only have they made $46,000 for both sides of the real estate transaction, but they have found a sucker that can be made to look as if they qualify for that property, making their listing client extremely happy - the more so because one of listing agents standard tricks is talking people into upping their offers based upon how little difference it makes on the payment. Ladies and gentlemen, if the property is only worth $X, it's only worth $X, and it doesn't matter a hill of beans that an extra $20,000 only makes a difference of $50 on the minimum payment for an Option ARM, as these loans are also called. Indeed, Option ARM (aka negative amortization) loan sales were behind a lot of the general run-up in prices of the last few years. By making it appear as if someone could afford a loan amount larger than they really can, this sort of real estate agent and loan officer sowed at least part of the seeds by making people apparently able, and therefore willing, to pay the higher prices because the minimum payment they were quoted fit within their budget. When someone ethical is showing you the two bedroom condo you can really afford, fifteen years old with formica counters and linoleum tile floors, these clowns were showing the same people brand new 2800 square foot detached houses with five bedrooms, granite counters, and travertine or Italian marble floors. Talk about the easy sale! Someone who's not happy about what they can really afford now finds out there's a way they can apparently afford the house of their dreams!

So now that the Option ARM has finally been generally discredited by all the damage it has been doing to people these past three to four years, and has become well known, and deservedly so, by the moniker "Nightmare Mortgage," among others, this type of agent and loan officer are jumping for joy and shouting from the rooftops that a couple of professors have done apparently some work showing that "the Option ARM is the optimal mortgage." It was reported in BusinessWeek, which would have reason to celebrate if this defused the mortgage crisis, and therefore the credit and spending crunch that comes with it.

The problem is that the "Option ARM" these professors are talking about has very little in common with the Option ARMs, or more properly, negative amortization loans that are actually sold for residential mortgages. If you read their research, the loans they describe actually look a lot more like commercial lines of credit secured by real property. There really isn't much more in common between the two than the name.

The characteristics the professors describe in their ideal loan include first, it being the lowest actual rate available. This is not currently the case. In fact, since I've been in the business, it has NEVER been the case - or even close to being the case. The nominal rate can't be beat, but the nominal rate is not the actual interest rate you are being charged. Ever since the first time I was approached about one of these by a lender's representative, I have always had loans at lower rates of interest, with that rate fixed for a minimum of five years. For the last year and a half or so, I've had thirty year fixed rate loans - the paranoid consumer's dream loan, which usually carries a higher interest rate than anything else - at lower real rates of interest than Option ARM. When you're considering the real cost of the loan, it's the interest you're paying that's important. The lender, or the investor behind them, isn't reporting the payment amount as income. They're reporting the cost of interest to the buyer as income, and that's what they're paying taxes on as well. But because people don't know any better than to select loans on the basis of payment, lenders can and do get away with charging higher rates of interest on these. The suckers pay a higher rate of interest than they could otherwise have gotten, and their balances are going up, which means they're effectively borrowing more money all the time, on which they then pay the inflated interest rate that is the real cost of this money. What more could you ask for, from the lenders and investors point of view?

Now there is a real actuarial risk associated with these loans, as well, which does increase the interest rate that the lenders need to charge. This is that because there is an increased risk that the borrower's balance will eventually reach beyond their ability to pay, a risk which is exacerbated by how these loans are generally marketed and sold, a larger number of borrowers will default than would be the case with other kinds of loans. So these loans aren't all fun and games from the lenders point of view, either - as said lenders have been finding out firsthand for the last several months as the loans go into default. This leads us to the second dissimilarity between these loans as they exist, and the loans said to be optimum by the professors research, and this one is a real problem from the lender's point of view.

You see, the professors' study assumes that the lender can simply foreclose as easily and as quickly as sending out an email. That's not the way it works. First of all, foreclosure takes time, and it costs serious money. The law is set up that way. To quote something I wrote on August 23rd, 2007:

It takes a minimum of just under 200 days for a foreclosure to happen in California, and we're one of the shorter period states. Notice of Default can't happen until the mortgage is a minimum of 120 days late. Once that happens, it cannot be followed by a Notice of Trustee's Sale in fewer than sixty days, and there must be a minimum of 17 days between Notice of Trustee's Sale and Trustee's Sale. Absolute minimum, 197 days, and it's usually more like 240 to 300, and it is very subject to delaying tactics. There are lawyers out there who will tell you if you're going to lose your home anyway, they can keep you in it for a year and a half to two years without you writing a check for a single dollar to the mortgage company. It's stupid and hurts most of their clients worse in the long run, but it also happens. Pay a lawyer $500, and not pay your $4000 per month mortgage. Some people see only the immediate cash consequences, and think it's a good deal.

So that loan is non-performing for a time that starts at just under nine months, and goes up from there. This costs the lenders some serious money - money which they expect to be actuarially compensated for, which is to say, everybody pays a higher rate so that the lender doesn't lose more money on defaults than they make on the higher rate. I checked available rates on loans this afternoon, and for average credit scores on reasonable assumptions, the closest the Option ARM came to matching the equivalent thirty year fixed rate loan was 80 basis points (8/10ths of a percent), and that wasn't an apples to apples comparison, as the Option ARM had a three year "hard" prepayment penalty, while that thirty year fixed rate loan had none, as well as the Option ARM had the real rate bought down by a full percent by a lender forfeiting sixty percent of the usual commission for the loan to buy the real rate down. How often do you think that's going to happen? Sure, the *bleeping* Option ARM had a minimum payment of about $1011 on a $400,000 loan, as opposed to $2463 for the thirty year fixed rate loan fully amortized, but the real cost of money was $2350 per month, as opposed to $2083 for that thirty year fixed rate loan, and the equivalent payment for the Option ARM was, that accomplishes the same thing $2463 does for the thirty year fixed (theoretically paying the loan off in thirty years, providing the underlying rate remains the same), was $2675. Not to mention that the thirty year fixed rate loan has the cost of money locked in for the life of the loan, where that *bleeping* Option ARM can go as high as 9.95%, and the prepayment penalty for that *bleeping* Option ARM starts out at $14,100, and is more likely to go higher than lower for the three years it's in effect. You can't just handwave $14,100 that the majority of people who accept a prepayment penalty are going to end up paying, for one reason or another.

Another characteristic of the Option ARM envisioned by the professors is a so-called "soft" prepayment penalty, where no penalty is due if the property is actually sold, rather than refinanced. That's not the case with the vast majority of real-world Option ARMs. With only one exception I'm aware of, they're all "hard" pre-payment penalties, and the one lender who offered the "soft" penalty has discovered it's not a popular alternative, because they had to charge a higher nominal rate in order to make it work. Since the minimum payment was higher, and it wasn't quite so easy to qualify people quite so far beyond their means, that particular lender had been contracting operations, even while the rest of the Option ARM world was going gangbusters. Indeed, their parent company sold that lender earlier this year, because they just weren't getting any profit out of them, and at one point, they had been a very major subprime lender (They were extremely competitive on 2/28s and 3/27s and their forty year variants, as well as versus other subprime lenders on thirty year fixed rate loans). Until I checked their website just now, I was not certain whether they're even still in business. I haven't heard from my old wholesaler in eighteen months now.

The Option ARM envisioned by the professors lacks the "payment recast" bug present in all current Option ARMs. Indeed, under all currently available Option ARMs, it is difficult to avoid this issue, because they recast in five years no matter what. Furthermore, they professors' assumptions as to the longevity of the loan were open ended - essentially infinite in theory, although no loan given to individuals can be open ended in fact because we're all going to die someday, and most of us are going to want to retire before that, at which point these loans would definitely not be paid down to a point where they're affordable on retirement income under anything like our current system.

One final crock to the whole Option ARM concept as envisioned by the professors seems to be that the borrower gets a reserve amount if ever they default. The obvious retort is "Not in the real world." That is contrary to every practice of lending as it currently exists. That is the very basis of the real estate financing contract - the lender gets every penny they are due, first, and the borrower/purchaser/owner gets everything that's left over. As the authors themselves note, this does create a moral hazard for the lenders. Furthermore, and I must admit I'm not certain I'm reading the relevant passage correctly, another characteristic of the "Option ARM" they propose is that the lender gets primary benefit of any gain in value, and at least under certain circumstances, takes primary risk for any loss. In case you were unaware, this would completely sabotage the benefits of leverage that are the main reason why real estate is a worthwhile investment. This would certainly make the communities that make their living off selling other sorts of investment happy. Lenders, and especially current owners, not so much. Furthermore, I'm pretty certain that if they think about the economic consequences of this, real estate agents and loan officers don't want this to happen, either.

Those aren't all of the differences or relevant caveats, by any means. I took quite a few notes that I haven't yet covered, but it's bedtime, and by this point it should be obvious to anyone who took the trouble to read through the above that there really isn't a whole lot in common between the Option ARM as the contracts are currently written, and it is currently marketed and sold, and the loan of the same name as envisioned by the professor's research, except that name. Any claim that said research rehabilitates the Option ARM aka Negative Amortization Loan aka Pick a Pay aka "1% loan" aka (several dozen words of profanity), is based upon nothing more than the similarity in labeling, as if claiming a Chevette was the same thing as a Corvette, because they're both Chevrolets. Someone reading the professors' research would not recognize anything like the loan they are promulgating in any Option ARM currently on the market, because those currently offered are not based upon any of the same principles.

Caveat Emptor

Postscript: Lest I be misunderstood, I had previously come to a lot of the same conclusions that the professors had, although I had never integrated it into a single article, here or anywhere else. A lot of what they conclude, while pretty much theoretical, has some significant real world applications. Indeed, I have said several times in the past that leverage works best when it's maximized, and when you pay as little as possible towards paying off the loan, although that one result has to be modified for real world considerations like mortality, morbidity, and various psychological factors, which the professors mention in passing but do not really address or answer. I think I have some real academic appreciation for the value of Professors Piskorski and Tchistyi's work, and what went into it, and the results they have achieved. I had to dust off some portions of my brain (and mathematical textbooks!) that I haven't used in almost twenty five years, which was a treat of a certain kind once I got into it. Nonetheless, the products that go by the same name in the current world of loans have nothing to do with what these two distinguished gentlemen are talking about. The loan product I'm aware of that comes the closest is, as I said, a line of credit on commercial real estate.

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Great Layout and Gorgeous View, Close to Everything!

General: Urban East County, 3 bedroom 1 bath. Asking price between $450,000 and $475,000. I think an offer of $440,000 net would get it sold.

Why you should be interested: This is a well maintained older home with a beautiful view of the city. It sits on a large lot, fenced in back, so you have a place for kids and pets, and it's private for parties. The kitchen and bathroom could use some updating, but they're quite usable as they sit. Have your friends over and look out over the city at night!

Selling Points: How many houses do you find this cheap, with a real back yard, within fifteen minutes of downtown or Mission Valley? And that's after you've seen the view!

Why I think it's a potential bargain: This is a great neighborhood to live in, and it has some of the best public schools in the county!

Obvious caveats: The road is the main access to the neighborhood. Also, the parking situation for guests may be impacted (you've got a driveway that can trivially fit two cars, plus a garage)

Why it hasn't sold already: Nobody has found it yet.

Monthly Income to Qualify: (assuming no down payment and average credit on a thirty year fixed rate mortgage, full documentation, one total point or less) $7050 gross. If you have a down payment or want to buy the rate down more, it will be less.

If you keep it ten years and it averages only 5% annual average appreciation per year: Based upon a purchase price of $440,000 the property would be worth approximately $710,000. If you held it those ten years before selling, you would net about $330,000 in your pocket (not including increased value from updates!), assuming zero down payment. As opposed to renting the $2100 per month most comparable currently available rental and investing the difference at 10% per year tax free, you would be approximately $175,000 ahead of the renter, after the expenses of selling.

Fact you should be aware of: Just that the street layout makes street parking a concern.

Obvious way to enhance value or appeal of property: Update kitchen and bathroom. Install another bath if you're ambitious. If you're really ambitious, the yard has all kinds of possibilities.

This property does not appear to be eligible for a first time buyer Mortgage Credit Certificate provided your family income is not more than $82,800 or $96,600. Ask me for more details, on this or any other property.

I'm a buyer's Realtor®. I am looking to represent buyers, so I find places like this that can be gotten at bargain prices. I save you money while getting paid out of the listing agent's commission, not costing you a penny. Nor are these the only bargains I find. In order to protect everyone's best interests, I require a Non-Exclusive Buyer's Agent Agreement. This is a standard California Association of Realtors form that leaves you are free to work with other agents, but if I find the property you want, I'm the agent you'll use. That's fair, and there is no reason not to sign such an agreement unless you're an agent yourself. If your current agent was finding properties like this, you wouldn't be interested.

Contact me: Action Realty 619-449-0723, ask for Dan or email danmelson (at) danmelson (dot) com. Ask me to find a bargain that fits you!

Mortgages and RAMs in Later Life


"Should People in their sixties take out a mortgage?"

The short answer is "Not if you don't have to." Now if I suddenly vanish, the explanation will be that the loan industry put a contract out on me.

Success in loans, and sales in general, is often attributable to selling people stuff they don't need. If you don't sell something, you don't eat. Getting people to call or stop by is expensive. The traditional idea of sales is that you have to make a sale at every opportunity, whether it really makes sense for the client or not.

The various tricks of selling a mortgage to retired folks is a case in point. "It's a cushion," "It's there in case you need it," and all sorts of other stuff to that effect. Combine this with the "If you wait until you need it, you won't qualify!" and most folks who don't know any better will cave in and apply.

This is exacerbated by the fact that most people seem to want to stay in the same home they raised their family in. This is very understandable, emotionally, and often the worst thing you can do financially.

Let's consider the typical three or four bedroom house with a yard, and the retired couple. It becomes more and more difficult, physically, for them to do the required routine cleaning, and even more difficult to do the maintenance and repairs that any home needs from time to time. Sometimes the kids are close enough and willing to help, sometimes they aren't. If their finances are tight in the first place, they get tighter and tighter over time.

Into this environment comes the guy with a Reverse Annuity Mortgage (RAM) to sell. This is a special kind of mortgage, with a special protection for the homeowner (here in California, and in many other states as well) that they cannot foreclose in your lifetime. You cannot be forced out. Well, what if you're sixty-five and live to 100, as a far larger proportion of today's 65 year olds will? That's thirty-five years they are locking this money up for, and there is always the possibility that by the time they consider the cost of selling, etcetera, there will be no equity.

Lending is a risk based business, and that kind of lending carries its own risks. Who pays for the risk to the lender? You do. Especially as opposed to the typical loan where half have refinanced in two years and ninety-five percent in five, this is a long term loan they are being exposed to. Yes, the recipient could get cancer and die in a few years, but they could well survive that. The lender has no way of knowing what the interest rate environment for the money will be in a few years. So either the rate the clients get is variable, or the clients pay a higher rate to have a fixed interest rate.

Once you start taking money out of the RAM, it starts earning interest. Since in the most common forms you are typically not making payments, it accrues interest. If you are making payments, it makes your cash flow even tighter, and you need to take more money. In either case, your balance is increasing, faster and faster with time, until you hit the limit, at which point you can no longer get additional money. This often happens surprisingly quickly, as you have the power of compound interest working against you. This all but guarantees that the family will have to sell the home, often for less than they could have gotten had they the luxury of a longer sale time. Furthermore, if keeping the home in the family is something you would like, a Reverse Annuity Mortgage is almost certain to torpedo the hope.

Contrast this with the swap down option. Suppose instead that adult children buy a small place suited to the parents needs such as a condominium, and the parents live there, while they live in the parents home. This minimizes cleaning, upkeep, and maintenance that the parents need done.

If this won't work, another option is selling the home and buying something smaller. Remember, a RAM will almost certainly cause the family to lose the home anyway. You get more mileage out of cashing in the equity by selling, and investing the equity, than you will from borrowing against the equity. Instead of working against you, compound interest is on your side. Most states have laws preserving property tax basis if that's something that is advantageous.

Let's say that with a $500,000 home, moving down to a $200,000 condo. Net of costs, you net at least $250,000 to invest, and let's say you do so at 7 percent, well below a well invested portfolio. This gets you $17500 per year, or about $1460 per month, indefinitely, and you keep both the condo and the $250,000. Contrast this with taking the $1460 per month out of your equity. Even if you can find a RAM at the same 7 percent, the entire equity is gone out of your home in a little over fifteen years, and that's without including initial loan charges.

Nobody can make you do this, and there are many reasons why you might not want to. But looking at it from a strictly financial viewpoint, it's hard to find the justification for a Reverse Annuity Mortgage.

As a resource, here's the AARP page on reverse mortgages, and here's another page with some good general information.

Caveat Emptor

I have to admit I'm uncomfortable with it and don't like it. As a buyer's agent, here I am getting paid by someone who not only is not my client, but whose interests are aligned, in most issues, opposite to my clients. They want the highest possible price, my client wants the lowest. They want out of the property without spending money on repairs if possible, my client wants the necessary repairs made. The list goes on and on. About the only issue on which the two sides are in agreement is that they want the transaction to happen. Yet it has become essentially universal for the seller to pay the buyer's agent. Indeed, this is basically the only fig leaf protecting Dual Agency. If the money to pay the listing agent came from the buyers, they'd have to ask themselves "whose interest is this agent looking out for?" with the result being that dual agency would die overnight, and if staking dual agency through the heart doesn't appeal to you, you're unlikely to be on the consumer's side. Not to mention the myth of "Discount price, full service" would die just as quickly, on both buyer's and seller's sides of the transaction. There are protections in place to make it both legal and ethical, but getting paid by the seller when I'm acting on behalf of the buyers still makes me profoundly uncomfortable, and that's aside from facilitating these urban legends.

That said, let's consider why it happened, what it would take to make it change, and what the cost of that change would be.

The first paragraph makes obvious the benefits if no sellers were to pay buyer's agents - if what the seller paid out in agency fees was reserved solely to the listing agent, usually contingent upon a successful sale. No "Co-operating Broker" percentage. Not to mention the fact that the seller would come away with a larger percentage of the value of their property. Instead of seven to eight percent, the cost of selling the property would fall to between four and five percent. Not paying the buyer's agent sure looks like a win for the sellers, and one would think explaining that it would be part of an agent's fiduciary responsibility to explain, right?

But the reason that it is in any given seller's best interest is almost as obvious. Ask any agent and any loan officer what the number one obstacle to buyers being able to buy a given property is buyer cash. Okay, there are those unethical persons who will tell you that the problem is qualifying people for property beyond their means, but I'm talking about people who want to buy properties they can otherwise afford. Once they get the loan and the property, they will be able to afford the payments - the real payments on a sustainable loan - and keep up the property and all of the other stuff that essentially goes with "happily ever after". The number one constraint upon people wanting to purchase property they really can afford is cash in their pockets (or equivalently, bank account). The cash for the down payment, the closing costs of the loan, and everything else involved. It takes a long time to save that money, over and above the daily expenses of living. Some people find it difficult; others, impossible. Add the buyer's agent commission to that, and that sets the bar of cash they need to save that much higher.

The seller has the built up equity in their property, from the loan they've been paying on and usually, the increase in property value, and if that property commands a higher sales price, this equity is greater, and therein lies the reason for them being willing to pay the buyer's agent. This willingness means that the pool of potential buyers doesn't need so much cash, which means that more potential buyers are able to afford this property. The more potential buyers able to potentially afford the property, the higher the likely sales price. The greater the economic demand, the higher the price, holding the supply constant, and there is only one such property. In fact, this increase in the sales price is typically much larger than the cash they pay, thus furnishing incentive for the sellers to be willing to pay the buyer's agent as part of paying their own. By shrinking the necessary pool of cash the buyer needs to a smaller percentage of the purchase price, they increase the potential selling price by more than they cash they put out. Furthermore, if everyone else is willing to pay this money and they aren't, by making it harder to purchase their property than the competing ones, they shrink their pool of potential buyers, thus costing them more in eventual sales price than they are likely to recover. If my clients have just enough cash for closing costs plus down payment, they're not prospects for that property, because if they had to write the check for the buyer's agent, they fall short. One alternative is to lump the buyer's agent commission into a seller paid allowance for closing costs, but the six percent aggregate limit that most lenders draw in the sand for that can make it a real constraint. Considered on an individual basis, it's better to simply agree it's your responsibility in the listing agreement, thus removing the money from that allowance.

Indeed, an argument can be made that offering a high incentive (locally, 3% or more) to a buyer's agent is one of the better ways to get the property sold. Not only do many buyer's agents shop that way explicitly, but if they have an exclusive contract that says 3% (as many do, because their clients aren't educated enough to know what a crock exclusive buyer's agency agreements are in the first place, but they'll also willingly trust the chain agent as to what is "standard"). If the Cooperating Broker's percentage is lower than what it shows on the buyer's agency agreement, that buyer will need to come up with more cash to pay their agent, from out of their limited pool of available cash. When that buyer's agent is in a position to demand 3% whatever property their victim buys, even if they didn't find it and weren't involved, that means properties paying less than that aren't contenders for this buyer's business, unless they've got so much available cash that it just isn't a constraint, and that is rare. A better buyer's agent puts a lower number on a nonexclusive contract, and if they get more, that's certainly fine with them, but because they have a non-exclusive contract, they don't get anything if the buyers become disenchanted with them and stop working with them. This gives a buyer's agent with a non-exclusive contract the incentive to find the property that's a real value to the clients as quickly as possible. I care far less about whether I'm getting two or three percent or something in between on a particular property, than I do about finding the property my clients want that's within their budget. My incentive is to make the clients as happy as possible so that I do get paid, because if I don't, I won't. But the buyer's agent with an exclusive contract that pays three percent has a different set of incentives, which is another reason I advise strongly against signing exclusive buyer's agency agreements, and the existence of such creatures is the reason why it may be a good idea for sellers to offer a higher percentage to a buyer's agent. (There is no consumer oriented reason to keep the amount of the Cooperating Broker's percentage secret, and I strongly support making it part of the general public's available information, which it currently is not on the local MLS.)

So sellers offer it because it shrinks the percentage of purchase price that buyers need to have, competing for buyer business as well as expanding the pool of possible buyers theoretically able to consider this property, both of which increase the purchase price more than enough to balance the money they spend. If by paying someone three percent, I increase my take by five percent or more (and the numbers I've seen indicate that the seller's increased take is about ten percent of gross price, which translates to almost seven percent more money in their pocket), that's money any rational person will spend. On a $100,000 property, you spend $3000, get that money back and another $7000 besides - wouldn't you do that? Doesn't happen on every transaction, but those are the statistical averages. It might not be that much in your particular case - but it could as easily be more as less. If the dice were loaded on your behalf like this in Las Vegas, and that the expected value of a $3000 bet was $10,000, most of those reading this would quit their jobs and move there (at least until the casinos went bankrupt).

We've seen what a winner this bet is, in the aggregate, and therefore why rational sellers who are allowed the option will opt to do offer a cooperating broker's percentage, which essentially goes to pay the buyer's agent. The economic incentives under the market therefore reduce it to something like one more tragedy of the commons, although unlike the classic example, it doesn't really hurt anyone directly, it just shifts the market price upwards. The only way to change it is therefore to pass a law prohibiting it. Leaving aside the mechanics of such a law and considerations of whether people could find loopholes in such a law (they would), and consider such a law as being proposed. Consider such a theoretical law as perfectly written and trivial to enforce, such that nobody could successfully get around it. I know that this is ridiculous (as should any adult), but let's pretend to believe this fairy tale for just long enough to tear it apart even under ideal circumstances. What happens? Well the market is priced to include the shift upwards in prices that sellers paying buyer's agents causes. It's just a one time shift, but we've already had the up, so now we'd get the down. Obviously, it would further damage current owners who would like to sell, and make prices more affordable to those who want to buy. Okay, so far we have a 1:1 correspondence between who gets helped and who gets hurt, and even, arguably, a $1:$1 ratio in hurt versus help. For every potential buyer who qualifies on the basis of income but no longer has the necessary cash in hand for a down payment, closing costs and a buyer's agent, to boot, we now have someone new qualify who has the money for the down payment, etcetera, and can now qualify on the basis of income. Like I said, direct effects help someone for every person they hurt. Before we leave direct effects, we might ask about how likely people are to vote to harm people who bought into the current system of homeownership based upon the status quo, in order to benefit an equal number of people who aren't - or aren't yet - part of that system at all. That equation doesn't play well very often in the United States.

Now let's consider the indirect effects. You see, people who want to sell and people who want to buy aren't the only ones affected. People who own, but want to hang on to their current properties will also be hurt. When prices fall 10%, everyone with less than 10% equity is suddenly upside-down, with all of the problems that brings. In the current market, the chances of them being able to obtain refinancing are essentially nonexistent. Maybe you're been paying attention to the news recently, maybe you haven't. There's an awful lot of people who want to hang on to their properties right now, and are having a very hard time. Just because I don't think the one proposal that's been made to bail them out directly is a good idea, doesn't mean I want to actively sabotage their efforts. This would flush all but a vanishingly small percentage of them out of their homes and back into rentals.

Furthermore, there's a ripple effect across the rest of the loan to value spectrum. People who now have significantly less equity find it harder to refinance, and end up with higher rates, higher cost of money, etcetera. When prices shift downwards by ten percent, someone who had ten percent equity suddenly has none, making their loan much more difficult and costly. Someone who had eighty percent loan to value is now essentially at ninety. Someone who was at seventy is now almost to eighty, and indeed, a a 77 percent loan to value ratio is an eighty percent loan. It's not until you get below sixty-three percent of current value (which becomes seventy once values have shifted downwards), that the differences become small enough to ignore. In a significant number of those cases, this is going to make enough of a difference such that these owners will not be able to refinance even though they need to, or they'll have to accept loans they can't really make the payments on. Whichever is the case, they lose the property. How many people who bought in the last few years have a loan to value ratio below 63%? Not a whole lot, it turns out. Even when value increases would have more than caused that level of equity, they've taken out equity lines to pay for improvements, cashed out for toys, or even in order to put the down payment on more real estate. Maybe they shouldn't have done that. It's not my place to make that kind of judgment. I'm only going to say that they did so having no reason to believe the status quo would change, and intentionally shifting it even further on them is moving the goalposts, and to the extent it causes current homeowners to fall short of their goals of meeting their financial obligations and lose their homes, is vile.

All this leads up to the killer reason: As I noted a little while ago, residential real estate in the United States is valued at about 25.3 trillion dollars. Let it be devalued by ten percent, and that's 2 trillion, 530 billion dollars in real wealth, just gone. I could freak out enough people just by talking about the thirty billion, or roughly $100 for every man, woman, and child in the United States, but that's only the third decimal place of the loss, in this particular case. Accounting phantom consisting of numbers on paper or not, this is real money, every bit as real as that $100 in your checking account. Every penny that vanishes means that someone doesn't have it to invest in the economy. Whether it's an individual, a corporation, a lender, or what have you, it means that suddenly the last year or so of economic expansion goes poof!. This two and a half trillion dollars vanishing has second and third order consequences, each dislocation causing more troubles further down the line. The global depression of the 1930s had much milder causes, even considered proportionately. You want to know who gets hurt? The little guy and the emerging entrepreneur, who would have been responsible for most of tomorrow's growth. Old Money comes out fine, by and large. The depression was an inconvenience to the Astors and the DuPonts, to be sure, but that inconvenience didn't much effect their personal lifestyle. It economically killed a generation of innovators in addition to causing well documented economic misery among those who were less well off.

So now you know why the sellers pay the buyer's agents, you know why it is in the individual seller's best interest that it be so, what it would take to change this, and what the results of such a change would be. I still don't like it, but changing it would cause more damage, and more immediate damage, than allowing the status quo to continue.

Caveat Emptor

Hi, Dan! I just came across your website and you strike me as the type of guy who has answers for our situation:

My husband and I built our home 2.5 years ago. We took out a second mortgage last year which brought us up to financing basically 100% of the value of our home. We owe a total of about $305,000 on the home, and even though it was appraised for around $305-310K. if we sell, we have been told we won't get a price anywhere near that, because it is not in a development.

Do you have any suggestions, comments, opinions...which could help us out. We would really like to relocate closer to my brother out in the DELETED area-but we seem to be stuck right where we are given the circumstances-are we?

Gee, around here custom homes usually command a premium over cookie cutters, other things being equal. Not necessarily a huge premium, but a premium.

Nonetheless, I'm hesitant to second guess the agents on the scene when I have zero personal knowledge of your local market. You basically have four options: Stay where you are, rent it out, default, or sell.

You don't state whether you are having difficulty affording the payments, or whether you've got one sort or another of unsustainable mortgage. If you're not having difficulty affording the payments and you're in a sustainable loan, there's no need to do anything. If you're at or close to 100% financing, and you need to refinance, you're looking at right around 6.25%, plus PMI of about 1% until your equity improves. It would be better if lenders were giving second mortgages above 90% financing, but that's not happening right now. I'm going to presume that all refinanced, you're looking at a mortgage balance of $310,000, which may be a little low. Payment works out to $1909 on a thirty year fixed rate loan, fully amortized, plus PMI of $258. If your income situation isn't cramped, you may be able to get "interest only" for five years (or longer!) at a slightly higher rate. If you do an interest only loan, that would be a payment of about $1680. although you need to be aware before you do it that it is a calculated risk. I don't know your market, but mine is preparing to recover and I don't see anywhere not recovering within five years. Nonetheless, getting an interest only loan sets up a deadline for doing something again, and your market isn't under your control or anyone else's. I think it's a reasonable bet given that you already own the property, but it remains a gamble.

Another word on the viability of refinancing: It hinges upon your ability to either get an appraisal that covers the amount of the new loan balance, or to come up with the difference in cash. It is theoretically possible to finance more than the value of the property, but the rate and terms of those loans are ugly. If you're looking to refinance because you can't afford your mortgage, refinancing more than the value of the property is unlikely to make it more affordable. It's probably better to consider another option.

You could rent the property out. I don't know what rentals are like in your area, but if you can get enough rent to cover the monthly expenses (mortgage, taxes, insurance, and an allowance for upkeep and management), that becomes a possibility. If you can cover the difference, that's fine, also. Remember, I think the markets are going to do well once they've digested the hairball caused by the speculative practices of buying with unsustainable mortgages. If you're short $200 per month and in five years you can sell for $50,000 more, that's an investment I'd make. The question, unanswerable by anyone at this point in time, is where your local market will be in five years. $50,000 is about 16% of $310,000. Here in San Diego, I'd leap at that - I think we're going to see that within three years or less, as opposed to current prices. In your area, I don't know. In either case, it's a risk, and you need someone who knows more about your market than I do to advise you on the probabilities.

You could just default. I'm not recommending it. It's a bad option, but it is there. If you want to buy, or even rent, after your relocation, your credit will be hosed. I don't know your state law on deficiency judgments, but that's a concern. Under this same heading is deed in lieu of foreclosure, with most of the same problems. The reason people are willing to grant credit is that we're legal adults, and supposedly responsible. If you give them evidence that you're not, you may not pay for it in dollars directly, but you will pay for it, and typically the interest rate is usurious.

Or you could sell, most likely a short payoff assuming what you've been told is correct. It costs money to sell a property, more so in a buyer's market. Figure it'll cost you about 8 percent of whatever the gross sale price is to get the property sold. Using this as the basis for an estimate, even if you sold for $310,000, that'd only net you about $285,000, so you'd be short roughly $25,000. If the lender forgives the difference, you'll likely get a 1099 love note adding it to your taxable income. If they don't, you could be sitting on a deficiency judgment for the difference. I don't know your state's law, but around here, if someone was liable for the difference, I'd suggest saving the legal fees by agreeing to sign a promissory note. If you fight, you're likely to be wasting the money as well as digging yourself in deeper. They're going to win, and they'll almost certainly get to add their legal fees to what you owe. So unless you really like subsidizing the legal profession, if you're in the situation, I'd suggest considering agreeing to pay without a judgment. Talk to a lawyer in your state about what the law says about your situation, of course, as spending the money for a half hour of a lawyer's time is likely to be considerably less than $25,000 plus interest.

Now if you accept such a promissory note, I actually have no idea what the rate will be, but even if it's 18 percent, you're still talking about owing only about a twelfth of what you do now. I'm not saying it'll be easy, but you can pay it off in a few years, and it's probably cheaper than the costs of defaulting, even though it does hit your debt to income ratio. People choose defaulting and bankruptcy because it's easier now, but when you go through the total costs rather than just the immediate cash, you're likely to come to a different answer.

Caveat Emptor

In an article on my other site somebody wrote in the comments about going upside-down on their mortgage:

What happens if the property value falls and becomes far less than the loan ammount? (POP) Lets say you get a loan for $280,000 on a home that was $330,00 and then three years later is is only worth $150,000, but you still owe $250,000 on it?

Now "upside-down" in the context of a mortgage is just slang for owing more than the property is theoretically worth. This is a tough situation to be in, and there's not much that can be done while you're in it except get through it. Before, yes. After, yes. During, no.

I've predicted that this is going to be a widespread phenomenon over the next few years, and it's going to cause a world of hurt, but it doesn't need to include YOU, unless this has already happened, and I thought Sandy Eggo, where I live, to be on the bleeding edge of bubble problems, and appraisers are still able to justify near peak values even here.

Surviving being upside down is actually pretty easy if you have the correct loan. I bought near the peak of the last cycle, and was upside down myself for little while. If you take nothing else away from this article, understand that the only time your current home value is important is when you sell or when you refinance. If you don't need to either sell or refinance, it does not matter what the value of your home is. It could be twenty-nine cents. It's still a good place to live. You've still got the loan you always did. You should be able to keep on keeping on until the situation corrects. Prices will come back sooner or later.

The key is to have a sustainable loan. I did. I had a five year fixed period, during which time the market recovered and I paid down my loan. By the time I went to refi, five years later, things were better.

This is the real sin of the local real estate and mortgage industry. Yeah, the bubble's ggoing to pop, and everybody knows it. Actually, it's already had significant price deflation. But if they had been putting folks into longer term sustainable loans, they'd be fine. Instead we've had about forty percent of purchase money loans being negative amortization and another forty percent being two year fixed interest only loans. The period of low payments for the former, and the fixed, interest only periods for the latter, are going to expire while prices are still down. That would be tolerable if the people could make the new payment, but if they could have made the new payment, they would have been in longer term fixed rate fully amortizing loans in the first place. What's going to happen next is kind of like when Wiley Coyote looks down.

I've been telling people there are no magic solutions to the problem for over three years now. If you borrow the money, you're going to have to pay it back. Make the payments now or make them later, and the later it gets the worse it will be. There is no such thing as free lunch, and those who pretend that there is are not your friends. The Universe knows how much more money I could have made by keeping my mouth shut and screwing the customer. $100,000 is a conservative estimate. Instead of struggling to convince people to do the smart thing these last eighteen months, I could have been glad-handing everyone in sight and making a mint off of ignorant people. But then there would be court dates looming in my future (those in my profession who were not so careful are going to be in for a hard time, and I hope you'll forgive my schadenfreude when it happens. Those con artists masquerading as professionals stole a lot of money from me and from the people who became their clients by convincing them they could afford more house than they could, or by not admitting to the tremendous downside of what they were offering the client. "No, he just wants you to do business with him and he can't do what I'm doing." I could have gotten the loans, as I informed more than one of the clients I lost, and on better terms, but I wanted them to know the downsides. So I lost the business to the con artist who pretended there wasn't one. There were downsides, but people want to believe the con artist).

What to do if it has become obvious you're headed for the canyon? Figure out what your payment is going to do for the next several years. Determine if you're going to be able to make that payment before it happens to you. If not, refinance now if you can, sell if you can't. Pay the prepayment penalty if you have to, because given a choice between a prepayment penalty and foreclosure, the former is much better.

If you want to refinance, find a long term fixed rate loan. Minimum of five years fixed, fully amortized. Since thirty year fixed rate loans are actually about the same rate as 5/1 ARMS right now, I've been recommending the thirty year fixed for almost everyone. This is a loan that never changes, and you never have to refinance because the payment is going to jump.

The critical factor for refinancing is the appraisal. The Critical factor for the appraisal is how much value can be justified by the appraiser. In order to justify the value, there have to be comparable sales in your neighborhood. The appraisers don't always have to choose the most recent; they have the option of choosing better matches for your home. May the universe help you if there are model matches selling for less in your condominium complex, because there the lender is going to insist on the most recent sales. All the more reason to act now, while you can, rather than wait and hope.

If you're already over the chasm and prices have fallen, consult some local agents about selling. Short payoffs are no fun, but in the vast majority of cases, they're better than foreclosure if you're not going to be able to make your payments. At least when they're done, they're done. Foreclosure is a hole that keeps on draining you long after you've lost the house, and after it's cost you thousands of dollars more than a short sale (and if sale prices continue down, that 1099 love note from the lender after the foreclosure is going to be worse). As for waiting, well, if it's an honest concensus that things are coming right back, but here in San Diego the Asssociation of Realtors had not yet admitted there's price deflation despite it going on for almost a full year. They've been playing games with reported figures to make it seem like things are rosy. There are obvious motivations for this, not all of which are explained by self-interested greed, but it's not something you can paper over and ignore indefinitely.

Who's to blame for the impending trainwreck? I'm not really into blame, but here are several targets. Unscrupulous lenders and agents bear a lot of blame, but not the exclusive burden. Panic and greed on behalf of the buyers is certainly a significant part. And if several folks are telling you that the best loan they have is five and a half or six percent or even six and a half, shouldn't a normal, rational adult be suspicious of an offer that's theoretically at one percent? I can maybe believe somebody who offers something a quarter of a percent better than the competition. Half a percent might be just barely possible. Somebody who offers money, of all things, that's less expensive by an interest rate factor of five isn't telling you the whole truth. (Unfortunately, in this case, these loans are so easy to sell on the basis of minimum payment and nominal rate, it got to the point where these loans were what the vast majority of agents and loan officers were talking about)

As a final note, 125% loans do exist, but they are ugly. Very ugly. Not as ugly as Negative Amortization, but ugly, and the payments and interest rates aren't any more stable than the real terms on those Negative Amortization loans. They don't do stated income, either, or nonrecourse. You stiff those folks, they will get the money out of you.

Prices are going to come back up. It's as predictable as the fact that they were going to fall. Can't tell you when, anymore than I could tell you when exactly they would start falling. Doesn't mean it won't happen. The trick is to have a sustainable situation in the meantime, and this means a loan with payments you can make every month, month after month, indefinitely until the loan is paid off or you have the ability to refinance or sell. If you've got this, someday you'll be telling yourself how happy you are that you bought that property. If you don't have it, get it. If you can't get it, get out.

Caveat Emptor.

Fixing A Bad Mortgage Sale


i was sold a bad home mortage who do you talk to

That was a search I got the other day. The answer depends upon where you are in the process.

If you've just applied, not yet signed the actual loan papers, go talk to another loan provider. It's not like you're committed to the company, and it's not like it never happens. Even the most ethical loan provider loses loans between application and funding. It happens. Go make certain that you are getting the best loan for you. In order to do this, you need to actually discuss your situation with several loan officers - and I mean really discuss it. Ask the hard questions. I've got a list of questions here. Apply for a back up loan, in case you are lied to.

If you've signed the final papers but are in the recission period, contact the escrow company and rescind in writing. Walk it in, don't rely upon a fax or registered letter. Mind you, if it's the last day and after closing time, a faxed recission before midnight will prevent it from taking place - if the escrow company actually gets it. Faxes go astray. This is one reason why you want to contact the escrow company, who is paid to be a neutral third party. I've heard stories of people who supposedly contacted the loan provider and it somehow "got lost" and the loan got funded. Bad situation to be in, and the legal presumption is not in your favor. Now you've got to prove that you sent the recission in time, and that they should have known not to fund your loan. This is hard.

The most common time to realize you've "been had" before the loan funds is right when you get the final loan documents to sign. That's always the moment of truth, and there are few legal protections in advance of that moment. Many people think that the federal Good Faith Estimate or California Mortgage Loan Disclosure Statement mean more than they do, when the fact is that there are very few regulations upon the accuracy of either document, and unethical loan providers are adept at not running afoul of them. And if you trusted that provider and didn't apply for a backup loan and now you are likely to lose the deposit you put down, well the provider is the scumbag, but the person in the mirror helped put you into this situation.

If your loan is already funded, you can contact your state's Department of Real Estate and your lawyer, but odds are extremely poor of those folks being able to do anything that changes the situation. There basically have to have been major rules broken to invalidate the contract, and those unethical providers who pull this garbage are adept at not breaking those few rules which really will land them in trouble. I've had a fair number brought to me to see if I could tell them how to fix it, and the form response is, "If your lawyer and the Department of Real Estate can't help you, all I can do is take the situation today as a starting point and see if selling or refinancing from this point forward put you in a better situation." In other words, the only way to reliably fix the problem is another (hopefully better) loan, or if that won't help, selling the property. The lender is not going to amend the contract because you've got a bad deal. The seller is not going to say, "Oh, I'm so sorry that you had a bad experience!" and restore you to where you were before you bought. This is why you need to make certain that what you're getting is a good deal before you are stuck with it. I'm trying to produce the knowledge that makes this possible here, but you still need to sit down and really talk the matter over with several professionals, and make the effort to find out if a proposed deal is real or nonsense. I am sorry to report that there is no easy way to do this, but you might want to start with these five articles of mine.

If you go in alert with your eyes open and do your homework, you can avert the vast majority of problems before they affect you. If you are one of those who won't do this, then you will be placing yourself in one of three categories: Those with an unreasonable amount of pure dumb luck, those poor schmoes who've been had but know better now, or those poor schmoes who've been had and don't realize it.

Caveat Emptor.

Affordable 4 Bedroom Cosmetic Fixer!

General: Urban East County, 4 bedroom 1.75 bath. Asking price between $350,000 and $375,000. I think an offer of $330,000 net would get it sold.

Why you should be interested: This is a FOUR bedroom house with its own yard in a decent neighborhood with good schools and great freeway access, that a family making $5000 per month can qualify for! (and I'm talking about a thirty year fixed rate loan, too!)

Selling Points: This is an affordable four bedroom home with 100% financing available if you've got not too far below average credit (or better). It has a front yard and a back yard and room for family activities. Master closet is large.

Why I think it's a potential bargain: It really won't cost much to fix this up and have a nice home!

Obvious caveats: The hall bathroom is usable as it sits, but it's not pleasant.

Why it hasn't sold already: People keep looking for the bargain that's already beautiful!

If you keep it ten years and it averages only 5% annual average appreciation per year: Based upon a purchase price of $330,000 the property would be worth approximately $540,000. If you held it those ten years before selling, you would net about $260,000 in your pocket (not including increased value from updates!), assuming zero down payment. As opposed to renting the $1800 per month most comparable currently available rental and investing the difference at 10% per year tax free, you would be approximately $190,000 ahead of the renter, after the expenses of selling.

Fact you should be aware of: Just that pretty much every surface except the kitchen cabinets needs updating.

Obvious way to enhance value or appeal of property: Paint, carpet, a good cleaning, and re-tile the hall bathroom. Plant some grass, and if you're really ambitious, knock out a couple of dividers.

This property does appear to be eligible for a first time buyer Mortgage Credit Certificate provided your family income is not more than $82,800 or $96,600. Ask me for more details, on this or any other property.

I'm a buyer's Realtor®. I am looking to represent buyers, so I find places like this that can be gotten at bargain prices. I save you money while getting paid out of the listing agent's commission, not costing you a penny. Nor are these the only bargains I find. In order to protect everyone's best interests, I require a Non-Exclusive Buyer's Agent Agreement. This is a standard California Association of Realtors form that leaves you are free to work with other agents, but if I find the property you want, I'm the agent you'll use. That's fair, and there is no reason not to sign such an agreement unless you're an agent yourself.

Contact me: Action Realty 619-449-0723, ask for Dan or email danmelson (at) danmelson (dot) com. Ask me to find a bargain that fits you!

Featured on Channel 10!

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I was interviewed by Channel 10 news about the local real estate market yesterday (September 19th). I actually watched their 5:30 news, and it came across pretty well. They went so far as to mention my locally oriented website.

Here's the video, for however long the link may last. You can see this website on the news!

Here's their website linking to mine.

Thank you Channel 10!

Racial Gap In Home Loans

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Racial Gap in Loans Is High in California.

I can give a variety of reasons for this.

First off, especially in Los Angeles but to a lesser extent throughout the state, there is a huge "Spanish speaking only" community. When you limit yourself to speakers of a language which isn't the nation's primary business tongue, you limit your ability to find loan officers who will treat you honestly and fairly and find you the best possible loan. I speak reasonable spanish myself, but not nearly enough to do a loan.

Second, those who speak spanish only are ripe pickings for unscrupulous loan officers and real estate agents. Because they do not understand english, the language the regulations are written in, they have less understanding of what is a complicated and confusing process for anyone who is not a practicing professional. In fact, I can name a lot of alleged professionals who speak english and are nonetheless limited in the comprehension of the process to judge by the evidence.

Third, those who speak spanish only have a lesser understanding of their rights under the law, and since the vast majority of all loan documents are in english (a few lenders are starting to generate a few documents in spanish, but not every document, and it will never be the main copy of anything), they have a lesser understanding of what they are agreeing to.

Gee, I hope the preceding helps the "Spanish only" lobby of separatists understand what they're setting up for the people whose benefit they are allegedly advocating.

But more importantly than all of the preceding, real estate and loans are "sales connection" businesses. Because most people do not shop for homes or home loans in a rational fashion. "I can't be rational! This is far too important for that!" Seems silly, but it's true. People buy or do business with you because you have made them more comfortable, or because they think you can do something nobody else can or will for them. They do business because they connect with you on some level, not because what you're offering is the best thing out there.

Identity politics exacerbates this. There are agents out there (often but not always necessarily of the same ethnicity) whose niche market is "black folks", or "spanish speakers" or "Koreans". Some people will do business just because youre the same, or because they feel some kind of cultural connection. Others will do business because you helped their brother, or friend, whether said brother was the toughest deal in creation or the easiest thing you ever did. And if you brother had to do something, or had something happen, it's only normal it should happen to you, too - right? One of the standard phrases in the sales lexicon is "My you were tough, but we got it done! How about some referrals." This by itself is not evil. But if you've taken advantage of someone as if they were a tough loan when in fact they were not and could have gotten a better deal from someone else, you're lining your pocket at your client's expense. Everybody deserves to get paid for a job well done. But when my contacts in the escrow and title business tell me about people who only serve this ethnic market or that ethnic market who have six percent state of California limits on their compensation externally applied to every single loan they do, or how these people consistently have a sales compensation a full percent above the market, that tells me something: that these alleged professionals are taking undue advantage of their target market. Many of these people they are targeting literally have no way of knowing there is something better out there. Are their tactics illegal? No. Unethical? In at least some cases. Taking advantage of client ignorance? Definitely.

The process of purchasing, selling, or refinancing real estate is byzantine, with rules and regulations that get more complex every year. The average citizen has difficulty understanding the things that may be relevant to their particular transaction (I've had to explain to lawyers how they got taken in their previous transaction). To most people, the whole thing is like some immensely complicated magical ritual. Place the proper documents at the foot of the underwriting god, dance three time sunwise and four times widdershins round the appraisal every day for a fortnight, pray with the high priests of insurance, and you get your house.

It has elements in common, I will admit. But the processes of real estate sales and real estate loans are coldly, brutally, logical once you understand them. Unfortunately, the odds of understanding are stacked even further against those who are apart from the majority of society. Those who are concerned with minorities having inferior loans would have more success in connecting the people to the mainstream of society than in considering further burdensome anti-discrimination legislation.

Caveat Emptor

Let's consider where the rates are: Ever so slightly higher than a year ago. With the Fed boosting liquidity and cutting their short term rates, I expect this to change rapidly, but let's take a look at the actual cost of money on sustainable loans - those same boring thirty year fixed rate loans that ethical providers have been pushing this whole time, rather than the negative amortization loans that has a low payment for a few years while the principal keeps going up every month - just long enough to put you into financial purgatory or worse for the rest of your life. When the forty to sixty percent payment increase hits for those or a short term interest only loan, you're hosed, because if you didn't need all of those tricks to qualify for the loan, you could have had a solid, sustainable loan at a lower interest rate.

One year ago, for one total point retail, I had a thirty year fixed rate loan at 6.00 percent for loan amounts up to $417,000, and not exceeding 80% of the value of the property. If you had credit that wasn't too far below average, you could get a second mortgage back then for the remainder of 100% financing at about 8.25%. Nowadays, second mortgages to bring your CLTV up to 100% just aren't available, so until this changes, if you want financing over 90% of the value of the property, you're probably stuck with Private Mortgage Insurance for a while. In all of the below cases, the best loan for 100% of value I could get right now was a 6.25% 30 year fixed with Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) of just barely below 1%, which I'll call 1%, until such time as you've got 20% equity. Before I go any further, I want to emphasize that if you don't need 100% financing, all of these current properties are even more affordable now as compared to then. If you could put 10% down (or more), you'd come away a lot better! But the object of this exercise is to shine the hardest, most unfavorable light on today possible. I'm going to assume all monthly homeowner's insurance is $110, either then or now, and I just went through my usual area of operations and found the first 10 properties that were on the market both then and now. Nor am I going to use any qualifying tricks like a Mortgage Credit Certificate or any other form of buyer assistance. These are qualifications for straight up A paper loans with average credit scores, doing it all completely on your own.

Exhibit 1: I noticed it early in the spring of 2007, when it was priced at $399,000. I thought it might be worth $340,000 back then. Now, it's priced at $324,000. (This article should also serve as a warning to owners of the dangers of overpricing the property, especially when you first put it on the market). Monthly Income to qualify then: $6810, now: $6027, an 11.5% decline.

Exhibit 2: This sold in June 2006 for $445,000. It's on the market for $375,000 now, and they're not going to get anything like it, but I've got to be true to my assumptions. Monthly income to qualify then: $7567 Now: $6938, a decline of 8.3%.

Exhibit 3: This is a very nice property I noticed in March when it had a $515,000 asking price on it. I thought it was maybe worth $470,000 then. Now, the asking price is $420,000. Monthly income to qualify then: $8,719. Now: $7,687.59, an 11.8% decline.

Exhibit 4: This is a nice older home on a good size lot with mature trees. It expired last December at $440,000, and I thought it was maybe worth $410,000. It's back on the market now for $380,000. Monthly Income to qualify then: $7,485. Now: $7,027, a 6.1% decline.

Exhibit 5 Is an older home in a really nice suburb. It was put on the market for $440,000 in August of 2006, and if they'd priced it just $10,000 lower, it probably would have sold then. They just put it back on the market for $410,000. Monthly income to qualify then: $7,469. Now: $7,563, a 1.3% increase, due to PMI being more expensive than second mortgages.

Exhibit 6: This was a blue collar redneck neighborhood when I was growing up. Now it's suburbia. It was priced at $470,000 last summer, and was probably worth $440,000 and would have sold for $420,000. Now it's a severe distress sale at $350,000, with the trustee's sale coming any day. Monthly income to qualify then: $7,962. Now: $6,492, an 18.5% decline.

Exhibit 7: This property really does have a nice view. When I first noticed it last year, it was on the market for $499,000 and the agent didn't want to let me preview it even though it was empty. "Bring a client, or not at all," she told me. I told her "then not at all," and my clients ended up with a much nicer property. It's gone into escrow and fallen out twice, but the agent doesn't know a qualified buyer from a hole in the ground, either. It's now on the market for $395,000, and they might get $370,000 if they're lucky, but we're still going to use the asking price for comparison. Monthly Income to qualify then: $8,390. Now $7,295, a 13.1% decline (Meanwhile, the owners are out over $40,000 cash - not exactly a sterling performance on behalf of the agent).

Exhibit 8: Post Probate estate sale in a neighborhood with pretty darned good schools. The heir owns it essentially free and clear, but I first noticed it priced at $480,000, and thought it might have sold for $420,000 then. Now it's priced at $400,000, and I would be astonished if they came within $20,000 of that. Monthly Income to qualify then: $8,143. Now: $7,384, a 9.3% decline.

Exhibit 9: This property gets some significant freeway noise, but the previous owners sold it to someone through Dual Agency about a year ago for $585,000. No way was it really worth anything like that, even then. Maybe $470,000 at the most, but it was marketed on the basis of payment on a negative amortization loan, and a sucker walked into the trap. One hopes regular readers understand by now why I keep saying to Never Choose A Loan (or a House) Based Upon Payment. If I sound like an infinitely repeating loop on this point, you should understand why. Now they're in foreclosure, and the property is on the market again with an asking price of $425,000, which they're not going to get with a recorded Notice of Default. Monthly Income to Qualify then: $9,871. Now: $7,830.38, a 20.7% decline.

Exhibit 10 is the star of the show, a relocation company owned property originally priced at $530,000 in summer 2006. I noticed it back then, and thought it was worth every penny at the time. Actually had a client offer $490,000, and they blew us off without a counter. We were within 10% in a very strong buyer's market, so this was pretty silly. My client found just as good of a property, and now the asking price on this property, which has been on the market the whole time, is $450,000, which I'll bet you they're not going to get. Monthly Income to qualify then: $8,966. Now: $8,277, a 7.7% decline.

Average the monthly incomes to qualify a year ago, and you get of $8138. The average now is $7252, a 10.9% decline. It's not like they're making a whole lot of new properties around here. Indeed, the easiest place to find a buildable lot is by tearing down an older existing structure.

These are not really "starter homes." Those are condominiums, these days. These are homes that are really priced for families that have owned condominiums for several years and been well started. Many people may want to move directly into a single family detached home, but most lack the necessary self-discipline. And yet, you can now afford them, with no down payment, with a family income not much over the area median income of $5408 per month, provided you have lived within your means otherwise. If you have a 10% down payment, they become more affordable yet. Even if you don't, as soon as you've got enough equity to get rid of PMI, things become more affordable yet. A few days ago, I found a nice solid four bedroom home that a family making $5000 per month should be able to afford on a currently available thirty year fixed rate loan, in a pretty decent area with above average schools.

My point is this: The days of only 9% of the population being able to afford a single family home are behind us. Rents are experiencing upwards pressure like they haven't seen since the early 1990s, as those people who bought too much home with a loan they couldn't really afford lose them and now have to fit into rentals. Where before landlords didn't want to raise the rents because their tenants would buy, now the people who are looking for rentals have hosed their credit and do not have the option of buying, and will not for several years. The supply of rentals is just as constricted as ever. Last summer the vacancy factor was 3.4%, tight enough in any market. Now it's even lower. I just did a search, and the vacancy factor as of a few days ago was down to 2.6%. Increase the demand side of the equation while constricting the supply, and what happens to price, aka rent in this situation? Add that to the fact that landlords now have to make the cash flow work, as the ability to flip for a profit in a year has dried up, and you have even more upwards pressure on rental rates. Landlords can not only get it, they need it.

Purchasing housing has become much more affordable in the last year. Furthermore, upwards pressure on the price of rentals is increasing, as I have repeatedly predicted over the last year or so. With the federal government looking like it's ready to take over all the bad loans the lenders have made, I wouldn't expect the market to get significantly lower than it has already gotten. Furthermore, another point I and others have repeatedly made is that San Diego has just about saturated its natural and legal boundaries. There isn't a whole lot of dirt left to build more homes upon. It's still a rotten time to sell, but if you have a desire to own the property you live in here in San Diego, I would start looking right now. Because unless something about the situation changes for the worse, I think the market is going to turn from buyers to sellers in the spring of 2008.

Caveat Emptor

The Best Loans Right NOW

6.125% 30 Year fixed rate loan, with 8/10ths of a point and NO PREPAYMENT PENALTIES!. Assuming a $400,000 loan, Payment $2430, APR 6.244! This is a thirty year fixed rate loan. The payment and interest rate will stay the same on this loan until it is paid off! 30 year fixed rate loans as low as 5.25%!

(I usually have information on 5/1 ARMS here also, but this week they're higher than rates for 30 year fixed rate loans - so there's no reason to choose one)

10 and 15 year Interest only payments available on 30 year fixed rate loans!

Great Rates on jumbo and super-jumbo loans also available!

Zero closing costs loans also available!

Yes, I still have 100% financing and stated income loans!

Interest only, No points and zero cost loans also available!

These are actual retail rates at actual costs available to real people with average credit scores! I always guarantee the loan type, rate, and total cost as soon as I have enough information from you to lock the loan (subject to underwriting approval of the loan). I pay any difference, not you. If your loan provider doesn't do this, you need a new loan provider!

All of the above loans are on approved credit, not all borrowers will qualify, based upon an 80% loan to value and a median credit score on a full documentation loan. Rates subject to change until rate lock.

Interest only, stated income, bad credit and other options also available. If you need a mortgage, chances are I can do it faster and on better terms than you'll actually get from anyone else in the business.

100% financing a specialty.

Please ask me about first time buyer programs, including the Mortgage Credit Certificate, which gives you a tax credit for mortgage interest, and can be combined with any of the above loans!

Call me. EZ Home Loans at 619-449-0070, ask for Dan. Or email me: danmelson (at) danmelson (dot) com

Large Lot with a View!

General: Urban East County, 2 bedroom 1 bath with two optional bedrooms. Asking price between $275,000 and $300,000. I think an offer of $240,000 net would get it sold.

Why you should be interested: Truthfully, the structures probably need to be bulldozed. But it's a large lot with a great view. Over a fifth of an acre, and while it's on a hillside, the lot itself is mostly flat! Once the existing structures are gone, build your dream house in an area with a great view, good location, and good schools.

Selling Points: Large lot with a great view, and the existing structures are ripe for demolition! I'd expect to pay a lot more than this for a vacant lot of this size without the view - and the fact that it already has a residence on it renders it eligible for residential financing!

Why I think it's a potential bargain: Most people will see only the ugly current structures, not what it could become

Obvious caveats: This is not a million dollar neighborhood, and R-1 zoning further limits the possible investment profit. But if you want to build your own middle class home, this is a good place

Why it hasn't sold already: Three words: Ugly Old House

If you keep it ten years and it averages only 5% annual average appreciation per year: Based upon a purchase price of $240,000 the property would be worth approximately $390,000. If you held it those ten years before selling, you would net about $1800,000 in your pocket (not including increased value from updates!), assuming zero down payment. As opposed to renting the $1500 per month most comparable currently available rental and investing the difference at 10% per year tax free, you would be approximately $160,000 ahead of the renter, after the expenses of selling.

Fact you should be aware of: I wouldn't want to live in this house as it sits

Obvious way to enhance value or appeal of property: A bulldozer and a building permit.

This property does appear to be eligible for a first time buyer Mortgage Credit Certificate provided your family income is not more than $82,800 or $96,600. Ask me for more details, on this or any other property.

I'm a buyer's Realtor®. I am looking to represent buyers, so I find places like this that can be gotten at bargain prices. I save you money while getting paid out of the listing agent's commission, not costing you a penny. Nor are these the only bargains I find. In order to protect everyone's best interests, I require a Non-Exclusive Buyer's Agent Agreement. This is a standard California Association of Realtors form that leaves you are free to work with other agents, but if I find the property you want, I'm the agent you'll use. That's fair, and there is no reason not to sign such an agreement unless you're an agent yourself.

Contact me: Action Realty 619-449-0723, ask for Dan or email danmelson (at) danmelson (dot) com. Ask me to find a bargain that fits you!

The answer is yes.

As with everything else pertaining to real estate, there are potential upsides and downsides. First of all, lenders in short sale situations often demand agents reduce their commission, so the agents are not likely to start from a discounted or low end commission. If it takes $12,000 to break even on a full service transaction, and you have to reduce your pay to make the sale happen, you're going to want more than $12,000 before the reduction. Discounters usually demand their money up front, but discounters aren't selling many properties in this sort of market. Along these same lines, it's a good idea to offer a larger than average commission to the buyer's agent. The average buyer's agent sees a short sale, and they say a transaction that takes twice as long as average, and that they have to accept reduced commission for while handling a whole lot of additional concerns. It makes the loan officer juggle rate locks and possibly submit multiple sets of paperwork. It makes the escrow officer juggle the entire transaction schedule, usually several times. Sometimes, the transaction approval with the seller's lender takes so long that an inspection or appraisal has to be re-done in order to satisfy the buyer's lender. It's tempting to just consider the property next door or down the street, even if it may not be such a bargain. With short sales, everybody marches to the beat of the seller's lender, which means I (as the buyer's agent or loan officer) have a whole slew of things that can go wrong beyond my ability to control, any of which results in my client ending up unhappy by costing them more money. Unhappy clients are poison to my business, no matter how great the deal they actually got was. Furthermore, I'm a lot more willing to not worry about my pocketbook than many other agents.

The person who drives this whole process, and makes it happen or fails to make it happen, is the listing agent. So if I see anything that tells me that listing agent is a bozo, or doesn't have their act together, I'm going to recommend that my buyer clients pass on the property, and I'm going to tell them precisely why. Pricing, staging, marketing, it's all got to have the fingerprints of a professional. If that listing agent has overpriced the property, if they have allowed the owner to leave excessive clutter, if they're saying things about the property that are not borne out when I go to view the property, I'm going to spell it out to my buyer clients why it's a bad idea to make an offer. I won't even look at "For Sale By Owner" properties trying to execute a short sale. I know, from experience, that I'm wasting my time, and my buyer client's as well. Lender approval of the short sale is not going to happen without an expert who is motivated to get the best possible price. You, as the owner, don't want to turn off either the buyers or their agents. So you want a listing agent that's demonstrably up to the task.

Now just because the lender accepts a short payoff in satisfaction of the debt, doesn't mean that all is forgiven. In some circumstances, they may go so far as to eat the loss entirely. I'm not certain I've ever seen such a case. They may report the loan as being paid satisfactorily to the credit bureaus, avoiding further hits to your credit, but they've just taken a loss. They want to deduct that loss from the earnings, as tax law permits them to do. But in order to do this with the IRS, they pretty much need to send the borrower they forgave a form 1099, reporting income from forgiveness of debt. Since this is taxable income under current law, expect to pay income taxes on the shortfall. President Bush has suggested a temporary halt to this practice, but to the best of my knowledge it has not yet been enacted by Congress.

For those agents who promise that the lender will forgive your debt completely, it really isn't under their control. You're trying to get the lender to forgive many thousands of dollars in money you owe them, plus you want them not to hit you with a debt forgiveness 1099, so they end up paying the taxes as well? Remember that not going through the entire foreclosure process is a benefit to the current owner as well as the lender, and there may be the possibility of a deficiency judgment as well. I'd be extremely skeptical of any promise to get you out of both or all three. If someone comes to me for a short sale, I can promise to try, but I can't promise to deliver. Nor can anyone else - it's not under our control. That's a cold hard fact.

So even though you're not really paying the listing or buyer's agent directly, as you would be in most normal transactions, you can expect to end up paying the tax upon whatever it is they end up making. After all, $10,000 paid to the listing agent and $10,000 paid the the buyer's agent means $20,000 that didn't go to your lender. As I've said before, that lender is going to want to see real evidence of poverty before they accept the short payoff. Getting short payoffs approved is not about "it's difficult!" or "I don't wanna!", it's about showing that there isn't any way that nets the lender more money. If it looks like they'll lose less if they foreclose, expect the lender to go the foreclosure route. They're not going to accept a short sale just because it would be uncomfortable for you, financially. You are (or actually, your listing agent is) going to have to persuade them that all of the other alternatives result in them losing more money than approving the short sale.

Agent commissions mean you'll owe more money in taxes, or deficiency judgment (if applicable) than without an agent, but that's only considered in isolation. If they convince a buyer's agent to show it to their client, if that results in a client being willing to make a larger offer, or an earlier one, if they negotiate the offering price upwards, and most especially if they get the lender to quickly approve a short payoff rather than dragging it out, or going through that whole dismal foreclosure process, all of these mean you ended up owing less money than you would have without that agent - precisely analogous to any number of research studies and studies that show that people who pay full service agents end up with more money in their pocket, even after paying the agent. It's very easy to look at the HUD-1 and ask yourself what an agent could possibly have done that's worth 3 percent of the sales price. There's no way to show or track, on an individual sale basis, the added value that the agent brought to the transaction. Those numbers just don't show up on the individual HUD-1, because there's nothing that documents them. On the other hand, they've been documented any number of times in the aggregate. The bottom line is that if the lender ends up losing less money, you end up with less in the way of potential tax liabilities, less in the way of judgments against you, and less damage to your long term financial picture, not to mention that the lender comes away better and the agent gets paid. If that's not the perfect picture of win-win-win, what is?

One last thing before I close: this presumes you have some reason why you need to sell the property. The local market being what it is, I am straightforwardly advising people not to list their property for sale right now if they have an alternative. It may be a great time to buy, but it's a rotten time to sell. If you can afford the payments, if you don't need out from under the mortgage as quickly as possible - in short, if your situation is sustainable - there's no need to do anything, and you'll be able to sell on better terms when there aren't forty sellers per buyer in the market.

Caveat Emptor

Every so often, I write about professional responsibility.

Every month I get a couple of magazines because I'm a Realtor. In one of this months, was a letter from someone who was proud of the fact that he had never asked someone if they could afford the property, despite having been in the business for decades. Essentially, this reduces to, "I'm in this for the commission check, and what happens after that is none of my business."

Contrast this with investing in the stock and bond markets, where the SEC and NASD have mandated an entire slew of regulations and practices. Before any financial licensee accepts your money, he or she is obligated to ask enough questions about your situation to have a reasonable basis to believe the investment they recommend is appropriate. A large proportion of financial licensees breach this, but the requirements are there, and upon those occasions where the investment turns out not to have been so well advised, they are both civilly and criminally liable. They are supposed to question you about reserves, and a will, and life insurance. Occupation, income, necessary expenses. They're supposed to encourage disability insurance and long term care insurance, where appropriate. The list of questions goes on and on, and if the questions don't get asked, those advisers who fail to ask are going to hear about it. The penalties start with fines that are larger than whatever loss the client may have taken, and include permanent loss of license, jail time, and being a convicted felon for the rest of your life. Among the regulations is a very stiff requirement that the money being invested cannot be borrowed except under strictly circumscribed situations (Margin accounts being the only example I'm aware of).

The idea that you can encourage someone to make a half million dollar investment with borrowed money, get paid thousands to tens of thousands of dollars for it, and have less responsibility than the guy who makes $1.25 signing someone up for mutual funds with $100 they saved out of their pay this month, is preposterous. It's wishful thinking, and lying to the The Guy In The Glass. It is completely unacceptable if those in my profession want to be treated as anything other than snake oil salespersons. Every time someone makes an easy property sale, or an easy loan sale, without ascertaining that they are, in fact, putting the person into a better situation, the fall-out down the line hurts every single one of us in the profession. In fact, the prevalence of discount solutions in real estate can largely be attributed to those unethical members of the profession who have failed to take the real interests of the consumer into account. When someone figures that they likely won't get the sort of real advantages that accrue from using someone knowledgeable and ethical anyway, they don't see themselves as having given up anything when they go the cheaper route.

The absolute worst case from someone investing $1000 in mutual funds is they lose that $1000, which hurts their ego and their pocketbook, but if they had to have that money to live on, they shouldn't have invested it, and the person who solicited that investment will need to answer to the SEC, the NASD, and the criminal prosecutors for their area. As many people are finding out first hand now, that isn't close to the worst case for someone put into a property they couldn't afford. Those people are finding themselves with their credit ruined, owing thousands of dollars in taxes, in many cases homeless, and without anyone willing to rent from them. Life savings may have been completely depleted in a vain attempt to keep the property, and in many cases, there are deficiency judgments against them. In some cases, where a Realtor or loan officer had to exaggerate income in order to qualify them for the loan, they may even face criminal prosecution for fraud. It's like the difference between having your TV stolen, and having your life ruined.

Thirty years or so in the past, the listing services were reserved to Realtors, and so if you wanted access to MLS, you had to hire a Realtor. These days, due to restraint of trade suits, that's not the case. Not only are those days gone, they're not coming back (and that's a good thing, in my opinion). If all you are is MLS access and transaction facilitator, prospects are correct to pass you by in favor of the discount options that accomplish those same services far more cheaply. Every time some Realtor pleads that they're only a transaction coordinator, everyone who hears about that is driven straight into the office of the discount service providers. It's only by being more than that, and being willing to stand up in court and say that you're responsible for more than that, that you earn the additional money over what a discounter will charge. Most lawyers and all of the big chains tell their member agents not to be present for the inspection. My question is, "If you're claiming to provide knowledge or experience that the average person does not have, how can that possibly be anything other than gross and intentional negligence?" I'm there with a notepad, every time - lawyers be damned. As I have said, I'm perfectly willing to do discounter work for discounter pay - I make more money, more quickly, by limiting my responsibility and involvement to running the paperwork, even if I only make half or less of a full service commission. I never try to "upsell" those people who want discounter service. Truth be told, it's easy for someone is used to providing full service to provide better discount service than the discounters. But if you want a client to happily pay a full service commission, you've got to convince them you've earned that money, by providing something real that they would not otherwise have.

One of the most basic of those services is as a check of their ability to afford the property. This is a major psychological stumbling block for a lot of property purchasers. Many very qualified buyers don't understand that they are qualified. Part of this is simple anxiety, part of it is so many loan officers telling people what difficult loans they are to discourage them shopping around to different providers. If you're willing to go over the numbers and tell them what kind of property they can and cannot afford, many people may buy who otherwise would not trust their ability to afford the property. If they tell me to butt out when I ask, that's their prerogative - I tried to do my duty and they absolved me of that portion of it. It's not acceptable if they want me to do the loan (a loan officer has to have the information to do the loan), but I can't force anyone to do their loan with me. Nonetheless, even the most jealous guardian of personal information will concede it was a professional necessity for me to ask. What actually reassures a lot of people, particularly in this market environment, about what they can afford is being told what they cannot afford - information I cover with everyone who'll let me. This information has lost me more than one prospect, but it reassures and solidifies the commitments of most.

If you cannot agree to find them something they want within a certain budget - purchase price budget, not monthly payment - you need to sit down and have a frank discussion about where the market is, and what their budget will actually buy. If their budget won't stretch to what they want, where they want to live, it's part of earning that full service commission to inform them of that fact. If they're going to have to settle for a fixer, a lesser property, or whatever in order to live within that budget, well, managing client expectations is part of every job that has clients. Unless you're personally going to extend them a loan they can really afford in order to buy the property, this means working within what they can afford with a sustainable loans at current market rates that they can actually qualify for, and explaining what they can afford if their eyes are bigger than their wallet. If I ask and they tell me that they don't want to share the information with me, it's a free country and that is their right. It may be hurting themselves by dismantling one of the checkpoints which is there to keep them out of trouble, but it remains their right. I'm fine with them refusing because it means I don't have to do some of the work I have to do for other clients, and have less legal responsibility, to boot. It still doesn't completely absolve me - I've still got to pay attention to any other clues that may be present - but it greatly lessens what I'm responsible for. Failure to ask about their budget and financial situation is prima facie evidence of gross negligence.

Putting clients into property you know they cannot afford, or can afford only with the aid of temporary and unsustainable financing arrangements, is a violation of fiduciary duty, and willful ignorance is not an excuse. If you don't want to be responsible to a client's best interest, find another line of work, like cell phone sales, where you'll fit in just fine.

As far as being a loan officer goes, the question is rarely "Can I get this loan through?" Much more often, it's "Should I? Am I really helping these people if I do this?" Not to mention whether or not I'm likely to end up buying the loan back from the lender. It doesn't benefit me to get a $1500 check if I were to end up paying out potentially $400,000 for a loan that went bad, any more than it benefits the client to be put into a loan where they can afford the payments now, but sure as gravity they won't be able to two or three years down the line.

You cannot provide service or expertise, and be compensated for it, without the associated liability. I'm not a lawyer, but that's my understanding of the law in a nutshell. You can try and duck out, sabotaging your business, your career, and your profession as a whole, or you can stand up and say in a loud clear voice that you are worthy of every penny of what you make, because you accept the challenge of that responsibility. Our profession is better off without the former sort, and they are unworthy of our protection. We should gladly cooperate in hounding those sorts out of the business. Not only is the profession better off without them, we'll be better off without them. On the other hand, there's room for as many of the latter sort as want to practice real estate.

Caveat Emptor

My answer is yes.

National Association of Realtors is very proud of their sponsorship of legislation to keep lenders out of the business of real estate. They quote the legislation keeping banks out of the real estate business as being one of the reasons they're worthy of our dues money. They quote all kinds of justification, centering on the fact that they fear that the banks would "drive all the independents" out of business.

Folks, the vast majority of market share goes to a few big chains. You've heard the names. You know who they are. One belongs to one of the world's biggest financial corporations. Four of them, that most people think of as being competitors, are nothing more than different brands owned by the same company. On that scale, independents like the one I work for - thousands of brokerages nationwide, some of them in multiple locations - account for a grand total of about fifteen percent of market share, last I checked. The big national chains get the rest. They're just as corporate as the lenders, and they're anxious to protect their turf from the one group of potential competitors who have some kind of understanding of the business and otherwise low barriers to entry.

In fact, the lenders would compete primarily with the chains. Corporate marketing channels all look remarkably similar, and reach pretty much the same audience. Sure, lenders would probably take some transactions I'd otherwise get, but most of what they'd be getting would be feeding off fellow corporations. If you're the sort of idiot who believes that Major Chain Real Estate is better because you've had their television commercials tell you so, you're also part of the lender's target market.

Now, let me ask about the interests of the consumer, which are supposedly paramount. Our current system amounts to an oligopoly, controlled in fact by fewer than ten chains who can easily control the market, and practices of everyone, based upon what is in the best interest of those chains. How many lenders are there? I know I've done business with dozens, and even if the current meltdown ends up shaking them out to the point that there are only a couple dozen holding corporations, that's still expanding the choices of this sort of consumer by a factor of three. Furthermore, because there are more corporations in the power circle, it becomes easier to get one (or a few) to break ranks, and harder to get all of them to agree to protect each other.

Let us ask about real estate which has become owned by the lender. Why should lenders lack an ability shared by every other citizen, resident, illegal alien, and even people who have never set foot in the country - the ability to sell their own property? There's no requirement for anyone else to use an agent. It may be smart to use an agent, but everyone else has the legal right to go it on their own. Why not lenders?

I'll tell you why. Because not only would lenders being able to get into the business threaten the interests of the major chains that control most real estate, but this requires lenders to pay those same firms money if they want to get the property from their bad loans sold - and they need to get the property sold.

I have to admit, I'm not exactly eager to compete with yet more big corporations with huge advertising budgets. It remains the right thing to do. Right for the industry, and right for the consumers. As I've said many times before, rent-seeking is repugnant, and that's what NAR is doing - seeking rent from lenders who are not permitted to be in the business themselves.

Mortgage brokers have been competing successfully with lenders for decades, to the benefit of consumers. There's no reason real estate brokerages can't.

Caveat Emptor

In many transactions these days, the buyer has absolutely no money, or an amount that is not sufficient to pay the costs that they would traditionally be expected to pay in order to close the transaction. Nonetheless, in today's 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 been somewhat tolerant of the practice of late, at least so long as the appraisal comes in at or above the official sale price. However, more of them are once again 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. 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. But 100 percent financing seems almost de rigeur of late.

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.

The Buyers get a deal, or so it appears at first blush. A piece of property without having to save for closing costs. In many cases, they don't have to put a penny down, either. Pretty cool, eh? Get a house and actually skip a month (due to the allowance covering prepaid interest), so effectively putting cash in your pocket. Keep in mind, however, that the average 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, often without coming up with a penny and allowing them to save one month's rent or payment, effectively putting cash in their pocket.

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.

There is nothing wrong with this practice, 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.

This is something I probably should have covered quite some time ago, as it's part and parcel of the system that's abused. Here are sample rates from one A paper lender, picked at random, that were in effect a few days ago. These are Fannie and Freddie conforming 30 year fixed rate mortgages with full documentation of the loan. The first number is the cost for a 15 day lock, the second for a 30 day lock, and the third for a 45 day lock. A positive number means it costs that number of discount points to get the rate. A negative number means that the lender will pay that many discount points for a loan done on those terms. Now, I want to make the point that these are wholesale rates, but I didn't feel like translating them to retail. I don't work for free any more than anyone else, nor does any other loan provider.













15 day













30 day













45 day













As you should notice throughout, there is a 0.25 spread in costs between locking in any particular rate for 15 days as opposed to 30, or 30 days as opposed to 45. This is because it costs them money to have the money standing around doing nothing waiting for your loan to fund. The difference in costs between a 15 day lock and a 45 day lock at the same rate is half a point. For most people, the column you want to pay attention to is the thirty day column. Two weeks from a standing start is not enough to do a refinance, and even a purchase is iffy. But you want a rate locked in when you start the process, or you really have no idea whether it will be available when you get to the end of the process. Indeed, many providers work on a "promise the moon and wait and hope" basis, hoping the rates will drop. That's why you want a written guarantee of a rate at a given price on a given loan type.

Now this is a fairly broad spread rate sheet, as the company is willing to take clients through a large range. On the other hand, at a 5/8ths point hit for 1/8th percent rate below 5.875, they are telling you that they really would prefer to keep their customer's rates locked in for 30 years above that. On the other hand, since most people dispose of their old loans about every two years, most folks shouldn't want to pay those costs, which will take much more than two years to recoup from the lower rate. It's much the same phenomenon as insurance companies guarding against adverse selection (only those folks who have major health problems buying health insurance, for example).

Which loan is the best for you? Don't know without more specifics. It depends on approximate loan amount, your life plans, your proclivities, and your financial situation.

But the devil is in the details, and one of the most common devils is details is a provider forgetting the adjustments. Adjustments generally mean that the loan will be more costly than the basic rate/cost tradeoff outlined above, so "forgetting" to post the adjustments on a Mortgage Loan Disclosure Statement is one of the easiest and most effective ways to lie in order to make your loan look more attractive by comparison. Since most providers don't guarantee their estimates, they can do this with basic impunity, but make no mistake - they know what the price is really going to be. If they won't guarantee their estimates, ask them why not. Here are the possibly applicable adjustments for this category:

Loan amount under $60,000: half a point

Loan amount $60k up to $100k: quarter of a point

cash out loan, 70-80% LTV: half a point

cash out loan, 80-90% LTV: three quarters of a point

Investment property 50-75% LTV: one and a half points

Investment property 75-80% LTV: two points

Investment property 80-90% LTV: two and a half points

No Impounds fee: quarter point

2 units 90-95% LTV: half a point

Manufactured home: three quarters of a point (they also have an absolute maximum CLTV of 80%)

Loan distribution

80/15/5 quarter of a point

75/20/5 quarter of a point

Interest only one and one eighths points

if CLTV over 90%: additional quarter point

97 percent of purchase price financed: three quarters of a point

100 percent of purchase price financed: one and a half points

2/1 Buydown two and a half points

Stated income FICO 680-699: half a point

Stated income FICO 700+: quarter of a point

(actually, these are small hits for stated income, indicating to me that I can likely do better elsewhere for a full documentation client!)

So let's see. If you are doing a cash out to 75 percent loan stated income and have a credit score of 690, you add one point to the costs listed above.

If you have an investment property duplex at 90 percent LTV, you would add three points (investment property loans are relatively expensive, as you can see, and it isn't restricted to this lender. They are riskier loans)

Doing 100% financing on a $50,000 home: Two points.

One hopes you get the idea. To leave these out is a tempting omission for the less ethical providers. Just because they are left out does not mean you won't pay them. You will. Usually they will spring them on you with the final closing documents and hope you don't notice. Surprise!

(Between this profession and being a controller for twelve years, people should not wonder why I think that's one of the ugliest words in the language).

Indeed, during my six weeks at the Company Which Shall Remain Nameless, I had no fewer than three screaming arguments with my supervisor over telling prospective clients the truth about adjustments. They didn't want me to. I have this thing about telling clients the truth as best I know it.

Why do they do this? At signup, you have little emotional buy-in. At final loan docs, you are signing so much stuff that even a marginally skilled person who's trying to distract you will be successful a lot of the time. The industry statistics say that over fifty percent literally never notice, at least until much later, after the transaction is irrevocable. And somewhere around eighty five percent of those who do just want the process to be over so badly that they will sign anyway, not to mention the fact that in the case of a purchse, they probably don't have any choice at that point. They need the loan to get the house, without which they lose the deposit, and there is no more time remaining in the contract with which to go out and get another loan. In order to combat this, do the smart thing, and apply for that back-up loan at the beginning. With two loans ready to go, your bargaining position is much enhanced, and the odds are much better that one of them will honor the original quote or something similar. If you can't find a backup loan provider, an alternate tactic is to find someone who will guarantee their loan quotes in writing, but very few will. A quote that is not guaranteed is so much hot air. They might intend to deliver, but the reason they won't guarantee it is usually that they don't intend to deliver it.

Caveat Emptor.

The Best Loans Right NOW

6.125% 30 Year fixed rate loan, with NO POINTS and NO PREPAYMENT PENALTIES!. Assuming a $400,000 loan, Payment $2430, APR 6.167! This is a thirty year fixed rate loan. The payment and interest rate will stay the same on this loan until it is paid off! 30 year fixed rate loans as low as 5.625%!

(I usually have information on 5/1 ARMS here also, but this week they're higher than rates for 30 year fixed rate loans - so there's no reason to choose one)

10 and 15 year Interest only payments available on 30 year fixed rate loans!

Great Rates on jumbo and super-jumbo loans also available!

Zero closing costs loans also available!

Yes, I still have 100% financing and stated income loans!

Interest only, No points and zero cost loans also available!

These are actual retail rates at actual costs available to real people with average credit scores! I always guarantee the loan type, rate, and total cost as soon as I have enough information from you to lock the loan (subject to underwriting approval of the loan). I pay any difference, not you. If your loan provider doesn't do this, you need a new loan provider!

All of the above loans are on approved credit, not all borrowers will qualify, based upon an 80% loan to value and a median credit score on a full documentation loan. Rates subject to change until rate lock.

Interest only, stated income, bad credit and other options also available. If you need a mortgage, chances are I can do it faster and on better terms than you'll actually get from anyone else in the business.

100% financing a specialty.

Please ask me about first time buyer programs, including the Mortgage Credit Certificate, which gives you a tax credit for mortgage interest, and can be combined with any of the above loans!

Call me. EZ Home Loans at 619-449-0070, ask for Dan. Or email me: danmelson (at) danmelson (dot) com

Time In Line of Work


From an email:

Anyway, my wife and I are about to purchase a place here in the X area and we've been hearing that "a tough loan" line due to the fact that I'm only 10 months into my new small business although I've been profitable the entire time. We're stuck doing No Doc/Stated Income setups - I think you called these "liars' loans" - and the rates are a bit painful.

My wife's scores... at 720 are the lowest we have and mine are (higher).

Well, the good news is that your credit scores place you in the highest band of credit scores. There is no category beginning higher than 720.

The difficulty is that you're running afoul of one of the background rules of the whole loan process. Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac rules limit A paper loans to those with two years in the same exact line of work. With some limitations, a good loan officer can sometimes get it approved for two years with the same employer, if they've been progressing normally within the company. Changing from a W-2 employee to self employed is a change that cannot be approved, at least from the point of view of A paper. A minus and Alt A rules are mostly similar. So you're looking at subprime if you're documenting income. Let's examine A paper documentation levels to see if they're a possibility.

Full Documentation: Requires documenting two years income same line of work. You can't; you've only been self-employed for ten months.

Stated Income: Requires documenting that you've had the same source of income for two years. Nope. Yes, these and NINA loans are often called "Liar's loans" in the business because the lender agrees not to verify your amount of income. That's because loan officers eager to make a commission on a loan where the client really doesn't qualify use these to qualify the client. The qualification standards are there for your protection as well as the lender's. Just because you can use these to qualify doesn't mean it's smart. Locally where I am we have a huge house of cards because loan officers use these to qualify clients for negative amortization loans. Yeah, the temptation to make a commission is there, but am I really serving the client's best interest by securing them a loan they can't really afford where even the payment they can't afford has them owing more money each month? I submit that the answer to this question is usually no. These are designed for self-employed folks and people on commission who make the money, they just have write offs and such so that they can't really document it. Using stated income to say you make money that you don't is a dangerous game. It's likely to result in foreclosure.

NINA: Requires a good credit score. This might be your ticket. On the other hand, you don't state how much of a down payment you have, percentage-wise. A paper NINA requires some equity in the property; I've never seen an actual A paper NINA approved with less than about ten percent equity. On the other hand, these are very easy loans to actually do. It's trying to qualify you for something better that's hard.

On the other hand, if we move down into subprime, the rules aren't set by Fannie and Freddie. There are subprime lenders with one year same line of work programs, and even a few with six month programs. On one hand, they're subprime loans, carrying a higher rate/cost tradeoff just by virtue of that. On the other hand, because you're documenting your income, you get a break for that.

One of the great universal things of the loan business is this: The looser the underwriting standards, the higher the rate, and the tighter the underwriting standards, the lower the rate. If a given lenders underwriting standards are looser, it's rates will be generally higher.

Now, given that you've only been self-employed for ten months, you're not going to have much of a paper trail. There are three possible ways that banks will accept to document income. W-2? Even if you have them, they're no longer applicable. Income tax forms? Given that it's September, counting back ten months leaves you starting the business in November of last year. Even if you had enough monthly income to qualify for that month and a half or two months, the tax forms effectively spread it across all of last year, and that's unlikely to show enough income. The third method of income documentation, unique to subprime, is bank statements. This, you might be able to do. Most subprime lenders have 24 and/or 12 month bank statement programs, and a large number have six month programs as well. The longer you can document for, the better the rate, but better six months than nothing.

Will this get you a better rate, at a better cost (two questions that always go together), than an A paper NINA? The answer to that is on a case by case basis. There is no way to be certain without pricing it around by the full details of your case, but there's a good chance, and you can get 100 percent financing this way.

I will warn you that bank statement programs (often called "EZ doc" or "lite doc") are THE most difficult loans to actually get approved. There are more problems with these than any other loan type. On the other hand, as I've covered elsewhere, if it gets you a better loan, the effort is likely to be worth it. Furthermore, there is a question of whether you qualify for the loan by the bank's standards. Some banks discount the amount of money coming into the account, some do not.

So which is the better alternative for you? I don't know without actually pricing it. I don't know for certain that either can be done for your situation without information like how much income your bank statements show, and how big your loan needs to be, and how much of a down payment you're making. Get a couple of good loan officers working on it in your area, and find out.

And yes, this is a tough loan situation. Both A paper NINA and subprime bank statement programs have their limitations. Failing that, you fall all the way back to subprime NINA, where somebody with your score can get 100 percent financing no worries, but the rates are rough on the pocketbook.

One of the things that has a lot of issues is any transaction between related people. Actually, this is not limited to purely family transactions, but applies also to transfers among partnerships and their partners, corporations and their officers

The market theory holding that the value of a property is what is agreed to between a willing buyer and a willing seller is subject to the proviso that neither buyer nor seller has a reason to inflate or deflate what the property is worth to them. If the parties are related, there is an obvious reason to think that this may not necessarily be the case. Parents do things for their children all the time, siblings for each other, and as you're probably aware if you work in corporate America, major stockholders, investors, and executives often manipulate corporate versus personal transactions for less than wholesome reasons. Partnerships do the darnedest things, as well.

The issue, as far as the lender goes, is that they are trying to safeguard their money. Lending is a risk based business, and the lender wants to know that they are not taking more of a risk than they intend to when they take on this loan.

Let's say Jane Jones is CEO of SuperColossal Corporation. She wants to manipulate her compensation, so she has SuperColossal sell her property for half it's real value.

Now this is actually okay by most lenders, if not securities regulators, IRS agents, et al. The loan is based upon the purchase price, the appraisal comes in double the purchase amount, and the lender assumes less risk than they price the loan for. Remember, the property is valued based upon LCM: Lower of Cost (purchase price) or Market value. When market value comes in high, the lender is covered. What isn't so cool is if Jane Jones sells SuperColossal the property back at twice its value. If the corporation gets a loan for 75 percent of value, that's at least a third of the lender's money they're not going to get back in case of default, which becomes likely when Jane is fired and the new CEO asks why they are paying the loan when they owe half again what the property is worth.

Needless to say, the lenders want to guard against that. Many lenders will not do related party transactions, period. For the ones that do, they will want to be very careful on the appraisal, which has now become their only guard against getting into an indefensible position. Many times, lenders may require related party transactions to go through certain appraisers, they may require in house appraisers, they may require multiple appraisals, and they may require that there be no contact between principals and appraisers. Whatever their required precautions, they need to be followed, as failing to do so will cause the loan to be rejected.

I'm going over this to make a point. Many lenders have other requirements as well. Some may require full documentation only, others require that the loans have full recourse (they can come after you legally if they lose money). Each and every lender creates their own policy, and if your transaction is between related parties, it is probably more important to inquire about related party transfer policy and requirements than it is to get a good rate at a competittive price. Not much use having a great quote if you can't meet the lender's requirements. Even worse if it causes you to waste time with a lender whose requirements you cannot meet, and now your deadline for the transaction is here and you don't have a loan, and so cannot complete the transaction.

Caveat Emptor.

Once upon a time, this was a good way to get more money for your listing. This led to a classic tragedy of the commons. Because it didn't take hardly any extra time, and there was no reason not to do so, listing agents will claim there are multiple offers with practically every property. It's not like they are expected to furnish any evidence.

Because of this, in the last few months, I've had listing agents try to tell me that there were suddenly multiple offers on property that has sat on the market for months. If I don't see any evidence that there's a reason for it to suddenly have multiple offers, such as a recent massive drop in the price, I find these claims dubious at best. It might be believable if the property has been on the market for three days, and has not recently been listed before that. If it's been on the market more than three weeks, such a claim is dubious at best. I recently talked a pair of clients into making an offer on a property that had expired twice and been re-listed for a third time. A week prior to that, a special incentive to buyer's agents had expired. In short, there was every reason to believe that that we had a clear field, with nobody else making offers. As I always do, I included information on comparable properties that had recently sold in the neighborhood, of which I had inspected two, and the issues that this property had. The listing agent claimed there were multiple offers and gave the kind of counter I hadn't seen since the height of the seller's market three years ago, demanding a "best and highest" counter. I and my clients jointly countered back that we'd agree to their conditions, if they'd agree to our price, and gave them 24 hours to take it or leave it.

Now before you pull something like this, you do need to have multiple counters in point of fact. Because the flinty-eyed buyer's specialists know better. Even if they do, in fact, believe that you've got multiple offers, we're going to tell our clients that it's best to counter back as if the seller is lying. Essentially, we call their bluff. If they do have multiple offers and someone is stupid enough to play ball with them, that's no skin off my client's nose. With over forty properties for sale for every buyer, if this seller doesn't want to be realistic, we can keep looking until we find a seller that will.

For an intelligent buyer in this market, even if there are multiple offers upon a property, it doesn't make us willing to offer more for the property. It means we want to expedite our deadlines for the sellers to respond, and it means we're likely to make subsequent counters with a multiple offer contingency (in other words, we're making offers on multiple properties now. If another offer gets accepted before you accept ours, we're going with that one). Mostly though, it means that this seller, and their listing agent, have their heads stuck in the land of wishful thinking, and it's time to consider another property. Nobody can make them sell against their will, but we can find another property where they seller isn't so far gone in denial, and where the agent has done a better job of explaining the realities of the current market. It's not like there's any shortage of choices.

Let's face it: Unless you fax over the offer, complete with all terms and the competing agent's name and their contact information so I can verify it, there is no reason for me to believe that you have a competing offer. If you do this, the offer is either better than my clients', or not as good. If it's not as good, the leverage is provides is minimal, in any market. If it's better than my clients' offer, it's either something my clients are willing to beat or it isn't. If it isn't, your leverage is still negligible. It's only if the other offer is better, but my clients are willing to beat it, that this trick offers you any leverage whatsoever. In this market, it's more likely to make us act like I discussed in the last paragraph - because in this market, no property is worth getting attached to before you own it. Let me baldly state that I also understand the potential benefits of collusion with your friend the agent from another office. She colludes with you on your client's property, and you collude with her on hers, each stating that they do, in fact, have clients making thus and such offers on that property. Since once again, it's trivial to convince yourself that it's in your client's best interest, even verified offers aren't going to mean a whole lot to a smart buyer's agent in this market. The buyer's market may not last much longer, but while it does, there are still no properties worth a buyer getting attached to them before closing. And for all the properties I've made offers on where the listing agent claimed there were multiple offers, I've never had one of them offer any real evidence.

People willing to price their properties to the market, and negotiate realistically, can sell properties very quickly due to the fact that comparatively few sellers are competing well for the buyers that are out there. In the last couple months, I've been involved in the sale of two beautiful properties - and two others that were plug-ugly, but sold quickly because the sellers and their agents had their heads in the right place. In one instance, I even had someone bidding against my clients, but we nonetheless consummated the sale quickly.

If you're trying to sell in this market, and you negotiate unrealistically, you are only hurting yourself. That buyer's agent can find them something better, cheaper, making the agent's client much happier. Even if you do have multiple offers, it might be a good idea not to particularly act like it. You can check the multiple offers box without being aggressive about it.

The property I mentioned earlier? Where the agent and seller acted like it was still a seller's market? It's still for sale, and my clients have moved into another property. The relocation company that owns it is out roughly $6000 per month. Had they priced it to market, and negotiated reasonably, they likely would have sold. If they simply negotiated reasonably, they would have sold it to my clients. My clients have their new home - they're happy. The sellers? Not so much. They're paying about $6000 per month for an empty property. It's been on the market for a year now, and it's not like they have any real alternative to selling. That's $70,000 they've flushed down the drain to no good purpose, and it's not like there's any chance of them getting more than the property is really worth.

For listing agents who refuse to act like their clients are competing for buyer business, and have to compete hard under current conditions, they are violating client interests no less than if they counseled the client to accept an offer from someone acting as a straw buyer for the agent, personally. In fact, I rather suspect this particular agent of being Sherrie Shark, but there's nothing I can do for the owners as a buyer's agent. It's not legal for me to so much as contact them without going through Sherrie. Nor would it benefit my clients in any demonstrable way. It just gets me and potentially my clients caught up in a legal morass to no beneficial purpose. So the owners are high and dry on their own. It's our profession's problem, but there's nothing I can do about it as an individual.

Caveat Emptor (and Vendor!)

One of the casualties of the current lending meltdown is the high loan to value second mortgage.  With many properties locally having lost twenty percent or more of their value, a second mortgage on a property that ends up in default may well lose every single dollar the lender put into the loan.  It shouldn't surprise anyone that lenders don't want to get into that kind of situation.  Even though I (and most other credible analysts) are convinced that the values are stabilizing locally, the money markets are still in fear mode over the money they have lost or are on track to lose.

The result is that lenders of junior financing aren't nearly so willing to go to 100% financing any longer.  Even when the same lender is lending the money for both loans, the people who underwrite the second mortgages are (usually) a different division.  So when the property goes to foreclosure, the division who underwrote the first mortgage may end up with every dollar or nearly every dollar of their invested money, and they come up smelling like a rose.  The division that underwrote the second mortgage that got wiped out and came out with 10 cents on the dollar loses their shirts, and everybody gets fired.  The lender I've probably done the most business with just did away with all programs offering over 90% financing - doesn't matter the credit score or how much we can prove they make (UPDATE: My mistake - it was only subordinate financing over 90%, which further emphasizes my point).  This is going to impact how much business I do with them, of course, but they've decided they're not willing to accept the risk in order to get the business - which is their prerogative.

They're hardly alone.  It has been increasingly difficult to get second loans over the last couple of months.  With the situation as I've have discussed, and second mortgage lenders in the process of losing every penny they put into loans, they understandably don't want to do it.

There is an alternative.  There are still any number of lenders who will accept 100% financing on one loan with Private Mortgage Insurance (aka PMI).

Private Mortgage Insurance is an insurance policy that the borrower pays for but which insures the lender against loss.  It does get the borrower the loan, but that is the only good the borrower can expect to get out of PMI.  It does not prevent your credit rating from being ruined, it does not prevent any deficiency judgments that you may be liable for, and it definitely won't prevent the 1099 love note that tells the IRS you owe taxes on debt forgiveness.  All it does is shift the entity that loses the money from the lender to their insurer, so that if you default, you'll be dealing with the insurer instead of the lender via subrogation.

What  is going on here is that lenders are shifting the risks to insurers, who are in the business of taking risks via the Law of Large Numbers.  Yes, the insurers know they will lose a certain number of these bets, but they are comfortable that overall they will make money at it.  It is to be noted that lenders can improve their profit margins by self insuring, but they're not in the business of insurance.  I'm certain some of them insure themselves in one way or another, but they isolate the risks away from their lending divisions, which are in the business of making money by loaning it out and having those loans repaid in full.  When a lender loses a dollar because the loan wasn't repaid in full, that hits them where it really counts - bond rating, stock price, value of their mortgage bundles on the secondary market.  When an insurer loses a dollar due to paying a claim, that's part of their daily business.  They're in the business of paying claims, fully expecting premiums to more than pay for those claims.

As I said in One Loan Versus Two Loans, PMI is more expensive than splitting your mortgage into two loans, but when nobody wants to do second mortgages with less than ten percent down payment, the choices may narrow down to accepting PMI or not buying the property.  The only other alternative that comes to mind is a private party loan, either in the form of a Seller Carryback (which comparatively few people are willing and able to offer) or the "good in-law" loans that were popular before lenders started liberalizing their standards in the 1970s.

(I haven't been in the business that long.  I've never heard the phrase actually used by another professional, although I actually did a transaction that involved one earlier this year.  I learned it from textbooks, as even in the early nineties when I both bought my first property and went back for my accounting degree they were a fading memory)

Paying PMI does have the net effect of decreasing the loan that potential buyers will qualify for, so this development should cause some small amount of additional downwards pressure in prices.  For those interested in irony, the lenders are contributing to their own immediate losses by bailing out of the low equity financing market.  People who have to pay a higher effective rate for the money can't afford to spend as much for a property, which means that current owners, whether they're borrowers or lenders, won't be able to get as much money for them.

One last thing before I finish.  Don't get too hung up on the fact that you may end up paying PMI when experts (myself included) advise you not to.  It's one of those voodoo words and concepts like "points", that people freak out about because they've been warned about them but they don't really understand.  Just like points, many experts, myself included, often advise you not to pay PMI.  But if you have one loan that is over 80% loan to value ratio, you are going to be paying PMI in one form or another.  As I said in How Do I Get Rid of Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI)?, it can be a separate charge or camouflaged by being built into the rate, but you're still paying it.   There are advantages and disadvantages to each choice, as I explained in that article.  Choose your alternative with your eyes wide open and an understanding of the consequences, not because someone scares with with the voodoo phrase, "PMI."

Caveat Emptor

HI, My name is DELETED and my husband and I are searching for a way to get out of our Negative ARM loan before we get upside down.

Our problem right now is our loan to value. Our loan right now is at $547,367.80 and is only getting higher. Our house just appraised at $620,000.00. We have a prepayment penalty of $20,000.00 and would just like to get that covered. We feel we need a Jumbo loan if possible.

Our wish is to get into a 40 or 50 year fixed. My husband makes good money and I will be working in a couple of months making a decent income. Right now I am doing temp work. We can afford payments for our mortgage if we were to refinance but we are having a hard time finding someone who will take the risk with us. If there is a risk. We are just trying to get out of this loan that is going to end up taking our house from underneath us. Our credit is good and I feel there is a way something can be worked out

Can you help us?

I will try, if you're in California. First, let's stop and think a minute about your situation and what will benefit your pocketbook, rather than mine.

If you pay the penalty, your new loan is going to be approximately $570,000, even without points, something I truthfully don't think is going to happen the way jumbo rates are. Neither I nor any other loan provider can get you a loan that isn't available. $580,000 is more likely, considering prepaid interest, etcetera, unless you have some cash to pay it down. $570k and $580k are both within the band of 90 to 95%, so I have to price it as a 95% loan to value ratio.

But what if you don't have to pay the penalty? Now staying at or below 90% loan to value is a real possibility, and the loan can be priced as a 90% loan, giving better trade-offs. The way we might be able to do this is to check if we can get your current lender to refinance you. It'll likely mean renewing your prepayment penalty, but better that than paying $20,000 in penalty. Even if you end up with a higher rate than you might otherwise get because your lender doesn't have the lowest rates, $20,000 is almost four percent of your loan amount. Over the course of the 3 years of the new prepayment penalty (since that's standard for negative amortization loans), you'd have to save over a percent per year to break even with another lender. As I said in "Getting Out of Paying Pre-Payment Penalties", sometimes lenders will not require you to pay a penalty if you refinance with them and accept a new penalty.

In short, if we check with your current lender first, we might save you $20,000 cash plus the interest on it. So let's figure out who your lender is and ask.

The second alternative is to find out how long until the penalty expires. Make at least the interest only payments every month until your payment expires. How long do you have left on the penalty? If you've only got six months or a year left, rates just aren't low enough to make it worth your while refinancing right now, especially Jumbo loans, which even if your loan to value ratio was below 80% would still cost you nearly two points for a 7% loan. If you pay at least the interest only payment, you're not getting in any deeper. When the penalty expires, maybe rates and the market will be in better shape and you'll get a better loan. Matter of fact, with the current mostly psychological meltdown in the loan market, it's a moderately good bet, especially as opposed to just flushing $20,000 paying that penalty. If you have less than a year left on the penalty, I strongly urge you to make the interest only payments (or more), and come back to me about three weeks before it expires. From that point, by the time I can get your new loan funded, the penalty will have expired.

Even if you're only six months into your loan, we'd have to save you about about 1.5% on the rate for you to come out ahead by paying that penalty. $20,000 times 12/6 divided by $547,000 gives a current rate of 7.3%. As you'll see, a blended rate of 6.67 is about as low as I can get for this situation. Your rate would have to be at least 8.2% now for paying that penalty to be in your best interest.

The loan market today is a very different creature than it was a few months ago. Let's look at the alternatives, assuming your lender will waive prepayment with a new loan. Even so, let's look at a loan amount of $558,000, which is about where you're going to be with closing costs and one point.

At 90% CLTV, I currently have a 30 year fixed rate loan at 7.375%, with PMI of about 0.7% on top of that. At $558,000. Payment would be about $4180, of which roughly $325 is PMI, $425 is principal, and $3430 is straight interest. Real cost of the loan would be roughly $3755 per month. Even if I could get you a 40 year amortization at the same rate, the payment would be $3945, and at 50, the payment would be $3843.

Or we could split the loan into a 80% 30 year fixed rate first at 7.375 without PMI and a 10% second at 8.55%. Payment on the first, about $3426, of which $3048 is interest and $377 is principal (numbers don't add due to rounding to the nearest dollar). On that 30/15 second of roughly $62,000, the payment would be $479 and the interest $442 while the principal is $37. Real cost of the loan, roughly $3490 per month, $265 less, and more of it is likely to be tax deductible. Plus, in terms of payment, I've saved you more than the difference between the thirty and forty year amortization, and almost the difference between the thirty and fifty year amortization.

Or, we could split the loan into a conforming first at $417,000 with a $141,000 second, again on a 30/15. Now that first mortgage is at 6.125%, for a payment of $2534, of which $2128 is interest and $405 is principal. The rate on the second drops also, to 8.3%. Payment, $1064, of which $975 is interest and $89 is principal. Real cost of this loan, $3103 per month, and the total payment is only $3598, another $307 per month less than the second alternative and $582 less than the first alternative.

Before I close, it occurs to me to ask if you are actually able to make those payments. Because the fact is that you owe $547,000 right now, and that's a cold hard fact that nobody is going to change. Quite often, people get put into negative amortization loans because that's the only way they're going to make the payment on that much debt. If you cannot realistically make these payments, delaying the inevitable will only cost you more. As things sit, you might come away with a few thousand dollars if you sold now, and then you can buy something you can really afford. If you wait, things are going to get worse, and you're going to end up with a short payoff and a 1099 love note that says you owe taxes, plus maybe a deficiency judgment, having your credit ruined, and still not having the home of your dreams. This doesn't make me popular right now, but what people like you are going through now is the result of people in my professions who wanted to be rich and popular, rather than actually doing what was best for the clients. Were I in your shoes, I'd likely be asking a lawyer if there's some liability on the part of your lender and real estate agent.

Caveat Emptor

Internal Links, etcetera

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I believe that I have now fixed all of the internal links for  Please email me if there still are broken internal links for that website. 

At the same time, I've added tags, which serve much the same purpose as chains, except that they can be multi-relational.  You'll find them on the bottom of the individual articles.  You can click on them and you'll get all of the posts with that same tag, so if you're looking for something, clicking on the most relevant tag has a good chance of bringing up the article you really want.

The standard browser "find on page" can also work wonders finding an article from the (new) archive page, if you know some of the title.  And, of course, I've already put Google Search back in, and Google has mostly re-indexed the pages.  Between all of this, it's much easier to find what you're looking for. 

I'm hoping to start with new content again by the start of next week.  FYI, there will also be a Consumer focused Carnival of Real Estate next week.

The Best Loans Right NOW

5.875% 30 Year fixed rate loan, with only two points and NO PREPAYMENT PENALTIES!.  Assuming a $400,000 loan, Payment $2366, APR 6.106!  This is a thirty year fixed rate loan.  The payment and interest rate will stay the same on this loan until it is paid off!  30 year fixed rate loans as low as 5.25%

10 and 15 year Interest only payments available on 30 year fixed rate loans!

Great Rates on jumbo and super-jumbo loans also available!
Zero closing costs loans also available!

Yes, I still have 100% financing and stated income loans!

Best 5/1 Loan trade-off: 6.25% NO points.  Assuming $400,000 loan, payment of $2462, APR 6.293%.  5/1 ARM loans available as low as 5.375%not an option ARM!

Interest only, No points and zero cost loans also available!

These are actual retail rates at actual costs available to real people with average credit scores!  I always guarantee the loan type, rate, and total cost as soon as I have enough information from you to lock the loan (subject to underwriting approval of the loan).  I pay any difference, not you.  If your loan provider doesn't do this, you need a new loan provider!

All of the above loans are on approved credit, not all borrowers will qualify, based upon an 80% loan to value and a median credit score on a full documentation loan.  Rates subject to change until rate lock.

Interest only, stated income, bad credit and other options also available.  If you need a mortgage, chances are I can do it faster and on better terms than you'll actually get from anyone else in the business.

100% financing a specialty.

Please ask me about first time buyer programs, including the Mortgage Credit Certificate, which gives you a tax credit for mortgage interest, and can be combined with either of the above loans!

Call me.  EZ Home Loans at 619-449-0070, ask for Dan.  Or email me: danmelson (at) danmelson (dot) com

Aggregators and Sidebars

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Okay, I'm still struggling a little with a long blank space on one sidebar (composing this entry while the site republishes to see if I've fixed it), but it appears that all the aggregators and social media links are present, even if a few are not quite where they belong.

If any of the aggregators you're used to are missing or nonfunctional, please email me.  If there is one (or more) you would like me to add, also please let me know.

Still remaining: Fixing all of the internal links, importing unpublished articles, and finally I'm going to try to fix it so that people coming in on a link to the old naming scheme get redirected to the correct article, as there seems to be a tool for that  You'll need to email me, but please wait until I have the internal links fixed!

Domain Pointed to New Host

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The domain has now been pointed at the new host.  Still have the vast majority of the work to do.  All of the internal links are broken, every post needs to be categorized, and I have to restore all of the aggregator stuff.

If You're looking for something specific, go to the Archive Page at the bottom of the main page.  That's the best way to find stuff right now.

E-mail also needs to be fixed.  The only real way to send email right now is by leaving a comment.

UPDATE: Looks like I'm now able to send and receive email at the usual addresses
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This page is an archive of entries from September 2007 listed from newest to oldest.

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