100% Financing or Low Down Payment or Low Equity: PMI May Be The Only Option

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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."

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on September 10, 2007 7:00 AM.

Refinancing Out of A Negative Amortization Loan Before The Penalty Expires was the previous entry in this blog.

Listing Agents Claiming There Are Multiple Offers in a Buyer's Market is the next entry in this blog.

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