May 2008 Archives

This email exchange is worth another article on a different subject. Everything down to "Afterwards" is a straight out of the email except that I deleted any information that might identify a particular individual or company. The context was that he wanted my ability to locate and recognize bargain properties.


I am currently working with a coworker with no agreement. However, she has offered to rebate 50% of her commission. Are you negotiable with your commission?

I am very ready to buy a place at a bargain or discounted price. I have been pre approved by DELETED for $550 but I do not want to spend more than $525, preferably around the $450 range.

I have sufficient liquid funds for 10% down and have an excellent credit score...score 3 months ago was 752.

Let me know.

I do have lower cost packages for when you do part of the work, starting with finding the property.

When I find the property, I retain the entire commission.

Yes, getting half the commission back is cool with most folks. But consider: Did your current agent find you something like this? Does she spend enough time shopping the market that she even knows what is and is not a bargain, or does she just say "Here is the living room."? What value is she providing you? If the answer is, "not much," then no wonder she's willing to rebate half the commission! As far as she's concerned, the half she does keep is free money for going around and looking with you. My goal is that my clients end up with at least 10% they would not have had without me - either a better property for the same money, or the same value property for a lower price, or some combination of the two. Now, if getting half of a two point five percent commission via rebate sounds better than saving 10% of the value of the property, by all means keep doing what you are doing. If getting a property that is worth more, or paying less for the same property, is what you are after, you need someone who is likely to deliver that.

Yes, I'm one of the deepest loan discounters there is. That's because a loan is a loan is a loan, as long as it's on the same terms. A thirty year fixed from National Megabank is the same loan as a thirty year fixed from the Bank of Nowhere in Particular, provided the rate, costs, and terms are the same. Only difference is who you make the check out to.

No two properties are alike. Especially in the current market, the difference between shopping smart and not doing so is tens of thousands of dollars, far more than a commission rebate. I don't rebate buyer's commissions because I provide more than that in value.

Now, I've got some bargains I've found. If you'd like to work with me and get shown these bargains, or have me go looking for bargains specifically for you, give me a call and let's make an appointment to meet and get my contract signed. It's non-exclusive, so if you don't like what I find for you, you're free to stop at any time and go work with someone else. If I don't perform, as in find the property you want, I get nothing. I put a lot of work into every client or prospect I work with, with the idea of getting them a better bargain. I'm confident enough of my abilities that I don't need to tie you to me exclusively. But you do get what you pay for. If you want a Yugo agent that breaks down in the middle of the transaction and leaves you stranded, that's no skin off my nose, but you are not the client I'm looking for and the bargains I find are for my clients.

Consider that your boss could probably hire other people to do your job more cheaply, but his additional investment in you probably makes him more money than that cheap replacement worker would save, and that's same reason is why I am worthy of my pay.

By those characteristics, you are a very qualified buyer. You should be working with someone who knows how to use that as leverage to get you a better bargain.

Or you can pay full price for a mediocre property, and console yourself with 1.25%.

If you decide you would rather have the real bargain, here I am, ready to go to work for you.

It may be true of what you are saying, however, if you want to win over prospects....you are going to have to change the tone of your communication. You come across very demeaning. Even if you were giving your services away free...I wouldn't be interested.

I took the time to explain the situation to you, rather than a flat answer. That's just a small taste of the value I provide. I am paid to be the expert, and I earn my pay. If you are an expert, you don't need me. If you don't know about all the stuff you don't know about and are stuck in denial about "Agents don't even need a college degree!", you won't see the value of a real expert - which is part of the point of what I wrote. Believe it or not, there are clients a good agent does not want, and you appear to be one of them by your response.

If all you're interested in is that rebate, that's fine with me - I am not looking for penny-wise and pound-foolish clients. I am looking for people who understand and are willing to pay for value when they find it, in order to save more money in the long term. But if you won't pay for value, don't be surprised when you don't get it. If you don't believe skill makes a difference, by all means go with the commission rebater.

Good bye and good luck.


You are an idiot. And I am going to report to the board.

There are plenty of agents that want my business. I haven't even tried to contact any agents yet.

You are the one that needs the good luck.

NOW GET LOST!

Afterwards: This guy is working with a weekend agent who isn't good enough or confident enough to quit her real job on the largest transaction of his life. No wonder he doesn't realize what a difference a good buyer's agent can make! Furthermore, it's highly unlikely that working forty hours per week somewhere else, she has the time, energy, and inclination to keep up with the market and its changes, let alone screen out properties that aren't worth the client's time. Value provided? Letting him into the property and saying, "Here is the kitchen. Here is the living room." Most people really can figure that out for themselves. Improvement in outcome over just doing something incredibly stupid and calling the listing agents? I can't see that there is likely to be any.

Now this guy was hoping I'd reduce my commission, and it's okay to ask. It's not okay to get upset when someone won't. It's counterproductive to get upset and claim I'm being "demeaning," by explaining to him what he plainly had not considered, that the value provided by a good agent far exceeds the commission rebate. He probably thought that that was "hard negotiating," not understanding that he had marked himself as someone that cannot be dealt with on the basis of mutual profitability, both of us coming out of the exchange better than we otherwise would have. If you don't understand that there is a problem or challenge, you are unlikely to understand the solution. On paper, the Yugo looks like a good idea. But once you deal with one, you know it's no bargain. Maintenance, reliability, performance, noise, lack of room, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. I see a lot more original VWs on the road, marketed to the same demographic over twenty years earlier, than I do Yugos. Problems in real estate transactions happen, and they're often much better buried than anything purely mechanical. Furthermore, there's no real "lemon law" equivalent in real estate, and if you fail to deal with the issue at the proper time - most preferably, before it's a problem at all - it's far more costly to go back and fix. You saved $4000 on agent commission! Yay! You bought the wrong property, paid too much, can't afford necessary repairs, and have to sell at a huge loss and pay bigger commissions out of that than the person who sold you the property did? Not so good. Definitely not so good. Not to mention that with the prices of real estate being what they are, anything you "saved" in compensating the person who is supposed to be the expert on your side is likely to be lost several times over because the person who will work cheaper isn't worth as much.

In certain quarters, it's practically an offense against humanity to claim that you provide more value than another agent might, but it is nonetheless true that some agents provide more value than others. Get offended if you want. It makes zero difference to the facts. It is more constructive to employ techniques to find those agents who provide more value. Agents need to know the market segment they are serving, and this person is not part of mine. My business model does not permit me to do business with this sort of client and stay in business. You want cheap service with a commission rebate? The weekend agent is the way to go, not me, however much it might anger you to be told so. You want someone who is actually going to find you a better property at a better price, and provide more leverage in negotiations? You may be the client I'm looking for, and the discounter with the commission rebate is as inappropriate for you as an agent as I am for his ideal client. The discounter might want my clients, but they are not set up to serve the needs of those clients. I occasionally do business with one of the discounters preferred clients, but I have no interest in seeking them out, and I cannot stay in business spending as much time and effort on them as someone where I make the full commission. Truth be told, the existence of such clients dilutes the value of my reputation, when somebody who has persuaded me to offer them a discounted package for lesser services tells someone who might otherwise be a good prospect that I did a good job, but nothing special. My target client is someone who's not only looking for excellent value, but recognizes it when they see it.

Caveat Emptor.


Many people think that mortgage interest works like rent: paid in advance before you live in the property for the month.

This is not the case.

Mortgage interest is paid in arrears. As you begin the month, interest begins accruing. It accrues throughout the month, and the payment is due at the beginning of the following month. The reason for this is that the interest is unearned until you have actually borrowed the money throughout the month. You could win the lottery, write a best seller, sign a contract a with professional sports team, or any number of other farfetched but real possibilities for suddenly acquiring a windfall of cash enabling you to pay that loan off. You could also refinance, in which case that lender is only entitled to the interest from the days you had their loan.

When you refinance, however, or even when you take out an initial purchase money loan, you will generally be required to pay the interest for the remainder of the month on that new loan in advance. The reason for this is quite simple administrative - it gives the lender some time to set all the bookkeeping on that account up, gives them a full month at least between initializing the loan and the time any money should be hitting their account in payment of that debt.

So when you refinance, you make an upfront payment to the old lender for the part of the month they held your loan during the month, and to the new lender for the time they held your loan. Say the new loan funds and pays off the old loan on June 15th. You will pay the interest from June 1st to 15th to the old lender, and from June 15th though the 30th to the new lender. You never, ever, get a free month, because interest never stops, at least so long as you owe the money. In point of fact, I tell people to think of it as making their normal payment early, as in this case they're writing the check they normally would have written July 1st two weeks early on June 15th. It's really just the interest owed, but since most folks don't keep their loan more than a few years, there usually isn't a large proportion of principal in their regular payment anyway. Therefore, if you think of it as your regular payment, paid early, it'll usually be a little bit less. There are usually one or two days of overlapping interest, which is why most escrow officers won't request funds on a Friday. You don't want to be paying interest on two loans over the weekend to no good purpose.

So why do lenders use the "skip a month of payments!" come on? Some will even use, "Skip two payments!" Because a new loan is being originated, they can (generally) roll that money into the balance on your new loan where you not only pay the money, but you pay interest on it for as long as you owe that money. Make you feel all warm and cuddly? Didn't think so. Anyone who uses the "skip a payment!" promise to get you to refinance has just told you point blank that they're a dishonest crook. However, since most people don't know how to translate loan officer speak into English, they get away with it disgustingly often. The state of financial education in this country is a national disgrace. Of course, it's to the benefit of certain political groups to have voters believing that there is such a thing as a free lunch.

You never really skip a loan payment when you refinance. If you try, all you're really doing is adding it to your balance. You can decide to pay your balance down at loan inception and pay closing costs out of pocket, and while an accountant or financial planner will generally tell you there are better uses for the money, it can be a very smart thing to do if your circumstances are right for it.

Caveat Emptor

That was a question that brought someone to the site and the answer is very simple: they don't give you the loan. You haven't agreed to pay them, so why should they?

There are two major cases of this, one of which has two sub-cases. The first case is that if it's a purchase money loan. Because you don't get the loan when you don't sign mortgage documents, there may be issues with whether or not the seller is entitled to keep your good faith deposit. Now, if you can come up with the cash to pay the seller from somewhere else, for instance, if you have it sitting around and just would have preferred to get a loan, no worries. You still have the option of hauling out your checkbook, and you can get a loan later, although it will be "cash out" loan which generally has a rate and term trade-off a little bit higher than "purchase money". If you applied for a back-up loan, you can sign the other loan papers. But since most people don't fall into either of these two categories - people with the cash lying around and people who applied for more than one mortgage - you are probably looking at the unpleasant reality of not having the money to purchase the property. In most cases, the loan contingency has expired, assuming there was one to start with. Matter of fact, usually all of the contingencies have expired, leaving you without anything to excuse not consummating the transaction. Therefore, any good faith deposit is at risk, not to mention that the transaction may well be dead. The seller only agreed to give you that exclusive shot to buy the property for so may days. If you want to extend escrow, most sellers will require some additional consideration in the form of cash in order to allow the extension. In fact, many agents and loan officers have gotten very lazy and lackadaisical about deadlines, with potentially severe repercussions to you, their client. Once those contingencies have expired, usually on day seventeen, you typically are stuck. Consult a lawyer for the exceptions, but there really aren't very many. This is one of the many reasons why being successful in real estate is about anticipating possible problems and taking precautions. If you wait until the problem crops up, it's usually too late, and often, the best thing to do is sign the loan documents even though they are nothing like the loan quote that got you to sign up with that company, because otherwise the consequences of not signing are even worse than signing. Many loan companies target the purchase money market with this in mind.

The second major case is if you are refinancing, which leaves you in pretty much the same boat you were in before you started the transaction. You own the property already. You have a loan now. Unless you have a balloon loan coming due, you just continue on with what you were doing before you started the process of refinancing.

There are two major reasons why people refinance: Better terms, or cash out. If you are doing it for better terms, and the new loan doesn't deliver, there pretty much is no reason to sign those documents. This includes if they are actually willing and able to deliver the rate, just not at the cost they indicated when you sign up. There is always a trade-off between rate and cost in mortgage loans. Usually, the lowest rate will not be worth the costs you have to pay to get it, but if they lie about what it really costs to get you to sign up, those final loan documents are going to have a rude surprise if you look at them carefully. All but the worst scamsters will usually deliver that rate and type of loan they talk about. Where they fall short, or actually, go over, is in the costs department, because a loan with $5000 more in costs will likely have a lower payment than the loan where they don't hit you for those extra $5000 in costs, but do give you the rate that the costs they talked about really buys. Most people shop and compare loans by payment. It may be short-sighted and the best way there is to end up with a bad loan, but they do it anyway. They are more likely to bail out of a loan where the monthly payment is $60 more than they were initially told but has the same costs, then they are to back out of a loan where the payment is $25 more, never mind that the former is probably a better loan for them.

Refinancing for cash out is a more nebulous area. Since it's a refinance loan, you probably don't have a deadline, so you can go back to the beginning and start all over if you want to. Sometimes, however, rates have shifted upwards since you started the process, and so it can be to your advantage to go ahead and reward the company that lied to you in order to get you to sign up. If they haven't done so, however, dump that problem provider and see if you can go find someone honest! Furthermore, sometimes people have absolute deadlines as to when they need that cash, or it saves them so much money that they are better off signing those documents anyway, or the improved cash flow means they don't have to declare bankruptcy. Most often, there is plenty of time to go back to the beginning and try again, but there are exceptions. In this situation, I'd be particularly careful to sign up for a back up loan, or require a written loan quote guarantee, but people don't always understand the problem until they have been bitten.

Now when you don't sign loan documents, if you have put down a deposit with the lender, you are going to lose it. Low cost ethical loan providers who really can deliver what they talk about, and whose rates really are competitive, do not typically ask for deposits, and are willing to work without them if they do ask. They know their rates are competitive, that they intend to deliver what they talked about and that there are any rates significantly better out there. It's only when the company fails one of these tests that they have a real need for a deposit, in order to commit you to their loan.

One more item needs to be covered: Irrelevant documents aren't needed. I don't need anybody except those folks who are getting a negative amortization loan to sign a negative amortization disclosure. The same thing applies to pre-payment penalties. If they don't apply to your loan, they shouldn't be required. If they can't fund your loan without it, there is a reason, so don't sign disclosures you aren't willing to accept the implications of. If you sign a negative amortization disclosure, the legal presumption is going to be that you realized it was a negative amortization loan and accepted it on those terms. Ditto a pre-payment rider. Of late, unscrupulous companies seem to be asking people to sign these after loan funding "for compliance". Consult with your lawyer, but I wouldn't sign them at all. If they were able to fund your loan without them, they are obviously not a necessary part of the loan structure. If not, why did they fund your loan without them? The only "compliance" aspect is to this is complying with them getting paid more money. Admittedly, it's small-minded to refuse to sign the pre-payment rider when you were informed at sign up that the loan had a pre-payment penalty, but bottom line, they shouldn't fund your loan if they aren't willing to accept it as it sits, and that's not the situation most folks are running into. They are asking the questions and being told the answer is "no," only to discover later that the answer was really "yes," but by lying to their prospective customers, some loan providers can get paid large amounts of money and pawn bad loans off on most of their customers.

Caveat Emptor


The Best Loans Right NOW

5.875% 30 Year fixed rate loan, with one total point to the consumer and NO PREPAYMENT PENALTIES!. Assuming a $400,000 loan, Payment $2366, APR 6.011! 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 5.125 percent!

5/1 Rates are becoming attractive!

Best 5/1 ARM: 5.25% with 1 total point to the consumer, and NO PREPAYMENT PENALTIES! Assuming a $400,000 loan, Payment $2208 APR 5.381. This is a fully amortized loan with a fixed rate for the first five years. 5/1 ARM rates as low as 4.625 percent!

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

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

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Yes, I still have 100% financing (full documentation) and stated income loans!

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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


Many agents seem to answer this question differently depending upon whether their client is the prospective buyer or seller. When their client is making an offer, "No, your deposit could never possibly be at risk," while when their client is evaluating an offer, "And besides, if they renege or can't bring it off, you get to keep the deposit." Both of these are false, misleading, and practicing law without a license.

The cold hard fact is that the deposit is always at risk, but there is absolutely no guarantee that a jilted seller will get it, either. The answer to "Is the deposit at risk?" from a real estate agent can never honestly be anything other than "Yes."

For buyers, the deposit is "at risk." Otherwise, what would be the point of having it? If it couldn't be lost, why would it need to go into escrow? Just to prove the buyer has a couple thousand dollars to their name? I can do that with a Verification of Deposit. The only reason to make a deposit on a purchase offer is that it is at risk, and no listing agent in their right mind is going to accept any purchase offer where there is no deposit - even if the buyer is doing a "one dollar down" VA loan. That seller is risking a minimum of a full month of all carrying costs (usually much more) upon your representation that you want the property, and they are entitled to keep your deposit if certain conditions are met. For sellers, no you don't automatically get the deposit if the buyer flakes out. There are burdens upon you and your agent, and contingencies, or escape clauses for the buyer, built right into the purchase contract. You don't want to allow those clauses, that's your choice, but you'll severely restrict the number of people willing to make offers as well as the price you will actually get. Even if the seller negotiates the payment of the deposit to them as part of the contract, the buyers can still sue to get it back. This is the real world and an offer is being made with real money and real consequences to that money. If you're unable to come to terms with that fact, stay a renter, because that fact is not going to change. For agents, if the only way you can make a sale is to misrepresent the deposit, it doesn't take a great fortune teller to see a courtroom in your future.

For buyer clients, I can do a lot to keep a deposit from being forfeit - any agent and loan officer can. Get out in front of all the contingency issues and any other reason that my client might decide they don't want to purchase the property, and get them dealt with right away, during the contingency period. Loan, appraisal, inspection, I want them all done before their contingency expires, or at the absolute minimum, a loan commitment with contingencies I'm certain we can meet. As of this writing, I have not yet lost any buyer deposit money. Nonetheless, since no agent can honestly guarantee the deposit will not be lost, I cannot and will not pretend that I'm some kind of exception to the law. The only way I could make such a guarantee is by putting up my own money as a surety, and if my client lost a deposit for a reason that was in any way my fault, I hope I would reimburse them (Until it happens and I'm facing an actual choice, there's no way to be certain). But it's not my investment, and if the investment succeeds, I'm not going to share in the proceeds (I'm given to understand that's illegal, at least in California), and one of the essential, unchangeable facts about investment is that there is no such thing as a risk free investment. If you don't understand this, any money or assets you may have can be considered a temporary thing, and you have no business in a profession with responsibility for other people's money. Anyone willing to say that there is no risk is either a fool or a crook. Nor is it likely your agent or anyone will reimburse you, especially for situations beyond their control, or if you misrepresent your situation or miss deadlines.

For listing clients, the same thing applies: Get what I need to done right away, and keep after that buyer's agent to remove contingencies in a timely fashion. If they won't remove contingencies when they are supposed to be removed, it tells me all I need to know. It's my client's call, but I know what my recommendation is going to be. I want the transaction to work, but I also want my client to get that money if it doesn't. Incidentally, Deposit issues are one reason of many that nobody should ever be willing to accept dual agency.

The bottom line is like something out of quantum physics: Schrodinger's Cat. Ideally, you want the sale to go through and record and for everybody to be happy because it all turned out exactly as agreed. Unfortunately, that's not perfectly predictable or knowable in advance. If it was, no real estate transaction would ever blow up, and the deposit would not be an issue. There are laws and procedures, and things agreed to in the purchase contract, that you have to be a real estate lawyer to offer an informed opinion about, and the judge, arbitrator, or whatever making the decision to make a definitive ruling. Escrow has custody of the money, but they're not going to do anything without mutual agreement of the buyer and seller. Either side can potentially decide to be stubborn and force the matter to arbitration, court, or whatever is appropriate, and all the consequent expenses of the legal system (which additional money is also at risk as the usual agreement is that prevailing party is entitled to legal expenses). And the legal system runs in incomprehensible ways for unpredictable reasons - the one thing that seems to be a constant is that if the judge wants the ruling to go a certain way, they can probably find a precedent to justify it if they try.

The point is this: The deposit is at risk. It is not "safe", and it does not necessarily belong to the seller either. Since this is cash, people understand that it is real money, because they had to scrimp, save, and set every single dollar in it aside from other uses, so they get understandably nervous about it. It represents a great vacation, a down payment on a new car, or something else very desirable that they're giving up, and they're putting at risk of forfeiture. Against this, the seller wants it if the transaction fails. There are ways to protect it, and ways to endanger it, and you've got both agents working to their client's advantage. As with any other competitive or potentially competitive situation, that makes the result indefinite until the game is complete. It isn't common in my experience that the deposit is forfeit, but it does happen. And anybody who tells you otherwise is either lying or hopelessly incompetent. Nonetheless, real estate is such a powerful investment that you are well advised to come to terms with the risk, because it's a necessary risk in order to buy real estate.

Caveat Emptor


A few days ago I wrote an article explaining why borrowers should consider a 5/1 ARM, because the tradeoff between rate and cost is lower for that loan, and most people don't keep their loans 5 years anyway, so having a likely need to refinance 5 years out is not an additional cost for most people with mortgages.

There are two sorts of cost for loans: The cost to get the loan done ("closing costs"). This pays for everything that needs to happen so that the loan gets done. These costs may vary from place to place, but they are absolutely mandatory - they are going to get paid. For instance, on a $400,000 refinance with full escrow, my clients are going to pay $2945 in closing costs, when you really include everything. Many lenders will try to pretend some or all of the closing costs don't exist in order to get people to sign up, but they do. I can save some money with virtual escrow in some cases, but $2945 is real. The proof is that I can put it in writing and guarantee in writing not to go over. Lenders don't want to do this, but if they're not willing to put it in writing that they'll pay anything over that, the reason is because they know it's going to be more when it comes down to it at the end of the loan.

The other cost is the cost for the rate. There is always a tradeoff between rate and cost. If you want the lower rate, it is going to cost you more money. If you are willing to accept a higher rate, you can save money on the cost for the rate, to the point where it can reduce or eliminate the closing costs you're going to have to pay. Zero Cost Real Estate Loans exist - I've done dozens. I love them because they save my clients money.

You can lump the loan provider's profit in with the costs for the rate, as origination points, or in with the cost of the loan, as an origination fee, pay it via Yield spread (if you're a broker) or even (in the case of a direct lender) hide it in the fact that you're going to make a huge profit selling that loan on the secondary market, but I guarantee you it's going to get paid somehow. Nobody does loans for free, for the same reason you wouldn't work if you didn't get paid.

These costs are going to get paid. End of discussion. The costs are slightly different in states with different laws, but necessary costs are going to get paid. They can get paid out of pocket or they can get paid by rolling them into your loan balance but they are going to get paid. Most people don't understand loan costs which aren't paid by cash, and think that they are somehow "free", but that is not the case. Not only did you pay it, but it increases the dollar cost of any points you may pay, you're going to pay interest on it, and (less importantly) it's going to increase your payment amount.

The genesis of this whole thing was a guy I thought I had talked into a 5/1 ARM a few days ago. I went through this whole process of explaining why the rate/cost tradeoff for a 30 year fixed rate loan was not going to help him, and then a couple days ago, he called me saying he'd found a thirty year fixed rate loan at 5.5, saving him three quarters of a percent on the interest rate and almost $400 on the payment. Remember that at the time, I had 5.5 available as well (I still do - but the rate is so expensive I wouldn't counsel anybody who wasn't certain they were going to keep it 15 years to buy it). So I'm going to keep that exact same table:

30F Rate30F Cost5/1 rate5/1 Cost
5.5%2.65.25%1.5
5.875%1.85.5%0.9
6.25%0.25.875%0

The problem with the rate of 5.5% is that for a $600,000 loan, those closing costs are going up to $3475 (lender and third party costs are higher above the conforming limit) in order to get the loan done, and at the time, based upon current loan amount, 2.6 points would cost $16,100 and change. But he had gone to a loan officer who did his math as if that $19,585 (my loan - I suspect the competitor's was higher) was going to magically disappear like one of a David Copperfield's illusions. He calculated payments and savings as if there were no costs - based upon the current balance and new interest rate and amortization period. Of course, this makes it look like the client was saving a lot of money $382 off the payment and three quarters of a percent off the rate, give him a whole new thirty years to pay off the loan, and pretend the costs of the loan aren't going to happen to get the guy to sign up. You'd think that somebody who reads this website every day would know better, but that does not appear to have been the case. In point of fact, the competing loan officer still has not told the guy how much his closing costs are or how much that 5.5% rate is going to cost him through him. I'll bet it's more than I would charge, but I don't know.

Psychologically speaking, what the competing loan officer is doing is smart. Because there's incomplete information available to the prospect, and I'm straightforwardly admitting how much it's going to cost (which is a lot, as most people who aren't billionaires or politicians think about money), an indefinite, uncertain number sounds like it might be less, even though it won't end up that way. Furthermore, by pretending costs don't exist, he has raised the possibility in the client's mind that there won't be any, because most people don't know how much lenders can legally lowball. There will be costs,and I'm willing to put my money where my mouth is that they'll be higher than mine. If this other loan officer could really deliver that loan at a cost lower than I can, there would be no reason for him to prevaricate, obfuscate, or attempt to confuse the issue. I've written before about how you can't compare loans without specific numbers, and there is no doubt in my mind that this other loan officer knows what those numbers really are - he just doesn't want to share that information, and the way our public consciousness about loans works, he can most often get away with it. It's still scummy behavior, and takes advantages of loopholes in the disclosure laws to practice bait and switch, knowing that when the deception comes to light (at closing) most people won't notice, and most of those who do notice will want to be done so badly they'll sign on the dotted line anyway.

Now what's really going to happen in 99% plus of all cases is that the costs are going to get rolled into the balance of the loan. The client certainly isn't going to be prepared to pay them "out of pocket" if they're not expecting those costs. So here's what happens: The client ends up with a new loan balance of $619,585 (Probably higher, because they're likely to roll the prepaid interest in as well, and quite likely the money to seed the impound account, but I'll limit myself to actual costs). In fact, the difference in payment drops to $290 when you consider cost, and $115 of that difference is directly attributable to starting over on the loan period, stretching out the repayment period to an entirely new thirty year schedule of payments (even though he was only two years in), completely debunking any serious consideration of payment as a reason to refinance. But lets compare cost of money, in the form upfront costs ($19,585 to get the new loan, versus zero to keep the loan he's got) and ongoing interest charges ($3125 per month on the existing loan, versus $2840 per month on the new loan). In this case, you're essentially spending nearly $20,000 in order to save $285 per month on interest. Straight line division has that taking sixty-nine months to break even. Actual computation of the progress of the respective loans cuts a month off that, to sixty eight months. As compared to a national mean time between refinances of 28 months, and this particular prospect is currently looking to refinance after less than that. In good conscience, I cannot recommend a loan where it's going to take him almost six years to break even, and by not considering the costs involved in getting that rate, he's setting himself up to waste probably half or more of the nearly $20,000 it's going to cost him to get that loan.

In fact, if this prospect were to refinance again in 28 months (once again, national median time), he would have spent $19,585 in order to save himself $7847. That doesn't sound like a good deal to me, and it shouldn't sound like a good deal to you. But here's the real kicker: The balance of the loan he refinances in two years is $19,250 higher. Let's assume it takes a low rate, rather than a cash out refinance to lure him into refinancing again, so he gets a 5% loan to refinance again. The extra $19,250 he owes will continue to cost him money, even thought the benefits of the refinance he is considering end when he refinances again or sells the property. At 5% for a putative future loan, that $19,250 extra he owes will cost him $962.50 per year extra on the new loan. Even if he sells in order to buy something else, that's $19,250 the client needs to borrow, and pay interest on, that he otherwise would not. Even if the client waits a full five years to refinance again, he's only saved roughly $16,400 in interest, and the additional balance owed on the new loan has actually increased slightly, to $19,280 (Remember, he's two years into the existing loan, hence $115 of phantom payment savings which keeps reducing his balance if he keeps paying it)

Failing to consider the fact that most people are not going to keep their new loan as long as they think they will is the gift that keeps on giving - to lenders. I run across people in their forties and fifties who have done this, all unsuspecting, half a dozen times or more, running up eighty to a hundred thousand dollars in debt for nothing but the cost of refinancing, and at 6% interest, that's $4800 to $6000 per year they're spending in interest on that debt. A more careful analysis says that the calculus of refinancing should emphasize finding a rate that helps you for a lower cost, but that's not the way lenders get paid the secondary market premium, and that's not the way that loan officers get paid to do lots of loans. Therefore, if you find someone who will go over these numbers with you and tell you it's not a good idea to refinance when it isn't, that loan officer is quite a valuable treasure because they're going to keep you from wasting all that money to no good purpose. (Here's one guy who will for my California readers)

A good rule of thumb is that if a zero cost loan won't put you into a better situation, it is unlikely that paying costs and points to get the rate down is really going to help you either. You are unlikely to recover those costs and points before you sell or refinance your property. If a loan that's free doesn't buy you a better loan than you've got, then the current tradeoff between rate and cost isn't favorable to refinance. There may be reasons to do so anyway - cash out, ARM adjustment, etcetera, but chances are against you getting a rate that is enough better to justify the cost. When you consider how often most people refinance or even actually sell and move, it's hard to make a case for anything other than low cost loans and hybrid ARMs. I understand the people who want the security of a fixed rate loan, and a low fixed rate. But that rate, especially, is likely to come with a cost that they will never recover before they voluntarily let the lender off the hook. Good mortgage advice takes this into account, with the net result that the folks don't end up in debt to the tune of $80,000 to $100,000 extra, and spending thousands of dollars per year just on interest for money they shouldn't owe in the first place. No, they never wrote a check for it, but it's money they spent, and if they had needed to write a check for it, they probably wouldn't have spent the money in the first place. Kind of like having a credit card with a balance owing of $80,000 or more, just for the unrecovered costs of refinancing, but people don't realize it because it's not broken out of the total cost and balance of their mortgage, and nobody educates them as to where they would be if they hadn't made these mistakes. I try to teach my clients what they need to know to avoid that situation, so they don't find themselves victimized by it.

Caveat Emptor

Cheap Lender Owned Remodeler's Project in Great Neighborhood!

General: La Mesa, 3 Bedroom 1.75 Bathroom

Con:

What's Wrong With It: Yards are down to bare soil - need sod. Pool in backyard needs refinishing. Kitchen has been torn apart, and is not currently usable. Everything in the property is thirty years old, at least.

Why It Hasn't Sold: Currently unsightly, to say the least. Also, it may be an issue getting a conventional residential loan before the kitchen is fixed.

Who it's Not Appropriate For: Anyone who wants a turnkey place to live in. If you live in it, you're going to have to "rough it" for a while.

Pro:

Selling Points: Good light, seems basically solid structurally.

Who Should be Interested: People willing to but some sweat into the property that will be repaid when it's finished.

Why it's a Bargain: Lender owned, and most people can't see that the property is in a state you'd have to take it to in order to remodel.

Financial:

What I think I can get it for: $270,000.

Monthly Payment examples: I'm going to leave those off, this time, because we might not be able to get a residential loan at first.

Investment potential: If you keep it ten years and it averages only 5% annual average appreciation per year: Based upon a purchase price of $270,000 the property would be worth approximately $440,000.

To learn more: Agree that you'll use me as a buyer's agent if you buy it. If you don't like it or don't buy it, no obligation is incurred. If you're not working with someone who will go out and find properties like this, maybe you should consider working with me instead!

Contact Information:

Dan Melson, Buyer's Agent
Action Realty Inc
9143 Mission Gorge Road, Suite A
Santee, CA 92071
619-449-0723 X 116

Drew over at zillow asked me to do a short little Q & A piece for them. It went up a few days ago, and I thought I'd post my original piece here as well.

What are some online resources consumers should be using to find loan rate information?

None that are any good, as in the sense of providing good relevant information that's applicable to specific cases. There are many loan quote forums that will quote you a rate. They quote you a low rate or a low payment to get you to contact them - and that's all that it is, a teaser. I have literally gone right down the line in two different comparative quote forums, contacting every company and asking for quotes that comply with the standards they are supposed to quote to. Not one company was even prepared to quote me what they were advertising. Nor did the forums themselves do anything when I complained - they are not interested in policing the quotes, as to do so risks losing some hefty income when the companies quit subscribing to their service. The few companies that advertise honest rates that are really available have given up on those forums in disgust - they attract clients in other ways.

Unpopular as this truth may be, you need to shop live loan officers and have real conversations and ask a lot of hard-nosed questions. Here is a list of Questions You Should Ask Prospective Loan Providers. If you want to suggest any additions to this list, I'd love to know.

What should a 1st time home buyer look for when comparing and contrasting loans?

1) Make certain you are really comparing the same type of loan. Asking about the industry standard name for the type of loan contemplated helps. Even if you don't know what it means, the other loan officers you talk to will. 2) There is always a trade off between rate and cost for the same type of loan. One lender's trade offs will be different than another lender's, but you always have a range of choices, even with the same lender. Just because one loan has a lower rate or lower payment doesn't make it a better loan. Find out the total cost of getting that rate, and figure out how long it will take you to recover costs via the lower interest rate. Given how often most people refinance, a higher rate with a higher payment but lower costs is often the better bargain. There is no sense in paying four points for a loan you are only likely to keep for two years.


What is the biggest mistake you see 1st time home buyers make?

Three most common disasters: 1) Buying or wanting a more expensive property than they can afford. Any competent loan officer can get you a loan that you can not afford, but you still have to face the consequences later, and these consequences can be well buried. Find out what you can really afford with a sustainable loan, and stick to it. Settling for a lesser property is much smarter than buying something you cannot afford. 2) Not shopping around for services. Even if you trust your brother in law the real estate agent, or your sister in law the loan officer, shopping around gives them concrete reason to stay honest. The worst mess I ever cleaned up was caused by someone's favorite uncle trying to make too much money, and the niece was blissfully unaware until her husband brought me into it - six weeks after it should have closed. 3) Believing that because someone puts some numbers onto a Good Faith Estimate (Mortgage Loan Disclosure Statement in California) that they intend to deliver that loan on those terms. This is, unfortunately, not the case in the industry at large. If they do not guarantee their quote in writing, the Good Faith Estimate (or Mortgage Loan Disclosure Statement) is garbage, along with all of the other standard forms that you get with it. The only form that the law requires to be accurate is the HUD-1, which you do not get, even in preliminary form, until the loan is closing. Big national lending institution everyone has heard of? Doesn't mean a thing. Ask the hard questions, and do not permit yourself to be distracted.

When do 50 year mortgages make sense?

Perversely, rates on 40 year amortizations are usually comparable to interest only, and fifty year amortization rates are usually higher. Nor are any of the these usually a good choice for a purchase money loan. All three are strong indicators that you are trying to buy too expensive a property for your budget. See Common Mistake Number One above.

What do you think about Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARMs)?

I am a big fan of certain ARMs in most markets. Most of the time, a fully amortized 5/1 ARM will be at least one full percent lower on the rate than a comparably expensive thirty year fixed, and the vast majority of people refinance within five years anyway. Why pay for thirty years worth of insurance that your rate won't change when you're likely to let the lender off the hook within a few years anyway? With that said, however, right now (late November 2006) the spread in rate is only about a quarter of a percent or less between a 5/1 ARM and a thirty year fixed - and at the low cost end of the spectrum, the thirty year fixed may actually be less expensive for the same rate, so I'm recommending thirty year fixed rate loans quite a bit right now.

Is there a certain number people should be looking at when determining if they should refinance?

Forget payment. With no other information to go on, I would bet that someone trying to get you to refinance based upon a low payment was pushing a bad loan, and probably low-balling the payment as well.

Once again, you've got to have a good conversation with the loan officer. Look at the the money you will save from the lower interest rate - the interest charges to a loan. If you're saving half a percent on a $400,000 loan, that's $2000 per year. Compare this to the cost, and how long the rate is good for - or how long you're likely to keep it, whichever is less. If the cost is zero - and true zero cost loans do exist - you're ahead from day one. However, if it costs you $12,000, it's going to take you six years to break even, and most folks will never keep the same loan six years in their lives. Since there is no way to know for sure unless your prospective lender will guarantee the quote as to rate, total cost, and type of loan, you need to go in to final signing with the idea firmly in your mind that unless they can show both the cost and the benefit, you're going to walk out without signing. Indeed, many companies are very adept at pretending costs don't exist, and hiding costs at closing. Industry statistics: over half of all potential borrowers won't even notice discrepancies at closing, and of the ones who do, eight to nine out of ten will just sign anyway. This rewards people who lie to get you to sign up. Haul out the HUD-1 form at closing and make certain it conforms to what you were told when you applied. Most don't, and the loan officer knew it wouldn't when you signed up. Read the Note carefully also, before you sign.

More questions? I'd love to answer them! Contact me and ask!

Lender Owned Beautiful Comfortable Family Home Close to Everything!

General: La Mesa, 3 Bedroom 1.75 Bathroom

Con:

What's Wrong With It: Gets some traffic noise, and the garage was converted to the 3rd bedroom.

Why It Hasn't Sold: People aren't looking for this kind of property in this area.

Who it's Not Appropriate For: Someone looking for a quick profit. This is not a flipper house.

Pro:

Selling Points: Hardwood floors in the main part of the house, tile in the newer part. Kitchen is recently remodeled. Living room is original mid-century, but family room with lots of open light is a more recent addition. Back yard is lush and green.

Who Should be Interested: People looking for a good place to live at a reasonable price. This is a neighborhood that's starting to come up.

Why it's a Bargain: Lender owned, and the work has been done.

Financial:

What I think I can get it for: $370,000.

Monthly Payment examples: I've currently got a thirty year fixed rate loan available for qualified buyers at 5.75% with one point, or 100% VA financing at 5.75% for the same cost.

With no down payment: VA 30 year fixed rate loan at 5.75% (FHA 97% financing) payment $2159, (APR 5.935)

With 20% down: Fully amortized payment of $1727 (APR 5.900).

Other financing options are available, potentially lowering the payments, but I'm quoting real loans that real people can get, that will stay exactly the same until you pay it off.

Investment potential: If you keep it ten years and it averages only 5% annual average appreciation per year: Based upon a purchase price of $370,000 the property would be worth approximately $600,000. If you held it those ten years before selling, you would net about $290,000 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 $170,000 ahead of the renter, after the expenses of selling.

To learn more: Agree that you'll use me as a buyer's agent if you buy it. If you don't like it or don't buy it, no obligation is incurred. If you're not working with someone who will go out and find properties like this, maybe you should consider working with me instead!

Contact Information:

Dan Melson, Buyer's Agent
Action Realty Inc
9143 Mission Gorge Road, Suite A
Santee, CA 92071
619-449-0723 X 116

Cold Hard Fact for today: The average Real Estate Agent or Loan Officer is not motivated to tell you that you can't afford your property.

For the agent you are trying to talk people out of a property after they have already fallen in love with it. Let's face it, if it's higher in price, it should have features that lower priced properties do not, and it should have fewer things that consumers do not want. Indeed, one of the easiest and most common ways unethical real estate agents sell properties is by showing you several lower priced properties, fixers which lack those attractive extras, then show you the blinged out immaculate property while whispering sweet nothings like, "I can show you how you can afford the payments!" (which is not the same as being able to afford the property!)

All agents learn that by telling the client "no," or anything that sounds like "no," they are likely to lose that business. Good ones know that putting a client into something beyond their budget is a good way to have the transaction come back to haunt them. But for most, the temptation of the easy sale that made itself if too strong. They want that commission check. Nothing wrong with commission checks. If they provide real value to the client, they are a way of showing the world that you have done something valuable, same as a doctor, carpenter, or computer programmer. It's when you use your position of trust to sabotage them that problems start - and you should experience problems. Many agents have not been around long enough to understand flat or declining markets. In truth, I wasn't in the business the last time we had one, either. But I am old enough to remember, and careful enough by nature that I refuse to assume that a rapidly rising market will save my bacon, as many agents have become used to.

And for the foreseeable future, rapidly rising markets are unlikely to save anybody's bacon, because the market isn't going to be rising rapidly. Inventory is high, long term rates are set to rise, and we're just seeing the leading edge of a wave of problems caused by over-the-top practices of the last few years. I think we're past most of the price decline locally, but conditions aren't there for a return to the market we had most of the last decade.

Lest you be wondering, the loan officer is even more unlikely to counsel you on whether you can really afford the property. Between Stated Income, Negative Amortization Loans, and loans that are both of these, you can get anybody with an income and a not too putrid credit score into the property. In fact, I heard some real howls of outrage from certain brokers when lenders tightened their recourse on brokers this last year. Even so, the paycheck is now and certain, the risk of default vague and indefinite, and for most loan officers, there's another concern as well.

You see, most loan officers cultivate some friends who are real estate agents, and that's how they get their business. That agent brings them business because they have a history of getting the loan through, so that agent gets paid. Sometimes they may have their hand out for a referral fee as well, but the important thing for you to know as a consumer is that referral you get from an agent to a loan officer has nothing to do with how great their rates are, and everything to do with how creative they are in getting some sort of loan approved so that agent gets paid for the house they sold. Tell just one prospect who has made an offer on their dream house that there is an issue with being able to really afford that loan, and the word will get around the real estate community in no time. Result: For causing one agent to not get paid, Joe Loan Officer not only will not get any referrals from them in the future, if the client does find Joe Loan Officer on their own, the agents are going to do their best to talk them away from Joe, who, from their point of view, "stole their paycheck" by telling the client that they really could not afford the loan that was necessary to make the transaction work! Even if they took that transaction to some other loan officer who got it closed, Jane Realtor doesn't want her clients to have anything to do with Joe, lest she lose another potential commission check!

So what can you, the consumer, do about this? Well, I can't tell you all about the special cases, and I lack the programming capability to embed a spreadsheet and loan calculator. But I can give you some good general rules of comparison, and guidelines laid down by lenders as to whether or not you can actually afford that loan.

Start with your total monthly gross income. Assuming you printed this out, write that number here:






Loan Type

A Paper ARM

A Paper fixed

sub-prime general

sub-prime severe

sub-prime extreme



Multiply Income by (DTI*)

0.38

0.45

0.50

0.55

0.60


Result

_______

_______

_______

_______

_______



Notes

A,B

B










*DTI: Debt to Income Ratio

Notes:
A: use fully indexed rate for qualification purposes. This means the underlying index plus the margin after it adjusts, assuming current values.
B: If interest only, use fully amortized rate for qualification purposes.

Any four function calculator will do this much. Now this is the largest number you will qualify with. As you should be able to see, it's more difficult to qualify for A paper, even though that is where you want to be. But we're not done. This is total housing and debt service, the so-called "back end ratio." So from that number, you need to subtract your monthly debt service: Car payments and other installments, and minimum credit card payments. You pay this much already. You obviously cannot afford to pay it out for housing also!

So add up your credit card, car payment, and other monthly debt obligations. Subtract it from your numbers for back end ratios, computed above. This will give you a set of five numbers that tells what you can afford for housing costs, depending upon how far you want to go. But we're not done! This is total cost of housing; the so-called "PITI payment." It includes not only principal and interest on the loan, but also property taxes, homeowner's insurance, Condominium Association dues, and Mello-Roos assessment districts (or their equivalent outside of California, if applicable). So from this, you need to subtract all of the known stuff or stuff you can make a close approximation on, like Association dues and insurance and taxes, to arrive at how much of a loan you can afford. Please note that for Negative Amortization Loans, loan officers may use the minimum payment for qualification, but you are still being charged the real interest rate! Still, it should become obvious as to why Negative Amortization loans are so popular in high priced areas right now. Not only will the lenders pay between 3.5 to 4 percent commission for them, not only do they allow lower payments to be quoted, but they make it look like you qualify for a bigger loan than you can afford, which means the real estate agent gets a bigger commission from selling you a more expensive property, and the loan officer gets paid more, also, because now you have applied for a larger loan! I have heard every rationalization under the sun from loan officers and real estate agents on this score, but they are still inappropriate for the vast majority of people who have them. I can get a better interest rate on a better loan for less cost, every time, but then I have to tell the client about the full amount they are really being charged every month, and they might have to content themselves with a less expensive property, meaning that real estate agent is going to have to do some real work. Go out onto the web and look for some loan calculators (Auto loans use slightly different assumptions, so don't use those calculators), or if you have a financial calculator, use it! Use the real interest rates that are available, and if the number you get comes out much higher than your quoted payment, they are trying to snooker you with a negative amortization loan. There is no magic about loans, and a healthy skepticism will help you prevent problems from happening in the first place.

Now add the down payment you intend to make to the loan you can afford, and that tells you whether or not you can afford the property.

Caveat Emptor

Great Entertainment Property - Partial Fixer in Highly Desired Area!

General: Unincorporated area (La Mesa Zip), 2 Bedroom 1.75 Bathroom 1 extra room

Con:

What's Wrong With It: Outside needs paint. One door needs replacing, as does carpet in both bedrooms. Some tile needs repair. One bathroom is straight out of 1965.

Why It Hasn't Sold: Most people can't see past what it needs to what it's got.

Who it's Not Appropriate For: It is going to take some work for most folks to be happy here.

Pro:

Selling Points: Combination living room family room with great light and great visibility. Kitchen is freshly redone, and the front bathroom is in attractive as well. Outside has sparkling pool and nice brick courtyard for outdoor gatherings, and a large lot with plenty of room left to do whatever you like. Lots of parking in front of the house, and everything you see around it is more expensive, some of it much more expensive.

Who Should be Interested: This is what opportunity looks like, whether for a fix up profit or for a place to live for ever and ever.

Why it's a Bargain: Worst house in the best neighborhood is the classic recipe for bargains and it's not that bad.

Financial:

What I think I can get it for: $375,000.

Monthly Payment examples: I've currently got a thirty year fixed rate loan available for qualified buyers at 5.75% with one point, or 100% VA financing at 5.75% for the same cost.

With no down payment: VA 30 year fixed rate loan at 5.75% (FHA 97% financing) payment $2188, (APR 5.935)

With 20% down: Fully amortized payment of $1751 (APR 5.899).

Other financing options are available, potentially lowering the payments, but I'm quoting real loans that real people can get, that will stay exactly the same until you pay it off.

Investment potential: If you keep it ten years and it averages only 5% annual average appreciation per year: Based upon a purchase price of $375,000 the property would be worth approximately $610,000. 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 $2100 per month most comparable currently available rental and investing the difference at 10% per year tax free, you would be approximately $260,000 ahead of the renter, after the expenses of selling.

To learn more: Agree that you'll use me as a buyer's agent if you buy it. If you don't like it or don't buy it, no obligation is incurred. If you're not working with someone who will go out and find properties like this, maybe you should consider working with me instead!

Contact Information:

Dan Melson, Buyer's Agent
Action Realty Inc
9143 Mission Gorge Road, Suite A
Santee, CA 92071
619-449-0723 X 116

Short answer: It almost certainly won't sell!

The first thing that happens is that when it goes onto the Multiple Listing Service, all the agents who see it know that it's overpriced. Even on the public part of MLS, the members of the public who see it wonder, "Are the walls gold-plated or something?"

The first thing you want when you put a property on the market is for everybody who is looking for a property of that nature to come and see it. Overpricing it is the best way I know of to cut down drastically on the level of interest. If they don't come see it, most people are not going to make offers. Most particularly, they will not make good offers if they don't come see it. If they do come see it, they are going to be expecting something better, and disappointed people don't make good offers, if they make one at all. That high asking price communicates that this property has something above and beyond the competition. If it doesn't, they're going to wonder what in the heck you and your agent were thinking. They're going to go away shaking their heads at the waste of their time. If they make an offer, it will be a desperation check.

The agents in the area are going to avoid the property, also. They know what similar properties are going for. Why should they try to sell yours for $10,000, $25,000, $50,000 above market comparables? Yes, they'll make a little more if they do sell it, but it's much easier to sell a property that is a real bargain. I'd rather sell a real bargain at $400,000 than an over-priced turkey for $450,000. The difference in compensation isn't that much, and I'll work much harder to try to make the sale, and I'll lose most prospects by trying. I try to sell them an over-priced turkey looking for the sucker of the year, and a large proportion of clients won't want to work with me any more. I can make the commission off of a $400,000 sale, or I can lose the client by trying for $450,000. If they can afford $450,000, I can find them a better property at the same price. Happy clients bring me more clients for free, and as any real estate agent or loan officer can tell you, getting potential clients in the door is the hardest and most expensive part of the business. I assure you that every real estate agent who has been in the business more than about three hours knows this. If you were priced right, I might have shown that client your property, but you weren't, and so I didn't. Either you have placed yourself beyond their budget, or I can find something better for the same price.

Furthermore, overpriced real estate tells me that not only does the listing agent not know what they are doing and does not know what appropriate pricing is, but also that the seller likely does not have their head in the right place as to what the property is worth. Six months or a year down the line, it's time to make a low-ball offer and see if you're desperate yet. And if you needed to sell in ninety days, you will be. Right now, if I bring in a client who offers what the property is really worth, that's so much wasted time on my part and that of my buyer prospect, because I'm fighting two people with their heads stuck in the Land of Wishful Thinking, and I cannot force either one of you to listen to reason.

If people do come see your property, most of them won't make an offer. Most people don't look at just one property, even if they like yours. They may not look at enough properties, but they will look at more than one before they write an offer for anything. And since they have seen at least one other property, unless it's as overpriced as yours is, they're not going to make a good offer on yours. Many times, it may falsely communicate to them that the other property is a heck of a good bargain, and you just sold that other property, for which that other property's owner and listing agent surely thank you.

By over-pricing the property, not only do you set yourself up for all of this, but you miss the period of highest interest in your property, which is right after it hits the market, tapering off after about a month. One of the hardest, most pernicious ideas for a good agent to fight is the idea of putting it on the market over-priced "just to see" if they can get thousands of dollars more than comparable properties are selling for. The other is the concept of "bargaining room." Not only are you unlikely to get more than the market comps, but by over-pricing the property during the period of initial interest, the owners have almost certainly frightened away potential buyers who might well have offered market value if the property was priced correctly. Nor do these people come back later. They're looking at the stuff that hit the market this week, not four, six, or ten months ago. The agents in the area remember that it sat on the market for six months even if you somehow manage to get the days on market counter reset. Foot. Bullet. No assembly required, because you did it to yourself. If you had a need to sell by a certain time, or for the best price, it's not going to happen.

Indeed, several months out, you'll start getting those low-ballers I talked about earlier. They really do want to buy your property, but they won't offer anything like what you might have gotten earlier, because your property isn't worth that much to them. It's no secret that just waiting a little while on over-priced property is one of the best ways to get a bargain that there is. Most people put the property up for sale because they have a reason they want it sold. Most of those reasons are time-sensitive, and many are time critical. Wait until the deadline looms, or has passed, and the seller has no bargaining strength. I don't care how much "bargaining room" you gave yourself. Bargaining room is nothing. Bargaining strength is everything. When your best alternative is losing the property to foreclosure, you have no strength. If you won't deal, these folks will wait until the lender owns it. It's all the same to them, but it isn't to you.

Now right now, with prices having fallen, the appraisal isn't quite the problem it usually is for over-priced real estate. But usually, if you actually do win the lottery - and the odds you are facing really are in that league - and your listing agent sells it to the Sucker of the Year for more than the comparables, the appraisal isn't going to support the sales price. This means they can't finance the full sales price, and the Suckers of the Year are even less likely than other people to have the money for a down payment. I've said this more than once, but I don't remember the last time a first time buyer had a significant down payment. Even people who aren't first time buyers usually want to buy with as little down as possible, and you've just boosted the amount they have to come up with out of their pocket if they want your property - not to mention that most purchase contracts these days have appraisal contingencies built in. Even with prices falling, many appraisals are falling short. A couple of nitwits just put the house I grew up in on the market for 630,000! I took a look for grins and giggles. The owners have gussied up the back yard a little, but other than that it's the same as I remember. No way is that appraisal coming in even if they do find the Sucker of the Year to make an offer, so the Suckers of the Year have to front all those thousands of dollars to make the transaction work, and Suckers of the Year are just that - suckers. The chances of them having that kind of money sitting around where nobody else has conned them out of it are miniscule, to say the least. The only alternative I'm aware of is a seller carryback, and there are some real issues and problems with those. Meanwhile, of course, you are stuck in escrow with them and the clock is ticking and they may have grounds for a lawsuit if you are not careful. Even if they don't, they may sue you anyway, and tie up the title until the court gets around to ruling, or until the arbitration hearing and all of the appeals are over.

In short, over-pricing your property is the best way I know of to get yourself very frustrated, waste time, and end up forced to accept an offer that's less than you could have gotten if you had simply priced the property correctly in the first place.

Caveat Emptor

Nicely Maintained Property on Quiet Street!

General: La Mesa, 4 Bedroom 1.75 Bathroom 1 extra room

Con:

What's Wrong With It: Living room is on the small side, and kitchen layout is a little unusual.

Why It Hasn't Sold: It was placed on the market over-priced. Now that they've cut the price, people aren't interested because it's been on the market too long.

Who it's Not Appropriate For: That's a good question. I can't think of anyone who couldn't be happy here.

Pro:

Selling Points: Wrap around side to back yard that's pretty much all usable, with a decent view. Nice light throughout. Extra room would be a good office, and might even be a legal fifth bedroom. Everything is clean and well-maintained.

Who Should be Interested: Nice house at a reasonable price on a quiet street in a desirable neighborhood with above average public schools. What's not to like?.

Why it's a Bargain: As I said, the owners basically shot themselves in the foot by over-pricing it initially. Once buyers have decided they're not interested, it's hard to get them back.

Financial:

What I think I can get it for: $410,000.

Monthly Payment examples: I've currently got a thirty year fixed rate loan available for qualified buyers at 5.75% with one point, or 100% VA financing at 5.75% for the same cost.

With no down payment: VA 30 year fixed rate loan at 5.75% (FHA 97% financing) payment $2393, (APR 5.931)

With 20% down: Fully amortized payment of $1914 (APR 5.894).

Other financing options are available, potentially lowering the payments, but I'm quoting real loans that real people can get, that will stay exactly the same until you pay it off.

Investment potential: If you keep it ten years and it averages only 5% annual average appreciation per year: Based upon a purchase price of $410,000 the property would be worth approximately $660,000. If you held it those ten years before selling, you would net about $320,000 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 $250,000 ahead of the renter, after the expenses of selling.

To learn more: Agree that you'll use me as a buyer's agent if you buy it. If you don't like it or don't buy it, no obligation is incurred. If you're not working with someone who will go out and find properties like this, maybe you should consider working with me instead!

Contact Information:

Dan Melson, Buyer's Agent
Action Realty Inc
9143 Mission Gorge Road, Suite A
Santee, CA 92071
619-449-0723 X 116

I get people asking me about how much their mortgage loan providers make, usually with an idea towards negotiating it down but often with the idea of choosing one loan or the other based upon the loan officer's compensation. This is a bad idea.

First off, there are several forms loan officer compensation takes. There is so-called "front end" compensation paid directly by borrowers. There is "back end" compensation paid by lenders, also known as yield spread. There are also volume incentives given by most lenders, and promotional give backs and offsets. Then there are times when the loan officers is holding out their hand for kickbacks behind your back or by "marking up" third party services that they order on your behalf. This is illegal, but it still happens. Trying to judge a loan by loan officer compensation is actually fairly difficult if they are trying to hide it.

Furthermore, it's actually a distraction from what is most important, namely, the best possible loan for you. For instance, a couple of weeks ago I was shopping a loan for a decidedly sub-prime prospect. The lowest quote I got enabled me to give a quote of a 7.25% retail rate at par, which is to say no points to the borrower. But that lender was better than half a percent better than their nearest competition because he fit neatly into one of their targeted niches. Had I merely not shopped that loan with that lender, the best I could have done would have been 7.8 percent at par, and one full point from the borrower would only have driven it down to 7.3 percent. Now suppose I didn't shop that one lender who gave me the best price, and my competition had found something even better, say a 7.00 percent par rate loan. For that particular loan, they could have made a full percent and a half of that loan amount more than I did, and still delivered a better loan for the client.

Now in point of fact, I actually beat my competition by quite a bit, and I was willing to guarantee my quote where they were not willing to guarantee theirs. But the point I was making is still valid. Judge the loan by the best loan for you: Type of loan, rate, and total cost in order to get that rate.

Furthermore, brokers and people who work at brokerages legally must disclose their company's compensation from other sources, while direct lenders do not. Direct lenders are making, if anything, more for the average loan than the brokerages, but because they do not have to disclose compensation not paid by the borrower, if you try to use loan officer compensation as a way of judging the value of the loan, the direct lender will look better than the broker for most loans. Until you go and compare the loans they actually were prepared to deliver from the most important perspective: What it means to you, the consumer. A 6 percent thirty year fixed rate loan with no pre-payment penalty that cost you a grand total of $3500 is a better loan than a 3/27 that has a pre-payment penalty, cost you $8700, and is at a rate of 6.25%, regardless of how much the respective loan officers or their companies made, or would have made. Loan Officer compensation is a distraction. Much more important is the loan they are willing and able to deliver, it's type, rate, costs, and whether or not there is a pre-payment penalty.

Caveat Emptor

Cheap Fixer with WOW! Potential!

General: La Mesa, 2 Bedroom 1.75 Bathroom 3 Optional rooms

Con:

What's Wrong With It: Floor plan all Chopped up to allow two families to live here. Pretty much all the fixtures are 1970s vintage. Original hallway walled off. Addition was probably unpermitted.

Why It Hasn't Sold: Very uncomfortable to live in either half - but restore the original hallway and it would become a spacious house for a large family!

Who it's Not Appropriate For: Someone not willing to take the risk of unpermitted additions. Someone who needs a "turnkey" property.

Pro:

Selling Points: Large back yard with decent sized pool. Fenced are could be separate dog run. Restore the hallway, and you've got a very comfortable home for a larger than average family, and it's extremely close to very desirable schools. It would be relatively easy to make the extra rooms legal bedrooms, if desired. Kitchen has good light and plenty of room to cook. Back yard has place to park RV if desired, and garage has direct access to kitchen

Who Should be Interested: If you're looking to house a large family in a great neighborhood for a reasonable price, this is it!

Why it's a Bargain: It looks a lot worse than it really is. Re-connecting the two halves would be as simple as removing one non-structural wall, and everything else is cosmetic. I don't see major issues with getting the addition a retroactive permit.

Financial:

What I think I can get it for: $300,000.

Monthly Payment examples: I've currently got a thirty year fixed rate loan available for qualified buyers at 5.75% with one point, or 100% VA financing at 5.75% for the same cost.

With no down payment: VA 30 year fixed rate loan at 5.75% (FHA 97% financing) payment $1750, (APR 5.946)

With 20% down: Fully amortized payment of $1401 (APR 5.913).

Other financing options are available, potentially lowering the payments, but I'm quoting real loans that real people can get, that will stay exactly the same until you pay it off.

Investment potential: If you keep it ten years and it averages only 5% annual average appreciation per year: Based upon a purchase price of $300,000 the property would be worth approximately $490,000. If you held it those ten years before selling, you would net about $240,000 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 $200,000 ahead of the renter, after the expenses of selling.

To learn more: Agree that you'll use me as a buyer's agent if you buy it. If you don't like it or don't buy it, no obligation is incurred. If you're not working with someone who will go out and find properties like this, maybe you should consider working with me instead!

Contact Information:

Dan Melson, Buyer's Agent
Action Realty Inc
9143 Mission Gorge Road, Suite A
Santee, CA 92071
619-449-0723 X 116

(I had better rates than this until just a few minutes ago. I quoted a 30 year fixed at 5.625% for 0.9 points earlier today. Unfortunately, there was a wave of secondary market price deteriorations, causing the available rates to rise. I do expect those to continue, due to increased confidence in the economy)

The Best Loans Right NOW

5.75% 30 Year fixed rate loan, with one total point to the consumer and NO PREPAYMENT PENALTIES!. Assuming a $400,000 loan, Payment $2334, APR 5.885! 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 5.00 percent!

5/1 Rates are becoming attractive!

Best 5/1 ARM: 4.875% with 1.5 total points to the consumer, and NO PREPAYMENT PENALTIES! Assuming a $400,000 loan, Payment $2117 APR 5.048. This is a fully amortized loan with a fixed rate for the first five years. 5/1 ARM rates as low as 4.375 percent!

10 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 (full documentation) 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

The most recent hot thing in mortgage circles is a mortgage accelerator program. Now I've heard other things, most notably biweekly payment programs, called mortgage accelerators in the past, so let me take a moment to define exactly what I'm talking about.

A mortgage accelerator is essentially a combined mortgage and checking account, where every month you deposit your entire pay, and then write checks out of it as the month goes on to pay for your living expenses, and the mortgage interest of course accrues on a daily basis. The good things about it for consumers (and it is a good thing, as far as this goes) is that the entire paycheck is applied against your mortgage balance on day one, when your pay is deposited. This means that instead of just the minimum monthly payment, your entire pay goes towards the mortgage, lessening the amount of interest you pay in any given month. The bank, for its part, gets your entire paycheck and a significantly lower incidence of default.

This isn't a new concept. Several banks had somewhat different versions back in the late eighties. It went away. Why?

Several reasons, some administrative, some financial. First, the administrative. This bank has basically your entire financial activity. Let's say someone gives you a better deal. Now you either have to stick with a mortgage accelerator program, or go through the hassle of coming up with enough cash to start a new checking account if you go back to having a standard mortgage. Furthermore, when you do refinance, what happens to outstanding checks? That payoff is as of a specific day at a specific time. Your escrow officer comes in and gets the payoff demand, and then more checks clear and everything has to be re-figured. The alternative to this is freezing the account as is done with Home Equity Lines of Credit. So all of a sudden while you are going through this refinance, you have to come up with the seed cash for a new checking account, get new checks rushed through, and then pay your bills with the new checks. May the Universe Help You if you normally pay by automatic debit or any of the primary variants, because you have to set that up as well.

So what else does the bank get out of it, looking at the above? Increased opportunity costs for refinancing. In short, it makes it more difficult for you to take your business elsewhere. Cha-Ching! as the bank officer's eyes light up with dollar signs.

Now obviously, this mortgage accelerator saves you money, if you assume it's just a matter of math, and that math shows how much interest you save as opposed to the same loan at the same interest rate, providing you keep money in your checking account, of course. But how many people do? Not that many, these days.

Furthermore, it assumes you get the same loan at the same interest rate that you normally would. I haven't comparison shopped many of these yet, but my general impression is that the rates, and costs to get them, are higher than you might otherwise get. The assumption that it is the same rate and the same costs on the same type of loan is just that, an assumption, made for modeling purposes. I have used the metaphor of the matador in the past. The bull (consumer) wears himself out on the obvious large red cape, namely the cool service and the fact that all your pay is applied to your mortgage, and never sees the sword, which is the fact that your interest rate is half a percent higher than you might have gotten, you paid an extra point of origination as well, and you're being dinged $10 per month administrative tracking charges for this cool new toy you just got, the accelerator mortgage. Let's say your mortgage is $400,000. Half a percent of $400,000 is $2000 extra interest per year. An extra point of origination is $4000. And $10 per month is about what the average person might save on their mortgage interest if they weren't paying a higher rate, which they are.

($6000 per month deposited, instead of maybe $2500, leaves $3500. You save an average of one half months interest per month on this difference. $3500 at 6% divided by 24 is $8.75. If they bill you $10 per month for the service, you are out $1.25 per month net, on top of the additional interest charges and the one time fee of several thousand dollars of origination)

So lenders with mortgage accelerators charge you more money, charge you more up front costs, and you pay higher interest charges, as well as making it more difficult for the consumer to refinance into a better deal somewhere else. The banks love this one. Only the fact that your parents figured out what a rotten deal most of these are kept them from becoming a permanent fixture of the mortgage landscape nearly twenty years ago.

Now if you can find a mortgage accelerator at the same interest rate, for the same costs, and without the monthly fees that you don't have to pay for your other mortgage, then YES it makes a huge amount of sense to have one of these programs. But that's not what most of the lenders are offering. They are hoping that you are so distracted by the mathematics of how much you will save if you keep your mortgage until it's paid off, that you will never see how much extra you are really paying. Nor do most people keep any given mortgage longer than a few years. In fact, the median time living in a particular piece of real estate is only nine years - less than one third of the time until payoff. The metaphor of the matador is extremely apt. This is precisely what the matador does with the bull. Distracts them and wears them out with the cape so that they never see the sword. The banks dangle this wonderful mathematical concept of what might happen thirty years down the line for that one tenth of one percent of people who actually keep the loan that long, while hoping you are so fascinated by it that you never notice that they're charging you more up-front fees and a higher interest rate than you would have gotten with a traditional mortgage, and often, more in monthly maintenance fees that you save by depositing all of your pay. In short, the lender is making more money off of you by pretending to do you a favor.

So shop loans by interest rate and cost, and then if they'll let you put a mortgage accelerator on it for free, great! If not, they're just trying to distract you from what is really important by offering you a convenience and a cool-looking trick, while charging you hefty amounts of money and tricking you into thinking you are getting something beneficial. I have literally never seen a mortgage accelerator where the benefits outweighed the cost of setting it up, so if you take the money it costs to set the thing up, and instead use it for direct paydown of your mortgage (i.e. write check for the extra direct to the lender), you'll quite predictably come out ahead.

Caveat Emptor

Online Mortgage Quotes

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I got a question about what I think about those online quote services.

The answer is that they vary from okay to putrid.

There are two sorts of online quote sources. The first is where mortgage companies have their rates online, and people come along and browse. Those are pretty much a waste of your time. Here's why: Those companies have absolutely no hold and no real tracking on the people who come to browse. They might put a cookie on your machine, but it's hard to parlay those into contact information, which is their whole entire goal: Getting loans out of it. Unless they have some way of contacting you, which they don't, they need to use that forum to get you to contact them. They do this by low-balling their quotes, making it look like they are offering something nobody else has. Unfortunately for consumers, that's not even an estimate. Here in California, the one caveat is that the rate must exist, but the real costs of getting that rate can be many times the costs they quote. This suffers from all of the limitations that a Good Faith Estimate does, plus more. They can say that they've got a 3.625% rate, and as long as they have a 3.625% loan, they are in the clear. Never mind that it costs a full six points and adjusts every month, that sounds like a great loan to the uninformed. Furthermore, many places will quote the nominal ("in name only") as opposed to real interest rate on the negative amortization loan. When there are people apparently offering you 0.5%, that's who most consumers will call, ignoring the people who have and can really do 5.5% thirty year fixed rate loans, more so on those forums where they include a payment quote as well. I've got the same 0.5% nominal rate forty year amortization loan available to me, but it will always be a putrid loan, as the real rate is a little over 8% and the rate is subject to change every month. I should note that lenders pay a lot of yield spread to brokers who do those loans: How often do people sign on the dotted lines for mortgage rates in excess of 8% (with a three year prepayment penalty!) when 5.5% is available on a thirty year fixed rate mortgage with no prepayment penalty at all? I'll tell you how often: Whenever people aren't smart enough to realize that that $960 payment on a $417,000 loan isn't the real cost of money. Indeed, they'd have to pay $2794 per month just to pay the interest - while the fully amortized payment on a thirty year fixed rate loan is only $2368. But there are an awful lot of people who aren't smart enough right now.

Furthermore, those online forums are supposed to enforce their quotations policies. I've never heard of one that enforces real concrete penalties for violators. On two separate forums, I went straight down the line contacting every listed company, using a loan scenario that was close enough to what they were supposed to be quoting to that I should have gotten the same quote or a little bit better, if they could really do those loans. Not once did I get a rate that was within half a percent of the rate listed online, and most of them were over a full percent off, and with negative amortization loans, most are not even in the correct ballpark. When I contacted the forums themselves, neither of them was interested in enforcement.

In short, those online quote forums tend very strongly to get business for the company that tells the biggest, most boldfaced lie. Often, the consumers are lulled by the existence of the forums into thinking they're getting a deal, and they don't bother going through the necessary steps to shop their loan around. Meanwhile, the companies that will advertise honest rates quit those forums in disgust. Since there are a lot more companies playing games with their quotes than honest ones, the forum wins by not enforcing their rules. However, since the consumer wants to find companies that really will deliver the loans they advertise, consumers lose. Matter of fact, I don't think I've ever seen a real rate on a loan I would be willing to sign up for advertised in any forum: online, newspaper, or otherwise.

The second type of online quote forum work like the advertisements plastered all over the internet. "$510,000 loan for $1698 per month!" (to use the first I found just now). They show a couple dancing happily, having a party because their mortgage payments are reduced, or so they think. Another shows a guy jumping for joy. What they don't show is those same people when they figure out all of the downsides to the negative amortization loan that they signed up for. "This is Jack calling his lawyer again, only to be told there's nothing the lawyer can do again. This is John and Jane losing their home to foreclosure."

Their come on is that you're supposed to get four competitive loan quotes. The company advertises negative amortization loan payments because more people will click on them and sign up for the service if they think they might get something so great that anyone would want it. Unfortunately, just like every other negative amortization loan out there, the payment or interest rate they quote to get you to click their ad and complete their form online is not the real payment and it is not the real rate. Yes, they will accept that as a monthly payment. But the interest you are being charged is based upon a rate of 7.87%, and you have to pay $3345 per month just to break even on the interest - that other $1647 gets added to your loan, so that next month you owe $511,647. Doesn't seem like a lot of extra, but go along for three years until the pre-payment penalty expires, and even if your rate doesn't adjust upwards, your balance is now $576,600. If you go the full five years that the minimum payments last, you owe $630,000, and now your payment jumps to $4813, and you can't refinance because you are upside-down on your mortgage, and your credit score is 100 points lower!

The games don't stop here, by any means. You'll be told that there are "no costs out of your pocket," and even though they'll be rolling $23,000 in costs and points into your loan, they give you a quote based upon the amount of money you tell them you need. No, $23,000 doesn't make that much difference at half a percent forty year amortization, but it lets them quote that payment just a few dollars lower, even though they know that you want the $23,000 rolled into your loan. Nor is what they're telling you about a good loan in any way shape or form, but most people shop mortgage loans based upon payment.

Furthermore, they aren't telling the truth about four mortgage providers calling you. They may sell the lead to four different places, but those four places turn around and sell them to four others each, and each of those sells them to four more. There may be as many as six levels of this going on, and the average person who does fill out their form will be called by at least fifty providers in the first week, with others trailing out for potentially years. The lead seller doesn't care - they made their money, and they don't give refunds simply because the loan they talked about is toxic. Nor does it matter to them that the loan they talked about puts the loan providers paying them for leads in the position of either telling people - honestly - that the loan that was used to get you to sign up is a piece of garbage that causes people to lose their homes, or just selling you one of the abominations. They don't get refunds from the lead seller in the first case; they're just out the money. In the second case, they get paid roughly 3.75% of the loan amount by the bank ($19,125 on a $510,000 loan), plus whatever points of origination that they can con you out of. Finally, if they don't, they know that one of the fifty or more other companies that will be calling you will sell you one of those loans. So their motivations are not on the side of telling you the downsides of their loan. Matter of fact, their motivations are never aligned with telling you the downsides of the loan, so if you find someone willing to talk frankly about good and bad, they are a treasure and it is worth keeping their contact information, and making a habit of talking to them first about future loans.

Once upon a time, if you could cut through the morass of fifty or more companies calling, those "competitive quotes" ads were a great way to find a good loan provider. Ethical low cost loan providers could make a very good living buying those leads. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case. First off, ninety-nine percent of the leads you pay for were lured in with the promise of a negative amortization loan. You don't get refunds for those. You are just out the money, time, and phone expense of calling those folks - unless you make a habit of selling negative amortization loans, which low cost ethical providers do not. Furthermore, even on the few leads that are not lured in by Negative Amortization payments, just because you don't try and sell them a negative amortization loan doesn't mean that one of the other fifty companies won't. Having been there and done that, I can tell you from experience that trying to talk people out of negative amortization loans is usually a waste of breath - the competing company will use conspiratorial tactics like, "That's because this mortgage is too good - they don't want you to have it!" People want to believe in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and Negative Amortization Loans. Bottom line for ethical loan providers: paying these services for leads no longer works. You cannot make any money at it. Since making money is what you're about, and the payoff is too low to survive on the thin margins of good providers, you are driven elsewhere for your business leads. Since that's the type of loan provider you want, it's a waste of time to go to either sort of online mortgage quote service.

Caveat Emptor


No, I'm not a David Letterman watcher, for reasons having to do with turning into a pumpkin before his show starts. I'm going to treat it a little more seriously than he does, as this is a serious subject, but I'll do my best to inject a little humor into it.

10. Surrounding Environment - These are environmental factors arising from areas beyond your property, and therefore, beyond your immediate control. Freeway noise 24/7, being downwind of a hog or chicken farm, being next door to a strip club with a huge neon sign constantly flashing, "LIVE NUDE GIRLS" - all of these and many more neighborhood factors can prevent people from even looking at your property. They see what's around it, and decide they're not interested in living there, or that the investment potential for the property is limited (to be charitable). The only real way to fix problems of this nature is not to buy the property in the first place. Look at all of the issues. Just because it doesn't bother you now doesn't mean it won't bother prospective purchasers later. Blame your buyer's agent. If you didn't have a buyer's agent, that leaves only one candidate for blame. You'll find them hanging around any mirror you might check.

9 HOA: This is closely related to surrounding environment, and condos and PUDs are the poster children of what a lot of people don't want. People want the property to be theirs to do with as they please. It's a sad fact of life that in an increasing number of places, they are going to be disappointed because they can't afford anything without a homeowner's association. Homeowner's Asssociations really are a good guardian of property values, but they have a tendency to give way to much power to the busybody and the would-be dictator. Unfortunately for a lot of people, the newer developments they crave all have homeowner's associations because while everyone knows that they personally can be trusted to maintain the property, those horrible neighbors who can't be trusted won't trust them. Unfortunately, the only way to appeal to people who don't want an HOA is not to have an HOA. Once again, blame the buyer's agent that "helped" with your purchase.

8. Zoning: Zoning restrictions, lot constraints, etcetera are all parts of this category. If you've got a two bedroom property and setback requirements keep you from building a third bedroom, your property is not likely to appeal to people who need a three bedroom place to live in. Once again, the only way to fix this issue is not to buy where it is an issue. Over-restrictive zoning is a real economic problem for a lot of reasons, but while people like to be able to cause everyone else in the neighborhood problems by not having enough parking for their apartment house or mini-dorm, they don't want everybody else turning the tables and causing them problems. Yeah, maybe you can get the zoning changed sometimes - but that's not the way to bet.

7. Schools: If you buy in an area that includes the right to attend a great public school, that's a gift you give yourself that keeps on giving, at least until the neighborhood starts voting against additional property tax bonds. Or if you can cause a school that heretofore taught only "hanging out with a GPS tracker on your ankle," to start teaching the kids some economically desirable skills, you can expect a windfall in the form of property value. I think that shackling kids to a particular neighborhood public school is slow motion suicide for society, but evidently at least fifty percent plus one of teacher's unions feel it's beneficial to getting union leaders more money and power. Once again, this is just a fact of life, and once you have bought a particular property, you're locked into whatever the local educational insanity might be.

6. Clutter: If you're tripping over knick-knacks, carnivorous house plants, and cannot eat meals as a family because the table is six feet deep in stuff, it would be a real good idea to do something about it. There are a lot of easy options here: Trash, charity, storage rental, loan or give it to some family member who's not trying to sell their house. If you're trying to sell, engrave the saying, "A place for everything and everything in its place" upon your soul for the duration. If there's any doubt as to whether you need it in your day to day life, the place for it is "elsewhere." If the place is so full of your stuff, people worry about whether there's going to be room for their stuff. Believe me when I tell you I understand how difficult this is: I've got two young kids and two dogs, all four of which are highly efficient entropy generators, but getting clutter under control and keeping it there is critical to selling for a good price.

5. Staging: Absolutely empty is better than "chock full of clutter," but then people wonder how their stuff would fit. I still have trouble believing this one, but facts are facts. Most people have a hard time picturing their couch and their TV in the living room. A small amount of furniture gives them a reference point, scale, and a starting point for their mental decoration. It helps them figure out how their stuff is going to fit. A bare minimum of vanilla furniture shows better than even a vacant, empty property. Even most stagers seem to want to put too much stuff in the place, for some reason. Seriously, keep it to a bare minimum. A bed in the bedroom, a couch in the living room, a dining set in the dining room. Maybe one nightstand in the master bedroom, a coffee table and placeholder for the TV in the living room. That's it. If the place is not vacant, and you are still living there, that's still the target you should aim at. If you don't absolutely have to have it every day, get it out of there. This especially applies to family heirlooms, anything expensive, and anything irreplaceable. Get. It. Out. People want to be able to see their stuff in the place, and they can't do that if there's too much of yours. By the way, this applies to you, too, at least while prospective buyers are looking at it. Don't follow them around your property like you're worried they're going to steal the silverware. Get out. If there's anything you're worried about them stealing, get it out also, and keep it out until the property is sold. For everything else, your listing agent should have a record of who has been in the property, and you should be insured even if you're not trying to sell the property.

4. Condition Is it clean? Is it neat? Is it attractive? Here's an example for you: Carpet is maybe $40 per square yard, installed, with a good pad. If you've got a hundred square yards of carpet that needs to be replaced, call it $4000. Not replacing it will probably cost you at least $10,000 on the sales price. More likely double that, and it'll take longer to sell and you'll end up giving a carpet allowance to your buyers out of what you do get. Dirty floors, chipped tiles, all that stuff is unbelievably costly not to fix. Believe me, I understand what a pain it is. My newest family member loves to chew drywall. It costs far less to fix it yourself than you're going to have to give up to sell the property. Get a cleaning service in if you don't want to scrub everything yourself. It's stupid, but opening the blinds or drapes so that prospective buyers see all that light as they're walking in is worth serious cash, not to mention much broader interest. The point is this: Many prospective buyers have the imagination of a rock, and their agent isn't any better, because they don't want to say anything that would give the people they're supposed to be helping (but aren't) grounds to sue. You can choose to market only to the people who are visualization's answer to Albert Einstein, but it really does narrow your potential market, and hence, cost you money and time (and therefore more money) when you're trying to sell.

3. Showing Restrictions: If people can't see your property when they have the time, they're not going to make an offer on it. Cold hard fact. Since the time of highest interest is the first few days its on the market, if you haven't gotten an offer withing thirty days, not only is something wrong but it's cost you some serious cash in the form of lowered selling price. Showing instructions are easy to fix. "Just go!" is absolutely the best, but (unless you're an international supermodel), prospective buyers don't want to catch you in the shower or in bed any more than you want to be caught there. One bad experience in this area is all any agent needs, and I've had mine (believe me, you don't want details). Asking for a few minutes notice so you can evacuate is reasonable. Telling prospective buyers to avoid a time slot is also reasonable. But the more restrictions you put on showing, the more likely it will be that you've raised the cost for viewing your property too high. Asking for four hour notice - let alone 24 - is almost guaranteed to prevent prospective buyers from viewing your property. And if someone does ask that far in advance, for crying out loud get back with them and be as accommodating as you possibly can. I actually laid out a trip "day before" last week, and of the seven people who wanted advance notice, precisely one got back to me. That gives me quite a bit of information as to how interested they really were in selling the property, which is to say, not very.

2. Price: I really hope you weren't expecting this to be number one. Buyers choose properties to look at based upon asking price. They choose which property to make an offer on based upon how well your property compares to others of similar asking price. If your property is clearly outclassed by properties of equivalent asking price, you're doomed. It is to be noted that just about every sin in the list is forgivable if the price is low enough, but the more sins there are, and the worse the violation, the lower the sales price is going to be, and most of the rational world wants the highest possible net from the sale. Trying to make believe that any problems that exist aren't there will only prevent the property from selling at all.

1. The Agent Plain and simple, you've chosen a bad one. Either they don't market the property effectively, they don't explain how things work to you, they make it difficult for other agents to show the property, they discourage offers represented by other agents, they don't return phone calls, they evidence a bad attitude, they're using your property to troll for buyer clients and don't want it to actually sell - the list goes ever on and on. They're effectively raising the price to make an offer on your property. Just because you've signed a listing agreement doesn't mean you're on cruise control. You need to monitor agent performance. At least, if you want to know whether they are performing or not. Are they forwarding all offers? Are they discouraging people from making offers because that offer might mean they don't get a kickback? All of these sins and many others really do happen.


Bonus Super Deluxe Reason. Homeowner Attitude About sixty percent of all listings I read leave me with one very strongly negative conclusion: That the owner of this property does not really want to sell. Maybe it's the agent's fault in some cases, but if you won't find - or pay attention to - an agent who won't tell you unpleasant truths, you're hurting only yourself. I tell my buyer clients that there is no such thing as a perfect property, but the same warning is equally important to sellers. There is no such thing as a perfect property, and acting like you own one is a great way to drive buyers and their agents off. You are not doing buyers a favor by putting your property on the market. You have real estate, the most illiquid investment there is, you want the cash those buyers have, and you're not going to get it by giving them reasons why you're too difficult to do business with. If you didn't want what buyers have (cash), you wouldn't have the property on the market. Buyers, their agents, anybody who comes to look at that property is helping you get what you want. I believe that people who look at the property you're trying to sell are doing you a favor. Even if they just want to look at it, in the middle of the best seller's market there has ever been. If the property doesn't show, you won't get offers - guaranteed. If you don't get offers, you are highly unlikely to consummate a successful sale. The property is only worth what someone is willing to offer for it - end of discussion. If the most you can get someone to offer is thirty-nine cents, that's what it's worth. You can choose to sell, or not to sell, for that price, but trying to tell yourself or anyone else that the property is "worth $400,000" when nobody is making offers that high is a waste of energy, and quite likely, of a buyer and an offer that really are offering the best you're likely to get.

Caveat Emptor

We got behind on house pymts & it was sent to an attorney for foreclosure.? The attorney has printed a notice in our paper on Oct 9 that it will go up for public action on Nov.16th. We found out we could get financial help on friday. Can we stop this action now without it going up for auction?

This never ceases to amaze me. People have a contract they can't meet, and they don't call the other party to see if anything can be done.

the lenders do NOT want to foreclose on any more properties right now. Actually, this is pretty much a constant of the real estate market.

To be truthful, you should have called the lender and explained your situation as soon as you knew you were going to be late with a payment. Lenders will always work with anyone to a reasonable extent, but now they're bending over backwards. Foreclosures are 1) bad publicity, 2) bad for their relationship with the secondary loan market, and 3) almost certain to lose them a blortload of money.

Call them this instant (or as soon as they open on Monday) and ask for Loss Mitigation. They will not be as forgiving as if you'd called them right away, but they're still likely to be willing to work something out. Just about anything is better than losing it through foreclosure, I might add, so you be willing to give as much as you can to encourage them. Foreclosures hit them in ways beyond the cash they immediately lose. They don't want to foreclose.

Now, the downsides:

First off, you've waited until you are "in extremis", long past the best time to call the lender. They're quite likely to see your belated request to talk as a last ditch method to delay the inevitable. Lots of folks do precisely this. Had you called earlier and been working with them all along, made agreements and kept them, they'd have evidence you're really doing your best to get them their money. You're not a criminal, but this is the same sort of behavior judges see with convicted criminals at sentencing, faking penitence to avoid jail - then they go right out and do the same thing again.

Payment modifications aren't some kind of magical "make it all better" The lender wants their money, and they're not going to settle for a situation that doesn't turn the loan into what they call a "performing asset." If you borrowed more money than you could really afford, and you aren't able to make at least the interest payments on it at real rates, as many people with negative amortization loans did, then the best modification they'll agree to really isn't going to help you, and you're better off selling the property ASAP, even if you don't get enough for the property to cover what you owe ("short sales").

Bottom line: Please call and ask them. It never hurts to ask. But be mentally prepared if such a modification doesn't really solve your problem.

Caveat Emptor

First let me say that I really learned a lot from your postings/articles/website; its awesome that a resource like yourself exists.

Now to the problem. I recently refinanced and the mortgage broker lied to me about many, many things. I was sold a negative amortization mortgage. The broker provided me a chart showing my payment schedule for 30 yrs; it showed my payment split between interest & principal. I was told that my rate was fixed for 5 yrs and that it would go up to as high as 9% after the 5 yr period. When the closing came and I inquired about the 9% highlights in the docs and the negative amortization disclosures he stated that they didn't apply to me or this loan. He pointed to the section of the doc that stated that my payments would be fixed for 5 years
and that my interest rate would also be fixed for that 5 year period. After closing I received the docs from the lender which outlined the fact that I had 4 choices for payments and when I called for the explanation I almost died. The broker apparently didn't really understand the loan at all; he has now offered to refinance me without any fees...but I am supposedly stuck with the prepayment penalty. When the broker and I originally discussed the penalty he explained that I would probably want to refinance at the end of the 5 yr period anyways so I shouldn't worry about it. The broker also took my lead from a mortgage company he was working with when I originally inquired about the refinance. About 2 weeks into the process he told me that he had quit his job @ the mortgage company and was now out on his own as a broker (emphasis mine DM). Only now did I just realize that he really didn't have the ownership of my lead as his original employer paid for it & provided it to him during his employment. I'm sure that his original employer would be very disappointed to learn that he had taken the business with him when he resigned.

Now that the problems been explained my questions are as follows; Can I sue the broker to recover the refinance fees and the prepayment penalty?

Can the broker that lied to me and provided all the false info be sued or charged; can he lose his mortgage brokers license?

Any advice as to what I can do/what I should do at this point? Thanks in advance for any info you can provide. Please let me know if you respond directly to emails or if I need to go to a specific website to look for a reply.

There are several issues raised here. The largest major red flag is about the Negative Amortization Loan Disclosures. If it didn't apply to your loan, why did they present them to you? There isn't a good answer to that question. If something does not apply to your loan, you are within your rights to not sign. If they don't apply to your loan, then the lender doesn't need it. I don't have my clients sign negative amortization disclosures for thirty year fixed rate loans, or anything else to which they don't apply. Now there are any number of disclosures that legally have to be filled out for every loan and sometimes multiple disclosures for basically the same purpose. I had to do four "equal opportunity" disclosures for my most recent loan. But those are utterly harmless, simply informing you of your rights. A negative amortization disclosure isn't. With that, they can prove that you were told that your loan was negative amortization, and you must have been expecting it, because you signed it, didn't you? That's the lawyer's logic.

I am rapidly becoming more aware of a trend with unscrupulous mortgage lenders: Instead of putting bad stuff in the actual Note, they are adding it on as part of the all the disclosures people have to sign, hiding it in packs of supplemental stuff along with all of the standard stuff that everyone knows have to get signed. Sometimes, they are even coming back to people after funding and asking them to sign horrible things, prepayment penalties and negative amortization disclosures, among others, "for compliance." I want to see a standard booklet or checklist of forms that actually are required by law for every loan, so that innocent consumers who are trying to do the best they can know what is and isn't required by law.

If disclosures do not apply to your loan, do not sign them. They don't need it to fund your loan. There is no reason why someone who's getting an amortized, or even interest only loan, needs to sign a negative amortization disclosure. Just refuse to sign. If it doesn't apply to your loan, then they don't need it to fund your loan. If they then fund your loan and it is negative amortization, you have a good case, so they're not likely to fund it. Refusing to sign stuff that does not apply to your loan protects you.

Now, as to the broker not understanding that the loan was negative amortization: I suppose it's possible. There are people out there in my industry who are mind-numbingly stupid. But the odds are overwhelmingly in favor of the likelihood that they lied to you. There are required submission forms on every loan that most consumers will never see, but it's a requirement for the loan officer to fill them out. They are filled out and submitted with your loan package, and they quite clearly indicate all the relevant facts of your loan.

Now, as to your options going forward. There's nothing wrong with people quitting their employers and going into business for themselves, if they provide good loans at a good cost. Yes, his former employer may want to sue him for the commission he earned, and such might be one way of extracting vengeance, if such is your mindset, but it's not going to help you at all. Nor should you care about who "owned" the lead. You as a consumer are not obligated to anyone except the provider who delivered the best loan at the lowest real cost. And of course the broker who did your loan wants to get paid again with a new loan. Since they are claiming to be stupid enough to drop your state's average IQ by twenty points, you may have to give him directions as to exactly which tall building or cliff you want him to jump off of. They have proven that they are not worthy of your business or anyone else's. Please do make a formal written complaint to your state department that regulates mortgages. In most states it's the department of real estate, but if it's not, they will know who to direct you to. They should lose their license and be barred from the industry for life over this. Unfortunately, your complaint alone probably won't do it, but people who get multiple complaints do lose their licenses, and sometimes, one is enough, if it's egregious enough.

The next issue is what can he sue for? I'm not a lawyer, but every adult in the United States should know the answer to that question is "anything at all," or even "nothing." The better question is where are you likely to recover money, and how much? Once again, I'm not a lawyer and you should talk to one, but I strongly doubt that you've got a good case for anything in civil court. He's got all of those documents you signed ("the weight of the evidence"), and even if you get some jury to agree that you are owed money, it's likely to be overturned upon appeal. This is why unscrupulous folks want you to sign all those documents.

What do you want to do? You indicate your interest rate is fixed, and it must have been low enough to be attractive. If this is the case, make your monthly payments on time, and make the fully amortized payment, usually the third payment option on Negative Amortization ("Pick A Pay") loans. However, I don't believe that is likely to really be the case. I have literally never seen one of these abominations where the real interest rate was fixed, or where the real interest rate was competitive with amortized loans. The attraction of these loans is low payment, and the real interest rate is usually at least 1.5% more than I could get the same person on a fully amortized 5/1 ARM, and right now thirty year fixed rate loans are about the same as the 5/1 ARM. People who don't know any better get the low payment, the bank gets your signature on a loan that's 1.5 percent higher than you could have gotten, and people who don't know any better will line up and fight for these loans! They are easier to sell than free beer to people who don't know any better! The hard thing is selling them something else when other providers are telling them about Option ARMs. So you're probably going to want to refinance, as over a three year period, 1.5 percent rate differential will save you a lot more than the pre-payment penalty.

I answer question emails directly. It may take me some time, but I do answer them, provided they don't get lost in the spam filter. If it's an issue I haven't covered before, or only tangentially, I do like to use questions as the basis for new articles, but I answer questions asked via email by return email. If there are already good answers on my site, I'll send you the link, because it was obviously too hard to find it. If there aren't, you'll get your question answered before any article appears.

Please ask if this does not answer all of your questions!

Caveat Emptor

Found this on a public forum


I need help to stop foreclosure on my home. I need to sell quickly? I am a couple months behind on my payments and want to sell now. I am not looking to make a profit just need to get what i owe.

Boy, did the sharks swarm over that one! There were at least a dozen offers to purchase before I saw it.

Anybody will buy your house for half the market value.

Contact an agent about selling at quick sale prices. Offer 2% listing agent, 3% buyers agent. Even a quick sale price should get you at least 80% of value. Yes, that will cost you 5%. But you'll come out with 75% of value, net instead of 50. If your loan balance is anywhere under 75% of the value, this puts more money in your pocket. If your loan balance is more than that, it means you'll owe less in taxes when the lender hits you with a 1099. Not to mention that trying to sell a short payoff without a good agent is an exercise in futility.

Now this is not to say that you should list it for 80% of your most fevered imagination of what it is worth. You need to sell, as in have someone offer a price that they can actually pay you. You need offers. Ideally, you want multiple offers fast. You do this by underpricing the market value of your property, so that you will attract people who want to look, and they think it's a good price so they make an offer. The offer will not be full asking price, and don't waste your time hoping that you will get such an offer. Once that Notice of Default hits, everybody knows that you need to sell. To use one example I'm going through with a buyer client right now, if your property is a two bedroom place that basically looks like wild animals have been living there, and your list price is 99% of the three bedroom down the street, you are not going to get it, and you have a deadline, while your prospective buyers do not. You need to figure out what it is really worth by sales of comparable property happening right now, and then you need to discount that price by enough to make a difference. How much? Depends upon what your local market is like. That's part of what good agents get paid for.

Toss any concept of "negotiating room" or "getting what the property is worth" out of your head. Get your attitude out of the seller's market of a few years ago. Especially in the current buyer's market, all of the power is in the hands of the prospective buyers. If you won't sell for what they offer, the one down the street who is a little bit smarter, or a little bit more desperate, will. Sellers have little enough power right now without the deadline of foreclosure. People who need to sell have only the power to say no, and what happens if they don't say yes to someone? I'll tell you what happens: You get nothing. The chances are better of flying to the moon by flapping your arms than of getting some of your equity back out of a foreclosed property. Since your best alternative is lose everything you have in the property, that's not a strong negotiating position. This buyer does not have to have your property. With very high inventory in my local market, they can go find a more attractive property, cheaper, from someone else. Their best alternative in negotiations is that they go find some other seller who will sell for what they want to offer. Negotiating position: Very strong. Net result, the buyer offers what the property is worth to them. If you won't take it, they only need a bit of patience to find something else that will. If you didn't need to sell, you could just hold on to the property, of course, but we've already determined that you don't have that option, and time is not your friend. A very large proportion of agents still have their heads in seller's market mode. Indeed, most of the major chains are still telling their agents to think like it's a seller's market. This kind of thinking is of no use in the present market, as roughly 46,000 residential property owners discovered in San Diego County in 2006. Considering that only 31,000 transactions successfully closed in the same time period, that is a warning. Only about 40% of property owners who listed their properties sold at all, on any terms. When you consider the time constraints of selling under pending foreclosure, it behooves you to understand your position.

Caveat Emptor


Right now, due to the problems we had with unsustainable loans, nobody wants to consider anything but a thirty year fixed rate loan. I understand why, especially as I've been preaching the dangers of things like short term adjustable interest only loans and negative amortization loans here for almost three years now. The trick is one of balance. The negative amortization loan not only has a higher interest rate than other loans (aka cost of money) but you're adding to the balance you owe every month. This has compound interest working against you. If this were not the case, you could afford a better loan (there are no worse ones). For such things as an interest only 2/28, once again you're setting yourself up with a loan that you cannot afford and a short time during which you need to be able to refinance. The balance of that interest only 2/28 may not be growing, but it isn't going down much either. In only two years, you're going to not only need to refinance it, but almost certainly roll a bunch of closing costs into your balance as well. Suppose rates are higher? Suppose prices are lower? These twin facts describe the situation lots of folks are in right now, and my article on Refinancing When You're Upside Down on the Mortgage is one of my most popular pieces of search engine bait, despite the fact that it is very much in the way of hoping you can make something a little less bad out of a horrible situation. Two years in real estate is fairly short term. Considering a two year window, I'm more certain today than at any time in the last ten years that property values (at least local to me) will be significantly higher two years from now (at least 10%), but confidence in that prediction is only in the 90 to 95% range. Two years just isn't enough time. Like when I was a financial advisor. The market is up in about 72% of all 1 year periods, and a higher percentage of two year periods (I remember 85%, but I'm not certain of that). But over a ten year period, it was a practically sure bet, historically, that the market would be up, and up significantly. The same thing applies to real estate. "Time in" is so much more important than "timing" that they don't even play in the same league.

When you get out to five years, I'm as certain as possible that my local market, at least, is going to be up and up significantly. Considering the state of most markets, this is a very reasonable bet. For that matter, it's pretty reasonable at any time, as five years is enough for sentiment of the moment to be outweighed by fundamental facts of the market. Furthermore, most people get at least one substantial raise (or a series of smaller ones) over a five year period, increasing what they can afford. More importantly, in five years with a fully amortized loan, you'll chop some significant money off the balance (about 7% for most mortgages out there), just by making the regular minimum payments. My point is this: you have a smaller balance on a property that is worth more. Your equity situation has improved, and by enough that unless you take significant cash out in one way or another, you're in a strictly improved situation.

What are you giving up by accepting a 5/1 instead of a thirty year fixed rate loan? The answer is twenty five years worth of insurance that your rate won't change at the end of your loan, which most borrowers never use anyway. The median time to refinance or sell a property was about 28 months last time I checked (for a while it was down to sixteen months). That's fifty percent above, fifty below. Add another 28 months, and before five years is up, at least seventy five percent of everybody has refinanced or sold. Question: How much good did that extra 25 years of insurance that the rate wouldn't change do these people? Answer: Absolutely none. They let the lender off the hook before that part of the guarantee began.

Let's look at some numbers that were available today. Full documentation, A paper loans, rate/term refinance between 75 and 80% loan to value ratio, with a credit score of 720 (national median). They'll be at least a little bit different before this is published, but useful for illustrative purposes.

Now the loan request that started this all off was a $600,000 loan. Here in San Diego, that's less than the temporary Conforming limits (aka Jumbo Conforming, a phrase that makes about as much sense as plastic glass),

30F Rate30F Cost5/1 rate5/1 Cost
5.5%2.65.25%1.5
5.875%1.85.5%0.9
6.25%0.25.875%0

(Making certain I emphasize once again the tradeoff between rate and cost for real estate loans)

So, for less than the cost of a 30 year fixed at 5.875%, these clients could have a 5/1 ARM at 5.25%. For a $600,000 loan - almost to what was called Super Jumbo territory a few months ago. the 30 year fixed costs roughly $14,500 in total costs, the payment is $3635, and interest is about $3009 the first month, assuming all costs are rolled into the loan. The 5/1 costs about $12,700 grand total, the payment is $3386 ($250 less!) and interest is $2686 ($325 less!). You pay the balance down to $556,000 over 5 years if you just make the minimum payment on the 5/1, as opposed to $570,000 if you make that higher minimum payment on the 30 year fixed rate loan. And if you happen to be the sort who makes that payment they could make on the thirty year fixed rate loan, but chose the 5/1 instead, your balance will be down to $547,000. Under such circumstances, even if you refinanced that 5/1 at the same cost, you'll be over $10,000 better off than some hypothetical twin brother who chose the 30 year fixed, even if he didn't refinance which the odds are at least 3:1 against. Given consumer habits in this country, that thirty year fixed looks like a losing bet to me at today's rates.

The same numbers apply just as strongly at conforming rates:

30F Rate30F Cost5/1 Rate5/1 Cost
5.5%1.54.875%1.5
5.875%0.25.5%0
6.25%-0.95.875%-0.3

The difference between the thirty year fixed and the 5/1 narrows appreciably at the lower cost end of the spectrum. But it's a far cry from the days of last year when sometimes that thirty year fixed rate loan was actually less expensive for the same rate.

Some people are likely to ask about varying periods of ARM. What about a 3/1, for an even lower rate? Ladies and gentlemen, those were actually more expensive than 5/1s today, and even when rates are more normal, the differential is usually less than an eighth of a percent, while you're cutting off 40% of your fixed period guarantee - the period that lets you make all that lovely profit? As for the 7/1 and 10/1, they were actually more expensive than the thirty year fixed today, and even when rates are more normal, there's typically more difference between them and the 5/1 than there is between 3/1 and 5/1 - plus you're getting well past the territory where reasonable fractions of the populace keep their loans without refinancing. You're paying for insurance you're extremely unlikely to need, and hybrid ARM rates are much more stable than rates for thirty year fixed rate loans.

Hybrid ARMs aren't for everyone. If you're going to obsess about your expiring fixed term every night for five years, the difference in daily interest works out to about $10 per night, even for our example with the $600,000 mortgage. My family being able to sleep well is worth $10 per night to me, and I presume it is to you, as well. There is an element of risk here, and there's no pretending there isn't. A very small risk that real estate and loan markets go completely weird in violation of all historical precedent for the next five years, and those choosing the 5/1 are somehow stuck with needing to refinance in a worse situation than when they started in. But I've been saving myself lots of money with the 5/1 for fifteen years now, in all sorts of markets. Why shouldn't I mention it to other people, including my clients?

Caveat Emptor

We aren't married. How do we buy a house together?
Basically, the same way that married people do. The qualifications are exactly the same, provided that you both will be living in the property. If not all of the people who will be buying will also be living in the property, they have to show that they can afford both the place where they are living and their share of the expenses of the property. The only real difference in the paperwork is that unmarried parties cannot submit a single loan application - they must fill out separate applications. Most lenders will require that all of the disclosures also be signed and submitted individually. But that's just to keep the lumberjacks happy killing trees.

Now it is highly advisable that you consult an attorney as to how you want to hold title, and that there be some kind of partnership agreement that gives the other parties rights to recover any extra they paid to keep the partnership out of trouble, if one or more of the partners can not or do not make their share of the payments on time. But that's not a part of the purchase process, and you can certainly buy a property with basically anyone. It's one of the most basic of rights here in the United States. Convicted felons, jail inmates, illegal aliens, and people who have never set foot in the United States can all buy property here, as long as they have the money or can persuade someone to lend it to them.

The fact that people are not married means basically nothing to the loan qualification process, either. The guidelines are exactly the same either way. Yes, there are complex variables as to how you qualify, and what loan you qualify for. But people who are married but aren't going to be living together are treated the same as two random business partners, except that they can put all of their joint information on one application. You can have any number of people on title to a property, or responsible for a mortgage. The major thing to watch out for is that they must qualify as a group, and almost always under the same set of qualifications. If one person has to do stated income, they all might as well be stated income, because they're not going to get full documentation rates anyway.

Caveat Emptor

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As with anything you find on the internet, the critical thing to keep in mind with internet real estate is that it is subject to input control. In plain English, you only see what they want you to see. If they don't want you to see it, it's not going to be put into the internet so that you can see it there. The vast majority of the time, there is no check upon this simple fact of life. If the owner or listing agent don't want you to see something, it's not going to be available to you on the internet. You're going to have to get out and look at the actual property.

What is put onto the internet is a representation. It could be a good accurate representation or it could be an intentionally distorted representation. The online information is never all there is to see. Kind of like a facade - front facade, back facade, and now, internet facade. Online pictures, home for sale websites, virtual tours - they're all subject to any number of tricks that alter how the property is perceived.

You should never put an offer in without having looked at the property in person. I'm very good at what I do as a buyer's agent. Nonetheless, it is most disconcerting on those rare occasions when someone sounds like they might be intending to put an offer in without looking at it themselves in the flesh. To date nobody has done so through me, but I have had to talk a couple people out of it. There is no such thing as a perfect property, and it's very difficult to point out all of the things I believe buyers need to be aware of when they're not there to see me point.

A lot of the most important things are never online. Even if there is a floor plan (rare), it's very difficult for people who are only looking on-line to get a good grasp of internal sightlines. It's also very hard to convey the full sense of the external environment. What can you see? What do you hear? Are there other environmental distractions? Do airplanes fly right over the house on departure when the wind changes? What's the neighborhood like, are there any obviously disturbed neighbors, what are traffic patterns like, how close and how good is freeway access, where is (are) your grocery store(s), and anything else that might be important to you? How accessible is the neighborhood via public transport? Note that some of these questions are double edged swords by definition. Public transport means your friends who don't have a car can get there, as well as making any public transport excursions you may have need far more bearable - but it can also be a conduit for undesirable visitors.

Nor can you really only visit one or two properties. The key to relative value is how the various properties on the market compare to each other, and that includes that whole list in the previous paragraph. No matter how much you make, if you figure you're going to visit an absolute minimum of ten properties before you put in any offers, the probability is pretty much 100 percent you'll end up glad you did.

The internet can profitably be used to narrow your search, by throwing out all of the obviously unsuitable properties. Doesn't have what you need? Asking price way too high? From the pictures, there's no way your family could live there? There's no reason to waste time and gas going to see those properties. You still need to go out and look at not only the properties that are left, but enough properties to give them context. I don't know how often I've heard from people who only wanted to view one property, but in such cases it always seems to be a property I wouldn't buy if the owners paid me to take it off their hands.

The internet can also make it easy to find properties to look at. It certainly beats driving around all the neighborhoods you might like to live in trying to find "For Sale" signs. But it cannot replace physically going to look at properties that might fit the bill. If you're short on time, might I suggest a buyer's agent, or several? That time is their job, the mileage is a business expense, and nothing is so precious as the time people give us to look at property. It's quite likely that a good buyer's agent will narrow your search a lot more, because going out and looking at property gives a lot more information than the internet, and we do it constantly. Getting a good buyer's agent first will make more difference than anything else to how happy you end up (Here's how to find a good buyer's agent)

Property always needs to be evaluated in the context of the area it's in. A lot of what might sell for $500,000 in my area might be less than $100,000 in other locales. This doesn't mean San Diego is overpriced. It means that there's a lot of people who want to live here very badly, these people make comparatively large amounts of money, it's hard to get permission to build, and the prices for the area reflect those factors. If you've decided you want to live in a particular neighborhood you're going to have to pay about the prevailing prices if you want housing. A good buyer's agent can make a big difference, but nobody can find you something that doesn't exist, and in order to really understand what a good bargain is, you've got to go and actually look at some properties that aren't bargains before you understand what a bargain looks like.

Caveat Emptor


When it comes to mortgage loans, people get distracted by the darnedest things.

Let's look at Wal-Mart. You think they got to be the largest retailer in the world by making less money than their competition? I assure you that is not the case. In fact, they're legendary in manufacturing circles for using their size as an inducement to get the lowest possible price out of their suppliers. With that leverage - the fact that whether or not Wal-Mart stocks your item will be a significant predictor of your success manufacturing consumer goods - they can get outrageously low prices out of their suppliers. To this, they add all of the economies of scale and function consolidation that they can possibly come up with, to the point where Wal-Mart makes more on the same item than almost any other retailer, let alone the mom and pop store that everyone complains Wal-Mart has driven out of business. How the heck do you think they can afford to build dozens if not hundreds of new "Super Centers" worldwide every year?

Their main attractiveness to consumers is one thing. Price. They deliver whatever it is, from breakfast cereal to makeup to cell phones to automotive supplies at the lowest final price to the consumer. They've also got a huge selection of merchandise so you've only got to make one stop (thereby saving on gas, if you don't count the three gallons you waste getting in and out of the parking lot), but that's not why most consumers go there. They go for price. I may hate the thought of going to stores that are even in the physical vicinity of a Wal-Mart, but you've got to give them respect for what they accomplish.

People don't shop Wal-Mart because Wal-Mart doesn't make anything on the transaction. If that were the case, we'd all be shopping government stores. No, people shop Wal-Mart because the total cost, aka purchase price, is lower there even thought they may be making more money per transaction than the Mom and Pop store that used to be a couple blocks over. Lest anyone not understand, this is a good and rational thing, not just for Wal-Mart but (as far as it goes) for society as well.

The same thing should apply to loans. Shop loans by the lowest total cost of money . To know what that is, or even make a reasonable estimate, you've got to have some idea how long you intend to keep the loan. There is always a trade-off between rate and cost, because lenders have to work with the secondary markets, and that's the way the secondary markets are built. Know for a fact you're going to sell the property in two years? Then look at the costs of that loan over a two year period. In such a case, it probably doesn't make sense to choose anything with a fixed period longer than three years, and lowering the closing costs is likely to be more important than getting a lower rate, even if the payment is lower on a lower rate. That's pretty much a textbook case example of higher rate being better because it's got a lower closing cost.

If you're certain that you're going to stay in this property forever, and never ever refinance again, a thirty year fixed rate loan where you spend several discount points buying the rate down will verifiably save you money - if you're right. If you're wrong, and six months from now you're looking to sell and move to the French Riviera, all that money you spent on points and closing costs was essentially wasted. You're not going to get it back - it's a sunk cost, used to pay the people who do all the work to make a loan happen, and to pay the rich folks who work the secondary mortgage market to give you a lower rate than you could have gotten otherwise. It's not their fault you chose to let them off the hook from that contract you negotiated. You're essentially betting a lot of money upfront that future events will happen the way you believe they will, and if you're right, you reap quite a reward. However, most folks lose this bet, which is why the (rarely followed) admonishment not to pay points for a loan gets repeated so often. That's also why people hedge their bets most of the time, by choosing an alternative that costs less, and therefore risks less, while covering a lot of future possibilities in a decent manner, if not quite perfectly.

All of this is good information to have. But there is one piece of information required of brokers but not direct lenders that distracts consumers from what is really important: How much they're making for this loan. I think it's good information to have out there providing the consumer knows enough not to give it more weight than it deserves. And it really isn't important information, because it does not impact the bottom line to you, the consumer. It's really no more important than knowing where the airplane for your flight just flew in from. The point is that it's going to cost you $99 to get on that plane to where you're going, just like the important thing for consumers about their mortgage loans is that it's going to cost them $X total to get the loan done, and they're going to have an interest rate of Y% that they're going to have to pay for as long as they keep that loan. But if it's important for brokers to disclose how much they're going to make, why isn't the equivalent disclosure required of direct lenders?

The Federal Trade Commission prepared a report, The Effect of Mortgage Broker Compensation Disclosures on Consumers and Competition: A Controlled Experiment. The upshot? Consumers will choose the loan where the company providing it makes less money, or, even more strongly, choose the loan where the company's compensation isn't disclosed at all. I think it's reasonable information for someone to want to know, but if it's important to know the information when you're dealing with a broker, and the government therefore mandates such disclosure, then why isn't it required for direct lenders? (The answer is politics, to put brokers at even more of a psychological disadvantage as far as the average person is concerned. Lenders make a lot more money than brokers, so they have a lot more money to bribe politicians contribute to campaigns). To quote from the report:

If consumers notice and read the compensation disclosure, the resulting consumer confusion and mistaken loan choices will lead a significant proportion of borrowers to pay more for their loans than they would otherwise. The bias against mortgage brokers will put brokers at a competitive disadvantage relative to direct lenders and possibly lead to less competition and higher costs for all mortgage customers.

Focusing upon what the provider makes actually hurts you. If you just focus upon how much the loan officer makes, there's no incentive for them to shop around looking for a better loan. As I've written before, if I can find a better lender for that loan, I can both make more money and offer a better loan. But if you're just going to shop by how much I make, there's no incentive to do that. I make my $X, regardless of whether you get a 30 year fixed at 5% without a prepayment penalty or a 2/28 at 8% with a three year prepayment penalty. There usually isn't that much difference, but the principle is the same. You want your loan person motivated to find you a better loan, which shopping only by how much someone makes frustrates. And if you choose a loan at a higher rate of interest and higher cost just because the company offering it is not legally required to disclose what they make, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that you're doing nothing except hurting yourself. It's the equivalent of passing up the store with the lowest price because the law requires that store (but not their competition) to hang a big sticker on it that says, "The store makes $12.98 if you buy this toaster oven." Me, I like it when people make money from my custom, especially when the bottom line cost is as good or better. It means they're motivated to work hard and do a good job so they get my business again next time I'm in the market. The principal is the same whether it's a big box retailer, a mechanic shop, or a real estate loan.


Caveat Emptor

The general public may not understand this, but the most critical parts of a listing agent's job all take place before the property hits the market.

The most important responsibility of an agent who wants to successfully list property is one of those. No, it isn't the pricing discussion, although it's closely related and usually done at the same time. It's educating the owner as to what a good offer for their property would be.

The weaker the overall market, the more important this is. In a strong seller's market, if you blow off a good offer, you're likely to get another almost as good. In a buyer's market like most of the country today, telling a good offer to get lost is a great way to lose money. I'm paid on commission. Believe me folks, I'd like to be able to get two million dollars for a not particularly attractive five hundred square foot condo in "the 'Hood" . The fact is that buyers look for the best property at the lowest price. You can try to sell a property for more than it's worth, but it's not going to happen, and trying is the best way I know of to fail to sell at all, or to be forced to sell for a lot less than you could have gotten, and have to pay the carrying costs for the property for a much longer time than if you know a good offer when you see it.

You can't really have the pricing discussion until the owner understands what a good offer would be. The correct asking price is central to a successful transaction. People look at properties based upon asking price, and you are competing with other properties of roughly the same asking price. If you ask too much, your property will be competing out of its league. The people who are looking for something in that price range will have superior alternatives. If the choice is your property or, for the same asking price, a freshly remodeled house with an extra bedroom and bathroom and a lot that's twice as big in a better location, which do you think the average buyer is going to make an offer on? Ladies and Gentlemen, even if your own mother is looking for a property and knows you need to sell, that's going to be a hard sale for your property. On the other side, if you're not asking enough, people will line up to buy, but then you (and your agent) end up with less money in your pocket, and that's not going to make anyone happy except the buyer.

Furthermore, you've got to understand the market you're trying to sell in. In a strong seller's market, you can probably afford blow off offers below a certain threshold. In a strong buyer's market, you need to try and work with anything even vaguely in the right ballpark, to see if you can talk them into something more in line with reality.

Some agents won't do this. They'll either accept whatever the owner wants to ask or even actually inflate the asking price. This is called "buying a listing," because owners who don't know any better get dollar signs in their eyes and sign up with that agent. It isn't really "buying" anything - it's more like a candidate's insincere campaign promises to repeal laws of economics. Anybody old enough to vote should know better than to believe this, but it works, for the same reason Nigerian 419 scamsters are driving around in Ferraris: People want to believe in easy money. In point of fact, as I have written before, this actually sabotages any chance of actually getting the best possible price. Your time of highest interest is right when it hits the market, and the longer the property is on the market, the lower the sales price is likely to be, and when you over-price real estate, you're not only going to end up getting less money in the end, but you'll have to pay carrying costs for the property for a longer period of time. In short, this approach reliably costs sellers money. Large amounts of money. There is no reason but greed and ignorance to do this, but many rotten agents make a very good living conning people who don't know any better. One of the reasons why bargains are hard to find is that the definite majority of the listings out there have been the victim of such an agent. The property isn't going to sell for that price, or anything like that price, but by over-promising on the listing price, they get a signed listing contract, and when all these properties eventually sell for tens of thousands less than they really could have gotten, that agent even looks like a "top producer."

Waiting until the property is on the market is too late. Everybody has already seen that initial asking price. Not to mention the owner still believes the nonsense they've been sold in the above paragraph. Waiting until you have an offer is definitely too late. The agent has been telling them up until this very moment to expect tens of thousands of dollars more, and now the agent is going to try to talk them into accepting what really is a good offer? Not likely to work, and not good for the relationship even if it does. Furthermore, one of the things you learn in this business is that the first offer you get is more likely than not to be the best. Oh, it's not rare or even that uncommon for a better offer to come later, but the most typical pattern is for each subsequent offer to be successively lower. And now you've lost what is likely to be the best offer you're going to get because your agent couldn't explain to you what a good offer was? Run that one by me again: Why are agents supposedly getting paid? I get paid for listings because I really do know how to sell them more quickly and for a higher price than any "for sale by owner". But why in the world would you want to pay someone who doesn't do that, and makes the sale take longer and causes you to have to settle for a lower price? I understand why it happens. I just can't understand why people would want to, other than a combination of ignorance, laziness and greed. Somebody once said, "Too bad ignorance isn't painful." Ignorance is painful, but it's financial pain, and the kind most of those burned by it never realize they felt, because they couldn't recognize the symptoms, and they have no idea how much better they could have done.

For a successful listing that's going to fetch an optimum sale, understanding what a good offer looks like, so the owners know how to react when they get it, and setting the correct asking price so that you do get such an offer, is critical. Failing to do so will put you in that group of people who don't get what they could have for the property, and since you don't understand how and why the problem happened, you're likely to repeat it every time you decide to sell a property. When the market rises rapidly for many years, as the San Diego area among many others did, you can even delude yourself into believing that you were "successful." But when the market returns to something more closely approximating normality, believe me when I tell you you that you'll find out in a hurry that you weren't as successful as you thought.

Caveat Emptor

I have repeatedly advised my readers to sign up for a back-up loan if they can find somebody willing. So every once in a while, I get email like this:


Hi! Would you be willing to do my backup loan? I'm already signed up with my brother-in-law but you tell people to get a backup loan so I'm asking you.

No loan officer with any sanity is going to agree to that request. You've already made up your mind who is doing your loan. You are not honestly shopping your loan, and you're kidding yourself if you think you are. You're not likely to evaluate your brother-in-law's loan critically when it comes to final signing, you're just going to sign on the dotted line. So the back-up loan officer is going to spend hundreds of dollars and a lot of time pushing your loan through for zero prospect of getting paid. Suppose your boss asked you to work through the weekend, and maybe a couple extra nights, spend about a week's worth of your own pay, but that you wouldn't be paid, you wouldn't get a bonus, and it wouldn't be considered at your next review. That's essentially what you're asking them to agree to with the above scenario. There is no carrot whatsoever in the case of loan officers, because (unlike employers) you're not paying them at any other time, either. Quite frankly, I'd rather spend the time trying to find another client, or with my family, or doing anything else. I'm not interested in wasting my time on backup loans like that, and neither is any other loan officer.

The first thing you have to do if you're hoping for someone to agree to be a backup loan provider is give them an honest chance at being the primary loan. You have to shop them before you have signed up with anyone. You have to have the whole loan officer conversation with several loan officers: what you've got, where you want to get to, your situation, etcetera. Don't forget to ask the Questions You Should Ask Prospective Loan Providers. They go out and price the loan, and get back to you with what they can do. If you are actually signed up with someone else prior to this point, you have not honestly shopped your loan, and no loan officer in the world is going to agree to provide a backup, not to mention that you have placed yourself completely at the mercy of the loan officer you signed up with. There never was any real chance that other loan officers could actually earn your business. It's like going to an auto dealer and asking them to special order a car for you, despite the fact that you've already paid another dealer, are not going to put down a deposit, and indeed, really want to do business with the other dealer, but hey, you want them to do this for you on the chance that other dealer cannot deliver. If you have any doubts, why did you order with the other dealer, or more topic, why did you sign up with your brother in law for the loan? Especially prior to checking with anyone else?

So after honestly shopping your loan, you obviously need to make a choice. Now the reason I advise people to get a back-up loan is because everything you are told when you make that choice could very well be a lie. With the majority of loan companies, the California MLDS is subject to all kinds of misrepresentation, intentional misquoting, etcetera. If this were not the case, there would be no need to sign up for a back up loan. The purpose of signing up for a back up loan is to give yourself another option if, when you go to sign final documents, the loan they actually offer you a contract for is different from the loan they dangled to get you to sign up, that they have been talking about all this time but at the moment of truth they don't really have it. Whether it's a different rate, has closing costs thousands of dollars higher, thousands of dollars added to your loan amount that they conveniently "forgot" to tell you about, has a pre-payment penalty when they told you it didn't, is a completely different kind of loan than they told you about in the first place, or even all of the above, the loan isn't what got you to sign up. In some cases, they don't have a loan at all, and are stringing you along in hopes that they will have a loan Real Soon Now. If you only have one loan ready to go, your options are limited to "sign on the dotted line or don't." If you've made a substantial deposit on a property you are buying and all of a sudden you don't have a loan, guess what? You will probably lose that deposit. So people will sign on the dotted line, even for refinances, when it's not the same loan they were led to believe they were getting in the first place. Hence, my advice to sign up for a back-up loan. That gives you the option of signing the other loan officer's loan contract, and the mere fact that someone else also has a loan ready to go is much better leverage than anything else you can do to get them to produce the loan they said they had in the first place. You also can use the first loan officer's loan as a club for your back-up, too, if need be.

But if you're not going to evaluate your primary loan officer's loan critically, if you're not going to go through the paperwork and make sure that rate, terms, and costs is indeed, as described, that back-up loan officer has just wasted all of their work, and all of their money. Excuse them if they are less than enthusiastic about doing that when there is no prospect of getting paid. It's not like they are being paid an hourly wage. If that loan doesn't close, they get nothing for all that time and effort. People work to earn money, even if they really do like their job.

So what you've got to do, preferably before you make a final choice for your primary, is ask your number two prospect about your number one prospect's loan. Does loan officer number two think offer number one is deliverable? I assure you that good loan officers know what is and isn't really deliverable. Whether the answer is "Yes" or "No", you've got some useful information. If the answer is "Yes," you know that what the low bid is talking about is possible. Whether they will actually deliver it or not is a different question. The way to bet is that they will not, unless they are willing to offer you a written Loan Quote Guarantees. If you ask for a Loan Quote Guarantee, most lenders and loan officers will not give you one. Instead, they will try to distract you with BS about how they are thus and such reputable company, and they honor their commitments. This is nonsense. Neither the Good Faith Estimate, Mortgage Loan Disclosure Statement, Truth In Lending form, or any of the other standard forms that you get at loan sign up, is in any way a commitment or a guarantee. They are only estimates, and they may be accurate estimates or they may be the biggest lie since the invention of the one night stand. Furthermore, loan officers don't write loan commitments. That is the exclusive province of underwriters, whom you will never communicate with directly. The most that loan officers can promise is that if the underwriter approves it, the loan will be on a given set of terms, and that is the sort of Loan Quote Guarantee you should look for.

Now, if the second lowest loan provider says "no," that the lowest's rate is not deliverable, that is your opening. "Well, tell you what, Mr. Loan Officer," you say, "If you're certain that loan quote is not deliverable, and that yours is, how about you agree to be my back-up loan provider. If they don't deliver on those terms, as you say they won't, and you do deliver on yours, I'll take your loan. What do you say?"

What they are most likely going to do, of course, is try and talk you into being the primary, and to forget this nonsense about back-up loans. After all, he (or she) is a sales person. If you do what they want, this puts them in the cat-bird seat thirty days down the line instead of your number one choice. And you know, if they are willing to give a Loan Quote Guarantee and the number one choice isn't, I'd probably make them my primary. Ask anyone who's dealt with construction contractors if they'd rather take a bid of $X that is just an estimate, or $X plus 5% that has good solid guarantees behind it? Same principle here. The one that's willing to guarantee their work gets the business, or at least first crack at it.

Now suppose number two won't agree to provide a back-up? Then ask number three. Suppose number one is going to try to hinder your back up loan? You need to explain that you fully intend to go with them, and that if they provide the loan on the terms they told you about, they are going to get the business, but you're providing yourself with an insurance policy, just in case they won't, and their attempts to sabotage that insurance policy are likely to force you to cancel your loan with them. Tell them that if they are really going to deliver what they said they would, their loan will be better than the competition's, so there will be no reason to choose the other loan, so their attempts to obstruct or sabotage the other loan have you thinking that maybe you should cancel their loan, because their actions are indicative of being nervous about their own loan. Be blunt, be truthful, and carry through on your threat to cancel if they keep being an obstacle to the back up. If they need to obstruct a worse loan, it's because they have no intention of delivering the better one. Carry through on your promise to cancel - and then go find yourself a new insurance policy.

Signing up for a back up loan is the cheapest, smartest thing you can do to protect yourself in one of the largest dollar value transactions of your life. But if there isn't a real possibility of getting the business, no loan officer in the world is going to agree to be your back up. You need to demonstrate to them that there is a real possibility of their loan being the one you actually sign the loan contract for at the end of the process, or they are not going to be interested. The type of email that is referenced at the top of the article isn't to protect yourself. It's to mollify your conscience, because you know you didn't really shop your loan around, and you know you're going to pay more than you need to, unless you get struck by pure dumb luck. The point of reading the consumer education here is that you don't want to rely on pure dumb luck.

Caveat Emptor

I refinanced my house and an existing lien was not discovered.

Now the important question: Is it a valid lien, or has it really been paid, and just not released of record? If it has been paid, you don't owe money simply because the lien on your property was not properly removed. If you can prove it was paid off, either by yourself or a previous owner, you're out of the woods.

Since you are asking the question, however, I'm going to assume that it is a valid lien. Most are. You owe the money. It doesn't magically go away simply because the title company (or lawyer doing the title search) missed it.

Now, assuming you live in a title insurance state, it should make no difference to the state of your mortgage. You bought a lender's policy of title insurance as part of your transaction, and the title policy insures the lender from loss due to the extra lien.

You still owe the money, of course. Like any other bill, just because you neglected to pay it off or neglected to pay it on time does not mean you somehow don't owe the money. If it was in effect from before you bought the property, though, your owners policy of title insurance should kick in and pay it off. That's the way title insurance works - they tell you about known issues with your title, and then they insure (almost) everything else. They'll then go after the previous owner, of course. That's what subrogation is all about. They stepped in and paid to keep you from getting damaged, but they now assume the right to receive the money from the person who damaged you. If you live in an attorney title search state, my understanding is that you are going to have to sue the attorney involved, but suing attorneys is a tough proposition, and you can't recover the base lien, only increased damages resulting from that attorney's negligence. If the previous owner was really responsible for it, the title insurer is going to have to run them down and file a lawsuit, and quite often the previous owner has no assets that they can get at.

If the lien was your doing, as most are, you're going to have to start making an effort to pay that lien. How much of an effort depends upon whether you have a lender's policy of title insurance. If you do, it's really no huge deal, because the lender has access to the checkbook of a national megacorporation. If you don't, the lender can potentially force you to pay it in cash right now. They can also force you to refinance by calling your loan, or to take out a second mortgage to pay the lien off in many cases. It's possible they might just pay it and tack it on to your balance, usually boosting your payment in the process. Talk to a real estate lawyer in your state for details, but the lender is not generally going to leave an uncovered lien in place, when the pricing they gave you for that loan was predicated upon there not being such a lien. Since the lien predates their loan, it's almost certainly senior to it, by which I mean that if something happens and you have to sell the property to pay off the liens, it gets paid before your mortgage. The lender is not usually going to tolerate that.

Now suppose that you got a thirty year fixed rate loan at 5% back in 2003, and suppose rates have gone up to seven and a half percent by the time you rediscover the lien. The lender can do better with that money from your loan, and so they are going to want to seize upon any excuse to make you pay it off. This, all by itself, is a really good reason to be careful with your liens.

If you intentionally hid the lien, the lender may even sue for fraud in many jurisdictions. If you intentionally hid it, for instance, it's quite likely that your policy of title insurance won't cover you, and the lender is going to be very unhappy about that.

Most people, however, don't intentionally hide a lien, they just forgot it was there, and when the title search comes up empty any worries in the back of their mind went away. If they even think about it, they mentally write it off. "Oh, I must have forgotten that I paid it." You still owe the money, and now that it's discovered, you're going to have to start paying on it, but if they've got lender's title insurance the lender shouldn't freak.

Now, missing liens is actually fairly rare, but once title insurers miss them, they usually will not be caught on subsequent title searches, because the title company will use the previous title search as a starting point (around here, they actually call them "starters", but I don't know how widespread the practice is) for their new title search. Sometimes they do catch them, and ask the previous title company for an indemnity (which basically says that the previous title company is still liable for having missed it).

Caveat Emptor


There's an old literary tradition that cautions the reader to "Be careful what you ask for. You may get it."

Many real estate purchase offers are good illustrations of that principle.

The rule followed by good agents is, "Never make an offer that you wouldn't be pleased to have accepted, exactly like it is." An Offer is a legal term. You're making an offer to fulfill these terms if the seller will. By simply signing the offer in acceptance, the other side can create a binding document with legal force, and at least potentially sue for specific performance. Specific performance is more often used by buyers than sellers, but it is available to both. An offered and accepted purchase contract is roughly equivalent to creating both a "call" for the buyer and a "put" for the seller in options trading. The seller has a right to insist the buyer buy, and the buyer has a right to insist that the seller sell, on these specific terms.

Usually, there are things discovered about the property while in escrow. It just isn't cost effective for prospective buyers to perform an inspection prior to obtaining a contract, and sellers should be mindful of the fact that subsequent discovery can void the purchase contract with an inspection contingency. On the other hand, I can't imagine a buyer insane enough not to build an inspection contingency into the contract. No matter how great a deal they may think they're getting at first, the whole contract is subject to a revaluation if the inspection uncovers major defects. I'd prefer to negotiate repairs or compensation rather than flush the transaction, whether I'm a buyer's agent or listing agent, but if the other side isn't going to be reasonable, sometimes it's necessary to walk. On the other hand, if the sellers have developed remorse and aren't reasonable but the buyer wants to proceed, the buyers can force the sellers to perform by being willing to accept the original contract, as written.

The buyer usually has protection from the various contingencies in the contract - loan, appraisal, inspection, disclosures. But these have a specific limited duration, the sellers (via their agent) can insist the contingencies be removed in a timely fashion, and once they are gone, that buyer is as naked as the seller. Indeed, one of the marks of a good listing agent is being on the ball about contingency removals. Usually, it's the deposit rather than specific performance that the seller goes after because the reason the buyer wants out is it turns out they can't qualify for the necessary loan. Suing for specific performance in such instances is like demanding that men gestate and birth fifty percent of all babies. It's a physical impossibility that isn't going to happen. Sorry ladies, and sellers also. But the deposit money, and any other money in escrow, can be at risk.

Nor is that the limit of the seller's recourse. I'm not a lawyer, so talk to one, but damages certainly seem possible. Many lender owned addenda demand them if certain conditions are met.

The ultimate risk of a poorly written purchase offer, however, is that it leaves the buyer with a property that isn't worth what they paid for it.

It happens, particularly with large deposits. Buyers get into situations where they have a choice of buying or losing that cash deposit they worked so hard for. Even when the latter is clearly the least bad situation, many people, understanding the value of the cash they worked to save rather more clearly than the value of the payments they haven't made yet, will choose to consummate the transaction. They end up with an unmarketable property where they are obligated to make the payments on the loan, property taxes, and insurance. Since most folks are extremely happy to get a 2 percent deposit, this obligates you to 50 times that much by paying attention to immediate cash rather than the overall situation. Plus interest on the loan and property taxes. Ouch. Not a situation you want to be in.

There is a reason for each of the standard contingencies in a sale contract, and you can ask for others in the initial negotiations if you have a specific reason to be concerned. I just closed one where we negotiated an engineering report contingency because I had real concerns about the stability of the property (It was fine. But better my client spends $600 up front than spends half a million dollars for a property that's in danger of falling over). Standard contingencies can also be waived, creating a stronger, more definite offer. I'd be very careful about waiving them, and I always make certain the client understands the implications in writing. There are valid reasons to waive each and every one of the standard contingencies, but it is always a risk, and it can bite. The way I explain it is that it will bite, if you do enough of them - only nobody knows how many "enough" is.

If a buyer is giving up something that the standard contract gives them, there should always be something they're getting in return. If the seller isn't willing to do that, we're obviously making an offer on the wrong property. The same applies the other way around to sellers. One more way agents with good market knowledge serve their clients interests. "Yes, that model match sold for $X last month. But that seller gave the buyer 6% for loan costs, paid all the closing costs, and a twenty percent carryback as well. My client has a twenty percent down payment, doesn't need anything for loan costs, and is offering to pay half of all closing costs. When was the last time you saw all of that?" Every single one of those differences means money in that seller's pocket - money that should mean corresponding money my buyer doesn't have to pay in the form of purchase price.

Purchase price translates into property taxes for the buyer, and can mean exceeding statutory exclusions for the seller (i.e. they end up owing income tax, or at least having to pay an accountant to prove that they don't). The bottom line is that because the seller is getting things of value that the other seller didn't, they should be willing to give up something in the way of purchase price. If they're not, we're talking to the wrong seller and they're talking to the wrong prospective buyer. We want someone who's willing to see reason, he wants that prospective buyer who needs all that extra money from them to make the transaction happen (maybe). I think such a seller is barking mad, but that's their prerogative. It's a free country. They're entitled to lose their potential transaction.

Another thing that a poorly written offer can do is "poison the well." The other side gets so angry about the offer (usually the price part of the offer) that when the prospective buyer comes back with something better, they aren't interested. Happens. Sometimes it's justified, sometimes it isn't. If you're not emotionally attached to the property, no big deal. If it's the one you've got your heart set upon, prepare to make major amends in the form of concessions in order to bring them to the table. Hair shirts and heartfelt apologies are not likely to work. You've set a warning flag in the owner's mind or the listing agent's, and they're going to want something extra to deal with you because they're expecting a repeat of the behavior.

A poorly written offer can also leave you stuck doing something you don't want to, or can't. Suppose you need a contingency for sale of your own property, but neglected to include one in your offer. Bad news. Now you're looking at the transaction falling out, with consequences for the deposit, or renegotiation, and that seller is going to want a goodie of their own for giving you what you need. Renegotiation is also subject to issues from deterioration of mutual trust, as the other side starts wondering precisely how much of the contract you intend to live up to. It should be expected that the inspections are going to raise some negotiation issues, even in "as is" sales. That's life with asymmetrical information - which is basically every real estate transaction. But try to avoid anything else as a reason to renegotiate.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the dangers. With real estate, the answer to the question "What can go wrong?" is usually, "The mind boggles."* Purchase offers are probably the most noteworthy example of that principle. A poorly written, or poorly considered purchase offer can mean you're stuck with a situation you can't carry through on, and it can cost you anything up to the full purchase price of the property, and perhaps more than that.

Caveat Emptor


*Thanks to Robert Lynn Aspirin and Aahz


Every once in a while, the subject of assumable loans comes up. An assumable loan is one where the owner of a property has the ability to pass the loan along with the property in a sale. In other words, if they sell a property with a $200,000 assumable loan on it, by assuming the loan, the buyer only has to come up with the difference between that $200,000 and the purchase price. The $200,000 loan is a constant of the situation.

About the only loan that generally has an assumption feature is the VA loan. There are other loans out there that are assumable, but it's a matter of company policy of the lender funding the loan.

Just because a loan is assumable does not mean that any person is acceptable to assume such a loan. The lender has the right to approve or disapprove a loan assumption. The way to bet is that any prospective borrower is going to have to qualify under loan guidelines at least as stringent as the original loan. Mind you, if the rate is higher than the current market, the lender is likely to be somewhat forgiving, but if the rate is lower than current market, the lender has an incentive not to approve the assumption. They may approve it anyway, if the rate still beats the active return on the secondary market. But given the latitude to make their own decision, it's not exactly amazing how often everyone will usually follow their economic best interest.

Even after an assumption gets approved, the original borrower is not off the hook. I don't think I've ever heard of an assumption where there was no recourse to the original borrower. The VA loan has full recourse to the original borrower (and their VA guarantee) for a minimum of two years. This means that those original borrowers aren't going to be able to get another VA loan for at least two years, or at least that they're limited by the amount of their overall VA limit tied up in the assumed loan.

Other than VA loans, loans where there is an assumable option are generally a little higher than the non-assumable competition in terms of the tradeoff between loan rate and costs. This is because assumability is a feature with value. They're giving you something that has value the competition does not - they want some value in return. It's generally not a huge difference, but in the absence of someone asking for an assumable loan, I generally presume lower rate/cost tradeoff is more important to my clients, and I can't remember the last time a wholesaler with assumable loans won that battle.

Now there is a concrete value to having an assumable loan. Particularly in markets like today in much of the country, they are one more way to get the property sold, and sold at a better price. After all, you have a feature that few other sellers have. The offer to allow someone to assume your loan can help certain kinds of buyers who may not be able to qualify otherwise, It's a narrow niche, but it does exist, and the ability to have any niche of potential buyers to yourself is valuable in a slow market. This doesn't say you can ask for way more than the property is worth, it says that you have a tool to lure certain types of buyer, and have a tool to move negotiations in the direction you'd like them to go once there is an offer.

Caveat Emptor

Nice Place to Live

General: La Mesa, 3 Bedroom 1.75 Bathroom 1 Optional room

Con:

What's Wrong With It: The kitchen cabinets were left untouched in a recent remodel. Hardwood floors need resealing. I'm pretty certain the upstairs room was done without permits.

Why It Hasn't Sold: They're trying to sell it as something it's not.

Who it's Not Appropriate For: Someone not willing to take the risk of unpermitted additions.

Pro:

Selling Points: Decent sized back yard, split into two terraces, either one of which could fit a small pool. Living room an kitchen have great light, and the kitchen floor and counters are new. Hardwood floors through most of the ground level, with travertine in kitchen. Very quiet neighborhood, but still walking distance to shopping. Great Schools.

Who Should be Interested: If you're looking to house a large family in a great neighborhood for a reasonable price, this is it! Alternatively, it'd be a good prospect for a college rental.

Why it's a Bargain: There really isn't much that really needs doing, and the property appears to be in good shape. Assuming the addition is unpermitted, I think it would be fairly easy to bring it to code and get it permitted.

Financial:

What I think I can get it for: $360,000.

Monthly Payment examples: I've currently got a thirty year fixed rate loan available for qualified buyers at 5.75% with one point, or 100% VA financing at 5.75% for the same cost.

With no down payment: VA 30 year fixed rate loan at 5.75% (FHA 97% financing) payment $2101, (APR 5.889)

With 20% down: Fully amortized payment of $1681 (APR 5.901).

Other financing options are available, potentially lowering the payments, but I'm quoting real loans that real people can get, that will stay exactly the same until you pay it off.

Investment potential: If you keep it ten years and it averages only 5% annual average appreciation per year: Based upon a purchase price of $360,000 the property would be worth approximately $590,000. If you held it those ten years before selling, you would net about $290,000 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 $250,000 ahead of the renter, after the expenses of selling.

To learn more: Agree that you'll use me as a buyer's agent if you buy it. If you don't like it or don't buy it, no obligation is incurred. If you're not working with someone who will go out and find properties like this, maybe you should consider working with me instead!

Contact Information:

Dan Melson, Buyer's Agent
Action Realty Inc
9143 Mission Gorge Road, Suite A
Santee, CA 92071
619-449-0723 X 116

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5.75% 30 Year fixed rate loan, with one total point to the consumer and NO PREPAYMENT PENALTIES!. Assuming a $400,000 loan, Payment $2334, APR 5.885! 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 5.00 percent!

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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.

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

There is no such thing, of course. The perfect time to buy would mean that you have all kinds of leverage, and can make sellers give you pretty much the deal you want, but prices are nonetheless rising rapidly so that you will have a large amount of equity the first time you need or want to refinance, or if you need to relocate.

These two conditions never go together. If buyers have all the leverage, as they do right now, they are certainly not going to opt for increasing prices. Sellers can gripe and moan about it all they want, but while prices may be stabilizing right now, they aren't going to go up until all of the extra inventory clears. Supply and Demand. Three years ago there might have been 4000 residential properties on the market locally at any one time. The last time I checked, there were about 22,000. That means 18,000 additional sellers are competing for no more than the same number of buyers (fewer by my count). If they don't really want to sell, if they just want to sabotage other sellers by adding to apparent inventory, that's no skin off the buyers' noses. If sellers want to actually sell the property, they've got to compete in order to attract those potential buyers. It's not like buyers just go out there and buy the property whose owner's turn it is to sell. They buy the best property for them at the cheapest price. So sellers can either compete by having a cheaper price, or they can compete by having a better property. Most house bling does not recover the money you spend on it, even in a seller's market, but it might give you the wedge you need to attract a buyer in a buyer's market - provided that your property is no more expensive than the comparables. Most sellers are still in denial about this. They've got something a little bit better than the comparables, they want to ask $50,000 more, and then they wonder why their property isn't selling.

If you're looking for a time when property prices are increasing by twenty percent per year, by all means wait. Those conditions are called "seller's markets," because people who are willing to sell can get buyers to do pretty much everything they want, including pay more than the last seller got. Most sellers want to hold when prices are going like that, and buyers are desperate to acquire. High demand, low supply.

Personally, I think conditions are as good as they get for buyers, especially if you're going to hang around three years or more. Yes, prices might deflate a little more and you're likely to lose some money on paper. But trying to time the market so that you buy at exactly the moment when it hits bottom is an exercise in futility. Trying to "Time the market," whether stocks, bonds, or real estate, is a recipe for disaster. It's great if it happens, but it's sheer luck, and anyone who tells you different is lying. By the time people realize that prices are really going up again, buyers will come out of the woodwork and we'll be in a seller's market again.

Buyer's markets, where sellers outnumber buyers like they do now, do not last long, in large part due to the fact that once everyone figures out that prices are no longer declining, now everybody suddenly wants to buy. Inventory has usually been shrinking for quite some time before that happens. As a matter of fact, I just checked, and in the week or ten days since the last time I looked, local inventory has dropped. If it wasn't for people who had sense enough to withdraw suddenly rushing back, things would be looking at least a little rosier for those who do have to sell.

Buy while the ratio of sellers to buyers is in the thirties, while you can pick and choose your properties, and if one seller won't play ball, the one down the street who's a little more desperate will. If you need some special consideration, like a seller carryback of part of the purchase price, you kind find sellers who will be willing to cooperate because that's the only way they will get the property sold. If you wait until the market heats up and there are only five sellers per buyer, they're a lot more likely to tell you to take a hike with special requests like that. If I want cash, why should I loan it to someone with poor credit money at a below market rate if it's likely that I'll find another buyer in a week?

On top of this right now is the time of year. I originally wrote the article I'm updating near Christmas. Other things being equal, Christmas season is always the best time of year to shop for a property, because nobody wants to move the Christmas tree. Seriously, most people have enough extra stuff going on at Christmas that they don't want to add another major item: buying or selling their home. Those sellers who have their property on the market need to sell. But it's May now, and from Easter to school letting out is traditionally the best time for sellers, and we are seeing bidding wars for correctly priced property.

Nonetheless, with inventory finally dropping, and as fast as it is dropping, I wouldn't be surprised at all if the market started turning better for sellers and worse for buyers very soon. Once that starts to happen, expect prices to stabilize and then start to rise again, and the period of best deals for buyers to be over.

Caveat Emptor

This article is for sellers who want to put their property on the market priced too high "just to see if we can get it."

I know where sellers get it. A lot of people are out there hyping the notion that getting a higher price is a function of patience. It isn't. It's a matter of being worth a higher price. The higher priced your property, the lower the percentage of the population that can afford your property and therefore, it takes longer to sell higher end properties. But the notion that getting a better price for your property is a matter of patience is wishful thinking.

I keep telling people, if you want to be a successful seller, think like a buyer (The opposite also applies).

Here's what buyers do: They look for the most attractive property that best suits their individual needs at the lowest possible price.

Buyers are quite conscious of the fact that there are other buyers out there, and they want - very strongly - to harness the collective brain-power of those other buyers. As I had quite forcefully driven home to me recently, one of the things that buyers want out of listing services is "days on market." It wasn't a surprise to me, but the vehemence of the feeling certainly reinforced my understanding. I've written many times about the selling your property quickly and for the best possible price, and the effects of not adhering to that strategy. Buyers don't want to "waste" their time with picked over remains that nobody else liked, hence their rather strong focus on the variable of "time on market". It's incorrect, but that's the way the average buyer sees it. Kind of like the produce and meat sections of the supermarket at closing time. I cannot recall the last time a gateway client sent me an email about a property that had been on the market as much as two weeks - and at least 90% (maybe 99%) of them came onto the market within the last day or two.

So what happens when you put your property on the market over-priced? You might get showings, but when your buyers look at competing properties, they get a better deal - more of what they need and want for the same price - by buying those other properties. Therefore, they will make offers on those other properties - not yours.

Within a short period of time - usually a month or less - the showings will trail off. That pesky "time on market" counter. Buyers aren't interested in what's been picked over and rejected - they want fresh offerings, just like at the supermarket. There are any number of methods of gaming the time "time on market" counter to fool the buyers. Let me ask you: Would all these methods even exist if it wasn't important to buyers? Heck, no! (Enforcement of measures against that gaming is getting stronger, by the way).

Once your property is on the market, it's effectively a depreciating asset, thanks to that "days on market" counter. It may not be as time critical as the fresh seafood counter, but it's a matter of how quickly it loses how much of its value, not whether it does. I'm typing this on May 5 - it you're looking at a fridge full of milk cartons, would you be looking for the one that expires May 7th, May 12th, or May 17th? People are so used to doing this that they don't even realize they're doing it or that it may not be appropriate in this context. But right, wrong, or indifferent, they do this. Pretending otherwise doesn't make it so.

There is one way to refresh that interest in your property, and it's the same way that the grocery store does it. What's the feature of the "day old bread" table that people remember? Sometimes a grocer will have a place for meat or fish that's older than ideal as well, and they use exactly the same principle: lower the price.

At this stage, you've got to lower your price to compete with the other "day old bread," and to get a successful sale at this point, you've got to be priced like day old bread. This means significantly less than you could have gotten in the first place. Nobody buys day old English Muffins for a dollar when there's fresh ones sitting right next to them for that dollar, and it's not like people can't tell they're day old. So in order to sell those day old English Muffins, the store marks them down to fifty cents. The same principle will work to sell a property that's been on the market too long. Even though the discount isn't as steep, proportionally speaking, it's still cost you a large amount of money to put your property on the market overpriced. People still buy day old bread - just not for the same price as the stuff the drive delivered fresh this morning. Not to mention those carrying costs for a property. The fact is, putting your property on the market over-priced costs you thousands to tens of thousands of dollars. The longer it takes you to see the light, the worse it gets.

I've been writing all of this as if asking price was implicitly equivalent to sales price, which is not the case, but the relationship between the two is beyond the scope of this article (or any other article I'm likely to write here). Suffice to say that asking price is a representation by the seller of a sales price they would be pleased to accept.

But the buyer's perception of value diminishes with time on market, regardless of whether or not there is any merit to that viewpoint. In general, there is not, but it's kind of like believing in communism or social security or single payer health care, to construct a "Christmas Carol Ghost" parallel (disaster past, disaster present, and disaster yet to come). Doesn't matter how much nonsense it is - if enough people believe in it, it's going to be the law of the land until enough people change their mind or the whole system falls apart. Since the time between adoption and abolishment is longer than most property owners can hold onto that property, this means you might as well treat it as a fact of life, because from the point of view of a seller, it is.

You can avoid this issue by pricing the property correctly in the first place, and correct pricing should be a difficult discussion if your prospective listing agent is any good. If the pricing discussion isn't difficult, were I in your shoes I'd take that as a strong warning sign and tell that agent that their services are not desired.

Caveat Emptor

I went out previewing properties a couple days ago. That particular client's situation being what it is, I was concentrating on vacant properties. But over half the vacant properties in that area had restricted showing instructions. "Call agent first," or "call for appointment to see."

When the property is vacant, there just aren't any common reasons to restrict showing. It's not like the buyer's agent is going to surprise grandma in the shower or even could make off with the big screen TV. If you're really trying to sell it, if it's vacant, it's empty, at least of your stuff, and the stager's (if there is one) had better be insured. If there really is some reason to restrict showings, it should be somewhere on that listing report. But I'm seeing this schlock on lender-owned properties, where there is exactly zero reason for it, at least as far as the owner is concerned.

What the listing agent is trying to do is control access, so that people like my clients have a gatekeeper. Why? So that they are more likely to be the selling agent also, and keep both halves of the commission. If the offer they bring in isn't as good, or isn't as quick (thereby costing the owner money), they still made twice as much or more in commission if they represent the buyer as well.

I strongly suspect that many agents - and yes, I'm keeping track of who, even though I'll never share it - play gatekeeper with offers as well. I send over an offer, and I never hear back. I call the agent, and am informed my offer was rejected, but I never see anything with the client's signature or even initials. I don't list many, but when I do, every single offer gets a written response, even if it's just "Offer rejected!" signed by the owner. It's illegal for me - as a Buyer's Agent - to contact the owner directly to confirm that they know about an offer, or I would. I could really get behind a law that said I could send a postcard to the owner that says: "Dear Mr./Mrs. X. My client made an offer on your property recently at 1234 Name Street. If you are already aware of this, please disregard this notice. If you are not, please contact your listing agent about the details. If they cannot satisfy you as to whether you previously saw it, please direct all complaints to the California Department of Real Estate at XXX-XXX-XXXX." Boy would that be a good use for postage. Agents who did their job would have nothing to fear; agents who failed would be out of the business fast.

The motivations of the seller are to show that property as often as possible, to as many people as possible. No showing means no offer. No offer means no sale. Therefore, anything which is a nonessential impediment to showing that property should be dealt with, and agent restrictions are one of these. Believe me, I understand about not wanting client phone numbers in MLS databases, because the last time I had a listing decide they wanted to postpone the listing (therefore withdrawing it from MLS), they told me they got over a hundred solicitations from agents who ignored both the "do not call" list and the fact that I still had a valid listing contract at the time, which they didn't bother to ask about. It's illegal to solicit another agent's listing in California. If it wasn't, people who list their properties would be getting phone solicitations from 8 AM until 9 PM every day, and the junk mail would kill entire forests.

But the seller, whether they realize it or not, wants their property shown as often as possible, to as many people as possible. That's how you get get good offers, or even better, multiple offers that you can play off one another. Anytime you make it more difficult for anyone to view your property, you make it less likely they will view it, less likely they will make an offer, and less likely that it will be a good offer. The sharks out there don't care about viewing restrictions. They're willing to make their low-ball offers sight unseen, albeit with inspection contingencies. And even a shark's offer is better than no offer if you need to sell.

So how does a Buyer's Agent deal with problem personality listing agents? About the only thing I can do is not waste my time and most especially that of my clients on their nonsense. The only one with the power to deal with such antics is owner of the property. Just insisting that you want to see all offers isn't enough. How are you going to know? You can ask that instructions go into MLS for making certain that you get duplicates of all offers. E-mail, fax number, address, or even a PO Box if you have one. Buyer's Agents can't bypass the Listing Agent, but they can send duplicates if the MLS instructs them to.

Even better is to insist that the Listing Agent forswear the possibility of Dual Agency, or they don't get the listing. In other words, no matter what, they will not get the Buyer's Agent's part of the commission. As I have said many times, make them pick a side of the transaction - yours - and stick to it. The listing agent can refer buyers to another agent, or the buyers can go without representation - it's not your problem. Actually, as a seller, you would prefer that the buyer go unrepresented. Not only will you get a better price from the poor fool, you get to keep the Buyer's Agent Commission. But this way, the listing agent has no motivation not to present offers from other agents. You are perfectly within your rights, by the way, to make whether you are going to pay a buyer's agent commission part of your decision making process on offers, but it isn't a good idea to make too big a deal out of it. Most of the reasonable offers you get will be represented by a Buyer's Agent of some stripe.

Nor does it demotivate them from open houses and all that. It is more likely that the people I meet at open houses will want to buy something else anyway. Oh, I do sell listings through open houses - but the one who actually buys that house is usually a contact of the neighbor who comes in with no possibility of buying themselves. Curious neighbors at open houses may be the most likely source of the kind of sale price that makes clients happy - if you treat them correctly. Internet marketing is cheap and easy and effective enough that it's worth doing just to get the listing commission. And when the property goes into escrow and people call about the ad in the monthly magazine I put an ad in, well I just find something similar if not better to sell them. Remember that I'm always looking for bargains, and I've usually got several properties in mind where the sellers are more desperate than I ever allow my listings to get.

This isn't all of the games that listing agents play to try and get themselves a larger commission. Many try to require a pre-qualification letter from a particular lender, which is right on the borderline of illegality, or even that you use their loan brokerage, which is illegal - no borderline about it. I ignore either of these requests, and I'm not above bringing the latter to the attention of the Department of Real Estate. The vast majority of all pre-qualifications are worthless. Nonetheless, the tactics I've suggested cover you against them pretty thoroughly. One more worthwhile tactic if you don't follow my advice about disallowing Dual Agency is to walk into their office at random intervals, and insist that they pull an agent report - as opposed to client report that is all the general public is usually allowed to see - for your property in your presence and give it to you. You are allowed to see agent reports on your own property (and only on your own property), as the privacy reasons that restrict agents from showing agent reports to the general public do not apply. Look at the showing instructions. Does it say what you want it to? Are the requests for making offers restrictive? If not, you may have legal grounds to terminate the listing, and you should want to, because the reason MLS evolved the way it has is to encourage the widest possible interest in your property. A listing agent who wants to restrict that so that they can receive both parts of the commission is moving you back into the days of the single listing half a century ago, and that is not in your best interest, not for price, not for timeliness of sale, and not for the ability of prospective buyers to actually qualify.

Caveat Emptor

That question brought someone to the site. The answer is "Yes, they can". As a matter of fact, just because they have you sign those documents does not in any way obligate that lender to actually fund your loan.

There are two sections of conditions on every loan commitment. The loan commitment is what the underwriter writes up when the loan is approved. The first section is called "Prior to Docs", meaning before the final loan documents the customer signs at closing are generated. These should be all the stuff that's substantive in nature, that governs whether or not you qualify. Unfortunately, that is not the case. The second section is called "prior to funding," or "funding conditions." This should be limited to simple procedural stuff like a final updated payoff demand, final verification of employment (they call and make sure you still work there), etcetera. However, more and more, conditions that more properly belong in "prior to docs" section are being moved to "prior to funding."

Why do they do this? Well, once you sign those documents you are more heavily committed to them. Once you sign, and the Right of Rescission (if any) expires, you are stuck with that lender. You no longer have the right to call it off. If you go elsewhere, to another lender, because they are taking too long, they can fund your loan and force you to live by the terms of the documents you signed. Bad business all around, and you're going to be dealing with two sets of high powered lawyers that the contracts you signed basically obligate you to pay for - but they work for the two different lenders!

One fact that many people don't understand is that it's a rare loan application which is rejected completely. I don't remember when I've ever had a loan application outright rejected. Of course, being a good loan officer, I'm going to be as careful as possible that the people will qualify before I submit their loan package, but this is far from universal. Many loan officers routinely tell people about loans and programs that they have no prayer of qualifying for, but there sure are some great rates attached, for all the good they will do you. Then the loan gets rejected but they sit on the rejection while they work the loan they had in mind for you all along, and come back and say, "This is the best I could do" at closing time, and an extremely high percentage of people will sign on the dotted line because they think they have no choice.

What happens much more frequently is that the loan gets approved, and the underwriter writes a loan commitment, but with conditions that cannot be met in this particular instance. The borrowers need to prove more income than they make is probably the classic example, but these "killer conditions" occur in every area of loan underwriting. More often than not, the loan officer is not really surprised by these, and most often, they won't ever tell you about them if they can avoid it. Why? Because that gives you a "heads up" that you're not going to get the loan you thought you were, and at a time when it's still very possible for you do go loan shopping elsewhere.

Now a good loan officer - both competent and ethical - will not tell you about a loan they don't think you're going to qualify for. My ambition is always to have the list of conditions, both "prior to docs" and "prior to funding", to be as short and unsurprising as I can possibly make it. This saves work and it saves time. Remember, every time that underwriter touches the file they can add more conditions, and they can also discover something that causes them to essentially reject the loan, by adding conditions the consumers in question cannot meet. If I can submit a file and the underwriter writes a commitment with only a few routine prior to funding conditions, I am much happier because now I can request documents, have them signed, and get this loan done. You get this kind of commitment by sending all of the documentation they need in every loan all at once, in the beginning, but only that documentation. It's not necessarily a sign of incompetence if the underwriter puts some other conditions on it - probably somewhere close to half of my commitments have some condition the underwriter took it into their heads to require in this instance. Like any good loan officer, I avoid arguments with an underwriter if I can, so when they give me a condition I didn't anticipate, I figure out what I need to satisfy it and whether I can get it. But you learn when extra documentation will be required.

Many loans, particularly sub-prime, are done completely in the reverse fashion. The loan officer submits a bare application, without supporting documentation, and waits for the conditions, and boy do they get a blortload of conditions. Not too long ago I helped an experienced real estate agent in my office with his first loan. He wanted to do it "the easy way," by which he thought he meant, "The lazy way," but he really meant, "The hard, stupid way." He submitted a bare application to the lender and got seven pages of conditions, which were added to as time went by and he submitted documentation piecemeal. Took him two months and four times the work of just taking another day and submitting a complete loan package in the first place. If he had done that, the loan probably would have been finished in two and a half weeks. Some of the conditions were for stuff I had never encountered before. What was going on, of course, was that the underwriter had gotten it into his head that this was probably a dangerous loan to approve, and he wanted to be extra careful on the approval.

So what can the average person do to safeguard themselves against this happening. Well, you can't - not completely. The underwriter can always add conditions, and so can the funder. Even if the loan gets funded, they can pull the money back right up until the moment that trust deed gets recorded with the county. That's just the way it is. What you can do is ask for copies of the loan commitment, and of the outstanding conditions, those that have yet to be met. Refusal on the part of a loan officer to provide this is always a bad sign. Ditto the inability. I definitely wouldn't sign the loan papers without a copy of the outstanding conditions in my possession, and it may be smart to ask for copies of the conditions at several points in your loan. Yes, they can be faked, pretty easily, but then they are ammunition in your lawsuit if something goes wrong. Before you even apply, you can ask questions about necessary income, what the program guidelines for debt to income and loan to value ratio are, etcetera. Much of the stuff in my article Questions You Should Ask Prospective Loan Providers is aimed at defusing that kind of situation. Furthermore, you can and should apply for a back up loan if you can find someone willing. Remember, at sign up you have all the power, but at closing, the lender has all the power. They have the loan, and nobody else does. Many times, the loan they deliver at closing will have nothing in common with the loan that got you to sign up. If you don't want to find yourself completely at their mercy, the only way to reliably do so is apply for at least two loans. In the worst case scenario, it means that you get the least bad of these two loans, and in most circumstances, you can use the fact that there's another choice you can make to motivate them to deliver something that more closely resembles what they told you in order to get you to sign up. At the very least, get a written Loan Quote Guarantee.

Loan officers have people sign loan documents every day that there is no hope of actually funding a loan on. It doesn't make sense to me, but they do it, mostly because they are afraid if they break down and tell you they can't fund this loan, you will go elsewhere and they won't get paid. Signing loan documents more strongly commits borrowers to this loan, and as long as they keep trying, there's always the possibility that they will get paid. I have talked with people that were strung along for three months before they finally gave up and realized that this loan was not going to happen.

Caveat Emptor

I'm clueless about how home loans work. Is there any way to figure out how much I can afford to spend per month on a home. If I were to get a home for $(figure) how much would that be per month? How do I know how much the interest will be? Any sites that explain it all in layman's terms? Thanks


It's actually pretty easy. You are allowed a certain percentage of your gross monthly salary for debt service and housing. According to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, who control A paper, it's essentially 45%. Some sub-prime lenders will go to 60 percent, but let's stay A paper until we know you don't qualify.

Lest it not be obvious to you, the less debt you have currently, the more you can afford to take on for a housing payment. One of the real problems, and reasons for abuse of a stated income loan, is couples who make $4000 per month each, but have $1200 or $1500 or $2100 in monthly payments for the two cars, credit cards, student loans, etcetera. Their coworkers all have $3000 mortgage payments, and $3000 buys a lot more house than the $1800 which is all they can afford. Actually, it's a pretty critical difference right now, since $1800 is the payment on about $275,000, which when I first wrote this, bought a decent two bedroom townhouse in an okay area, or a rotten three in an awful area, while $3000 is the payment for about $450,000 or a little more, which could have bought a 3 or maybe 4 bedroom home in a decent area.

Take 45 percent of your gross monthly income, call it X. From X, subtract your current debt service. This is car payments, credit card payments, furniture payments, any actual debt you have.

The number that is left over, call it Y, is what you can afford for housing by traditional measures. It needs to cover principal and interest of the loan, property taxes, home owner's insurance, and association dues (if any), PUD fees (if any), and Mello-Roos (if any).

Assuming that there are none of the last three, you're left with PITI, the acronym you're going to hear about what this covers: Principal and Interest (on the loan), Taxes (property) and Insurance (home owner's insurance).

When I first wrote this, there were A paper thirty year fixed rate loans in the low sixes with 1 total point or less (rates are a bit lower at this update). Any loan calculator (except auto loans) can handle that calculation. Except that if you're not putting a down payment, you're going to want to split your loan into a first and a second to avoid PMI (Unfortunately, as of this update, second mortgage holders have run for the hills. It's one loan with PMI or nothing at all). To do this, you're only going to put 80% of your loan on the first mortgage. Adding the remaining 20% back in at 9.00% (doing this saves you about two and a quarter percent on the whole amount), for which you're going to need to do a separate calculation. Put the two numbers together and that's the principal and interest (PI) part of the PITI acronym. This assumes you've got decent credit, by the way.

I have no way of knowing your property taxes. Every state in the union has their own way of doing it. California's is actually one of the lower tax rates, considered on an assessment per unit of value basis. There are also zones where bond issues have passed, Mello Roos assessment districts to pay for the costs of bringing utilities to the development, and so on and so forth. Your county assessor will have the details. One of the things a good agent can often do here in California is deduce the presence of assessment districts based upon the taxes paid by a particular property, but it's subject to error, and your county assessor's office will have the information, and it won't b subject to guesswork.

I have no real way of knowing what home owner's insurance might be. I usually guess $100 to $110 per month for a good policy covering detached housing, but that's a guess, and it could be much more, or slightly less. The only way of moving from guess to certainty is to ask insurance agent how much to insure a given property.

Now, if the sum of these numbers (PITI) is less than $Y, that portion of your monthly income available for payments and left over after monthly debt service, you've got an excellent chance of qualifying for that loan. If not, you're going to either not buy the property or have to go sub-prime, where the allowed debt to income ratio is higher, but the rates will also be higher and the terms less generous, for instance in the presence of a pre-payment penalty. It is likely that instead of playing games to stretch your ability to qualify, you would be better off shopping for a less expensive property in the first place. But that's a hard thing to get most buyers to accept. They've fallen in love with the brand new house and they don't want to hear that they can't really afford it. The universe knows that these good deeds do not go unpunished. But informing the client is still the right thing to do.

Caveat Emptor


My lender told me that there is an application fee?

He said an application fee of $250 and then we'll need the appraisal fee and of course we'll need an inspection. Does all this sound legit, is there always an application fee?

If they are asking for upfront money, they are trying to hold your money hostage to commit you to the deal. Most of the companies that do that know that 1) Better rates are available to the public and you're likely to find something better if you try, and 2) they're going to hit you with a bunch of extra stuff they didn't tell you about at the end.

Never pay for more than a credit report up front. You should want to choose the appraiser if you're going to pay them - that way you own the appraisal, not them. You should also choose the building inspector if you've got to have one - most refinances don't, but only a complete idiot wants to spend that much money to buy a property and doesn't pay a few hundred for the inspection first. If the lender orders them, they own them. They have to give you a copy, but you can't take it to another lender to use if this one hoses you.

Now, at closing, you can expect to pay some fees. How much depends upon a lot of factors. I tell people with entry level single family residences to expect about $3500 total in actual loan costs, plus whatever points are paid to buy the rate down, plus the expenses related to the purchase, which vary a lot. By the time you're done with title and escrow and appraisal and lender's fees, that's what it really is. I'd rather tell the truth and guarantee the total, but since most people don't realize how many games prospective lenders can play, quite often the person signs up with the person who talks a good game but won't guarantee the quote. Usually you can choose a higher rate to get some or all of your costs paid (I love doing zero cost loans myself, and they actually are a good thing for most clients), but there is ALWAYS a trade-off between rate of the loan and cost of the loan.

Nonetheless, the idea of money you pay before the loan is ready is to commit you to the lender. People understand checks that they write in their gut. That $1500 check for the deposit on the loan is more important to many people than the $450,000 loan that comes with it. As evidence, I have offered people loans that were more than $5000 cheaper on exactly the same loan type and rate, but people would not sign up for my loan because they didn't want to "lose" that $1500 deposit. I've shown people better loans at lower rates on exactly the same terms that saved $1500 per year in interest, and they wouldn't switch. Why? Because they are thinking about that money that came out of their checking account, that they scrimped and saved and set aside laboriously over a period of months, not the money in the loan, which is just as real, but they haven't had to save it, and they don't realize that it is real in the same way as that deposit check.

So lenders who want large deposits typically do so because they know that their loan will not stand the light of scrutiny, and competition from other lenders, so they want to tie you to them emotionally, with money you don't get back if you switch lenders. Money that you've physically got in your checking account, money that you understand on the gut level. Be very wary of this sort of lender. Seeing as there are many loan providers who will do your loan without requiring such a deposit, I would suggest you find one of them (or better yet, two of them) to do your loan instead.

Caveat Emptor.

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Question from an e-mail:

Hi, I have a question about mortgages. My boyfriend and I are looking to buy a home, and since I have recently quit my job he would be the primary applicant. He makes $44k and we are looking at houses about $150k. We both have very good credit although I have some debt. I am wondering though what kind of rate we are going to get since he recently graduated and just started his job about a month ago. Is that going to affect the rate of the mortgage or how much he can qualify for, and by how much? Also, I have a small business that has been running for about a year and a half - it made a good bit of money last year, about $55k, and is still making some (albeit less now than it was last year.) Would it be worth it for me to co-apply, based on that income, since I don't have a salaried job currently? If I am not on the mortgage, I will sign a lease to him. We are going to put about $10,000 down. Thanks!

First off, let me briefly explain that unless someone has either truly putrid credit or large monthly payments that kill the debt to income ratio, there just isn't a reason to leave someone off a loan. So what if John is a househusband or Jane is a housewife with no income? They're still part of that marriage partnership, and the same applies (minus the word marriage) if the folks involved aren't married. Gays with civil unions and cohabiting straights are exactly the same as married folks except that I have to put them on separate applications instead of applying on the same sheet of paper, and if they're committed to each other, well isn't that what being a committed partner is all about - sharing benefits as well as responsibilities? In other words, ownership of the property and indebtedness for the loan.

Depending upon your situation, however, if you sign the lease it may actually help the boyfriend qualify more than your income would if you were on the loan. Leases that fulfill lender requirements generally aren't scrutinized for the ability of the lessee to pay, where if you were on the loan, the money that the lender would believe you could contribute might not pass scrutiny.

Now, let's look at the individual situations.

You are the more clear cut candidate. You have no current salaried income from employment, but you do have a side business with historic, documentable income. If you'd been doing it for two years, you'd have two years in current line of work and the ability to use that income all in one fell swoop. The way that is measured is monthly income averaged over the previous two years, as reported on your federal income tax forms. However, at this point all you have is one year. Still, it's worth submitting, because $4150 per month over one year isn't chicken feed. If you can show some income in the business for 2006, and evidence of when you started, they're likely to average it over the full two years leaving you with a minimum of about $2100 per month to add into the gross income kitty. After all, it's a going concern, you're still doing it and nobody fires owners.

Furthermore, if you can get a job and a paystub in your previous field of employment before you apply for that loan, now you're employed over two years in the same line of work, simply with a gap in employment. When they average that out, it'll be a bit of a hit, but you'll still get substantial credit for your employment income.

Your boyfriend is a bit less cut and dried. If he's in the profession for which he was was granted the degree (for instance, a doctor or nurse when he was studying medicine), then it's a lot easier to get credit for the time in line of work. He was in medicine, he just wasn't getting paid until recently. It isn't written into A paper guidelines that I'm aware of, so it's a matter of lender guidelines and often what an individual underwriter will sign off on, but probably the majority of lenders will buy off on something like this.

If the boyfriend is in an profession unrelated to the course of study, he's just going to have to wait until he has his two years in. There's no history of involvement, and people get jobs in various fields all the time that it turns out they can't - or won't - continue in. For example, sales. That's fine, but the lenders don't want to get caught by default when they leave the field and can't make mortgage payments.

So I can see possible situations arising out of what you describe that could have either one of you primary on the loan, or completely unable to do the loan without resorting to subprime financing. Each individual situation can turn upon some very fine points, kind of like theology or law.

Caveat Emptor

 



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