Don't Let Cash Make You Stupid About Real Estate
There are many ways of suckering real estate consumers, and cash as an inducement to get people to swallow a raw deal is one of the most common.
From sellers (usually developers), "free" upgrades are one of the most common. They overprice the property by $50,000, and make you feel like you're getting a deal with "$10,000 worth of free upgrades" that really cost much less. In many cases, they're pre-installed and if you wanted to buy one without the upgrades, they would be unable to accommodate you. But if you're not working with a good buyer's agent who is looking out for your interests, you'll never hear about better properties offered for less.
From agents, they offer commission rebates or reduced price listing packages. But to pretend that these packages offer the same level of service as more expensive packages is ridiculous. If you're looking for a cheap MLS listing service, I've seen them for less than $100. But if you want someone to market your home, look for the buyers you really want, or negotiate on your behalf, you are going to be extremely disappointed. When you are dealing with a strong sellers market like we've had for most of the last decade and don't care if your property sells for the best possible price, discount listing services may be the way to go. If you are dealing with a buyer's market, if you have some issues with the property, if you really want someone to market it in such a way as to find your ideal buyer and get the best price, the more expensive agent who does more work is likely to get you enough more money to more than pay their increased compensation.
Agents who offer a portion of the buyers agents commission back are not likely to be the most active agents out there. They do not typically advise you as to the state of the market and whether there is a better buy out there. They aren't looking for the better bargain, they don't know enough about the state of the market to be strong negotiators, and they're certainly not out scouting properties looking for issues before you make an offer. They do the minimum necessary to get a commission. It is trivial for a more involved agent to get you a better overall bargain.
Some sellers will offer cash back to the buyers. This needs to be distinguished from paying the closing costs you would normally pay as the buyer, which is legal and acceptable, providing it is disclosed to the lender. When the seller offers to put cash back in your pocket, you have the choice of either disclosing it to your lender or not disclosing it. If you don't disclose it to the lender, congratulations! You have just committed fraud, and lenders do get their dander up over it. If you do disclose it to the lender, they will base their loan off (at most) the net sales price, which is the official price minus the rebate. This shoots yourself in the foot other ways, as well, because it will likely increase your tax assessment, and could increase your cost of insurance.
Cash back from a loan provider is most often an intentional distraction, so that they don't have to compete on the real price of the loan. They tell you you're getting $10,000 cash back instead of how much the loan is costing, they can hit you for an extra $2000 in closing cost markups and three points of origination, not to mention that what they are really doing is adding all of that money AND the $10,000 to boot to your balance, where you'll not only owe the money, but pay interest on it for years. Plus it's likely that they stuck you with a higher than market rate of interest as well, because you were distracted by what you thought was free money, so they make more money there, also. Shop your loan by the terms, rate, and total cost to you. All of this can trivially eclipse the $10,000 they put in your pocket - even if they weren't adding it to the balance of the loan.
Offers by a lender to pay your appraisal fees are most often trying to lock up your business from their competition. They're not competitive on price, so they apparently offer you a $400 freebie, while charging you $2000 extra in marked up closing costs, those same three points of origination I talked about, and then they ding you $500 for the appraisal on the final paperwork. This is one of the best ways to get a very high markup on a loan that there is. If you like paying more for a loan than you need to, a "free appraisal" is one of the best ways to go about it.
Finally, this article wouldn't be complete without mentioning several of the ways that quoting low payments for a loan can mess you up. The average consumer may know better in other contexts, but they still shop for real estate loans by which one has the lowest payment. This is basically financial suicide. There are so many loan providers out there pushing negative amortization loans, in which your balance owed increases from month to month in order to allow you to make lower payments, that even when I warn potential wholesalers that I don't want to hear anything about negative amortization loans, at least half of them get themselves thrown out of my office by trying to get me to sell them. They also have higher real interest rates - the price you should pay the most attention to - than many other loans. Right now, you can most likely get a thirty year fixed rate loan at a significantly lower real interest rate than the equivalent cost for a negative amortization loan.
Nor is this the only game played by quoting low payments, merely the most prevalent and most egregious right now. Even if you manage to dodge that bullet with those who quote you low payments in order to sell you a loan (unlikely), there are still all of the standard games that get played with payment. They fudge the math, they "forget" to include the costs in the computations, they pretend you are going to pay the costs of the loan out of pocket when they know good and well that you intend rolling them into the loan, they just lie about their rates and the costs to get them, or, to be able to quote a low payment, they quote you the rate that costs so much that you will never recover the costs of that loan over its entire lifetime. The payment is determined by how much you borrow, at what rate, with what length repayment schedule. The math is the same regardless of the lender. You need $X for the obligations - either the current loan or the purchase. Adding the least cost and being charged the lowest interest rate (always a trade-off between the two) makes for a lower real cost to the loan. Remember, when you refinance, or buy another property, you're paying for your loan rate all over again, so all that money you paid to get a lower rate is gone when you let the lender off the hook by refinancing or selling the property.
Greed is good, Gordon Gecko not withstanding. But let's make it rational greed, because thinking that you are getting a freebie and not asking what it really costs is likely to cost you many times the amount of what you think you're getting for free.
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