Real Estate: Getting From Where You Are To Where You Want To Be

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When I'm driving, and get to busy main streets, I hate turning left unless there's a light there. Traffic is coming hard both ways, usually at high speeds, and with only intermittent breaks in each direction. If you're turning left, you've got to wait for those intermittent breaks to happen from both directions simultaneously. So for at least the past twenty years, I've employed an alternate tactic. Instead of sitting there waiting to turn left, hoping the deities of traffic are kind or risking an accident by pulling into traffic and stopping, I'll turn right instead, go down a block, and shoot a U turn. At least nine times out of ten, the person who was there ahead of me waiting to turn left will still be sitting there when I go by, already on my way despite having gotten there later than him.

Real estate can be a lot like that. Sometimes the best way to get what you really want isn't the direct and obvious one. Sometimes, taking what looks like a detour can help you.

This can take various forms. Every once in a while, a question hits my site like "Lenders who do 100% financing with a 520 credit score." Three words: Not. Gonna. Happen. But there are alternatives. Seller carry-back or raise your credit score are the first two that come to mind. Given the market right now, a seller carry-back can be the little detour that gets both of you to where you want to be, if the seller has the option of doing it, which a good agent can find out. You'll pay a more than you might have with a good credit score and 100% lender financing, but it can be done. Raising your credit score is also surprisingly easy in many cases. I've gotten people's credit score up to 660 or even 680 in a couple of months. Pay your bills on time, know how to get rid of old derogatory items, a few other tricks. It takes some time and a surprisingly small amount of cash.

Those are comparatively easy. There's a much harder hurdle: "I can't afford anything I want!" The obvious - and deadly wrong - solution is an unsustainable loan like a Negative Amortization Loan or another unsustainable loan. What those have in common is that they are short term patches to a longer term problem. There are several better alternatives.

You can make your stuff last longer. No $600 car payments or $400 per month credit card obligations means that you can afford more for a house. Pay them off and keep the cars running and don't charge up any more. Assuming a 45% debt to income ratio, I've just added back as much into your housing budget as getting a $2250 per month raise - $27,000 per year. People who keep buying SUVs as opposed to compacts must want them more than they do a better dwelling place - and if they do want to drive an new SUV instead of an older compact more than they want to own a house, they are making the correct choice.

First time buyer programs such as the Mortgage Credit Certificate and Locally based loan assistance can help you stretch what you can afford. Between the two, it can make a difference of as much as twenty or possibly even twenty-five percent of your budget. They cost a little money and you have to jump through their hoops, which can include where and when you buy, but they make about the same real difference as choosing some of the more dangerous loans - and instead of a risky gamble, they turn it into something sustainable.

You can find a partner. Sure, you can only afford $275,000 by yourself - which might be enough for a two bedroom condominium. Put two people who can afford $275,000 together, though, and that's a $550,000 house. That's an above average 4 bedroom house with money to spare in a lot of areas. Put three of you together, and you've got an $825,000 mini mansion big enough for the three of you to rattle around in. It takes some legal preparation to protect the partnership from a bad partner, but it's not that difficult or that expensive. And it needn't be permanent. Let's say two of you buy that $550,000 house with zero down payment, instead of saving for a down payment at $500 per month each. If you were to save that money, earning 10% tax free for five years, you'd each have just over $40,000 each, or about $81,000 grand total. If the house appreciates at 5% per year (low for this area by historical computations) and you make regular amortized payments, the home is worth $702,000, you owe $515,000 if you never paid an extra cent, and net of the cost of selling, you're splitting $137,000 two ways, or not quite $69,000 each. That $425,000 3 bedroom house you really wanted to yourself has appreciated to about $542,500, but now you have a $70,000 down payment. Assuming you got annual salary increases of 3%, it's 7% more affordable now, instead of only 1% - equivalent to boosting your monthly savings to $850 - and it's unlikely you'll make 10% tax free, which that assumes. If you last ten years in the partnership, you come away with $183,000 each instead of $112,000 by investing your $500 per month tax free at 10% and the house you really want is seventeen percent more affordable instead of only five.

Another way of putting leverage to work for you is to buy what you can afford, now. If you can only afford a two bedroom condominium, better you should buy that and the kids have to share a bedroom in a property you can afford, than that you buy something you cannot afford. My uncle raised a family of four in an 762 square foot two bedroom place - and he had my grandmother living there also when his daughters were teenagers. Most two bedroom condos are bigger than that now. If he could do it for twenty years, you can do it for five. This is why, for example, certain Asian and African immigrants are doing very well despite being only a few years from having nothing and living in an apartment. It certainly beats the alternative. $69,000 and change net proceeds from the sale in five years, and once again you've got that 7% affordability increase after five years, and seventeen after ten - without saving one extra penny.

When you buy with a sustainable loan, you place your cost of housing forever under your own control. You step off the escalator of rising rents, and rising housing costs. The math in my examples assumes marriage, but it's more strongly in favor of ownership if you are single because the standard federal tax deduction is lower.

You can rent a storage closet for the stuff you don't use every day.

You can drive a couple miles further.

You can rent out a room.

You can take a second job, and use the difference to save money. It'll also leave you less likely to buy stuff you don't need.

You can invest some time and money and effort in improving your value to prospective employers.

I am well aware that "settling" is not attractive to most folks. I'm also aware that some neighborhoods are less desirable, and others are considerably more so, some living conditions less desirable and others more. We live in a culture accustomed to instant total gratification. Nonetheless, if by accepting some delays and some costs you get what you want and end up in a better situation, isn't that something to consider, as opposed to crying that you can't have what you want right now and so you're not going to do anything?

Doing nothing means that you miss out completely because the situation isn't perfect. How does that help the situation improve? Do you just wait and hope that housing values crash? What is likely to cause such an event? Interest rates rising drastically is the only thing I can think of, but then the loans and their payments get commensurately more expensive. Instead of being unable to afford it when it costs $425,000, now you can't afford it even though it only costs $225,000. It also leaves your future subject to factors beyond your control. Suppose housing prices don't crash? We're close to twenty-five percent plus down, locally, and it's looking like things are starting to recover. We've got an ongoing and increasing scarcity problem in San Diego - not building enough new housing to cover the population increase. Even if rational growth policies took over all the planning commissions and departments tomorrow, do you think the environmentalists and NIMBYs are just going to roll over and play dead in court? I can hope, but that's not the way to bet.

I hope this gives all of you some you some useful alternatives to consider. There is usually more than one way to get something that you want. Sometimes it means that you have to go a bit out of your way, or do something that isn't quite as satisfying for a while. And if you're not willing to do a little bit extra, but expect it handed to you, then either you don't want it very badly, or you are extremely likely to get burned by people who put you into a situation that you were trying to avoid.

You can usually get what you want. Sometimes it just takes intelligent planning, and a step or two in between. For those who want to plan, here's my contact information. We can come up with a plan that gets you there.

Caveat Emptor

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on July 1, 2008 7:00 AM.

The Lure and the Trap of Debt Consolidation - and the Possible Benefits was the previous entry in this blog.

Pre-Payment Penalties and Second Trust Deeds is the next entry in this blog.

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