Dan Melson: May 2007 Archives

With many people pushing various "cash back to the buyer" schemes in real estate, a note of caution is needed. Actually, it's more like an entire symphony of caution. Because if there is a loan involved, you run the risk of committing fraud.

Some people reading this won't care. "What the lender doesn't know won't hurt them," is something I've heard and seen too many times to count. After all, that lender is just some nameless faceless megacorporation, not anybody they care about.

To those people, I say, "The FBI will make you care." Given the spate of abuses, and the current level of panic at many lenders and investment houses, even if your transaction comes off without a hitch and the lender gets repaid in full, you may find yourself on the business end of an investigation. The kinds of real estate and loan places that are willing to pull so-called "harmless" fraud are also willing to pull no holds barred fraud where the entire idea is to defraud the lenders. Where you have the lenders losing money, and a pattern of abuses, you have potential for the FBI to become interested in all of a businesses transactions, and once the FBI starts looking, rebate fraud is so easy to spot that my seven year old could probably do it. They find a known shady brokerage, and it becomes what military pilots call a "target rich environment." It's worth the resources to investigate all of that brokerage's transactions.

Here's what happens. A wants some cash to fix the property up, and so arranges with B to jack the price enough higher so that B can rebate the difference to A. A then procures 100 percent financing on the increased price, B gets the increased price, and rebates it to A.

Alternatively, A writes an offer with a real estate licensee who rebates part of their commission, while providing lesser "services". Usually, the question I want to ask those rebaters I encounter is "Why do you make more than minimum wage?" The answer is because suckers who think in terms of cash in their pocket don't understand what they're getting into.

In either case, this cash back somehow doesn't get disclosed to the lender, and it needs to be. Because if the official purchase price is $X, but B is giving A back $Y under the table, the real purchase price is $X-Y. If the lender knows about the cash back, they will treat the purchase price as being $X-Y. At the very most, for 100% financing, they will only lend $X-Y. Since this defeats the purpose of the cash back, the sorts of people who do this predictably will not disclose it to their lenders.

This is fraud. Even so-called "harmless" fraud where the people fully intend to repay the entire loan (and eventually do) is still fraud. The lender doesn't have to lose a single penny in order for you to have committed fraud. The definition of fraud is "An act of deception carried out for the purpose of unfair, undeserved, and/or unlawful gain, esp. financial gain." The legal definition is a little more complex, "All multifarious means which human ingenuity can devise, and which are resorted to by one individual to get an advantage over another by false suggestions or suppression of the truth. It includes all surprises, tricks, cunning or dissembling, and any unfair way which another is cheated," but essentially similar. Had you told that lender about the cash back, they would have treated the purchase price as being less than the official price. Hence, fraud.

Now there are all manner of crooks out there encouraging people to do this. I've seen numerous advertisements for various "real estate investment systems", and people who represent themselves as real estate professionals and real estate investors and real estate authorities and even real estate licensees who urge people to commit federal felonies for various reasons on the surface that always reduce to "So the crook can make money." Whether it's through a commission they wouldn't have because the client can't be persuaded to do it the legal way, or money they intend to make selling their "Foolproof System!" to thousands of pure deluded fools, they do a lot of damage. Nor does it get you off the hook if you were following the advice of alleged professionals, as lots of people in federal prison can testify. Even if you didn't know it was illegal, even if people you had reason to trust told you it was legal, you are still responsible.

The rebate itself is not illegal, according to my best understanding. Once again, I'm not a lawyer and I don't even play one on TV, so check that out thoroughly, but it is my best understanding. The illegality happens when you deceive the lender, either by omitting information a reasonable person would agree is relevant, or by actively saying something that isn't true.

It's more than possible to get cash back and be compliant with the law - it just defeats the purposes most people have in mind with cash back, which is to make the lender think they paid more for the property than they really did, and so lend a greater amount of money or on more favorable terms, or both, than the lender otherwise would have, had they known about the cash back.

If you inform the lender, they will treat the purchase price as being the official price less the rebate. So if the official price is $400,000, but you're getting $20,000 back, the price the lender will lend based upon will be $380,000, and it doesn't matter if the appraiser says it's worth $400,000, or $400 million. $380,000 will be 100% financing, not $400,000, $360,000 will be 95% financing not 90%, and I'm certain you can figure the rest. Lenders evaluate property based upon the LCM principle, which is Lesser of cost or market. You only paid $380,000 in real terms, which makes it a $380,000 property at most. It doesn't matter whether this rebate is direct from the seller, or some third party. They look at it in terms of "How much of your hard earned money are you actually going to part with?" If some cash is coming back to you, you aren't really parting with whatever number is on the purchase contract, are you?

Where most lenders will cut a certain amount of slack is in closing costs. If the money is not actually coming back into the buyer's pocket, but instead being used to pay for costs of the purchase transaction or costs of the loan, most lenders will give that their reluctant blessing. Because all parts of the transaction are subject to negotiation as to who gets what and who pays what, the lender will usually understand that in order to get that price, the seller agreed to pay this cost or that cost. I don't expect this to last forever because I can point to a lot of abuses that are happening, but it happens to be the case right now. I believe that sooner or later, lenders will clamp down on this practice and refuse to allow it, but for right now, most of them are still willing to do so.

Even the most forgiving of lenders, however, draws a bright and hard line if any of that cash finds its way back into the buyer's pocket. So make certain it doesn't. And make certain that the lender has been notified in writing of every penny that's paid on the buyer's behalf by anyone else for closing costs. Because you don't have to be directly involved in a conspiracy to get drawn into a fraud investigation, and once it gets started, you can never be certain you won't be sitting in a courtroom somewhere, charged with fraud and conspiracy and anything else they can think of to throw at you. Even assuming you win, it's going to be a big hit to your wallet and a bigger one to your reputation.

Caveat Emptor

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I have questions to ask you about the loan for house. I have been work with one broker since DELETED and I just tell her on the phone that I chose her and that she can start to do the escrow but I didn't sign any application and papers for her. Two weeks later, the appraisal had been done. Can I stop to work with her because she promised me to look for lower rate later, but she didn't do anything about it. If I stop to work with her, do I have to pay any fees for the appraisal and bank approval for the loan and how much it may costs? (she had only done the bank approval and ordered the appraisal). Thank you very much for helping me.

This is pretty open and shut. Usually it's less clear. You haven't signed anything committing you to the loan. She probably has civil recourse on the appraisal - if she wants to spend thousands in lawyer fees to recover a few hundred. Since that's silly, I don't think it's likely she'll pursue it. Her case hinges on her having ordered it because of your verbal representation you wanted the loan. One more thing in your favor is that the date on the California MLDS needs to be within three days of the date she ran your credit report, not to mention the Truth In Lending Advisory and everything else. Not likely, if you haven't signed anything.

Most loan providers, ethical or otherwise, won't start work without a loan application package. Ethical ones because they've got legal obligations to meet, less ethical ones because there will be an origination agreement in there obligating you to pay their expenses if you don't go through with it.

If you have signed such an agreement, there's probably something in there obligating the loser to pay the prevailing party's legal fees. Since you're likely to lose if they push their case, this shifts the presumption as to what you want to do, which is pay the appraiser. You can fight it in court if you want to, but you're likely to end up paying for both sides legal expenses in addition to the appraisal bill. Since the chances of you winning in court are pretty miniscule, you would be well advised to just pay the appraiser.

I've said it before, but it's likely that lenders who promise to pay for an appraisal are going to more than recover those costs elsewhere in the loan. Suppose you've got a $300,000 loan. If all you see is the fact that you're not writing a check for $400, that loan provider can, by being willing to loan you the $400, trivially make two extra points on the loan, or $6000. Just because you're not writing that check directly doesn't mean you're not paying every penny of it via higher rates, or higher origination. Furthermore, they're not likely to pay for the appraisal without an origination agreement that obligates you to make good their expenses.

The true low cost mortgage providers won't pay for the appraisal. If you've got a low cost provider, they're either going to have to absorb the costs of the appraisals that don't pan out, or they're going to have to charge their clients whose loans fund for the ones who don't. In either case, this means a higher loan margin. Usually, there's a good margin there on top of the appraisal. I can point to providers who use the fact that they pay for the appraisal as a wedge to extract thousands of dollars in junk fees as well. Most of the people for whom that is a selling point only understand money when they write a check or fork over cash. They don't understand about how money they roll into their loan balance is every bit as real.

If you do decide you don't want a loan, the appraisal is the vast majority of the money you should be out, because that and the credit report (somewhere between $13 and about $30) are the only third party expenses. This doesn't mean that the less ethical won't try and soak you for other fees, because they will, and junk on top of those fees. Depending upon the origination agreement you sign, you could be on the hook for thousands of dollars - more than a low cost provider would make if they actually fund the loan.

I need to say this again, also: Just because you paid for the appraisal, and are therefore entitled to a copy, does not mean you are entitled to take it to another loan provider. The appraisal must be in the name of the correct loan provider, and if the prior loan provider does not release it, the appraiser will not re-type it. The games that are played by loan providers who refuse to release appraisals are legion. Most will want money to release it, money such that you may be better off getting another appraisal. Even the most ethical will not likely release the appraisal just because you find a better deal - or think that you have. They've spent anywhere from hours to days of time - time they have to pay for, even if they can't show a receipt - on your loan. Expecting a loan provider to release the appraisal without money is like expecting your mechanic to release your car without being paid. Therefore, you want to be the one that controls the appraisal, if you possibly can. Some appraisers don't like this, because it's in their interests for you to pay for more appraisals, but the law in most states isn't nearly so hard nosed as most appraisers would like you to believe.

One final thing: As of the date of this writing, rates have risen quite a bit in the last few weeks. I have a purchase client whose transaction hit a snag in a defect that has to be corrected before any loan can be funded, and it's much more cost effective for them to pay for rate lock extensions than it is to float the rate. A tenth of a point per five calendar days is a lot less than the almost half of a percent re-submitting the loan to a new lender would make in the rate. Any reasonable loan that's been locked for a couple weeks is likely to be better than anything available today. I can look for a lower rate all I want. It's not likely to be found, unless their current provider is pretty high margin.

Caveat Emptor

The answer is yes.

Consider the situation from the seller's point of view, and the answer becomes obvious. Here is someone who is proposing to not put any of their own money into the deal. What's their motivation to consummate the deal? Not much, when you come right down to it.

Mind you, no listing agent in their right mind is ever going to counsel their clients to accept a "zero deposit" offer. It costs money to give this person the only shot at a property for thirty days (or however long the agreed escrow period). At an absolute minimum, that seller is risking the money to pay their mortgage, taxes, and insurance for thirty days. On a $400,000 property, that's well over $3000. This is money that is gone and they are not going to get back, all based upon the buyer's representation that they want the property. If the buyer isn't putting any cash at risk, there's no disincentive for them in trying to try for a property there's no way they'll qualify for. Meanwhile, the seller is out money on a daily basis from the time they agree to lock the property up in escrow.

Some of you are no doubt asking about pre-qualification or even pre-approval. The problem is that whatever the loan officer said, there's no real way to back it up. It is dancing right on the borderline of illegality to ask that prospective buyers be pre-qualified or pre-approved with a given lender or loan officer - a strong case can be made that just the simple request is a RESPA violation. I have said repeatedly that the only pre-qualification or pre-approval that I trust is one that I did - but I can't require prospective buyers to do that, and any decent agent is going to learn to ignore the request.

The only thing that means anything to that seller in the way of a guarantee for buyer performance is cash - a cash deposit from the buyer that is at risk if they can not or do not consummate the deal in a timely fashion. This is even more the case than usual if the buyer isn't putting any of their own hard earned money into the deal itself. If a buyer is willing to put 5%, 10% or more into the deal, they ought to understand the effort that that money represents, whether it's through saving it or just through having it not earn 10 percent per year of thereabouts in the stock market. If you're putting up cash you've spent years saving, you understand what that money represents. If you haven't made the sacrifices to save such a down payment and you want to just waltz into a property without putting down a deposit, well, odds are that you've got a rude awakening coming. Because I'm estimating at least thirty percent of all purchase escrows end up falling apart. So if I'm acting on behalf of a seller, one of the first questions I'm going to ask is "What evidence is there that this person can consummate the sale in a timely fashion, and what are they putting up that they're willing to lose if they change their mind or can't qualify?"

Pretty much every agent who's ever had a listing has had offers come in that were rejected on the basis of "not enough deposit," or that were acceptable in every particular but that. The intelligent thing is counter for a higher deposit or fewer contingencies on it.

Some folks are going to ask about substituting a higher purchase price. The issue that you're going to run straight into is the appraisal. In most cases, offers that include 100% financing are a little inflated anyway. When you add still more money to that, a sufficiently high appraisal becomes difficult. Even if the appraisal comes in high enough, though, we come full circle to the obvious question, "What good is that higher purchase price if you never get it?" If the buyer can't qualify or changes their mind, you don't get that price, and since there is not much penalty for such an outcome, there is no reason for them not to tie the property up in escrow, where nobody else can buy it, either.

Caveat Emptor (and Vendor)

The Appraisal and Appraisers


Of all the issues having to do with a mortgage, the appraisal generates more overblown problems than any other part of the process. It's also one of the most critical areas to handle correctly. There are reasons for this: It (along with perhaps the relatively cheap credit report) is the only thing a consumer has to pay for, as in money out of their pocket, before the mortgage is complete. Everything else is (or should be) done "on spec" by the mortgage provider. It is also a weapon used against the consumer by many mortgage providers.

In order to understand appraisals, you need to understand where everybody is coming from. An appraisal is a necessity for lenders. It tells the market valuation of the property in neutral terms. It is one of the essential anti-fraud steps of the process, as well as telling the lender how much the property might sell for in ideal conditions (which a foreclosure most certainly is not). It is the "market" part of the "lower of cost or market" valuation, which is driven into accountants and bankers starting with their first classes on the subject. Think about it. Just because you might be willing to pay $700,000 for the house next door to your parents (or for your parents old house itself) does not mean someone else will if you fail to make the payments. I have encountered at least two instances where a prospective borrower was definitely attempting to defraud a lender - and an appraisal caught it. There have been others where a reasonable person would have been less certain, but some of those instances were likely attempted fraud. Because of these, anytime somebody wants me to press for a drive-by or computer appraisal, a little blip goes off in my little bank of warning signal detectors. The lenders aren't stupid. They know that lesser appraisals are cheaper, and employing the more expensive alternative requiring the consumer to write a check for several hundred dollars is going to cause some people to go elsewhere. It is the judgment of these highly experienced people who have been trusted to loan hundreds of thousands of dollars at a blow that an appraisal costs them less than an increased probability of the things it is designed to prevent. And when a loan officer like me presses them for a lesser appraisal, a little blip goes off on their radar screen, also. I can't read minds, but I've had more success in getting lesser appraisals by keeping my mouth shut and letting the lender decide it's safe enough on their own, then I have by asking for one.

You should not expect a mortgage provider to pay for an appraisal, like many will for a credit report. Unlike a credit report, an appraisal is several hundred dollars, and they don't it get back if the loan doesn't fund. My attitude, born of experience, is "If this customer is not sold enough on the benefits of the loan to front the money for the appraisal when I'm putting in a much larger investment of my time and administrative and support costs, then this isn't a good investment." Other people you may never meet such as the title company, escrow company, underwriters, processors, etcetera are also working in the background - and nobody gets paid if you change your mind, aren't qualified, find a better deal, whatever. If they are hourly or salaried employees that do get paid, somebody else is investing the money to pay them. I may not have a fiduciary responsibility to all of them, but that doesn't mean I don't have any moral responsibility to see that their work is rewarded.

Furthermore, some lenders actually do prohibit brokers from paying the appraiser directly as an anti-fraud measure - and that's one pointless piece of information I can ignore by having the necessary attitude to succeed in business. This does not mean that your mortgage provider isn't doing their best to balance the competing interests - that of an appraiser's right to get paid for what they do, versus a consumer's desire not to pay for something that doesn't help them. And twice in my career I have refunded appraisal fees out of my own pocket to customers who told me the truth as they knew it, but didn't know to tell me something else (both fairly obscure points) that prevented the loan from going through. Because I didn't ask, I felt morally obligated to compensate their loss. (This is not a legal requirement, and is not common - I've asked literally dozens of loan officers from all kinds of loan providers whether they've ever rebated an appraisal fee for any reason when a loan didn't go through. So far, two others have said yes. Most look at me and answer "no" as if I'm some kind of alien from another planet. So go into the appraisal with a clear idea that if the loan fails, you're not getting the money back. Period. That way you may be pleasantly surprised, but you won't be expecting something unrealistic)

You should not expect an appraiser to work for free. It may not be rocket science, but it is an exacting field where in order to become licensed you must spend at least two years of your life as an apprentice, with an income of basically nothing. As a result, there is usually a shortage of appraisers. I'm often amazed that appraisals aren't more expensive. On the other hand, many of them want to get paid for work that sabotages the loan it's supposed to support. There is a Big Thing in appraiser's association circles about how they hate loans with a minimum appraisal required, and explicit minimum appraisals actually are illegal. The appraisers, being normal humans, ideally want to be able to run their appraisal off the easiest comparable property values and let the chips fall where they may. On the other hand, there have been literally dozens of cases in my experience where choosing different but still comparable properties for comparison and doing a little more work netted the value necessary to make the loan work - the appraiser just didn't want to be bothered, something that is against the grain of good business practice - and they are supposedly businesspeople. I have also seen this abused by a broker who wanted to make more on loans - if the appraisal came in for $40,000 more, this broker got a bigger rebate from the bank, and thus, made another $1200 on the loan. Lenders for their part do not want appraisals ordered where the appraisal is going to come in at a certain minimum no matter what the property is worth. But it isn't a sign of good business practice to expect to be paid where your work is going to sabotage a substantial investment that others have already made in a project, as a below value appraisal does. It is naïve to expect that loan provider to continue to supply you with business, when you've just cost their former prospect several hundred dollars and kept that prospect from getting their loan, as a result of which the loan provider's investment is lost, and furthermore you have left the loan provider to face all of the negative ramifications of an unhappy consumer. So some sort of compromise needs to be worked out among the competing interests of a consumer that doesn't want to pay for something he doesn't have to or that does no good, an appraiser that wants to get paid for the work, a lender that wants an honest appraisal, and a loan provider that wants an investment to pay off.

The one that I have found that works best is not a minimum appraisal. Besides being illegal, asking for a minimum appraisal is a violation of my fiduciary duty to the lender. Instead, what I'll do is write something along the lines of "If comparables do not support a value of $X, please re-confirm the order prior to performing the appraisal." It isn't bulletproof, by any means. But it gives everybody the best shot at a fair shake without giving anybody carte blanche, and it prevents the vast majority of the problems. The appraiser does most of his or her work before going out to the house in question, checking sales of comparable properties in the Multiple Listing Service that they subscribe to. If the "comps" don't support $X, and the loan collapses, he's lost some work time. For a businessperson, this should be no big deal, and what they've lost is a small fraction of what other people working on this loan have lost. Furthermore, I'm going to keep sending business to that appraiser. If the comps support $Y, which is less than $X, and I can re-work the loan or find another loan and get the consumer to sign off on it based upon $Y (something that is far easier to do before the consumer gets angry at writing a $400 check and not being able to get the loan on the terms promised), the loan proceeds and the appraiser gets paid, and everybody is happy. If the comps support $X and the appraiser gets paid, everybody is happy - unless the actual appraisal comes in lower, and this does happen where a property is not as well cared for as most, doesn't have standard features, etcetera. There's nothing that can be done. You thought your home was worth $X, and it isn't. End of story. The loan provider took every precaution they legally could. The appraiser took every precaution to protect you that they legally could, and now they're entitled to be paid. It's no fun for anybody - consumer, loan provider, or appraiser. I will put up with this a few times for an appraiser who makes a habit of calling me when the comps are low. I'll keep sending them business. Chances are it's not their fault. On the other hand, every so often I'll get a call from some appraiser who gave me three "hop, pop and drops" (as in "hop on over, pop the consumer for the bill, and drop a uselessly low appraisal on them") in quick succession, and wonders why his phone isn't ringing. And of course, the various appraisers organizations are trying to pass legislation or regulations that basically give them the right to come back with any old appraisal they want to, and make it even more difficult to ask them to perform in accordance with good business practice.

An appraisal is not what your house will sell for. There are any number of subjective factors an appraiser cannot take into consideration, or cannot account for fully. The types of things they look at are objective. Size of the lot. Square feet of the house. Number of bedrooms. Number of bathrooms, and so on. These have all got measurable, objective answers. Cleanliness of rooms and condition of paint are hard to measure objectively. Nonetheless, potential buyers take them into consideration to a much greater degree than an appraiser.

One fact you should know about the appraisal: They're good for a maximum of three to six months, measured from the date of the appraisal to the date the loan funds, which is likely to be thirty days or more after you apply. Usually three months is the limit if no loan was actually funded based upon that appraisal. If it's older than the lender's underwriting guidelines allow, every lender in the known universe is going to require a new one, unless your loan is one of the fortunate few that doesn't require an appraisal.

The most important fact every homeowner or homebuyer needs to know about an appraisal: The entity that orders the appraisal, controls the appraisal. If you pay for it, you're entitled to a copy. That doesn't mean you're going to be able to take it to another loan provider and use it. The appraiser will require both a release from the previous loan provider (who after all, is responsible for giving them business), and a retype fee of about $100, possibly more. Whether the loan provider will release it is problematical. They are not required to. Some won't, no matter how good the reason. Some want to be paid, first. Even the most liberal and ethical aren't going to release it if you've simply found a better deal. Remember, they've invested some serious resources in making this loan happen based upon your representation that you wanted it.

In another essay, I advise you to apply for a back up loan every time you buy a property or intend to refinance. Now I'm going to tell you the second smartest thing that you can do: Make certain you're the one who orders the appraisal and owns it. Now some loan providers use only their own "in house" appraisers and require the appraisal to be paid for up front, when you fill out the loan application. They do this to make certain they keep control of the appraisal, so no other loan provider can use it, obliging you to pay a second appraisal fee if you want to go somewhere else. Unless you can get them to agree in writing to release the appraisal (they won't), this is a giant red flag not to do business with that provider. The appraiser should be someone you have the option of choosing, and should be paid at point of service when the appraiser comes out to the home. (Don't choose an appraiser who's a family member, however. Lenders frown on this. Expect some pointed questions or having to get another appraisal if your name and the appraisers names are similar.)

Even other loan providers will try to slip in and assume ownership of an appraisal. If you want to control the appraisal, you must order it direct from the appraiser yourself, and if your loan provider provided the recommendation, the appraiser still might consider themselves bound if they get a significant amount of business there. On the other hand, as I also state in another essay, time is always a critical factor in every loan. The appraisal holds the whole process up if it's not done promptly, and a reasonable appraiser is going to put his priorities on getting the appraisals done from the people he gets business from on a consistent basis. So if you're going to order it yourself, order it immediately, or even on your own before you start the loan process if you know the parameters. This is difficult in the case of purchases, but very possible in the case of refinances. On the other hand, purchases are less time critical. Warning!: There are different kinds of appraisals, and different qualification levels of appraisers. There isn't space here to cover them all. If you order the wrong kind of appraisal or order it from the wrong kind of appraiser, it's useless. Just because 90% plus of all appraisals are the same kind from the same grade of appraiser or better doesn't mean yours is one of them. The best way to handle this situation is to give the loan provider no more than two business days to give you the parameters for the appraisal, and be preparing the ground ahead of time by telephoning appraisers. Somebody that will charge $450 and do it within two days is almost certainly a better value than someone who will charge $350 and take two weeks. Immediately upon receipt of parameters from your loan provider, order your appraisal. That exact second. Don't even put the phone down. As I said, time is critical. Some loan providers will not allow you to do this, insisting upon being the one to order the appraisal. This is a red flag. You probably want to take your business elsewhere. Handling the appraisal correctly is not trivial for a consumer, who after all is not usually a real estate professional, but if you handle it correctly, you put yourself in a position of much greater leverage.

Caveat Emptor

I am hoping to buy in the (city) area and am reviewing the possibilities. While I fear that the local market may be peaking, I intend to live in the home for at least ten years, so I am not trying to time the market.

My questions have to do with the down payment. I expect to shop for a property in the $450,000 range, and currently have $60,000 available for a down payment. I make a decent salary and receive an annual bonus of $35,000 - $40,000 each February. The bonus, while not guaranteed, is very dependable. After taxes and deductions, I should realize about $20,000 - $25,000 from it.

Do you think I would be wise to wait until February, by which time I will be able to make a down payment of $90,000 and perhaps avoid PMI and pay less interest over the life of the loan, or seek to buy now and lessen the taxes on the bonus? (I itemize, am single and am in the 28% bracket). Will the greater down payment help me to capture a better interest rate on the loan? (My credit scores are right around 800). Also, if I buy now, is it possible that I will be able to negotiate a mortgage in such a way that I can pay my realized bonus in February as a lump sum towards the remaining principal without incurring penalties? Ideally, i would like to use my bonus each year to pay down principal, as I can afford to balance my budget, including regular mortgage payments, without touching the bonus.

While on the subject of credit scores, I am reminded of another question - does an 800 score do me any good as contrasted with, a 740 or 750? Thank you again for your consideration. Your writings have been invaluable to my education.

I needed some more information, so got a subsequent email

I would expect the property taxes to run about $5,000 annually and association dues to be another $350 monthly. As I don't have a car, parking fees will be inapplicable. My closing costs should be somewhat reduced as I work for a bank (parent company) and they offer employees favorable mortgage rates with no points and no origination fees. Of course if I go elsewhere for the loan that would not apply, but I would only expect to do so if I received even more favorable terms.

As for an equivalent property, the market would price the rent at about $2,200 a month, although I am only paying $1,520 now (for a less desirable place than what I am shopping for).

First things first. You are easily A paper. Some lenders might have a small incentive (no more than 1/4 of a discount point) for folks with credit scores over 760, but most don't, and even if you go looking for one that does, it's no guarantee that their overall rate will be better than what you could get elsewhere. Remember, it's not important that they give you a quarter point incentive if their trade-offs were more than that above the competition. Look for a loan based upon the bottom line to you, not a little tweak that says you get treated a little better than the next guy.

Second, split your loan into two pieces to avoid PMI. One first loan for 80% of the value, and a second for the remainder, whatever that is. The second will be at a higher rate, but better that than paying PMI on the whole balance. It's likely to save you a lot of money this way. If you intend to pay it down, be very certain that there will be no prepayment penalty.

Now, let's look at now versus basically a year from now (Since February is ten months away). One thing I'm going to look at is whether your location may be above sustainable levels. My rule of thumb is that if a 20% down payment won't break even on rental cashflow, your area is likely to be overpriced. With current rates (6.25% for a thirty year fixed rate loan at par for the first, something like 9% for a 10% second), payment on $360,000 runs about $2215, plus taxes of $420 per month plus association dues of $350 plus an allowance of $50 per month for insurance. Total $3035 per month. As opposed to $2200 rent. An investor would be down $835 per month even if the place was never vacant and never needed repairs. Prices would need to drop $100,000 at least to cover that. I'm also going to assume you need $10,000 for closing costs out of your own pocket, reducing your down payment to $50,000. Now, I'm going to look 10 years out based upon this situation.

Monthly Rent
Net Benefit

Now, let's look at suppose prices have come down that same $100,000 in a year, but rents have gone up by inflation - roughly 4%. However, rates are a bit higher - let's say 7 percent. Furthermore, you have $90,000 less $10,000 for closing costs leaves $80,000 down payment. I'm assuming property taxes are based upon purchase price, as they are here in California, but if they don't go down when prices go down, that's going to make a difference of about $100 per month to start and more later on. Let's look 9 years out for an equivalent time frame.

Monthly Rent
Net Benefit

The picture looks much better by waiting a year for the market to get rational - assuming it does. If it doesn't, all you've done is taken that last year of benefits off the first chart, or worse, as perhaps the prices continue to rise for another year. Nor have I assumed that you paid extra on the loan. Quite frankly, once you've killed off that second trust deed, leverage is your friend, and you are better off investing the difference.

The question is "When is Wile E. Coyote going to look down?" Okay, not all that funny, but it has applicability to the situation. As long as everyone is in denial, and there is a market of folks willing to pay those prices, the market is going to stay afloat. What's caused our local sputter is the fact that everyone has "looked down", and they don't like what they see. There is no convincing reason why highly paid jobs have to be even more highly paid so that they can afford local housing here, whereas a large proportion of the jobs in certain cities like Washington DC or New York don't really have the option of leaving, as they are where they have to be. The government isn't leaving Washington DC unless it gets nuked, and the big guns of the financial industry aren't leaving New York unless every other big gun does so. You know better than I to where your city lies on that spectrum. My impression is that where you are is closer to the inelastic employment point. Nonetheless, if the rest of the country "looks down," so will those places that are relatively insulated.

If a 20 percent down payment doesn't pencil out as an investment property, as it doesn't in your case, the question is not "if?" the market is going to adjust, but "when?" and "how?" Here locally, you can almost hear the "pop!" If things are relatively inelastic, employer- and jobs-wise, a long slow deflation may be what occurs. You may even keep current prices while inflation makes things catch up. It's hard to say when I'm not as familiar with your city's economic engine as I am with my own, but here's what happens if prices stay stable for ten years:

Monthly Rent
Net Benefit

As you can see, you build up a fair amount of equity, but would have been better off renting and investing the difference.

Which of these scenarios is most likely? Here it's the one attached to the first two tables, except that we're a good portion of the way towards table two right now. Where you are, I'd make an educated guess that you're still looking at table one right now. There's money to be made even there if you buy and hold long enough, but you could be upside down for quite a while.

Thank You for asking, and please let me know if this doesn't answer all of your questions.

Caveat Emptor.

I got a search hit for that and, amazingly enough after 150+ articles, I've never dealt with this subject head on. So here goes.

One point, either discount or origination, is one percent of the final loan amount. After all of the loan amounts and fees and what have you are added, for a loan with one point, multiply the amount by 100 and divide by 99, and that will be your final loan amount. For a loan with two points, multiply by 100 and divide by 98. The general formula is multiply by 100 and divide by (100-n) where n is the total number of points.

Points come in two basic sorts, discount and origination. Origination is a fee your loan provider charges for getting the loan done. Some brokers quote in dollars, most quote in points because it sounds cheaper than an explicit dollar cost. Most brokers out there charge one point of origination. To contrast this, direct lenders do not have to disclose how much they are going to make on the secondary loan market. And many direct lenders still charge origination. Judging the loan by how much the provider makes (or tells you they make) is a good way to end up with a bad loan. My point is that it's the rate, type of loan, and net cost to you that are important, not how much the guy is getting paid for doing your loan. Remember two things here, and they will save you. First, loans are always done by a tradeoff between rate and cost. For the same type of loan, the more points you pay the lower your rate will be, and vice versa. Second, remember to ask about "What would it be without a prepayment penalty?" It's a good way to catch people who are trying to slide one over on you, and the lenders pay a lot more for loans with a penalty, and the lenders make a lot more on them when they sell them to Wall Street, so they often do them on what looks like a much thinner margin until you ask the question "What would it be without the prepayment penalty?" Remember it.

Discount points are an explicit charge in order to offer you a lower rate than you would otherwise have gotten. To use an example I ran across today, six point five percent with one point, seven percent without. On a four hundred thousand dollar loan, that's essentially four thousand dollars, either out of your pocket where you're not earning money on it, or added to your mortgage balance where you are making payments and paying interest.

Is it a good idea to pay discount points, or is it a better idea to pay the higher rate? That depends upon the loan type and how long you keep it. Let's say the loan is $396,000 without the point, $400,000 with, just to keep the math easy. Your monthly interest charge on the first loan is $2310, on the second it's $2166. On the other hand, you pay $361 principal on loan 2, only $324 on loan 1. Here's the bottom line, though: You've got to get that $4000 back before you sell or refinance. Just a straight line computation, that second loan saves you $181 the first month. $4000/$181 per month is about 22 months to break even (and it's a little faster than that, because loan 2 pays off more principal per month). On the other hand, even after you've theoretically "broken even" there is a period where if you sell or refinance, you will inexorably lose money because you're paying interest on a balance that's higher than it would have been.

But now let's run the actual numbers. If the above loan is a thirty year fixed and you keep it four years, you're well ahead. You've saved yourself $6944 in interest and your balance is only $2159 higher. $6944 - $2159 = $4785. Even if your next loan is at ten percent, you're only losing $215.90 per year. Especially when you consider that at a cost of money now versus later, you'll never make it up, because you can invest that $4785 you saved and it'll pay more interest than that.

On the other hand, let's say the rate was only fixed for two years. After that, it is a universal feature of hybrid ARMs that they all adjust to the same rate. You are theoretically ahead by $363, but because of your higher balance, even if the loan adjusts to five percent, you're losing $154 per year due to your higher balance, and there is nothing you can do about it. Play now, pay later.

There is no cut and dried answer about whether it's to your benefit to pay points. I tend not to do it, myself, because rates do vary a lot with time, and money sticks around in your balance. If I've got a zero or low cost loan and the rates drop half a percent, it's worthwhile to refinance for free. If I have a loan I paid a point for, I'm going to have to pay that same point again to see a benefit on refinancing, and as we've already discussed, if you don't keep the loan long enough, you've wasted your money. The median time between refinances is right about two years right now. I see no reason to pretend I'm any different from everyone else, but some folks do have a history of keeping loans a long time. You need to make your own choice to fit your own situation.

Caveat Emptor.

The question every good loan officer hates the most is "What is your lowest rate?"

First off, everybody doesn't get the same choices. As I've said before, somebody who can prove they make enough money, has a history of paying their debt, and offers the lender a situation where there's 30 percent equity (or more) gets a different set of choices than somebody who can't prove they make enough money, has a questionable history of paying debt, and wants to borrow 100 percent of the property value (or more).

Second, different loans get different rate-cost tradeoffs. The loan that most people seem to consider the most attractive loan, the thirty year fixed rate loan, is always the most expensive loan out there. It always has the highest set of cost/rate tradeoffs. Why? Because on top of the cost of the money, you are essentially purchasing an insurance policy that says your rate will not change for thirty years. Even when long and short term rates are inverted, as we may see soon, there is a premium charged for the thirty year fixed rate loan. It makes a certain amount of sense; insurance policies are never free, and the thirty year fixed rate loan is the most desired loan out there. Simple economics: Higher demand equals higher price. Goods perceived as more valuable carry a higher price tag. So if you're looking for a thirty year fixed rate loan, and all you say is "What is your lowest rate?" you are likely to get quoted a rate from a Negative Amortization loan, the least desirable loan out there, because it carries the lowest nominal rates. If this is your only datapoint from the varius loan providers you talk with, you are likely to do business with the one who quotes you the negative amortization loan, not the thirty year fixed rate loan. Matter of fact, the loan provider who tells you about the loan that you really wanted is least likely to get your business in this scenario, because you're focusing in on the red cape of rate and payment when you should be paying attention to other things.

Third, and most importantly, for every situation and every loan type, there is more than one rate available. Why is this, you ask? It seems obvious to you: Why not just choose the lowest rate, which has the lowest payment? It takes a little examination to see why.

The difference between the rates is in cost of the loan. There will be a rate called par. This is the rate at which the lender will give you the money straight across. They don't charge you any money (discount points) to get a lower rate. They don't pay any of the costs of the loan. Getting a loan done really does take a minimum of about $3400 in costs (actually, the quote is for California, which believe it or not is one of the cheaper states to get everything done in - every other state I've done business in costs more). Whether points and closing costs are paid out of your pocket or added to your mortgage balance, you are still paying them (When shopping for a mortgage, the phrase "nothing out of your pocket" from a prospective loan provider should immediately put you on guard).

For rates below par, you must pay discount points. This is an upfront incentive to a lender to give you a rate lower than they otherwise would. Every situation is different and should be analysed with numbers specific to that situation, but as a rule of thumb: Unless you're getting a thirty year fixed rate loan and you have a history of keeping loans at least ten years before sale or refinance, you should avoid paying points if you can. The lower payments you get, quite simply, are usually not worth the cost of adding points to your mortgage balance. People who don't qualify for A paper may not have this option, but more people qualify A paper than think they do.

For rates above par, the lender will actually pay part or all of your closing costs. It's rare that they will actually put money in your pocket, but it can happen. Note that this is different from a stealth "cash out" loan that adds the cash you get to your mortgage balance, charges you closing costs, and often puts a couple points on the whole amount of your new mortgage, and so where you've been told you're getting $2000 in your pocket, there may be $20,000 or more added to your mortgage balance. This is where the lender is actually paying part or all of the costs of the loan, so it is neither coming out of your pocket nor being added to your loan balance. This is called a "rebate". A rebate can be thought of as the opposite or negative of discount points, and discount points can be thought of as a negative rebate. There are never both discount points and a rebate on the same loan, although there can be origination points on loans where there is a rebate. I think that this is a material misrepresentation, but it is legal.

Now here is the critical fact that most consumers never figure out for themselves, and certainly never realize the implications of: The vast majority of people don't keep their mortgage loans very long. The median age for a mortgage is roughly two years; fewer than 5 percent of all loans are five years or older. If you're the exception, bully for you. Otherwise, take heed and remember this fact: Whatever costs you pay for a mortgage are sunk at the beginning. This money either comes out of your pocket, or goes onto your mortgage balance. If it goes onto your mortgage balance, it sticks around a very long time and you pay interest on it. When you sell or refinance, (or when your rate starts adjusting), the benefits stop. They are over. Done with. If you haven't recovered the costs you paid to get a lower rate by that point in time, you have made a losing investment. Period. End of story. No chance for recovery. Matter of fact, even if you are technically ahead at that point in time, you can go negative later.

Let us consider a $270,000 loan. Very small for California, but large in most other areas of the country. As I said earlier, real closing costs of doing this loan are somewhere in the neighborhood of $3400. Here are some real options that were available from one lender when I originally wrote this article:

You could do a thirty year fixed rate loan at par of 5.75 percent. Or you can get a one point rebate at 6.25, or you can pay one point and get 5.25 percent.

Assume you roll any costs into your mortgage like most folks do. Your starting loan balance will be $276,162 if you choose the 5.25% rate. If you choose the par rate of 5.75%, it will be $273,400. If you choose the one point rebate rate of 6.25%, your balance will be $270,666. These are real examples off the first rate sheet I happened to look at.

Let's compute the linear break evens: The 6.25% rate cost you $666 to get. You pay $1409.72 in interest the first month. The 5.75% rate cost you $3400, and you pay $1310.04 in interest. The 5.25% loan cost you $6162, and you pay $1208.21 interest the first month. Difference in cost divided by difference in interest.

6.25% versus 5.75% loan: $2734/$99.68 = 27.42 months.

5.75 versus 5.25 loan: $2762/101.83 = 27.12 months

5.25 loan versus 6.25: $5496/201.51 =27.27 months.

Actually, the break even is likely to come a month or two earlier. But let's compute what happens if you refinance into a 5% fixed rate loan for zero real cost right at breakeven time, 27 months.

The 6.25% loan leaves a balance of $263,241. The new monthly interest charge will be $1096.84.

The 5.75% loan leaves a balance of $265,193. The new monthly interest charge will be $1104.97. The extra money on your balance costs you $8.13 per month, almost $100 per year. Plus you still owe almost $2000 more.

The 5.25% loan leaves a balance of $267,104. The new monthly interest charges will be $1112.94. The extra

money on your balance costs you $16.10 per month, $193 per year, from here on out. Plus you still owe almost $4000 more.

These are actually favorable assumptions compared to the real world in that they treat the 5.25% loan option much more kindly than it deserves compared to the 6.25% loan.

Most people have done this multiple times. $10 or $15 per month doesn't sound like a lot, but do it a couple times and you have $100 per month, and owing tens thousands of dollars more than if you'd gotten a cheaper loan that carried a slightly higher payment in the first place. I believe in offering choices, but I also know which I recommend and choose for myself.

One point that needs to be made again is sometimes costs get built into the back end of a loan, via a pre-payment penalty. Most loan officers will not volunteer whether there is a pre-payment penalty, and many will lie even if you ask, just to get you to sign up, knowing that once you sign up you will likely consider yourself committed. This may not be legal, but it happens, and is another reason to apply for at least two loans, so that you've got a backup option just in case the first loan goes sour or the lender told fibs. Reading the Note carefully at signing of final documents is the only way to be sure that there is no prepayment penalty.

Caveat Emptor

On a fairly regular basis I get email asking what I think of this or that loan calculator on the web, this or that predictive model for real estate prices or loan rates, etcetera.

Loan calculators are pretty simple when you get right down to it. Numbers go in, other numbers come out. It's just math - except that you've got to be careful about the numbers going in. Just because your balance is $400,000 now does not mean it'll be $400,000 after the refinance. It's very possible to do a zero cost refinance that adds nothing to your loan, but most people don't do it. Furthermore, I know I've said this before, but the only calculator out there that I trust is one that I know the provenance of. I've caught more than one company that had programmed its calculator to low-ball the payment. There's no way to tell for certain except using your own calculator, and if you have your own financial calculator, why are you using the web? You can cross check, however, because it's rare that two calculators will be programmed to yield the same wrong answer. Also remember to add in closing costs and prepaid interest and escrow accounts, if you're going to have one, and always figure the cost of any points after everything else is added in there, because that's what the bank is going to do. Finally, don't take it for more than it's worth. Just because they tell you, "nothing out of your pocket," does not mean there are no closing costs. They exist. Somebody is paying them, somehow. Unless you know for a fact otherwise because you've discussed it and know where the money is coming from, I'm guessing that "somebody" is you, and they're getting rolled into the balance of the new loan. I've had people bring me paperwork from other companies showing new loan balances thirty thousand dollars higher than they were expecting, with correspondingly higher payments. (I've also told people to never shop for a loan based upon payment a few times, also)

For spreadsheets, what you can get is usually an analysis of one variable per spreadsheet. I've programmed a loan comparison spreadsheet, but it only compares two alternatives at a time and it's not really suitable for use with the public, because you have to understand the limitations and GIGO factor. Just like I've got spreadsheets that answer the "rent or buy" question, among others, but you have to understand the limitations on the results imposed by your model.

As a computer programmer, I make a pretty decent loan officer. In order to compare financial information via spreadsheets, you have to understand what points of comparison the calculations are meant to compare. If your data is out of whack, if your assumptions are away from reality, or if you're trying to apply the comparison outside its design limits, what you get is useless.

I have several spreadsheets I have programmed and use. All of them have limits that need to be understood in order to get useful information out of them.

The first is a rent versus buy spreadsheet, that I first talked about in Should I Buy A Home? Part 3: Consequences. In that article, I spent a good paragraph telling you what my assumptions were in cranking the numbers. I think they are good and reasonable assumptions for the markets I have seen in my area in my lifetime, but many people might not. I just had someone make a comment to the effect that "rent doesn't increase with inflation." Well, it hasn't been keeping pace with the cost of buying of late, but that's not the same thing as not increasing roughly with inflation. Furthermore, we've gone through a period these last few years when landlords were keeping rental rates low in the attempt to have someone else pay most of the mortgage of their investment property. Judging by the "loaf of bread" or hourly wage comparisons, or anything else except the price to buy, local rents have increased by a factor very close to general inflation over my adult lifetime. Whatever you think of my numbers, though, the fact remains that they are assumptions, and if they do not correspond to future numbers, the conclusions they reach have no bearing on the real world.

The second limitation upon this sheet is that it's assuming smooth increases. This is not what happens, as anyone over the age of ten ought to know. Over longer periods of time, the data may tend towards an aggregate average, but that says nothing about any given year. In reality, some years are plus thirty percent while other years are minus twenty. Even if my assumptions for averages are good, the spreadsheet that predicts the next thirty years is useful mainly to predict overall level of the market many years out. The numbers for any particular year are so much garbage, as far as the real world goes, where a 5% differential between estimate and actual is often enough to render something worse than useless. Even if my assumptions for average return are right on the money (and if I didn't think they were pretty close, I'd use others), any particular year could be at the top of a peak or the bottom of a market trough. If you know what state the market will be in in a particular year three decades out, why the heck aren't you richer than the ten richest billionaires in the world combined? Knowing what the market was going to do these past few years is a lot easier than knowing what it'll be like thirty years from now! I have what I think are good predictions based upon good models, but I don't have any god-level knowledge of where any part of the economy will be thirty years from now, and neither does anyone else. We see the future dimly, reflected through the present and the past.

Speaking of which, let's drag one of the standard disclaimers out and air the dirty laundry. "Past performance is not indicative of future results." Averages of past results may be the only way we have of predicting the future, but those results depend upon unknowable factors. Somebody could invent something tomorrow that utterly changes the face of housing thirty years out. You think the urban planners of the 1920s foresaw urban sprawl? I know for a fact that they didn't. What no model of the future can predict is unforeseen factors. I can't tell you what they will be or what effects they will have, but I can promise you there will be some. In 1894, Michaelson (who first measured the speed of light) said, "Our future discoveries must be looked for in the sixth decimal place." This just a few years after the formulation of Maxwell's equations, and within a year Rutherford had changed the atomic model forever, while the basis of quantum mechanics was being laid, and less than ten years later were Einstein and relativity. Michaelson was right in a technical sense that precise measurements were the key to unlocking future discoveries, but wrong in the sense he meant it, that all the major discoveries had already been made. My predictive model is more detailed than most, and I do my best to include all of the factors I see, but I have no way of including factors that I can't see, and one thing I can promise you is that there are some. It may work out that I guess right anyway, but that doesn't mean there weren't any unforeseen factors, just that I got lucky despite them. The further out the model goes, the more it is dependent upon subsequent events no one can predict. Someone could announce man-portable fusion power tomorrow, or "Star Trek" transporters, or any of dozens of new potential technologies that could alter the world, and that's just the technological possibilities. Politics and demographics will utterly change in the next thirty years (In 1977, more people were predicting the world conquest of communism than the collapse of the communist system. Mr. Carter's presidency was not the United States' shining hour).

Just because we know that the precise numbers are wrong, however, doesn't mean that those numbers have no value in predicting the future. The way the numbers will move relative to each other is much more important information. Population is increasing and will continue to increase. Demand in major urban areas and desirable areas will continue to rise faster than supply, and since such areas are where most of us live or want to live, the price of real estate will quite likely continue to increase faster than inflation. Particularly types of housing which are universally desired, such as detached single family residences sitting on a certain amount of land owned basically fee simple. PUDs and townhomes are less desirable for most folks, true condominiums less desirable yet, and below that are apartments. Offer most people the chance to move up on the ladder of desirability, and they'll take it. Since the only thing preventing most people from doing so is price, price is what's going to make it ever harder to make that transition to more desirable housing. Living space in a desirable location is a scarce good. Living space, desirable location or not, is a limited good. The only way to change this is to somehow manufacture more space or arrange to have fewer people to share it. I'm not aware of any plans to manufacture enough space to make a difference to the billions of people on earth, so I'm guessing that barring worldwide nuclear or biological warfare, population density is going to increase, demand for housing is going to increase, and supply is going to stay pretty much right where it is. Nonetheless, this is only a guess. My guess is that housing will be about four to five times as expensive as it is today thirty years out, If it's only twice, we'll all still live in million dollar houses. If it's eight times, we'll be in four million dollar houses. The wider the net, the more probability I have of being right - and the less useful the information is. Unless the price right now is something like two cents, nobody sane is going to invest money for that long without a better idea of what the payoff will be.

Whether I'm right or not is something nobody knows right now, or even how close. Actually, not being quite that much of an egotist, the question in my mind is more akin to "how far off will I be?" But the data is still useful, because it tells me that as long as my assumptions are anything like real, we're all looking at living in million dollar real estate - the only question is exactly when. It tells me what people will be need to be able to pay every month, at least in a general sense, and it tells me that more and more people are going to get priced out of real estate, or down into less desirable housing, and that real estate is therefore going to be a quite satisfactory vehicle for creating personal wealth.

On the other hand, no system of projecting the future is better than the limitations imposed upon it by limited foresight. If the population of the United States drops to 1789 levels all of a sudden - or 1607 levels - all bets are off. Of course if that happens, most of us won't be here to worry about it, and the ones that are will have bigger problems than the price of real estate. It's pointless to waste time worrying about the price of real estate in such possible circumstances, where the price of real estate will be the least of our worries.

Caveat Emptor

Beautiful Private Showplace

General: Urban East County, 3 bedroom 1.75 bath. Asking price between $475,000 and $500,000. I think an offer of $460,000 net would get it sold.

Why you should be interested: This is a beautiful property on a quiet street in a great school district close to everything.

Selling Points: Gardenlike front and side yards, with privacy hedge. Private gated drive into two car detached garage. Back yard has plenty of room for entertaining, or you could put in a pool. Thoroughly modern master bedroom and bath. Second and third bedrooms open on other bathroom. Kitchen is beautiful and modern, with lots of room. Tile roof, even!

Why I think it's a potential bargain: This sort of property doesn't go for this low of a price here. It's priced more like most fixers.

Obvious caveats: The second bathroom needs a little updating.

Why it hasn't sold already: Nobody else has found it?

If you keep it ten years and it averages only 5% annual average appreciation per year: Based upon a purchase price of $460,000, the property would be worth approximately $740,000. If you held it those ten years before selling, you would net about $350,000 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 $160,000 ahead of the renter, after the expenses of selling.

Fact you should be aware of: I didn't see anything.

Obvious way to enhance value or appeal of property: Other than a minor update for the second bath, I really can't see anything.

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

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

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

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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.

Yes, these rates are higher than last week. That's what happens when the stock market does well. It's likely to continue, so lock in now!

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

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

The local dog target gave discounters several hundred thousand dollars of free puffery recently.

I'm not against discounters. I'm perfectly willing to do a discounters work for a discounter's price. Fifty percent for the pay for less than ten percent of the work and almost none of the liability is a real win as far as I'm concerned. The difference is that I'm not willing to pretend that you're getting the same value from me. In fact, the amount of value the buyer receives from their alleged "agent" is pretty much negligible.

Let's illustrate with a real example from last week. Some full service clients of mine had gotten interested in a property. They wanted a fixer property with potential and a view, and they asked me to check this one out. Yes, it had a view, but the view was of a high school stadium, making peaceful enjoyment of the property rather hit and miss, subject to the local sports schedule. It had some potential, true, but every surface in every room needed to be redone. It is going to take $100,000 to get that potential, and the property would only be worth maybe $40,000 more than the owners are asking. Leave out those pesky numbers and a less capable agent can make it seem like a great bargain. If all you're thinking of is that $5000 rebate check, which can be fraud for reasons similar to these, you may think you got a deal.

If they had been clients of a discounter, they would have been in escrow on the first property right now. Too bad about that $100,000 they'd have to spend to get $40,000 benefit. On the other hand, I found the same people a property not far away that needed about $40,000 worth of work to be worth $120,000 more than the asking price. What does a discounter do? Write the offer on the first property. Now you've got a property you need to put $100,000 into to make it usable, that's worth only $40,000 more than you paid. Money the discounter would have rebated: roughly $5000. If they didn't have a full service agent to compare with, it even looks like a great deal, because none of the value I provided these folks shows up on the HUD 1 form, or anywhere else as numbers on paper. The value is still there, as my clients know.

If you know enough about the state of the market, what problems look like and what opportunities look like, you may spend less with a discounter, or get a rebate, that doesn't cost you several times that difference. If you know everything a good agent does, there is no reason not to put that money in your pocket. But if you know everything a good agent does, why is the discounter making anything? Why aren't you doing your own transaction? Why aren't you in the business yourself and getting paid for your expertise?

A full service agent goes a long way past filling in the blanks on Winforms and faxing the offer. When I go out looking at 20 to 30 properties per week, I'm not just finding individual bargains. I'm also learning about the general state of the market, what things to look for in a given neighborhood, what common problems are with a given model of house. I know what's sold in the neighborhood recently, and I know what it looks like because I've been inside it, and I know how it compares to other stuff that's out there now. I have a pretty fair idea of what it's going to take to beautify properties, and I know what they'll be worth when the work is done, because I know what other stuff that already looks like that has sold for recently.

Real estate is a career. It may not absolutely require a college education, but many agents have one, and know many things you can't learn in college - because the professors don't know, either, unless they're active real estate agents. A good agent spends a lot of time and effort not only learning their local market, but keeping their knowledge base updated. This thing changes constantly, and it doesn't even change uniformly. How did La Jolla get to be La Jolla? I assure you it wasn't some random seagull anointing the neighborhood as having higher property values. Rancho Santa Fe doesn't even come close to the ocean, and it's the highest mean property value zip code in the nation. How did your neighborhood get to where it is? Is it likely to change, and how? What are the known and probable upcoming changes in the neighborhood? How is it likely to effect your prospective property? Wouldn't you like to know about that redevelopment zone - or the railroad tracks they intend to drive through the area?

Full service can be a very hard sale when all that you consider is the numbers on the HUD 1. There just isn't any space for "Agent kept you from making a $60,000 mistake," let alone, "Agent showed you an $80,000 opportunity." But people who know property know that there is a lot more to every transaction than the numbers on the HUD 1. If you're dubious, may I suggest this experiment when you're ready to buy: Find a couple full service agents willing to work with a non-exclusive buyer's agency agreements, and sign them. Then compare what happens as compared to the service of the discounter you use for properties you find yourself. There is no need to sign even a non-exclusive agreement with a discounter, by the way, as the sales contract will note the agency relationship for that transaction. Like I said in How to Effectively Shop for a Buyer's Agent, let the ineffective alternative select itself out.

I'm perfectly willing - happy, even - to do discount work for "discounter" pay. I only make half the money, but I can service a lot more than twice the clients for a much smaller level of risk and still be home in time for dinner. I'm even a better negotiator than dedicated discounters, because unlike them, I know what's really going on in the areas I serve. However, saying "full service at a discount price," does not make it so, and I refuse to pretend that it is. Furthermore, the people who approach me for discount work usually end up understanding that a real professional is worth a lot more than the extra money I make, and are happy to pay it. Most people have no problems understanding that the reason a good car commands a higher price than a bad car, let alone a skateboard, is because a good car provides more value. People will pay $100 per seat for decent - not great - musicians in concert when you couldn't pay them enough to attend a garage band practice session. Why should this principle holds any less true for expert help in what is likely to be the biggest transaction of your life?

Caveat Emptor

I read a lot of the info. you have on your web page ... thank you.

I don't live in San Diego so I'm not looking for a home.
What I am trying to decide is whether to sell or refinance.

I live in DELETED. My mortgage payments are now approx. $2,400. I cannot afford to refinance into a fixed rate mortgage or interest only. I wanted to reduce my payments and I was recently offered a neg-amortized loan.

While I do have plenty of equity in the home, I balk at the thought of using my home as a piggy-bank. It's just not my style. I feel like I made a terrible mistake. I had a very modest home ... fairly low payments & property taxes ... but I wanted more, so I sold it.

I bought a good-sized lot with the proverbial "fixer-upper." Mistake #1 I should have thought of it as the "MONEY PIT."

Anyway, five years later and I've just survived a remodel but I'm still struggling.

Do you have any sound advice/suggestions?

First off, despite your market being somewhere I am licensed, each area's market is significantly different. Unlike the loan market, each commuting area has enough of its own concerns that nobody can keep track of more than one - not really. If someone called me out of the blue and asked me to list a property even a few miles outside my normal area of San Diego County, I would not have a good idea what it should list for. I can do a comparative market analysis, but that's just cranking numbers, and there's a lot more to market knowledge than cranking numbers. I can point to a dozen properties I've looked at in the last week where the listing agent priced it wrong. Sometimes they're under, sometimes they're over. Whichever it is, it's not good for the owner. Some agents will tell you there's no harm in being high, which is a premeditated lie. Properties that sit on the market because they are priced too high will sell for less money than the owners could have gotten, and that's if they sell.

Some properties are money pits, while others are vampires, charming on the surface, while they embed their fangs permanently in your wallet. The best opportunities, however, are all fixers. The reasons a good buyer's agent is worth more than they will ever make are legion, no matter how much our local dog-target keeps pushing discounters. I just got a call from one pushing a property I previewed last week. Yes, it had a view, but the view was of a high school stadium, and every surface in every room needed to be redone. It's got potential, but it's going to take $100,000 to get that potential, and the property would only be worth maybe $40,000 more than they're asking. Leave out those pesky numbers and a less capable agent can make it seem like a great bargain. On the other hand, I found the same people a property not far away that needed about $40,000 worth of work to be worth $120,000 more than the asking price. Money the discounter would have rebated: roughly $5000. Difference in outcome: $80,000 in prospective equity and $60,000 of wasted work. Prospective differences in listing agents are every bit as large.

Now, let's consider the kinds of issues that might give you a better idea about what to do about your situation.

You say you've been through a remodel and have significant equity. That's good news in that you are not "upside down", but should be able to sell the home for more than you owe on it. That's better than a lot of folks right now.

However, the unavoidable fact is that it costs money to sell. A good listing agent is going to cost money - and a bad listing agent will cost you more, and this cost is no less real for the fact that most of it won't be on the HUD-1. A good listing agent is going to tell you to offer a good buyer's agent percentage, also. Furthermore, you're going to buy a home warranty, and a policy of title insurance. I warn my fixer clients that it's going to cost about eight percent of value to get the fixed up property sold at a good price - so they might as well include that estimate in the calculations of whether the property is worth buying in the first place. I'd rather work a little harder, and have a client that keeps coming back to me because they keep making a profit worth making. So figure eight percent of value in addition to the fact that this market is very soft for sellers, although I'm seeing indications my local market may be firming up. Your market may be softer or not so soft. The softer it is, the less you're going to need to be prepared to accept if you sell. Around here, if you've got a property that appraises for $500,000, you may only get $480,000 or less on the purchase contract - and you may have to give allowances on top of that. $480,000 less eight percent is $441,600, and if you have to give a $15,000 allowance for closing costs, that's $426,600. So you can have a good amount of equity on the face of things, and be upside-down in fact when it comes to the actual sale. Even if you have $100,000 in equity, it just turned into $25,000 to get you out from under a loan you can't afford. That's my local market. Yours may be different, of course.

On the other hand, given the fact that you cannot afford your payment, your alternatives do not include doing nothing. If you try to do nothing, you will have your credit ruined and lose the property as well as quite likely get a 1099 love note from the lender that says you owe taxes and possibly (depending upon whether or not your loan has recourse) a deficiency judgment. So doing nothing is not an option.

The other alternative is a negative amortization loan. I don't know what numbers you would get, so I'm going to assume something fairly middle of the road. A 1% payment on $400,000 would be $1287, saving you $1100 per month in cash flow. On the other hand, if your real rate is 7.75 (reasonably median), at the end of two years you owe $433,500, and that's no including the prepayment penalty. After three years, when most negative amortization penalties expire, you owe $452,000, assuming rates stay exactly where they are, which I do not expect them to. Even if you got the loan for zero cost, you spent $1450 per month of your equity. In order for you to come out even, you'd have to net almost $479,000. That means a little over $520,000 sales price in three years if you don't have to fork over that $15,000 allowance, or $537,000 if you do.

It's true that you don't have to make only the minimum payment every month. Nor do you want to. However, let's be honest with ourselves. For most people, most of the time, they will. Even if they had it to spend on the mortgage, the kids need shoes, they "need" a new car, or they "need" a vacation. My understanding is that less than 5 percent of the people who have negative amortization loans make bigger payments than minimum more than five percent of the time. So whereas you won't necessarily owe this much in three years, it seems a pretty good bet to me.

Now here's where people helping people in situations like yours get grey hairs. We're guessing at where the market is going to be in three years. Not only about what we think the general market will be like, but what we think this property will be worth. Some things are consistent. For instance, unless you do another remodel, it's unlikely your property will spontaneously acquire brand new cabinets and stainless steel appliances, and since you are stating that you can't afford your current payment, it's unlikely that you'll be able to purchase such. Your property will probably compare to the rest of the market about like it does today, or maybe a little worse. The carpet will get older, the paint on the walls will be a little older, the shingles on the roof will have used three more years of their useful life. You get the idea.

On the other hand, the market really doesn't have to gain much to offset this. Mostly it just has to firm up, and if it does so, then even a two and a half percent annualized rise in prices would cause you to break even. On the average, that's trivial. Less than half the overall average annualized rise. On the other hand, it's not something I or anyone else can guarantee. It's investment risk. The market could continue to slide for a while, or it could be completely flat. Once you buy an investment, any investment, there is no way to remove risk from the equation completely. One of the things that caused the problems a lot of the country has in the current market was agents who promised the people that their property would appreciate - and sometimes it doesn't. It's one thing for people to make the choice knowing the risks; it's quite another to sell them property by telling them that "real estate always appreciates," or even that "Real estate never loses value." Both are patently false.

As to what I expect my local market to do the next three years: I do expect it to firm up. I've started to see this happening already. Due to the number of bad loans, however, mostly people that were sold negative amortization loans, I don't expect to see any large increases for the next few years.

There is one more level of complexity to add, though. What are you going to do for a place to live if you sell? What do the alternatives look like? How are rents, and what are likely to do in your area? Are landlords going to have to increase them? Are people moving out of your area, causing them to drop? A good agent in your area will know. It's not happening to any appreciable degree here, but this isn't your area. To the extent it is happening here, people are more than replacing them.

These, then, are some of the things to consider. There's less risk in the "sell now" option, but you're accepting a significant hit by exercising it. If you hang on those three years, you might be just fine, or you might be hosed even more completely than you are now. Given that you know you can't afford the property, if you came to me I'd probably advise you to sell now. That's the safe option, however unsatisfying it is. Once you have sold, the hemorrhaging is over - you're not bleeding green every month. Sell to someone who can afford the property, and who can afford the risk that it will further decrease in value over the short term. The assumption would be that they would be getting a deal - but what if you hold on and the dice come up snake eyes? You are looking at a maximum length of time before you will have to cut your losses or have them cut for you. This is a recipe for a disaster even bigger than selling now.

Caveat Emptor

I keep getting search result hits for the string "fsbo horror." It's an amalgamation because I haven't done any postings on this specific subject.

Both buyers and sellers have problems relating to For Sale By Owner issues.

For sellers, the largest issue seems to be properly disclosing all relevant items to satisfy the liability issue. There are resources available, but the question is whether the you took proper advantage of them and made all the legally required disclosures on any issue with the property there may be. If you have an agent that fails to do this, you can sue them. If you are doing it yourself, the only one responsible is you. You are claiming to be capable of doing just as good a job as the professional, and if you didn't do it right, the buyer is going to come after you.

Now I'm going to leave the marketing and pricing questions out of the equation, because with a For Sale By Owner most folks should understand that in return for not paying a professional to help you, you've got to do it yourself. What many For Sale By Owner folks seem to fail to understand, however, is that if you haven't met legal requirements, the real nightmare may be just beginning when the property sells.

Let's say it was something fairly innocuous, like seeping water from a slow leak you didn't know about. A couple years pass, and now there's mold or settling. Perhaps the foundation cracks as a result of settling. Bills are thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Your buyer goes back and finds that your water usage went up by fifteen percent in the six months before the sale. He sues, saying that even though you didn't know, you should have known based upon this evidence. Court cases are decided based upon evidence like this every day. A good lawyer paints you as maliciously selling the property as a result of this. Liability: Steep, to say the least.

Now, let's look at it from a buyer's prospective. You have a choice of two identical properties. In one, a seller is acting for themselves, in the other, they have an agent. The price may be a little cheaper on the for sale by owner one, or it may not. One of the reasons people do for sale by owner is they are greedy. But when I'm looking at a for sale by owner, the question that crosses my mind is "Are they rationally greedy, or are they just greedy?" Are they going to disclose everything wrong or that may be an issue with the property? At least here in California, the agent has pretty strong motivation to disclose if something is wrong that they know about. If they don't, they can lose their license, and even if they don't, they have potentially unlimited personal liability. If they did disclose, they're probably off the hook, and even if they aren't, their insurance will pay for the lawyers, the courts, and any liability. If there's one thing all long term agents get religion about, no matter their denomination, it's asking all of the disclosure questions.

This is not the case for many owners selling their own property. Some are every bit as good and conscientious as any agent. A good proportion, however, are intentionally concealing something about the property. What's going to happen when it comes to light? If there's an agent, there's a license number, a brokerage who was responsible for them, and insurance. The latter two are deep pockets targets for your suit, and you can find them. Once that owner gets the check, you can find them unless they're dead, but they may not have any money. Even if they do have money, it may be locked up and inaccessible via Homestead or any number of other potential reasons.

One of the reasons that I, as a buyer's agent, am always leery of a for sale by owner property is that I have to figure that first off, there's a larger than normal chance that this property has something wrong that's not properly disclosed. When that happens, my client is going to be unhappy. When my client is unhappy, they are going to sue. The first target is the seller, but if they're gone or broke, who does my erstwhile client come after? Me. So I have to figure that not only is there a larger chance of there being something wrong, I have to figure there is a larger chance of me being held responsible for something I took every step I legally could to avoid. For Sale By Owner properties usually have to be priced significantly under the market in order to persuade me that not only am I doing the right thing by my clients in trying to sell them this property, where my clients have to pay my buyer's agent fee out of their pockets rather than out of the selling agent's commission, but also that the heightened risk of future problems is worth more than the price differential to my clients. Unless the answer is a strong solid "yes" that I can document in court if I have to, I'm going to pass it by in favor of the agent-listed property next door or down the street.

Caveat Emptor (and Vendor).

If you haven't heard about the thirty year fixed rate mortgage, welcome to planet earth and I hope we can be friends.

The thirty year fixed rate loan seems to be the holy grail of all mortgages. It's what everyone wants, and what they're calling about when they call me to talk about refinancing a loan.

Well, it is secure, and it is something you can count upon today, tomorrow, and next week, etcetera, until the mortgage will theoretically be paid off.

The problems are three fold: First, it is the most expensive loan out there. It always has had the highest rate of any loan available, and always will (Except for the 40 year loan which is making a comeback for no particularly good reason, and the fifty year loan which is a brand new waste of money). This means you are paying more in interest charges every month for this loan. Second, according to data gathered by our government, the vast majority of the public will refinance or move about every two years, whether they need to or not, paying again for benefits they paid for last time, and didn't use. This is essentially paying for 30 years of insurance your rate won't change, and then buying another 30-year policy two years down the road, then another two years after that, etcetera. Finally, because it is always the highest rate and this is what everyone wants, many mortgage providers will play games with their quote. They will quote you a rate on a "thirty year loan", meaning that it amortizes over thirty years, not that the rate is fixed the whole time. Or they'll even call it a "thirty year fixed rate" loan, but the rate is only fixed for two or three years. Every time you hear either phrase, the question "How long is the rate fixed for?" should automatically pop into your mind and proceed from there out of your mouth.

The fact of the matter is that there are other loans out there that most people would be better off considering. In the top of the loan ladder "A Paper" world, there are thirty-year loans that are fixed for three, five, seven, and ten years, as well as interest only variants and shorter-term loans (25, 20, 15, 10, and even 5 year loans). The shorter-term loans tend to be fixed for the whole length, but of course they require higher payments.

I personally would probably not even consider a 30 year fixed rate loan for myself, and here's why. First, the available rates go up and down like a roller coaster. They are the most volatile rates out there. Given that I will lock it as soon as I decide I want it, it's still subject to more variations that any other loan type. Back when I bought my first place, thirty year fixed rate loans were running around ten and a half percent. Five years before that, they were fourteen percent and up. Second, having some mortgage history, I can tell you I refinance about every five years. Why would I want to pay for thirty years of insurance when I'm only going to use about five?

Even in the summer of 2003, when I could do a 30 year fixed rate mortgage at 5 percent without any points, I could do a 5 year ARM (fixed for five years, then goes adjustable for the rest of thirty) for four percent on the same terms. I keep using a $270,000 mortgage as my default here, so let's compare. The 30 year fixed rate loan gives you a payment of $1449, of which $1125 is interest and $324 is principal. The five-year fixed rate loan gives me a payment of $1289, of which $900 is principal and $389 is principal. I saved $225 in interest the first month and have a payment that is $160 lower, while actually paying $65 more in principal. What's not to like? If I keep it the full five years, I pay $51,549 in interest, pay down $25,791 off my balance if I never pay an extra dollar, as opposed to paying $64,903 in interest on the thirty year fixed rate loan, while only paying down $22,062 of my balance - and I've got $13,500 in my pocket, as well as the $13,300 in interest expense I've saved and $3700 lower balance. If I choose the five-year ARM and make the thirty-year fixed-rate payment, I cut my interest expense to $50,539 while paying off $36,426 of principal (remember, every time I pay extra principal it cuts what I owe, and so on the amount of interest I pay next month.). If I then pay $3500 to refinance, adding it to my balance, I have saved many times that amount. I still only owe $237,074, as opposed to the 30 year fixed rate loan, which has a balance of $247,938. That's over $10,800 off my balance I've saved myself, plus over $14,300 in interest expense, simply by realizing that I'm likely to refinance every five years. And the available ARM rates are more stable as well as lower. From the first, I haven't had one with a rate that wasn't in the sixes or lower. Finally, if I watch the rates and like what I see and so I don't refinance, I'm perfectly welcome to keep the loan. And all of this presumes that the person who gets the thirty-year fixed rate loan doesn't refinance or sell the home, which is not likely to be the case. Statistically, the median mortgage is less than two years old, and less than 5 percent are five years old or more.

At rates prevailing today, I can get the same loans at 5.75 and 5.125 percent (without points. Note: This was written a while ago, and rates are higher now), respectively - which is about the narrowest I've ever seen the gap. Assuming a $270,000 loan, for the 30 year fixed rate loan that gives a payment of $1576, which five years out means that I have paid just under $74,996 of interest, $19542 of principal and have a balance of $250,457. If I choose the 5 year ARM, my payment is $1470, so if I keep it five years I've paid $66,581 in interest, $21,626 in principal, and my balance is $248,373. Plus I've kept $6300 in my pocket, or alternatively, if I used the $106 per month to pay down my loan, I've only paid $65,713 in interest, have paid $28,826 in principal, and have a balance of $241,174. Even if I then add $3500 in order to refinance and the thirty year fixed rate does not, I'm still ahead $5700 on my balance plus the $9200 in interest I've saved, and the chances of the person who chose the thirty year fixed rate loan not having refinanced is less than 5%.

ARM mortgages are not for everyone. If you're certain you are never going to sell and never going to refinance, it makes a certain amount to sense to go for the thirty year fixed rate loan. And of course, if you're going to lie in bed awake every night worrying about it, the savings work out to a few dollars a day and my sleep is worth more than that to me, and so I'm going to presume it is to you, as well.

But what most people should be trying to do is cut interest expense while not adding any more than necessary to the loan balance. As I've gone into elsewhere, money added to your balance sticks around an awful long time, usually long after you've sold or refinanced, and you end up paying interest on it, as well.

So even though various unethical loan providers tend to quote you rates on loans that aren't really what you are looking for if you want a thirty year fixed rate loan, they're actually doing you a favor in an oblique and unintentional way, and somebody who is up front about offering you a choice between the thirty year fixed rate loan and an ARM is quite likely trying to help you. Consider how long most people are likely to live in their home (average is about nine years right now), how long they're likely to go between refinancings (less than two years), and your own mindset. It is quite likely you can save a lot of money on ARMs. Why pay a higher interest rate in order to buy thirty years of insurance that your rate won't change, when you're likely to voluntarily abandon it about two years from now anyway? Why not just buy less insurance in the first place?

Caveat Emptor

UPDATE: I had someone question the numbers in the paragraph comparing the 4% 5/1 ARM against the 5% 30 year fixed rate loan, both of which were available at the same time in the summer of 2003. Now I have had it pointed out to me that I made a mistake in calculations somewhere. The numbers for interest and balance savings are correct, but those for payment savings are $9623, not counting the time value of money. Your savings are not the sum of the three numbers. It depends upon your point of view as to which is most important to you. The interest savings and the dollars in your pocket plus lowered balance are essentially the same dollars. They are two sides of the same coin. It's just a question of what you're most interested in. Not that $13,000 plus is chump change, even on this scale, and no matter how you look at it, you're $13,000 plus to the good. You've either got $9623 in payment savings plus $3670 in lowered balance, both of which are "in your pocket" in one sense or the other. You wrote checks totaling $9623 less, and you've got $3670 in lowered balance, which translates to increased equity - not to mention that you're not paying interest on it any longer. Or you could look at it as simply 13,000 plus in interest you didn't pay. Most folks will lose some of the interest in the form of taxes they don't pay, but 1) That's never dollar for dollar and 2) I wasn't going that deep when I wrote this article.

July first marks one of the turning points in the year for California real estate, as property taxes are collected for a period running from July 1 through June 30. They are paid in two installments, the first due due November 1 (past due December 10) that covers the first six months, from July 1 to December 31. The second is due February 1st (past due April 10th), and covers the second six months, from January 1 to June 30. Other states have different set ups. For instance, Nevada property taxes are paid quarterly.

Now it happens that most folks don't actually pay their taxes until just before the "past due" date. If you have an impound account, the bank doesn't send the money until sometime around December 8th and about April 5th. But they are due and payable on the dates above, and whether you are refinancing or selling or buying, if they are due they need to paid either before the transaction is consumated, or through escrow. Prorated taxes aren't part of refinance transactions. If they're due, they have to be paid, and the current owners need to pay all of them. But for sales, what happens is the property taxes are paid past the date of the sale, or not paid up until the date of the transaction.

Let's pick a date the transaction closes. Say June 15th. The taxes were paid back in April through June 30 by the seller. But the seller didn't owe taxes past June 15th; they don't own the property any more after that. The buyer owes the other fifteen days worth. So the way it is handled is that the buyer comes up with, in addition to the purchase price, fifteen days of property taxes and pays those to the seller as part of the transaction.

If the effective date of the sale was, on the other hand, July 31st, and the seller has paid only through June 30th, then the seller will owe the buyer for taxes for the month of July, because the buyer will be paying those come November. So thirty-one days worth of taxes are taken off of the sales price by escrow and given to the buyer because they will be paying for those thirty-one days worth of taxes in November.

Prorated sales taxes are part of most sales transactions. The only exceptions are those taking place within the periods from November 1st to December 10th, and February 1st to April 10th, where taxes are paid through escrow, and not even those if the current owner already paid the taxes. Be advised that the last couple of days can be tough, especially if you have to walk them in, so if the transaction hasn't recorded at least three or four days before the end of the grace period, you want to go ahead and pay the taxes. If the transaction doesn't close, the government doesn't care why they weren't paid before the end of the grace period; you'll have to pay a penalty for being late.

Caveat Emptor.

Hi Dan wondering if you could help me out I'm getting a lot of different answers from a lot of people and I'm really searching for help I bought my house brand new (three years ago) for 550,000, and (the next year) I refinanced into a mta loan. which at that time was around 4.25% and now is 7.125%. I have a hard prepay of $12,000.00 which expires in (fifteen months) house just appraised for $775,00 balance on 1st loan 440,000 balance on 2nd 148,000. should I ride the next 15 months out to avoid pre pay or refinance now into a fixed. The rate on the second is prime plus zero.

First off, a disclaimer. A precise infallible answer depends upon the rates when your prepayment penalty expires, something that is not currently known. I think thirty year fixeds will be in the low sevens, but I might as well be sorting through animal entrails to get that answer. I also think that the five year hybrid ARMS will stay about where they are, or perhaps even decrease a tad once the fed announces that they are done with hikes. But I don't know; nobody does. It also depends upon what comparable homes are selling for then, which determine your appraisal, and how long you keep the new loan.

Your rate moving like that is one of the reasons I recommend so strongly against negative amortization loans. The person who did your loan at the time had to know that, due to the nature of the mta yours is based upon, the rates were already set to rise into the mid fives for certain, and likely further, as older months were dropped from the average in favor of newer. Were it fully explained, would anyone rational agree to take a loan where you get a lower rate for six months, but then the rate rises inexorably, as the treasury rates the loan is based upon had already been rising, to a level that is well above what is available on A paper three or five year fixed? And with a three year prepayment penalty, so you're in precisely this sort of situation?

"No points" thirty year fixed rate loans are sitting right around 6.75 right now, and you're at 75% Loan to Value. The bad news is you're definitely a jumbo loan, as the conforming limit is $417,000. This boosts your rate a tad, depending upon the lender, to 6.875 or 7.00 percent without points. I prefer to discuss loans without prepayment penalties or points, but it might be in your best interest to pay a little to buy the rate down if you refinance. I'm going to use seven, as it makes the math slightly easier.

The good news is your loan to value ratio. According to the numbers you gave me, you're below 80 percent, even with the prepayment penalty. You owe $588,000 (If you bought for $550,000, the turkey who did this negative amortization loan scammed you out of a lot of money), and the prepayment penalty boosts this to $600,000. Assuming you have enough liquid reserves to put up the money for interest and impounds, this means the costs of doing your loan are going to put you at about at $605,000 new balance (perhaps a bit below, but let's keep the math as friendly as possible).

Basically, it cost you $17,000 to save yourself an eighth of a percent on the interest rate. Under more normal circumstances, I wouldn't even put that one through the calculator. No way that's in your best interest. But your real rate on that MTA is going to keep rising - by at least another quarter percent due to increases already on the books, more likely half. I'll use 7.5 as your mean rate. Furthermore, the second is at 8 percent, likely to soon be 8.25. Monthly interest under the current loan at that rate: $2750 for the first, $987 for the second as it is. Monthly interest on the new loan, $3530. It saves you $200 per month in interest, albeit with a higher payment, $4025 as opposed to what you've got now. I am assuming you have documentation that you make enough money to justify the loan in the underwriter's eyes, and that your credit score is about average. On the other hand, divide $17,000 by $200 per month, and you get 85 months to break even on the cost of doing it.

However, this decision does not take place in a vacuum. You can't let that negative amortization loan go forever. In fifteen months, I think equivalent rates will be about 7.25, which translates to 7.5 percent for your loan. Furthermore, I believe prices will be a little lower then, so in order to refinance, you're likely to have to split into two loans. Assume prices are 10 percent lower. Any of these prognostications is an educated market guess, no more, and I could be way off. The appraisal would come in just under $700,000, but let's say $700,000. Your first, for $560,000, would be at 7.5%, and for your second, I'll presume you get a new HELOC on the same terms, on which the balance would be about $33,000. Interest on first and second, at 7.5% and 8.25% respectively, comes to $3500 plus $227. The payment on the first would be $3915, plus $227 (assuming interest only HELOC) for a total of $4142. So $12,000 saved if you wait, versus about $200 per month less in interest charges per month if you dive in. Divide that out and it comes out to 60 months. Five years. If you keep the new loan five years, approximately, or more, you'll be better off refinancing now. If you keep it less than five years, you're better off waiting is what the calculations say. Plus chop off the $200 per month you save starting right now for the next fifteen months, and the answer turns into forty five months or a little less, being your time until break-even.

I'm a reasonable risk taker. Were I plopped down in your situation, I have to tell you I would probably hang tight until the prepayment penalty expires. Roll the dice and bet on my personal ability to come up with a good loan. On the other hand, you may not be as much of a risk-taker as I am. The stuff I quoted you for refinancing now is available now, no suppositions about it. The rates could well be higher in fifteen months than I have estimated, perhaps much higher, or they could be lower (although I don't think so with increased federal borrowing). You need to decide what your level of comfort is. If you're the sort that is averse to risk, refinancing now could pay for itself just in peace of mind, because you're not worrying about it. That's why I always offer a 30 year fixed rate loan, no matter how wide the interest rate spread is between that and my favorite hybrid ARM. There are folks who just won't sleep nights. The difference comes out to about $7 per night, and my sleep is worth more than that, so I presume yours is, as well.

Caveat Emptor.

(This was originally published March 31, 2006)

Doing my workout this morning I asked myself what's next for the real estate market.

The state of the market here locally is that prices are and have been in decline. There is no longer any mystery about whether they will decline, only how much and for how long. One of these days, the Association of Realtors and those pollyannas who preach that you always make money on real estate will admit it.

What comes next? Obviously increased defaults, as short term loans come up for adjustment and people are unable to make the payments, as I've said any number of times, and unable to refinance because they owe more than the property is worth. Short sales also increase, as people try to just get out. More Notices of Default means more trustee sales, as well. If the property sells at auction, somebody probably got a bargain. If it doesn't, the lienholder owns it (subject to senior liens) and that may be even better.

All of these are happening already. Daily foreclosure lists have more than doubled locally from a year ago. Trustee Sales are up, and so are REO's (Real Estate Owned by those who were originally lienholders). Check, check, and check. All about as surprising as gravity. What I'm trying for here is at least one prediction that has not already come true.

Rates have been rising of late, but there is a limit as to how far they are likely to go, if only because Bernanke and company are very shortly going to have irrefutable evidence of all of the above stuff nationwide. A nationwide economy has a lot of something analogous to inertia. Takes a while to move things in the direction you want them to go. More time, and more effort, than most folks, particularly bankers running our money supply, are likely to realize and sit still for without further pushing, which they have done a bit too much of, in my opinion, by about one full percent on the overnight funds rate. Once things get going in the direction that the Fed has been pushing them for the last two years, they are similarly going to have a lot of momentum built up. Bond investors are going to dry up at attractive rates, and Sarbanes Oxley or no, you're going to see private companies going public again because it's the only way they can raise capital at attractive prices, and the flow of public companies going private is likely to mostly stop. (Hard to think of Sarbanes-Oxley as a brake upon economic activity, but in the short term, that's what it's likely to prove. CEOs and CFOs are not used to the idea of personal responsibility for corporate activity, and while the cost of private capital is even vaguely competitive with public, private will be their choice. It's going to take a while for countervailing forces to come into play).

When bond rates rise, so do mortgage rates. When mortgage rates rise, and people can only afford the same payments, prices fall, further exacerbating the price fall that's already happening. Lenders are already between a rock and a hard place to a certain extent, but it's going to get worse. Keep in mind also that aggregated mortgage bonds are an attractive investment because of their historical level of security, and even though that's going to be compromised to a certain extent, rates are going to rise if for no other reason than that is what the money costs. I expect rates on A paper thirty year fixed rate home loans to stabilize somewhere around seven percent, at least for a while. Shorter term fixed rates will be cheaper once the yield curve normalizes. Given the prices things have sold at in highly appreciated markets, this is likely to permanently popularize medium term hybrid ARMs, as saving one percent in interest on $500,000 is well worth the cost of refinancing every few years, and people are refinancing every two years on average anyway. Two and three years fixed is really too short for most folks, but five is probably more than fine.

Here's another newsflash. I'm not going out very far on a limb here, but a three bedroom single family residence in a reasonable neighborhood here locally is likely never to drop back into the sub $300,000 range again. I'd bet money it's not going below $250,000. Yes, the market got badly overheated - but not that badly overheated. Furthermore, if past Southern California history is any guide, we'll lose about 30 percent of peak value, and then start going back up again. No fun if you're a semi-skilled worker trying to raise a family, but the most likely scenario nonetheless.

Now what's going to happen to the people who have bought highly appreciated properties who can actually make the payments? Well, if prices fall, they can't sell for what they bought for until they recover. They don't want to do that. But they don't want to be in a negative cash flow situation, where the rent they get from the property doesn't cover their expenses, if they can avoid it. They definitely don't want to be in that situation to a larger extent than they can avoid. A $500,000 purchase with a 6 percent first and 10 percent second yields principle and interest payments of $3276, plus property taxes of $520 and insurance costs of $120 per month, means that the owner is out $3916 per month without any repairs or management expense. A monthly rental of $1900 isn't going to cover that. A monthly rental of $2500 isn't going to cover that. This is going to put more upwards pressure on rental rates. $2500 is the entire gross monthly income of someone making $14.75 per hour, by the way. But the people feeding the mortgage alligator don't really care, all they know is that they have to pay the bank so much per month, and set aside so much for the state and the insurance company. This is also going to put upwards pressure on wages, and therefore prices. Inflation kicks into higher gear, which puts more upwards pressure on interest rates. Vicious cycle.

And this phenomenon is going to be part of what eventually helps prices make a comeback. If somebody is feeding the landlord $3000 per month, they're going to be more amenable to paying it to the bank instead. Especially since they get tax breaks, and most especially because when you buy the property you intend to live in, you take your monthly cost of housing out of the column that says "what the market will bear," which is subject to changes - and usually increases - and put it into the column that says "this is under my control." If you buy with a sustainable loan, your monthly payment is going to be under your control forever.

(It is to be noted that even if that $500,000 property loses $150,000 in value the day after you buy it, historical 7 percent per year increases will have you back in the black in about five years, and ahead of a market return on the rent you would have saved in about ten. Thirty years down the line, your net benefit from the purchase as opposed to invest the extra money over the cost of renting and investing the excess in the stock market, will be somewhere between $800,000 to $1,000,000. An almost irrefutable argument in favor of buying a home, if you plan to live there a while. Yeah, it's no fun being upside down while it happens. But the eventual payoff isn't exactly chump change, even by the projected standards of thirty years from now.)

Caveat Emptor.

Cheap Four Bedroom Fixer!

General: Urban East County, 4 bedroom 1.75 bath. Asking price between $400,000 and $425,000. I think an offer of $380,000 net would get it sold.

Why you should be interested: When is the last time you saw a four bedroom house over 2000 square feet this cheap within 15 minutes of everything?

Selling Points: 4 bedroom 2000 square foot house on 7000 square foot lot. No HOA.

Why I think it's a potential bargain: I won't mince words: It's ugly right now. The average buyer won't look past the unappealing surface. But if you're willing to spend some money fixing it up, there's a smaller 3 bedroom place down the block on the market for nearly $200,000 more. It won't take nearly that much to fix.

Obvious caveats: It's got a cracked foundation, and most people think that's a bigger deal than it is in cases like this.

Why it hasn't sold already: Very few people know how to look past ugly.

If you keep it ten years and it averages only 5% annual average appreciation per year: Based upon a purchase price of $380,000, the property would be worth approximately $620,000. 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 $1900 per month most comparable currently available rental and investing the difference at 10% per year tax free, you would be approximately $180,000 ahead of the renter, after the expenses of selling.

Fact you should be aware of: We'll want an engineering report during the contingency period, and those cost about $600 or so.

Obvious way to enhance value or appeal of property: Fix the foundation. New paint, new carpet, new appliances. Update the bathrooms.

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

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

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

Short Payoffs


A while ago I wrote an article called, "What Happens When You Can't Make Your Real Estate Loan Payment." This is kind of a continuation of that, as I got a search that asked, "What is necessary to persuade a bank to accept a short payoff on a mortgage"

Poverty. In a word, poverty. You have to persuade the bank that this is the best possible deal they are going to get. You can't make the payments, and if they foreclose they will get less money.

A "short sale" or short payoff is defined as a sale where the proceeds from the sale will not cover the secured obligations of the owner. The cash they will receive from the sale is "short" of the necessary amount. The house is no longer worth what they paid for it.

There are more and more of these happening around here. There are always people that lost their good job and can't get a replacement nearly as good. But now there are also people that were put into too much house, and approved for too much loan, and now they can't make the payments. Unscrupulous agents that wanted a bigger commission, loan officers going along, and nobody acting like they were responsible for the consequences to their clients. My concern for lenders who do stated income and negative amortization loans (and a lot of loans that are both!) is kind of minimal. Okay, it's very minimal. Like nonexistent smallest violin in the world playing "My Heart Cries For Thee" level sympathy. I forsee many lenders going through bad times ahead, to use a forecasting method that's about as mysterious as falling rocks.

On the other hand, for the people who were led into these transactions by agents with a fiduciary responsibility towards them, I have great heaping loads of sympathy and I'll do anything I can to help. Yes, they're theoretically responsible adults, but when the universe and everyone is telling them all the things that buyers were told these last couple of years, it's understandable. Sure there's a greed component in many cases but when they're told by both loan officers and the real estate agents that they "wouldn't have qualified for the loan if you couldn't afford it," they are being betrayed by the same people who are supposed to be professionals looking out for their interests. I really do suggest finding a good lawyer to these folks, as those agents who did this to them (and their brokerages) better have had insurance which said lawyer can sue to recover money they never should have been out.

I'm going to sketch it out in broad terms, but there are a lot of tricks to the trade. This is not something to try "For Sale By Owner."

First off, you need to draw a coherent picture of the loan payment being unaffordable. If you were on a negative amortization approaching recast, or hybrid ARM (usually interest only for the fixed period) that is now ready to adjust, you're facing a much higher payments. Even if you were able to afford the minimum payment before, now you can't and you've decided to sell for what you can get before it bankrupts you to no good purpose. You're going to have to prove you can't afford it, of course, the bank isn't just going to accept your word, but several late payments or a rolling sixty day late that looks headed for ninety have been known to be persuasive. Nonetheless, there are a lot of tacks that you don't want to take. Remember, lenders want to be repaid and they've got a couple of pretty powerful sticks to shake at you. They are not going to agree to sacrifice money merely because to make the payments would be uncomfortable for you. You're going to have to persuade them it's impossible.

Second, you're going to have to persuade the lender that this is the best possible price that you are going to get, and that anything more they might get from foreclosure is going to be more than offset by what they'll lose through the expenses involved. Not to mention that they might end up owning the property, which they don't want to do because then they have to spend more money selling it.

Third, you've got to be on the ball about the transaction itself. All the ducks have to be in the row from the start, which is when you approach the lender with a provisional transaction. If they're not, the lender is just not going to go through the process of approving a short sale until they are. Since this takes time, it has the effect of dragging out the transaction. Every missed deadline means the lender will look at the whole thing again, possibly changing their mind about approving the short sale. You need a qualified buyer.

Fourth, just be prepared for the fact that the lender is not only not going to approve the transaction if you get any money, but that they're also going to send you a form 1099 after it is all done. This form 1099 will report income for you from forgiveness of debt. This is taxable income! Many agents eager to make a sale will not tell the sellers this, and when you get right down to it, there is no legal requirement to do so, but I've always thought this was one of the ways to tell a good agent from a not-so-good one. It does seem like something you should be told about before you've got the 1099 form in your mailbox, right? At that point, you are stuck with all of the consequences, where if you had known before, you might not have been so complacent. It is to be noted I've been made aware of ways to circumvent the "no money to the owner" requirement, but they are FRAUD, as in go to jail for a while and be a convicted felon for the rest of your life FRAUD. It can be tempting, but committing fraud is one of the most effective ways I know to make a bad situation worse.

For the buyer, short sales are attractive for any number of reasons. Typically the seller is in a situation where they have to sell, and everyone knows it. The option of waiting for a better offer really isn't on the table if what you're offering is anything like reasonable. They can't bluff you, they should know that bluffing you is a waste of effort, and somebody should have explained to them that they really just want out now (and why this is so) before it gets worse. What's not to like?

Your competition. Because there's fast money to be made, these folks are the target of "flippers" everywhere. The large city, highly inflated markets more so than most. A couple weeks ago we put one on the market and got three ugly low-ball offers within 48 hours, and this is part of why you need an agent to sell one. Remember, the seller isn't getting any money, but they are going to get a 1099 form that says they have to pay taxes. Don't you think most folks would rather it was for less money, and therefore, less taxes, instead of more? The more money the lender loses, the higher your liability. Had any one of the three made a better offer in the first place, they would have gotten the property at a price to make a profit, but they had to prove how rapacious they were, or something. As it was, we jawboned the first three vultures and two other, later entries, into a quasi-decent price, with minimal later tax obligation to our seller.

In summation, "short sales" are a way to cut your losses for sellers, and a way to get a wonderful price for buyers, but you have to know how to convince the lenders to accept them, and how not to overplay your bargaining position, lest you get left out in the cold.

Caveat Emptor.

The Best Loans Right NOW

6.00% 30 Year fixed rate loan, 1 total points, and NO PREPAYMENT PENALTIES!. Assuming a $400,000 loan, Payment $2398, APR 6.111! 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 5.375%!

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

Zero points and zero closing costs loans also available!

Best 5/1 Loan trade-off: 5.375% 1.75 total points. Assuming $400,000 loan, payment of $2239, APR 5.554%. 5/1 ARM loans available as low as 5.125%! This is a real loan with a real payment that actually pays your loan down, and the rate is fixed for five years!

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

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

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

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

100% financing a specialty.

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

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

My article on Option ARM and Pick a Pay - Negative Amortization Loans is one of my most popular. It gets all kinds of search engine hits, both here and at my other site. If I don't get at least 20 hits a day on it, it must be a sign that the public has caught on to this loan's horrific gotcha! On the other hand, given the number that are still written, I can get very depressed at how small a percentage of the population does simple research.

I intentionally left a lot of what goes on with these things out of that post, simply because I want to keep these posts readable and comprehensible within the space of no more than half an hour. But I keep getting hits asking questions I didn't deal with, so here goes:

A Negative Amortization loan is defined as any loan where the minimum required payment is less than the interest charges. Regular loans pay off part of the balance every month, whereas negative amortization loans typically have an increasing balance because the difference between the interest charges and what you pay is added to your balance owed.

Because the name "Negative Amortization" causes some difficulty in marketing, they are sold by all kinds of friendly sounding names. "Option ARM" (if you look at my article on loan types here, these are the about the only "true" ARMs with a significant portion of the residential loan market). "Pick A Pay." "Option Payment." "Cash Flow ARM." I've seen all kinds of combinations of these, as well.

Negative Amortization loan rates are typically quoted based upon a "nominal" ("in name only") interest rate. This rate is not the rate of interest that the people who have them are really being charged. It's a thing for purposes of computing the minimum payment. In other words, the minimum payment is computed by using this rate instead of the actual rate that you are being charged. They are being marketed more heavily right now than at any time in the previous twenty-odd years. If you are quoted a rate of 1%, 1.25%, 1.95%, 2.95%, or anything else under about 5% right now, they are talking about a negative amortization loan. If you look at the Truth-In-Lending form, it will list an APR somewhere in the sixes, usually several entire percentage points above the nominal rate. Another way to tell is the presence of several "Options" for payment. If they talk about three of four payment options, guess what? They're talking about a Negative Amortization loan. Note that this is a different situation from "A paper" loans that have no prepayment penalty, in that you are explicitly given these payment options, and may not have any others. "A paper" loans, the minimum payment at least covers the interest (if it's an interest only loan) or actually pays the loan down, and anything extra you pay is applied to principal to pay the loan down faster. I pay extra every month but that's my decision, my choice of amount, not theirs. A negative amortization loan gives you a limited number of choices. Furthermore, there are more of the so-called "one extra dollar" prepayment penalties on negative amortization loans than any other loan type.

Negative Amortization is generally a bad thing because with over 95 percent of those who have them, over 95 percent of the time they are making the minimum payment. That's why they got them, because they couldn't afford the real payment. So their balance increases. They owe more money every month, and due to compound interest, every month the difference between what they owe and what they pay gets wider. This can only end one of three ways. They sell the house. They refinance the house. They get to "recast" point on the loan. None of these is good.

If you sell, the loans come out of proceeds, and the bank gets more money than you originally borrowed, usually plus a prepayment penalty. I keep using a $270,000 loan amount as an example, so let's look at what happens. The minimum payment will be $868.42. But your real rate is not fixed, and even if you've got a good margin and your rate doesn't rise in upcoming months (It will rise), your real rate is something like 6.2%. That very first month, your interest charge is $1395.00. You have $526.58 added to your loan balance. Take this out one year. Your principal has become $276,501.57, an increase of $6501.57. Now the minimum payment increases by 7.5% (another characteristic of this loan) to $933.56. Take it out another 12 months, now at 6.25% (and I'm being really stingy with rate hikes, given how much I think the underlying rates will go up) and you now have a balance of $283,561.76. Now you sell, and as opposed to selling it two years ago, you have $13561 less from the sale than you otherwise would have had. Plus a prepayment penalty of $9484.00, a total of $23,045 the loan has cost you not counting whatever your initial fees were. This is money you are not going to have to buy your next property with. Not to mention that if the rise in value doesn't cover it, you may find yourself short - getting nothing, and maybe even getting a 1099 form for the IRS that says you owe them taxes.

Let's say you don't sell, but refinance, and unlike roughly 70% of everyone with one of these loans, you actually make it to the end of the prepayment penalty period, three years. Your payment has been $998.70 for these 12 months, but your balance has still increased to $291,815.16. Let's say rates have magically dropped back to where they are now. You get a 30 year fixed rate loan at par at 5.875%. Your payment will be $1746.90, as opposed to $1597.15 if you just did that in the first place. But wait, it get's better!

In the fourth year, your payment goes to $1063.84. But nine months in, you hit the recast point! Your balance has grown to $297,000 - 10% over what it was to bein with. It's a thirty year loan, and now it starts amortizing at the real rate for the last 315 months, or until you manage to dispose of it, whichever comes first. Assuming your rate is still "only" 6.5%, your payment jumps to $1967.60 in the forty-sixth month, and this payment is no more fixed than your rate is, which is to say, not at all.

Let's say you have one of the loans with a higher recast - 20 percent instead of 10. Your balance goes to $299,010.60. Then the final year of artificially lowered payment, $1128.98 per month is applied to your loan, but it's accruing $1619.64 in interest and rising. Your loan balance is $305,077 at the end of your minimum payment period. Now your payment (assuming your real rate is still 6.5%, which I think unlikely) goes to $2059.90. If you're able to get a thirty year fixed rate loan at today's rates, your payment is $1825.35. If you couldn't afford $1600 per month in the first place, what make you think you'll be able to afford any of these alternatives? The needless increase in payment amounts to sucking $1.34 per hour out of your pocket, or if you want to think of it another way, you'd have to make $3.00 per hour - $500 plus per month - more to qualify at the end of the period with all that added to your loan, as opposed to right now. And that's assuming the rates are as low in five years, which I do not believe will be the case.

Additionally, I attended a credit provider's seminar a while back, and as I said then, credit rating agencies are currently considering making the fact that you have a negative amortization loan to be a heavy negative on your credit report, all by itself. From the writing above, it should not be hard to see why. Someone who has a negative amortization loan is not making a "break-even" payment. Their balance is increasing. This indicates a cash-flow problem, and cannot go on indefinitely. When the lowered payments expire, they find themselves in a nasty situation, worse than it would be if they had just gotten a different loan in the first place. So if the fact that you have a negative amortization loan knocks you down sixty, eighty, or a hundred points, there is a good likelihood that you will not qualify for any loan nearly so good as you would otherwise have gotten. The last news I had was that they were looking at the modeling data for exactly how strongly it influences your chance of a 90 day late. I don't work for Fair-Isaacson, but my guess, based upon working with people who have negative amortization loans, is that it's going to be towards the higher end of the range I cited.

In short, because most people concern themselves with quoted payment, not interest rate and type of loan, these things are most often sold via marketing gimmicks and hiding their true nature. Those selling them do not concern themselves with what will happen to you after they've gotten their commission check. They are designed (and appropriate for) a couple of specific niches that most people do not fall into. Last set of figures I saw was that they are the primary loan on about 40 percent of all purchases here locally - and owner occupied purchase is not one of the niches they are designed for. An appropriate proportion of the populace to have these might be four tenths of one percent, a figure a hundred times smaller. Shop by interest rate and type of loan, and these look a lot less attractive. As I said, the real rate on these right now (if you've got a good margin) is about 6.2 percent. At par, loans are available that are really fixed for five years at about 5.5 percent, or thirty years at about 5.875 percent, no hidden tricks, no surprises, no gotcha!s. These are not only lower rate, but also better loans.

Caveat Emptor

I realized that I hadn't covered timeshares, and decided it was time.

I suppose I should define what a timeshare is, just in case. A timeshare is a property where you buy the rights to use it for a certain amount of time every year. The most typical time share is a two week period.

Timeshares are attractive to developers because they can get more money for building the same property. You might have a high-rise full of condos where the market price might be $200,000 each. But they can sell each of twenty-six timeshares for maybe $20,000 each. Because it's not such a big bite, their potential market is far wider, and they can sell to way more people. People are willing to pay more for vacation lodging that regular housing.

Developers also make money off of the financing, and off of the monthly dues for management expenses, which are analogous to association dues in a condominium association, paid to keep the complex maintenance up (and usually maid service, etcetera). Furthermore, since very few lenders want to finance timeshares, the interest rate can be (and usually is) outrageous, not to mention that you should be prepared for severe interest rate sticker shock if you're financing one somewhere outside the United States. The developer can gouge because most lenders won't touch timeshares, and it's not like the buyers are going to do any better elsewhere. Title insurance companies don't like timeshares either.

Developers love to tell potential buyers that timeshares are an investment, because they are real estate. The fact is that timeshares are like cars - there's a large initial hit on value, the instant the transaction is final. Nor do they tend to recover. There are at least two websites that specialize in helping you sell your timeshare, because most people figure out within a year or two that they've been taken. I don't deal with them any more than I can avoid, but I have never even heard of someone recovering their investment in a timeshare (except the developer).

Sometimes the time you buy is always the same two weeks in the same unit, but this can very. Quite a few have a yearly drawing among owners of a given unit for the most desirable time frames, and a few even put all units and all owners into the pool. Read the individual sales contract carefully for how this is accomplished. If you have or draw a time that's unusable to you, most of the same places that will help you sell the timeshare in its entirety will also help you sell or trade your time slot for the year. Nor do folks generally get back their annual cost of the unit by selling their time slot, but it can be a good way to buy a vacation time slot cheap if you are prudent and plan ahead.

Furthermore, of course the timeshare is always in the same place. This is great if you want to return to Honolulu every single year, but not so great if you want to go a different place every year. Many developers tout swap programs, often to swap your slot in such desirable locales as Ultima Thule for one in Tahiti. Not likely to happen, or if it does, likely to require a good deal of cash outlay in the direction of the people who bought in Tahiti.

Additional issues are that maintenance can be problematical. Since no single owner is responsible for the complete upkeep of any given unit, let alone the entire complex, the management is often lax about repairs and preventative maintenance. After all, if they put that new roof off for a year they can just pocket the money. Where even condominium owners have to deal with any problems pretty much every day, timeshare owners are there for a couple of weeks per year.

All of this is not to say that there are no happy timeshare owners. If you are going to go to Las Vegas for two weeks every year and your schedule is flexible enough that you can go no matter what time slot you end up with, more power to you, and a timeshare might be the way to go. If you need to go during the summer months because that's when the kids are out of school, or if you don't necessarily want to go there every year, not so much. I've never owned one myself, but I understand some nasty fights break out among co-owners for time slots, as well. Most people think the idea of a timeshare in Phoenix is to go there in the winter and play golf while the rest of the country is freezing, not go from perfectly acceptable weather elsewhere on July 4th to a modern day version of the La Brea Tar Pits because the temperature is 125 degrees Farentheit where the asphalt melts and people sink in and get trapped.

Caveat Emptor

UPDATE: Got a question

I'm guessing by your website that you are a realtor, but maybe you can provide me into some insight about the legalities of timeshares. My husband and I have one, and like most, are not satisfied. I am willing to cut my losses, but am curious about the legal consequences of not paying the monthly dues. Is this even an area you can guide me in? Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

It varies with the laws of the jurisdiction where the property sits, but in general, failure to pay dues is grounds for foreclosure under rules not too much different than those for trust deeds. Yes, it hurts your credit as well.

I don't endorse specific providers, but you might try running "timeshare broker websites" or something similar through the search engine of your choice. You probably won't break even, but it's worth some money to get out with a clean credit record.

I've written a lot here about how to manage your mortgage so that you control it instead of it controlling you.

Let's consider what happens when that project fails.

If you don't pay your mortgage, on time, no big deal at first. The lenders don't like it, but there's a grace period built in. Fifteen days later, the first consequence is that you owe the lender a late payment penalty. It's a doozy, typically four to six percent, depending upon where you live. Here in California, it's four percent. Doesn't sound like so much, but four percent for fifteen days is the equivalent of ninety-six percent annualized interest, over three times the most horrible credit card I'm aware of. I don't like paying ninety-six percent interest, and neither should you. Don't get fifteen days late if you can help it. But once you've paid the penalty and brought yourself current, nobody knows and nobody cares.

Suppose you get to thirty days delinquent - one full month. At this point longer term consequences set in. First off, your lender marks your credit as being thirty days late on your mortgage. This is a big negative as far as everyone goes, and can easily make a difference of 100 points or more on your credit score. Additionally, if you are applying for a mortgage loan (or plan to), you just got a "1x30". For A paper, this means that if your credit is otherwise perfect, you barely slide through. For subprime, this makes a difference on your rate. It takes two years for this to work its way out of affecting your mortgage application, even if your credit score recovers.

Most people end up being thirty days late for several months in a row, each month hurting their credit score, before it goes to sixty days late. They missed one payment and struggle but manage to make several more before they miss another. Occasionally, they go straight to two months late. Either way, it's a Bad Thing. A single "1x60" might scrape through A paper if there's no cash out and your credit is otherwise perfect. Otherwise you are subprime for at least two years. In the subprime world, a "rolling 30" is generally not as bad as a 60 day late, but both are steps down from even a "1x30" and a "rolling 60" is worse. It gets worse yet if you pay your way current and then backslide again. And of course, you are paying penalties and interest is accruing on your loan and you're falling further behind every time you are late. This amounts to a notable chunk of change very quickly. So none of this is good.

On the other hand, depending upon the state you live in, until you get to ninety or 120 days late the situation doesn't become dire. Each state's foreclosure law is different, but once the lender has the option of marking you in default, the situation gets uglier. It is a common misconception that lenders like foreclosing. In actuality, only so-called "hard money" lenders will usually start foreclosure immediately upon eligibility, especially if you've been talking to them about your situation. If they have some real reason to believe yours will eventually become a performing loan again, regulated lenders will cut you significant slack, by and large. It costs lenders a lot of money to foreclose and there's always the risk they end up stuck with the property, so they'll usually give you as much leeway as they reasonably can. One thing I keep telling people who want a loan approved based upon the equity in the property alone is "The lender doesn't want your house. They want to make loans that are going to be repaid. The lender is not in the business of foreclosure. They don't make any money on it."

Nonetheless, even the most forgiving lender is going to eventually hit you with a Notice of Default. At this stage, things are starting to move towards a resolution that nobody likes, but you least of all. At this stage, you are now liable for a large amount in extra fees that was written into your contract to cover the lender's cost of going through the foreclosure process. At this point, the lender has the right to require you to pay the loan all the way current, with all fees, in order to get them to rescind the notice. Refinancing becomes almost impossible, except with a hard money lender, and unless something about your situation has changed from what caused it to get to this point, that is only delaying the inevitable and making it worse.

As soon as that Notice of Default is recorded, your situation becomes part of public record. You are going to get calls and letters and everything else coming out of the woodwork. One category is going to be lawyers, who will typically tell you they can keep you in the house a long time without payments by declaring bankruptcy. Well, this is true as far as it goes, but it's not going to make the situation any better. As a matter of fact, it will steadily get worse. Just because you go into bankruptcy doesn't mean that the penalties and fees and interest go away or stop accruing. They are still there, and they keep coming. I'm not a lawyer, and you should consult both a lawyer and an accountant if you are in this situation. Nonetheless, bankruptcy is not something I would even consider in this situation without something highly unusual going on.

The second group that will contact you are the "hard money" lenders, looking to lend you money at 15% with five points upfront and a hefty pre-payment penalty, to buy your way out of the situation. Once again, unless something about your situation has suddenly changed, not a long term solution, and it only makes it worse.

Another group that's going to call is investors looking for a distress sale. They want you to sell it to them for less than it would otherwise be worth. This is actually something I might consider. Yes, I lose some money, but that's better than going through denial with the lawyer for a year and a half while any equity I might have left gets frittered away in interest and fees and penalties, not to mention paying the lawyer.

The final category, and one with a significant overlap from the previous, is real estate agents looking to sell the property for you. Assuming you're not deep in denial, this is probably the best option as to least unfavorable resolution. The drawback is that it depends upon whether somebody will make an offer in a timely fashion, a factor which is not under your control. No matter how great the price, no matter how hard my agent works, there might not be an offer. It happens.

If you do nothing, eventually a Notice of Trustee's Sale will follow the Notice of Default. In California, seventeen days after that happens, the property gets sold at auction (unless you've somehow brought it current). There are some protections in place here in California. The lender must perform an appraisal, and for the property to sell at auction, the minimum bid is ninety percent of this amount. Nonetheless, these are typically very conservative appraisals by design. At this point, the lender wants the property sold at auction, because if it doesn't sell, they own it, and they don't want to own the house. They are in the loan business, not the real estate business. So a house that may be actually worth $500,000 on the open market gets appraised at $400,000, and sold for $360,000. If the loan was for $250,000, that's $140,000 of equity you allowed to be taken from you because you were in denial, when you probably could have saved most of it. And if the loan with penalties and fees and interest was $450,000, that's worse, and not only because you forfeited $50,000 you could have gotten, and not only because they may be able to go after you in court for their loss in some states.

You see, because the lender took a $90,000 loss, they want to write it off on their taxes. And in order for them to do this, they have to hit you with a form that says you got away with $90,000 from them. This is taxable income!. So the IRS comes after you for the tax on the $90,000. IRS liens are one of the things that is not discharged by bankruptcy, and it stays with you forever. Ten years absolute minimum for any purpose. Sometimes your lawyer, CPA or Enrolled Agent will get you an "offer and compromise" that cuts your liability, but that's technically taxable income also and may be subject to another round of this crud. It it seems like to you the system is rigged so you can't win, you're right. The loan was an obligation you agreed to, and took the money for, and taxes are on obligation of anyone who is a citizen or resident.

The smart thing to do? As soon as you realize that you can't make your payment, take a long look at your situation and decide if this is something that's going to get enough better to make a difference, or not. Then figure out how much equity in the property you have.

If the situation is likely to improve, and you'll start making your payments in thirty days because hey, you just started your new job, that's one thing. Most of the time, however, most folks lie to themselves on this issue, for a variety of reasons. Remember: Denial Digs Deeper, and makes the situation worse.

Even if selling the property isn't going to net you anything, it's still worth doing as it gets you out from under the sitation. Your credit score stops dropping, you quit getting marked late by your lender, you quit getting socked with penalties and interest and fees you can't pay. The IRS obligations you are incurring stop.

Particularly if you have significant equity built up, the sooner you contact a real estate agent to sell, the better off you will usually be. You are going to lose the house if you don't sell. The sooner you sell, the lower the penalties and fees and extra interest you are charged by the lender will be. This translates into dollars in your pocket - dollars you are likely to need. If you can sell before the Notice of Default is filed, so much the better, as that's thousands of dollars right there. You don't have the luxury of taking your time about it, though. Taking the first reasonable offer is highly advised, and you have more time to get a reasonable offer if you start sooner. Once a Notice of Default is filed, it's a matter of public record and so your bargaining situation gets a lot worse because the buyer should know that you are over a barrel, metaphorically speaking, assuming their agent does their homework. Considering that it's two or three clicks of the mouse, it's easy homework to do and even the greenest new agent is going to catch it more often than not.

Trying the various delaying tactics with a lawyer is likely to end up costing you more than a quick sale. Even if you remain in bankruptcy for five years or more, within about a year and a half at most, the lender will almost certainly persuade the court to cut the home and loan out of the bankruptcy as a secured debt, and sell it. Since the loans and penalties and fees and interest kept accruing all this time, you end up with less money - or none, along with a little love note from the IRS that says "You owe us thousands of dollars! Pay up NOW!"

Every situation is different. At a minimum, consult a loan officer, lawyer, accountant, and real estate agent in your area. But when all is said and done, what I've talked about is the way most of these end up.

Caveat Emptor.

I've also got a "what happens next" kind of article called "Short Payoffs" up.

"How do I remove PMI?"

First off, a definition. Private Mortgage Insurance, often abbreviated PMI, is an insurance policy that the bank may make you buy in order to get the loan. It is a monthly surcharge based upon a percentage of your entire principal balance. You pay for it, but the bank is the beneficiary. It doesn't make your mortgage payments if you can't, it doesn't keep your credit from being screwed up, and it doesn't even keep you from getting a 1099 for income from loan forgiveness. Net benefit to you: it gets you the loan, and nothing more, ever again.

You can trivially avoid PMI by splitting your loan into two pieces, a first loan for 80% of the value and a second for any remainder. Yes, the rate on the second will be higher, but it will likely save you money starting immediately, not to mention that it's likely to be deductible, whereas PMI is not, in general, deductible. I do not believe that with all the loans I've ever done, I've ever seen one where PMI was preferable to splitting the loan in two, from the client's point of view.

"With all this against mortgage insurance, why does it still happen?" you ask. This is the critical question. Lenders usually pay yield spread to brokers or commission to their own loan officers based upon the amount of the first loan. Pay for a second is typically (not always) a small flat amount or zero. Your loan provider makes more money by doing it all as one loan. The loan provider wants to make more money and sticks you with the bill. Doesn't that make your heart glow with gratitude? Didn't think so.

There are two ways PMI is collected. One is as a seperate charge, supplemental to your loan. The second is as an addition to the rate.

The seperate charge is never deductible, but is easier to remove. Most states, including California, have laws requiring the bank to remove it when a Price Opinion or appraisal say that the Loan to Value Ratio goes below 78 percent (or something similar). Depending upon your state, you may or may not be required to pay for an appraisal, a cost of approximately $400, in order to have it removed. Some states require only a price opinion, others, like California, permit the bank to require an appraisal.

Just because the law says that that the bank can require an appraisal doesn't mean that the bank will require an appraisal. If the loan to value is obviously there, they might just have someone drive by to make certain the house is still basically sound. On the other hand, if loan to value ratio is close to the line, the bank has a responsibility to its owners not to increase their exposure to loss unreasonably. So if you just wake up one morning with doubled property values, the bank will likely waive the appraisal. If your market is gradually increasing in value and you're watching it like a hawk and make your request the instant you think the value is there, be prepared to pay for the appraisal. Around here, with PMI on a 90 percent loan being a surcharge of about one and a quarter percent per year on a $500,000 loan, you pay for your appraisal by not having PMI in one month - if you're right. If you're wrong and the appraisal comes in lower, you're just out the money.

Suppose, instead that instead of choosing the surcharge option, you choose to have PMI built into the rate. So instead of a 6.25 percent loan rate, you have a 7.00 percent loan rate. Advantage: it's usually deductible, because it's actual interest on a home loan. Disadvantage: You have to refinance (or sell!) to get out of PMI, because the pricing is built into the loan itself as part of the contract you signed. It is to be noted that by itself, this method is usually cheaper than the monthly surcharge for precisely this reason, because in order to get rid of it you have to pay to refinance, and if there's a prepayment penalty in effect you're likely going to pay that also, and so on and so forth.

So if your loan is more than eighty percent of the value of your property, you can expect to pay PMI, although it is easily avoidable by splitting the loan into an 80 percent first and a second for the remainder, and you're likely much better off for doing so. If you're already stuck with it, contact your lender for steps to remove it providing you think the value has increased enough. If you suspect the lender is not abiding by the law, contact your state's Department of Real Estate, although lenders not abiding by the law is both stupid and, in my experience, rare. It's usually the consumer that doesn't understand the law.

Caveat Emptor.

I got a search result for how to get out of mortgage pre-payment penalties, although I've never really dealt with the issue.

Prepayment penalties on real estate loans are something some people, often with less than stellar credit, accept, either in order to either get their mortgage rate lowered or because they don't know any better, or because they didn't ask, were lied to, didn't stick to their guns, didn't protect themselves from unethical loan providers, or any of a dozen other reasons people end up with them. Standard prepayment penalties are six months interest on the outstanding balance, but many companies with "twenty percent" allowances only require eighty percent of that.

Prepayment penalties come in two major varieties, "hard" and "soft", with the vast majority being hard prepayment penalties. Hard means that if the prepayment happens for any reason, you will pay the prepayment penalty. Soft means that if the reason you pay early is because you actually sold the property, there will be no prepayment penalty due.

Prepayment penalties can be further sorted into "first dollar" and "twenty percent". Either can be in the contract for either a soft or hard prepay, but first dollar prepays are uncommon for soft prepayment penalties. If you have a "first dollar" prepayment penalty and you pay one extra dollar above your regular payment, you will be assessed the penalty. These are most common with Negative Amortization loans, and are somewhere between ten and twenty percent of all prepayment penalties, judging from my experience with the problems people bring to me. A so-called "twenty percent" penalty allows you to pay up to twenty percent of the loan balance in any given year without triggering a penalty.

Common terms for prepayment penalties are one, two, three, and five years, although I have seen ten. Since the median time between refinancings is less than two years, and ninety-five percent of everyone has refinanced or sold within five years, it's very much like a hidden fee to the bank in most cases, one that will not apprear on your loan costs summary of the HUD 1, and yet since most people who accept them end up paying them, I would certainly advocate a dollar value being mandatory if there is a prepayment penalty associated with a loan. This is not to say that they are never beneficial or never necessary, but in a large majority of all cases they are simply the result of a loan provider who wants to make more money, who hides the prepayment penalty until it is too late to avoid. They want to raise your cost of going elsewhere so that you will keep the loan at least a minimum amount of time. No matter whether they are a broker or an actual lender, this means they make more money when they do or sell your loan. A lot more money. A two year prepayment penalty is worth about four points (four percent of loan amount), more or less, on the secondary market. Longer penalties are more.

Now, the answer to the question. I know of precisely four ways to get out of paying a prepayment penalty, and three of them are trivially easy to describe.

The first is not accepting a prepayment penalty in the first place. No matter how bad your credit is, you do have this option. Your interest rate will be higher, or they will charge you more for the loan, but you won't have a prepayment penalty. In general, my experience has been that the higher loan rate is worth not having a prepayment penalty. If your loan amount is $300,000 and your rate is 6 percent, your prepayment penalty will be about $9000. Nor is it, in general, deductible if you have to pay it. In this case, if you had to accept a rate one full percent higher to avoid a three year prepayment penalty, you'd be breaking even.

The second is equally trivial. Wait to sell or refinance until the prepayment penalty has expired. Let's say your loan amount is that same $300,000, and that you have a year and a half to go. In order to be worth refinancing, you would have to save two full percent on your new rate, and that's not counting anything you pay, costwise, to get the new loan.

The third way involves something not under the personal control of the borrower, in that it requires legal intervention for perceived legal wrongs done you, the borrower. It has happened in the past that courts have ordered prepayment penalties waived in such cases. It has also happened that companies have agreed to waive a prepayment penalty as part of a settlement. Both events, however, are quite rare, and require you to have gone through something bad enough to merit this. The one I'm personally familiar with involved the lender playing games with payments that were being made on time to the point where they actually marked the people as being in default. I got them to a lawyer specialist and did exactly what that lawyer told me to, when he told me to, and nothing else. They went through something worse than purgatory at the hands of this lender and ended up paying thousands of dollars in attorney's fees, which they didn't recover, but at least they kept their home. Getting out of a prepayment penalty this way is a cure that's worse than the disease.

The fourth and final way to avoid a prepayment penalty is to refinance with the same company. Most (although not all) lenders will agree to swap the old prepayment penalty for a new one if you do your refinance with them. This does not mean that if you've got eighteen months to go on a three year prepayment penalty, you've got eighteen months under the new loan. This means you've got a whole new three year prepayment penalty. It's like putting a problem off for another day, allowing it to fester. Far superior in most cases to just wait until the penalty is gone, because in the vast majority of all these cases your balance under the replacement loan will be significantly higher, and thus, the amount at risk due to a prepayment penalty will be more.

There you have them. The four ways to avoid paying a prepayment penalty. None of them is exactly wonderful, I know. But consider that the borrower agrees to the penalty when they accept the loan. It's part of the terms, and they do have alternative loans without prepayment penalties. It's just that most people jump to conclusions that this is a loan they want as soon as they hear the payment, and, if they're more cautious than average, the interest rate. Which is why you should be one of those who asks every potential loan provider about them, before you are stuck with one. An ounce of prevention is worth many pounds of cure.

Caveat Emptor.

Many folks have no idea how qualified they are as borrowers.

There are two ratios that, together with credit score, tell how qualified you are for a loan.

The more important of these two ratios is Debt-to-Income ratio, usually abbreviated DTI. The article on that ratio is here. The less important, but still critical, ratio is Loan to Value, abbreviated LTV. This is the ratio of the loan divided by the value of the property. For properties with multiple loans, we still have LTV, usually in the context of the loan we are dealing with right now, but there is also comprehensive loan to value, or CLTV, the ratio of the total of all loans against the property divided by the value of the property.

Note that for instances where you may be borrowing more than eighty percent of the value of the home, splitting your loan into two pieces, a first and a second, is usually going to save you money. (See here for an example)

The maximum loan to value ratio you're going to qualify for is largely dependent upon your credit score. The higher your credit score, the lower your minimum equity requirement, which translates to lower down payment in the case of a mortgage.

Credit score, in mortgage terms, is the middle of your credit scores from the 3 major bureaus. If you have an 800, a 480, and a 500, the middle score, and thence your credit score, is 500. If the third score is 780 instead of 500, your score is 780. If you only have two scores, the lenders will use the lower of the two. If you have only one score, most lenders will not accept the loan. Now, I've never seen scores that divergent, but that doesn't mean it couldn't happen. Usually, the three scores are within twenty to thirty points, and a 100 point divergence is fairly unusual. Despite what you may have heard or seen in advertising, according to Fair Issacson the national median credit score is 720. See here for details.

In order to do business with a regulated lender, you need a minimum credit score of 500. There are tricks to the trade, but if you don't have at least one credit score of 500 or higher, you're going to a hard money lender or family member.

Now, exactly what the limits are for a given credit score is variable, both with time and lender, even when you get into A paper. Subprime lenders will go higher than A paper, but the rates will also be higher. Nonetheless, there are some broad guidelines. At 500, only subprime lenders will do business with you, and they will generally only go up to about 75 percent of the value of the home. A few will go to 80 percent, but this is not a good situation to be in.

Currently, at about 580 credit score, you can still find subprime lenders willing to lend you 100 percent of the value of the home, providing you can do a full documentation loan. At 580 is also where Alt-A and A minus lenders start being willing to do business with you, although they won't go 100 percent until higher credit scores.

At 620, the A paper lenders start being willing, in theory, to consider your full documentation conforming loan. They won't do cash out refinances or "jumbo" loans until a minimum of 640, but they will do both purchase money and rate term at 620 or higher. They may not go 100 percent of value until 680, but they will go about eighty or maybe higher.

At 640 is where subprime lenders will start considering 100 percent loans for self-employed stated income borrowers. Not too long ago, I could find these down to 600, but the lenders have been raising these requirements of late. For w2 stated income (essentially, people who get a salary and don't want to document income) the minimum for 100 percent is about 660 now. Mind you, if you can document enough income, it is in your interest to do so.

660 is where A paper will start considering conforming stated income loans. They may not go above 75 percent of value, but they won't just reject you out of hand. At 680, they will consider jumbo stated income.

Now, it is to be noted that just because you can get a loan for only so much equity, it does not follow that you should. Whereas the way the leverage equation works does tend to favor the smaller down payment, at least when prices are increasing, it can also sink your cash flow. So if the property is a stretch for you financially, it can be a smarter move to look at less expensive properties to purchase. I have seen many people recently who stretched to buy "too much house" only to lose everything because they bought right at market peak with a loan they could not keep up. Many of these not only lost every penny they invested, but also owe thousands of dollars in taxes due to debt forgiveness when the lender wrote off their loan.

There are other factors that are "deal-breakers", but so long as your debt to income ratio is within guidelines and your loan to value is within these parameters, you stand an excellent chance of getting a loan. All too often, questionable loan officers will feed supremely qualified people a line about how they shouldn't shop around because they're a tough loan and "you don't want to drive your credit score down." First off, the National Association of Mortgage Brokers successfully lobbied congress to do consumers a major favor on that score a few years back. All mortgage inquiries within a fourteen day period count as the same one inquiry. Second, the vast majority of the time it's just a line of bull to keep people from finding out how overpriced they are or to keep you from consulting people who may be able to do it on a better basis. I've talked to people with 750 plus credit scores, twenty years in their line of work, and a twenty percent down payment who had been told that, when the truth is that a monkey could probably get them a loan! By shopping around, you will save money and get more information about the current status of the market.

Caveat Emptor.

I got a question about what the number one obstacle is to most people qualifying for the loan on the property they want.

The answer is "existing debt." Credit cards, student loans, car payments, etcetera. It seems like more people than not have a reasonable idea of the property people making what they are making might be able to afford. Whereas I do get people who want a four bedroom house despite only making enough to be able to afford a two bedroom condo, it seems that more folks than you'd think really do have an idea what people making what they do should be able to afford. They can be lured down the primrose path of negative amortization, but even most folks who fall for it, know on some level that it's not real. They may not realize exactly how nasty it is, but they know it's not the whole truth.

The real hurdle faced by most buyers is that they owe too much money to too many other people for too many other reasons. Every dollar you have in monthly obligations is another dollar you can't afford on your house payment.

Let's say that Mr. and Ms. Homebuyer make $120,000 per year between them - $60,000 each. They are making $10,000 per month. By the calculations for A paper fixed rate loans, they can afford total monthly payments of $4500 per month. This is a forty five percent debt to income ratio. If housing is their only debt, they easily qualify for a $500,000 property with zero down payment. As of the time I'm writing this, $2367 first at 5.875% with one point, thirty year fixed rate first mortgage, $752 second at 8.25% 30 year due in 15, $521 per month prorated property taxes, and $120 per month for a good policy for home owner's insurance. Total: $3760. They're $740 under their limit. They would actually qualify for a significantly larger loan if they had no other debt.

However, Mr. and Ms. Homebuyer still have student loans, because everyone knows you don't pay your student loans off. Right? But because Mr. and Ms. Homebuyer owe $50,000 between them, and they're paying $180 each, for a total of $360 per month, that's $360 in housing costs they can't afford.

Now Mr. and Ms. Homebuyer both have $30,000 automobiles they're making payments on. On five year loans, Mr. and Ms. Homebuyer are paying $600 each. He has four years to go, she has two. That's still $1200 more in housing costs they can't afford.

Ms. Homebuyer charged their vacation trip to the Bahamas that cost $10,000 to their credit card, and Mr. Homebuyer put the furniture he bought Ms. Homebuyer on an installment plan. The credit card is $500 per month, the furniture is $400. Net result: $900 more that they can't afford for housing payments, because they have to pay it out for existing consumer debt.

By the time Mr. and Ms. Homebuyer have paid all of the monthly payments they already owe, the lender calculates that they can only afford $2040 per month in housing payments. Now, instead of easily affording a $500,000 house, they don't even qualify for a $300,000 condo. $240,000 first at 5.875 is $1420, $466 for the second at 8.625% (below a price break), $313 property taxes and $240 in association dues. Total: $2439! They're $400 per month short!

For people who have a down payment, often the only way they are going to qualify is by spending it on their pre-existing debt. If they don't have a down payment to pay existing debts off, they are not going to qualify "full documentation," which is a fancy way of saying that the income they can prove isn't enough to qualify them for that loan. Furthermore, the manner in which you pay that debt off can be restricted. Sub-prime lenders don't really care as long you can show where you got the money and the debt gets verifiably paid off. "A paper," however, has to deal with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac guidelines, which are less forgiving. A paper guidelines are that you cannot pay off revolving debt to qualify, and even installment debt is at the discretion of the underwriter. In short, once your credit has been run, what you can pay off to qualify "A paper" is limited. A lot of folks end up stuck with sub-prime loans because of this. Higher rates, shorter term fixed period, pre-payment penalty. Some folks just flat out will not qualify unless they go "stated income," and state more income than they make.

Indeed, this is probably the most common reason why people do stated income loans. However, stated income loans mean that your rate is higher, and you might not be able to use all of the money you were intending to as a down payment, because you've got to have reserves for a stated income loan. Finally, and most importantly, stated income loans are dangerous. The debt to income ratio is not just there for the lender's protection - it is also there for your protection. Stating more income so that you can get around the limits on the debt to income ratio is intentionally disabling an important safety measure, meant to keep borrowers from getting in over their heads with loans and payments they cannot really afford. You make $X, which equates to being able to afford total monthly payments of forty five percent of $X. You state that you make an additional $Y per month so that you qualify for higher payments, and you are intentionally defeating that safety precaution. You are going to have to make those payments. The people who loaned you the money want their payments every month! Where is the money going to come from? I would be very certain I could really afford the payments before I agreed to a stated income loan!

So you should be able to see some of the issues that existing debt can cause. Existing debt quite often means that you do not qualify for a property you would easily be able to afford - if only you didn't have those pesky consumer loan payments every month. It can force you to undertake a less desirable loan type, it can force you to accept a pre-payment penalty, and it can prevent you from being able to qualify for the property you want. Alternatively, it can force you to choose between not buying at all, and intentionally defeating one of the most important safeguards consumers have, the debt to income ratio.

Caveat Emptor

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The first thing you need to understand in reading any property advertisements is that agents write them to get people to call. They are trolling for clients. Except in the case of someone who doesn't accept dual agency advertising a listing they actually have, they are written purely with the idea of dangling something out there that clients want. Since most agents like dual agency just fine because it means they get paid twice for the same transaction, understand that only a tiny percentage of the ads that are written out there are written for any purpose other that to get potential clients to call.

Keeping this fact firmly in mind, there are two sorts of places where people go to search for property: Some that are based on MLS, and others that are not.

If it's in MLS or coming from MLS, it better be good information. I can (and do) file violations on liars in MLS. So do others - every time somebody wastes our time by saying the property has something that it doesn't. Filing violations in MLS is simple, it's effective, and after a certain low number of violations, the offender's input access gets restricted. They can't put properties in MLS and they might as well be out of business. Note that they can still "puff" a property significantly; but number of bedrooms, square footage, anything with a number or a yes/no associated with it had better be right. The big violation I'm finding most of recently is advertising it in MLS as "fee simple" when it should be either "PUD" or "Condominium". If it's got homeowner's association dues, it's not fee simple.

Everywhere else, everything that is not based on MLS, take all advertisements with a respectful amount of caution - Like at least equal in weight to the building. Once you get outside the domain of MLS, there are few sanctions possible for even the most outrageous puffery - or even advertising a property you do not, in fact, have. Or anything remotely similar. Some agents won't put anything out there that isn't as close to gospel truth as they can make it, but others are not nearly so fussy, and you really want to avoid the latter sort.

Non-MLS based property advertisements may now be pending, it may be sold, or it may in fact never have existed. The agent put that ad in trolling for buyers. What they want is your signature on an exclusive buyer broker agreement, so they can lock your business up. We know you shouldn't sign exclusive buyer's agency agreements, because that's a poor way to get a good buyer's agent, but most people don't know that and most agents are laying in wait for the ignorant.

Quite often, I have clients who should know better, as I've explained this to them - often more than once - ask me about this fantastic possibility they see somewhere else. About as surprising as gravity, they turn out to be in some way non-factual. 2 bedrooms when it's really one. 1 bedroom when it's really a studio or loft. And sometimes, they actually had it, at that price, six years ago. And then I call the agent listed on the ad, look it up on MLS, and voila! the deception becomes apparent.

There's nothing wrong with responding to such ads, and there's nothing wrong with working with the agents who advertise them, so long as you limit yourself to a nonexclusive agreement, so you can get rid of them when it become apparent they're not guarding your interests. But even with a non-exclusive agency agreement, I'd be asking myself "If they lied to get get me to call, what else are they going to lie to me about?"

I just had a client send me three prospects from one of the non-MLS based search services. All three of them were non-existent, posted by a lead generating service as bait so they could sell everyone who respondended as a lead to agents. They didn't have it, they never did have it, it wasn't even for sale, and hadn't been for over 10 years. But that's how they get leads, which they then sell to several agents.

Here's another sneaky trick: Services advertising themselves as foreclosure specialists go around to all the properties that have a trustee's sale happen. They illegally put a sign in the yard, relying upon the fact that the property is vacant, directing passersby to a phone number. On the phone number, they put the puff description from whatever the last time was that it was in MLS, whatever they can see, or something they can pull from assessor records. They say they have an exclusive listing. What they really have is nothing. I've tried contacting lenders before their new lender owned property gets listed. Even if I have a buyer willing to make an offer, they usually don't want to hear about it. What the places who claim they've got "foreclosures before they're listed" are doing is trying to get suckers to call - in other words, trolling for clients. They simply know that the lenders are eventually going to put 99.999999 percent of these on the market within a few weeks, and they can fend you off until then. They aren't offering anything real. They don't have anything real. They are doing nothing beyond trolling for clients who will generate easy commission checks. They don't have to even sell you that one. If they had anything real, when I call for a client they should be falling all over me, like the agents that really do have foreclosures. Those agents who really do have lender owned listings are falling all over themselves to get back with me. The troll services take my information and say, "We'll have to call you back," and they just don't. I call again, they do the same thing. I ask who's the listing agent responsible for a property and what number to call to contact them, they don't have an answer. Then it comes up on the MLS, and the agency that's been advertising it is nowhere in sight. This is different from people who are buyer's agents who have legitimately gone out and found bargains - because they'll tell you they want to act as buyer's agents. In the first case, they are claiming to have a listing that they do not, in fact, have. In the second case, they are claiming to have found a bargain, and are telling you quite straightforwardly that they are looking to represent buyers. that's what I do. But when you're acting as the agent for the seller, you're not supposed to say anything that violates a fiduciary relationship - in other words, a listing agent is supposed to pretend this property is the greatest bargain since the Dutch bought Manhattan. It's in the job description, not to mention the contract.

So be aware before you respond to property advertisements that quite often, advertisements don't exist. To avoid leads services, look for specific names of the agent in the advertisement. To avoid problem agents who require an exclusive agency agreement before showing, simply refuse to sign exclusive agreements. Dual Agency is a very bad idea for buyers. If they have the listing, they're going to get paid when the property sells regardless of whether you signed that agreement. If they don't have the listing, they still risk nothing with a non-exclusive buyer's agency agreement.

Caveat Emptor

I just saw a rather clever video someone did called, "That Last Dip's a Doozy!" Someone took housing prices 1890 to present and graphed them to a roller coaster ride. Just before the end, he turned the track around so that you could see where you had been and saw how high up you were. The thing was a work of genius; and yet it is still both misleading and wrong, in that a sense of "what goes up, must come down" permeates and becomes the basis for thinking.

In the real world, this is correct. Gravity is a force to be reckoned with. Everything that does go up has to come back down to some sort of supported, stable resting position before it breaks down, runs out of gas, etcetera. Furthermore, roller coasters have to go all the way back to their exact starting point, or used coaster cars are going to start piling up somewhere!

The problem with this thinking is that the graph of housing prices takes place in a mathematical construct world, not on Planet Earth. It's a Cartesian Plane, not a jet plane. Indeed, if you'll remember all the way back to beginning algebra, we can choose any origin and any orientation we like, and the representations are still equally valid. There is absolutely no mathematical reason we can't choose today's prices as our origin. Are there then some sort of magical restorative forces then created that bring us back to our new origin of today's relatively high prices? Not likely! Or we could choose 1000% of today's median price as our origin. Would that cause prices to be inexorably drawn upwards by a factor of ten? Absolutely not. The concept of the origin is a useful one, but don't take it for more than it is. The prices of 1890 were the prices of 1890 because that's where supply and demand were in equilibrium under conditions pertaining at that time. The equilibrium that prices would attain today has precisely nothing to do with those conditions. Do you think we're going back to the days of the federal government selling land at $1.25 per acre under the Homestead Act of 1862? I don't, not even adjusted for inflation or cost of living. Those market conditions no longer apply, therefore there is no rational reason to expect housing prices to return to that state.

Nor are housing prices determined nationwide. We do not have one nationwide housing market. We have a mathematical amalgamation of hundreds of local housing markets. The amalgamation has its virtues and gives us some information, but don't exaggerate their usefulness. Just because some clever person draws us a mathematical picture of a roller coaster that's going to have to fall further than any material known to man can rescue it from and retain structural integrity, does not mean it has any relationship to the amalgamated real estate market in the United States of America, Planet Earth, or any of its component local markets.

This is not to say that housing prices cannot slip further or go down. In fact, we very well may see more of a decline than even areas like my own locality have already seen. But the forces which decide that are purely economic ones (mostly bad loans, at this point). The only role gravity plays in housing prices is in physical structure requirements, a comparatively minor component. There is no requirement to return to the mathematical origin, nor are there restorative forces pushing us in that direction.

The big factors are, as always, supply and demand. When somebody tries to tell you something questionable that has to do with economics, go back to the basics of supply and demand and it is unlikely that you will go wrong.

Supply and Demand. We've done just about everything conceivable to stimulate the demand for housing, and just about everything conceivable to constrict the supply of housing, and people wonder why houses are so expensive?

I'm trying not to be one of their folks with their heads You-Know-Where considering the consequences of people being unable to afford housing, or just barely being able to afford it. I originally wrote The Economics of Housing Development back in 2005, and I've updated it since. But blithely assuming that this whole high housing prices thing is just some kind of bad dream and that it'll all go back to normal soon, is not likely to be correct and is not likely to be of benefit to those folks who are getting priced out of housing. Indeed, basically everyone is likely to get priced out of housing at some point if we keep our collective heads You-Know-Where long enough.

Supply and demand. Let's go over the major factors that make up supply and demand, and see the effects they are likely to have.

Consider demand first. What are the major components of demand? Population, how desirable an area is, and how wealthy the population is. Our population is growing. We just hit 200 million in 1967, and less than 40 years later, we've got another 100 million net. That's a fifty percent gain in a generation. This is a good thing for the most part, but every time we gain a person without a corresponding dwelling being built, we price someone out of the housing market by driving the price beyond what they are willing and able to pay, and the population is growing considerably wealthier in the aggregate. The average house of the 1930s was about 700 square feet. The average house being built today is over 2000. The family of the 1930s might or might not have one automobile, while the average number per family now is over two - and for smaller size average families. Clothes, dishes, appliances, vacation time, average distance from home on vacation, every standard of living has increased, faster in the last twenty-odd years than previously. A time traveler from the 1920s would have recognized more of the lifestyle in the late 1970s than a time traveler from the seventies would recognize now. We can all afford to pay more for a place to live, and most of us are doing so, particularly in the more desirable areas. In fact, those areas seen as desirable or scarce have led the charge up in values. Manhattan Island most of all, but southern California, Florida, southern Arizona, the San Francisco Bay area, the Sun Belt and the coastal areas in general, and of course anywhere especially handy to some popular form of recreation. The population crowds into these places especially and demands housing, as a result of which, the average price of housing in those areas rises faster, while it has more effect on the average citizen simply because an ever larger proportion of the citizenry lives in these places. If going surfing 365 days of the year is the most important thing to someone, they'll do what it takes to live where they can go surfing 365 days a year. If you haven't noticed, a very large proportion of the population seems to want to live within an easy commute of the ocean, and seems to be willing to pay whatever it takes, both in terms of smaller less desirable housing and in terms of spending more to get it. The effect causes prices to increase far more than linearly.

Now let's talk about constrictions on supply.

Sheer room. If every available square foot has already been built on, there isn't any more housing coming without demolishing some other existing building first. There aren't many areas yet where this is a real issue. We've still got lots of open space in this country, but let's consider Manhattan Island, which is completely built over. Every buildable square foot of Manhattan is covered, almost all of it more than one story deep. Prices of Manhattan real estate have been legendary for decades. You think they're coming down to what average everyday folks can afford any time soon? I'll bet you any amount you care to name that's not going to happen. The average folks get pushed out to Brooklyn and the Bronx and Staten Island and the rest of New Jersey. The well off who control or are valued by the cream of the Corporate headquarters, and get paid hundreds of thousands or even millions per year, can afford to pay, will pay, and have been paying for decades. Because those who are financially powerful congregate there, others who are wealthy want to be in the same location. It's worth the extra money to them, and they have it to pay. The demand is not only there, supply is so highly constricted despite everything that can be done that the prices are and will remain sky high by the standards of the rest of the world.

Ability to acquire regulatory approval. If the city, the county, or the state aren't going to allow it to happen, it's not going to happen. Period. It's pointless and expensive to try and force it, and very few people try any more, while every year the hurdles to get permits are higher, tougher, more expensive.

Environmental regulations have taken on a whole new life of their own since 1973. Tests, reports, studies. It can take over a decade to get approvals to build new housing, and if it fails any of the tests, studies reveal any likely issues, or people use environmental issues as a cover for NIMBY or BANANA behavior and sue in court, the whole thing goes down the drain. I happen to agree that we need environmental regulations, but they need to be re-written with more consideration that all economic choices are trade-offs, because the way they are written right now, they form an excellent basis for anyone who wants to stop any development at all to do so legally. Every time we stop a new development, the people who would have lived there need to find some other housing somewhere else. Going along the chain of A prices B out, who then prices C who is lower income than B out of lesser housing, every time we have a new American without building new dwelling space for them, somebody is going to end up homeless, and the price of housing goes up incrementally.

Open space requirements are a big thing in California and around here specifically. Not just open space, either, but maximum building densities. A large part of San Diego county has a maximum building density of 1 building for 40 acres. Well, if you have a maximum building density of 1 building for 40 acres, the only people who can afford to buy that property are those who can afford to buy 40 acres of land. Those who could barely afford a condo - if there were condos there - don't have that option. At some point, if you have too many people competing for too few condos, the price of condos goes up to where those people cannot afford them. And if there's no buildings at all, well it doesn't take a genius to see that nobody can afford to live there, unless it's under a bush or in a tent.

Many building materials have become much more scarce of late, as it's getting harder to obtain them. Lumber, Drywall, etcetera. Every time the materials get more expensive because they're harder to obtain, the price the builders need to charge for the same number of the final product also rises. If they can't make that much, fewer dwellings get built until they can. Nobody is going to build if they know they're going to lose money in advance. If they can make more than that, more dwellings get built.

Last and most importantly, Cost, which most of the others also contribute to. The more it costs to build a dwelling, the fewer that will get built. The cost of the permits isn't just the money the city charges so they can do the inspection. It's the cost of having someone fill out all the paperwork, having someone else make certain that all the requirements are adhered to before that, and of designing the requirements into the construction before that, which not only costs money for the architect, but also for the reduced benefits to the builder. All of this takes time, which means it has what economists call opportunity costs, as well as actual costs. If I can get a better return on the money doing something else, I'm not going to build housing. If I have a hundred acre parcel for dwellings, and the regulations say I have to set aside half of it for other uses besides actual dwellings, then I can only build dwellings for half as many people. If I try to cut the size of the individual dwellings in half, the plans don't get approved, people don't want them, and they don't buy. What this means is that I can only get half as much revenue as I might otherwise get. What the decreased potential revenue means is that projects which would be profitable at full density would lose money at half density - and therefore don't get built.

I've already touched upon Manhattan real estate. Coastal Southern California isn't there yet, but you can see the trend if you watch. In San Diego, there is essentially no more dirt to build on. Open space requirements, minimum lot size requirements, maximum density regulations, and we're hemmed in on about 330 degrees of the circle by four obstructions: Mexico, the Pacific Ocean, Camp Pendleton, and Cleveland National Forest. The I-15 Corridor is one of the few places new development can go, and it's solidly populated all the way to Riverside now - over 100 miles. But people still want to live here, and there are still jobs here, some of them highly paid. We can build higher density housing or we can price people out of ownership and into apartment buildings - and rent is going to get more expensive as well. The highly paid professional doesn't particularly suffer - it's the $15 dollar per hour worker who gets stuck unable to buy, even a condominium, with an ever larger percentage of the paycheck going towards rent.

No matter what market you are in, prices are not going to come crashing back down because that is what will enable you to buy a house. Prices did get over-inflated in a lot of places for reasons I went over in Fear and Greed, or How Did The Housing Bubble Get So Big?. But just because they're higher than they should be now doesn't mean they are going to come crashing back down any further than the place were demand meets supply, and that place is higher than most bubble proponents are willing to admit. The pricing support is there for $350,000 to $400,000 starter homes in San Diego - a family earning two median incomes can afford it. A family earning less than two median incomes can afford it. Furthermore, unless our local housing policy develops a sudden massive attack of rationality, houses are going to start getting less affordable once again as soon as the excess inventory has cleared. Thirty years from now, tiny 1 and 2 bedroom condos will be going for more than that, even adjusted for inflation and standard of living, simply because nobody can build and the demand keeps going up. "Low income housing" and similar things are nice for the beneficiaries, but they are basically a band-aid on a severed carotid artery. The only effective way to fix the problem is to build more housing, period. There are three ways to motivate someone to leave or not to live here: love, money, and force. As long as San Diego has sun and beaches, people are going to love it here. The second way is pricing them out of the market, which is what I'm talking about and what has been happening: People decide that their standard of living would be so much higher elsewhere that they are leaving for economic reasons. The third way is force, and unless you want to see the United States ordering people to move at gunpoint the way Arab countries kicked their Jewish populations out in 1948 (I don't), pricing is by far the preferable way to do it. Pricing people out is ugly, but it's a lot less ugly than the alternatives. Unless we decide to reverse out policies of the last thirty-odd years, we're going to get more of it, and it's going to get ugly. Until we do start building more dwellings, steadily inflating housing prices are here to stay. Especially in the highly popular, highly populated areas where everybody seems to want to live.

Caveat Emptor

Recently, a couple of mortgage places have been advertising "30 year fixed rate loan at 5.65%" like that's the lowest rate out there and it's some kind of great loan. It's not. I have 5.375% available to me. If you read my site, you may be wondering why I'm not pushing 5.375 for all I'm worth. The reason I'm not is that it's a rotten loan. It costs 3.7 total points retail in addition to closing costs. If you came to me with a $300,000 loan balance and demanded that loan, just to pay closing costs and points would bring you up to a balance of about $315,200. It costs $15,200 to do that loan. As opposed to the 6.25% loan I can do without points (based upon the same assumptions) which ends up with a balance of $303,500. It takes 69 months - almost 6 years - before the total of what you paid plus what you owe on the high cost but low rate 5.375% loan is as low as what it is for the higher rate but lower cost 6.25% loan, and you still haven't broken even then, because you still owe a higher balance. That higher balance is going to cost you either more money on your next loan, or mean you don't earn as much on the proceeds of selling when you invest them. According to my loan comparison spreadsheet, you have to keep your new loan 93 months - almost 8 years - just to break even on the additional costs of the loan with the lower rate. Most people will never keep one loan that long in their life.

I called one of the companies advertising that 5.65% to find out about the terms of that 5.65% loan. They admitted to it costing 3 points discount and it having a pre-payment penalty, which my loan doesn't have. They didn't want to admit how much origination they were going to charge, but they're bumping up against California's Predatory Lending Law's ceiling on total costs of a loan, because a $300,000 loan with 3 points of discount has already cost over 4.25% of the base loan amount (they're allowed no more than 6% maximum), assuming that their closing costs are no more than mine. I can look at it and tell you it isn't as good as that 5.375% loan that I'm not pushing because the costs are so high that it isn't as good as a 6.25% loan for most folks.

The most common mortgage advertisements are negative amortization loan payments. These are ubiquitous. I just went looking and the first one I found (I actually had to look at two web pages, too, not just one) said "$430,000 loan for $1399 per month." It says nothing about the rate, which was about 8.25% as opposed to the low 6s of a good 30 year fixed rate loan with reasonable costs. It says nothing about the fact that if you make that payment, next month you will owe over $1550 more than you owe today. That's not what most people think of as a real payment, and every time I look at one, I'm thinking, "I really hope they're practicing bait and switch on that," because it's better for their client's financial future.

Stop yourself and ask a minute: Is the sort of loan provider who uses either of these advertisements the sort of loan provider who is likely to have good loans? To compare the real costs and virtues of one loan with another? To help you similarly weigh the costs? Do either of the loan advertisements I've talked about seem like beneficial loans that you should want, or should you be running away as fast as you can? Even if they are practicing bait and switch, that practice is bad enough when you're not talking about half a million dollars, as you are with a mortgage.

Mortgage advertisements aren't honest about rate, mortgage advertisements aren't honest about cost, and mortgage advertisements definitely aren't honest about what that company intends to actually deliver. In short, the vast majority of all mortgage advertisements aren't advertising anything that an informed consumer would even be interested in. All that most mortgage advertisements are doing is trying to get you to call with a "bigger, better deal" pitch. Why? Because a loan is a loan is a loan. There is no Ford versus Chevy versus Honda versus Toyota, and few people feel any particular need to trade their loans in every three years just because they're tired of driving that loan. There is only the type of loan, the rate, and what the costs are in order to get it. If the rate isn't better, and the costs aren't paid by the interest savings, there just any point to actually getting a new loan, is there? And if you don't get a new loan, lenders and their loan officers don't get paid. But if they make it look like they're offering something better (even if they are not) you might get them paid.

Low rate, by itself, means nothing, as I have demonstrated. Rate and cost are ALWAYS a tradeoff. Every lender in every loan market has a range of available trade-offs for every loan type they offer. You're not going to get the lowest rate for anything like the lowest cost. For the vast majority of people out there, they will never recover the additional costs of high cost loans before they need to sell or decide to refinance. This is real money! If you had invested thousands of dollars with an investment firm, and upon every occasion you did so, you had failed to get back as much money as you gave them, pretty soon you would stop investing with that firm, right? Nobody brags that their investment got them a negative 20 percent return over a five year period. Why in the nine billion names of god would you want to invest in such a loan?

Nonetheless, the financial rapists continue the same old advertisements. They continue these fairy tales, and increase their next ad buy, because these advertisements work. The suckers will call in droves - or sign up on the internet, which is even worse than the same thing. If you merely call, only one company gets your phone number. If you sign up on the internet, you're going to be inundated by dozens, if not hundreds of companies, calling, mailing, and e-mailing, then selling your information when you tell them not to bother you any more. All of this makes advertising these abominations quite lucrative.

Nonetheless, now that you've read this article, you know better. You're going to understand some of what isn't being said in the advertisement, and if you do decide to respond, you're going to go in with your eyes open rather than naively believing something that might as well begin, "Once Upon A Time..." If there's one thing I can guarantee about the loan business, it's that those who go into a situation believing such stories do not end up living "Happily Ever After."

Caveat Emptor

One Loan Versus Two Loans


One of the questions we ask all the time is whether to do your financing as one loan or two loans. Until comparatively recently, one loan was the default option, but people have been learning that splitting their home financing up into two loans can save them significant amounts of money.

There is significant resistance to the idea of having two mortgages on the part of some people. I have never had a conversation where somebody came out and said why they didn't want to split their mortgage into two pieces, but I can offer some hypotheses. Two loans is two sets of paperwork, two checks to write, twice as much paperwork to fill out and twice as many things to keep track of. If I can't show them concrete benefit, they don't want to do it.

In the cases where equity is or is going to be less than 20% of the value of the house, this is not difficult. Sometimes if the client is in a subprime situation anyway, a loan between eighty and ninety percent can sometimes be marginal, but loan amounts at or above ninety percent of the value of the home is pretty much universally better as two loans.

To illustrate why, let us consider a $300,000 home with a $300,000 loan. Let us posit that your credit score is dead average (about 720), and we desire a Full documentation 30 year fixed rate loan for the primary loan, and a thirty day lock, and that this is purchase money.

I'm pulling down a price sheet on a random "A paper" lender from my deleted files a few days old, and pricing accordingly. Since A paper price sheets change every day, this is intentionally stuff I can't (exactly) do right now, used as an example lest somebody in the Department of Real Estate otherwise construe this as a solicitation. Furthermore, I'm pricing at "par", no discount or rebate.

If we do it at par, this would have been 6.375%. To this would be added a charge for PMI of about 2.25% on the entire value of the loan, making your effective rate 8.625%. Furthermore, the PMI component is not deductible. Your payment is $1871.61 plus $562.50 PMI for a total of $2434.11, or which only $1593.75 is potentially tax deductible. If you want to make it deductible by adding it into the rate, the payment goes to $2333.36 with potential tax deductions of $2156.25, so that's a benefit right off, but you then have to actually refinance in order to get rid of PMI as opposed to having it removed automatically if and when your home value appreciates sufficiently. Nonetheless, most people do refinance so I'll assume this is what you do.

Now let's price it out as two loans. Par is 5.875 percent for the 80 percent loan. Doing the second as a 30/15 gives a rate of 8.75. This means it's thirty year amortization, but the balance is due in fifteen years as a balloon - so you either have to pay it off by then or refinance by then. Nobody does 30 year flat fixed rates on 100 percent seconds at any kind of decent rate. Better to do is as a 30/15 second. Doing it as a variable rate home equity line of credit gives a rate of 8.75 also.

The payment is $1419.69 on the first, fixed for thirty years, and $472.02 on the second. Total payment $1891.71, potential tax deduction $1175.00 plus $437.50 for a total of $1612.50.

Comparing the one loan versus two loans directly, and assuming you're in the 28 percent marginal tax bracket with standard deduction of $9600 and assuming your other deductions of $5000 and you did get to deduct 100% of mortgage interest, for one loan you get a tax savings of $5975, plus principle paid down of $2211 - but your total payments are $28,000.32 over the year. Net total cost to you is $19814. For splitting it into two pieces, you get tax savings of $4130, remaining principal paid down of $3448 total, and total payments is only $22,700. So your net total cost is $15,123 - a savings of $4691, plus you owe $1237 less next year, on which you will pay $74 less interest.

So you see, there are concrete advantages to having your loan split into two pieces.

Loan officers, however, typically get paid either zero or a flat fee for the second mortgage, whereas they get a percentage for the first mortgage, so they may be motivated to sell you on doing one loan to increase their compensation. As you can see, this is not usually in your best interest. Matter of fact, if your loan is above the conforming loan limit (currently $417,000 for a single family residence) it can be beneficial to you so split it into a conforming loan and a second for that reason alone. If you shop around, you increase the chances of finding a loan officer who will do the loan from the point of view of what works best for you, rather than what best lines their own pockets.

Caveat Emptor

Many people have no clue how qualified they are as buyers, or borrowers.

There are two ratios that, together with the credit score, determine how qualified someone is for a loan.

The first, and by far the more important, is debt to income ratio, usually abbreviated DTI. This is a measurement of how easy it will be for you to repay the loan given your current income level.

The debt to income ratio is measured by dividing total monthly mandatory outlays to service debt into your gross monthly income. Yes, due to the fact that the tax code gives you a deduction for mortgage interest, you qualify based upon your gross income. This ratio is broken into two discrete measurements, called front end ratio and back end ratio, for underwriting standards. The front end ratio is the payments upon the proposed loan only (i.e. principal and interest), whereas the back end ratio adds in all debt service: credit cards, installment loans, finance obligations, student loans, alimony and child support, and property taxes and homeowner's insurance on the home as well. The front end ratio is almost ignored; I cannot remember an instance of when front-end was a deal-breaker. The thing that will break most loans is the back end ratio, to the point where some lenders don't really care about the front end ratio anymore.

Now, as to what gets counted, the answer is simple. The minimum monthly payment on any given debt is what gets counted. It doesn't matter if you're paying $500 per month, if the minimum payment is $60, that's what will be counted.

"Can I pay off debt in order to qualify?" is a question I see quite a lot and the answer depends upon your lender and the market you're in. For top of the market A paper lenders, who have to underwrite to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac standards, the answer is largely no. If you pay off a credit card where the balance is $x, there's nothing to prevent you going out and charging it up again. Even if you close is out completely, the thinking (borne out in practice, I might add) is that you can get another one for the same amount trivially. "Won't they just trust me to be intelligent and responsible?" some people will ask. The answer is no. Actually, it's bleep no. A paper is not about trust. A paper is about you demonstrating that you're a great credit risk. Even installment debt is at the discretion of the lender's guidelines. If they believe that what you really did was borrow money from a friend or family member who expects to be repaid, expect it to be disallowed. Therefore, the time to pay off or pay down your debts is before your credit is run and before you apply for a loan.

For subprime loans, the standards are looser because the lender controls the money. As long as they can see where the money is coming from, they will usually allow the payoff in order to qualify.

Now many folks think that stated income loans don't have a DTI requirement. They do. As a matter of fact, stated income is even less forgiving than full documentation loans in this regard. As I keep telling folks, for full documentation, I don't have to prove every penny you make, I only have to prove enough to justify the loan. If what I proved before falls short, but if the client has more income, I can always prove more. For stated income, we still have to come up with a believable income for your occupation, and then the debt to income ratio is figured off of that. Even if the lender is agreeing not to verify income, they're still going to be skeptical if you change your story. "You told me you make $6000 per month three days ago. Now you're telling me you make $7000 per month. Which is it? Please show me your documentation!" In short, this loan has now essentially changed to a full documentation loan at stated income rates. Nor are they going to believe a fast food counter employee makes $80,000 per year. They have resources that tell them how much people of a given occupation make in the area, and if you're outside the range it will be disallowed. So you need to be very careful to make certain the loan officer knows about all the monthly payments on debt you're required to make. Sometimes it doesn't show up on the credit report and the lender finds out anyway. This has nothing to do with utilities (unless you're in the process of paying one of them back). That's just living expenses, and you could, in theory, cancel cable TV if you needed to. Once you owe the money, you are obligated to pay it back.

As for what is allowable: A paper maximum back end debt to income ratios vary from thirty-eight to forty-five percent of gross monthly income. I'm a big fan of hybrid adjustables, but they are, perversely, harder to qualify for under A paper rules than the standard 30 year fixed rate loan despite the lower payments. This is because there will be an adjustment to your payment at a known point in time, and you're likely to need more money when it does. Note that for high credit scores, Fasnnie Mae and Freddie Mac have automated underwriting programs with a considerable amount of slack cut in.

Some things count for more income than you actually receive. Social security is the classic example of this. The idea is that it's not subject to loss. Once you're getting it, you will be getting it forever, unlike a regular paycheck where you can lose the job and many people do.

Subprime lenders will usually, depending upon the company and their guidelines, go higher than A paper. It's a riskier loan, and you can expect to pay for that risk via a higher interest rate, but even with the higher rate, most people qualify for bigger loans subprime than they will A paper. Some subprime lenders will go as high as sixty percent of gross income on a full documentation loan.

Whatever the debt to income ratio guideline is, it's usually a razor sharp dividing line. On one side you qualify, on the other, you probably don't. If the guideline is DTI of 45 or less, and you are at 44.9, you're in, at least as far as the debt to income ratio goes. On the high side, waivers do exist but they are something to be leery of. Whereas many waivers are approved deviations from guidelines that may be mostly a technicality, debt-to-income ratio cuts to the heart of whether you can afford the loan, and if you're not within this guideline, it may be best to let the loan go. You've got to eat, you probably want to pay your utility bills, and you only make so much. Debt to Income ratio is there for your protection as much as the bank's.

Caveat Emptor.

The companion article on Loan to Value Ratio is here.

Been reading some of your informative tips. I am looking at refinancing and getting a $378000 mortgage. Now in the case of having a 3 yr prepay penalty, vs paying 1.5% in points to make it a 1 yr prepay, am i right in assuming it's wiser for me to pay the points than accept a three yr prepay when i know I will sell/move within 2 yrs? Any info you can provide would be great. I'm wondering if I'm missing something here.

I think they points would cost me around $5800.

I compute 1.5 points on $378,000 as being approximately $5756.

Here in California, the maximum pre-payment penalty is six months interest, and that is the industry standard nationwide for when there is a pre-payment penalty. A few lenders will pro-rate it, but for the vast majority, they will charge the same penalty on the day before it expires as on day one. This is pure profit, and they're generally not going to turn down pure profit any more than most people will turn down a bonus. So if your interest rate is 6 percent, you're going to pay a 3 percent pre-payment penalty if you sell or refinance before the pre-payment penalty expires. For Negative Amortization loans, the pre-payment penalty is based on the real rate, not one percent, of course.

On some loans, the pre-payment penalty is triggered by paying any extra money. One extra dollar and GOTCHA! But probably eighty percent or so give you the option of paying it down a certain amount extra each year, usually 20 percent, without triggering the pre-payment penalty.

Assuming that it is a case of you won't move in less than one year, this is equivalent to the prepayment penalty on a loan with interest rate of between 3.05% (100 percent prepayment penalty) and 3.81% (80% prepayment penalty). Since even the 1 month LIBOR is a little over 3.8 percent right now, this seems like a cut and dried case of pay the point and a half.

Of course, if there is a possibility that you will need to move in less than one year, paying these 1.5 points could well be a costly exercise in futility. I can't begin to gauge that risk without more information. But if you're in any number of professional situations ranging from the military to corporate executive, this is common.

Given that you're talking about pre-payment penalties, you're likely in a subprime situation. Subprime has a fairly uniform rate of 1.5 points of cost equals 3/4 of a point on the interest rate. I'm going to assume you're getting about a 6.25% rate. If you decided to buy it off via rate, you'd be looking at a 7% rate.

Let's punch in the two loans. $383,750 (balance with 1.5 points) at 6.25% gives you a payment of $2362.81. Running it out 24 months gives you a balance of $374,467. You have spent $56,708 on payments.

378,000 at 7% gives you a payment of $2514.84. Running it out 24 months gives you a balance of $370,043.00, and you've spent $60,356 on payments, while paying your balance down $7957.

Now, assume you sell the home for $X at the end of this period. The first loan saves you $3648 in interest. The second loan gives you $4424 more in your pocket in two years. The second loan, with the higher interest rate and higher payment, as opposed to the higher balance, nonetheless saves you $776 as opposed to the loan with the lower interest rate, and also leaves you more money with which to buy your next home, which means lower cost of interest on your next home loan, as well. Of course, this is subject to some pretty significantly naked assumptions as I don't know anything more about your situation. Furthermore, it assumes that your income is not marginal, and that you would qualify for both loans. It is perfectly possible that you would qualify for the lower payment, and hence the lower rate would be approved, but not be able to qualify for the higher payment associated with the higher rate (The reverse is not the case). Finally, I assumed that because you know you're going to have to move in two years, you are looking at a two or three year ARM in the first place, as opposed to a longer fixed term.

I hope this helps you. If you have any further questions, please let me know.

Caveat Emptor.

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my question today is about what happens to the prepayment penalty if the loan is sold to someone else? A friend of mine told me that he called and was told there was no prepayment penalty with the new lender but I'm skeptical. Why would the terms of the loan change just because someone else is servicing it?

They wouldn't, unless the state your friend lives in has an unusual law.

Your friend hasn't paid off the loan. Therefore, there will be no pre-payment penalty assessed simply because the original lender sold off the rights to receive the payments.

On the other hand, just because the right to receive payments has been sold does not invalidate or alter the terms of the contract, among which is the pre-payment penalty clause. If your friend does something which would have caused the penalty to be assessed with the original lender, it will still be due to the replacement lender.

The fact that a loan has been sold does not cause the penalty to be assessed. Otherwise, people would be assessed a penalty for something under control of the bank, not themselves. On the other hand, it doesn't let you off the hook of penalty clause you agree to, either.

Caveat Emptor

This was a comment on an article on my other site, Real Estate Sellers Giving A Buyer Cash Back. The interesting thing is proposing hourly pay instead of commission for agents.

That makes a lot of sense. Disclosing (net) cash back to the lender changes the purchase price, which also changes the buyer's basis in the property - sorting out the tax situation nicely as well. And when a buyer is bringing a down payment to the table, they should be able to vary it as necessary to keep the LTV where they want it.

Speaking of choosing buyer's agents, though, I wonder what your opinion is of paying one by the hour (instead of via commission)? In the future day when I might be in a position to buy, there's a local buyer agency (who actually maintains a reasonably informative blog about the local market) that has the option to work that way and I'd welcome a third-party perspective on the pros and cons.

My view of them is -


1. For buyers is willing to do their own research and self-direct their search, they can get the specific parts of the buyer's agent package they want a-la-carte, without having to buy the whole package.

2. Since the agent's compensation isn't driven by the price of the property selected (or the commission a seller is offering) there's significantly greater incentive alignment between a buyer and their agent.


1. If the buyer/agent relationship doesn't work out for whatever reason, a buyer still ends up spending cash for the hours used.

He's got some good points. Here are some more that I see:

First off, when do you fork over the money? Up front? Is the up-front money refundable? How easily? This could quite easily be a tool for locking up exclusive business. They do a rotten job, but you've already got $5000 on deposit with them, so you figure you might as well get what good you can out of what you've got spent. Commissions are contingent upon an actual finished transaction. In other words, I've got to get the job done in order to get paid a commission. I don't have to get it done to get paid an hourly rate.

Second, it occurs to me that this may be something aimed at getting more money: The hourly pay on top of the commission. It never ceases to amaze me the number of people who don't realize that buyer's agents get paid out of the listing agents commission. What happens to the buyer's agent part of the commission? Is it used as an offset, is it refunded point-blank (running squarely into the issue of fraud if there's a loan), or what? The most likely way would be as an offset against outstanding hourly, and the remainder rebated for closing costs only. However, 2.5 to 3% of the purchase price can be an awful lot for a buyer to pay in closing costs, even with seeding an impound account in California. The buyer is likely to end up basically using the money to buy the rate down further than is really beneficial, simply because there's no other benefit they can legally get out of that money. So I tell you not to waste your money buying the rate down too far, then I give you the choice of that or forfeiting the rest of it to no good purpose. Does anyone else see the contradiction here?

Third, what is the basis for billable hours? Is it time actually spent with the client, or is it time spent working on the client's file? If the client isn't present, how does the client verify the figures?

The time I actually spend with clients is a fairly small proportion of all the work I spend on them. Maybe 20 percent, at the very most. Consider the parable of the iceberg: What you get is a lot more than what you see at first glance. Last week, I spent six hours looking for one set of clients, and another couple hours on-line winnowing before that. It took us less than two hours to view the properties I decided were worth showing them. Do I charge based upon my time spent, or based upon actual face time?

Now ask yourself, does the basis for billable hours constitute a hindrance to effective job performance? I have thought about it, and "face time" billing would cause most agents - and their supervising brokers - to be a lot less generous with their "file time". But "File time" is what makes a good agent. If I bill based upon "file time", I've got to be able to show what I did with that time, and I'm going to be running head on into clients who won't believe I spend the time I've spent, or at least say they don't, no matter how good the documentation. But does billing by "file time" give agents incentive to pad their time sheets? It seems likely to me that it would. Does billing by "face time" give agents an incentive to go as slowly as possible? Seems likely to me that it would, when the clients incentives are directly opposite. Not all agents would abuse either one of these, but enough would.

Here's another issue: Agents don't get every penny of what they "make". Brokerages have expenses, and they're entitled to make a profit on what they provide. Agents individually have expenses, some of which are fixed, and some of which are variable. If we work on an hourly basis, how much do we add for overhead? Are the clients going to be receptive to it? Even if I bill by "file time" there's a lot of stuff I couldn't bill for, but is nonetheless essential to the proficient practice of real estate. Nonetheless, as any accountant or business school graduate will tell you, you have to recover the costs somehow in order to stay in business, and the way they generally do it is by building an overhead allowance into billing. I occasionally do consulting work at $150 per hour. Even with the more efficient, longer relationship of finding a client a property, I'd need to bill at least $70 per hour to end up with a middle class living at the end of the month. I strongly suspect most folks wouldn't be inclined to pay those kind of wages without evidence of value provided in advance. This would discourage clients from signing up with newer agents or brokerages who might very well do a better job than someone long established who has gotten lazy. Without a proven track record (as in "known to them"), how are you going to persuade the average schmoe who has only been told that, "Real Estate agents don't even need any college!" to fork over $70 per hour before they've seen the work? Commissioned salespersons have to get the job done before they get paid. Not so hourly workers. I realize business people do it all the time, as I've been on both ends of that, but most folks aren't business people, and even the ones who are tend to take a different approach to their personal affairs. Finally, can I really justify billing my consulting work $150/hour while only billing actual buyer clients at half that rate? I'm not going to reduce the consulting rate. If my time is worth $150 per hour (as my consulting clients have told me it is), it's worth $150 per hour. You willing to pay $150 per hour for my expertise, sight unseen? Other people have and will again, but that enlisted military man that walked into our office this afternoon might have some difficulty. I suspect most people would rather let me keep the buyer's agent commission. What if we're billing by "face time"? I'd have to charge a much higher number of dollars per hour to pay for my preparation time. Fact.

Let's ask if most people are likely to be adult enough to pay for something everyone else is offering "free", or at least where they don't have to write a check for money they have painstakingly saved? If the abomination that is Internet Explorer doesn't persuade you on that score, I've got my experience with Upfront Mortgage Brokers to fall back upon, and I can tell you that the answer is most emphatically no, at least in the aggregate. Every time I've had somebody ask about doing a loan on the UMB mandated basis of known fixed compensation, they've ended up canceling the loan. The UMB actually lets me offer cheaper loans than my normal "fixed loan type - known rate - guaranteed costs" because the client bears the risk of late loans, somehow mis-adding adjustments, etcetera. With UMB, I agree to get the loan done for a fixed amount of total compensation - but the clients know what that number is, and it isn't what most people think of as "cheap". With my normal guarantee, I assume the pricing risks, but I have to include the costs of those risks in my retail pricing. Upshot: The loans are slightly more expensive, but people like them much better. The only possible reason I can find for this difference is that they don't have an explicit figure for how much I and my company are making (gross - the net is much lower). Now choosing or not choosing a loan based upon the fact that it seems the loan company is making a lot of money is a great way to shoot yourself in the wallet. People tell themselves that the loan company is "making way too much money" off their loan and end up choosing the lender who offers something at a higher rate that costs thousands of dollars more - but doesn't have to disclose how much they make. I've not only seen it in action - I read a research paper documenting precisely this about two years ago (I went looking for it again about six months ago and couldn't find it. If anyone has a link, it would be appreciated).

All of the preceding are not reasons to refuse to offer hourly compensation. They are simply reasons why I wouldn't expect a lot of it. The final consideration is this: Most agents are independent contractors, not hourly employees. Would hourly compensation create a situation where the Labor Board would rule that this hourly pay pushes agents over the line into an employer-employee relationship? Given how most brokerages require their agents to do other things that are on the list of bullet points of statutory employees (regular required meetings, etcetera), it seems likely to me that it would be enough extra that FLRB might well rule that the agents involved are now statutory employees. This would change everything about the broker-agent relationship from its long-established norm (Brokerages would have to pay overtime, Social Security taxes, minimum wage. Holidays. Minimum time off. Etcetera. They might even have to deal with agent's unions). I don't say that agents couldn't work on an employee basis, but all of these added costs to the brokerage would certainly tend to make the wall of getting started higher for new agents, and harder to negotiate, thereby artificially restricting the number of agents. This would have the effect of limiting competition. I don't think that's a good idea for consumers, although the big chains would certainly love it, as it would make it harder for independents to compete.

If you think paying by the hour a way to get superior real estate services cheaper, I have some land in Florida. Who's going to charge low hourly rates? Unprepared, less qualified agents. It might work out to be a little less, and people who have the intestinal fortitude to move quickly without being goosed on the biggest transaction of their lives might save a little bit in that the agent or brokerage's total compensation is a little less than it otherwise would have been, but where is the level of the value they provided in order to earn that money likely to be? I submit to you that I have reason to believe it would be considerably lower in the aggregate. More than enough lower to place their patrons in the unenviable position of buying the real estate equivalent of the Yugo.

In short, I see a whole lot of drawbacks, many of which are fairly well buried, while only a few advantages, which may be obvious but are outweighed for the vast majority of the population by the drawbacks. I might be willing to do it for the right client who asks, but I'm certainly not going to advertise it.

Caveat Emptor

UPDATE: Thanks to Russell Martin of http://www.smartmortgageadvice.com, here's the link to the FTC study: http://www.ftc.gov/os/2004/01/030123mortgagefullrpt.pdf


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