Dan Melson: July 2007 Archives

One of the most important things for the buyer in any transaction is confidence that the seller has disclosed all known problems. One of the things most people don't realize, or act like they don't realize, is that it's at least as important to the seller.



The California Association of Realtors (CAR) has a program called Winforms that lets me ask all of the little niggling questions about the home. Very convenient, very nice, and I've done my duty when I fill it out with a listing client.



This does not mean that I or the seller can ignore any metaphorical elephant in the room not covered by the form. If there's something that's obvious, I have a duty to ask about it and record the answer, even if it isn't on the form. The seller has a legal duty to disclose anything they are aware of that might cause a reasonable buyer to change their minds or their offering price. A cracked light switch protector plate is not a big problem and you're going to either fix it or agree with the buyer that you won't. But past termite damage, whether someone has died in the home recently, soil subsidence (even on the far side of the property), and any number of other factors can be reasons why prudent buyers may no longer be interested, or may wish to re-evaluate their offer. The rule for smart people is "disclose everything and let the buyer decide if it's important." A certain percentage of sellers, however, just want to get through the transaction without the buyer changing their mind. For Sale By Owner (FSBO) sellers seem to be significantly worse about it, by the way, which is one of several major reasons I'm always leery of FSBO properties with my clients. These sellers either don't realize how strongly omissions can come back to bite them, or are hoping they will be gone by the time it comes to light.



First off, unless you're planning on dying, you can be found. I know a lawyer that makes a good living at it. Furthermore, failure to disclose frequently makes your liability worse, in that you had a duty to disclose and you did not. It is possible that failure to disclose means a judgment for punitive damages in addition to increased economic damages is in your future, whether you are seller or agent or even buyer's agent if it was bad enough. Furthermore, you can count on the damages being larger because the problem has had time to get worse, paying the costs incurred in order to find you, and so on, when if you had simply disclosed in the first place you would have been off the hook.



Now, your real estate agent is not (generally) a building inspector, tax records expert, or any of those kinds of specialist. I recommend an inspector for every purchase, because I'm certainly not qualified to do that job. But if I spot something that may not be right, I have a duty to disclose it to my principal, and find out if it really means anything from a real expert. Sometimes there's a tax assessment that has passed or pending that doesn't have numbers associated with it yet. If it's passed, the title report should have the information, but they've been known to miss one occasionally. If it's pending (e.g. bond measure on the next ballot), it's a good idea to tell the buyer, or at least tell the buyer about where to find out.



For an agent, failure to disclose may mean that your professional insurance won't cover it. The professional insurance is for errors (honest mistakes) and omissions (errors of ignorance), not intentionally hiding something. This liability can easily run to several times any commission you made, so it's a really bad idea to hide anything. Agent or seller, if they buyer can prove you knew, or that you should have known, you're basically up the creek.



Caveat Emptor (and Vendor).


On of the biggest time and money wasters in real estate is people that apply for the wrong loans - loans that they can never qualify for because they can't meet the guidelines, or can't prove they meet the guidelines, which amounts to the same thing. Often, loan officers are the worst offenders, judging by the people who come into my office with messes for me to clean up. They don't know how to submit a loan, or they know full well it won't be approved, but they get you to sign up by dangling this carrot, and then snatching it away, but now they've got you working with them and they end up with your business because they told you a fairy tale that sounded better than what the other guy talked about because he restricted himself to talking about loans he could actually deliver.



How do you know what mortgage market is best for you?



There isn't a cut and dried answer unless you're one of those folks who can qualify "A paper" full documentation. If you can do it, and a lot more folks can qualify this way than think they can, A paper full doc is the way to go. Because it's the least risky loan, the banks give you the best pricing. What if you can't make it, however?



The reasons why people fall away from A paper full doc is long. The two largest ones, however, are people who cannot prove they make enough money and people whose credit score isn't high enough. At a distance from that, the third reason why folks don't qualify, is late payments. A paper permits one thirty day late on the mortgage, or two on other credit. If you fall off the pace due to late payments, you have to go subprime.



A paper accepts only two ways of proving your income: Income tax forms and, for some employees not in construction or on commission, w-2s and year to date pay stubs. If, with the income taken from these forms does not qualify you according to A paper debt to income ratio considering your known debts (typically 45% back end ratio, but I've seen high seventies get accepted in some circumstances), you do not qualify full documentation. Think of full doc as being where you prove you're got enough income to make your payments. If you can't do full documentation, you have to go to stated income.



A paper also requires an absolute minimum credit score of 620. 619 is an automatic rejection from any A paper program out there. Some A paper may require higher credit scores (640 jumbo, 660 stated income, 680 for both), and if you haven't got it, you don't have the loan, either. If you don't have the relevant credit score, you're going to subprime.



A paper stated income is where you've got a good credit score and can prove that you've got a job (or a source of income) and you've had it for two years. You just can't prove you make enough money to justify the loan. You could be making it, though, and the lender agrees not to verify, although they will look at it to see if the income you claim is consistent with your profession. You're paying your bills on time, though, so lenders are willing to believe that you're living within your means, and therefore qualify for the loan. They are not agreeing to close their eyes if something indicates you cannot afford it or what your real income is; they're just not going to go out of their way to verify your income. They are going to have you sign an IRS form 4506, releasing your taxes to them. Don't worry too much about it. The IRS takes a minimum of 60 days to respond, and the loan will be done in thirty, if your provider is competent, and it's not fraud to overstate your income on a stated income loan. Dumb, maybe; fraud, no. The major reasons why "A paper" stated income falls out are low credit score, insuffient time with your source of income, and incompetent loan officers who allow the underwriters to find out that the client doesn't make that much. Low credit score goes to subprime, insufficient time in line of work goes to NINA, and loans with incompetent loan officers start over with another lender.



A paper NINA is a loan driven by the credit score and the situation you find yourself in. There is no debt to income ratio, and the personal qualification consists of a good credit report. Of course, you still have to have the appraisal and the rest of the documentation relating to the property. Furthermore, the rates are higher than stated income (which is in turn higher than full documentation), and the maximum Loan to Value Ratio is lower. Common fallouts are credit score too low (go to subprime), loan to value ratio too high (go to subprime) and something wrong with the property (go to hard money)



Subprime is an entirely different world than A paper. The standards are different, the qualifications are different, everything is different. Just because you can't go full documentation A paper doesn't mean you can't do it subprime. For one thing, typical subprime goes up to fifty percent debt to income ratio, and a few lenders will go higher - some as high as sixty percent! So even though the rates are higher, it may be easier to qualify.



Subprime also has another form of accepted income documentation: bank statements for the last six, twelve, or twenty-four months. When I started, this was always discounted, but of late personal bank statements have been accepted on the strength of 100 percent of the income they show. This rate will be higher than a borrower who can prove their income via one of the A paper methids, but is lower than stated income. Number one reason for falling out of subprime full documentation: Not enough income. Number two: sub-500 credit score. Number three: the underwriter believes that you manipulated your income on your bank statements. Not enough income goes to stated income subprime (with another lender, as if it was submitted full doc it cannot go stated income with that lender). Sub 500 credit score goes to hard money, which is where you might as well start when you find out, because regulated lenders can't touch you if you don't have at least one of your three credit scores above 500. If the underwriter thinks you manipulated your income, you or your loan officer have either got to convince them you didn't, which usually requires w2s at least, or you are going to another lender.



Subprime stated income is fairly wide open, with the proviso that a given credit score will have a higher rate and a lower maximum permitted loan to value ratio. Number one reason for falling you here is that you don't meet loan to value guidelines. Number two is you didn't state enough income in the first place, and you don't qualify by debt to income ratio guidelines. Number three is you stated too much income, and the underwriter doesn't believe you make that much money. They can always require income documentation - they don't have to let you state it without verification. At best, anyone suffering from any of these three problems can expect to have to go to another lender, because this lender will not now approve their loan. Maybe lose a little time if you're working with a broker who then submits the package elsewhere. Back to square one if you were working with a direct lender.



Subprime NINA is even more wide open. A loan officer has got to be a serious bozo to blow this one, but I clean up behind ones that went bad on a distressingly frequent basis.



Hard money is the last hope of the unfortunate. These folks don't care about your income, your credit score, or anything else. What they care about is that they can sell the house for enough to cover the loan if you default, and unlike regulated lenders, they will record that Notice of Default on the day you become eligible. Sometimes they are the only choice, but if you find yourself dealing with them you should really ask yourself if this loan is something you absolutely have to have, or if you just want it. If the answer is the latter, my advice is to reconsider getting the loan.



There you have it, something like a flowchart of what kind of loan you should apply for. These are far from the only reasons loans fall apart, of course, but they are the most common. A good loan officer knows enough of the tricks and traps to tell you the truth straight off, and apply to the appropriate loan first, without wasting your time and money. Bad ones don't.



Caveat Emptor.




There are a fair number of specific helpful suggestions to make in helping you purchase a home. All of them revolve around the loan. Let's face it, the loan is far and away the most hypothetical and uncertain part about most real estate transactions. If there is a non-loan related problem, chances are that you really didn't want to buy that particular property anyway. Most of the time, these problems mean that you would be buying into trouble, and nothing but. Unless you have specialized knowledge in sorting out that particular problem, it's likely to be more expensive than any money you saved through reduced purchase price.



A poor loan officer can always botch a loan, of course, and even the best may not be able to push it through if you are a marginal enough case. So how do you improve your case standing?



The first thing is to get a credit score above 720. If you're there already, keep doing what you're doing. Even if you're not there yet, it's easier to improve than most people think, although it takes time. Make all of your credit payments on time, especially any mortgages and rental payments. These are the most important things to mortgage lenders. Note that you make a payment a few days later than it is due, and you may even pay a penalty, but the lender will not report it as late until 30 days later, and that's when it counts as late to everyone else. In order to qualify for the A paper loan, at the top of the market, the general rule is no more than two 30 day late payments on revolving debts within two years, or one 30 day late on mortgages or rent.



Most lenders want you to have three lines of credit, and a twenty-four month credit history. Not all of them need to be still open, but if you don't have at least two open lines of credit, a given reporting bureau may not report a score, and if you don't have two different scores from the three big bureaus, only a few sub-prime lenders will give you a loan. The longer your particular lines of credit are open, the higher your score will be. So if you keep opening new lines of credit, expect your score to be low.



Revolving credit balances should be kept low, less than half of their limit. There is a significant hit if your credit line is more than half its limit, and the higher you go, the worse it is. If you have two $5000 limit credit cards, it is much better to have $1500 on each than $3000 on one and nothing on the other. It make even more difference if you have $2000 balance on each as opposed to $4000 on one. And if you're one of those people who keeps doing the "transfer your balance to a new card and get zero interest for six months" thing, it will really impact your credit in a negative way, because if your credit balances sum to $8000, that's usually what the limit on the new card will be, and so you've got a brand new credit card that's maxed out, which is a major hit on your credit.



One of the best ways to improve your credit score relatively quickly is to use your credit regularly but pay it off every time you get a bill. Once per month, charge something small that you know you will be able to pay off when the bill arrives. This may still take some months to improve your score, but better months than years.



The next way to improve your ability to afford a house is not to have any large monthly payments. The best rates are for full documentation loans, where you prove to the lender that you make enough money to be able to afford all of your payments. "A paper" lenders will allow you to have total monthly payments of 38 to 45 percent of your gross monthly income. Some sub-prime lenders will go to 55 percent. If your family makes $6000 per month, this means that total payments can be up to $2700 for certain A paper loans, up to $3300 for sub-prime and still qualify full documentation. This also means that the more income you can document, the more house you can afford.



This number includes not only the amount of the mortgage, but also the property taxes, homeowners insurance, association dues (if applicable), and anything else you may need to pay in order to keep the home, as well as car payments, credit card payments, and any other debts you may have. This means that somebody with other payments of $80 per month can afford a lot more house than somebody with other payments of $900 per month. This should be intuitive, but you'd be surprised how often people don't realize it.



The final thing that is helpful is a down payment. The larger your down payment, the less you have to borrow. Lending money is a risk-based business. Up to a point, the lower the ratio of loan balance to value of the property will help you get a lower interest rate and more favorable terms, because the bank will be more certain of getting all of their money back. A 5% down payment is better than none. 10% is better than 5%. The first 5% makes the most difference, but every bit helps. Of course the larger your down payment, the less you have left over for other purposes. It seems to be a phenomenon today that people don't want to risk any more of their own money than they have to, and 100% loans can be done right now, although how much longer that will be the case is anyone's guess. Still, people who make a habit of saving money are always in a stronger position that those who do not.



Now just because you are missing one or more of these does not mean you do not qualify for a mortgage. People in much worse situations than this get mortgages all the time. The vast majority of the time, somebody claiming you're a difficult loan is only looking to pad their pocket at your expense. Loans much worse than I'm talking about here are done on a routine basis. But making yourself a better prospect can certainly save you a lot of money.



Caveat Emptor

Changing the Contract

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What is the reasonable amount of notice to give when changing contract terms in California

That was a search I got. Unfortunately for this person, a real estate contract is not something like Lando Calrissian's bargain with the Empire, where Darth Vader was free to alter it at will.

The real estate contract is negotiated until both sides are in complete agreement as to the terms the exchange will be made upon. There cannot be any differences in the terms of the proposed agreement and accepted agreement, or you aren't done negotiating yet.

Once accepted by both parties, the contract terms are not unilaterally alterable by either party. They can, in most cases, walk away from the deal completely if something isn't right, but they can't say, "The deal is still on, but you're paying me $5000 more than you thought," any more than they can tell you, "And I get your car, too!"

Now, if something pops up such that you don't think it's a good exchange to be making any more, in most cases you can walk away from it, albeit with possible consequences for the deposit. In such cases, if the other party wants to keep the deal going, they can offer concessions, but you cannot force them to change the terms of the contract. The same thing holds true in reverse. They can't force you to alter the terms of the contract, but if they're ready to walk away and you want to keep them in the contract, you can offer concessions or ask what it would take to keep the transaction going. If you don't like what they say, you don't have to accept those terms, any more than they had to accept the contract in the first place.

In short, contracts to purchase real estate are two-sided contracts, and are not alterable by any party to it without the agreement of all parties.

Caveat Emptor.

A search I just noticed asked the question "Who gets the deposit if escrow falls through?"



The theory of the deposit is that here is an amount of cash that the buyer is putting up as evidence of their ability to consummate the transaction.



This is a good question. I've only dealt with real estate sales in California, so I'm going to deal with it from a California perspective. California is a widespread model for real estate practices (as New York is for insurance), but I can't speak to the specifics which states are and aren't following this model and to what degree.



Most of what happens in real estate sales contracts has a default, but is subject to specific negotiation. In other words, there's a standard way of doing it, but you can change that by negotiation with the other party. CAR has a specific set of forms that are encouraged, in order to make these questions somewhat more clear cut.



The standard here in California is that the purchase is contingent for seventeen calendar days, after which the buyer's deposit will belong to the seller whether escrow closes or not. From the time the contract is accepted by both sides, the buyer has seventeen days to finish all inspections, and to obtain a commitment for acceptable financing. If they call it off within those seventeen days, they get the deposit back. If the purchase falls through later than the seventeen days, the seller is usually entitled to the deposit, within limits. The seller can't just arbitrarily cancel the transaction on the eighteenth day and keep the deposit. The time specified in the purchase contract has to have expired, there must be evidence of bad faith dealing on the buyer's behalf - something.



Let me make very clear that the seller is indeed giving the buyer something when the purchase contract is signed. To be precise, the exclusive right to purchase that property for a certain amount of time. There are expenses of selling that they must pay and that they don't get back if you can't carry through, not to mention expenses related to preparing to move, at least potentially having the house sit vacant, etcetera. They cannot conclude a purchase contract with anyone else while the current buyer's contract is going on. If I'm selling, I insist upon retaining the deposit if the buyer can't carry though. If I were to be unable to consummate a purchase, I certainly understand that the seller will retain the deposit in most circumstances.



Now the escrow company won't just give the deposit to the seller. They are paid to be a neutral third party, to stand in the middle and make sure that everybody gets what everybody agreed upon, but it is not their place to settle a dispute. For that, you're going to have to go through whatever dispute resolution process is appropriate. This can be mediation, arbitration, the courts, or possibly something else. You can spend a lot of money fighting what the contract says, but in the end you can also expect to have to live up to it, and likely to pay the other party's costs as well as your own, so better not to fight something the contract says you should have done. The escrow company will often also charge a cancellation fee from out of the deposit, by the way. They do an awful lot of work, and if the transaction gets canceled for whatever reason, they do not otherwise get paid.



Probably the number one reason for failed escrow is loan providers leading borrowers down the primrose path. "I can do that," and no, they can't. Unfortunately, I've never seen anyone able to recover damages from a failed loan provider. So keep in mind the The Best Idea About Applying for a Mortgage, and apply for a back-up loan.



Now you can change the standard contract by specific negotiation. If you're a seller who wants to get the deposit no matter what on day 30, you can ask for that as a condition of the initial sales contract. In a hot market, this is easy to ask for and get, but in a buyer's market, you are likely to lose the buyer. If you're a buyer who doesn't want to lose the deposit no matter what, you can ask to put that into the contract you propose, but most sellers, even in a buyer's market, are going to tell you to take a hike somewhere else. No big deal if it was "Hey, let's make a bid on this and see how desperate they are!" A real problem if you fell in love with the property and just have to have it. Over-playing your hand in negotiations is as disastrous as under-playing, and I've seen people so intent on being Mr. (usually) Tough Negotiator that they diddled themselves out of an excellent transaction. In any case, being too sticky on the deposit is a good way not to get as good of a price as you otherwise might have. For a seller, you have this property and you want cash. You need somebody to agree to pay it - the cash is not going to materialize out of thin air. For a buyer, the whole idea is that this property is attractive to you for some reason, or you would not be making an offer. You are asking the seller to trust thousands of dollars to your ability to swing the deal as much as you are trusting their ability to deliver a clear title to a property without hidden defects.



Whether you are a buyer or a seller, once that contract is signed, you want to get cracking on whatever your obligations under it are. Get it Done. The alternative is that you're likely to forfeit whatever rights to the deposit you may have had if you had been prompt. Just because Things Take Time in Real Estate Transactions is no excuse for you to waste time. Wasting time is expensive for everyone, and one of the strongest signs of a sour transaction I know. Buyers and borrowers pay increased loan and other costs, sellers lose money from delay. This is equally true in refinancing, by the way. The loan you are quoted today does not exist tomorrow unless you act on it today. In summer 2003, when rates hit fifty year lows, many people were in no hurry. They insisted upon thinking, in the face of evidence and testimony to the contrary, that the rates would always be there, and they lost out. If rates go down after locking, a good broker can usually get you better rates. If they go up, you've got the lock. If rates go up and you didn't lock, you get the higher rates. Period.



But the deposit is definitely something that the buyer can owe the seller if the transaction falls through, and that's as it should be.



Caveat Emptor.

A high percentage of buyers out there have no idea of how qualified they really are themselves. They have no clue as to any of the major factors in determining credit-worthiness. To be fair, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of little details that can kill a loan dead. This is one of the significant advantages to dealing with a loan brokerage instead of a direct lender, because if a loan killing detail strikes, a brokerage doesn't have to start all over from square one. Pretty much all the paperwork is still usable, I just have to submit it to a new lender that can do the loan. But so long as a very few things about the buyer's situation are acceptable, I'm confident that a loan can be done.



Nonetheless, with a large minority of clueless loan officers out there, and still others who will keep stringing people along as long as they can, hoping to get an approval that's just not going to happen, sellers are understandably concerned. It costs serious money to carry a property, and an unqualified buyer stringing a seller out for three months before the transaction falls apart usually runs into five figures. That's what sellers are potentially looking at when they sign a purchase contract. RESPA strictly prohibits the practice of steering, many listing agents have absolutely no clue as to whether the buyer making the offer can possibly qualify for the necessary loan. A significant number of listing agents violate RESPA anyway by requiring the buyers deal with a given loan provider. The way it was explained to me, even asking a buyer to get qualified with a specific provider and no other obligation counts as steering. Even as a buyer's agent, I can't so much as hint that there's any obligation to do the loan with me - all I can do is offer better terms. Carrots only, never sticks.



The correct way to handle it, of course, is with agreements for deposit forfeiture in certain circumstances. I don't list a lot of properties, and I'm certainly not going to point out something that isn't in my client's best possible interest when I'm agenting for a buyer. I'll tell the listing agent that something seems like steering, and is therefore unacceptable, but I'm not about to suggest terms that could result in my client losing their deposit.



Some agents go overboard with deposit forfeiture provisions, and in a buyer's market like we have locally right now, being too aggressive with those is a good way to lose potential buyers. People are stupid enough to sign up for negative amortization loan that wastes thousands of dollars per year for precisely this reason - they understand money in terms of cash and payments. That deposit is cash, cash they usually spent a significant period of their life setting aside out of earnings. They understandably have a problem with potentially losing it. Even affluent and well qualified buyers may not want to accept the risks, which in a market like this is a good way to miss out on the best buyers, if not upon selling the property entirely.



There's no way to know whether a loan is going to fund until it does. Pre-approval means nothing. In fact, lenders can pull funding back until documents are recorded. There is no guarantee that anyone except an underwriter can make that a loan will fund. Nobody can guarantee a loan except a loan underwriter. Period.



On the other hand, there is a compromise solution. You can't find out if the loan officer is a bozo except after the fact, but you can find out if there's no way in heck that loan can be done. The borrower information you need to know is: Approximate Credit Score (FICO), How much they make, What their other monthly payments total, and whether they have any derogatory notations in the last two years, most notably payments 30 days late or more. You already know what the purchase price and down payment are. With this information, a decent brokerage loan officer should be able to tell if a loan is possible. If the other side is doing a stated income loan, job title can substitute for actual income information. Within a twenty point band is close enough on the FICO score (e.g. 660 to 680), with differences in higher credit scores mattering less. There really isn't a whole lot of difference, even today, between a 721 and an 800, for purposes of whether they'll qualify. There isn't that much difference between 681 and 719. Below 500, of course, regulated lenders can't do business and we're talking hard money only. But the loan market changes over time. If you're not a loan officer dealing with twenty lenders or more, you're going to have some real issues keeping on top of it yourself. Yes, this is privacy act information, but let's consider this: That property owner is risking an amount that's likely to run into five figures when they sign a purchase contract, because that's how much they're likely to be out if the buyer can't perform. It's reasonable to agree to give them a certain amount of information. For instance, a copy of the credit report with social security and account numbers blacked out. W2s or 1099s with anything sensitive that the seller doesn't need to know removed. Bank statements, ditto. The buyers and their agents can combine to make a copy, remove sensitive information sellers don't need, and then give the sellers a copy of the copy. It is to be admitted that many credit providers are prohibiting this now, because they want to sell another copy of that credit report to the buyers, but methods exist to satisfy them.



I realize that these loan officers want something for their trouble, which is one of the two reasons why steering happens (kickbacks, even more illegal, being the other). Steering is nonetheless illegal. An agent whose counter my clients walked away from a few days ago got really defensive about it, but getting defensive doesn't change the fact that you are violating the law by asking the clients to so much as contact any one specific loan provider. If my clients had wanted to go through the hassle, they could have cost that clown his license. Most people don't want to go through the hassle, but all it takes is one who is.



If you know these very few pieces of information, you can figure out things like debt to income ratio and loan to value ratio. You can know if a loan is going to be able to be done. If the buyer chooses a bozo of a loan officer, that's their prerogative, however unfortunate it may be for you. It doesn't change the fact that they could have qualified, which is all any loan officer can really tell you anyway. Matter of fact, a large proportion of the loan officers that agents try to steer towards are bozos. I recently had one agent try to steer my client to a loan provider who had blown a trivially easy loan for a previous client, who would likely have cleared $100,000 profit after fixing the property up, but instead ended up losing his deposit. I get angry about things like that. As I wrote earlier, just because the buyer is my client for the purchase doesn't mean I can force them to do the loan with me. If I can't force them to do the loan - or even put in an application - with me, what gives some lazy (expletive) of a listing agent the idea that they can? Especially when they don't owe the buyer fiduciary duty and I do? Only in as hard a seller's market as we had a couple of years ago is there any prayer of getting your way in that. Buyers with a competent agent now are either going to walk, or use the fact that you violated RESPA as leverage against you. Whichever it is, you've violated your fiduciary duty to your client.



Caveat Emptor

This is definitely not a "Who you gonna call?"



I've done a couple articles in the recent past on the two ratios, debt to income and loan to value. Nonetheless, there exist a plethora of reasons why someone can be turned down for a loan even though they make it on the ratios.



The first of these is time in line of work. A paper looks for two years in the exact same line of work. One change that trips a lot of people is going from being employed by a company to being self employed in the same line of work. Believe it or not, a promotion can also sink a loan if your job title changed, for instance from salesperson to sales manager. If it was with the same company, it can sometimes be okay, but if you changed companies to get the promotion, that's a really tough loan. Subprime loans will accept shorter time periods.



Making payments on time is probably the biggest deal buster for A paper. In general, you are allowed no more than one mortgage late, or no more than two other lates. The reason does not matter. It does not matter how justified you were in not paying. The fact remains that you are reported as being late. The only way to remove them is for the company to admit it was in error in reporting you late. Many people will not pay the charge as it gets marked later and later and later. This is self defeating. Pay it now, dispute it afterwards. Yes, it's harder to get your money back - but the money it saves you on your home loan is typically much larger.



Store credit cards are one of the biggest headaches here. If you buy merchandise with a generic credit card, you've got the card company, who are neutral, looking at the transaction. Both you and the merchant are their customers, and the merchant needs to take credit cards. They're not going to quit taking them. If you use your store credit card, the dispute department is going to take the view that you bought that merchandise at their store and therefore you owe the money. I run across five or six store card problems for every generic card problem I encounter.



Bankruptcy is another deal buster. People in Chapter 13, or just out of Chapter 7. Most banks won't touch them. It's not really rational, but you there you are.



Reserves can be a deal buster, particularly for stated income loans. A paper stated income requires six months PITI reserves somewhere that you can get to it. Subprime is less demanding, but if you don't have the lender's requirements, you won't get the loan. Would you loan money to someone with absolutely no cash in the bank? Payment shock, where your monthly cost of housing is increasing, can increase the reserve requirements.



Related Party Transfers are another questionable point. All of the background for loans assumes that the transaction is between unrelated parties, who have no reason to cooperate in order to do the lender dirt. If you're buying the house from your brother, that assumption goes out the window. Some lenders will do them, others wont. Some will but charge extra. Others will but have special requirements. Whtever they are, you have to meet them.



The appraisal coming in low is another. The lender evaluates the property on a "lower of cost or market" basis. The Appraisal is the "market" part of that, and the lender will only loan money based upon the lower of these two methods of evaluation. I have people tell me all the time that their new purchase is worth $20,000 more than the appraised value (or the purchase price). No it isn't. By definition - it's worth what a willing buyer and a willing seller agree upon. The bank's evaluations are necessarily conservative, and they don't want to take over the property. They're not in that business. They want you to pay back the loan.



Late payments. Whatever you do, while the loan is in progress, keep making all your payments on time. Whether just indirectly due to the credit score dropping, or directly because now you've got a(nother) thirty day mortgage late, this can raise your rate or even break the loan.



Sourcing and seasoning of funds to close. Just because you've got $100,000 in the bank doesn't mean the bank is happy. Nobody rational keeps that kind of money outside of investment accounts. At least nobody rational who needs a loan - Bill Gates might. Lots of folks hide loans that way. The bank is going to what to see that you've had it a while (seasoning) or prove where you got it from (sourcing). If you really just got $400,000 from the sale of a previous property, you're going to have the escrow papers and HUD 1.



Final credit check: I have a set spiel I go through, "Until this loan is funded and recorded, don't breathe different without getting my okay. Make the payments you've been making. Make them on time. Don't take out any new credit. Don't allow anyone (other than mortgage providers!) to run your credit. Just before the loan gets recorded, the lender will pull a final credit report. Woe be unto the person whose situation has deteriorated, and it means we'll have to start all over again, if there even is a loan that makes sense."



Failures of verification. Three biggies here: employment, rent or mortgage, and deposit. I do not know why people bother lying, but they do. Don't you be one of them. World of hurt if the lender wants to prove a point.



Lines of credit/credit history/no credit score: Most lenders want to see at least 3 lines of credit with a 24 month history of making payments on time. Freezing your credit cards is a wonderful idea, but you need to use them to demonstrate a payment history. Once per month, I use mine for something small and stupid that I would otherwise pay cash for - just to show payment history (it also helps your credit score). Pay if off as soon as the bill gets there. Waivers for two lines of credit are fairly easy, but if a given bureau doesn't know you have two open lines of credit, they may not score your credit profile. If you don't have at least two credit score among the big three - no loan.



Property is structurally unsound, is not certified for habitation, unsuitable or not zoned for intended use, etcetera. Wouldn't you really find out about this before you have a very large debt to pay? Okay, this can cost you money, but it's a "Thank (deity) I found out now!" moment.



So there you have them, most of the most common reasons why loans - and therefore real estate deals - fall through.



Caveat Emptor.




Lender Owned Huge Lot with a Granny Flat!



General: Urban East County, 3 bedroom 1.75 bath with a flat in back. Asking price between $450,000 and $475,000. I think an offer of $420,000 net would get it sold.



Why you should be interested: Step out the back door and look at all the room you have! Lot is over a quarter acre in a great part of town, central to everything. You can use the flat for granny or a teenager, or rent it out for extra income!



Selling Points: Already has a granny flat! Trees in the back yard! Quiet street! Great schools!



Why I think it's a potential bargain: It needs some work, but this could be worth a lot more money than it's selling for!



Obvious caveats: Base structure is seventy years old, and there's some deferred maintenance.



Why it hasn't sold already: That deferred maintenance. People want gorgeous now. This creates an opportunity.



If you keep it ten years and it averages only 5% annual average appreciation per year: Based upon a purchase price of $420,000 the property would be worth approximately $680,000. If you held it those ten years before selling, you would net about $320,000 in your pocket (not including increased value from updates!), assuming zero down payment. As opposed to renting the $2200 per month most comparable currently available rental and investing the difference at 10% per year tax free, you would be approximately $230,000 ahead of the renter, after the expenses of selling.



Fact you should be aware of: The individual rooms are small by modern standards.



Obvious way to enhance value or appeal of property: All the fixtures are old. Modernize them. A little bit of landscaping would go a long way here.



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!


I read with great interest you article on the internet about pre-payment penalties. I find my self in a situation involving a pre-payment penalty and would appreciate your advice on this. I currently have a loan in which the prepayment penalty is up on DELETED. I have gone to another lender for a refinance and have been approved for a loan. Since this loan process occurred before the pre-payment penalty was up, my current lender has included it in the payoff demand information. My new lender has approved funding a loan with this penalty ($12,000) included. Documents are scheduled to be signed DELETED and the loan will be funded (13 days before the penalty expires). If I try to push back the date of my loan, my interest rate will go up, and I may not even qualify for a new loan since my FICA scores have dropped. My intention is to go through with the loan and have the loan person hold onto the payoff check until DELETED, after the pre-payment penalty has expired. I will then request a refund of this amount from my current lender. Do you think this strategy is viable or can you suggest an alternative without changing the the time schedule or amount of my new loan?

So you're want to be paying interest on two loans for two weeks?

Doing it your way is okay if you want to pay the penalty and are willing to pay interest and points and everything on the extra. If not, just have your loan provider get a rate lock extension. You'll pay about roughly a quarter of a point in fees, but that's less than the interest - or the penalty. Have your new lender get a payoff demand valid from expiration of the pre-payment penalty forward.

Your new lender is not going to tolerate being second in line for several weeks. Until that previous trust deed is paid off, the loan to value ratio is higher than their underwriting allows, and I'll bet that debt to income ratio is as well. Suppose there's a fire during those two weeks? Is there enough money in the insurance to pay both of them? The answer is no. Until that prior loan is paid off, the value of the property is exceeded by the loans against it. This is the purpose of escrow - and there's escrow in a refinance as well as in a purchase. You don't get that check - you only get what's left over after escrow does their job, which includes paying off the prior lender.

As to your personal situation, why has your FICO dropped? Credit scores don't drop without a reason, and one credit check isn't going to make that much of a difference. Basically, it looks like your lender is trying to make more money off you, and feeding you a line of nonsense to facilitate it. By boosting the loan amount, their compensation in the form of origination and yield spread rises. Okay, so 1% of $12,000 is only $120 - but that's $120 more for basically the exact same work. Not to mention the loan is funded now and they get paid now. Loans that are finished don't fall apart. I'd bet millions to milliamps that they're intending to fund your loan before the penalty expires. If they weren't, there's no reason to have you sign loan documents that early. I wouldn't have you sign until your right of rescission runs out concurrently with your penalty.

From the information given, this is not likely to be a lender with your best interests at heart. About the only thing I can even think of where it might be in your interest is if there's a notice of default or trustee's sale looming - and then we have to consider whether paying that penalty and all of the costs of the loan is really in your best interest. And since you didn't say anything about either one of these situations, I have to question the wisdom of basically volunteering to pay 6 extra months of interest plus loan costs. In this loan environment, I just have trouble believing that the new loan is going to save you that much money over the course of the time you are likely to keep it, let alone over the two weeks early you're paying it off. Even if you're at 8% now and moving to a 7 percent thirty year fixed rate without points, that's over $15,000 you are spending to save 1%. On a $300,000 loan, you're just getting close to breaking even at 5 years, which is longer than ninety or ninety five percent of everyone keeps their loans, and your balance is still higher. And yes, rates are going up, but neither I nor any other analyst I read is expecting that much higher, that quickly - even if your rate isn't locked, and rates that aren't locked aren't real.

Rate lock extensions cost money. But sometimes they're still the smart thing to do. In your case, it's spend approximately a quarter of a percent of your loan amount (depending upon lender policy), or three to four percent for six months interest that I can't see any compelling reason for you to owe.

Caveat Emptor


PS next time, you might contact me to give me a shot at your loan before you're in this position. I do loans all over California.

Low Maintenance With a View!



General: Urban East County, 3 bedroom 1 bath. Asking price between $400,000 and $425,000. I think an offer of $370,000 net would get it sold.



Why you should be interested: Well maintained 3 bedroom home with a view on a quiet street in a nice area



Selling Points: Hardwood floors, nice backyard patio, newer kitchen.



Why I think it's a potential bargain: Very pleasant property in a very pleasant neighborhood, and inexpensive to boot. If you have kids, the schools are excellent!



Obvious caveats: Back yard is small.



Why it hasn't sold already: It's a little on the small side for kids.



If you keep it ten years and it averages only 5% annual average appreciation per year: Based upon a purchase price of $370,000 the property would be worth approximately $600,000. If you held it those ten years before selling, you would net about $280,000 in your pocket (not including increased value from updates!), assuming zero down payment. As opposed to renting the $1600 per month most comparable currently available rental and investing the difference at 10% per year tax free, you would be approximately $120,000 ahead of the renter, after the expenses of selling.



Fact you should be aware of: May be a little small for some.



Obvious way to enhance value or appeal of property: Just update the bathroom.



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!

Not too long ago I got an email from an ex-prospect who decided to buy a developer's property without a buyer's agent. They persuaded her that she would get a better deal without them having to pay a buyer's agent commission. They then proceeded to hose her. She wanted to know if there was anything I could do. The only answer I could honestly give was basically, "Sorry! The transaction is already done!" This is the way that developers like it. Once the transaction is complete, the damage is done. You own the property, and you owe the money. The only recourse is through the courts, which takes years as well as lots more money - and that's if you win.



Many folks want a brand new house for one or both of two reasons. First off, there's that new house feeling. Secondly, they don't have to deal with a real estate agent, or so they think.



This is mistaken. The agents who work for developers are very pleasant, very professional sharks. They're not allowed to actually lie, but other than that, they have no significant responsibility to the buyers. Their responsibility is to get the most money on the quickest sale, period. If you let slip the wrong thing that leads them to believe you'll be a difficult transaction, you can be torpedoed before you even start. They're not there to tell you the bad things about a property, or that there's a better deal two blocks over. They have a responsibility to get the property sold. Period. The developers hire them from among the very sharpest, most ruthless agents there are.



Indeed, developers usually have higher hurdles for buyer's agents to jump over than any other seller can get away with. Buyer's Agents must accompany the client upon their first visit, and register them in writing. Seems minor, but anyone else who tried this would be dead in the water as far as getting agents to show their property, but developers will do both of these and more. With anyone else, when an offer comes in through an agent, that's enough. During the seller's market, many developers were refusing to pay commissions to any buyer's agents at all. This left potential buyers to pay their buyer's agents themselves or do without. The feeling on the part of developers was that buyer's agents spoil their party, so since they didn't have to deal with them, they weren't going to. The demand was there to sell the developments out whether they were willing to deal with buyer's agents or not - and if they didn't deal with buyer's agents, they would have things more their own way.



This has changed now. Every last buyer is precious, so developers are grudgingly working with buyer's agents. I went to a development with a client a few days ago, and the developer's agent had no difficulty conveying the same sentiments as that classic San Diego bumper sticker, "Tourists go home - but leave your dollars and daughters." They wanted my clients - but they didn't want me. Some of it traces to the fact that they want the whole sales commission, some of it to the fact that clients with a buyer's agent working on their behalf have a stronger proponent and negotiate better bargains, meaning lower bonuses and less in commission.



Indeed, a buyer's agent is a fairly unique position in sales. A buyer's agent's responsibility is to get you the best bargain possible - lowest price for the best property. Since commission is based upon sales price, this is the only job I'm aware of that gets less money the better they do their job. The idea, of course, is the better they do their job, the more people will want you to do it for them. You may not make as much per transaction, but if you do more transactions than you would, you come out ahead.



Some agents try to leverage this by rebating a percentage of the commission they would get. After all, it doesn't take a lot of time to fill out an offer. However, it does take a lot of time to shop effectively for a given client. I'm making offers now for a client I've been working with for two months. I've probably spent in excess of a hundred hours looking at properties just for them, never mind researching the properties before I left, or all of the things that contribute to general market expertise. They looked at a few on their own - and stopped, because they were seeing better values with fewer issues through me. A good agent knows what else is available on the market - but the agent who sits there with a license and a fax machine has no clue. There's nothing ethically wrong with agents getting paid for sitting by a fax machine. I'm perfectly willing to rebate part of the buyer's agent commission if someone doesn't want me to scout and evaluate properties. If, however, you want someone who's able to recognize what is and is not value, and who is going to be a strong negotiator on your behalf, thereby getting you a better property at a better price, you need someone who gets out of the office and looks at property. Agents can't get that kind of expertise sitting in the office. And if your only qualifications are a real estate license and a fax machine, why are you making more than ten dollars per hour? What benefit does that have for the public? I visited a new development on behalf of some clients last week. They had one left, in which I spotted a foundation crack literally from side to side of the structure. I checked the area again today, because we're still looking, and that property has gone Pending. I'm not a licensed inspector or contractor, but if someone can spot this before the sellers have your deposit, it can really save your bacon. If I were a discounter, that would have been my clients, because they loved the property.



People in the financial press like to complain about real estate commissions being too large. But they are not as large as they are by some accident of nature. People didn't just decide to pay five, six, or seven percent of the sales price because someone told them to. Sellers do it because experience has taught them that they end up with more money in their pockets because of their listing agent's expertise. It's not a large jump from there to understanding that if the seller has someone whose expertise for one transaction is worth that kind of money, it's a real good idea to have someone on your side who knows just as much, not only about real estate in general, but your market in particular. Various businesses have been trying to offer real estate brokerage services at discounted rates since at least the mid 1970s from my personal knowledge. Traditional sales models have lost a little bit of market share, but they're still going strong. There are reasons for this. Reasons like how long it really does take to get a property sold, like how much work it really does take to know the market. Reasons like there is no way to evaluate the relative value of the property except by looking at lots and lots of properties. Reasons like the paperwork that has to get done, and the legal liabilities involved if something goes wrong, or the buyer isn't happy, or any of hundreds of other reasons. Not to mention all of the transactions that stop before consummation. Real Estate is the only occupation I'm aware of that anything like the work we routinely do, and doesn't get paid at all if the sale doesn't happen. When discounters work for less pay, the only thing that can give in this whole process is the services they provide.



Developers know all of this very well. They are not charities. They are out to make the largest profit possible. They don't hire discount agents. They hire the best agents they can get, and support them with large advertising budgets, because that gets the properties sold, and for enough more money to more than pay the costs of what they spend. These agents act very friendly, very charming and disarming, and completely ruthless. Developers' strategy of discouraging buyer's agents from being involved is part and parcel of ending up with more money in their own pockets. The only place for the money in their pockets to come from is the pockets of the people who buy from them. If you want to deal with a developer, you want someone on your side who knows enough about real estate and your market to stand up to the experts on the other side.



Caveat Emptor


Hi Dan,
I am a first time home buyer and a big fan of the advice on your blog. I was wondering if you could offer some advice on my current situation. I apologize for sending you this question but I've had many sleepless nights over this and I really respect your opinion.

I've narrowed my search down to two properties, one is a condo in DELETED (where I work) and the other is a new home in DELETED (closer commute for fiance). As a first time buyer I'm looking to stay in this place 5-7 years and then if possible rent it out as an investment.

The new home builder has a 2-1 buy down plan so the rates on a $519,000 5/1 arm would be Year 1: 3.75%, Year 2: 4.75%, Year 3-5: 5.75% on the first mortgage and 9.375 on the 2nd (which I would try to refinance right away).

The condo is $335,000 (a similar model sold on 5/07 for 400,000) and the rates are 7% on the 1st and 8% on the 2nd. Both loans are with 100% financing.

I really like the house but don't wanted to be lured into a larger loan if it might come back to bite me. I would go for the condo if it would be a better investment in the long run but would be sad without a yard. I my income is 94,000 a year and I have good credit, my fiance will also be contributing to the monthly payments.

Thank you for reading my lengthy email, I'd really appreciate your help!

If you really respect my opinion, why haven't you contacted me to act as your buyer's agent and/or loan officer? You are local enough.

I am not going to pass judgment on either property and its worthiness as an investment, its comparative value, etcetera. Those are buyer's agent questions. The real question I can deal with here is numbers: What can you afford? If you can afford both, is the more expensive property worth more money to you?

You make $94,000 per year, which equates to $7833 per month. At a fifty percent debt to income ratio, that is total monthly housing and debt service, you can afford $3916. That's got to cover first, second, taxes, insurance, Mello-Roos and HOA, etcetera, as well as your existing debt. A paper fixed rate firsts allow basically 45 percent, while A paper hybrid ARMs are usually lower, and compute based upon the fully indexed payment, not that low initial payment. Matter of fact, what they're trying to sell you on looks like a Temporary Rate Buydown, so they can sell you the property based upon a low initial payment.

Let's look at these two situations.

On a $335,000 condo, that's a first of $268,000 at 7% and a payment of $1783. On the second, that's a $67,000 second at 8%, which is a payment of $492. At 1.25% (standard California rate) your property taxes would be $349 per month. Insurance is not required for condominiums even though it's both cheap and a really good idea, so it doesn't impact debt to income ratio. On the other hand, there will be HOA dues, and may be other monthly expenses such as Mello-Roos. As long as these, plus your other debts do not exceed your remaining $1292, you're likely to be able to afford it. Add in 75% of whatever your fiance will sign a lease for, as standard allowance for rent, in addition to the $1292. Bottom line, based upon the information provided, it looks likely that you can afford that condo.

On a $519,000 property, that's a first of $415,200 and a second of $103,800. The second gives a straightforward payment of $863. The first has an initial payment of $1923, but that's not the real payment. The real payment is $2423 - $500 more. Nor is this the qualifying payment that an A paper lender will use, which is computed based upon what would happen if that loan hit the end of the five year initial fixed period today. That rate would be 7.125, or a payment of $2797. Yes, I like 5/1 ARMs, but they are perversely harder to qualify for than fixed rate loans. I get that basic California property taxes would be $541, I'm guessing insurance would be about $100. Total is $4301, and we haven't considered Mello-Roos, HOA (if any), or your existing debt. On the plus side, we haven't considered your fiance's contribution, either, but it's not looking good as you're nearly $400 over your monthly total payment limit already, and that's without considering possibly lowered debt to income ratio guidelines.

Now, let me point out a couple of tricks going on here: That temporary buydown isn't free, or even cheap. Nor is 5.75 available on a 5/1 without points right now, from any lender I'm aware of. This developer is not going to do your loan for free just to unload the property, and they used the temporary buydown to make it look like the payment is lower. They came close to hooking themselves a sucker fish, too, from your email. The money to do all of this is coming from somewhere, and the only candidate I'm seeing is the pockets of the buyers. It's almost certainly a waste of money as well as defeating the purpose of a hybrid ARM to pay points and temporary buydowns - and paying them you would be. If not explicitly, through being able to negotiate a lower price on the property without the developer paying for all of that. Which would you rather have: slightly lower payments for a while, or a lowered amount of debt in the first place? They pad the price, so they get more money right away, while paying out a part of it to make the payments look lower for a while. If you offer someone a dollar for thirty cents, most of them will take you up on as many dollars as you have, then turn right around and hand you back a portion of the money you just handed them. When you reduce it to the basic mechanics, that's what is apparently happening here. Of course, the average consumer is clueless about this - all they understand is that they're getting a beautiful property that they didn't think they could afford for an initial payment they're happy with. Well, they really can't afford it, but someone who knows a critical bit more of how the game is played persuaded them they could.

All of this is one more argument why everybody should get a good buyer's agent. If you don't have one, especially in dealing with developers and their lenders, nobody has a fiduciary responsibility to you. That and shopping your loan extensively are the best ways to avoid rude awakenings expensive enough to jeopardize your entire future that there are. In fifteen minutes with a calculator, I may have just saved your financial future. The other side has people whose job it is to get that property sold for the most possible money and make money with that loan, too. They're paid to act like your friend while picking your pocket. If you really want to play that game without someone on your side who knows the same tricks they do, you're a foolhardier braver man than I am, Gunga Din.

Caveat Emptor

Appraisers Petition Against "Make The Deal"



I've spoken about these issues before in this post.



I've certainly heard of plenty of abuse on both sides of this equation, and there is plenty of motivation for lenders to abuse the situation by requiring a higher than "real" appraisal value. Still, I think that by reading only the comments from various appraisers one would get a skewed vision of what is going on.



It is the appraiser's job to do their best to get a value that is useful. Theirs is a service occupation, just as mine is. I don't expect to be paid if I can't help the people with their situation. Sometimes I put in hundreds of dollars and dozens of hours of work and it all falls apart because of something beyond my control. Situations like this are part of being in business for yourself. I don't expect to get paid when I can't help the people. Why does the appraiser?



These houses are selling for these prices. If the last three similar houses in the neighborhood sold for $600,000, then this one is likely worth $600,000 also. When the appraiser tries to tell me a house that I've seen and is immaculate and further upgraded than than any of the last three is worth $150,000 less than those sold for, something is wrong, and it isn't with the house.



Basically, what's wrong is they don't want to work. They want to be able to drive over and pop the customer for the bill and let the chips fall where they may. And if the house is really only worth $450,000, the house is only really only worth $450,000. But most of the time, if they worked a little bit, and maybe chose a different sale to compare to, they could justify the higher appraisal, but they don't want to be bothered.



Let me ask you: Somebody bills you $400 or so for work that doesn't help you and in fact makes all of the work you put in worthless, it makes you feel all happy, right? They knew before they went over and asked for the check that they weren't going to be able to get the necessary value. You know something? I'd be more forgiving of him charging me $400 in those circumstances than charging my client $400. If the appraiser called first, and told me he couldn't get value, that gives me a chance to re-work the loan and save everybody's investment in this by talking to the client before the client has written a check for $400. If I can't get the client to accept the new loan, at least they're not telling people I screwed them out of $400 on the appraisal. That's right, it's the loan provider that gets the blame for this in the customer's mind. If I tell them about a change before they spent $400, they're not going to be as angry, and even if this loan falls apart they're likely to tell people I was honest and saved them from being out $400 rather than that I took their $400 and didn't deliver. As I think you might have gathered by now, I didn't get that $400 - the appraiser who screwed the loan up did. If I can't turn it into a new different loan, the appraiser is out a little bit of work. I've put ten times as much into making this happen. It's much easier to tell the client their house is only worth $450,000 before they've written that check for $400. The check gets written, and the whole thing is gone up in smoke.



The appraiser, understandably, wants to get paid for their work. So do I. All I ever ask is that they don't intentionally waste my client's money. If they can't get value, give me a chance to re-work the loan or find someone who can get value. In some situations on a sale, this allows me a chance to re-negotiate the price down so my client gets a better price on the house they want. If they just make the call that gives me a chance to fix it first, I will use them again. That's the kind of appraiser I want to work with. But do a "hop pop and drop" ("hop on over, pop the customer for the bill, and drop a useless appraisal on the bank") so that they get paid once while I'm stuck with a pissed off customer who is now going to tell all their friends and family what an awful person I am, and I think they've earned a spot on my personal blacklist of appraisers I will never do business with again. I'll forgive it once, maybe even twice, if this appraiser has a history of calling me first and this time it just happened that they couldn't get value when they thought they could. Treating your customers right is part of the requirements of being in business for yourself, and sometimes this means you did some work and didn't get paid. You want a job with a steady income where you don't take any risks, go find something with a w-2 involved, and the only risk you take is being fired. You won't make as much money, but you will get paid for all the work that you do. For as long as they put up with you.



UPDATE: Home values here locally have deflated significantly. Right now, the value the appraiser comes back with is not usually an issue unless there have been a lot of distress sales in the neighborhood. The appraisal is rarely a major issue when prices are deflating, because it works by historical sales. Yes, there could be five identical homes sitting on the market and not selling for $10,000 less; but the last one that actually did sell sold for $20,000 more, and the appraiser works off of actual sales.

A Fixer Worth Fixing!



General: Urban East County, 3 bedroom 1 bath, with attached garage, and a nice large lot! Asking price between $325,000 and $350,000. I think an offer of $310,000 net would get it sold.



Why you should be interested: Detached 3 bedroom home for about the same price 2 bedroom condos are going for in the neighborhood, and you can't beat the schools for anything like the price! Plus it's close to everything!



Selling Points: over an 8000 square foot lot, two car garage.



Why I think it's a potential bargain: This property is a great place to raise a family with great public schools in a nice neighborhood, and priced lower than recent comparable sales.



Obvious caveats: Busy street with traffic noise. Furthermore, the place needs work. However, it should repay your work handsomely!



Why it hasn't sold already: It's ugly on the surface. Old everything. On the other hand, there's money to be made by updating it!



If you keep it ten years and it averages only 5% annual average appreciation per year: Based upon a purchase price of $310,000 the property would be worth approximately $500,000. If you held it those ten years before selling, you would net about $240,000 in your pocket (not including increased value from updates!), assuming zero down payment. As opposed to renting the $1500 per month most comparable currently available rental and investing the difference at 10% per year tax free, you would be approximately $110,000 ahead of the renter, after the expenses of selling.



Fact you should be aware of: You're going to need to work to see a profit.



Obvious way to enhance value or appeal of property: Update everything! Landscape the yard!



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!

Using the Information Found Here

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Yesterday, I checked my referral logs and found an article where somebody was essentially saying "If you want to be depressed, go read this site and then go rent somewhere for the rest of your life".



I can understand where the sentiment is coming from, particularly if they were of the sort of person who wants to meander around occasionally looking at houses until they find one they like, then sign a couple of papers and move in. Lest it not be obvious to you, these are the elements of disaster. I would never put an offer in without looking at at least ten to fifteen properties in the area, without aggressively shopping the mortgage market, or without taking positive steps to insure that I have at least as much leverage over the service providers as they do over me.



The fact is that for most people, the largest transactions of their life are all going to be real estate related. When the average transaction is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and those transactions are so complex as to defy understanding by non-professionals (and some alleged professionals), you have the elements for a system that's going to suffer abuses. Many past abuses have been corrected through the passage of legal impediments, but many others remain, and some are illegal but keep happening anyway (See my article on "What to Beware in Third Party Services" ).



What I am trying to do here (aside from picking up some business) is give you the insider's appreciation for what goes on. To that end, I'm setting out some tools for you to judge your agent's likely performance, and your loan officer's as well, and how to get better performance out of them - one hopes before it's too late. Do not think this gives you the knowledge to do it all yourself, however. It may not be "rocket science", but to pretend you can pick up everything a working professional learns and gets exposed to every day by reading a few articles would be false, and of no service to you. With this information, you can debunk the worst of the nonsense that you are told and get a better bargain for yourself no matter who your real estate agents and loan providers are. I am writing about knowledge that you need to have to understand the system, and I'm not pulling any punches about what goes on, anywhere in the transaction. I'm trying to show you limitations and blind spots in the information you may receive, and show you strategies that put you in a stronger position.



If you're the sort of person who prefers to go on in an "ignorance is bliss" state of mind, the education may be disturbing. Indeed, many people seem determined to go about their real estate (and other) transactions in this state of mind. They resist when I attempt to educate them in the realities of the market, figuratively in the same vein as people who put their hands over their ears and say "la-la-la! I am not listening! la-la-la! I am not listening!" It's like they want to get conned, or at least not having to think about it is worth more to them than the money they're being taken for. Since the money they're being taken for can easily go into five figures whether it's a purchase or a refinance, I find this difficult to believe. If you're making that much, you shouldn't need a loan.



Nobody does loans for free. Nobody does real estate for free (nobody does financial planning for free, legal advice for free, etcetera). "Free" is likely to be the most expensive service of all (This is different from at such a rate that yield spread pays all costs). If something about a loan, a real estate deal, or some aspect of financial planning seems "too good to be true," that should set alarm bells ringing right there. If the payment or interest rate on a prospective loan is nothing like what everyone else is talking about, they are looking to pull a con job on you.



If you're of the school that forewarned is forearmed, what you're reading here should give you the information you need to guard yourself against the deceits in the system. I've done lists of "red flags," warning signs not to do business there, "Questions to ask" that you can print out and take with you, "Salesgoodspeakian to English," debunking of pat phrases used to mislead you and what they really mean. I've given you strategies (apply for back up loans, order the appraisal yourself, don't sign exclusive buyer's agreements, etcetera) that, if adhered to, give you more leverage right down the line. I've gone through what real closing costs are, what points are, and warned you of the dangers of shopping for loans or real estate by what they tell you the payment will be. Most importantly, I've shown you how to keep control of your transaction by being aware at the start of the process what the likely bumps are going to be.



Not everyone in the business does everything I've warned you about. There are ethical providers out there; people like myself who will walk away from business or tell clients the pitfalls if something is not in the client's best interest. You can find us if you look for us. Nor are those who practice otherwise necessarily evil. Real Estate, financial planning, and many other fields are set up such that someone new in the business learns from somebody experienced. In many cases, they've been told "This is the way things are," and they just don't know any better. The person who taught them didn't know any better. It is my aim to ensure that people "know better." The change is not going to come from within the industry - the system is set up for their best advantage, and any one agent or loan provider unwilling to toe the industry line is at a competitive disadvantage, and their business is likely to fail. It's kind of the tragedy of the commons: their own individual behavior shows them nothing to gain, and everything to lose, by full truthful disclosure, and where there are people who do it anyway, we are comparatively few. Therefore, the change must come from outside the industry. So by being knowledgeable consumers and helping yourselves, you provide impetus for practitioners to reform their practices for everyone. It may take a long time, and it may never be complete, but if it's never started I can guarantee it won't get done.

Caveat Emptor

Great Family House on Corner Lot!



General: Urban East County, 3 bedroom 2 bath, with detached garage, beautiful kitchen, huge family room, and great back yard! Asking price between $425,000 and $450,000. I think an offer of $420,000 net would get it sold.



Why you should be interested: It's a nice place to live in a great area with some of the best public schools there are.



Selling Points: Plenty of room for the kids to play in the back yard, and suitable for entertaining as well. Large detached garage with plenty of parking.



Why I think it's a potential bargain: This property is a great place to raise a family with great public schools in a nice neighborhood, and priced lower than recent comparable sales.



Obvious caveats: Cross street is used for getting through the neighborhood, so there is some traffic noise outside.





Why it hasn't sold already: That's a good question. I'm not certain I have a good answer.



If you keep it ten years and it averages only 5% annual average appreciation per year: Based upon a purchase price of $420,000 the property would be worth approximately $680,000. If you held it those ten years before selling, you would net about $320,000 in your pocket (not including increased value from updates!), assuming zero down payment. As opposed to renting the $2000 per month most comparable currently available rental and investing the difference at 10% per year tax free, you would be approximately $170,000 ahead of the renter, after the expenses of selling.



Fact you should be aware of: The front part of the house was built sixty years ago, with a more modern addition.



Obvious way to enhance value or appeal of property: Update the front bedrooms and bathroom.



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!

The Best Loans Right NOW



6.5% 30 Year fixed rate loan, 1 total retail point, and NO PREPAYMENT PENALTIES!. Assuming a $400,000 loan, Payment $2528, APR 6.641! 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 5.75%!



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



Zero closing costs loans also available!



Best 5/1 Loan trade-off: 5.875% 2 total points. Assuming $400,000 loan, payment of $2366, APR 6.106%. 5/1 ARM loans available as low as 5.375%! This is a real loan with a real payment that actually pays your loan down (not an option ARM!), 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

Biweekly Mortgage Spam

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Sometimes spam makes writing an article all too easy.



Here is a piece of spam I got today because my email at work contains "realestate.com", with identifying information taken out. This goes to show that the financial ignorance of most mortgage providers is astounding.





Thank you for your interest in the X Broker Program. Our program is designed to help you provide more value added service for your clients, increase your fee income and help you generate more loans. By simply providing a one page custom amortization and a completed one page enrollment form in your loan packages you will achieve a high enrollment ratio. By illustrating the three key benefits of the Bi-Weekly Payment Program for your clients, they will clearly see that your goal is to help them accomplish their financial goals sooner by saving thousands of dollars in interest, paying off their mortgages 5-10 years early and achieving a low effective interest rate. Please find enclosed an example of a custom calculator and our simple one page enrollment form.





Or the client can just make 13/12 of the regular payment, or make an extra payment once per year, and achieve the same result without any cost. This option without cost lets the customer choose to pay however much extra they can afford that month, or pay nothing extra if they're on a tight budget. As I computed in this article, the fact that you're making payments more often saves you almost nothing. It's the fact that you're making an extra mortgage payment per year that's saving you all that money.



Getting started is easy. All you have to do is pay a one time setup fee of $99. You will be provided with custom online tools and resources as well as training upon request. To sign up, just go to our online broker enrollment form and complete the required fields, shortly after you will receive an email with your broker code user name and password. Please be sure to save this email. Once you have these instructions you will be able to go to X.com and access your custom calculator and other online resources.





So I (the provider) pay a sign up fee of $99 for an internet driven startup. Cha-ching!





The X program is a great value at $395.00. You earn 300.00 on each enrollment, X retains only 95.00. We also charge a $3.75 per debit fee (emphasis mine). Our customers truly appreciate our one-time only enrollment fee, if the client moves, refinances or the loan gets sold, X will simply take them off the system and put them back on with the new loan information. Most customers prefer to pay the enrollment fee and choose the 3 debit option, where we will take an additional 135.00, 130.00 and 130.00 over the first three debits to comprise our one-time fee. We pay commissions on the 15th of the month for all enrollments on the system the month prior. Once you receive your approved broker email you'll be able to start signing up clients immediately.





Now we get to the real meat of what's going on. For me doing the work of signing someone up on the internet, they get $95 to start with, while dangling out a $300 stroke to mortgage providers to betray their clients by getting them to pay for something they could do themselves, with more flexibility, for free.



Then, once this is started, they make $3.75 per transaction, every two weeks, for an automated process that costs them somewhere between $0.25 and $0.50. Great work if you can get it. Three guesses who gets stuck with all the problems if they screw up.



This is one more reason why you want to shop your mortgage around and get multiple opinions. Anybody wants you to pay anything for a biweekly payment program, that is a red flag not to do business with them.



Caveat Emptor.


I found you on the Web after doing some research for my parents regarding short sales and foreclosures. I appreciate your straight talk regarding the whole loan and real estate process which I know they find incredibly intimidating. Right now, they're sort of putting their head in the sand regarding their financial problems. I have been trying to help them stay afloat but it's becoming tight.

My mom received a default letter from the lender last week since she was two months behind. She sent one payment last week and I wrote a check to her lender for this month's mortgage to bring her current. I told her I couldn't do this again. She wants to walk away from the house, I told her "bad idea." My parents can't make the payments anymore and I am wondering if they should sell or refi. Here are the stats:

They've got a 7% fixed for three years which they are about a year and a half into. The payment is plus or minus $3100. The mortgage is $468,000 with a $12,000 pre-payment penalty. I don't know how they got into this mess but seeing her struggle and cry each month is something I can't watch anymore. My father and she (they're in their early 60s) have 2 pensions and 2 Social Security payments they receive each month. They make enough to make their house payment but not enough to cover all the other bills. My mom's logic is - "If I didn't have the house payment I could pay my bills." I tell her that her home is more important, and looking at your articles it seems to me the consequence of not making your mortgage if far worse then not paying credit card and car loan debt. Their credit is good but they don't want the house because the mortgage is so high. They talk of renting but I am afraid if they walk away from the house-the consequences will be dire.

In your experience is their hope? I've offered to refinance with them, the three of us, but would that help? I already own a home with my husband - I imagine there are occupancy restrictions? I have good credit. If they sell, it would be short with the pre-payment penalty. Are their agents that would sell the house? I can't imagine they'd want to since there would be no money for a commission.


Here's the real crux of the matter: These folks owe $468,000 and have a payment of about $3115 at a seven percent interest rate. Those are cold hard facts. As of this writing, there just aren't any loans out there that will help them enough to be worth paying that pre-payment penalty. Oh, someone could do a negative amortization loan that makes it appear as if they can afford the loan for a while - with even more dire long term consequences. Someone could boost their interest rate by maybe a quarter of a percent in order to cut their payment slightly with an interest only payment - but then the hole would stay just as deep as it is, and all interest only payments eventually start to amortize. The longer it is before this happens, the worse the payment shock when it happens. Most interest only loans adjust upwards on the rate at the same time. Sudden forty percent increases are nothing out of the ordinary. Even a longer amortization isn't going to help very much - even assuming the interest rate doesn't change, by the time you add that prepayment penalty in there, you've got a payment of $2982, even assuming no loan costs or fees get rolled in.

The point I'm trying to make is that I can't see a way for them to really be able to afford this property. Matter of fact, I have a very hard time believing that the agent and loan officer who sold them on this situation didn't do something both illegal and unethical along the way, and your parents should consult a real estate attorney about that. Nor is refinancing with you on the loan likely to help. As of right now (July 2007), there just aren't any loans enough better than what they already have to be worth paying both the pre-payment penalty and the cost involved. Not to mention the fact that the appraisal is going to be problematic. Sure, there are appraisers willing to say that property is worth $500,000 when it isn't, but they're going to become a lot fewer very soon. And if you can't afford to make their payment as well as your own, putting yourself on their mortgage is a good way to sink your credit as well as theirs. Then you have problems down the line with your own property.

I sympathize with these folks and you, but the only way they're likely to get rid of unaffordable mortgage payments is to get rid of the property. Unless, of course, they've got enough cash sitting around somewhere to pay their mortgage down enough to make it affordable. However, if they could do that, why didn't they put the money in as a down payment? I'd need more information to be certain, but I strongly suspect that it's time to own up to the truth, which is that they have purchased too much house and they cannot afford it.

With that said, "walking away" is just about the worst thing you can do in most situations. Now the lender has to go through the whole dreary process of foreclosure, with is going to effectively kill their credit for seven to ten years, and might cause the interest rate on any other debt they have to rise. They need a lawyer to advise them on their situation. Anyone in this situation needs a lawyer, and I'm not a lawyer. With that said, the following options are usually better:

You can talk to the lender about the situation. They don't want to foreclose. They don't make money when they foreclose. In fact, they lose it by the railroad carload. If it'll keep them out of foreclosure, chances are good that the lender will agree to a temporary modification of the note while your parents sell the property. They may or may not agree to accept a short payoff as well. It'll depend upon the listing agent and the lawyer. And yes, banks will usually agree to allow agent commissions in short payoff situations - it gets the property sold, which means they lose less money than if it goes all the way through foreclosure and they have to hire an agent anyway.

Another option that can be worth exploring is the Deed in Lieu of Foreclosure. This is where you sign the property over to them in satisfaction of the debt. It has the advantage that it stops future hits to credit. Although Deed in Lieu is itself one of the deadly sins according to mortgage providers, it's not as bad as a Trustee's Sale in most cases, and you don't have all the individual derogatory reports of the late (non-existent!) payments between now and whenever the Trustee's Sale happens.

One thing to warn of is that all of this, except perhaps for the Trustee's Sale, is the cause for a 1099 to be issued for income through debt forgiveness. Your parents will probably owe taxes on this money, so I strongly advise them to consult a tax professional as well (As best I recall, it's ordinary income, the same as if they had earned it working). In some cases, there may be a deficiency judgment as well, while in others there may not be. Nonetheless, this money is likely to be for a much smaller amount than $468,000, so they can probably dig themselves out, given time, and without living completely poverty stricken and without completely torpedoing whatever financial future they may have.

I know you wrote to the loan officer, but with the rates and loans available right now - especially considering the late payments on the mortgage - there's nothing the loan officer can do that actually helps, although there are a lot of loan officers out there who would say they'd help. If they were sitting in my office, it would be time to put on my Realtor hat and talk about selling that property. I wouldn't be happy about it, but the universe doesn't particularly care about making me happy, and it's the best way I see out of a bad situation.

Caveat Emptor

On a very regular basis, pretty much every buyer's agent who's worth anything gets clients who have difficulty making a decision. Not too long ago, I found a solid property with great potential that nonetheless needed about $20,000 of cosmetic work. In short, right now it was ugly and unappealing, but it had a WOW! view and it was priced $100,000 below a model match a few doors down. They looked at the property five times over the course of a month, and just as I finally had them willing to make an offer, somebody else put in an offer that was accepted.



Immediately, the property went from something they were reluctantly willing to consider living in to something they had to have, but at that point it was too late. The owners were already under contract. Unless the transaction fell apart - and it didn't - there was nothing anyone could do. Real estate needs one willing seller and one willing buyer. If someone else gets there first, you don't get the property. The seller's side has its own version - whomever competes the best for a given buyer wins. There are no prizes for second place.



There is no such thing as a perfect property. Unless you have an unlimited budget - and no one has an unlimited budget - there are always trade-offs. Trade-offs in the form of location, or amenities, or most obviously, price. You've probably heard trite little sayings like "paralysis through analysis" and the pithy "you snooze, you lose." They're trite because they're true. You must be willing to act when things aren't perfect in order to get any benefit. If you aren't willing to act in a timely fashion, you get nothing. The better the situation, the more risk there is of someone jumping in before you. Yes, sometimes this means you're at risk of being conned. There is no way to completely eliminate that risk. If you're only willing to jump into the perfect situation when all risk has been eliminated, you are wasting your time. Somebody else is going to jump first. The only way you're even going to buy - or sell - anything in those circumstances is if you're the victim of a scam. Reward is necessarily coupled with willingness to work and to accept risk.



This isn't just my clients. Seems like every time I've taken something "Pending", the listing agent gets calls from people who are suddenly interested. I finished a transaction back in April where one suddenly interested buyer called the listing agent literally every day while it was in escrow. He was wasting his time. Once it's in escrow, you're too late. Unless it falls out, something that's not under your control, that property is committed to someone else. But it seems like the mere fact that someone wants it brings prospective buyers out of the woodwork, now that they can't have it. Kind of like sibling rivalry, only even more pointless.



I've dealt with several families over the last few months who want to buy, but are convinced the market is heading down further. Fear and Greed is keeping them on the sidelines while the ratio of sellers to buyers has dropped from 42 at this same point last year to 34 last week. This ratio is the best measure of supply to demand ratio there is, and the most important indicator of the direction of the market. I did think we might see a stronger turn this year, but it looks like we're about where we're going to be until the Christmas season. Even during the most gonzo seller's market we've ever had, this ratio was about 4:1, and anything under about 12 or 15 to 1 indicates a seller's market. Furthermore, people who want to buy is building linearly with time, while the ranks of people who need to sell has already seen the strongest influx it's going to have. The main change that's coming up is properties switching from short sales pre-foreclosure to lender-owned post foreclosure. On the buyers' side, everybody is crowding around, trying to get someone else to be the test penguin (1). On the seller's side, there is only so much desperation out there. Eventually, the buyers who are trying to get someone else to be the test penguin are going to realize that the people buying now are not getting eaten - in fact, just about the furthest thing from it - and they will jump in, en masse. My best estimate at this point for when the big jump is going to happen is next spring. If you're still sitting on the shore when that happens, all the best food - by which I mean best bargains - will be gone, and the market will have turned.



All real estate is only "good while supplies last." For sellers, this includes supplies of willing buyers. Since there is rarely more than one of property in a group, bargains only last until one person pulls the trigger. The easier the bargain to spot, the shorter the period to act. Even the hardest one to spot does not have an indefinite shelf life. Real estate is not like war, where if you don't attack the enemy, the enemy will attack you. So a bad plan now doesn't trump a perfect plan two weeks from now. But a good plan, acted upon in a timely fashion beats a perfect plan that waits just a little too long.



Caveat Emptor







(1) Penguins don't jump into the water immediately. Instead, they crowd around the entrance to the water, and avoid being the first in, due to the possible presence of predators. However, eventually one penguin gets pushed in by the others. If he doesn't get eaten, the other penguins quickly follow. It is to be noted that those positioned to respond quickly, and hence most likely to be shoved in as "test penguins" also have the best shot at whatever food may be present.

It seems every week I get asked about some new or revived trick that loan providers are pulling. The one thing they all have in common is that they are methods to avoid competing on price. What the basic terms are and how much it will cost you.



First of the big weapons in most loan provider's arsenal is the tendency to most folks have to shop loans based upon payment. Payment has no intrinsic relationship to interest rate, which is what the money is really costing you. But if you do tell people "$510,000 loan for $1498 per month" most people assume that payment covers the loan charges even though it doesn't. People who can afford $1500 per month payments go buy $510,000 properties based upon these payments, and only after they've signed the papers do they figure out that the catch is their balance owed is increasing by $2500 per month! negative amortization loans are the obvious problem here, but less ethical loan providers also use this fact to push interest only loans and temporary buydowns and loans that cost so much in discount points that it would take fifteen years to recover the cost through lower payments - and that is based upon straight line computation, not taking into account the time value of money.



The second tool is the desire of most folks to get something for nothing, or at least appear to get something for nothing. This covers not only Mortgage Accelerators, but also Prepayment penalties and biweekly payment schemes and even debt consolidation. They show you an actual method whereby you might hypothetically have your mortgage or debts paid off in a fraction of the time and without apparent discomfort or compromising your lifestyle if you fit their profile and stick with their program. The slight of hand here is two-fold. First, these are distractions, and if you examined competitive products, you can tack these allegedly neat features onto just about any loan or do it yourself, while they're acting like their programs are somehow unique when they're not. Second, these programs see the lion's share of the benefits at least five years out - when for all practical purposes, nobody sticks with the program that long. I lumped pre-payment penalties in here, because they are an often hidden charge that brings the lender more money down the line when you refinance before it expires, or immediately when they sell your loan on the secondary market, but they don't show up anywhere on the loan paperwork as a figure in dollars you are being charged. at the time you agree to the loan. Nonetheless, most folks who accept pre-payment penalties end up paying them, and they are real dollars you end up paying.



The third tool in their arsenal is that if the cost of something isn't explicitly disclosed, most people will assume it's zero. If there's not an actual dollar figure associated with something, many people think it's somehow free. Many loan providers feel no need to disclose escrow charges, or lenders title insurance, among others. They'll mark it "PFC" as if they don't know how much it's going to be. The net result, as I've said before, is that you end up thinking that "$2495 plus third party charges and two of these points things" is cheaper than the provider who tells you they're going to deliver the exact same loan for $6000 all told (on a $300,000, loan, you're looking at over $10,000 worth of charges from the provider who didn't quote a total figure in dollars. People gripe about "junk fees" when the costs are real, but they've been deliberately lowballed. There never was a chance that they would end up not paying those fees - and they're high dollar value fees - but by not associating a dollar figure with these fees, less than ethical providers are causing people to think they're either free or something comparatively small, like the $2 per tire waste disposal fee.



All of these tricks feed upon ignorance. Ignorance of what they are really doing, ignorance of how financial markets work. The fact of the matter is that nobody is going to do a loan for free. There's a very hard line where it's not worth my while to do a loan - I'd rather spend the time doing something else. Same thing with every other provider in the known universe. For some providers it's more than others, while for other providers, it's less. Everyone wants to make more money for the same amount of work. Competing on price is not a way to get a high number of dollars per loan - so they will do everything in their power to avoid competing on price. But there really isn't any other reason to choose a loan, other than that it's offering the same terms at a better price. A loan is a loan is a loan, as long as it's on the same terms at the same price. It's not like one loan is a Jaguar while another is a Prius and a third is a Mustang, or one is a Craftsman while another is a Colonial and a third is a Cape Cod.



Loan providers that don't compete based upon price compete based upon hiding the gotcha!, or pretending it's not important. If you understand the gotcha! associated with a particular loan, and are fine with it, that's great. If you don't understand the gotcha! chances are that it's going to bite hard.



Caveat Emptor


My husband and I are currently in escrow with the sale of our home in California. Our buyers have been " difficult" to say the least. The buyers appraisal of our property came in $6,000 below the selling price which won't make a difference to their lender because the buyers are putting
50% down. Of course, they started threatening us saying, "you need to issue us a $6,000 credit since the appraisal came back $6,000 below our agreed upon price." We paid for a second appraisal through a company that was lender approved. The second appraisal came back $3,000 above the purchase price. We have 2 questions:

Is their lender required to accept or at least consider this second appraisal or can they simply disregard it?

If the buyers try to use the appraisal clause against us to get out of the deal, can we keep their earnest money since we have a documented appraisal showing a value of $3,000 above the agreed upon price on the contract?

Thank you for your insight and expertise.

There are three things to consider here: The contract, potential scams, and what's really important.

The standard purchase contract has two clauses directly relating to this question. The first is the loan contingency, the second is the appraisal contingency. The first isn't really a factor in your case, but it often is, as a failure to appraise can torpedo the loan if the down payment isn't very much. If these buyers needed 100% financing, that would be a dead contract as it's written because the lender isn't going to finance over 100% of the appraised value. The second, more relevant clause in your case is the appraisal contingency. It states that the transaction, as negotiated, is contingent upon the property appraising for the official purchase price. There's an argument to be made that your appraisal is enough to cancel that contingency, but in practice, appraisals can be had for inflated amounts quite easily. If the seller being able to obtain an appraisal for the sale price was the relevant condition, I'm not sure there would ever be a property that would fail to appraise again. Spend $400 for your own appraisal and keep a $5000 deposit. Nice work if you can get it. Acting as a buyer's agent, I would never accept a seller's appraisal under any circumstances. This may be news to all of those who put "Appraised for $X!" in the listing, but there are too many ways to get an inflated appraisal. Point of fact, it's usually someone trying to justify a higher asking price than the market will support. It's never a reason for me to consider a property, and can be a reason why I shouldn't.

To be fair, buyers can get low appraisals too, which leads us into the second subject: potential scams. You're in California. There just aren't many properties I'm aware of in California where $9000 difference is a major percentage of the selling price. If you were somewhere where the average house sells for $40,000, this would be cause for concern. Flipping for an extra 22 percent profit! But when the average property sells for $400,000, it's just too small an amount to be worth scamming someone over. Not that it's an amount to be sneezed at, or impossible, but I just can't see someone running a scam for only 2.25% of the sales price. If this was a scam, I'd expect $30,000 or more in difference. This is too small a difference to be a likely scam in the real world.

Speaking of the real world, what's really important is your market. How many sellers per buyer, how long properties like yours are sitting in your area, what they're selling for when they do sell. Note that I didn't say what the asking price is. Any twit can put an asking price that's 20% too high on a property, and quite a few do - it's a great way to get listings from owners who don't know any better. It's called "buying a listing." The important data have to do with actual sales. Not pending sales, not the pipe dreams of "For Sale By Owner" properties, not what the model match next door is asking, but what they are actually selling for. Coin of the realm passing out of the buyer's hands. A willing buyer is a necessary component of every sale, just as a willing seller is. If you just want to list your property, you don't care about a willing buyer. If you actually want to sell, you need one.

The good news is that you appear to have one. The bad news is that they don't want to pay the amount on the contract any longer. Well, buyer's remorse strikes a lot of folks, but the stronger their buyer's agent, the more they're going to get that out of their system before they make an offer. On the flip side of that is that the stronger the buyer's agent, the more focused they are on value.

Against this situation, you've got to ask how likely it is you're going to find a better buyer soon enough such that you net more money off the sale. If the property is vacant and your carrying costs are $3500 per month, this buyer now will still net you more money than a different buyer who pays the amount on your appraisal three months from now. I only know the San Diego market, and if you're here, why am I not involved in the transaction? But no matter which way you decide, you're taking a risk. Some people will just take the money and run because they're unlikely to have their face rubbed in the fact that they were wrong - the property is sold and future offers are a waste of everyone's time - but that's a putrid way to make a multi-thousand dollar decision. Actually, it's not just a multi-thousand dollar decision. It's potentially the full value of the property and your credit rating as well for years if you default. If you've had a Notice of Default recorded on the property or something worse, they're being a lot nicer than some folks to only mess with you for $9000.

My point is this: There are potential upsides and downsides to every possible decision you can make in this situation. Can I tell you which way to jump? Not without more information. Will I tell you which way to jump? I don't risk my license and my livelihood for free. It's your agent's job to do that. If you're representing yourself, you've just run smack into one of the lesser reasons not to.

Matter of fact, whomever your agent is, the information you've provided draws a pathetic picture of their competence. There could be exculpatory information out there, but this is all basic, "hit the ball with the bat" level stuff that anyone who's been in the business three weeks should be able to deal with, and if they're that new, their supervising broker should have explained it to them, if their supervising broker had a clue themselves. If this transaction falls apart, go find an agent who knows what they're doing. Nor am I impressed with the buyer's agent from the information provided. When something goes wrong, telling the other side "you have to" is a good way to kill a transaction that can usually be saved. You don't have to do anything. You could tell them to take a long walk off a short pier. How smart it is depends upon factors I can't see from here. But this is why negotiation is the biggest factor in the game of real estate. Some folks won't, some folks can't, some folks just don't know how. They're going to suffer unless their agent does. Because all the preparation and work I do is wasted if I don't negotiate effectively. Any twit can say, "No," and quite a few do. They're hosing themselves if it's the wrong answer. The opposing fact is that the transaction doesn't start until you have an agreement, and if the other side believes they've been hosed, they can usually get out of it if they really want to.

Caveat Emptor

Housing Bubble

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(This was originally written in July 2005, but still has a lot of relevance)



On someone's website:





"Besides once in California, which completely recovered in a short period of time, by the way, can someone please show me an example of a "Housing Bubble" that burst that did not completely recover within a few (i.e., 3-10) years?



"Housing Bubbles" were invented by stock brokers, and real estate remains, and will almost assuredly remain, your absolute best investment."







(me again)



Actually, California pricing has reliably gone through cycles within my lifetime. We have hit the peak of the fifth one I remember (1991 was the last peak, which makes this the longest period between peaks ever. Previous peaks were mid 80s, about 1978, about 1970, and one when I was very young), and started a downslide. Right now it is primarily the higher end properties which have been hit, but it's starting to push the middle down as well. It is important to note that with the exception of the slide of 1929 to 1932 (when real estate prices fell, as well, and didn't come back to 1929 levels in most of the country until after the war), the stock market has not had a slump which it didn't come back from within ten years, either. Furthermore, when you consider returns uncorrected for leverage, the stock market reliably outperforms real estate over the long term.



In fact, nobody that I'm aware of has said that anyone who intends to buy and hold for years cannot make money - a lot of it - in the current market, even if prices do fall for a while. The problem is in the formerly large number of people looking to buy a property with the intent of "flipping" it for a quick profit. As the ability to buy your average property with the goal of selling it in six months for a substantial profit even after paying transaction costs is just about dead, so too are those deals that would have been made by those buyers. This has the effect of reducing marginal demand, and voila!, the prices are starting to slip. I (and every other bubble proponent out there that I have read) am confident that the prices will come back eventually. The question now, as in the stock market bubble that ended in 2000, will be how long it will take to come back and how far down it's going to go. Right now, lots of people are still down more than 50% from the stock market peak in March 2000. If they need to retire, or need the money for some other reason now, they are stuck. The same goes with housing, which due to the increased leverage of the investment can be much better when it's good to much worse when it's bad. There are at least three "short sales" (where proceeds will not cover obligations) in process in my office right now. If you can't hang on, it does not help you that prices will come back eventually. There's an awful lot of "Negative Amortization" loans out there that will be coming up on recast in the next 18 months, as well as "interest only" loans where the people just cannot afford the amortized payment. Be prepared for problems when they do, as this is going to significantly enlarge the supply (Inventory in many markets is over 200 percent of last years levels already, and mean time on market is even higher as number of transactions slips). The fact that prices have slipped will place many people temporarily upside down, and so unable to make their payments and unable to refinance when their loan adjusts or starts amortizing. Expect foreclosures to further increase the supply of available units.



If you are heavily leveraged on a short term loan (total loans against property total over 70% of current value, and most especially over 80%), I seriously suggest refinancing it into a longer term fixed rate loan now, while appraisers can still find justifiable comparables that use peak real estate values. It is entirely likely that any property which has changed hands in the last couple of years, at least here in urban or urban fringe California (and many other markets, as well), is going to end up upside down for an unknowable period of time.



I am a Loan Officer and Real Estate Agent, and still have current financial licenses which I have not yet abandoned. Real Estate Bubbles are not "invented" by stock brokers; the just ended bull market run in housing was the longest in recent memory partially due to peripheral psychological factors on behalf of investors "chasing returns" in what many will tell them is a "safe market", as well as things having to do with the financial aftermath of 9/11 as well as overcompetitiveness on the part of many pieces of the financial market, most particularly the subprime and Alt-A market. As a particular prediction, when the fall off from the current market is over and done with, I wouldn't expect there to be any lenders willing to go 100 percent on the value of a property for quite some time. There are many people out there too young to remember previous housing cycles, and partially for this reason and partially because the housing markets are more heavily leveraged than at any point since the Depression, I expect to be in for a couple of UGLY years.



I would be delighted to be wrong. Nobody will be happier than me if you can crow at me in a few years time "Told ya!" But I see what I see, and I won't lie about it to anyone (especially not clients) simply because it makes it easier to earn a commission. If you happen to be in the real estate business, be very careful what you tell your clients, or, at least in California, you'll likely wish you had.



Both real estate and the stock market go through periodic downturns. The question is not if, but "when" and "how much" and "how long." You always need a place to live, and you can make money if you invest prudently in any market, and the permitted leverage upon real estate together with favorable tax treatment gives it an advantage that's hard to beat. I had clients make double digit positive returns in each of 2000, 2001, and 2002 in the stock market, too. They were the ones who didn't get greedy (2003 was a rising tide that lifted all boats. It isn't genius when everybody makes 25%). Even in this market, you can make money on real estate, just like you could in the stock market when it was sliding.



In both cases, "time in" counts for more than "timing", but that's not the mentality you encounter in the average client. See my post Getting Rich Quick In Real Estate and Cold Hard Numbers for more information, but although real estate can be the best possible investment if you handle it correctly, it is not liquid. In fact, it is just about the least liquid investment you can make. You cannot go to your real estate person, as you can to a financial person, and say "liquidate it for cash" and expect to have a check for market value within a few days. You have to find a willing buyer. This is one reason for the existence of the "bigger fool theory," and sometimes that bigger fool doesn't come along when you need him to.






Getting Rich Quick in Real Estate

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On a very regular basis these days, I'm running into people who took paid money for a get rich quick seminar and are looking to buy property for zero down and immediately sell it for a $50,000 profit. Somebody With A Testimonial Told Them How It Could Be Done.



Sorry folks but the people with the real secrets to getting rich don't sell them for $199 at the Holiday Inn. They didn't do it five years ago during the stock market bubble, and they're not doing it now in real estate. As I told people a few years ago in the stock market, don't confuse a rising frothy market with investment genius. And that rising frothy market has now changed. Deals like that do happen, even now with the market slipping. But they're always less common than the People With Testimonials will admit, and they are snapped up quickly. Usually they never make it as far as the Multiple Listing Service. Before they're even entered into the database of available properties, they are sold, and they rarely fall out of escrow because the people who buy them know what they are doing.



Consider, for a moment, yourself on the opposite side of the transaction. You're not going to intentionally sell your valuable property for less than it is worth, are you? And if you're buying, you're certainly not going to pay more than market value, are you? Remember that Wile E. Coyote ended up at the bottom of the canyon under a rock for more reasons than that the Author was on The Other Side. "Super Genius!" Says so right there on the label. But betting large amounts of money on the Stupidity Of The Other Side is a mark's game.



About the only reliable source of "quick flips" for profit are distress sales. In no particular order, most of these are people in foreclosure, estate sales where neither the estate nor the heirs can keep the payments up long enough to sell normally, and where somebody's been transferred and has to sell now.



These people get mobbed by prospective buyers, and by agents looking to represent them in the sale. Everybody wants something for nothing, and one of each group is going to get it. One agent is going to get a transaction where if it gets as far as the MLS, all he's got to do is type it in and bingo, the buyers will line up. One buyer is going to get to buy below market. Usually, they're the same person. The multimillionaire brokers all usually each have at least one going on.



The issue for these buyers in distress sales that is rarely addressed until it gets to actually making the deal is that they're going to need a certain amount of cash that they are prepared to lose. Putting myself in the position of the person who has to sell, I'm not going to give this person the sole shot at buying if I'm not pretty certain he can deliver. The only way to measure this is cash - how much they can put down on the property. How much of a deposit they can make that I can keep if they can't qualify. Remember that in this case the one thing a distress seller cannot afford is a buyer who can't consummate the deal quickly - unless the seller is going to get to keep something substantial for the experience. If you don't want to buy on those terms, than at that price someone else will. The multimillionaire real estate brokers, for instance. There are a lot of people who make a very good living at foreclosures because they go around from foreclosure to foreclosure offering cash for a below market price. Matter of fact, they pretty much saturate the foreclosure market. The chances of a seller in this position accepting an offer without a substantial cash forfeiture for nonperformance are basically identical to the chances of them having a listing agent that doesn't understand the situation. And quite often, that listing agent makes an offer himself or herself.



Get religion about this next point: There is ALWAYS a reason for a low asking price. Usually, a noticeably low asking price should be even lower than it is. Unless they're a philanthropist looking for some random person to donate money to, this seller wants to get as much for the property as they can. What they're hoping for is a buyer who doesn't know what a really bad situation they're getting into. "A cracked slab? How bad could it be?" is probably the classic example of this. These sellers have been dealing with the situation. They've had a reason to become intimately familiar with the problems. They're hoping for an unsuspecting buyer whose agent wants an easy transaction and will not explain to them, or simply does not know, what those buyers are getting themselves into. I could certainly keep my mouth shut and do more transactions, easier, if I didn't take the time to tell my buyers everything I know about what they're getting into. The universe knows that most of these good deeds don't go unpunished. But that's what I'm theoretically getting paid for, and as often as I do my job and it causes them to get angry and I don't get paid, it's preferable to the eventual consequences of not doing the whole job and getting paid for it.



There's a newsletter I get from the State of California every three months. It's always got a long list of people who are losing their licenses. So if your agent tries to really explain something like this, listen to them. They're not trying to talk you out of the Deal Of The Century so that Someone Else can get it (the Deal of the Century in real estate comes around surprisingly often if you can afford it). They're trying to make certain you go in with your eyes open. It's likely to be a better agent than the guy who thinks "Okay, I've told you that the hill is known to be unstable, so I'm covered. It's not my fault that you didn't instantly understand all of the implications."



The typical property where there is real potential for quick profit is going to require work. Work as in physical labor that you're going to have to do, or pay someone else to do. Not to be sexist, but "The husband died (or became disabled) and the wife couldn't keep it up," is a cliché because it is so common. Sometimes the work is easy - carpet, new paint, clean up the yard and bingo! The property jumps five or even ten percent in value! Sometimes the work is harder, and the profit is larger. And sometimes the buyer is basically going to have to tear the house down and start over. There is always a reason why the seller didn't do the work so they could make the profit themselves. Sometimes it's because they're lazy, sometimes it's because they can't. Sometimes it's because the work was risky, sometimes because it was expensive, and sometimes it's because the seller can get some poor fool to buy it who doesn't realize that they're going to have to make an investment that isn't worth the payoff.



Caveat Emptor


Many people are uncertain as to what closing costs are.



Basically, they relate to the costs of doing the transaction. There are people who work on getting your loan through the process of approval and funding, and those people have got to be paid. Anytime you're talking about a fee for a service that needs to be performed in order to get a loan done, that's a closing cost. This includes even origination, which is normally quoted in points, as the fee that the loan provider takes for getting the loan done. Not all loans have origination fees, but I'd say that in excess of 95 percent of all subprime loans and at least two thirds of all A paper loans nationally do.



Every loan has closing costs. They are a fact of life. You can choose to accept a higher rate on your loan such that the lender will agree to pay your closing costs, but that is not the same thing as not having them. Indeed, you should be very wary of someone quoting you significantly lower closing costs that anyone else.



When you are talking about closing costs, the vast majority of all loan providers will pretend that so-called "third party" fees such as title, escrow, attorney fees in the states that use attorneys, appraisal, and notary fees do not exist. They will mark them "PFC" on the MLDS and then act all surprised when you complain about these extra fees that weren't on your beginning paperwork. I regularly have people tell me before they sign up for a loan that my fees seem high, compared to what everyone else is telling them. The difference, of course, is that I'm telling them about all the third party fees and the other folks they are talking to are doing their best to pretend those fees don't exist. They not only exist, but you're going to pay them as a part of any loan. Who would you rather do business with, someone who pretends it's going to cost you half as much as it will, or someone who tells you the real cost right at the start?



Now the critical difference between recurring and nonrecurring closng costs in that non-recurring happen once, to do your loan, and then they are done. Recurring closing costs are those things that happen every month, like interest, property taxes, insurance, and the impounds for doing them, if applicable. Mellow-Roos and homeowners association dues also fall within the definition of recurring, but those items I just named are about the extent of the recurring closing costs. Pretty much everything else is non-recurring. For example, you only need one appraisal, one notary fee, one escrow, and one title insurance policy per loan.



One thing that is often counted as a closing cost that should not be are discount points, which instead of being a charge for a service are a charge by the bank to give you a better rate than you would otherwise get. There is always a tradeoff between low rate and low cost. The lender will give you a lower rate if you pay for it, but they won't give it to you free.



Many times, folks buying a home get an allowance from the seller for Closing costs, and the wording can be critical. Non-recurring closing costs are far more limited than recurring, and just the impound account can add thousands of dollars to what you, as the seller, end up paying if you agree to recurring closing costs. It's up to you how bad you want to sell the property, but a buyer who needs you to pay recurring closing costs is likely not a very qualified buyer, and their loan is pretty likely to experience snags. I counsel my sellers to insist on substantial deposits and sharply limited escrow periods in such cases, and if the buyer is allowed discount points as part of what you're willing to pay, count on the fact that they are going to use the entire allowance you give them. If the buyer has a choice of allowing you to keep some of that money or buying themselves a lower rate, which also means lower payments, what do you think they're going to do?



Caveat Emptor (and Vendor).

Most of the time, I'm talking and writing about the sort of loan the average borrower is looking for. Up to 125% of the single unit conforming loan limit of $417,000, which works out to $521,250, A paper guidelines are pretty much determined by Freddie and Fannie. There really aren't many breakpoints in policy. Some lenders charge extra for loans under $100,000 or so, but it's really all the same program. Even in pricey Southern California, this is most transactions. Even if you don't have a down payment, anything above 80% Loan to Value Ratio is going to get split into a conforming first and a second for the remainder, so you're still dealing with Fannie and Freddie. If Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac will buy the loan, the lender is happy with it. An acceptance from either of their automated underwriting programs is normally good as gold for getting the loan through. My lowest "no points" conforming rate is currently 6.875, which for a $522,000 property with no second loan, just property taxes and insurance, and no other debt, you'd have to be making $7550 per month to qualify for that loan, or $90,600 per year. Most people, even without debts, don't make that much. Add in an average amount of household debt, a higher rate second mortgage, and increase the loan amount, and you're looking at roughly $10,000 per month to qualify, even without the fact that the maximum allowable debt to income ratio decreases.



However, once you get above dollar amounts that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will buy, each lender has their own criteria for the so-called "Jumbo" loans. This used to be a lot more of a factor in 2003 and 2004 when the conforming limits were $322,700 and $333,700, respectively, and still a significant factor in 2005 when the conforming limit was $359,650 and the market was still hot. When the average purchase price is in excess of $500,000 and even 80% of it is well over the conforming loan limit, you've got yourself a jumbo. Furthermore, scenarios that would be perfectly acceptable A paper below the conforming limit - because Fannie and Freddie will buy them, thereby assuming the risk - can often be forced to go sub-prime once you get into jumbo territory. For instance, from one lender whom I've done 100% A paper with below the conforming limit, they won't touch 100% financing once it gets above $417,000. If your first loan amount is for $418,000 and you want 100% financing, your choices are 1) do it sub-prime 2) Find a down payment of at least 5% somewhere, or 3) find some other A Paper lender that will do 100% jumbos. Right now, with the lenders in a panic, that's tough.



Regular jumbos go up to about $650,000 or $750,000. These numbers haven't changed much in at least five years, and we're getting to the point where jumbo limits need to rise. It's one thing when it covers a huge band from $322,700 to $650,000. It's getting to be something else when the band has constricted at the bottom so that it doesn't start until $417,000. Let the conforming loan maximum get boosted again, and regular jumbo loans may become more rare than they are.



Above jumbo loan amounts is "super jumbo" territory. Now instead of being willing to go to 95% financing, albeit full documentation only, 90% is as high as this particular lender will go. Matter of fact, in order to find a 100% program in super jumbo territory, I have to go to Alt-A programs, which is no longer A paper.



What's going on here? Quite simply, higher dollar value properties are harder to sell, and there's more risk of taking at least something of a loss on them. Furthermore, the lender is risking a higher number of their own dollars. They want the borrower to have some serious skin in the game to motivate them not to lose it. You can find lenders willing to go 100%, even now with the lenders in full panic mode. It will be expensive, no matter how good your credit, no matter how much you make. We can make things better by splitting the loans, but even so, expect the subordinate loans to have rates well into the double digits. Furthermore, you can bet on there being a pre-payment penalty on at least one of the loans, while if you bring a satisfactory down payment to the table, you can find rates that are much better, and without a pre-payment penalty. For example, using the same rate sheet, the add to the jumbo rates is 3/8ths of a point for super jumbo, which means you can have the same rates as a jumbo loan for an additional charge, or go up maybe an eighth of a percent on the rate for the same charge. 3/8ths of a point doesn't sound like much, but when you're talking $800,000 loans, it's a $3000 one time fee, or about $1000 extra per year in interest. However, since in order to qualify for an $800,000 loan at 7%, you've got to be making about $14,000 per month not including the effects of property taxes, homeowner's insurance, or other debts - probably around $18,000 minimum salary per month to qualify with those included - these are not loans for even your average white collar worker.



At $1,000,000 in loan amount, there's another break point in lender policy. For instance, the lender I've been covering closest won't touch anything above 80% financing. Period, end of sentence. Not as a first, not with a piggyback second, not at all. For A paper lenders, that's actually kind of generous. The next two A paper sheets I pulled out max out at 70% Loan to Value above a million. This means come in with 20 to 30% down payment - or go sub-prime, with higher rates and pre-payment penalties. When you're talking about million dollar loan amounts, pre-payment penalties can fund a fairly high end car. For instance, if you have (pinky finger extended, Dr. Evil style) one million dollars at 8%, a standard pre-payment penalty of six months interest is $40,000. Once again, these are not loans for your average person. Even if you have no other debts, by the time you get done with property taxes and homeowner's insurance, you're looking at $24,000 monthly income to qualify. Still, it's nearly two months income for a pre-payment penalty!



Just in case my readers include a significant number of the richest hundredth of a percent of the world population, there are usually break-points at 1.5 million, 2 million, and 3 million as well, and that's if the lender goes that high. The biggest residential loan I've ever done doesn't get into these categories. In practice, the rule seems to be the bigger the house, the bigger the down payment they have, not only in absolute terms but also in terms of percentage. If I got a request for a loan that big, I'd just go ask the wholesale executives if they can do it, and what it's going to take. I have a suspicion that most loans of this size end up being commercial loans in all but name, or perhaps even in name.



Nor is it just the guidelines that get tougher. Underwriting gets trickier the higher up on the scale you go. Loans with characteristics that would be a slam dunk if they were conforming become nightmares above the million dollar line. What's going on, of course, is that the underwriter is more reluctant to sign their name to a loan commitment that exposes the lender to five times as much loss. People get fired when those go sour, and they don't give out a whole lot of second chances for high dollar loan amounts going south. So when they write that commitment, that underwriter is going to make very certain all of their bases are covered.



Pretty much every loan program in existence has a maximum dollar value, above which the lender offering it has decreed that it does not exist. Sub-prime breakpoints are different from A paper - half a million and two million are the most common breakpoints there - but I've never found a loan program from any lender that didn't have a maximum dollar value they'd lend under that program. Even hard money lenders have maximum dollar amounts they'll lend, price and policy and underwriting breakpoints. The average person really has no need to be aware of these breakpoints, but if you do start hitting them, you'll figure it out in a hurry. Things that are easy on conforming loan amounts sometimes cannot be done at all once you're no longer in conforming loan territory.



Caveat Emptor

An e-mail I got from a single mother I spent two months working with before she found a special low income program for a property she wouldn't have been able to afford through me. The first paragraph is her addition to me on the front of a forwarded message. I've redacted information that might lead to specific identification of the culprits.



(I haven't been paid anything on this, nor did I expect to be, despite the fact that they told her that I would be to close the deal. She felt obligated to me, but who wants to stand in the way of a single mom finding and affording a better property?).





Dan - This is an FYI. I really wouldn't recommend this program for any of your other clients, or if you do get them involved that you warn them that things stand a good chance of not going as promised. Judging by what is happening to me, I doubt that you ever received your commission from these people.



-----Original Message-----



Good Morning DELETED,



My name is DELETED and I've purchased a condo at DELETED. My close date was supposed to be June 28th. On June 28th I went to DELETED Title and signed off on all the final paperwork and had my bank wire them over $7,000.00. My first scheduled move-in date was on Friday, June 29th. I had to cancel (the move - DM) because it wasn't recorded yet. On Saturday, June 30th I drove over to the DELETED Sales office (my phone and internet has been shut off and transferred) and spoke with DELETED. My next scheduled move-in date was Monday, July 2nd from noon - 4 pm. I asked him if I had to change my plans again and he said "No - because you were supposed to close on the 28th of June and I can go online and see that you have wired your money and completed your paperwork I am going to make an exception and give you your key and let you move in on Monday."



Early Monday morning (we) started bringing all of our boxes and furniture downstairs. At 9 am I rented a U-haul. At 11:30 I went over to the Sales office for my key. I had scheduled someone to pickup and deliver the appliances I purchased for 12:30 pm. (The person who had promised the move in) was "in a meeting" and nobody seemed to know anything about my key. By 1 pm I was quite upset because I still had no answers and only 3 hours left to accomplish my move in.



DELETED sent someone down to try and make things right. I don't think a sobbing woman in their office was very good for business. They went over to the Uhaul place and had the truck reserved until Friday of this week and bought a lock for it. They told me that they would pay my rent and that I could get reimbursed for food if I kept the receipts. Hopefully they will really do this. (it occurred to me later that they also promised me a key and broke that promise) DELETED is calling DELETED (Title officer) twice a day for a status update and what they keep telling me is that the paperwork from the City has not yet been received.



Can you tell me if there is a reason for this and when I might expect this paperwork to be completed?



I'm in a bit of a panic now (to put it mildly) because I need to be out of the apartment so they can clean and paint it over the weekend. I have so little information, I don't know whether to put my things in storage, board my pets and get a hotel for my son and myself. This is also very stressful because most of my money is tied up in the condo and I'm bleeding what little money I have left....sleeping in an apartment on my couch and hoping that the truck on the street in front of my complex doesn't get ticketed or worse yet robbed. Hauling everything back up two flights of stairs was pretty much out of the question (For health reasons - DM).



I feel absolutely miserable. It would be quite ironic to wind up homeless after all this.



If you can shed any light on what is going on, or help me plan what to do next I would appreciate it. I'm really in the dark here.



My phone and internet are at the new place. I had been taking vacation time to move in, but I don't see the point now, so I'm back at work trying not to worry.





This is, unfortunately, not an atypical experience. Public program means you're on a bureaucratic schedule. It's not that bureaucrat's money that's getting spent. They don't get paid any different whether your loan funds and you get your property today, next week, or never.



Furthermore, it has been my experience that companies with the ability to use restricted provider public programs are often looking to boost their profit margin, and because the competition is restricted, they can often get it. That's one of the reason that FHA (among others) is looking to reduce their annual audit requirements, so that the small brokerages and those with thinner profit margins might be willing to sign up and endure the hassles. I've seen firms charge two points and over half a percent higher rate because the competition was mostly eliminated, and what was left was other high margin places. Special programs nobody else has are a license to print money, particularly if access to those programs is restricted by the government. The fewer providers who can do it, the less competition there is, and usually, the higher the mark up they want in order to for the privilege of being one of the selected beneficiaries.



This is not to say that all public housing programs are difficult, or delayed, or costly. There are individual providers who provide just as good a product at just as good a price. However, the statistics seem to be a much higher than usual incidence of delays, costly extras, and just plain gouging going on due to restricted competition.



This is also not to say in any way, shape, or form that public programs aren't worth it. The lady could never have afforded this unit, part of an income restricted program, without a municipal government stepping up to the line on her behalf. Those with a knowledge of economics may realize that this means the other units were made more expensive due to this, likely pricing out other potential buyers so that this particular person could have a better unit. Robbing Peter (and Penny and Porgy and Poppy and pretty much everyone else) to pay Paul and the bureaucrats helping Paul, but that's a matter of housing policy supported by the voters, and my choice is to help Paul or not to help Paul. Peter, etcetera have already been robbed and they're not getting the money back. The bureaucrats will be paid exactly the same whether I help Paul or not. The only question will be exactly who gets this benefit, and I think that under the circumstances I might as well help Paul get them. And if Paul doesn't take it, somebody else will. From an individual choice perspective, such programs definitely assist people in affording housing superior to what they could otherwise afford.



However, you need to realize that there are likely to be delays and unexpected extras in a program like this. One of the requirements of many of these programs is a certain maximum amount of total assets - but if that's all you can have and you have to use some of them for down payment and closing costs, this can mean you're cutting it really tight as far as other expenses go. Indeed, on this scale, paying for an extra few weeks rent at your old place can be a real hardship - but that's the cold hard fact of what happens quite often. If you put in your thirty days notice to the landlord, you're stuck when escrow doesn't close on time. If you don't put in your thirty days to the landlord, you're stuck paying rent for the extra month, costing (in this case) a minimum of about 15% of her total liquid assets, never mind what was left over after what she paid.



There is no universal guide to this situation, and what works in some situations may be totally inappropriate in others. One of the best things is an elected ally in the bureaucrat's chain of command. Another is the willingness of a family member to step in with a gift or extend an interest free loan if you require it, because pretty much all of these first time buyer programs have income and asset limits, and if your cash falls short, everything you paid is pretty much wasted. You won't get the property, and you're unlikely to get that money back.



Caveat Emptor (literally!)


Hi Dan,

I was reading your article on "should you pay off your mortgage faster?" (DM: link here DELETED It'll be a fresh 30 year loan and I'm 44 years old so this discussion has interest, I don't really want to be making a mortgage payment at 74 ;).

I must be really dense but A: I don't get it and B: the table looks like it has an error in it to me.

Start with B: first - the investment column can't possible be correct. The assumption is you save or pre-pay $100 per month and invest at 8%. The amount for year 1 is $1,353.29, if you saved $100 per month at the end of a year you'd have $1,200 in principal + $100 * 12 months @ 8% + $200 * 11 months @ 8% + $300 * 10 months @ 8% etc. Even if you socked away the whole $1,200 on day 1 you'd only have $1,296 and have to pay taxes on $96.

What I don't get is this - by prepaying $100 on my mortgage I get a guaranteed return of 6% or 6.5%, whatever the mortgage rate is. I do not ever have to pay interest on that piece of principal again, it keeps on giving. Yes my payment stays the same but the amount going to principal increases by the amount of interest I am not paying due to the previous principal payment.

Now, the valid comparison to that is a risk free investment alternative no? I've got savings accounts currently yielding 4.5%, 5.3% and 5.4% APY, you might find 6% - might and it probably is an intro rate. Let's be generous and assume I can get the same rate of return on the savings as I pay on the mortgage and put that at 6%. If I pay $1,200 extra in principal on day 1 of the year I don't pay $72 in interest and can't deduct it. If instead I put $1,200 in a savings account on day 1 I earn that $72 in interest. It is a wash, The tax issue is a red herring since not paying the principal gives me a $72 interest deduction but the equal investment return is added to income so (72) + 72 = 0 Could it work out if you put the investment dollars at risk? Sure, but that is a gamble and an apples to oranges comparison.

I have different mental pots of money.

Pot 1 is investment dollars for retirement, 10% or so of income goes to a tax deferred account invested at various risk levels and doesn't get touched - ever. Until I retire at least!

Pot #2 home equity + the carrying cost on the mortgage which is the 25% or so of income that pays the PITI on the house.

Pot #3 is liquid reserves, currently about a years worth of #2's income requirements.

My goal is absolutely to eliminate the P&I part of PITI over time. With enough in pot #3 I'll be plowing as much as possible into principle reduction over the next few years once we get moved in and clear the costs associated with a new house such as drapes and furniture. I make a pretty decent salary but who knows how long that will last? As long as the job is secure I'll keep the current mortgage and pre-pay as much as possible. If a few years down the road I felt a little vulnerable to layoff or whatever I'd seriously consider refinancing the then smaller principle balance for a smaller required monthly nut and keep making the higher payments as long as the income stayed intact. Alternatively I may need to do that in 10 years anyway when my kid goes to College. What we are currently paying in private tuition from current income + available cash flow might be a bit short, or we may be ok - depends on where he goes. I'm a College administrator so if he goes here he gets a 100% tuition waiver, 50% at other state schools. And I did look at saving for College in one of the tax deferred accounts, we don't qualify for all the juicy ones based on family AGI. We could do a 529 but I've made the personal choice that we're better off driving the retirement savings and paying off the mortgage rather than killing ourselves to give the kid a free ride .

I like a guaranteed 6.5% return. With any luck the house will get worth more over time as well making the return even better. I played leverage to the max in 1999 when I bought a townhouse for 78K by assuming a mortgage, I just sold it 2 months ago and cleared $112K cash in my pocket, principle balance was 64K so 14K of the 112K was return of my principle payments. That was great but now we're in a little better position financially and I'd like to preserve it over time. I've owed huge piles of money to CC companies and auto loans in the past - don't ever want to go there again!

One other thought. Despite the current turmoil in the market houses do tend to be worth more over time. Probably not as good as the stock market if the time horizon is long enough but they do go up. In my case 60% of the asset value is borrowed so there is a leverage factor on the return. Here is the thought - under current tax rules that return is tax free where as the stock market return is not. It's all about risk tolerance I guess.



Upon examination, I think you're probably right, although I have assumed "a start of the month/year" program where the question was academic until you actually had some money to put to one place or the other; i.e. an initial $100 today and $100 every month, so a year from today you've got $1300 without interest. Kind of like the old problem where if you've got an eighty one foot wall and beams every nine feet, you need ten beams to have a real structure. One to start (at the zero point), and then another one every nine feet.

The pots of money idea is a good one, but most people shouldn't be limited themselves to theoretically risk free investments, especially once you've got your reserves. 1) They're not risk free 2) The big certainty if you don't take any risk is that you will make less than someone who did. Kind of like being chased by headhunters, and having a choice to sit there and be killed an eaten immediately or jump off a cliff into a river with crocodiles. Sure, the crocodiles might get you, or you might hit the rocks when you land and you might even drown. But if you do nothing, you're going in the stew-pot for certain.

Question: How do you think the bank or insurance company can afford to pay a return on the money? It doesn't come out of some hyperspatial vortex! They take this money and invest it in basically the same places you would. The difference is: They take the risk, they get the reward. This reward is plenty to pay their employee salaries, all the expenses of operating, plus your little pittance, and have plenty left over for the stockholders. If their results are adverse, what's going to happen to your money?

Question: If you never refinance, how hard do you think it's going to be to make a $1500 payment in thirty years? Assuming a 3.5% rate of inflation, about like paying $530 per month now. Shouldn't be difficult at all. If you do refinance, you are making a conscious choice that the other loan is, in total, a better deal for you. Sure you might not have a lot of income. My point is that with time and diversification, the assets you would accumulate from alternative investments will be more able to pay your loan out of interest than any money you saved.

Question: If you can't make the low payment, what will your equity situation be like? Once again, this is assuming you never refinance, but 29 years out, you'll owe roughly $15,000, and the property, assuming average 5% appreciation, while the property will be worth about 4.3 times as much. Even if you never paid a penny of principal down, that's well over a million in equity. This gives you options such as selling (take the money and run), a RAM (take the money and stay), etcetera. Stop thinking of money as something that pays the rent and other expenses, and start thinking in terms of what it can do.

Furthermore, it's not a risk free 6.5%. For most people, it's more like an effective margin of 4.7% or less. I'm not advising anyone to go out and strip equity without a very strong reason to do so so and a clear eye on potential consequences, but which after tax return sounds better to you: 4.7% or 7.2%? I agree with the NASD rule that prohibits member firms from accepting borrowed money for investments, but I have admit that it does work, at least for the numbers in theory. The 7.2% assumes investment income is all ordinary income, fully taxed every year. In point of fact, at least some is likely to be capital gains and some is likely to be deferred. The downside is that any investment return is purely speculative and you could lose your principal. You don't ever gamble with money you can't afford to lose, no matter what the long term odds. Nor do you put it all on the same bet, no matter how you split it up. On the other hand, the biggest risk is not taking any. Instead of paying off your mortgage, diversifying your money amongst a sufficient number of stock and bond investments is so likely to leave you with so much more in total net assets over the next twenty years that the expected exceptions are a statistical non-event.

Caveat Emptor

How Easy Scams Are

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Hi, my name is DELETED, I need help. I bought a house (a few months ago) because my boyfriend persuaded me to. This was supposed to be a real estate investment between us. I put the house in my name and i was supposed to get $9000 and he was gonna keep the rest to do the repairs. I never received my money and he never did the repairs on the house and we ended up breaking up (about a week later). I started getting suspicious, (a few days ago) I found out that the appraiser lied on the appraisal. He lied and changed the square footage of one of the comparable houses to make around the same square footage of my house showing that it sold for the same price I brought my house. There is more to make me think he lied. I found out that the mortgage person, the seller, my ex and the appraiser all know each other I think it was a set up. I have a lawyer, but what can happened after the loan is already in my name. This house is not worth what I bought it for he appraised it around $50,000 more. Will the mortgage company have to buy the house back because they are supposed to check it. When I looked up the appraisal company that he had on the appraisal, it doesn't even exist. Please give me some advise, will I be stuck with this house?

Based upon this information, I'd say you were most likely the victim of a scam.

Talk to your lawyer. It sounds like you've probably got a good case for a civil suit, and can make criminal complaints as well for fraud and conspiracy. However, you have title to the house and a Note that says, "I agree to pay..." and a Trust Deed securing said Note. Just because you are the victim of a scam does not relieve you of your obligations under said Note and Deed of Trust. Not living up to those obligations is one of the best ways I know to make a bad situation worse. It's going to take a while - probably years - before you recover anything of what you've been taken for, if you ever get it. The wheels of justice grind slowly, and require a lot of lubrication in the form of money. Just because you're the victim doesn't change the process. It's conceivable that your lawyer may even advise you to let it go, if in their judgment you're unlikely to recover enough to make it worth your while.

Before we get into the main issue, let me cover a special red flag that was ignored. When you are buying a house, you are not going to get cash back - not with the approval of the lender. As I went over in Real Estate Sellers Giving A Buyer Cash Back, this is fraud, in and of itself.

Lots of people get talked into cutting corners in their transaction or doing without an agent because "agents don't really do anything." However, there are so many scams out there that any time you cut corners you risk getting taken for the full amount of the transaction. Lots of folks discount the possibility - until it happens to them. And it does happen. Real estate is the largest dollar value most folks ever get involved in, and scamming a little extra is likely to be major money in and of itself. A certain percentage of all transactions have issues - and when someone tries to talk you into short-circuiting your protections, that's pretty much a red flag that this is one of those transactions to beware.

Not falling victim is worth a lot more than those protections cost you. As a buyer's agent, I tell people that my goal is to make at least a ten percent difference in the quality of property, the price, or some combination. That's in addition to preventing things like happened to you. Having an agent gives you someone responsible to you. Someone you can sue if something goes wrong, so they have incentive to guard your interests. Someone with insurance (deep pockets!) and a license and a broker supervisor who should have monitored the situation. Not to mention who should be able to prevent the situation happening in the first place.

Can you stop collusion between the appraiser, the loan officer, and the seller? No. Stopping collusion is difficult, as anyone who has ever studied accounting can tell you. A lot of the curriculum goes into the subject of controls, and separating functions so that it's only with multiple people cooperating that assets get embezzled. But with an agent who knows your market on your side and bound to you, it's a lot less likely they'll get away with it. How likely would you have been to buy the property for the price you did if an agent had said, "I can get you a better property for the same money" (or something like it for less)? Kind of likely to short-circuit the entire scam, eh?

Caveat Emptor

Impound Accounts Facts and FAQs

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I've seen a fair number of questions on impound accounts in the last several months. An impound account, also known by the confusing term escrow account because the lender is holding it in escrow, is money that you give the lender in order to pay the property taxes and homeowner's insurance on the property.



The first thing to note and emphasize is that money going into an impound account is not a cost of doing the loan. It is your money. You own it. It will be used solely to pay your property taxes and insurance. At the conclusion of the loan, whether you paid it off with cash or refinanced or or sold the property, you get this money back. The lender is required to send you the check within sixty days of loan payoff.



An impound account is meant to address any lender's two largest worries in regards to a loan: Uninsured destruction of the property or losing the property to an unpaid property tax lien.



The problem with an uninsured destruction should be obvious. The structure is destroyed or heavily damaged and no money exists to rebuild. The borrower doesn't have it and the bank isn't going to throw good money after bad. Here in California, the average property is worth maybe $500,000 or so, but without the home sitting on it, the property may only be worth fifty to a hundred thousand. Within ten miles of my office sit hundreds, probably thousands, of new homes that sold for $700,00 and up even though they sit on a lot that's less than 5000 square feet (0.115 Acres). Many condominiums are over $400,000. Given the location, a 5000 square foot lot may be $200,000, but it's not $500,000, and the lender will take a loss even on the $200,000 because they're not in the business of real estate. They loan $500,000, it burns down without insurance, they lose $350,000. People also lose their jobs over this.



Property tax liens are a major issue as well. They automatically take priority over everything else, and the rules about what the condemning governmental entity has to do are much looser than they are for the bank. They will usually do quite a bit over the minimum, but they will sell the property most of the time, no matter how minimal the best bid. Minimum auction amounts, etcetera go out the window. Many times this situation can require the lender to step in and pay the property taxes, intending to turn around and sell the property themselves merely to take a smaller loss.



A lender wants you to pay property taxes and homeowner's insurance, and they want to know you've paid them. They encourage this via the method of impound accounts. The theory is simple. Every month you pay the lender, in addition to your actual loan payment, an amount equal to your pro-rated property taxes and homeowner's insurance, and they will pay these when they are due.



No lender is perfect about these, and some are less so than others. A large percentage of the biggest and worst messes I have ever dealt with came about as the result of the lender somehow messing up the inpound account. Others have arisen because even though the lender acted within the law, the client got angry about something. Sometimes it's for a good reason, sometimes it's not.



Because lenders want you to have them, however, they are ubiquitous, and every lender I know of charges extra on your loan if you do not want to do an impound account. Usually this amount is about one quarter of a discount point. On a $500,000 loan, this amounts to a charge of over $1250 just to not have any impounds.



On the other hand, in places where property values are high, you can have to come up with $5000 or more at loan time just to adequately fund an impound account. Here's a computation of how much you need to fund it works. The lender will divide the annual property taxes and homeowner's insurance by twelve. This will be the monthly payment. The lender is legally able to hold up to two months over the amount required to make the payments, and they want this reseve. So they will look at the projected payments for the next year and figure out how many months they need up front to always have two months worth in reserve. I'm writing this on February 3, and California taxes were due on the first even though they are not past due until April 10th. But the lender uses February first to calculate even though they won't actually make the payment until early April (they earn interest on the money, whether or not they pay any. Some states require that interest be paid, but it is typically something small and worthless like two percent).



February first is usually when the lenders here in California figure will be the low point of the account for the whole year. But if you closed on a loan today, February 3rd, you wouldn't make your first payment on that loan until April first, and of course, they cannot count on you making your February payment right on the first. So they are going to figure that you will make payments on the first of every month April through January, ten months, before they have to pay your property taxes. Since they have to pay twelve months, and they get to keep two in reserve, that's fourteen months of payments they want to have on February first. Fourteen minus ten is four months that you will have to come up with in advance, or have rolled into the cost of your loan. On a $500k property, that's about $2000 for property taxes even in a basic tax zone, and if your insurance is $1200 per year, you'll have to come up with another $400 for that. $2400 into the impound account.



It gets better. Because the property taxes are due within two months of your purchase, you're going to have to come up with your pro-rated share right up front as well as paying for an entire year of insurance. Since California requires six months property taxes at a time, that adds almost another five months taxes and twelve months insurance up front. Total cost of this in the example given: $3700. Actually, this is due whether you have an impound account or not. Total you need just for property taxes and homeowner's insurance: $5900.



It can be worse. Suppose you were closing on a refinance in October. You originally bought in February. You are only going to make two payments (December and January)before the insurance is due, so your impound total for the insurance alone $1000 for insurance. You are going to have to come up with $3000 to pay the first half of your property taxes, plus because you only have two payments before the second half is due, another $3000, or six months payments for that. Total due, $7000.



There are really only two methods for coming up with the money for an impound account: Bring in the cash from somewhere else, or have the lender loan it to you, adding it to your loan balance. Except in rare circumstances where you are refinancing the same property with the same lender (and usually not even then), existing impound accounts cannot be used to "seed" the new account. This is because it's your money, held in trust. The rules for these accounts are rigid, and I'm not certain I understand well the rules about whether a bank even has the option of rolling one impound account into another.



This typically means that you have to come up with a good chunk of change out of your pocket for a short period, or add the additional amount into your loan, where you'll be paying for it as long as you have a loan on the property. Every situation is different, but most often I prefer to either come up with the money myself or not have an impound account. The extra charges may be sunk as opposed to refundable, but I'm not paying interest for thirty years on thousands of dollars.



Furthermore, if you are adding the money to create the new impound account to your loan balance, since it's going in before the computation of points, it can add another $50 to $100 to your costs of the loan per point you're paying. Minor in and of itself, but adding insult to injury if the loan has points involved. More to the point is that adding impound creation it to your loan balance means there may be a couple years before your balance gets as low as it was before the refinance, just from this. Indeed, the fact that it raises your loan balance is the worst thing about the impound account issue. On the other hand, unless you have a "first dollar" prepayment penalty, what you can do is turn around and put the check for the previous impound account when it arrives into paying down the new loan. It typically won't bring you even, and it won't reduce your contractual payments on the new loan (although that is usually a good thing), but it will ameliorate the damage to your loan balance.



Initial loan closing is not your only opportunity to start an impound account if you want one. If you don't have one to start with, the lenders will be very happy to let you start one later. I've literally never heard of a lender saying anything but "YES!" (usually with a pump of the fist) to a request for an impound account. Why? Because now they know that your taxes and insurance will be paid, and get to use your money, and after you paid a fee for no impounds. Oh, happy banker!



If you want to cancel an impound account, expecially within a year of whenever the loan was funded, you can expect to pay the "no impounds" fee, possibly prorated, but usually just the whole thing. Roll thousands of dollars into your loan balance where you'll be paying interest on it and then pay a lender's charge for no impounds? Ouch!



Can you force the bank not to do any of this? Not really. They don't have to lend you money. Yes, they are in the business of lending money, but if they don't loan it to you, they'll find other uses for it. Somebody else is always willing to accept the bank's terms. You try to violate guidelines that lenders have established in order to lend you the money, and you'll be told, "Sorry but you don't qualify." The golden rule of loans is that those with the money make the rules.



Furthermore, those lenders who didn't require this would be at a competitive disadvantage as regards rates, because their loan portfolio would be a significantly riskier one, and they would have to increase their rates to compensate for this. You could qualify for a better rate or lower closing costs somewhere else. Better to not argue. Assuming that I already have an impound account, all the extra I lose is a maximum of sixty days interest. Two months interest on $5000, even at ten percent, is $83. That's a lot cheaper than either of any of the alternatives.



Caveat Emptor

Every so often I run across a reference to a "rate buydown" I don't like to use them because they don't benefit the client, but I should explain them, what they are, and how they work.



A rate buydown is where for an upfront price, the lender agrees to give you a lowered interest rate for a time. 2/1/0 buydowns, where the rate is two percent lower the first year, one percent lower the second year, and then at the loan rate the third year, are the most common, but I've seen one year buydowns of two percent, two year buydowns of one percent for those first two years period, and any number of other tricks.



Now, this isn't free. A 2/1/0 buydown usually costs three points. In fact, what usually happens is the three points go into an escrow account somewhere where they pay out the money to make up the difference in interest to the lenders as the loan goes along. When the buydown period is over, the lender who originally funded your loan then gets to keep what's left over.



Now, here's what this means to you. Let's make this easy. Say you would have had a $291,000 loan, fixed at 7 percent, without a buydown. But with the buydown, you have a $300,000 loan at 5 percent the first year, six percent the second, and 7 percent from there on out. In order to really understand this, let's first take a look at your loan without a buydown:









Month

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

22

23

24
Balance

$291,000.00

$290,761.47

$290,521.55

$290,280.23

$290,037.50

$289,793.35

$289,547.78

$289,300.78

$289,052.34

$288,802.45

$288,551.10

$288,298.28

$288,043.99

$287,788.22

$287,530.95

$287,272.19

$287,011.91

$286,750.12

$286,486.80

$286,221.94

$285,955.54

$285,687.58

$285,418.06

$285,146.97

Payment

$1,936.03

$1,936.03

$1,936.03

$1,936.03

$1,936.03

$1,936.03

$1,936.03

$1,936.03

$1,936.03

$1,936.03

$1,936.03

$1,936.03

$1,936.03

$1,936.03

$1,936.03

$1,936.03

$1,936.03

$1,936.03

$1,936.03

$1,936.03

$1,936.03

$1,936.03

$1,936.03

$1,936.03

Interest

$1,697.50

$1,696.11

$1,694.71

$1,693.30

$1,691.89

$1,690.46

$1,689.03

$1,687.59

$1,686.14

$1,684.68

$1,683.21

$1,681.74

$1,680.26

$1,678.76

$1,677.26

$1,675.75

$1,674.24

$1,672.71

$1,671.17

$1,669.63

$1,668.07

$1,666.51

$1,664.94

$1,663.36

Principal

-$238.53

-$239.92

-$241.32

-$242.73

-$244.14

-$245.57

-$247.00

-$248.44

-$249.89

-$251.35

-$252.82

-$254.29

-$255.77

-$257.27

-$258.77

-$260.28

-$261.79

-$263.32

-$264.86

-$266.40

-$267.96

-$269.52

-$271.09

-$272.67

Tot Int.

$1,697.50

$3,393.61

$5,088.32

$6,781.62

$8,473.50

$10,163.97

$11,852.99

$13,540.58

$15,226.72

$16,911.40

$18,594.62

$20,276.36

$21,956.61

$23,635.38

$25,312.64

$26,988.40

$28,662.63

$30,335.34

$32,006.51

$33,676.14

$35,344.22

$37,010.73

$38,675.67

$40,339.02

Tot Prin

$238.53

$478.45

$719.77

$962.50

$1,206.65

$1,452.22

$1,699.22

$1,947.66

$2,197.55

$2,448.90

$2,701.72

$2,956.01

$3,211.78

$3,469.05

$3,727.81

$3,988.09

$4,249.88

$4,513.20

$4,778.06

$5,044.46

$5,312.42

$5,581.94

$5,853.03

$6,125.70





Now let's look at it with the buydown:







Month

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

22

23

24
Balance

$300,000.00

$299,639.54

$299,277.57

$298,914.09

$298,549.10

$298,182.59

$297,814.56

$297,444.99

$297,073.87

$296,701.22

$296,327.01

$295,951.24

$295,573.90

$295,257.63

$294,939.77

$294,620.32

$294,299.27

$293,976.62

$293,652.36

$293,326.47

$292,998.96

$292,669.81

$292,339.01

$292,006.55

Payment

$1,610.46

$1,610.46

$1,610.46

$1,610.46

$1,610.46

$1,610.46

$1,610.46

$1,610.46

$1,610.46

$1,610.46

$1,610.46

$1,610.46

$1,794.15

$1,794.15

$1,794.15

$1,794.15

$1,794.15

$1,794.15

$1,794.15

$1,794.15

$1,794.15

$1,794.15

$1,794.15

$1,794.15

Interest

$1,250.00

$1,248.50

$1,246.99

$1,245.48

$1,243.95

$1,242.43

$1,240.89

$1,239.35

$1,237.81

$1,236.26

$1,234.70

$1,233.13

$1,477.87

$1,476.29

$1,474.70

$1,473.10

$1,471.50

$1,469.88

$1,468.26

$1,466.63

$1,464.99

$1,463.35

$1,461.70

$1,460.03

Principal

$360.46

$361.97

$363.48

$364.99

$366.51

$368.04

$369.57

$371.11

$372.66

$374.21

$375.77

$377.33

$316.28

$317.86

$319.45

$321.05

$322.65

$324.26

$325.89

$327.51

$329.15

$330.80

$332.45

$334.11

Tot Int.

$1,250.00

$2,498.50

$3,745.49

$4,990.96

$6,234.92

$7,477.35

$8,718.24

$9,957.59

$11,195.40

$12,431.66

$13,666.35

$14,899.48

$16,377.35

$17,853.64

$19,328.34

$20,801.44

$22,272.94

$23,742.82

$25,211.08

$26,677.71

$28,142.71

$29,606.06

$31,067.75

$32,527.79

Tot Prin

$360.46

$722.43

$1,085.91

$1,450.90

$1,817.41

$2,185.44

$2,555.01

$2,926.13

$3,298.78

$3,672.99

$4,048.76

$4,426.10

$4,742.37

$5,060.23

$5,379.68

$5,700.73

$6,023.38

$6,347.64

$6,673.53

$7,001.04

$7,330.19

$7,660.99

$7,993.45

$8,327.56





It is also to be noted that in the very next month, your payments go to $1982.23, as opposed to the $1936.03 they would have been in the first place, and that they will stay there the rest of the loan, all 336 months should you keep it the rest of that time. Why? Because your balance is larger than it otherwise would have been, so the payment is higher, in this case by $46.20, due to the higher loan amount.



Finally, let's look at the differences:







Month

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

22

23

24
Escrow Acct.

$8,552.50

$8,176.27

$7,796.79

$7,414.04

$7,028.00

$6,638.63

$6,245.92

$5,849.83

$5,450.34

$5,047.43

$4,641.06

$4,231.22

$3,817.87

$3,647.29

$3,475.21

$3,301.60

$3,126.46

$2,949.78

$2,771.53

$2,591.72

$2,410.32

$2,227.32

$2,042.72

$1,856.50

Net cost

$8,552.50

$7,982.95

$7,413.19

$6,843.21

$6,273.02

$5,702.62

$5,132.02

$4,561.21

$3,990.21

$3,419.02

$2,847.64

$2,276.08

$1,950.65

$1,687.67

$1,424.51

$1,161.18

$897.67

$633.98

$370.13

$106.11

-$158.09

-$422.44

-$686.97

-$951.65





What this means is that your lender's escrow account ends up with $1850 that they get to keep, on top of everything else they made from the loan. The final column is the net cost to you, what you paid to get it less the interest it saved you. Hey, look at this! In month 21 it goes negative! You must be saving money if you keep it that long, right?



Nope. This is a temporary and illusory savings phenomenon, and I don't know of any way to make it permanent. You see, the benefits stop in month 24. They are over. Kaput. Gone. That's all, folks. But you owe $6798.14 more (at the start of month 25, not illustrated above) than you would have without the buydown. There are exactly three possibilities as to what happens. First, that you keep the loan. Due to the extra interest you're paying every month, you are negative again in month 56, and it keeps getting worse the longer you keep the loan. After 120 months of the loan, you are $1755 down. This actually peaks in month 242 at $3351 negative, then starts decreasing, but you don't get it back before the loan is paid off.



The second possibility is if you refinance the loan. Let's say you get a really fantastic deal and refinance at 5 percent on a 30 year fixed rate loan, and I'll even give you that your higher balance doesn't cost you any more in fees. Your payment is $85.35 per month higher than it would otherwise have been, your interest charges $28.32 higher (and the difference represents you paying the principal off faster if you don't pay for a buydown). Your savings is gone in less than three years, and there's nothing you can do about it.



The third and final possibility is that you sell the house. You get $6798.14 less in your pocket. This means that you don't have $6798.14 earning money for you in the stock market. At ten percent your benefit is gone in less than a year and a half. If you take the money and buy another property, that's $6798.14 higher your loan balance will have to be. Let's say you get that same fantastic 5% loan we talked about two paragraphs ago on the new property. Guess what? The same math applies here also. There is no way to win in the end with a buydown, unless someone else pays for it (for example, seller paid closing costs).



So they are a piece of garbage. Why are buydowns attractive, and why do otherwise rational people sign up for them?



Because they lower the payment for a while. People choose loans based upon the payment. In particular, they choose loans based upon the payment in the first check they are going to have to write. Most people figure that the check they are going to have to write two or five years out isn't important. Unscrupulous lenders and loan officers know this. That's why the (censored) negative amortization loans are so popular, despite them being time-delayed financial poison. So don't shop for loans based upon the payment, and if someone starts talking about ways to cut the payment as opposed to the interest rate, put your hand on your wallet and leave. If they persist, drag them out into the sunlight and put a wooden stake through their heart. It's the only way to be sure.



Before I go, I want to mention one specific group that gets targeted for these things, and that is veterans. The Veterans Administration loan, aka VA loan, has the ability to roll (not coincidentally) three points closing cost over and above the cost of the home into the loan. Most military folks are busy learning their trade, which is usually not something having to do with finance. Indeed, I've never heard of any MOS that included this type of financial training. So when the loan officer whispers sweet nothings into their ear about cutting the payments for the first couple of years, they don't know any better and they sign right up. They could have used those three points for something potentially useful, like discount points that buy you a lower rate for the entire term of a VA loan. If you keep it long enough, they will eventually net you money and the VA only accepts fixed rate loans, not ARMS or hybrids. The veterans could just not pay those three points, and not start out with what is basically negative equity. But rate buydowns make a loan appear attractive on the surface to someone with insufficient financial training, while costing them money in the long term and allowing the initial lender to make more money than they otherwise would.



Caveat Emptor.

I am continually confirming that a large percentage of people can't handle negotiations like an adult. They focus in on garbage and ignore what's really important.



I recently was going to deliver a loan that cost less, as well as being 3/8ths of a percent lower interest rate on exactly the same terms as the competition quoted. Furthermore, my quote was guaranteed where the competition's was not. However, because my company's compensation was disclosed while the competition's was not, they chose the other loan.



Real Estate loans are not something that the minimum wage fast food worker can toss off in a few seconds like filling a soda cup. If we get all of the paperwork just right with no hitches and everything works on the first pass and it doesn't take too long to price it, such a loan can be done in five to ten working hours. But doing so requires not just the right situation, but a lot of skill and a not inconsiderable amount of knowledge of the loan market.



Nobody does loans for free. Typical loan production, even at a busy brokerage, is three to six loans per loan officer per month. That's got to pay rent and utilities and the salaries of everyone from the receptionist to the CEO. Yes, I've done more, but if you investigate you're going to discover that for most loan officers, most of their time is spend prospecting and selling. That's part of the reason why most places have processors and transaction coordinators - to relieve sales folk of tasks that they don't have to do so they can go out and sell more with the time they save. I can point to lenders and brokerages where basically the only work that loan officers actually do is talk to prospects and clients. They don't price, they don't do the application, they don't process, they don't deal with underwriters or escrow or title, they don't attend signing - all they do is talk to the public. The reason for this is so they can talk to more prospects. The time of good sales folk is important, but some of these loan officers have no clue as to whether the loan is ultimately going to be approved. This is one of the reasons why people end up with different loans than they were originally told about. There was a reason why they weren't going to qualify for the loan on which the loan officer gave them a low quote, but the loan officer didn't know, and it's sure as gravity no one else is going to tell you between sign up and delivery, and at delivery, your choices are to sign these documents or don't. If you need that loan at that time, guess what? You are going to sign those loan documents and become part of the statistics.



Last month, I had some people call me through Upfront Mortgage Brokers (UMB). They had heard the UMB way was better, and it is better than most, but it requires you be able to deal with money like an adult. These people wanted a million and a half dollar loan with a low down payment. They had great credit and likely sufficient income, but they wanted an A paper loan with no pre-payment penalty. Now I can get zero down payment A paper loans with no pre-payment penalty no problem up to the conforming limit (currently $417,000), but above that, lenders start making it harder and harder, and there are three break points in most lender's rules between conforming loans and a million and a half. When I'm working under UMB rules, I have to negotiate every penny that my company is going to make up front, and I told these people that my company needed $5400 to make that loan worth our while. This was between three and four tenths of a point grand total, and that included credit and what the processor was going to make. But that sounded like "too much" to these people, who told me that they were going to the bank who "promised never to charge more than two points." When you do the numbers, they were telling me that $5400 was "too much" but $30,000 wasn't - not to mention the fact that I know this lender, and they'd have made another four percent on the secondary market with the loan they gave these people - $60,000. It's to be admitted that the lender I was going to put them with likely would have made about 2.5 percent, or a little under $40,000, selling their loan on the secondary market, but these lowered margins roughly $45,000 total that I and my lender would have made versus $90,000 that the other lender would charge translate directly to less cost, a lower interest rate, or some combination of the two (there is ALWAYS a trade off between rate and cost in mortgages). Indeed, the loan I quoted was better all around to the prospective client - but my compensation was disclosed and theirs wasn't. So this person, a highly paid professional who should have known better, went with the other provider.



So despite the fact that working to UMB guidelines actually lets me quote and deliver loans with slightly better pricing, I have discovered that it's mostly a waste of my time. The client is assuming pricing risk, all I get is a flat, pre-negotiated fee - but they know what that fee is, and it's not what most folks think of as "cheap." Never mind that it's a lot cheaper than the provider they ended up with, people seem to think that the $5400 they know about is somehow worse than the $30,000 they don't.



The smart thing to do, of course, is judge that loan based upon the net terms to you. Type of loan, rate, total cost, and whether there's a prepayment penalty. I can get my commission paid out of yield spread or rolling it into your balance, same as anyone else. You don't have to write me a check just because I'm working for known compensation. In fact, since that known compensation is less, I can get you a lower rate, or pay some or all of the closing costs that you'd end up paying through another provider - sometimes even both. But just because I can't hide my compensation in your new loan amount and rate, or pretend that I wasn't paid somehow, doesn't mean the other loan is better than mine.



Loans aren't free. If you don't understand how someone is getting paid, chances are they are making a lot more money than the loan officer who is willing to go over it. If this seems like too much work to you, judge competing loans by the terms to you: What type of loan is it? What is the rate? How much will it cost, grand total? Is there a prepayment penalty? Will they guarantee their quote, or are they just talking? Ask specific questions, and don't settle for anything other than specific answers. The usual modus operandi is to hide loan costs in your new loan amount after pretending that there aren't any until you go to sign documents. Just because nobody wants to talk about it doesn't mean the answer is "zero." Just because you don't have specific numbers doesn't mean it's going to be better for you - in fact, the opposite is the way to bet.



Caveat Emptor

The bottom line on this question is always, "Whatever the courts say." Divorce law is complex and even when you think you've got a clear message in the law as written, the courts may interpret it differently, or there may be precedent that says otherwise, or even just some overarching concern you are not aware of. Even if the law is clear, it can usually be gotten around by the agreement of the parties. Consult your attorney.



With that said, there are a few rules of thumb to go over, valid in broad for most states in most situations.



Real Estate is usually owned by both partners in a marriage equally, even if one spouse acquired title prior to the marriage the second will be added by default when the marriage happens. The only thing that is usually held separate are inheritances - things that were inherited by one spouse or the other from relatives, and even those can often become joint property. Sometimes gifts to one spouse can also be held separate. One of the phrasings your learn from reading title reports are is "John Smith, who acquired title as a single man, and Jane Smith, husband and wife as joint tenants." This tells you John bought it before they were married, and Jane got added to title upon marriage by the effects of the law.



There are trusts and the like to frustrate this from happening, and most states have rules and law permitting them, but you have to talk to the lawyer, get the trust created, and most importantly, as it's the step that is most often omitted, transfer the assets to the trust in a timely fashion. I don't know how many folks I've seen who spent a couple of thousand dollars creating a trust and then didn't transfer the assets to it. Every penny they spent on that trust was wasted money.



Now, if Jane does not wish to be added to the property title, she may quitclaim it back to "John Smith, a married man as his sole and separate property." However, quitclaim deeds have this curious limitation in many states (California among them) that they only function with respect to the interest you have in the property as of the time you sign them. Since the new spouse has not yet been given the claim upon the property until the marriage takes place, the quitclaim cannot be signed until after the marriage in order to accomplish the desired goal, as Jane has not yet acquired the interest in the property. Jane can say she'll sign it after she's married, but if she changes her mind, that's a whole different legal struggle. If she signs it before the marriage, then since she subsequently acquired a claim to the property through the marriage, she now has an interest in the property through the eyes of the law. Let's even say John and Jane are ninth cousins, the only surviving family inheritors, but for whatever reason Jane quitclaims the property to John, but then they later get married. Jane now has a married woman's legal interest in the property. The quitclaim only applies to Jane's interest in the property at the time of the quitclaim, and has no effect upon any claims she may acquire later. The only way I am aware, in general, to deed away any rights you may acquire in the future is with a Grant Deed, and each state has its own laws as to how this may and may not be accomplished. On the other hand, a Quitclaim is a handy document if you may have the intention of acquiring some interest in the property back at a later time, as it generally doesn't make, for instance, buying the historic family homestead back from your wastrel brother problematic.



Now suppose John and Jane Smith get divorced, and the property was held jointly. Both John and Jane still have an interest in the property, and continue to hold an interest, even if the court orders them to sign a quitclaim, until they actually have done so. This is why it is better to get a court award of actual title rather than a court order for the other spouse to sign a quitclaim. Unfortunately, for some reason, most divorce courts are unwilling to award actual title rather than order the ex-spouse to sign the quitclaim. So whoever gets the title or possession is not able to do anything with the property without the ex-spouse's approval, unless and until that ex-spouse signs the quitclaim or the court awards the spouse in possession with clear title. I could tell stories of ex-spouses that disappeared, or pretended to disappear for years leaving the ex-spouse in possession unable to sell, unable to refinance, even unable in some circumstances to sign a valid lease. Not infrequently, the ex-spouse pops up years later wanting a better deal (that is, more money) as inducement to sign the quitclaim deed.



Until the ex-spouse signs the quitclaim, title companies will not insure either loans, either in support of refinancing or a sale, or actual sales transactions. No lenders policy of title insurance, no loan (in most states), and that kills the refinance, or the loan financing any sale. No policy of owner's title insurance, and I certainly won't pay my money for a property, and advise my clients in most stringent terms not to do so.



Now, let's say that the ex-spouse has signed the quitclaim but is still on the existing loan, which was taken out while you were still married. This isn't really a problem. In order to refinance, or deliver clear title on a sale, that loan needs to be paid off. The lender doesn't care how it gets the money, or from whom. That ex-spouse can drop off the face of the earth once the quitclaim is signed, and it really doesn't make any difference. Once they are out of the legal picture, they might as well be dead. Both of you are responsible for the entire debt. It's not like some is His and some is Hers. Now, because this is true, sometimes ex-spouses also get their credit hit when things like a short sale subsequently happen, or foreclosures. To guard the ex-spouse who is giving up the rights to the property from this happening, many times the divorce court will order the ex-spouse who is retaining possession to refinance in order to remove the spouse who no longer has a legal interest in the property from future liability on the debt.



Many times, the court will order the ex-spouse retaining the property to buy the relinquishing ex-spouse out of the property, to give them some money or other goods in exchange for their interest in the property.



Often, especially if both spouse's incomes were used in order to qualify for the loan on the property, the remaining ex-spouse will not be able to qualify for the necessary loan on their own. In this case, the smart thing to do is usually sell the property. It is a real issue that because many former spouses are delinquent in their payment of alimony and child support, the lenders want to see a certain history (usually three months) of these items being paid before they will allow the income so generated to be used to help qualify the remaining ex-spouse for the new loan.



Keep in mind that all of the above are simply common concerns and happenings, and may have nothing to do with the situation you find yourself in in a divorce. Consult your attorney for real feedback of how the law and legal precedent apply to your situation.



Caveat Emptor.

The vast majority of the population out there wants single family detached housing. The virtues and benefits of the single family residence have been extolled ad nauseum, and the drawbacks of the alternatives are the stuff of urban legend.



Unfortunately, in San Diego and many of the other densely populated urban areas of the country, the price of single family detached housing has gone beyond what the average person can afford. Even if they fall somewhat from this point, in many areas, San Diego among them, the price of a single family residence isn't going to fall to what the average worker can afford. The supply is too low, and the demand is too high. When you consider economic reality, the evidence is overwhelming that San Diego is at least close to the end of the price decline, and even in other areas where things haven't fallen much yet, there's a limit to how far they're going to go.



So for people earning average wages, the choice becomes purchasing one of those alternative forms of housing, saving until they can afford it, or being a renter for the rest of their life. I went over how little saving for a down payment helps most folks, and how a strategy of buying what you can afford now helps more and faster than saving for a down payment. One further option exists, of course: Move to a less expensive market, but that requires finding a job there. There's a reason that all of the highly demanded urban markets are in high demand: That's where the jobs are!



Still, people will tell me they don't want to buy until and unless they can afford a single family detached house, with no association. That's fine if they're going about the process of saving. Most of them would be better off buying the lesser property and using the appreciation to leverage their savings, but it's okay to decide to take an alternative route to getting what you want. It's a free country.



However, in my experience, it's really rather rare to find people who are actually putting the money aside. It's great if you want a house and are putting the money aside to make it happen. I just helped a young couple that could afford a beautiful house in a great area because they both worked hard and saved something like five years of their combined earnings for a down payment, but they're the rare exception. I know a lot more people that have been planning to buy a house for twenty years and have nothing saved at all, than I do people like that couple.



The cold hard fact of the matter is that if you're making fifteen or twenty dollars per hour, you can't afford the payments on such a single family detached house unless you've got a huge down payment. That's not likely to change unless we start being a whole lot friendlier to development, and in places like San Diego, there isn't room to do so even if we wanted to. There's too many people who want that sort of housing, and not enough land and not enough houses to go around. High demand, limited supply. Remember your first economics class. What does that do to price?



People will tell me in one breath that they don't want to deal with home owner's associations, then turn around and tell me they'd rather continue dealing with landlords. Landlords have more power than HOAs, and are less subject to moderating influence. If you're an owner, you have a vote and a voice in the HOA, and you can even run for the board yourself. If you're renting and don't want to follow the rules, the landlord will evict you and find someone who will. They have all the power they need in a 3% vacancy rate!



There is always going to be a wider market further down the socio-economic pyramid. There are more folks making fifteen or twenty dollars per hour than forty. Even those making more have the option of buying cheaper housing, and there are those who do so, while those who attempt tricks to afford more house than they can afford regret it pretty universally. If you buy the property, you owe the money and are paying the interest. Tricks like negative amortization, that make it look like you can afford more property than you really can, will come back around to bite you, with so few exceptions as to be statistically a non-event.



In California, townhomes and PUD developments are most often legally condominiums as far as title goes. It's just the physical set up that differs. Condominiums are multiply layered, stacked one on top of another all in the same building. Townhomes are typically only one unit high. They may be multiple floors and have shared walls, but no upstairs or downstairs neighbors. This improves the privacy situation, but it also increases the price, because land is what costs the most money, and there's only one unit on any given piece of land. PUDs are one further step up the line: They may be individual completely detached structures, but they share a common lot, so maintenance and such is usually shared, and you usually have to match the neighbor's decor. There may not be much space between units in a PUD, as I've said before, but there is usually some. All three usually have some sort of shared recreational facilities, as well, but not necessarily.



There are ways to do each sort right and wrong. The sin most developers commit with PUDs and townhomes is trying so hard to cram as many as possible onto a given piece of land, that each unit has effectively no privacy. With pure straight condominiums, the main sin committed is failing to insulate each unit sufficiently from noise in the neighboring units. Doing it right isn't cheap, and cuts into the profit margin. This also happens with townhomes and some PUDs, but to a far lesser extent. A complex where the developer did it right will be a little more expensive per square foot, but will be a much better investment. Granite counters and travertine floors get old, get dirty, and eventually do need to be replaced. The fact that you and your significant other aren't entertaining the neighbors every time you get intimate, that you can have friends over without disturbing the neighbors, or even that you have a private little back yard to barbecue in, won't.



If you're careful in your initial purchase, you can be happy and private in a condo, townhome, or PUD for many years. If you fall for a bad unit with nice surfaces now, you're going to suffer. If you pick a good unit, the way that leverage works will quite likely leave you very happy with your investment. If you pick a bad one, not so much. If you pick a good one and decide to stay, you'll likely find that your cost of housing becomes a low fraction of what rent would cost before too many years have passed.



If you can't afford the payments on a more expensive property, it's not a good idea to buy it. But if you don't buy anything at all, the economic prognosis for lifelong renters isn't good. This means that if you can't afford the property you really want, it's still a good idea to buy something your family can live in. Condos, townhomes, and PUDs may not be as great as single family detached housing, but they're a long way better than renting, and you can use the leverage inherent in the way property values has worked for the last century or so to help you get where you really want to be more quickly and more easily. Even if you never move up, you have placed your costs of housing permanently under your own control, given yourself a voice and a vote in how things are run, and the odds are overwhelming that you'll end up in a much stronger economic position.



Caveat Emptor

When I'm doing my initial automated search for properties for my buyer clients, I always pay close attention to listings represented by agents out of the immediate area. Why? Because an agent from fifteen or twenty miles away probably has no understanding of that neighborhood.



There are exceptions, of course. Agents who habitually work Santee despite the fact that their office is in downtown or La Jolla. Agents who habitually work La Jolla despite the fact their office is in Penasquitos. And there are always agents, who have a prospect that motivates them to do the necessary work outside of their usual area. I just finished one set of clients I was looking for in Clairemont, and I'm working with another set even further away. I've been out working for these people most of the month of June, getting an understanding of what their market is really like in their price range, and I'm not showing them any property until next week.



Even a lot of agents don't understand how local markets really are. I just helped some folks buy a property right in the middle of my usual area. But they're looking to turn around and sell a property they have a partial interest twenty miles outside my usual area. I told them I would be happy to help them, of course, but that I'll need some time to do my research as to how to price the property, and while I'm doing that, I'll also have to figure out what the effective advertising venues are in the area. One of their siblings talked to an agent at the other end of San Diego County, and this clown told them, "no problem," and gave them a price - sight unseen - that was appropriate for the high cost area where that agent works, a place where everything is basically completely different. Lifestyle, demographics, commute. I couldn't say for certain yet, but my guess is that this agent missed an appropriate price by at least ten percent.



It took some time to sink through my head when I started acting as an agent, myself. But unlike mortgage information, where the information is good for the entire state of California with only minor changes from some lenders for differing counties, and I can stay abreast of the entire state's lender market for about the same effort it takes to stay current anywhere, real estate is hyper-local. If an agent wants to work outside of their usual area, they're going to have to do some serious extra work. Even within my usual stomping grounds, La Mesa is different from El Cajon is different from Santee is different from the adjacent areas of the City of San Diego. Each of them has neighborhoods and developments of different design and character and things going on, and there are only so many you can keep track of, because there are only so many hours in the day.



Now it is to be admitted that a lot of agents don't understand this. I've met a lot of them who won't do the work to stay current in their specialty areas, let alone outside. Prices move, neighborhoods become hot and cool off, and time of year is a variable as well. Major projects happen. The market you knew cold six months ago has changed.



My point is this: When you choose an agent who doesn't make a habit or working the neighborhood, if they're being honest with you, they'll tell you it's going to take some time for them to learn enough of the market. If you're a buyer, chances are that you've got plenty of time, but if you're a seller with a deadline, the time it takes that agent to figure out the market can take a large bite out of your sale time. The alternative is to take a chance on pricing from an agent who really doesn't know your market, and marketing from an agent who may not know how to get your property sold effectively here.



Caveat Emptor

One of the best ways I have of telling how good a listing agent is is whether they get the counter to me before the offer has expired. Not that someone who gets the counter back to me quickly is necessarily wonder-agent, but that someone who doesn't sure isn't.



The whole idea of the purchase contract is that it becomes a legally enforceable contract when accepted. But if you're missing the "little detail" of timeliness, the contract hasn't been accepted, indeed it becomes impossible for it to be accepted unless someone is capable of time travel.



Missing offer deadlines has become common of late, with sellers hoping for better offers, so they sit on this one until too much time has passed, thus hurting their case further.



The other side missing the detail of timeliness gives my clients power. Now my clients can choose to accept what has become a counter-offer rather than an acceptance, because even if the other side intended to give a full acceptance, they haven't. There's this not so little niggling detail of the fact that the original offer has expired. It's dead. It's an ex-offer.



The other side missing deadline gives me information. After the deadline, I'm pretty certain there aren't any other offers going on, no matter what the other agent says. If there are other offers, they're not good offers. If there were other good offers, better than mine, why are they countering me so late? When I have multiple offers on one of my listings, I get each counter out there as quick as I can, and the proviso that another offer is not previously accepted is on every single one of them.



This means that my client is in a stronger position than they were in initially. Not infinitely stronger, but noticeably stronger. Particularly in the buyer's market we have locally and in most of the rest of the country. Even in a seller's market, it tells me that no one else wants this property at that price. It may be grounds to counter even lower.



This means that an agent who sits on an offer (or counter-offer) is weakening their clients bargaining position, i.e. violation of fiduciary duty. Unless it's the client who just can't respond, that agent has now incurred the possibility of action. Even if the client has been told of the offer, I always feel that I need to tell them that most offers have expirations, and the sooner they counter, the stronger their perceived bargaining position.



It's no better for a prospective buyer to miss a counter than it is for a prospective seller. There must have been something about that property that was attractive to you. Properties for sale never last longer than the first person who does what is necessary to get the seller to agree to terms. Once it's in escrow with someone else, it's too late to decide you want it. Unless it falls out of escrow - something not under your control - you are out of luck. Being a back up offer is most often a sucker's proposition.



This doesn't mean I make a habit of demanding responses within 24 hours. That's overplaying your hand in most situations. But a deadline of three to four business days is quite reasonable, and situations where it may be to your advantage to delay are rare. If you can't respond to an offer or counter-offer in that amount of time, something is wrong.



Caveat Emptor

 



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